“Dropgrate”

In one of last week’s posts ‘The grate & the goods’ I commented that the rocker bar,  the dropgrate, and I, had some history. Now you might be forgiven for thinking that this would be a tale of some  mishap, or other, involving the aforemention rocker bars and dropgrates, you would however, be wrong.

Nine Elms, in the early 60s, was a very busy shed with a large number of crews and a lively mess room. There were always ‘spare men’, there to cover for all eventualities, from someone ‘knocking’, (not turning up for duty) to breakdowns and emergencies. In addition to the spare men there were the P&D men, two or more crews who spent their shift cleaning the fires and smokeboxes of engines coming on shed, or filling tenders, oiling round, and preparing fires on engines going off shed. The overall effect was that there was always half a dozen, or more, men sat around in the mess room, for quite lengthy spells. Now as well as the all usual banter that this kind of environment engendered, games of cards and dominoes were also very popular.

Enginemen’s mess rooms aren’t exactly the most well appointed social spaces and the one at Nine Elms was no exception; canteen type tables with wooden benches either side, arm chairs and occasional tables were notable by their absense. All of which brings us to the tale of the rocker bar and the dropgrate. I was a bit of a devil for the card games and when playing, I had a habit of sitting with one leg up on the bench. During one of these sessions someone remarked that my leg, stuck up, as it was, looked like a ‘rocker bar’. The already was a fireman known as ‘Rocker’, “Rocker Deadman” – he wore a leather jacket to work.  The ‘rocker bar’ was the name for the bar which operated the rocking grate on the rebuilt WC/B-o-Bs, MNs and the BR Standard Classes and to operate the ‘dropgrate’ on the original WC /B-o-B class. From that point on I was Dave ‘Dropgrate’ and many of my ex-Nine Elms colleagues remember me more as ‘Dropgrate’ than Dave Wilson. Funny how you get these nick names, but so many men seemed to have them, that they were considered a sign of acceptance and camaraderie.

So there it is my ‘history’ with the dropgrate and the rocker bar.

The photo shows former SVR resident, No.34053 Sir Kieth Park, climbing Eardington Bank in he SVR.

If you have enjoyed my blogs – I have written a book about my 60 years involvement with railways, from trainspotter, via steam age footplateman, to railway author and photographer, this is a link to it: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Gricing-Real-story-Railway-Children/dp/1514885751

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A trial survivor

Seen here pulling out of Loughborough shed, on the GCR, in 2016, No 6990 Witherslack Hall was, 70 years ago, on 24th June 1948, pulling out of Marylebone Station, heading for Manchester, over the former Great Central Railway route, as part of the 1948 Locomotive Exchange Trials. Hauling the NER dynamometer coach to record her performance, she returned from Manchester the following day with the 08.25 Manchester London Rd. – Marylebone service; and again with the NER dynamometer coach in tow.

No.6990 Witherslack Hall, was built at Swindon works and entered  service, just a couple of weeks before the trials began, on 8th April 1948. Her competitors, over the same route between London and Manchester, and with the same services, were the Black 5 No.45253 and the Bulleid ‘light’ Pacific No.34006 Bude. The latter was the only one of the three to keep time, though it has to be said that No.34006 Bude was a bigger and more powerful engine and that p-way slacks and signal checks didn’t help time-keeping.

Of the mere two dozen locomotives involved in the trails several have, miraculously, survived the great steam cull and they are; No.6990 Witherslack Hall and ‘heavy freight’ engine, 2-8-0 No.3803, from the GWR contingent, No.35018 British India Line was one of the three Southern Railway Merchant Navy Class entrants and E22, or No.60022 Mallard, was one of the chosen representatives for the LNER. However, on her first run, on the 8th June, with the 11:00 departure from Waterloo, the Atlantic Coast Express, she failed at Exeter and her place, for the continuation of the trials was taken by No.60033 Seagull, which did not survive.

If you want to know more abot the 1948 Exchanges, a longer account of the trials and a dozen or so photos can be found by following this link: http://steamagedaydreams.co.uk/?p=4942

If you have enjoyed my blogs – I have written a book about my 60 years involvement with railways, from trainspotter, via steam age footplateman, to railway author and photographer, this is a link to it: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Gricing-Real-story-Railway-Children/dp/1514885751

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The grate and the goods

In the ‘Mixed Traffic’ section of the 1948 Locomotive Exchange trials the Southern Railway entered 3 locomotives, the West Country Class Pacifics Nos. 34004 Yeovil, 34005 Barnstaple and 34006 Bude; all engines I worked on in the 60s. According to C.J.Allen, these three engines put on some of the finest ‘performances’ of the trials and he singles out a run by 34006 Bude from Leicester to St. Pancras. I have a log from a run I did with Driver Gordon Porter, on No.34006Bude, in 1965, working the 22.35 Ex- Waterloo. The log covers the Basingstoke to Winchester section and we passed Micheldever at 82mph, Wallers Ash at 91mph, and reached 95 at Winchester Jct., before throwing the anchor out to stop at Winchester.

