Autumn morning & the cold light of dawn

On a branch line, far, far, away GWR 2-8-0T  No.4270 is hard at work hauling the morning goods. I’ve done these jobs; you got up at daft o’clock, in the pitch black, pot of tea, slice of toast, and then a couple of mile bike ride, in sub zero temperatures, to freshen you up. Invariably you got your own engine ready, you were given an hour to do this. Wrestling with the frozen leather bag, of the water column, whilst standing on the tank top was an art form, on a frosty morning. Get things wrong and your were going off-shed soaking wet.

An hour for prep might seem a long time but there was plenty to do from filling sand boxes to filling and trimming lamps. The steam riser would’ve left a few shovels full of fire under the door,  60 to 80lbs of steam and, more often than not, a boiler so full it was a wonder it wasn’t coming out of the whistle! It doesn’t sound much but, when you’ve got to check the injectors work, and check the gauge glasses, it’s a bit of a nuisance.

You made trips to the stores to draw the lamps, detonators, bucket, and tools, and a couple to the sand store – when you filled the sand boxes, you checked the smokebox door was tight shut. There was, usually, a taper kicking about on the footplate, if not, you made one and lit the lamps, the driver would use it to check for leaks and blows, if needs be. In between doing all this you steadily built up the fire, so that when you rolled off-shed it covered the whole grate and was burning through nicely.

The last and most important task was a trip to the mess room to make a brew, before calling the bobby to get the road.

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:


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