The original title for this piece was `cultural exchange’ but then other events delayed its publishing and it took on a life of its own.
One of the pleasant effects of being involved with a Heritage Railway is that you get to meet and know people who work on other railways and they become friends for life. You may only see them once in a blue moon but that doesn’t matter. You also get the chance to have a go with their toys. Andy Young doesn’t come in to the `once in a blue moon’ category as we have known each other for years both through the heritage railways and model railway circles.
The limit on us playing with each other’s trains is usually one of timing and opportunity but in September we realised we were both attending Guildex in Telford and then heading for our respective railways so the cultural exchange was on.
For Part 1 I joined Andy and Becky for a day on the Talyllyn Railway and a very pleasant day was spent with me driving Douglas with Becky firing whilst Andy generally got in the way. It was a glorious day in beautiful sunshine and two round trips were over in apparently no time at all and it was time to put the toys back in the toy box. It’s always a fun day driving someone else’s train as they’re all a little different. You start the day with a certain degree of trepidation as, whilst driving a steam engine is really just three handles and a chain (Go, which way, stop and get out of the way), each railway has its own way of operating. For me the challenges were the route and the new-fangled Westinghouse air brake. That said apart from backing it out of the shed and one move at Wharf at half time I did all the driving and whilst the day started with a pretty constant commentary from Andy that tailed off to not much more than telling funny stories as I got into the swing of it.
Getting used to a new brake is always interesting and stopping, in a controlled manner at least, is always harder than actually making it go so some of my early efforts were a bit erratic with too much and then not enough brake so speed went up and down a bit more than it should but I soon got the hang of it. All too soon the toys were put away and after a clean-up a pleasant evening of beer, curry and good company.
Part 2 of the cultural exchange took place two days later with Andy joining me for the day on the Ffestiniog Railway.
We immediately tried to confuse him as he had to upgrade to four handles and a chain (two lots of GO) as our steed was Double Fairlie Merddin Emrys running in the last week of its ten year boiler ticket.
Apart from a first little bit Andy drove most of the day and as I mentioned above the only real issue, and then only one of getting used to it, was the braking as instead of air Andy was having to get used to vacuum brakes. It’s a little cosy with two big blokes on the driver’s side of Merddin so we did fair bit of getting in each other’s way.
One remarkable thing was that Merddin has what some of our own drivers think are the devil’s own injectors and despite signing that they are competent to drive the engine really get their underwear in a tangle over them. More than once drivers have failed the engine due to injector faults and the solution has been to change the driver. They need a slightly different technique and to those who have the knack they are a delight to work with. On this day both Andy, who has only used them once before, and I were working them often behind our backs without looking due to the space constraints without any problem. Again all too soon it was toys away time. This time we had to go easy on the “after worker” as Andy was driving back to Tywyn but some time was spent in convivial company
So What’s all this Ménage à trois
Well to understand that you need to meet the “other woman” aka Blanche, aka Ricket. In no actual financial or official way Blanche is my engine. My first ever footplate trip was on Blanche, I learnt to fire on Blanche, I learnt to drive on Blanche and for a while was her regular driver. When she was in bits 2 years prior to her 100th Birthday we got RicketRescue together to get her overhauled in time for the big celebrations (One day I may explain the Ricket nickname) and ten years later we raised most of the money for a new boiler and did her 10 year overhaul. As you can see from this she has been in my life longer than Annie so she gets referred to as the other woman.
Blanche moved from Leeds to Wales in 1893 and hasn’t left the principality since. That is until this September when she was to go on her first holiday to Devon as the guest engine at the Lynton & Barnstaple Railway gala. Now the Boss usually blags the North Devon trip (and having been I know why) but this year I hadn’t heard anything about it so a chance text to him, “does Blanche need a chaperone?” resulted in me making my way to Devon to get there in time to unload her from the lorry and get her ready for use. Annie joined me two days later and along with Seamus Rogers and Kevin Lee we operated Blanche throughout the gala.
We had a great time working the XX:30 trains to Killington Lane and back whilst one of their engines worked the XX:00 train. A half hourly service saw everyone step up to a little more urgency that their usual 45 minute operation but it was great fun and everyone made us very welcome.
Blanche fitted in well on the front of their four coaches
So back to the playing away!
It was perhaps natural that we FR drivers were invited to have a go with the L&B’s engines just as much as they wanted a go with Blanche.
I had a go with Axe and with Charles Wytock but the one I really wanted a go with was Isaac as it was restored for its owner at Boston Lodge and EDM Models does a kit for this type of loco (re-release being worked on).
I had met its owner, Tim Wilkinson, at a garden rail “do” at another friends line and the driver that day was Will Curry, who I had met when he visited the FR, so I was not only invited aboard but given the regulator for the trip.
After my exploits with Douglas earlier the same month the photo of me driving Isaac was captioned “Playing away 2” with the comment from Annie “still not worried”.
Whilst in Devon we had a bit of a tour round and visited Ilfracombe. Annie wanted to wander round the town which is really not my thing so I stayed by the harbour and watched some boats come and go.
I got talking to the guys that ran the road train and as it was only three quid went for a lap of the town with them. The comment to the photo when posted on FaceBook was “did you drive that one too?” “no, only made it to guard as I was sat nearest the `right away bell’ “ to which Annie commented “now I’m worried”
We had a fantastic time in Devon both at the railway and with the locals we met. If you haven’t been then I would thoroughly recommend a visit. I came away enthused by the L&B which may well have a knock on effect with several projects that are in the doldrums.
That’ll do for this ramble but if you want to see some of the action from the L&B gala then here are some links for you to follow
First up is a video taken by Annie on the footplate of Blanche for a run up the line. Its not the best video but it gives you a taster. Blanche is working hard as the four coaches are heavy and the gradient goes Flat (Killington Lane Stn), up at 1:42, up at 1:50, flat (Woody Bay Stn)
Footplate Video This video is on Facebook so it may not work if you don’t have Facebook)
This superb video is the full story of the gala if you have an hour to spare
An Ironic Twist to the tale
After just three days at home it was off to Wales for a week of driving committed to long before the jolly to Devon came about and for most of the week I had to make do with driving this which provided some ammunition for a gentle wind up on the L&B Facebook page