Obviously with the current situation, there won't be any 1940s stories this year, so those who have an aversion to Lemons can breathe easy. Hopefully I can dig into my "Back catalouge" and keep you entertained with a few stories from my career so far. Some people may wonder why someone who joined the railway to go on the footplate, posts primarily Guard's based stories, the simple reason being that the guard has an interaction with more people, and so there is a greater oppotunity for something funny to come up, and with the sense of humour of most of my Loco department colleagues, there is also a greater chance of it being printable! My drivers exam was on 7812, Erlstoke Manor, with fireman "Scouse" Dan Jones, and Inspector Andy Williams, and at 2.36 P.M. on Sunday 20th August 2017 I received the news that I was now qualified to act as driver on a steam loco. I have been very careful not to describe myself as being a Driver, my grade is now Passed fireman, so I can be rostered to either side of the footplate. This story isn't about that, it is about my next turn, my first solo one. I had been provisionally offered Jason Holders turn with fireman John (Half) Price, a fellow passed man, as my mate, Jason's reasoning being, it takes a lot of pressure off the driver if his fireman is a passed man, or a reliable senior fireman, and Half Price is as reliable as they come (This is not the same John Price as in the 1940s stories, hence the nickname of Half Price, although as a link, his Father, Phil, was the inspector who passed me out as guard!) So with the news that I had passed, I spent the August Bank Holiday weekend at the South Devon Railway, at their Rails and Ales event (An event I thouroughly recomend when they are able to hold one again) and was on my way home, walking over the Bridge at Totnes Mainline station, when the phone went. It was our gaffer, Jon Teuwen. "Wonder what he wants?" I thought, "Can't be a rollicking, I've not been there to do anything wrong," so I answered it. "Hello Ian, It's Jon here," he started, "I notice you are on with Half Price on saturday, can I ask you a favour?" "Depends what it is mate, but fire away," I replied. The reason for hedging my bets, there are certain things as passed men, that we are not allowed to do until we have done 30 turns or 2 years in the respective grade, while Jon should know this, I didn't want to either have to give my turn up or walk into any inadvertant traps. "I was hoping to get Mike Ward though his driving exam on Saturday," he said, "There's no one available to take him on Sunday, would you swap to S2 on Sunday instead." "I can't mate," I replied, "I'm DSM on Sunday." "I've thought about that, IAn Hudson is the man on saturday, if he's willing to swap will you do DSM on Saturday instead and drive the Sunday?" "How's the fireman on Sunday?" I asked. "Chris Field," Jon replied, I know you wouldn't want anyone too junior on your first turn and Chris and you are good mates. Obviously Jon had thought about the same things as Jason, but with Jason having given so much thought to who I was going to go with, I felt guilty about agreeing to the swap, however, having had people try to stand in my way of training a few times, I didn't want to obstruct Mike's course to driving either. I decided to let fate decide it, if Ian was agreeable to swapping DSM turns I'd go for it. "Ok, Jon, look, I'm in Totnes at the moment, waiting for a train home, so I obviously don't have Ian's phone number to hand, if you can arrange things for me, if he will swap then I'll do it, otherwise, for obvious reasons, I don't really want to give up the turn." "Yeah I understand that, don't worry, thanks Ian," he replied, "I'll give the other Ian a call, and ring you back." "Ok, cheers Jon, speak to you in a bit." As good as gold, Jon got back to me, fate had played her hand and Ian had agreed to swap DSM turns, leaving the Saturday turn with Jon clear for Mike to do his exam, and putting me on the Sunday turn. We were booked to have 34027, Taw Valley, however she failed with injector problems earlier in the week, so we were to take 7812 again. I wasn't disapointed, not only do I prefer GWR locos, but being a warm day, the Manor would be kinder on Chris, and a lot easier for me to oil up. One problem with the rebuilt bulleids is that the inside engine is rather an after thought, when they were rebuilt, they gained new inside cylinders, and a set of wiggley waggley things that were never intended to be there, and it shows, where as GW inside valve gear is intended to be there so is a much more comfortable job, after exchanging pleasentries with Chris, and checking all was well, I signed on, made a cup of tea and sterted oiling round and checking the loco over. Having finished in good time, and with Chris ready, there was a window of oppotunity to go a little early, so we filled our tea cans just in case, and at 9.45 we headed off light engine to Kidder. We had been informed that if Taw Valley was ready, we would