Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Out With The Old...

and I'm not talking about ticket inspectors!

February is always a quiet time of year for tourist attractions and the NVR is no exception; however I have had a few turns of duty combined with visits where I’ve turned up ‘on spec’ in uniform ready to help out if required – or just have a full breakfast and a chat with some train rides chucked in if you want to be pedantic about it!

Motive power this month has been provided by the welcome return of the J94 Austerity tank, accompanied during half term by a freshly repainted Thomas.  The weather has generally been dismal, with a choice of cold or wet – or cold and wet this last weekend.  Although this doesn’t provide the most pleasant of travelling conditions, it does make for some rather atmospheric photography conditions, which I actually prefer to the usual blue sky and sun of the brochures.

On the subject of brochures, I’m pleased to be able to blow my own trumpet here a bit, as my photography features on the front cover of the new Visitor Guide and Timetable for the 2011 season.  Although not my favourite photo by a long way, the image had to fit the design of the leaflet, so a considerably cropped version had to be used.  Nevertheless, the sight of 44422 steaming out of Wansford is a nice picture and captures the essence of the railway as a whole.

More news from Wansford is that the huge hulk of the Polish 2-10-0 Kreigslok loco is destined to be shipped abroad in March, and this has thankfully seen the loco moved out of its long term home on the main siding and is currently on the turntable awaiting a low loader.  Although a magnificent machine, the loco has been abandoned for many years and is rotting away – and as this is most visitors’ first impression of the railway, it doesn’t present the right image by any means.  This is the only reason I’m pleased to see it go.

Last chance to view this awesome locomotive

Into the Kreigslok’s place goes the Swedish B class 4-6-0 loco, which has received a cosmetic makeover in the last few months by the hard working team of the International Railway Preservation Society.  Adjacent to this has moved the CIWL Italian Restaurant Car 2975, dating from 1927.  This vehicle is awaiting restoration; a task that will commence once her neighbouring coach, CIWL Sleeper 3916 is completed.  The IRPS are making tremendous progress with this coach, although it is a mammoth task to restore.  Although the bodywork is in poor condition as is expected, internally the cabins are remarkably intact with the beautiful wood panelling seemingly unaffected by years of outdoor storage.

 Swedish 101

 Dining Car 2975

Sleeping berth in 2916

The new line up is being displayed as the Nord Express, and is a vast visual improvement on the former death row of old engines!  Visitors are greeted by a presentable loco, and with 3916 under restoration this shows that the railway is working hard on active projects.  The whole ensemble is a great introduction to the railway, and a great talking point to speak to visitors about when we show them round.

The season commences properly in April with a Mixed Traffic Event featuring most of the home fleet plus a possible surprise guest star; however I have no idea what that might be, so watch this space and be surprised with me!

February’s photos will shortly appear in my Steamy Scenes gallery.

More about the International Railway Preservation Society, based at Wansford on the NVR, may be seen on their website and current news is reported on their Facebook page.

Sunday, 9 January 2011

The Big Bang

I must acquaint Laura and Matt on the footplate with my latest findings!

After posting the previous article, I was intrigued by Iain Robinson’s comment about loco 377 King Haakon having had a boiler explosion in the past.  Fired up (pun almost intended) with Poirot style detective skills – now I’m glad I watched Orient Express (!) – I did a little digging on the internet to find out more.  And I’m pleased to say that Iain’s recollections are correct; on 7th March 1976, whilst hauling a train on the Great Central Railway near Loughborough, 377 experienced an explosion in the firebox resulting in the cab being enveloped in steam, water and burning coal.  It must have been a terrifying moment for the crew, as three out of the four men in the cab received serious injuries.

Although information is scarce about the accident, I was fascinated to come across this original typewritten report by The Railway Inspectorate of the London Midland Region.  It is well worth a look; as well as a detailed inquiry with drawings and diagrams, the report ends with conclusions and advice on how to prevent a recurrence.  The most interesting line is, and I quote, ‘that it should be remembered by all who have dealings with steam locomotives that when steam is raised to a pressure of 170 lbs, its temperature is not that of a boiling kettle’.  So much for making a brew on the footplate then!

King Haakon at Yarwell in a timeless scene. on 2 January.

Perhaps the biggest difference between 1976 and now is that the report examined the accident, reported on it, discovered the cause and provided a simple remedy.  What would happen if the same accident occurred today?  Health & Safety would close the line down for investigation; all steam locos would be placed under house arrest; Quangos and committees and inquiries would be set up and take years to come to the conclusion that a steam loco is hotter than a kettle and needs a bit of TLC; footplate crews would dress like The Stig and attend Fire Safety Courses whilst having to travel in the first coach for health and safety issues.  Think I’m joking?  Well, a few years ago the company I worked for at the time sent me on an expensive full day course in Birmingham to teach me how to change a lightbulb in a shop.  The conclusion after the day long course (with a very nice lunch I must give them credit for) is that it is too dangerous for shop floor staff to change a lightbulb and the maintenance team should be called in.

