Another Thursday, another cleaning turn. I'm surprised to rouse at about 5:15 to a relative dark morning, a reminder that the days are not getting any longer. Today dawn is 5:36, and it's rather overcast and a little gloomy but hey, it's a railway day, so bring it on.
The railway runs several training sessions for cleaning grade staff throughout the year, and all cleaners are obliged to attend a class, called Cleaner's Basic Training, with their first ten turns. There is a class available today, so despite the fact that there are two cleaners already rostered I have signed up as Cleaner 3 today.
As it happens, Cleaner 1 doesn't turn up so it is just me and Peter today; Driver Nigel is in very early too, and as there is nothing on the board telling us which loco is allocated to the Loco 1 slot (due off-shed at 09:16) and Loco 2 (due off shed at 09:31) we divide up the work between as and get to it.
Lucky for me Peter takes Loco 1, the Standard 4MT which is going to probably going to be Loco 1 and I take Loco 2, the B12. There's only two of us so I am going to get to light up, the B12, which is a new experience for me.
But surely, a coal fire is a coal fire isn't it? Isn't one loco much the same as another? Well, not really, they are all a bit different; the grates and ashpans are different, fireboxes are different, fireholes, tenders and tools are different; they will present to you when you come on-shift in a different way - warm, cold, boiler water, pressure in the boiler etc., so getting your hands on different locomotives is really important and I guess we are lucky here at the NNR to have access to around seven resident locos, all quite different.
Before we start, I put a 'Not to be Moved' board on the lamp iron at the front. I check the water gauges and confirm that both gauges give the same reading and that the water in the boiler is past the top nut of the gauge - indicating that there is plenty of water above the firebox crown. If there wasn't enough water we would have to fill the boiler with a hose; this would take quite a lot of time that we don't have. Normally, the boiler is filled using the engine's injectors, but of course to do that it has to be in steam...
The B12 has been in service for several days, so the remains of yesterdays fire are quite warm. Here's my place of work for the next hour or so:
There is no drop grate on the B12 but fortunately yesterday's disposal crew have cleaned the fire well and I only need to rake this over. Had it been full of clinker, I would have been in the firebox pulling out firebars to get rid of it.
There's about 15 psi on the clock still:
Pete is down the other end, saving us both time by emptying both the B12's smokebox and the 4MT's smokebox at the same time - saves both of us getting brooms, barrows and shovels. I can't open the firebox while he has the smokebox open (we don't want cold draughts blowing through the boiler), so I collect buckets of rags and paraffin for both of us.
When he's finished I use the rake to move the ash around the grate to get it to drop through the bars into the ashpan. At this point, I can have a look around the firebox, so I stick my head through the firehole with the torch:
There's a few things amiss here. First, the baffle is still in place as you can see in the top right of the pictures. Forgetting to take this out means I have not properly inspected the fusible plugs, the brick arch or the crown stays; it will mess up my fire later as we will see.
Secondly, there are two weeping stays right in the middle of the picture. This means I have to go and find the Duty Fitter, which takes a while. I decided to carry on cleaning and preparing the fire while I wait - here I am cleaning under the firehole with the bent dart:
The fitter arrives and pronounces the firebox good to go, so I start shovelling coal into the firebox. The B12 has a long, narrow firebox, so it's quite an effort to get it to the front - made worse by the fact that I still haven't removed the baffle as every time I attempt to build the front of the fire, the shovel hits the baffle and the coal falls short.
Later in the day, during the training course Firing Instructor Paul shows me how to bounce the shovel off the bottom of the firehole and land the coal wherever you want it.
However, with a bit of raking I get the unlit fire how I want it and proceed to lay timber over the coal, followed by rags and finally we light up. We close the firehole and off she goes:
I rather suspect there haven't been any cleaners rostered since the loco went into service, judging by the soot over the paintwork. She'e quite a tall engine too, and you need ladders to clean much above the grab rails; most of the ladders had disappeared, but she looks good in this picture so it can't have been too bad.
Actually, I made two round trips behind the B12 the next day, with my Grandchildren - the bit at the top of the boiler, that I couldn't reach, was very obvious...
Next, time to clear up my stuff and for the loco to move back on the pit for ashing out.
