As a passed man, you tend to accept that you are very inexperienced in your higher grade, and as such, the more experienced crews get the nod over you on gala weekends, meaning when I was a passed cleaner, I was always pleasently surprised to get a firing turn on a gala and as a passed fireman, I never expect driving turns, so you can imagine, I was pleasently surprised to get a round trip of driving on the 2018 Autumn gala. What came as even more of a surprise was that fireman, Dougie Hutton, was a passed cleaner. What was less of a surprise was that the book on time was 4 a.m to relieve one of the over night crews, I don't mind that, I enjoy early morning turns, the Valley is spectacular in the soft morning light, and the river means the air low to the ground can be damp, causing fogs where the river and fields are covered, but the tree tops and railway embankments stick up out of the clouds, truely magical. Our loco was 7812. A couple of days prior, Dougie and myself had been chatting. "What time are we booking on?" he asked. "03.56," I replied, "20 minutes to book on, read notices and make a brew." "I'll be there about quater past," he replied, "we won't go over our 12 hours by a long way and I like to have a cuppa and chill before I start." "That sounds sensible to me," I replied, "I think I'll join you." The alarm clock it a cruel device, and I am sure whoever invented it must have been some sort of sadist, and that is doubly so when it goes off at a time with a 2 at the start of it. "Ugh" I thought, "A few more minutes," and hit snooze. Eventually I got up, and elected to make myself a bacon butty before going over to Bewdley, deciding that I would be unlikely to have chance to grab anything before we got to Bridgnorth, by which time I would be hungry. While I was making it, I decided I'd make a cup of tea and drinki ti in the warmth of my kitchen rather than the cold of a loco shed at 3.30 in the morning. Realising that if I wasn't careful, I would be late, I hurriedly finished my tea, grabbed my gear and got in the car. "I'm going to get ear ache from Dougie," I thought as I drove down the road known as 'The Switchback' from my home to Bewdley. Comming over the bridge in town about 5 minutes before my actual book on time, as opposed to the time we had agreed to meet up, I was bracing myself for a round of mickie taking, but thought it a little odd that I hadn't had a message asking where I was. I would soon find out the reason. Wondering across the crossing, hoping that no one else on the shed would be aware of what we had arranged, all was calm. but slightly worryingly, no sign of my mate. "Morning," I greeted one of the cleaners, "Dougie about?" "No," was the reply. "Afraid not." "Oh ok," I said, "He's late, he's going to have it when he gets here." In my head, I was thinging "Phew, I've got away with it," and off I went to sign on and make a can of tea. "Still no sign of him?" I asked. "No, is he supposed to be here?" "Well," I replied, "I thought I'd just turn up and randomly ask his where abouts, he's supposed to be my fireman this morning." "Oh, what time is he due here?" "Well, before his driver is customary, and before the train is preferable." "What time is the train?" "Ten minutes," I said, looking at my watch. "Well," came the reply, "Maybe he's on the train? The service is a bit late. Have you got his phone number? You could give him a ring." "I haven't," I said, "Have you got it?" "Yes, hold on," replied the cleaner, "Ooh, shall I give him a ring?" There was no reply, and with no DSM on site it was up to me to work out a plan. SO the first thing to do was to find if anyone was free. One of the other firemen was here massively early for his turn, so I asked if he could come with me, we get the lads to try and russle up someone to cover the first part of his turn of his turn if needed, while we went through all the possible options to keep the job moving and get Will back onto as much of his turn as we could. The board came off for our train, so I left a message with one of the cleaners for the DSM when he arrived, and decided that I ought to try and refer the problem to someone higher up, so rang the Duty officer, who was natrually thrilled to get a phone call at 4.15 in the morning. "SVR duty officer," came the voice on the phone. "Hello SVR Duty officer, it's Ian Hollis, driver on the 04.16 departure from Bewdley, we've got a little problem mate, my fireman hasn't turned up yet." "What time is he due?" "Well," I replied, "Prior to 04.16 would be good Matt." "What time is it now?" "04.17." "Ah, so you haven't got a fireman?" I went through our plan with Matt, and he agreed that we should go with that for now and he would see what he could work out. The train arrived and Will and myself relieved John Hancock (Probably better known to our enthusiasts for Hancock's Half hour in the SVR news) and Andy Christie, and set off, 10 or so minutes late, for Kidderminster. Matt came and met us when we arrived into Kidder. I had impressed on him how Will didn't want to loose his turn and wouldn't be happy doing