Allen also gives ‘honourable mention’ to the work put in by No.34004 Yeovil on the Highland Main Line. Including this little gem; “the diverting part of this run was that after the banker – Pickersgill 4-4-0 No.14501 – had come on the rear of the 380 ton train to assist up to Dalnaspidal, Swain started with such vigour as to ‘wind’  his supposed helper, and the stop at Struan had to be prolonged while the latter recovered its breath.” (CJ Allen,  British Pacific Locomotives)

It has to be said that the ‘mixed traffic’ status of the WC Class was opportunistic rather than actual; opportunistic, because that designation was used to get them built, at a time of ‘austerity’, rather than any real intention to have them hauling goods wagons. That is not to say they didn’t haul goods trains, they did. I have worked van trains, like that pictured above, from Southampton Docks to Nine Elms goods with WC class engines, though it was much more common to find a Standard Class 5 or an S15 on these turns.

In as built status these engines had what was termed a ‘dropgrate’, that is the middle section of the firegrate could be opened when cleaning the fire and the ash and clinker then raked through the opening – it made fire cleaning a lot quicker and easier than shoveling it out through the firehole, the same way it went in. The rebuilds were all fitted with conventional rocking grates. The operating mechanism, for both types, was a bar which fitted over or into levers set into the footplate – commonly known as a ‘rocker bar’.

The rocker bar, dropgrate, and I have ‘history’ but that’s a story for another day.

The photo shows fresh from overhaul No.34081 92 Squadron, with a train of newly painted box vans, approaching Kinchley Lane, on the Great Central Railway, during a recent gala visit.

If you want to know more abot the 1948 Exchanges, a longer account of the trials and a dozen or so photos can be found by following this link: http://steamagedaydreams.co.uk/?p=4942

If you have enjoyed my blogs – I have written a book about my 60 years involvement with railways, from trainspotter, via steam age footplateman, to railway author and photographer, this is a link to it: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Gricing-Real-story-Railway-Children/dp/1514885751

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The Last Pacific

One  might argue that this locomotive, No.71000 Duke of Gloucester, was the final outcome of the Locomotive Exchange Trials, held 70 years ago this month, so far as express passenger designs are concerned. In a class of one, No.71000 Duke of Gloucester, was, sadly, never entirely successful during her BR career, and gained a reputation for being heavy on coal and water, as well as being an indifferent steamer, at times. Her construction, at Crewe Works, in 1954, came at almost the same time as a number of major changes to the railway industry, which meant there was little enthusiasm to resolve the issues and less than a decade after entering service, in 1962, she was put out to grass.

Rescued from Barry in 1974 The Duke returned to steam on the Great Central Railway in 1986. The preservationists not only restored a locomotive thought to be beyond repair, by many, they also delved into the steaming and coal eating issues too. The subsequent modifications, especially to the draughting arragements, improved matters substantially. And some of her performances, during  rail tour appearances, particularly on the Appleby – Aisgill climb and over Shap were a revelation.

No.71000 Duke of Gloucester is also the last engine I travelled behind, as an invited guest, on  a tour  in June 1990,  over the Settle  – Carlisle line. The  occasion formed  part of celebrations for  the Middleton Railway’s 30 years in preservation.  I recall spending some time, with my head out of the window, listening to the racket being made by The Duke  – a very different sound to the Bulleid Pacifics I had worked on during my own footplate days.

If you have enjoyed my blogs – I have written a book about my 60 years involvement with railways, from trainspotter, via steam age footplateman, to railway author and photographer, this is a link to it: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Gricing-Real-story-Railway-Children/dp/1514885751

 

 

 

 

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A special day

70 years ago today the Locomotive Exchange Trials began and this locomotive, No.35018 British India Line, was one of the trialists. On June 3rd 1948 No.35018 made her first run in the trails, with the GWR dynamometer coach added to the train, she left Waterloo with the 11.00 departure, the ‘ Atlantic Coast Express, returning with the ‘up’ working of the same train the following day, June 4th.

On the 28th February 1965 I made the very same journey myself, as the fireman on No.35022 Holland Amerika Line, working the East Devon Rail Tour. We ran non-stop to Yeovil and, unlike the crew on 35018, we worked back the same day, with the same engine. – so I know exactly what was involved in those 1948 trials.