Eagle eyed readers will notice that the rear driving wheels are right under the firebox, in common with many other 4-6-0 locomotives. Consequently, there is an arch in the ashpan to clear the rear axle and this means there are two ashpan doors and two screens, This is the front one: I'm about to put the pit hose lance in it and slake the ash, prior to raking it out:
I did the rear one first today, and here is Fireman Tony checking the screen is fitted correctly and will not fall out on the road:
I learned a valuable lesson today on PPE - don't ash out with your boiler suit top buttons undone. That oversight was rewarded with a small burn, courtesy of a marble-sized lump of ash dropping from the fire as I finished off raking out:
And that is more or less it for the B12 today. Here, driver Heidi looks on while Fitter Rudy drops a tonne of coal into the tender. While they wait for their scheduled departure time, Fireman Tony will trim that heap of coal to avoid anything falling off and inuring someone - crew or people on the platform.
He'll shovel most of that tonne today.
I took a moment to clean the buffer beams. These pipes are worth looking at: The big one in the middle at the top is the train brake vacuum hose; the smaller on to the left of the coupling is the steam brake hose; the one on the right, below the buffer beam is the steam heat hose.
Al these hoses need to be undone when uncoupling the train. The steam brake is not normally in service since it it the loco's own brake, but the steam heat pipe will, and it will be pressurised and hot. You must trun the steam heat off before arriving at the station to run around, to allow the system pressure to dissipate, and when you disconnect the hose you must hold it away from you.
Before we are down, we need to blow down. The water we have in the boiler, like all mains water has various impurities in it which appears as solids within the boiler, just like your kettle. Unlike your kettle, these impurities cause the water to foam, lifting liquid water through the regulator and into the cylinders - water is incompressible, so foaming or priming is both inefficient and potentially dangerous for the cylinders. To remove this possibility, we treat the water in the tender, we provide softened water from the tank at Sheringham, and we blow down the boiler each morning.
This is a job for the duty fitter, whose legs we see on the running board. He has just opened the blowdown valve which is located very low at the front of the boiler, just above the foundation ring - where most of the sludge will collect.
As you might expect, this creates clouds of steam
It also makes an unholy racket. The blowdown valve is connected to a silencer which you can see poking out behind the wheel, but still, it's quite noisy:
Next, It's cleaner's basic training which is conducted hands on around the workshop and which starts with a Personal Track Safety refresher and continues with signing on, PPE, and the noticeboard. then we move into the shop to talk locomotive technology using 'Wissington' as an example.
Wissington is currently lurking in the shed with no wheels - she needed new tyres, but on removing the old tyres one wheel was found to be loose on the axle, which then needed a new axle...
Wissington was built by Hudswell Clarke in 1938 for the British Sugar Corporation (BSC) and she is regarded as a member of the ‘Countess of Warwick class 0-6-0ST of which several were purchased by BSC.
She worked on small branch lines in the Fens collectively known as the Wissington Light Railway which linked a number of local farms with the Wissington sugar factory. Wissington in Norfolk is the site of British Sugar's largest refinery in the UK, it is also the largest in Europe. There has been a sugar factory there since 1925; none of the rest of the village remains. British Sugar has opened the UK's first bioethanol plant here.
The locomotive worked at the same location for virtually all of its working life, apart from a brief spell in Spalding, Lincolnshire and by the 1970s was the last steam engine remaining in private ownership in East Anglia. Chris Beckett approached the BSC in 1977 and the following year saw the locomotive donated to the Midland and Great Northern Joint Railway Society (M&GNJRS) and moved to Sheringham for preservation. After a lengthy restoration project the locomotive returned to steam in July 2012. The locomotive was on loaned from the M&GN JRS to the Mid Suffolk Railway where was operational.
The wheel-less Wissington was therefore the perfect subject to use to talk about wheels & tyres, axles, horn guides and axle boxes. With her front apron removed you can look at the cylinders and see the valve chests.
Wissington is a saddle tank though, and you cannot see much of her boiler. At Weybourne, NNR Engineering run a boiler repair business and there are usually several boilers around: the large one on the left is from a Bullied Pacific and has the characteristic welded steel firebox of Oliver Bulleid's design. The smaller one is a German locomotive; the tiny firebox in the middle is from a traction engine:
Next, a talk about boiler fittings - water gauges, regulators, clacks and safety valves. This one is a BR standard 'pop' type safety valve from 92203 Black Prince:
More in a couple of weeks.
Cleaning turn 4 - Y14 again and worsted trimmings