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The Baxter Goods

Discussion in 'Bullhead Memories' started by Jamessquared, Jun 19, 2015.

  1. Jamessquared

    Jamessquared Nat Pres stalwart

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    It’s 6am and the loco yard is quiet but light when myself and Ben, the driver, book on. It will be another fifteen minutes before the crew of 847 are due to arrive, so for a while we have the yard to ourselves and the early morning birdsong. The Q, C and S15 occupy the pits, and Baxter is standing on 4 road. We’ll need to get over a pit at some point - there looks to be just enough room in front of 847 - but for now there is no hurry. I get up into the cab to make my checks and then go round the front to look in the smokebox.

    Moving back to the cab, I start to remove the ash from the grate. The fire bars on Baxter can be removed using a nifty tool that normally sits in a rack on the cab floor, so with one fire bar removed, the remains of the warming fire can be pushed into the ashpan. After an inspection to check all is well, I go off to get some oily rag ready to light up. By time I get back, the driver of 847 – the locomotive on the first service train – calls me over: his fireman has not appeared, and he needs someone to light up his engine while he oils round. So my leisurely day ready to lay a few square feet of coal into Baxter turns into a serious sweat to throw out thirty square feet of ash from the S15! Ben meanwhile lights up Baxter before continuing his oiling. By about 7am the spare turn fireman had arrived (we always have a rostered spare turn, for incidences such as today), so I hand the S15 back over and return to Baxter, to find a layer of coal alight over the grate and the needle a pound or two off the mark and climbing. While Ben continues his oiling, I fetch lamps and a first aid kit and then start to give the loco a clean, all the while keeping an eye on the fire to ensure that things are moving along in the right direction.

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    Baxter's cab by Tom James, on Flickr

    By a bit after 8am, we have about 60psi and we can move the loco over to three road pit to clear the ashpan. Baxter has no brake on the locomotive apart from the handbrake, so I am careful as we roll down in front of 847. Clearing the ashpan is simplicity itself, as despite its age, the loco has hopper ashpans, so simply pulling the hopper doors open drops most of the ash. Then it is off to get changed and we are ready and waiting at the yard exit signal on time at 9.05am.

    After taking water, our first move is light engine up to Horsted Keynes, in advance of the first service train. On the way up Freshfield Bank, I’m startled by a large white patch by the line side, looking for all the world like a chalk bank. Only when we get closer do we see it is a thick mass of ox-eye daisies! Without a load, Baxter steams rather poorly - my excuse is I had only been on the loco for shunting before - but we arrive on time, run through Platform 3 and over the crossover onto the loop, then back onto our train which is sitting in platform 2. Pleasingly it is all vintage: the SECR seven plank wagon, LBSCR Open A, SECR two plank dropside ballast wagon and the LBSC box van, together with the SR Pillbox brake. Average age of the wagons is about 95 years old - youngsters in comparison to Baxter!

    About 10am the first service train arrives, headed by 847. A quick wave to the crew on that loco; we’ll have to wait 15 minutes until they have reached Kingscote before we can ourselves obtain a token. In the meantime I build the fire up for the two and a half mile climb to West Hoathly, while the guard calculates the load: four wagons and a brake for 55 tons.

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    Waiting for the service train by Tom James, on Flickr

    At 10.20 we are ready to go: token in hand, boiler on the mark (150psi), water full and we set off, gently at first to feel each wagon pick up one by one, then with the whole train following, we pick up speed past the advance starter at Leamland Bridge and section signal at Leamland Junction. With a bit of experimentation, we find that the we need the blower on even with the regulator open; the back damper wide open and the door held half an inch open on a door latch to give a bit of top air, at which point she suddenly steams much better. Even so, pressure is down to about 110psi as we exit the tunnel and water about a third of a glass, but with the engine facing south, the water level comes back as we tip over the change of gradient at West Hoathly. While the injector runs to replenish the water, I wind the handbrake on to control the speed down the hill: the driver has no brake, so controlling the train is down to the fireman. The gradient down towards Kingscote is mostly 1 in 122 and with 22 tons of loco and 55 tons of wagons pushing, the train rolls quite nicely, but I find a sweet spot with the handbrake which enables fine control of speed with just a quarter or so of turn either side. We slow down to surrender the token at the Signal Box, then chuff into the station and come to a stand. We have a few minutes to wait while 847, now on the down service from East Grinstead, comes through the loop platform, so in the meantime we take water from the Kingscote supply. The tranquility of Kingscote is lovely: away from the hustle and bustle of the other stations, it is easy to imagine life in an earlier age of a quiet rural idyll, the peace broken briefly by a flurry of activity as trains cross before returning to its former somnolent state.