I think that says it all.

The new H&S aware steam loco uniform makes its debut at the NVR.

Thanks to Iain for raising the issue that provided an interesting insight into the history of our visiting loco.  Iain's informative and entertaining blog may be read here.

A Warm Winter?

King Haakon arrives at Wansford, 2 January.

It’s been quite some time since I posted anything here, which has been due to an array of difficulties that arose in the traditional manner all at the same time and which are taking some considerable time to sort out.  On top of this, December was an extremely hectic month both on and off the railway, so something had to give.  And that something was me.  But new year, new start and all that – so what’s new?

Well, in the run up to Christmas I worked on the Santa Specials on the NVR.  I was sent to First Class in the Wagon-Lits, renowned as the hardest task on the Santa’s.  It is an extremely hectic job, as five trains run each day and on each service, passengers are served with food and drink, sweets, presents, a visit from Santa, mince pies, coffee and tea – it’s more like working on the Gatwick – Paris shuttle.  When the train returns to Wansford, there is a window of 25 minutes to turn the train round ready for the next load, so it really is something of a production line.  So why volunteer?  Simple – working in first class means that there is unlimited access to mince pies and coffee.  No contest.

The trains finish on Christmas Eve, allowing us all to go and enjoy the traditional falling-outs and skirmishes of the festive season, which this year put Apocalypse Now into the shade, so I was pleased when New Year’s Day came round and I could return to the railway for a bit of sanity as passenger services resumed on the Winter Warmers.

Most of the home fleet is currently out of action with swine flu or whatever illness is in vogue at the moment, so the NVR has hired in the Norwegian 2-6-0 King Haakon from Bressingham to fill the gap.  This unusual loco is required as the braking system is compatible with the Wagon-Lits coaches currently in operation on the line for the next couple of weeks.  Whilst it is willing, and has cracking steam heat, it struggles to haul anything much over three coaches so for New Year the train was top and tailed with one of our trusty class 14 diesels. 

Behind every successful NVR steaming is a ...?

The Christmas break had done King Haakon about as much good as it had done me, and the loco failed before the first service train departed from Wansford.  Eventually the class 14 departed alone, with a very chilly Winter Warmer service!  By the time I got back to Wansford I was looking very much like Scott of The Antarctic and dived straight into the café for several coffees.  Still, the engineering bods had been busy during our Siberian adventure and repaired King Haakon so that the rest of the day was much more to my liking.  I even removed one or two jumpers and a scarf at one point.  It’s good to be back.

Edited to try and create a photo that looks as 
though it could have been taken in 1919 when the loco was first built.

This weekend I was back at the railway to help out on private charter on Saturday.  The event was a surprise 70th birthday party with around 60 guests who hired out a whole train for the day.  The Wagon-Lits rake was booked, as it offers luxurious accommodation for the at-seat meal service that would be served on board during the two full-length non-stop trips up and down the line.  

The day began with shed tours that were very popular if a tad on the cold side before everyone boarded the train.  The atmosphere on board was excellent and I thoroughly enjoyed the day.  At the run-rounds I was able to nip out for photos of the rostered loco, the Polish tank 5485, in glorious winter sunshine – my favourite lighting condition.

Next weekend is Haakon’s last one at the NVR, so all being well I’m hoping to pop down and get some photos.

By the way, if anyone out there saw the Christmas Day showing of Murder on The Orient Express on ITV; well much of the exterior shots were filmed at the NVR and superimposed onto various backgrounds.  Personally, I thought that this remake was totally pointless even though it was pleasing to see our Wagon-Lit coaches in action behind the BR Standard 5 loco - how this loco came to be in Istanbul is a bigger mystery than the actual murder!

More playing around to create a moody 
Orient Express scene on New Year's Day.

Monday, 8 November 2010

Big Bang at Ferry Meadows

Although the Nene Valley Railway has now closed to the public until the Santa Specials start running, the line has a special duty every year to fulfil on Guy Fawkes Night as it provides special trains to take visitors to the Ferry Meadows Fireworks Fiesta.

Starting at Wansford, the first train runs to Ferry Meadows then onwards as ecs to Peterborough for the first group of party-goers – and there were so many of them it was a like a First Capital Connect commuter service!  Except that the train had welcoming, friendly staff of course …

The train was formed of the four open-plan DSB saloons, one of which had no lights as the batteries wouldn’t hold the charge.  Unfortunately, this was the bar car!  Our Polish tank loco provided power at one end, and a class 14 diesel top and tailed at the other.  Neither loco had heating facilities, so it was rather chilly on board after a while.  The idea was essentially to cram as many people on board as possible for the 10-minute trip to Ferry, then return ecs to Peterborough and repeat the process.  Both trains were packed out, but the mood was easygoing and relaxed.

