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“A return to Toddington please.” – Gloucestershire Warwickshire Steam Railway

As we missed the narrow-gauge railway the last time we visited “The Gloucestershire Warwickshire Steam Railway” at Toddington. We made a return visit having checked that the narrow-gauge trains were running.

If we were in any doubt that the light railway was operating they were immediately dispelled as we arrived at the site and rounded a bend to see a plume of smoke disappearing up the track from the opposite side of the complex. After parking up, and donning raincoats, we headed for the little ticket office to ascertain the times of the next departure. Finding we had forty minutes to spare we headed for the Flag and Whistle café.

It is a delightful place, very clean, the food was good, the staff were lovely, and it was not overly expensive. The walls are adorned with replicas of engine name plates. Paul pointed out the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Co. Merchant Navy Class replica over the entrance door. There was a birthday celebration in progress and we all sang happy birthday to Ken and Beryl (no idea who they were but we sang along). Singing and hot chocolate finished we headed back over to the ticket office.

My other half purchased two tickets and very soon after, the familiar hiss of a steam train could be herd as a lovely steam engine rounded the bend towards the station.  It looked very picturesque as it emerged through a cloud of its own steam and drew to a halt.

It turned out to be Polish engine, 0-6-0 side tank, built in1957 and named TOURSKA. The fireman and driver took some photos of the cab for me and then we hopped on board an absolutely charming, but very basic, carriage that had a stove on board (dismantled now for safety).

Our guard was lovely and extremely knowledgeable. Pulling out of the station we passed some extra rolling stock and some tip wagons, all tipped up and standing to attention like a row of soldiers. We halted at “California Crossing” signal box and engine shed.  We visited the engine shed first passing an engaging 32mm lay out on route.

At the shed we first saw a blue diesel Hunslet poking its nose out of the building, inside we found three carriages, the first two were built on Hudson tip wagon chassis not the most comfortable of rides, I am sure,,but fascinating to see their construction. The third carriage was a restored old Roadrail carriage (thought to be the only one in existence).

There was a film playing in the shed that showed the Roadrail operating. They were rather ungainly engines with normal wheels that could be hoisted up, or were wide enough apart, to follow flat ground beside a track where the train wheels ran. Our lovely guard informed us that they were innovative in their time, even John Buchan (Author of 39 Steps), was one of the first investors in this mode of transport.  You can view the film here. Hubby has also very recently read a piece about this unusual mode of transport in the “Narrow Gauge and Industrial Review” magazine issue number 114 page 57. You can imagine his excitement to actually see a carriage.

I dragged my husband away from the Roadrail carriage to look at a German built Henschel + Sohn engine, a magnificent beast, one of 2500 built for the war effort. Its works number is 15968 and it was built in 1918 just too late to be in military service, so it ended up at the Naklo sugar factory in Poland transporting sugar beet. Mechanically it is a pannier tank (again we had a bit of a debate, could it be a side tank?) 0-8-0 and has external Stephenson’s link valve gear, and features Klein-Lindner axles front and rear to allow the wheels to move laterally and radially with respect to the axle itself.  It came to Toddington in 1985.

We also saw another Hunslet, Chakaskraal No. 6, which originally was an “Avonside Engine Co..” of Bristol design, but they closed down in 1934 and Hunslet acquired the goodwill. This beautiful locomotive spent its working life in South Africa working for “Gledhow Chakaskraal Sugar Co. Ltd” in Natal, finally returning to this country in 1981.

Engine shed explored we turned our attention to the signalbox. What a magnificent experience. This signal box was originally situated in Gloucester and still has the mechanism that was used to open and close the level crossing gates and the leavers for the smaller pedestrian picket gates.  It has a Tyers patent tablet dispenser, a very reliable method to maintain safety on the tracks ensuring the line is clear for a loco to proceed.  All the leavers for the points, and all the dials showing line clear, line blocked and train on line, like majestic mantle clocks above the leavers.  You can imagine the sound of “ting,ting” as trains travelled up and down the line.

Too soon we were boarding the train again to follow the line to its end, not a long journey, but a pleasant one. On the return route we stopped to refill at the water tower. Back in the station we decided to stay on the train and repeat the journey as our ticket allowed.  If you are an enthusiast a second look at the engine shed and signal box is a must.

We had a lovely time and as we headed for home hubby promised to find the article in the Narrow Gauge and Industrial Magazine for me to read about the Roadrail.

 

 

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All aboard for Totnes. – The South Devon Railway

We are down in Devon, staying not far from the River Dart and The South Devon Railway at Buckfastleigh Station.