be swapping to her during the day, so I had asked the DSM to request that if we had to do this, in light of the heat, and the fact the Manor is a more efficient machine at the speeds we are doing, could we save the railway a few quid, and both of us a lot of sweat, by swapping last trip, this was subsequently agreed. Our early departure from Bewdley was about as good as it got timing wise that day, as we were held outside Kidder until our booked time to arrive while a shunt occured, if we had known that, we'd have grabbed a butty from Bewdley rather than rushing breakfast at Kidder, but Hindsight is 20/20 vision is it not? I had tipped my Dad off that I was driving that day, and as he would normally be on sight I had expected that we may see him, in overalls and repairing an 08. but I was pleasently surprised to see him in his civvies, and coming for a trip on the train, I couldn't take him on the footplate with us, despite him being SVR staff, owing to the restrictions on newly qualified men, but we all understood that. A late running coach party caused us to be a few minutes late leaving Kidderminster, but that shouldn't be an issue, a good bit of team work, and some swift station work should soon fix that, and without me having to hit the engine, and so, Chris, too hard. Team work is something that so far I have been very keen to have as a major part of my approach, if I am going to drive vigourously, I only do so with the agreement of my fireman, no point making time up only to run him out of steam or water, or work him harder than he is happy to work, likewise, sometimes a bit of a trot will help him along by clearing the muck out of a dirty fire or getting the furnace temperature up a bit. Likewise, you can pull back far more time by getting the passengers on swiftly, without seeming to rush them, and getting the doors shut and the train away from stations, than you can by vigourous working of the loco, my guarding days have given me a theory that without speeding, the loco crew can pull back about half a minute per mile on our line, and that the length of time we are actually doing 25 mph means that even if we were permitted to exceed 25, you wouldn't save much more time, it is station time and acceleration that do the job. This theory was born out by the fact we were pretty well back on time by Arley, the problem was, with us being a minute or two late, I was expecting the light engine for the diner to be there before us, however, he wasn't and we were in for a 14 minute wait. There was also a TSR at the county boundry and another at Borle Viaduct at the time, which was going to put a bit more pressure on us. "You ok if we have a bit of a chuff mate?" I asked. "Fill your boots," replied Chris. "I won't give it too much out of here, cos it's a bit greasy out of this side," I said, "and it'll give your fire chance to warm up again, but I'll give it some stick off the two slacks." Harsh acceleration and braking are an inefficient way to drive, the brake essentially being an energy wasting device, on a line such as ours, every time you use the brake, you are running off speed that you didn't need in the first place, which means wasted coal and water, and more shoveling for your mate, meaning he needs more Weetabix in the morning, so it is something I only do when we are late ond with his agreement, however it did seem that every time we erroded away a bit of the delay, something put a bit more time into us. I wasn't going to get drawn into getting carried away with the way I was driving the loco, as I didn't want to get myself in trouble, I am keen to build a reputation for a professional approach, although still having a few laughs on the way, we are, after all, all here to enjoy our selves. I'd agreed with Chris that we would try to get up to speed out of Hampton Loade, fairly smartly, and the same away from Sterns. Chris informed me that my Dad's head was out of the front window on his side, presumable so as not to distract me, and he seemed to be enjoying himself. "Alright to give it a bit of stick away from here?" I asked as we drifted down to the 15 mph for Sterns. "Oh well, If you insist," Chris replied with a smile. Once we cleared the 15 mph restriction, I gave the loco some steam and we set off, using the short stretch through Erdington station, where the gradient eases slightly, to pick up speed, the loco got nicely into her stride, and was chopping the beats off nicely as we headed round the S bends on the upper part of the bank. Chris had the injector singing away nicely as we passed crossing sottage, and soon I was shutting off steam, rolling over the top of the hill and allowing gravity to do the rest of the work. "You know you are getting Taw Valley later?" we were asked many times at Bridgnorth. "Yeah," I replied, "Next trip I believe," not wishing anyone to try to force the issue and bring the swap forward, and with that, we headed off for a cup of tea and an Ice Lolly. On the way back, we were once again held at Hampton