A moody scene at Wansford after the last train had returned.

Once the second batch of passengers detrained, the fun part of the evening began.  The train runs down the line to Lynch Bridge, where it parks up.  All the train crew tuck into their fish and chips, thoughtfully delivered to Peterborough station in advance.  Then it’s time to watch the fireworks.

Naturally this presented me with a golden opportunity to try out a new genre of photography.  I was able to get off the train onto Lynch Bridge, and by wedging myself and the tripod between the buffers and footboards, I had an excellent vantage point of the whole area.  Yes, it was cold, dirty and extremely uncomfortable, but if it were easy then everyone would do it.  The sensible people stayed in the nice cold train, so they weren’t that much better off anyway …

The railway is located sufficiently distant from the park so that it enables a grandstand view of proceedings.  Before the main event, nearby Castor puts on a small display, which was very useful as I could use it for practise and get my settings right!  Then comes the legendary Ferry Meadows display, with some breathtaking lighting effects in a superbly co-ordinated sequence.  They last for a good 15 minutes and build up to an incredible finale of dazzling lights in all manner of artistic patterns and designs.

Following the display the train repeated the commuter role it was provided for, before heading back to Wansford and a break before Santa Claus comes to town in December!

The end of another season at Wansford.

Sunday, 31 October 2010

The Witches of Wansford

Saturday night was Halloween with Thomas at Wansford, and I went down as general factotum to help out here and there – my task was mainly to get the 150 odd participants on and off the special train at Wansford and Yarwell, then generally hang around; something I excel at.

After a thoughtfully provided fish n’ chip supper, I manned the ticket barrier to greet the arrivals, and I have to say the effort and time put into costumes – both adult and children – was incredible.  The station had been decorated by Jayne and her ever hard working team and certainly looked the part.

Thomas took the train through the haunted tunnel, and of course we really laid the ghost-who-lives-in-tunnel on thick and got huge cheers, ooohhh’s and general screaming from the carriages, although this had more to do with Jayne’s broomstick and Eddie’s backside rather than supernatural occurrences.

On arrival at Yarwell we got everyone off the train and those of us on duty were handed a Chinese lantern and told to set it off.  And how do we do that?  “Take it out of the plastic bag and set it on fire,” was the ever-helpful response.

Upon opening the plastic bag, I discovered that inside it I had a paper bag.  No, sorry, I stand corrected.  An orange paper bag with some string and cardboard in it, and some crudely applied black paper eyes and a mouth.  It was a pumpkin paper lantern. It wasn’t just an ordinary pumpkin paper lantern.  It was an incredibly cheap and naff pumpkin paper lantern that even Poundland felt that they were overcharging for.  By around 99p.

Eventually I managed to set mine on fire, although as Angie helpfully pointed out, setting fire to the outside wasn’t going to help much.  I’m not sure that I agree …

Chinese lanterns that you simply light and send soaring over the 
Nene Valley in an artistic and dramatic manner.  
Ours were nothing like this.

All ten lanterns eventually got lit and sent on their merry way.  One made it as far as the nearest carriage and crashed; four made it over the train and landed in the trees which presented the possibility of a lineside fire nearly in November (a first for any preserved line) whilst the remainder took off in spectacular style and sailed away into oblivion before landing on a Mondeo in Nassington and trashing the paintwork.

Now that we’d established a level, everyone got back on the train and returned to Wansford.  All passengers were helped to disembark so that they could go for food, party games and storytelling.  That was me done as I don’t do party games or story telling, except to my boss who wanted an explanation about the dent in the back of the artic I used on Friday.

So, I went and got the camera, as I fancied a night shoot around Wansford station.  Naturally I tried taking pictures of Thomas, but I needed a 30 second time exposure to capture the lighting, and no one could manage to keep out of the viewfinder for that amount of time.  The longest uninterrupted shot was 15 seconds, so that will have to do.

Away from the Halloween shenanigans there were some good opportunities, the best one being as Thomas shunted the coaches out of the station.  I managed to create this image of a train speeding through Wansford Station at night, which I particularly like.

As the party wound down I sought out the three resident witches who had been doing the entertainment, food and  - pretty much everything really.  Mavis, Jayne and Pat had really got into character and were only too happy to pose for photos.  Well, they’re certainly different from my usual models I have to say, and they did have a tendency to fondle their brooms that made the photo session look more like an audition for a porn movie rather than a children’s party.  Jayne’s face lit up when she found she had a broom to straddle, and getting her to pose motionless for a long exposure shot wasn’t going to happen.  She seemed to be thoroughly enjoying some questionable antics with a broom between her legs.  I shall say no more.  Happy Halloween!