As you are probably aware, by now, I rather like the steam engines, however, today due to a technical hitch the only passenger service available was diesel. I was a tad disappointed but as we pulled into the ample car park at Buckfastleigh, we heard the characteristic toot! toot! of a steam engine and spied the familiar plume of steam.

As we trooped over the passenger bridge towards the platform, to await the arrival of others, we could see the glorious Great Western 6412, 0-6-0 pannier tank engine, (I always fancy these engines look rather like a match box from the front), in full steam with four carriages behind, awaiting the signal to leave the station.

Pausing on the bridge we watched as a few excited “would be train drivers”, on a footplate experience day, inch out of the station billowing smoke around our feet as they departed up the line for Totnes. I must admit I felt a tinge of envy as the last carriage (carrying the name EMMA) disappeared from view. I think I might like a footplate experience!!!.

Having photographed the signal box from the steps of the bridge we alighted onto the platform and headed for the museum, a truly fascinating place.

In pride of place we found TINY 151,Brunel’s broad-gauge engine (on loan from the National Railway Museum).  It was mounted on the original partially hollowed track called bridge rail.  I was a little startled to find that it boasted a vertical boiler and hubby pointed out the vertical cylinders. He also urged me to look at the broad-gauge carriage.  You can get up close to all the items on display and even sit inside the carriage. There were many smaller gauge engines on display and other related items to view as well. Lots to look at.

As we exited the museum a diesel loco drew into the station. My other half pointed out the shunter cups (caps). These are depicted in the photograph and hang on a hook with a chain attached to them, so that when a carriage, or a piece of rolling stock, is being propelled during a shunting operation they prevent the buffer springs being compressed each time a movement is carried out, the cups are placed on the shank of the buffer to make it a rigid structure.

 

He also spotted the water tower situated by a beautiful set of signals. He pointed out the brazier positioned below the take-off pipe, to be lit in icy conditions so that the steam engines can be watered, no matter how cold the weather. Seen alongside SEA KING the Bo-Bo Diesel Loco which hauled us to Totnes.

We were joined by friends and all went into the café. A big building at the rear of the station with a gift shop next door selling 00 gauge model engines and other memorabilia. Choosing a table outside to accommodate two children and a big golden Labrador dog, we found the café offered a good selection of meals and beverages at a reasonable price.

Having eaten, and the remainder of our party having arrived, we all boarded the 2.15pm to Totnes following the River Dart to Staverton and on to Totnes Riverside. As we pulled smoothly away we passed an 0-6-0, 08 class diesel electric locomotive. We were informed that there were many of these produced around the time of nationalisation (British Railways).

As can be seen from the photograph the origins of this locomotive are very evident, you can see it has a chassis with more than a nod to steam locomotive design, spoked wheels, coupling rods, leaf springs and a rigid plate frame with horn cheeks. This design allowed engineering plants, that had the machinery and skills suitable for the existing manufacture of steam locomotives, to produce a very rugged chassis for a highly acclaimed diesel electric locomotive. The diesel electric part supplanting the steam section of the locomotive.

We were joined by friends and all went into the café. A big building at the rear of the station with a gift shop next door selling 00 gauge model engines and other memorabilia. Choosing a table outside to accommodate two children and a big golden Labrador dog, we found the café offered a good selection of meals and beverages at a reasonable price.

Having eaten, and the remainder of our party having arrived, we all boarded the 2.15pm to Totnes following the River Dart to Staverton and on to Totnes Riverside. As we pulled smoothly away we passed an 0-6-0, 08 class diesel electric locomotive. We were informed that there were many of these produced around the time of nationalisation (British Railways).

As can be seen from the photograph the origins of this locomotive are very evident, you can see it has a chassis with more than a nod to steam locomotive design, spoked wheels, coupling rods, leaf springs and a rigid plate frame with horn cheeks. This design allowed engineering plants, that had the machinery and skills suitable for the existing manufacture of steam locomotives, to produce a very rugged chassis for a highly acclaimed diesel electric locomotive. The diesel electric part supplanting the steam section of the locomotive. Children all settled into their seats and dog stretched out on the floor, the adults were free to chatter and enjoy the scenery. The Dart was quite low today but there were still a few people in canoes and small boats sailing downstream. Straight out of Buckfastleigh, I noticed all the brown cows in the fields possibly the South Devon or just Devon breed, one such herd of cattle with suckler calves was being inspected by the farmer.

Two of the younger members of the party were particularly enjoying the journey and have taken a keen interest in steam and railways in general. Their grandfather has recently purchased a 32mm gauge (16mm scale) loco called Russell. On Thursday evening said grandfather fired it up for the first time. It is gas fired, steam propelled, and he had brought along a rolling road for it to run on, as track is rather difficult to lay in a caravan awning. So, by torch light we were running time trials on the small engine, or rather just timing how long it could run for on one filling of gas (which turned out to be around 32 minutes).

