We are in the middle of our annual maintenence period, at the moment. It is a little early for this, but it is more convenient, in the long term, to do this at the same time as Belmond, our major customer, have their maintenance period.

One of the main things that needs to be done is to have the inspector assess the boiler. The first things to do are to empty it, remove the washout plugs, mud hole doors, fusible plugs and syphon plugs. Then, we wash out the insides. We have a high pressure pump, which uses the water in the tender as its supply. This injects water into all the washout plugholes, one at a time, and the dirty water comes out of the mudhole doors. The idea is to remove all the sludge that has collected in the boiler, and to loosen as much scale as we can. This takes several hours, and we get through quite a bit of water.

The high-pressure pump is all set up for the washout

The colour of the water soon after the start of the washout

The water has started to clear, but there is still a lot more to do

We have a good look at the boiler ourselves, before the inspector comes. We look inside the water space, to see the state of the stays, the tubes, the boiler plate and the foundation ring. We also tap all the stays with a hammer, to see if they ring true, to find any broken ones.

To help the inspector, and to increase the chances of spotting any problems, we give both the firebox and the smokebox an extra good clean.

We had the official cold exam last week, and the inspector pronounced himself very happy with the state of our boiler. He also inspected the gauge frames and safety valves, which we had dismantled for him, and was happy with them.

We have started boxing up the boiler, and re-assembling the safety valves and gauge frames. When this has been done, we can fill the boiler, and light the fire, to warm the engine up slowly. We have our own steam test, to prove that the mudhole doors and washout plugs don't leak. We also set the safety valves. We set them so that the middle one lifts first, for aesthetic reasons. This is followed by the fireman's side valve, so that he can see it. The driver's side valve is the last to lift, to avoid it dislodging dirt from bridges and tunnels onto the driver's window.

It is not all about the boiler, though. There are lots of other things that we do at the same time. We remove and re-calibrate all our pressure and vacuum gauges against our masters. We check the tyre profiles and thicknesses. We examine the support coach buckeye couplings. We give the loco and tender its regular greasing. And there is also a lot of paperwork to do, as well as any other maintenance tasks and painting that might be necessary.

Working on the motion

Then we will have the official steam test, and have all the electronics re-certified - all before our next trip on the 10th of February.