The Bulleid Paifics were never going to come out top in the lbs of coal per mile stakes and some of the crews involved opted to ‘ put on a show’ instead. The performances of the WC No.34006 Bude  on the tricky Marylebone – Manchester service and that of No.34004 Yeovil on the Highland main line were particularly note worthy. And as one observant Steam Age Daydreams regular noted Bert Hooker, who was himself a fireman in the trials, on the 13th June 1963, took MN No.35012 United States Lines over the S&C and ran the Appleby – Aisgill climb in 17 minutes and 30 seconds, pass to pass.

A longer account of the trials and a dozen or so photos can be found by following this link: http://steamagedaydreams.co.uk/?p=4942

If you have enjoyed my blogs – I have written a book about my 60 years involvement with railways, from trainspotter, via steam age footplateman, to railway author and photographer, this is a link to it: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Gricing-Real-story-Railway-Children/dp/1514885751

 

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And 54 years later …….

The last time I saw No.35018 British India Line in action I was her fireman, and we were heading to Waterloo from Bournemouth, after working down with the 08.35 Ex – Waterloo. Today, 54 years later, along with a horde of others, I was standing beside the Settle -Carlisle line, with Pen – y Ghent in the background, enjoying her passing with the York – Carlisle leg of the GB XI rail tour. Watching a piece of your own history steaming past you, like this, certainly stirs the memory cells. And those three years at Nine Elms in the 1960s really did seem like yesterday – tho’ I doubt, very much, that I’d be able to fire an MN from York to Carlisle today but, I’d have no trouble sitting in the driver’s seat and rendering a couple of fire boys!!

I don’t know how many times I worked on this engine, firing out on the main line or cleaning her fire on shed but, what I do know is that like all the Merchant Navy class she was a joy to work on, as a fireman. Coincidently, it is also almost 70 years ago, June 1948, that No.35018 British India Line set out from Waterloo, with the Atlantic Coast Express, as part of the 1948 Locomotive Exchange Trials. No.35018 British India Line was one of three MNs in the trials, the others were No.35017 Belgian Marine and No.35019 French Line CGT. No.35020 Bibby Line was the reserve engine. And, in my time at 70A, I met and fired for Driver Bert Hooker who was himself a fireman during the Exchange Trials – it’s a small world.

If you have enjoyed my blogs – I have written a book about my 60 years involvement with railways, from trainspotter, via steam age footplateman, to railway author and photographer, this is a link to it: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Gricing-Real-story-Railway-Children/dp/1514885751

 

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A spot a fettlin’

Sitting in the back of the former Pontop & Jarrow Railway engine shed, at Marley Hill, on the Tanfield Railway, Sir Cecil A. Cochrane, the engine in this photo, is moving towards the final stages of a retube and ‘light’ overhaul. (She’s back at work now). No, your eyes are not decieving you, the boiler cladding is made of wood. First a wooden frame is made by cutting, soaking, and bending, pieces of timber to the shape of the barrel   the wooden lagging strips are then attached to these frames, which is what you see here. The ‘finer’ details of the process of re-cladding were explained to me by Ian Cowan, the chap you see about to climb onto the footplate, with a small strip of wood which was being fitted to the cladding inside the cab – joinery and boiler making skills required!

I had no idea, until I saw this work being undertaken, that this was a method of boiler cladding for these enines – you do, as they say, ‘learn summat new every day’. When Marley Hill shed was part of a working colliery railway system this kind of work, retubing, and light general repairs, would have been a commonplace. Behind the white wall to the left of the picture, is a fully operational forge which would have allowed more substantial repairs to be carried out. And, from time to time during the year, volunteers operate the forge, to give visitors a taste of what was involved.

Should you wish you can see a photo of  the volunteers using the the forge,  one can be found in the steamagedaydreams archive for September 2015 – ‘A little forgery’.

If you have enjoyed my blogs – I have written a book about my 60 years involvement with railways, from trainspotter, via steam age footplateman, to railway author and photographer, this is a link to it: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Gricing-Real-story-Railway-Children/dp/1514885751

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Fast Fitted

In Heritage Railway Magazine, some years ago now, I wrote an article entitled, ‘Things that went clank in the night’, it was, as you might guess, about the humble world of the over-night freights. Some goods workings achieved almost legendary status, such as the Aberdeen fish trains, which, in the later years of steam, would see anything from a V2 to a ‘Duchess’ turning up. The legendary driver William (Bill) Sparshatt, was reputed to have ‘run down’ i.e caught up, The Talisman with a fitted freight, quite what the guard thought about his wild ride was probably unprintable.