We all enjoyed this exercise so much that we declared it to be the very best bit of the whole weeks holiday.
My hubby commented “That’s the train bug for you, once you have caught it you never get it out of your system!!!”

We glided to a halt at Staverton Station, an excellent replica of a Great Western Railway station in its heyday. On our way in we had passed some rolling stock and there was also a track laying train in a siding. Continuing down the line enjoying the sunshine and lovely Devonshire scenery we finally came to a halt at Totnes Riverside Station. Here we had fifteen minutes to alight, as the engine ran around to the other end of the train. I was very impressed with the external design of the toilet block here. It had a Great Western Pagoda roof and looked charming. Ice creams purchased, children and the dog ushered back on board we all enjoyed the return trip. All too soon we found ourselves back on the platform at Buckfastleigh but the fun was not over, as we sauntered over the bridge to the far side of the complex that has a large garden railway (32mm), a butterfly and otter park and a 7¼” gauge track that was running.

We all piled onto the two carriages of a Roanoke 0-4-0 with tender engine. This delightful little track also runs along a small stretch of the river Dart and then through a lovely wooded area and on through a tunnel, into some more formal planted areas. It also passes a small yard storing spares for engines which my other half found very exciting as he pointed out boiler plate formers, railway chairs and some stock that was waiting for repair.

Sadly, the garden railway was not operating at the time of our visit but my husband took some photographs along with one of a fascinating dragonfly sculpted in steel, and that ended our lovely day.

 

As a footnote to this I would like to mention that I found all the staff and volunteers charming, helpful and very informative. I was also taken with a brindle whippet (apologies if I have the breed wrong) and a black boxer Labrador cross called Oliver, apparently both dogs can frequently be seen on Buckfastleigh Station. So, if you are a dog lover look out for them when you visit.

 

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A teen, steam and a tall dark stranger. – Romantic Railways

I thought that you might like to hear a little about “this narrator” and how my fondness for steam developed.

My other half has a 5” gauge model of a 2’ 6” narrow gauge steam locomotive built in 1953. It is a replica of the last ever narrow gauge loco to be built for industrial use in the UK. The original is one of seven similar engines constructed in the 1950’s, the other six were exported to South Africa. It is an unusual design of locomotive and the model is named as the original, and I wonder if anyone can guess what it is?

I am the only child of an industrial chemist and a stay at home mum (back in the late fifties and early sixties most mothers stayed at home). My father, however, was also an avid steam enthusiast and dabbling model engineer. We spent our holidays with my maternal grandmother on the Mid Wales border in Oswestry. From here we made day trips out to all the great little trains of Wales. I think my father would have liked to have had a son, but undeterred, he explained all the basic principles of the steam engine to me, and as I mentioned in my very first report on The Brecon Mountain Railway, I spent many a happy hour in the garage with him as he worked on his little Myford Lathe.

Fortunately, my mathematics was reasonably good, and science has always interested me more than the arts. It was not until I became a teenager, however, that steam started to creep into my soul. Up until the age of thirteen steam trips for me had been a pleasant and fascinating holiday pastime to indulge my rather fanatical father.

It was one early Autumn evening, most probably a Tuesday, when dad arrived home from work to find that mum was going out, clashing with his expected attendance at a meeting of the Stroud Society of Model Engineers. After a slight debate, as to whether I could be left in the house alone, I found myself in Dad’s car heading towards the outskirts of Stroud to an abandoned Work House, where the then newly formed society had leased some space to set up a club room and machine shop. I had homework with me and Dad suggested that I stay in the car and finish my work. “Not a chance” as soon as he disappeared I was out of the car exploring the huge building and its surroundings.

About twenty minutes later, I was balancing on a log, rocking to and fro, gazing at the Cotswold scenery, from what served as the car park, when a rather smart sports car pulled up, and a tall, skinny, dark haired young man jumped out, and tugging his hand through his thick dark hair, rushed into the building. I think it was the car that piqued my interest, a harvest gold MGBGT (that my father later called an upholstered roller skate).

I hopped off the log and followed the young man inside. What a delight drilling machines, a big lathe an assortment of bits and bobs all strewn around as about eight men tried to make order of their recent acquisitions. Even at this early stage it smelt like a machine shop, that whiff of oil and hot swarf. Needless to say, I did not complete my homework that night, I spent the remainder of the evening wielding a broom, clearing floor space for machines to be pushed or hoisted in. I am not sure how good a job I did, because I kept one beady eye on the skinny dark-haired young man.

