Cleaning Great Western Locomotives

Editor's note — we thought that, this article was rather timely as we start another season of steam excursions with the museum's ex-CPR 4-6-2 #1201, and we flex our dormant, muscles to turn 1201 out in pristine appearance.  (The following article is written in "ENGLISH" - I think it would lose something if translated into "CANADIAN")

The first step in a footplateman's career was to be a cleaner.  The full progression was:
1) Cleaner; 
2) Passed Cleaner (i.e. passed to fire locomotives); 
3) Fireman;
4) Passed Fireman (i.e. passed to drive locomotives) 
5) Driver.

There was a definite hierarchy among the cleaners.  Promotion to fireman was on a seniority basis and those cleaners that had the most seniority had the choice of which parts of an engine they could clean.  Thus it. was that those with the least seniority had the worst jobs.

When I started as a cleaner at Reading my first job was scraping frames, motion and wheels.  This was a dirty unpleasant job that required some agility at climbing into and through the motion.  From there I progressed to tenders.  This was much cleaner but no less onerous in that there is a. lot of flat surface to cover with an oily rag (the oil invariably ran up our sleeve).  Next in progression was to clean the smokebox, boiler, firebox and cab sides.  This was much more pleasant, more interesting and not so dirty.

Finally, when one had accumulated enough seniority in the gang, or had imposed enough will on the rest of the cleaners in the lunchtime fights in the cleaners' messy room, one rose to the exalted position of shining bright work.  This covered the copper capped chimney, brass safety valve cover, brass name and number plates, brass beading around the wheel splashers and the copper and brass cab fittings.  This was originally done with finely broken pieces of brick arch as abrasive, although we had progressed to Brasso in my day.  While working in the cab the senior cleaner usually had the opportunity to build up the fire (under supervision) as well as to learn how to set an injector and clean a water glass.

An unpopular senior cleaner had to be careful while cleaning the copper band around the chimney - somebody would invariably turn on the blower to smoke him out!

While at Reading our first task of the day was to clean the engine for a Margate to Birkenhead train which changed locomotives at Reading.  We always had one of our own CASTLES (4 cylinder 4-6-0s) on this job - usually "GLADIATOR".  The fireman would book on extra early for this job to ensure that we had cleaned it properly and that his fire was just right.  The train would invariably be late off the Southern Region (my bias!) and when it left. Reading the driver would be thrashing it to make up the lost time.  This was noon time and we would go across to the mainline to watch our handiwork take off for Birmingham.  The fireman would acknowledge our presence with a nonchalant wave.  His work on the scoop would start quite shortly and would only stop briefly when taking water on the fly from the water troughs (track pans) at Goring.

Just imagine.  Sunny day (every day was sunny in those halcyon days of my youth).  Clear blue sky.  Beautiful Brunswick green engine, lined out in black and orange, reflecting the sunshine from the paint and bright work.  Clear crisp staccato beats from the chimney and the steam just sizzling from the safety valves indicating a good head of steam.  This is indelibly etched in my memory yet I didn't think to take my camera to work with me.  How I wish ....

Bytown Railway Society, Branchline, July/August 1985.

More Great Westernry

A few months ago, Phil Jago asked in BRANCHLTNE about the steam locomotives that, were owned by the Australian railway companies.  Of course the one owned by the Hamersley Iron Ore Railway is "PENDENNIS CASTLE", No. 4079, that was built by the GREAT WESTERN RAILWAY.

There are reports that this locomotive was clocked at 101.15 mph while going down Wallawumba Grade.  Speed was still increasing when the engineer had to brake to avoid an itinerant kangaroo that was slow in getting out of the way. This has, of course, been disputed by the cynics who produced graphs to prove beyond a shadow of doubt that, the engine; only reached 99.85 mph.

Seriously though, the last high speed record of a GWR designed locomotive was in 1964 on a special train to celebrate the 60th Anniversary of CITY OF TRURO's epic run.  The locomotive, "CLUN CASTLE", No. 7029, was specially selected from the few that were left.  The crew, driver Alf Perfect and fireman Brian Green and a second fireman (there were few steam workings left, by then and these were all hand bombers) were all set to "do the ton" using coal specially selected for its high calorific content.

Driver Alf Perfect at Oak Common before backing 4079 down to Paddington.
When I rode with him a few years later he introduced himself as;
"Perfect the Man, perfect the Driver and Perfect the Name."
Everything was going well on the footplate and Traction Inspector Hancock had given the thumbs up sign to Alf Perfect to go for it as they raced down the grade from Savernake towards Taunton.

90 mph and things were looking good.

95 mph and Inspector Hancock joined Alf on the right hand side to watch the speedometer.  The two firemen were otherwise occupied.  One was shovelling coal while the other was working the hand operated firedoors.

97 mph -- and the brake was applied on the train!

It seems that an Operating Inspector on the train saw flames and sparks coming from the engine.  The coal was burning so hot that it literally burned through the firebars snd the fire dropped into the ashpan.

I rode with Alf Perfect, and Brian Green on a diesel a couple of years after the trip and asked the driver what he thought when the brake went in at 97 mph.  He replied,

"I nearly cried”

Bytown Railway Society, Branchline, July/August 1985.

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