 Getting the evil eye from Witch Pat

Jayne enjoying her prop way too much.

Sunday was the final running day of the 2010 season; so I went down to do booking office.  It was a dull, wet day and rather quiet, although as I had company in the booking office with Geoff, plus Liz and Percy next door in the shop, the time passed quickly and pleasantly enough.  I popped out to take a shot of the last train of the season departing Wansford on the final run – we were using Austerity No. 22, which made a fine sight heading down the line for Peterborough.

Well, that’s the season done.  Since joining the Nene Valley in February I have thoroughly enjoyed being part of something that manages to be interesting, rewarding, friendly and often wacky as my posts have shown.  I enjoy going down most weekends, have made many new friends as a result and come across a lot of very pleasant people both on and off the trains.

The railway takes a break from passenger service until the Santa Specials start on 28th November, although much behind the scenes work by the unsung hard working teams such as loco maintenance, Signal & Telegraph, Permanent Way, Carriage and Wagon etc continues unabated out of the public eye.  There is a special train next Saturday in connection with a fireworks display at Ferry Meadows, and I’m planning to be on it – so the story continues…

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Fowler Play at Ferry Meadows

It’s been three weeks since my last visit to the NVR, unless you include the lingerie photoshoot for the calendar project, so it was great to go back after such an unusually long gap on Sunday – in full TTI uniform, not lacy skimpies I hasten to add.  The season closes next Sunday, so this was my penultimate turn of duty for the year, other than a couple of one-off special events I’m popping down for.  The year seems to have positively flown by since I joined the railway back in February.

Sunday’s timetable was the easy three-train schedule, with Thomas in steam between Wansford and Yarwell as it’s the school holidays, and 4F 44422 back in service working the main service down to Peterborough.  Although chilly, the skies were crystal clear, and bright sunshine brought out the crowds – better than some summer running days, I noticed.  All three trains loaded well, so there was plenty to keep the star team busy – Eddie and myself on TTI duty, Matt as Guard and Laura adding glamour and some down to earth commonsense in her usual manner as trainee Guard.  With Stephen on the bar I was guaranteed a decent cup of coffee – it takes a long time to train people how to make a drinkable cuppa, but the effort pays off in the end.

The atmosphere on board the train was good, and the day was only marred by some idiots who decided to get off a train at Ferry Meadows after it had been waved off and was already in motion – this despite a 5 minute dwell time as we loaded a large group of people and all their accompanying baby buggies, prams, bikes, toys and nappy changing bags and a fridge freezer.  Okay, I made that bit up.  They didn’t have any nappy changing bags.

Next weekend is the finale of the season, with Thomas's Halloween Party on Saturday night.  I’ve been roped into helping out with this event, and although the NVR props department has run out of scary masks, Jayne assured me that I don’t need one.  “Just come as you are dear; your face will scare the living daylights out of anyone.”

It’s that sort of kind, warm-hearted appreciation that has kept me going back to the NVR week after week!

Friday, 15 October 2010

Playing Catch Up

An experimental night shot of D1062 taken during War Weekend in September.  I liked the idea enough to go and buy a shutter release cable; so much simpler than holding my breath!

As I have a couple of days off work due to a recent wisdom tooth extraction that ended in a hot balloon taking up residence in my mouth, I’ve been using the time to catch up on things at home.  I've even found time for some sleep - until the painkillers wear off, at least.

For the first time in many months I’m not spending a weekend down at the NVR as I have commitments elsewhere.  However, I still managed to fit in a trip during the week as part of a photographic assignment for a lingerie shoot that I covered here.  During the shoot I was pleased to run into Paul, who writes the informative blog ‘A Personal View of The NVR.’  Paul is based in Carriage & Wagon maintenance and generally works on the railway during the week – consequently we’ve never actually met.  He was working on one of vanfit wagons that has kept him occupied for some time, so I strolled over for a chat while Sian was away getting changed between shoots.  It’s always pleasant to meet a new volunteer on the railway and put a face to the name, particularly when you’re following their work through blogs and can see the progress with each visit.  Without such things, few people would ever get to know what happens in different areas of the railway to the one you work in yourself.

I'm sure you've spotted it already - but just in case you're not paying attention, Paul's Vanfit is second from left, partially hidden by the post.  Other interesting features in this picture are the rusty oil drums, lots of chain and the clever juxtaposition of the signal in relation to the shed.  Anything else I've missed?

I’ve added galleries to my Steamy Scenes website so that everything should now be up to date.  I still haven’t got captions done, and all I’ll say is don’t hold your breath.