one round trip with me when he was booked two round trips on 2857, it would annoy most people but Will having a reputation for being a milage man woukd be doubly cross. "The plan is," said Matt, "I'm going to carry on trying to get hold of Dougie, in case he's had an accident, you take Will with you for a round trip, Max Stockin is spare, he's going to bring the 28 off the shed, he'll brin it to here and put it on the train, you cross him in the loop so we'll get you both to stop, Will and Max swap footplates, Max will come back into the station and back to Bewdley with you, then revert to being spare." Now, have you ever seen when cartoon characters see money, and Pound or Dollar signs appear in their eyes? Well I'm sure I could see mileposts in Will's that morning. Suddenly he was rather more up beat about the whole situation, and I was relieved that someone else had doudle checked my plan, and come up with a better one. We were on time leaving Kidderminster, and concious of the early hour, and not waking the locals up, I eased the train out of Kidderminster. As we rolled into Bewdley, Rod Derry and John (Half) Price were on the crossing as we rolled in. "Your mate is running up the carpark," They both shouted un unison. "Looks like you are getting relived here mate," I said to Will, "Thanks for your help this morning mate." "No problem mate," he replied. As we rolled down the down main and into platform 1, Dougie shot out from behind the canteen and hurtled up the platform. Joining us on the 7812's footplate, Dougie was keen to explain his lateness. "I sat the alarm on my phone," he said, "But I couldn't charge it last night, so it never went off, I only got up because Pikey was snoring and I wanted to shut him up, then I looked at my watch." "Pikey stopped at yours last night then?" I asked. "No," Dougie replied, "We were both staying in the sleeper, if you'd asked George, he's have known, I told him if I didn't appear by 3.3.0 to come and get me, not sure why he didn't." "Nor me," I said, "Especially as when I asked him where you were, he hadn't got a clue." "Well I told him I was in Number 3 and 4 and to come and get me!" With just a couple of minutes to swap firemen, Dougie was in a bit of a rush and so I took it very easy out of Bewdley to give him chance to get his fire sorted. As it heads north, the railway is high above Bewdley town, as it crosses Wribbenhall viaduct and heads 'Down the wall' towards Northwood. The houses of Wribbenhall and the challets at Northwood are quite close to the line, so I was once again, using the gradient as much as I could and the regulator as little as possible to keep the noise down. We crossed a light engine at Arley, which was running late so we were delayed a little bit. I wasn't going to change my driving style at this point and rist upsetting the railway's neighbours, but some swift platform work at Highley would hopefully see us reduce the delay a bit. Unfortunately, poor Dougie was having a rough morning, as being late had thrown him a bit, and a swift station stop was not what he needed. He was shoveling quite well as we stopped at Highley. "You ok mate?" I said. "Not great for steam or water," he said. "We'll make it," I said, "Just stick a couple under your doors, we'll be ok." Driving isn't just making the engine go, it is largely about understanding what it is doing and knowing what will happen next. The line climbs out of Highley, so the water will run to the lowest point, which as we were also tender first, was to the front, so whe we came over the top of the bank, it would come back to us, but on the flip side, we are on a right hand bend, so Dougie's side was lower, meaning there would be less water over my side of the firebox, where GWR locos don't have a gauge glass. We would, of course, use the water as we climbed the bank, but Dougie had got enough coal in that we ought to be able to get the injector on fairly quickly, although the lower pressure indicates a lower temperature, meaning the superheater would not be working efficiently, however, once over the top, we could roll fairly well, and so long as I didn't have to make a heavy brake application, I could use the pump to keep the brake up and, unlike an engine with an ejector, I could allow the steam to drop a bit in order to get the water up if needs be. We got the right away, and once we were clear of the platform I turned to Dougie, "I think we ought to have your injector on please mate." He looked at the pressure, then at the water gauge. "We'll be ok," I said, "Just keep that water in sight, she's got a pump so she'' keep the brake off, we can roll to Hampton Loade from te top if we need to." I worked the loco very gently up the hill, and we really felt the weight of the train as we rounded the bends at the top. The curve causes an additional drag, but I didn't want to open the regulator to far and hammer the water too much, so we crept over the top, with the water looking much healthier as I said, we rolled all the way to Hampton, where we crossed the Bridgnorth lads. The long spell without using