A 'Castle' on the Worcester Road.
Following my firing days at Reading, I went back for my final year at college. My diary for this period is a little different from previous years in that I spent much more time studying and less time looking at railways. However, I did manage a footplate pass for a trip to Worcester and back on a 'Castle'.
On Wednesday, 21 November 1962, I was on the platform at Reading waiting for the 9.56am from Paddington and, looking out for the Inspector who was to accompany me, I was delighted to see Colin Lewis, who had been my instructor at firing school the previous summer. No 7037, appropriately named Swindon, being the last 'Castle' class locomotive built, was not in very good external condition. The paint was scratched and dirty, and there were steam leaks from the cylinders and the regulator gland at the back of the firebox. A two-minute-late departure was the result of a fast timing from Paddington - 38 minutes. However, No 7037 Swindon was a strong engine and we were on time by Didcot, and kept time all the way to Worcester.
I had gained my bearings by the time we had passed Scours Lane Yard and it was at this point that I was handed the shovel! This was much different from anything I had done before and I quickly found that there was no room for mistakes. Firing was continuous, verging on frantic, and the only break in the routine was to wash down the floor. Driver Barker was in a hurry and was using a lot of lever and little regulator.
By Didcot, I was struggling to keep 1901b, and Fireman Cox took over as we took the Didcot avoiding line and slogged our way to Oxford. With a chance to look out of the cab for the first time since Reading, I realised that there was a thin coating of snow on the ground and that it was pretty cold outside.
The Worcester crew which took over at Oxford were well used to working as a team. A few well placed shovelsful of coal and the safety-valves started to sizzle. On the later 'Castles' there was a dial which indicated when lubrication was being applied. This was not working properly, but Driver Crocker had not been told about it. With so many other things to attend to, the engine had not moved more than ten feet before he noticed it. It surprised me how much a good crew was in tune with their engine.
I was handed the shovel again at Oxford North and fired Swindon all the way to Evesham where Fireman Dennis took over to work the fire down prior to going on shed at Worcester. I did much better this time, not only because I was becoming more familiar with the engine but also because Driver Crocker was using full open regulator and more cut-off. The numerous steam leaks, combined with the cold weather, caused problems at station stops because we couldn't see back along the platform. I volunteered to get off the engine and grope my way back through the steam to look for the 'right away'.
Log of Run 9.56am Reading to Worcester - 21 November 1962
Our 'Castle' steamed like a charm and I soon began to enjoy myself. The technique to use was little and often, which meant that I was on the shovel almost continuously, although the pace was not too hectic. I decided to use the method of firing that I had learned at Shoeburyness. With a haycock fire it was essential to keep the two back corners well filled but, with a deep fire under the firehole, this could occasionally be difficult. To get a shovelful into the right-hand back corner, the trick was to change over the grip on the right hand, which could then flip the blade of the shovel to the right, to get well into the corner. To cover the left-hand back corner, the grip on the left hand was changed. This gave a circular motion to the swing which produced a good momentum into the left-hand corner. I made it a rule never to move my feet when firing, other than to swivel on the balls of my feet, because stepping with a shovelful of coal could lead to a hernia. My performance was watched with interest by the crew and, at one point, the fireman took the shovel to experiment. He found that the technique worked, but that it would take some getting used to.
Campden Tunnel was the first tunnel I had ever been through on a locomotive. The greatest impression was caused not so much from the sound, which reverberated back from the tunnel walls, but from the light from the fire. I had the fire-doors open as we began the long descent to Honeybourne and the light illuminated the smoke and steam which swirled over the boiler and the open tender. We entered the tunnel doing 65mph and the four of us gathered around the driver's side to see how fast we could go with the regulator closed. We reached 85mph as we left the tunnel and everyone seemed disappointed that we had not reached 90mph down the 1 in 100 grade. There was no point in pushing the locomotive as we were well on time, and achieved a perfect arrival at Worcester.
After a snack and a cup of tea in the railway canteen we walked back to pick up the 1.00pm to London. No 7005 Sir Edward Elgar was beautifully turned-out but was reputedly the heaviest on coal of the whole of the 'Castle' class. Fireman Heath and Driver Smith made us welcome, but it was evident that I would not be offered the shovel on this trip.
As we left Worcester I reflected how appropriate it was to be riding Sir Edward Elgar as this was quintessentially Edward Elgar country. No 7005 was a good runner but was a real coal eater. The fireman fired to such good effect that the needle hardly ever moved away from the red mark. The exhaust steam injector was a bad one and the live steam injector on the driver's side was a used all the time. This was more than adequate and we were never in trouble for water.
The driver was only concerned with making up the lost time, and we went up the bank and into Campden Tunnel with a vengeance. The reverser was gradually wound forward and the sand was applied. The chattering from the chimney was in marked contrast to the sounds I had heard on the down trip. Driver Smith had his hands on the reverser and the regulator all the way through the tunnel in case the engine slipped, but she held her feet well.
A permanent way slowing at Fladbury cost us about 1½ min while station work at Kingham cost us two minutes. Still trying to gain lost time, we were going flat-out through Ascott-under-Wychwood on the approach to Charlbury troughs. Water-troughs always gave a rougher ride because the track, which was permanently inundated with water, was more difficult to maintain. The fireman was busy with his fire and so Inspector Lewis offered to work the hand-operated scoop to fill the tender. It was usual practice to lower the scoop gently into the water so that it was just below the surface. This made it easier to withdraw against the force of the water which, combined with the speed of the engine, tended to force the scoop even lower. It was cold and, with the water-level approaching full, the handle flew out of the Inspector's hand and unwound itself right down. The fireman saw what had happened and prepared himself for the inevitable consequence by lifting the fall plate between engine and tender. The scoop could not be withdrawn before the tender had been filled and, with the Inspector valiantly struggling with the handle, there was a gurgling sound and a wall of water came over the back of the tender and inundated the footplate. With it came a ton or so of coal. I saw what was about to happen and jumped up on to the fireman's seat, but Inspector Lewis finished up soaking wet. Not a single word was said as the fireman, grinning to himself, handed the wet Inspector the shovel and brush indicating that he had better make good the damage.
Our 'Castle' did well, and we had picked up all the lost time by Yarnton only to be held for ten minutes at Wolvercot Junction waiting for a train on the Banbury line. Signals all the way to Oxford produced a 12min late departure, but we had picked up two minutes by Reading.
The last few miles along the main line to Reading were very much a blur to me. All I can remember is the intense cold, in spite of the fire, and the constant battering from the motion as well as the continually-high noise levels. From the restart at Oxford the fire demanded continual attention. The rate of firing was high, and Fireman Heath only put down the shovel long enough to water down the coal dust. He did not use his 'seat' once, yet never lost his bearings. The only time he looked out was to sight the signals taking the Didcot avoiding line where, because of the curvature, the driver is running blind.
This aspect of footplate work could only be described as sheer hard work.
Inspector Lewis and I climbed down at Reading and made straight for the refreshment room where we thawed out over cups of tea. The crew had to work the thirty-six miles to Paddington and then bring the engine back on the 5.15pm Paddington to Worcester which was a much harder task than the up working.
It is not really surprising that most footplate crews were only too glad to exchange a steam engine for a diesel!
Log of Run 1.00pm Worcester to Paddington - 21 November 1962
Steam Days, May 1993.