Some time ago I uploaded a new video entitled The Blue Train.  I was busy and forgot to blog it, but essentially it took the premise of The Orient Express and covered a grand European rail journey.  In Cambridgeshire, owing to budgetary requirements.  Mostly filmed during the heatwave in June, there are some striking and colourful scenes in the film.  I’ve used the music before in an early film, but make no apologies for a second outing as it suits the concept and the actual train very well.

On Saturday I’m back at a model railway show as I’m demonstrating for Ten Commandments.  I can’t say that I’m overly excited at the prospect, as I had to turn down a paid photographic shoot for a 16th birthday party because the dates clashed.  Beards, bellies, BO and bullshit.  Bring it on!

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Rainy Days & Diesels

October already!  Where has the year gone?  It barely seems a few weeks since I joined the NVR and began life as a working volunteer at the Diesel Gala in March – and now here I am, a seasoned veteran officiating at the autumn diesel gala, which is the final big weekend event in the railway’s calendar.

The gala ran for three days, and I worked Saturday and Sunday on the trains as TTI.  Overall the atmosphere was pretty good, although there was the usual lack of manners and politeness that accompanies these events – in marked contrast to steam and family days.  This was particularly noticeable after last week’s 1940’s event where everyone was open and friendly.  The diesel crowd, by and large, stick their heads into Nikons and timetables and generally ignore everyone else around them unless they are part of their particular clique.  They also resent being asked to show tickets on board the trains, but the reason we ask to see them is that the diesel followers are notorious for resenting having to pay to travel on the trains in the first place – hence the need for regular inspections!  Also, because they insist on leaving one train at a station and then jumping aboard another train to go back behind a different loco, they come across several roving TTI’s during the day – but as we may not have seen them before, we don’t know that, “I’ve shown you my ticket a dozen times already.”  C’est la vie.

That aside, things went rather well.  We had a dazzling selection of motive power to hand, from class 08 up to 66 with pretty much everything in between.  Highlights of the gala depended upon personal preferences, but for me the class 52 Western D1062 Western Courier in maroon livery topped the bill, with 50135 Ark Royal close behind.  The Hoover was adorned in Loadhaul livery, which of course it never carried, so I wasn’t expecting to be impressed.  In the event, however, the loco actually suited this scheme far more than some liveries it did carry in BR service.

Three rakes of coaches were pressed into service, and being the NVR, we did this in our usual quirky fashion.  Set 1 was a five-car Mk1 rake – nothing unusual there.  Set 2 consisted of the four DSB opens plus the Belgian sliding door coach.  This vehicle was, of course, incompatible with the DSB’s so had no through corridor connection.  Set 3 was the most eclectic rake of the lot.  Normally we’d use the Wagon Lit set, but this is away earning a living on a filming contract.  We could have hired in a set of coaches, but we’d sooner do things our way.  So we got the non-operational twin-car DMU, coupled it up to two spare TPO coaches and stuck a Mk 1 TSO on the end.  Passengers were permitted to travel in one TPO, which is fine if you don’t want any light or even a window to look out of.  There was also only one seat, as this was the stowage vehicle!  Let’s just say that ticket inspections in this vehicle were quick and easy …

Not quite as it may appear!  A very rare chance to 
photograph the terminally ill DMU in passenger service - sort of.

Thanks to great teamwork on behalf of the loco crews, yard staff and signalbox, we kept the intensive service running pretty much on time for all three days.  Ironically the only real slip up came on Saturday night when we ran a single rake of coaches on two Wansford – Peterborough and return trips as Beer-Ex trains.  The Western was at one end, and two 37’s at the other.  Although plenty of NVR staff would ride these trains on an off-duty basis, I’d volunteered to stay on duty for these services as I don’t generally drink so wasn’t bothered about signing off and having a pint.  What I was really after was some nocturnal photography to try out my new shutter release cable, and planned to ride the trains, photograph them back at Wansford then do a night time shoot around the depot.  What could possibly go wrong?

I soon found out.  The Western failed at Wansford.  Not a total calamity with a dozen replacement locos lying around the place, but the logistics conspired against us.  In order to stick a new loco onto the front of the train, the whole consist had to be shunted out of the station.  You can’t shunt with passengers on board, so everyone had to be turfed off.  And who do you think got handed that enviable task?  The only idiot still on duty, that’s who.  The compartment coaches weren’t so bad; stick head in, announce the bad news and run away.  The TSO was a different matter.  Located immediately behind the recalcitrant loco, this coach was full of diehard Western fans who wanted some good nocturnal Maybach thrash accompanied by a pint.  Or five.  Telling them that the loco was knackered was one thing.  Chucking them off the train was another, especially as the weather, which had been very kind all day, had now turned and was chucking it down.  People were not happy.  People let me know they weren’t happy.  I felt about as popular as a ham sandwich in a mosque.

