Belmond British Pullman Bath and Bristol – 18th May 2022

For some of the support crew, work for this trip started at the weekend, with more people arriving on Monday. The fire was lit in the afternoon. The remaining members of the support crew reported for duty early on Tuesday, along with a few extra helpers. The day went well, and we managed to get all the work done quite early. This gave us the opportunity to have an early night, which was important, given that we would have an early start on the following day.

On the Wednesday, work on the fire had started by four o’clock in the morning. By about half past seven, we were sitting in platform 2 at London Victoria. The generator car is undergoing maintenance, so we had a class 67 diesel on the rear of the train. This was to have added benefits when we got to Bristol.

We left on time, and had a good run through Clapham Junction. The looks on the faces of the rush hour commuters is something to behold when a steam locomotive suddenly appears. After a delay at Ascot, we arrived at Bracknell a few minutes late. We used the stop to pull some coal forward. As we were going to be “under the wires” for most of the trip, this was the last opportunity that we would have.

We were met by a water tanker at Wantage Road so that we could refill the tender. One member of the support crew was with the tanker all day. This was so that he could roll out the hoses ready for our arrival, and roll them up again afterwards. That saves us quite a bit of time. We arrived at Bristol Temple Meads on time.

Bristol East Depot is now available for us, which makes things a lot easier. We were also helped by having the Class 67 on the rear of the train. This meant that we could turn the whole train on the triangle, which saved us a lot of shunting. We, therefore, had a lot more time to service the loco. As well as attending to the lubrication, and refilling the tender with coal and water, we also have to “clean the fire”. This can be done in half an hour when pushed, but we had two and a half hours to do it, which makes things a lot less stressful. As the diesel would do all the shunting, we didn’t have to keep the pressure up all the time. It also gave the opportunity for some training for newer members of the support crew.

“Cleaning the fire” involves getting rid of all the clinker that has built up on the grate, and emptying the ashpans of the accumulated ash. We have a rocking grate that is divided into two halves. We use the clinker shovel to move as much good fire as we can from one side to the other. After opening the hoppers, we rock half the grate and drop the old fire, using the sprays to avoid any damage to the ashpans from any remaining fire. Once this side of the grate is clean, we use the clinker shovel again to move good fire back to the clean side, and repeat the process on the second half. Finally, we rebuild the fire.

We were back in Bristol Temple Meads in plenty of time, and the fireman was able to start building his fire for the return.

On the return journey, we ran more or less to time as far as Milton Junction, where we were met by the water tanker again. There was a bit of a delay getting into the loop, which meant that we left about fifteen minutes late. As we had now lost our path, we were delayed a further six minutes at Didcot Parkway. During a crew change at Reading, a stopping service to Waterloo got in front of us, so we had to follow it at a rather sedate pace. We finally got back to Victoria fifteen minutes late. This delay didn’t seem to upset the passengers. It just meant that they had an extra quarter of an hour to enjoy the luxury of the Belmond British Pullmans.

The support crew still had more to do, though. After taking the stock back to the depot at Stewarts Lane, and turning the loco on the triangle, we then blew down the boiler and put the engine to bed.

It was, now, half an hour before midnight – nineteen and a half hours since work started. Most of the support crew went home, but some had to stay another night before they could do the same.

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