To raise funds for their club, volunteers attended all the summer fete’s in the area. Arriving the evening prior to the fete and laying a straight length of portable track of dual gauge 3½” and 5”. Returning on fete day with either a 5” 0-6-0 tank engine with Baker valve gear, or a beautiful 3½” gauge Great Western 4-6-0 County class engine built by Gordon Jones, one of the first club members. Two running coaches that could seat about four or five children linked up behind to form the train and we were in business.

The very first fete I attended was, I think, where my awe of steam locomotives really began. To see an engine being lit and fired up, coming to life in front of your eyes is quite a sight to behold. A lovely aesthetic inert ornament turns into a warm living chattering animal, with a glowing fire in its belly and a life all its own.

At these fete’s I would help children on and off the coaches and sit at the back to avoid anyone falling off. Elf and Safety was laxer in the 70’s. One society member’s son did fall of the back of the train when we attended an away day at another club. It was a raised track and he was only about 3 ½ years old. When his mother finally reached him, he was screaming and protesting very loudly, not because he was hurt, but because the train was going on without him. That toddler today is also an avid model engineer and steam buff.

On rainy days I often sat behind the driver, sometimes this was my father, who would be smoking a cigar (Elf and Safety!!) holding an umbrella over his head as we ran up and down the track with no passengers trying to attract some children onto the ride.

At the end of the fete when all the children had gone home, there would often be a fire remaining under the boiler and some steam would still be available to power the train. I was the kid begging at the side of the track to be allowed to drive the engine and, oddly enough, they let me. To begin with the owner of the 0-6-0 tank engine sat behind me instructing me and modifying my speed as we romped up and down the track. As I grew older he would still sometimes sit behind me taking his seat after running his hands through his thick dark hair.

Perhaps it was not only the steam that I found so attractive!!!!

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“A Spirit of Adventure in the Forest” – A visit to Perrygrove Miniature Railway in the Forest of Dean.

Saturday 4th August 2018 was another beautiful sunny day.

We decided to take a brief excursion down to The Perrygrove Railway. Having packed some cold drinks and a few sandwiches we headed off towards Coleford in The Forest of Dean.It was not a long trip and very soon we were pulling off the road into a large shady car park. As I killed the car’s engine, we herd the resonating “toot toot” of a steam loco.

The sound made us both smile as we headed up the track towards the entrance. We were greeted by the sight of a Hunslet named “Jubilee”, stationary, in a siding. We purchased two tickets in the booking office and finding we had a little time to spare we decided to buy hot beverages and eat our picnic outside the booking office and small café.

The walls of the buildings were adorned with some lovely informative bill boards. One particular board caught my eye, “Explore Lydia’s Boiler”. This showed a diagrammatic view of a steam boiler and gave a simple but clear explanation as to how a steam engine actually works. It seemed to me that Perrygrove has made a big effort to entertain and educate young children. They have an adventure playground including a tree house. Youngsters are also encouraged to take part in a treasure trail.

The engine shed was closed, much to our disappointment, as we would have liked to have seen ” Soony” an American 0-4-0 Baldwin Switcher Tender loco that he knew was housed at Perrygrove (I get all these extra snippets of information being married to an enthusiast). The Soony is only brought out on very special occasions as it is a small engine and is unsuitable to pull heavy loads.

 

Picnic finished, it was not long before an 0-6-0 freelance narrow gauge loco “The Spirit of Adventure” chugged into the station. My hubby informed me that she was built by “The Exmore Steam Railway” in 1993 and that she had Walschaerts valve gear. We then had quite a debate as I suggested that she was a Pannier tank engine and hubby declared that she was a side tank engine (can anyone settle this argument for us?). Debate aside I do have a soft spot for Steam engines and I thought she was exquisite, beautifully presented with a very tidy cab.

The Guard, a very jolly chap, found us a free seat in one of the five carriages and we hopped aboard. Green flag waved and whistle blown we were off on a meandering route that doubled back past the station and on through fairly dense woodland, clearing a little at Rookwood Halt were we paused for a while. Setting off again we meandered on up, arriving at Oakiron where the loco was uncoupled and ran to the other end of the train for the return journey. Many families with young children alighted here to picnic by the adventure play area. This is a very child friendly railway.

The return journey was equally as pleasant for us two old fogies who remained on board. Back at Perrygrove I purchased a couple of Christopher Vine “Peter’s Railway” books. I was very impressed by the selection that they held. I also treated hubby and myself to a huge ice cream.

We arrived home and my husband immediately went onto the internet and found me a picture of “The Soony”. I shall definitely be heading down to the Forest of Dean when they next bring her out for the day.