At length Control took control and chucked 50135 on top of the Western so that we could finally get going.  And when we got going, we went in fine style.  I took an executive decision not to do a ticket inspection for health and safety reasons as I would have been a Christian entering a TSO of well-oiled lions.  Some things are best left alone.  On arrival back at Wansford it was really pouring down, and I reluctantly cancelled my photoshoot around the depot.  I did manage some nice station shots, however, as I could work undercover and experiment with timings to get the best results.  In this respect the rain actually helped out, as the wet platforms provided some reflections that illuminated the station and added to the overall scene. 

It could almost be Plymouth and The Night Riviera.

The rain continued all day Sunday, varying between heavy downpours and very heavy downpours.  Passenger numbers were lower, and working the trains was a lot easier.  It also meant that I had the chance to do a spot of photography, including legging it out of Wansford so that I could get a lineside shot of the Western in action, as opposed to station and yard shots.  This picture was worth the inevitable soaking that resulted from my mad dash – the things I do for pleasure.

D1062 leaving Newquay for Paddington in '65.  I wish!

We received some good feedback about the gala via the various relevant forums that deal in such matters, or so I’ve been told.  We were praised for the choice of locos, running the advertised service, providing the locos that we said we would run and keeping it all together.  I felt that it was a big improvement over the Spring gala, and overall the mood seemed better and less intense.  

And so that pretty much brings the Nene Valley season to a close.  We’re still running up until the end of October and round off with Thomas having a spooky Halloween evening.  This is followed by a Fireworks Fiesta on 6 November before preparations commence in earnest for the Santa Specials to complete the year.

The rain hammers down at Wansford - not readily visible here, but the full set 
of larger images should shortly appear in Steamy Scenes photo galleries.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Autumn Approaches

Sunday's motive power prepares for the day ahead.

The end of the season is approaching down at the NVR, and for the first time this year it felt like it during my TTI turn on Sunday.  There was a definite autumnal chill in the air and the trains were quite quiet.  Despite this, it was a good day and quite varied.  On the first train out I was tour guide to party of 50 silver riders who were on a coach tour of the area.  They were good fun and easy going so we had a relaxed round trip of the line.  There was a complete change on the second train as I had another party; this was a group of special needs children with parents and carers on a birthday outing.  They were a delightful bunch of kids, and I chatted to all of them on the journey.  I let each of them help clip a hole in their special tickets for their scrapbook, and it made it all a very interactive occasion.  They were a happy bunch, and nice to see so many smiles from both the children and adults at the end of the trip.

That was my tour guide duty done, and I was now free.  We had three more trains to operate, and as the TTI on duty couldn’t stay all day I offered to take the remaining services as its always enjoyable working the trains.  I missed one service out, however, and used the time to visit places at Wansford I rarely get to visit and have a coffee and natter with volunteers in the gift shop and bookshop.

 Recalling the days of my mis-spent youth - window hanging out of Mk1 
coaches with a rasping class 31 up front.  Happy days!

We were running a two loco service during the day, with the trusty 4F – now nearing the end of its sojourn on the NVR – and resident ‘Goyle’ 31108 on alternate services.  Preparations were also in hand for next week’s big event – the 1940’s Weekend with a spectacular line up of entertainment planned.  I’m due to be spending 3 days down at the railway covering this event, but not in my usual NVR capacity as I have something completely different planned!

This is a rather brief post as I'm rather busy this week with so many projects in hand that I don't know where to start!

Friday, 17 September 2010

Mingling on The Orient Express

I don’t often get the chance to work on the railway during the week as I’m normally out earning a crust in order to pay for all the mistakes made by the Inland Revenue or whatever fancy title they now call themselves.  On Wednesday, however, the railway was hosting a meeting of the Peterborough Business Forum on board one of the trains to make a nice change from the usual hotel conference room set up.  Therefore, the NVR needed a representative from the railway who could meet and greet delegates on arrival at Peterborough, then accompany them on the journey whilst generally mingling and promoting the railway as a whole.  The role required somebody eloquent, calm, knowledgeable and friendly to undertake this task.  Unfortunately all the eloquent, calm, knowledgeable and friendly people were off on holiday or otherwise tied up, so I got asked if I’d like to do the gig.

I was delighted to accept another interesting and different facet of the railway’s operation, and duly popped down to Wansford for an interesting day.  The party would join the second train of the day at Peterborough, so I decided to travel down on the first service and be ready to meet people as they arrived at Peterborough.  This would allow plenty of time to get ready, as well as prepare the coach for the visitors on the way down.  The Managing Director of the NVR would travel down on the next train and officiate with a welcome speech before mingling with the group.