steam had allowed Dougie to get his fire sorted, and along the Waterworks and up Erdington, we could be a bit more vigorous, however, as we rolled thrpough Knowlesands Tunnel, we had a red on Bridgnorth's Down Home. Dougie had to go to the telephone to ring the signalman as we were sat there a good while. It turns out there was a shunt going on at Bridgnorth. "Typical," I said, "We were due in 6 minutes ago, and someone decides doing a shunt is a better idea!" We eventually arrived in Bridgnorth and were duely dispatched to the loco shed, where we were offered coal and water, and a shunter added the two dining coaches to our set as we now formed the breakfast train. "Fancy some breakfast?" I asked my fireman, fishing a package of tin foil off the steam fountain. "You sure?" he asked. "Yeah, it's not much but there should be enough for both of us," I replied. "Oh brilliant, I'm starving, what we got?" he asked. "Steak, onions, and tomatoes. it's not the best steak, its the diced stuff that is one step up from dog food, but it'll do for now." I handed Dougie a mess tin with some food in, which seemed to meet with approval, but before too long, we were off to put the loco back on the train again. The arrival of a train the other way, and the 08 shunting the extra coaches on delayed us a bit, and there was now a moring dew on the rail, with the two coaches next to the loco containing the feasting breakfasters and the kitchen, being smooth was important. We got the train under way, just under a quater hour late, the loco briefly giving what a friend of mine who was on the train describes as a little half slip, but then we slowly, but surefootedly lifted the train out of Bridgnorth, and gently climbed Erdington Bank, using the down hill stretch to Sterns to gather speed, refusing to reduce the section times with a dining train, recovering lost time was all down to the guard now, I didn't want any of my passengers to end up wearing their bacon and eggs. The overnight Bridgnorth crew were less than impressed with out 14 minute delay as they had got themselves back on time, but as I pointed out too them later, none of it had been our fault, and any attempt to pull time back on my part would only have made two or three minutes difference anyway. We were booked a long stop at Bewdley which allowed us to get back to six minutes late. "I'm sure they have finished serving," I said to Dougie, "So once we are off the viaduct, I'll give her a bit of stick up the hill." "Righto mate," he said, "Fill your boots." Aside from the fact that all stations on the SVR have a 10 mph speed limit through them, which at Bewdley, includes Wribbenhall and Sandbourne viaducts, steam locomotives impart a force known as 'hammer blow' by virtue of the weight of their revolving motion and the action of the forces generated from the cylinders, and these hammer blow forces can be phenomenal, the more steam you have on, the higher those forces are. Every beat of the cylinders, every rotation of the wheels imparts a force of several tons on the track and whatever is underneath it, and structures such as viaducts, and particularly soft, spongy sections of track bed suffer from these forces particularly badly, so I wanted to work the loco as gently as I could over the bridge and make the most of the firmer formation beyond to get us moving. We were soon up to line speed and aking a bit of a racket going up the hill past the safari park, past Rhyd Covert and the rifle range, past Dropping wells farm and the airport and up into the tunnel. With sparks from the chimney hitting the tunnel roof and explodong against the brick work, everyone on the train was awake now, just in time for the arrival at our destination, so you can imagine my dissapointment when Kidderminster station box's up home signals were showing red, and remained resolutely so as we rolled across Falling Sands Viaduct and came to a stand. After a few minutes, Dougie was again dispatched to the phone, returning with the news that once again, they were shunting. "What's your fire like mate?" I asked. "Pretty good," he replied, "Bit dirty." "Don't worry about that," I replied, "I'll clean it for you when we get the road, I might give it some stick out of here." "Your on," he replied. We got the road and I got the loco off the bridge gently as ever, before giving the loco a good handful of regulator and blasted our way up the short climb to just beyond Stourport Road. I think half of Kidderminster knew I wasn't happy with the delay as the houses must have shook with the sound of our exhaust reverberating off them, as we finally arrived back to 12 minutes late, into Kidderminster station, with the signalman and shunter now trying to hurry us to do what we needed to do Despite my grumblings about being held by other circumstanses (And to be fair to the signalmen, I don't know what else was going on in their areas at the time) it was a very enjoyable, and most memorable turn. Did I forgive and forget about Dougie turning up late? Well I wouldn't be a railwayman if I did, but that is a tale for another day.