Loade. "We are booked ten minutes at Bewdley," I said to Chris, "So we have a fighting chance of being on time, I'm not going to rush at Kidderminster, this time table is too tight, if we are late in, we'll be late away, thats just how it is." On the time table in question, we were booked just 23 minutes at Kidderminster, which while 23 minutes in Kidderminster is normally enough for anyone, to get drinks on a hot day, or hot drinks inthe cold of winter, vistit the toilet, run round and take water, it's a bit tight, again, team work being the key, with a cleaner on hand to hook off, the same lad was dispatched to get the teas while we both went to the loo, and of course, the cleaner (Who I think may have been Rob Smith) was again on hand at the water column, and was on top of the tender before Chris was off the loco, and once more, waiting to hook us on as I dropped us onto the train, meaning that despite a three minute delay in our arrival, we were away on time, meaning we would not be responsible for the crew on the next train having to forgo their own tea or toilet requirements. On arrival at Bridgnorth, we looked over to the yard to See Taw Valley waiting for us, we hooked off, put the Manor on shed and swapped footplates. "You been on this before Ian," asked one of the Bridgnorth lads, "As a driver I mean." Not sure whether he was going to offer advice or was trying to get me to allow him to come and show me how it 'should be done' I decided to hedge my bets with my answer, I didn't wan to seem big headed, but I also didn't want other people's thoughts filling my head having only just completed my training, but it was good to know, if i needed advice, there would be some on hand. "Yeah," I replied, about three weeks ago. "Yeah, but have you ever taken her out for Bridgnorth?" "Yes, oddly about three weeks ago!" I replied, wondering where else we would be going. "Yeah but have you ever taken her stone cold out of Bridgnorth?" "Yes," I replied again, "About three weeks ago. "Yeah, but have you ever taken her stone cold out of Bridgnorth with an 8 coach train.?" "Again about three weeks ago," I replied patiently. "Yeah, but have you ever taken her stone cold out of Bridgnorth with an 8 coach train in the rain?" It was starting to drizzle, in my opinion, the worst kind of rain, a good sharp shower washes the muck off the railhead, but drizzle just mixes with it, turning it to an oily, rust, leafy, wet, skatey mess, but I felt I would be fine if I just followed what I had been taught. "Yes thanks," I replied, "It's amazingly similar to the conditions about three weeks back." "Oh," came the reply, "You should be alright then." Knowing full well what that meant, I climbed onto the loco. "Pikey," I said to Chris, "This is going to be slow, but we are not going to make a mess of this, I suspect we will have a full gallery watching us leave." "Understood," he said, as I briefed him on the conversation. I cast my mind back to a conversation with some of the more senior men in the pub a few years ago, and this had influenced the way I drive these notoriously slippery engines. The signal came off and I opened the ejector, as the guard would have had to have pulled the strings to allow for the change of loco, I also used the large, which pulled the brake up to 15" where is steadfastly sat, indicating that the guard has his handbrake on and the idiot valve was doing it's job, it eant I had to be on my guard though as if he took it off ad the steam brake slipped, I could end up with the train rolling back, so I held the steam brake in postion in case. The token arrived and Chris showed it to me before hanging it up where I could see it. "Right away," said Chris, "Still got the board." "Thankypu," I replied, "Right away, got the board, got the token." With that, I firmly slapped the steam brake home, gave a toot on the whicstle and opened the Regulator gently, the steam chest pressure gauge slowly rose until it reached 80 pounds, and the big loco took the strain, feeling the weight of the train on her draw bar. I looked at the ground and saw no movement, so as the steam chest gauge dropped away, I gave her another 80 pounds, and the big loco began to ease the train forward, so I gave her the same again, then 90 pounds, then 100, beging to pull the reverser back at the same time. I was able to manage a grimace to the lads who had gathered in the hope of seeing me cock it up, as the mighty loco surefootedly walked the train out of the station on what would be a very greasy rail. There is a speed restriction across Oldbury viaduct, so there is little point in me going hammering out of Bridgnorth just to slow down again, so I just let Taw Valley walk the train up to speed, and get Chris's fire warm and begin to work the engine a bit once over the bridge. As the last coach went out of sight of the lads, I looked across at my fireman and smiled. "Told you it would be slow," I said with a grin, "At least if I make a hash of starting now, no one will see it!"