Stock for the day consisted of the Polish Slask tank 5485 with four DSB coaches for the public and three Wagon-Lits.  It was a busy day, as in addition to my group there was a lunch party taking up the second Wagon-Lit for a Ploughman’s Silver Riders Special, whilst the DSB coaches would host two school parties and the unsuspecting general public.

I travelled down the line with Steven who was preparing the lunch settings, plus Eddie who is also a TTI and had just popped in for the day.  At Orton Mere we were dropping off some cleaning cloths and a large roll of tissue paper.  The cloths were passed over TPO mail-drop style from the moving train, but the kitchen roll was too bulky to fit through the window.  So it got dumped at the end of platform, meaning that Old Arkwright would have to walk up for it.

On arrival at Peterborough I had the chance to have a sit down and proper chat with Peter, Sue and Trudi who run the station on a regular basis.  Normally I only see them briefly when on TTI duty, as we pop in for a bit of banter during the 10 minute dwell whilst the loco runs round.  I’ve not actually been at Peterborough and watched a train leave before as I’m always on it!  The chance was too good to miss, and as I had my trusty Panasonic tucked inside my jacket as usual, I took some pictures and a nice clip of film as the train departed from the station.  For filming I always use a tripod, although on this occasion I didn’t have one as it wouldn’t fit into my pocket.  Something for Primark to pass on to their Quality Control department.  Instead, I found that resting it on a fence post worked adequately, although there was a slight list to starboard.  This was cured by folding up a Wansford platform ticket and resting the edge of the camera on it – I always knew it would come in useful one day.

Once the train had gone, we got down to the serious business of having lunch, coffees and a good natter until the first delegates began to arrive.  Originally 12 people were expected, but that had risen to 40 by the day itself - a very good turnout for this type of meeting.  I have to say that without exception they were friendly and interested in what the railway had to offer.  The atmosphere was relaxed and informal, and they were clearly impressed at the idea of travelling in the Orient Express coaches (well, near enough.  I mean; they’ve been in the film so that counts).  The local paper, Peterborough Evening Telegraph, popped down for a group photo so I’m hoping that somebody has got a copy for my scrapbook.  I rarely get into photos as I have a face for behind the lens rather than in front of it, but as I was smart and had done my hair (well, washed it) I took my place in the line-up.

The journey was a good one and the delegates mingled with each other quite happily.  When the train departed from Wansford for the Yarwell leg, the atmosphere was good enough to give them the full Thomas treatment normally provided at children’s events.  The delegates were given the choice of ‘lights on’ or ‘lights off’ when travelling through the haunted tunnel – and they unanimously voted for ‘off!’  I primed them to look out for the ghost, and actually raised a bigger cheer and ‘oooooh’ than on most Thomas trips!  It certainly created a great mood on the train, and I can guarantee that you don’t get that in your business meeting at a Holiday Inn.  Unless you get locked in the linen store with a Polish chambermaid, but that’s a different story.  And it wasn’t my fault that all hotel doors look the same.....

On the return journey down to Peterborough I gave an informal guided tour of the line and facilities – and not just because I have the biggest mouth on the NVR.  That is purely coincidental.  I was keen to promote Ferry Meadows and Nene Park as an integral part of a family day out on the railway, because the two go hand in hand so well.  The mood was great as the train rolled back into Peterborough, and everyone commented on the day as they left the train to return to their offices, or more likely, the pub.  Next year’s Forum hosts will have to work hard to beat our efforts!

The return to Wansford was ‘on the cushions’ in 1st class Wagon-Lit splendour, which made a nice change.  I couldn’t hang around when I got back as I was heading off to Kings Cliffe for a photoshoot – but that’s one for my other blog …

Monday, 13 September 2010

Steam & Cream

44422 leaving Wansford in the 1950's.

It was our autumn steam event down at the NVR over the weekend, and rather enjoyable I thought.  Rather than compete with the big Steam Galas currently on offer around the country, the NVR did everything in house with an emphasis on small and personal.  Locos in steam included the Fowler 4F; Austerity 22 and the Polish Slask tank loco 5485.  Passenger trains ran with the 4F and Austerity operating alternately on the Mk1 rake and 5485 on the DSB’s, resulting in prototypical consists.  Highlight was the operation of several freight trains hauled by the Austerity and 4F in between passenger duties.  Thomas was also in steam, sans face, operating top n’ tail shuttles between Wansford and Yarwell.  Our flagship loco, City of Peterborough, is out of service under repair so was not available for traffic, but was moved to the bay platform to facilitate cab visits.  This positioning permitted some great evening shots as the sun gradually descended on Saturday.  Finally the Bullied Pacific 92 Squadron was shunted into the café platform (known as the loco crew drive-thru!) for inspection by the public.  Members of the Battle of Britain Locomotive Society were on hand to discuss the loco’s restoration with interested visitors.

