As is usual with steam-hauled railtours, preparations started well before the day of the trip. The grate had been cleaned, and the smokebox and ashpans emptied. There are always one or two small maintenance jobs to be done, and these had been carried out. We also perform a Fitness To Run examination ourselves, prior to the official FTR carried out by a DB Cargo representative. A start had been made on cleaning and polishing the locomotive and support coach.

It is important to warm the boiler up slowly to avoid unnecessary thermal stresses, so we lit the fire two days before the trip. This is not a matter of just lighting the fire, but also involves checking things such as washout plugs, mudhole doors, tubes and stays for signs of leaks, amongst other things. Finally, a small warming fire was lit.

On the Tuesday morning, work started on the fire at about half past four. At this point, there was no pressure showing on the gauge. The fire was kept to the rear of the grate, but spread the whole width of the firebox. During the morning, the engine slowly came to life. By nine o'clock, all the support crew for the trip were on site and working, along with some extra volunteers. There is a lot to do on the preparation day. All the lubrication has to be attended to, the tender loaded with coal and water, and a lot more cleaning carried out.

During the day, the DB Cargo representative gave the loco and support coach a thorough Fitness To Run examination. This includes many things, including:-

  • A complete visual inspection, including tapping all nuts etc. with a hammer to ensure that they are tight
  • Pressurising the steam chest to make sure that there are no leaks
  • A functional brake test, including AWS
  • Moving the engine outside to test the safety valves
  • Testing the injectors, sanders, whistle, etc.
When this has been completed, and the fire has died down sufficiently, the locomotive is brought back into the shed for the final cleaning and preparation.

The day of the trip starts even earlier, and work started on the fire at about three thirty. It was given a good rocking and raking, and slowly built up. We like to leave the crew with a a good fire across the back of the grate so that they can push it forward and build their own fire. The lubricators were wound to prime them, and the trimmings put in.

For operational reasons at Bristol, the support caoch had to be at the rear of the train, so a class 67 arrived at about six o'clock to pick that, and most of the support crew, up. The train is finally marshalled together in Battersea Loop, and arrives at Platform Two in Victoria in plenty of time, so that our guests can have the opportunity to visit the engine.

Departure was almost to time, and the train went via the Hounslow Loop. This was the chance for some of the support crew to catch up on some much needed sleep. Quite a bit of the journey is under the new overhead wires, which stops us from climbing up on to the tender to pull coal forward. Therefore, we made a stop at Bracknell to do as much of this as we could. As the support coach is at the back of the train, the current Owner's Representative is the only member of the support crew available to do this.

Water was taken from a tanker at Wantage Road. As the tanker driver didn't have a Personal Track Safety card, one member of the support crew was with the tanker to lay out the hoses in preparation for our arrival, and to roll them up again as we departed.

We had a twenty four minute pathing stop at Swindon to allow service train 1C12 to pass us. We arrived at Bristol Temple Meads on time. It was now time for the support crew to wake from their slumbers, as there was a lot to do.

We had no diesel with us, so we had to do all the shunting ourselves. This involved setting back into Barton Hill, where we split the train into two parts to get it all into the shed. Then the loco departed to turn on the triangle. On return, the first thing to do was the oiling of the middle engine. We couldn't open the hoppers and drop the ash whilst someone was underneath. While this was being done, we loaded another four tons of coal, and filled the tender with water.

When the oiler was out from underneath the engine, fire cleaning could start. Our rocking grate allows us to do this one side at a time. We use the clinker shovel to move good fire from one side to the other, loosen the clinker, and drop it through the ashpans onto the ground, using the ashpan sprays to help. We then repeat on the other side of the grate, and start building up the new fire. While the fire is getting going again, we set back so that we can shovel the ash into a skip. We want to leave Barton Hill as clean as we find it.

Then we are back to shunting again. We couple up, smokebox first, to the new rear of the train, and join the two halves back together. Then we pull the train through Temple Meads into the West Yard, where we run round to get back onto the front. When the signallers allow, we pull back into the station to pick up our guests again.

Clan Line at Bristol Temple Meads ready for the return - photograph by Paul Blowfield

Clan Line at Bristol Temple Meads waiting to depart - photograph by Paul Blowfield

Then we can have some lunch, and catch up on more sleep. At least we were at the front of the train now, so we could hear the engine working. We stopped for more water at Milton Junction on the way back, and arrived back at Victoria a few minutes early.

All was not over for the support crew, though. While our guests had another opportunity to visit the loco, a class 67 arrived from Stewarts Lane and coupled to the rear of the train. It towed us back to the depot, and we propelled the train back into the carriage shed. When we had uncoupled, we turned the engine on the triangle and returned to our own shed. Before going inside, we gave the boiler a good blow down to remove some of the contaminates that build up over the day. Once back inside, we could remove the trimmings, reconnect the shed supply, and top the boiler up. At last, after midnight, those that were going home were able to start their journeys, whilst others spent their third night in the support coach.

And, at the weekend, it all started again...