On Friday morning I set off early to drive to the Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway and arrived at Llanfair Caereinion just after nine o’clock. After finding a room in the volunteers’ hostel I went up to the Duty Mess Room to have some breakfast. Bruce, the Chief Mechanical engineer, and Richard, the Workshop Foreman, were in there discussing the tasks they were hoping to tackle that day.
Looking at me in a quizzical sort of way the CME asked “What were you planning to do today?”.
I replied ” A bit of genteel PAT testing – unless you have got a better offer”
He said “How do you fancy getting involved with doing a 28 day exam on Countess?”
“OK” I said; thinking that I would be done by lunchtime and could get on with the testing in the afternoon.
So after a bit of shunting Countess was positioned on the inspection pit ready for me to clamber about underneath.
As part of the normal daily routine the locomotives are inspected before and after service then after 28 days of use they are given a formal Fitness To Run Examination. For this inspection the engine is out of steam so that you can squeeze into places that would be mighty uncomfortable if it was hot. Springs, motion and brakes are significant parts to be looked at. Then there are nuts, bolts and split pins to be checked. Lubrication of almost inaccessible components, like the rocking shaft on the cylinder drain cock linkage, is also on the list of tasks.
The driver’s side piston gland needed some new packing and a couple of new coupling rod end oil pot trimmings were made up to reduce their oil consumption.
There was plenty of life left in the brake blocks but the brake rigging needed adjusting to reduce the slack. Getting the lock-nuts undone on the turn-buckle between the middle and rear axles can be tricky. One end refused to budge until after it was given a bit of gentle persuasion from the ‘hot spanner’.
Last job was to fix a leak on the driver’s side injector. Up came the floor plate …..
……. they say that discretion is the better part of valour. The ‘C’ nut on the pipe union was going to need replacing. Well, after a bit of consultation, we agreed to put up with that leak for a little longer.
A few weeks ago there were some problems with a pipe joint on Joan. Modification and partial replacement was required. The parts had been returned and a team were busy at work putting her back together. After everything was reassembled she was lit up for a steam test. Unfortunately there was a quality issue with some work done by a contractor and as a consequence the fire had to be dropped.
Oh and my afternoon doing some electrical testing ? No chance!! We finished late got cleaned up and headed off for something to eat.
Before going to bed I set my alarm for nine the next morning. I was roused sometime after eight by an unattended alarm clock in the next room. By half past eight I could stand it no longer.
Rowan and I were rostered to crew a special train. There was no need to start until ten so time for a leisurely breakfast. Countess was our engine and she was ready and waiting by 12:30. We had a bit of lunch and waited for the 13:00 train to depart. We took Countess down to the carriage shed at Tanllan and fetched the replica Pickering carriages and the water wagon back to Llanfair. After a bit of shunting and taking coal and water we were ready to depart.
The special train was for Colin, our previous CME who retired from the role a few months ago, and was now celebrating a significant birthday. Before the train departed there was a presentation made by W&LLR Chairman Steve Clews.
With the presentations over we set off down the line. We paused briefly at Cyfronydd to change footplate passengers and arrived more or less on time at Castle Caereinion. After a few minutes the service train arrived from Welshpool. The blockman set about exchanging the single line train staffs and setting the points. A message came in over his radio – a fire had been reported on Coppice Lane Bank. We were tasked with evaluating it and if possible extinguishing it.
Once we had the right-away I eased Countess and her train out of the loop and up the steep bank that leads to Coppice Lane level crossing. As we approached the road we could see a lot of smoke. After crossing the lane I brought the train to a halt a sensible distance from what had been a vigorous grass fire on the north side of the line. Rowan clambered down from the engine with the firing shovel and began to beat out the flames. After stopping our engine from blowing off I joined in.
The flames were soon put out but it was a hot sunny day and everything was as dry as tinder. We really needed to give the whole area a good soaking. So that annoying water wagon on the back of the train was going to come in handy. I went back to the loco and moved the train past the smouldering cutting side.
The wagon door was dropped, a hose deployed and the pump started (on the third attempt).
Once the smoke was gone a herd of cows came over to see what all the fuss was about. We packed up the hose and got the train moving again. The locomotive’s fire had suffered a bit with the delay but we were able to enjoy a good run up Sylfaen Bank. The ‘birthday boy’ was stood on the front balcony of the train trying to see where the regulator was set. It is sufficient to record that he was not disappointed.
Our arrival at Welshpool was well behind schedule but as we were running to the ‘Tea Train’ timetable the point to point times were generous. The water wagon had to be shunted to the other end of the train, Countess’s tanks replenished with water and the crew topped up with hot sweet tea.
The return trip was without incident and we were on time at Castle Caereinion and did not delay the 15:30 ex Llanfair.
Colin, his relatives and friends appeared to have had an enjoyable afternoon.
So it all goes to show that when you volunteer at the Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway there is never a dull moment.