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    The goods at Kingscote by Tom James, on Flickr

    Once the down train is through, we need to swap ends with the brake van. The guard pins down the wagon brakes while we run round to the south end, pick up the brake van and shunt it to the loop, then return for the wagons and shunt them onto the stationary brake van. With just a handbrake to stop, it requires a bit of fine judgement, but if the box van had been carrying eggs, hopefully they’d still be good for more than omelettes! All coupled up, we wait for the “B” train to arrive from Horsted Keynes; as soon as it is through, we are free to set off south. By now we have the feel of how to get the engine to steam, so we move quite happily along to West Hoathly before diving off into the gloom of the tunnel. The gradient here is 1 in 75, and I find I need the handbrake most of the way on to control the speed, but again, once the sweet spot is found, small movements either side are sufficient to maintain a regular speed. The short section where the gradient steepens to 1 in 60 and then flattens to 1 in 134 are far more obvious this time than I had noticed before! The inner distant is at caution, indicating that the home signal at Leamland might be against us, so we slow down carefully so we can stop if required, as well as being ready for the ten mph limit through Horsted Keynes. We weren’t actually booked to stop, but we do so briefly to check the temperature of various bearings, before starting out again to Sheffield Park. Again, most of the route is downhill and with the train pushing behind, the brake blocks are hot by time we roll to a stand in platform two at the Park, a couple of minutes early against the generous section times we had been given.

    The service train is in Platform 1, but as soon as the south end dummy signal clears, we run forward - still coupled to the train - into the Pumphouse siding, then set back into the carriage shed yard and uncouple the brake van. We then run back with the wagons into the Pumphouse and into Platform 2, then back for the brake van and attach it to the south end of the train. Then it is back into the loco yard for coal - taken by hand into a pair of small bunkers either side of the cab - and back out via platform 1 and the single line into platform 2 and our train. It was probably as well we were early as the forty minutes allowed for the shunting and taking coal is quite tight, but we are ready to go on time, in the Lunchtime Golden Arrow path no less! This time I make sure we have a big back end and, with blower, damper and fire hole door set as before, the loco steams much better, to the extent that we still have about 130psi and two thirds of a glass of water on arrival at Horsted. Indeed, we could have done with going straight on to Kingscote, but instead have to wait for fifty minutes for the two service trains to cross while we simmer at the south end of platform 2. At the north end, a wedding reception was assembling; the guests move over to platform 3 and have reserved seats in the “B” service train, going north to Kingscote where a marquee has been set up in the field for them.

    Eventually, we get the road and set off to Kingscote, again starting carefully to pick up the train without snatching any couplings. Pressure falls gradually but then stabilises at about 130psi against the injector and rises if I turn the injector off. We are pretty happy with that so leave the engine to make its own way up the hill and through the tunnel, before once again concentrating on controlling speed down to Kingscote box. We draw up to the north end of the platform and put the hose in to await the down train.

    In theory, we should have shunted as before; however, the crew of the down train had noticed smoke north of Kingscote and the signalman wishes us to investigate. So we take the East Grinstead token and investigate; however, there was nothing serious to report in any case. The result is that we lose our window to shunt as the up train was due, so we have to wait until it passes. After that, some slick work allows us to shunt the brake van and train as before and depart quickly with the aim of being back to Horsted before the down train from East Grinstead arrives back at Kingscote, a feat we manage. Had we been tardy, the down train would have been delayed as the signalman could not have obtained a Kingscote to Horsted Keynes token while we were still in section. The wedding guests, had they looked across, were thus treated to a display of precision shunting.

    Once at Horsted, we run round, shunt the goods train to the up yard and then wait in the loop as the service trains cross: first the down train (behind 847) arrives into platform 4/5, then the up train behind 592 comes into platform 3. We thus witness at first hand 592 and the pre-grouping carriages get to grips with the climb out of Horsted Keynes, the sound slowly fading as the loco climbs past Horsted House Farm and up to Vaux End.

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    Watching the service train by Tom James, on Flickr

    Meanwhile, it’s another fifteen minutes until 847 reaches Sheffield Park; only at that time can we obtain a token and head south; in the meantime, Martin Lawrence catches us in platform 3 for a natter and to capture the moment for posterity! Once on our way, we roll down the hill, but it is striking how much less freely we roll on our own; I hardly need to touch the brake, despite the gradients, until we pass the distant which is at caution, and we are stopped briefly at Ketches, presumably waiting for 847 to finish its run-round. Once back at the Park, we take water, then run up into the loco yard, where we have the pleasure of handing the loco over to a late-turn crew who will work the evening pilot duty: all the fun of playing with some wagons and we don't even have to dispose the engine at the end of the day!

    With thanks to Driver Ben and Guard Roger for a good day, the various signalmen and station staff (especially at Kingscote) who controlled our day, and the staff and volunteers in the Loco Workshop and C&W for providing such a lovely little train to play with! One of the most fun days I’ve had at the railway for a long time.

    Tom
     

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