You need one hell of a tin opener to get inside this spam can.

My role for Saturday was TTI and the atmosphere was good with well-filled trains throughout the day.  Towards the end of the afternoon I was preparing the last passenger train for departure when a family group approached, led my Vicky Pollard in her size 39 tracksuit.  They’d bought tickets for Ferry Meadows because they wanted to go there for the day.  At 4:10 pm.  With their disabled mother.  I told them that as this was the last train, they’d only get half an hour at Ferry if they left the train on the outward trip and rejoined it on the return leg.  They weren’t happy about this, and complained loudly.  The only other option was to travel in the freight wagons, and then they complained even more loudly.  I suggested they simply upgrade their tickets and have a round trip.  No way; they weren’t going to spend anymore money than strictly necessary.  Need the rest for fags n’ booze innit?

I thought that was that, but got accosted again on my way down the platform.  “This is all a con you know,” Vicky Pollard informed me.  “We’ve brought our kid down ‘ere special to see Thomas an’ he ain’t ere.”
Oh for f…
I pointed out that Thomas was not only here; he was in steam at the end of the platform complete with nameplates and Number 1 on the tanks.
“Yeah but he ain’t got ‘is face on.”
“Madam; if his face is anything like yours then we can say thanks to the Lord for making it so.”  Okay, okay – I didn’t really say that.  I wanted to, but protocol and all that … instead of which I tried to explain about the steam gala; the fact that Thomas was here every other day of the year and that just for this weekend we remove the face and run it as an 0-6-0 shunting locomotive.  Just as it states on the website.
“We ain’t got no website,” was Vicky’s reply, although I think what she meant was, ‘I can’t read but I can watch my 54 inch TV what you bought me with your taxes.’
Fortunately, thanks to Vicky’s inability to tell the time I only had to put up with her group on the final train and not for the whole day, which otherwise was a great success.

If it says Thomas on the nameplate but you can't read, 
does it still say Thomas?  Discuss.

Sunday was a whole new experience for me.  I wasn’t on duty as such, but Jayne was doing catering on the trains and was desperately short of staff.  Short enough to ask me to help out.  The lunchtime train was serving Ploughman’s lunches in the Club Car; when it returned to Wansford it would be turned round for afternoon cream teas on the 14:45 service.  This was an excellent idea, and I’d seen how popular they were the previous day.

I turned up at Wansford nice and early in order to get some good pictures of the freight trains, before starting on the lunch service.  Only three of us were doing the catering, but we were well prepared and the Ploughman’s went out smoothly and successfully.  It was proper food service as well; plates, cutlery and crockery – the works.  None of your cardboard and Styrofoam rubbish on Jayne’s Trains at the NVR!

The cream tea service wasn’t pre-booked as the lunches had been, so it was all done to order.  With tea, coffee, scones and a choice of three types of cake the service was very ‘bitty’ and I’d have appreciated the services of an octopus as I tried to manhandle the teapots, coffeepot, milk pot, cashbox and take orders – plus take the platter with the different cakes around to show people.  Methinks I got the short straw …  It didn’t help that tea was the most popular option, and the teapots held around four cups before running out – and this got more problematic the further I walked down the coach because the walk back for refills got longer each time.  I also need to teach young Steven how to make tea.  He was fine with gnat’s piss, but the train was populated with lots of pensioners who know exactly how tea should be made.  Take away their pensions and heating allowance; confiscate tartan rugs and comfy slippers and you may get a glance of disapproval.  Dick around with their tea and you’ll never hear the end of it.

To complicate matters further, the adjoining coach had a party of 30 old folk on an outing – and they got a sniff of what we were up to.  Well, it would have been churlish to refuse and make them walk to the bar car where they’d get a Styrofoam cup, so we served those who wanted them as well.  Mark 1 coaches have never seemed so long!  We also began to run short of hot water so I was glad when Peterborough hove into view.  

Despite the logistical problems everyone got served on time and only the last table served received cold tea – which we replaced with fresh cups at Peterborough where we had an urn brewing away waiting for our arrival.  Everyone was happy, and we even served a few bonus afternoon teas on the return leg of the trip to Wansford as well.

Working the trains makes you appreciate just how hard the catering staff work on a day to day basis, and you come away with renewed respect for what they do – very much the unsung heroes of the operation.  There’s talk of doing more of these services next year.  I think I’ll stick to eating the leftovers!

The sun sets on another successful event at the NVR.  

The full photo set may be seen here as part of my Steamy Scenes Photo Gallery.

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