Leaving aside the legends, fishy and otherwise, the fitted freight was bread and butter work and much of it went on during the hours of darkness. The doyen of the V2s No.4771 Green Arrow was named in conjunction with the LNER’s fast fitted freight service ‘Green Arrow’ which had its initial outing as early as 1928, though 4771 Green Arrow wasn’t built until 1936. The LNER wasn’t the only ‘Green Arrow’ service on offer, the GWR advertised one too. Unofficially they also named a London – Worcester ‘fitted’ ‘The Sauce’, and the railway companies did not discourage these ad hoc names.

Surprisingly, in my own railway service, the only fast fitted I worked were the ‘Banana’ trains from Southampton docks to Nine Elms goods; none of which were ‘regular’ services. I did work a regular turn of fully fitted stone hoppers, which originated from Meldon Quarry. We worked down with a passenger service and relieved the crew at Salisbury working back to Feltham engineers yard. The usual motive power was an S15 and it was out for some hours before we stepped aboard – a very rough turn for the fireman, coal back in the tender and plenty of clinker in the fire.

The photo shows No 92214, a BR Class 9F, the last of the ‘Express’ freight engines, with a fitted freight recreation, on the Great Central Railway, near Loughborough.

If you have enjoyed my blogs – I have written a book about my 60 years involvement with railways, from trainspotter, via steam age footplateman, to railway author and photographer, this is a link to it: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Gricing-Real-story-Railway-Children/dp/1514885751

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Bits of the old L&Y

Incorporated in 1847, one hundred years before I was born, the L&YR was, for many years,  being persued, in predatory fashion, by the much larger London North Western Railway, ‘the Euston Confederacy’ as it was sometimes referred to. The L&Y’s resistance only ended on 01/01/1922 and a year later the LNWR too became part of a bigger whole, the London Midland & Scottish Railway.

The L&Y itself, grew by acquisiton and grew out of amalgamation and absorbtion – some of its constituents were, oddly, owned jointly with the rival LNWR. Not content with running railways they also had their own fleet of ships and sailed to Europe and Ireland, from Goole, Hull, Fleetwood and Liverpool. They were also the first British railway company to introduce electric trains; with a service from Liverpool to Southport in 1904.

Before the opening of Horwich Works, the L&Y’s principal workshops were at Miles Platting, just up the bank from Manchester Exchange/Victoria. Railway workshops are never going to be situated in the ‘nice’ parts of town but, they must have been a dodgy lot around Miles Platting in the 1850s as an entire locomotive boiler was stolen, ‘spirited away in the middle of the night’, from the Works. Quite how this was achieved is a bit of a mystery, especially as  road transport was still at the horse and cart stage.

The coach behind the engine is Club car 47, a classic example of British snobbery in action. A bunch of Fylde coast ‘business men’ persuaded the L&Y, for a fee, naturally, to provide them with what was essentially a ‘private coach’ between Blackpool and Manchester, just so they didn’t have to travel alongside the ‘great unwashed’.

If you have enjoyed my blogs – I have written a book about my 60 years involvement with railways, from trainspotter, via steam age footplateman, to railway author and photographer, this is a link to it: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Gricing-Real-story-Railway-Children/dp/1514885751

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The Mayflower

In 1620 The Mayflower carried ‘Puritans’ from Plymouth to North America; in 1957 British Railways named a Kingswear – Paddington passenger service ”The Mayflower”. Being of a certain generation, and political persuasion, whenever I hear of the ‘Mayflower’ I’m reminded of the lyrics to Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream, ‘I was riding on the Mayflower When I thought I spied some land, I yelled for Captain Arab, I have you understand, Who came running to the deck, Said, “Boys, forget the whale, Look on over yonder, Cut the engines, Change the sail.’ (C) B.Dylan

I took the photograph at one of the Llangollen Railway galas when No.1306 was one of the guest engines, she also carried the ‘Yorkshire Pullman’ head board on one of her runs, a service, unlike the Mayflower, for which there was just an outside possibility she might have hauled, at some point in her BR life. The B1s wouldn’t normally see service on the Yorkshire Pullman but, all kinds of engines may be pressed into service in the event of a failure, or possibly as a pilot engine – stranger things have happened.

In July 1948, during the 1948 Locomotive Exchange Trials, a B1 did work over the former GWR route between Plymouth and Bristol and on one memorable occasion in the early 60s I rode behind one from Bristol to Burton – upon – Trent, where it failed with a hot box and was replaced by a passing ‘Peak’. The failure was a real shame as the crew seemed to be enjoying themselves doing their best to make up time on a late departure from Bristol.

The photo shows B1 Class 4-6-0 No.(6)1306 departing from Berwyn station on the Llangollen Railway.

If you have enjoyed my blogs – I have written a book about my 60 years involvement with railways, from trainspotter, via steam age footplateman, to railway author and photographer, this is a link to it: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Gricing-Real-story-Railway-Children/dp/1514885751

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