Monday, 23 August 2010

Corrie Trolley Dollies!

Viewers of Coronation Street will no doubt be aware of the storyline involving Haley’s Wedding.  As I don’t watch it I am in no way qualified to comment on the programme.  The reason behind this post is to advise that a rather interesting episode is due to be shown on 30 August – the wedding episode itself.  The storyline involves a steam train, and the relevant scenes were shot on the East Lancashire Railway.  On a more personal note, however, an item of rolling stock from the Nene Valley Railway makes an appearance in the programme – the pump trolley!  This vehicle has a starring role with two bridesmaids hand-pumping Haley to her nuptials as part of a very convoluted – but entertaining – set piece of the inevitable wedding-becomes-a-disaster scene that are de-rigeur of soap operas.

This trolley recently featured in my own photoshoot Railway Modelling, so it certainly has the ability to attract lovely young ladies who just can’t wait to jump aboard for a bit of action.  I know what I mean, ahem.  

Back in the eighties all you needed to get the girls swooning was a set of keys for a BMW or a Porsche.  These days it would appear that the line, “Eh up pet, fancy a hand pump?” will no longer get you a smack on the jaw.  Now that’s progress.

So does Haley make it to her wedding?  Tune in on 30 August* and find out!

*Date given in good faith.  If ITV decide to show some pointless football match and rearrange their schedule at the last minute to suit, as they so often do, I am in no way responsible.

Monsoon Season Brings Steam!

With the monsoon season well and truly underway, I’ve found it increasingly difficult to explain to customers on the trains the necessity for continuing the steam loco ban on the Nene Valley Indian Hill Railway.  The risk of lineside fires gets fixed vacant stares as passengers gaze out over flooded fields that can almost be seen through the torrential, driving downpours that afflict the area every time I even glance at my camera bag and think, well maybe …

This weekend the battle was won, and steam returned to the Wansford – Peterborough section of the line, a most welcome development for visitors and volunteers alike.  Ironically we were running the mixed traction timetable anyway, with class 40 D306 on Saturday and 31108 on Sunday hauling diesel services.  The steam loco on offer was Fowler 4F 44422 making a welcome return after some lengthy repairs kept it out of traffic for a while.

On Saturday I was filming at Ferry Meadows – so called because the only way to cross the meadow is by boat – but popped over to Orton Mere to catch the afternoon steam hauled service as it passed Yacht Club Crossing, looking and sounding in fine form.  This train coincided with the three minutes of fine weather that graced Nene Park during the day.

On Sunday I was working as TTI on the trains, and of course it turned out to be a very pleasant day, but I wasn’t in a position to take any pictures as the mixed traction timetable keeps us rather busy with a turnaround of only 9 minutes between services at Wansford.

I keep thinking that one day the pleasant weather will coincide with my photography days, but then I wake up and return to reality.  But it still doesn’t stop me from glancing at my camera bag and thinking, well maybe …

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Tornado Rushes By

Whilst in general conversation with fellow volunteers at the NVR on Sunday, I heard that Tornado would be running through Grantham with a railtour on Monday.  The down service to York coincided with a visit to the dentist, and with last minute dentist appointments being as rare as hen’s teeth (did you see what I almost did there?) I had no chance of making it out for a photograph.  The evening would be better as the return to Kings Cross was booked through town at 19:00, although as the day wore on I got into one of those, ‘do I really want to drag my carcass out of the house’ moods.

Early evening brought with it clear skies and a hint of a warm sunset, so I decided to schlep off for a photograph.  My chosen location was near to the village of Marston on a farm track that leads to a pedestrian crossing.  A gaggle of photographers had already assembled there when I arrived, but I chose to remain on the lane a good quarter mile further down as it offers a superb panoramic vista of the line in both directions.  This would be the ideal opportunity to give my new Canon a workout, and I fancied having a go at panning a fast moving train as I’ve never tried this before.

I practised with East Coast HST’s and 91’s prior to the railtour, and was fortunate enough to capture two trains passing each other.  When Tornado arrived – bang on time – she was travelling at full tilt and working incredibly hard; a truly glorious sight to behold from my vantage point.  I was pleased with the pictures that came from this shoot, and feel vindicated about spending my hard earned on a new SLR package!

Tornado on The Cathedrals Express may be seen in my Steamy Scenes gallery.

Monday, 16 August 2010

Tunnel Vision

One of the first duties of the signalman at Wansford every running day is a walk through of the 616 yard Wansford Tunnel, in order to check that there is still a hole at the other end.  This intrigued me, and one of regular signalmen, Steve, was kind enough to allow me to accompany him on a walk through on Saturday morning so that I could take some photos.  I know that ‘tunnel interior’ doesn’t sound the most exciting of subjects, but I like things a little out of the ordinary.

I already have a PTS certificate, so access was no problem.  Duly armed with boots, hi-viz and a torch – don’t forget a torch – we set off on a very gloomy and wet morning.  The walk through duty also includes a visual check of the rolling stock parked up in Wansford Cutting; this is to ensure that all the carriage doors are properly shut and therefore wouldn’t swing open when a train was passing.

The tunnel itself is one of the longest in railway preservation, with a very tall arch that creates cathedral-like echoes.  It is dead straight all the way through, so the pinhole of light gradually grows as you walk towards it, just like being in a film!  Long abandoned rolling stock resides inside the tunnel; a couple of Mk1 coaches, a Mk1 buffet car still in blue and grey livery, a cannibalised class 14 and a couple of other wagons that may never see the light of day again.

Two thirds of the way in, Steve showed me the treadle that operates a light operated ghost painted on the tunnel wall.  When working on the trains during family and Thomas days we always get the children to look out for this ghost; it creates an element of excitement and is a great icebreaker at the start of their journey.  With school trips we get the entire coach to keep an eye out; then shout and cheer out loud when they see it.  This creates a great atmosphere on the train, I have to say.

At the Yarwell end of the tunnel I took various photos as the line curves to the southwest in the steep cutting before we retraced our steps back to the most important part of the day – one of Jayne’s full English breakfasts at the Turntable Café!  Following one of these banquets, you’re ready for anything that the day may throw at you.  Steve went back to his signalbox for a long shift on our pink timetable, whilst I prepared to get very wet – it is August – on a photoshoot at Yarwell and Ferry Meadows Country Park.

I took the first train down to Yarwell Junction, hauled by 4F 44422 that has been out of service for ages awaiting repairs.  I needed to be here as the 4F would return shortly with the demonstration TPO service, and I wanted to be on hand to capture it emerging from the tunnel.  Predictably, no sooner had the nice, warm and dry passenger train departed then the first of monsoons descended.  Yarwell is a nature reserve and has absolutely no cover of any kind, bar a shelter on the tiny (but closed) station waiting room.  I decided to sit there, but once the train’s arrival was imminent and the rain eased off, I made my way down the path to the spot I’d chosen for photography.  Now safely out of reach of any kind of shelter, the second monsoon rolled in.  Whilst the train most notably didn’t roll in; annoyingly I could hear the loco whistling at Wansford every so often, but this wasn’t accompanied by any noticeable movement whatsoever.

A good 20 minutes late, however, the TPO finally turned up, and I could almost forgive the delay as it coincided with a brief respite in the weather.  The train runs to Yarwell so that passengers on the TPO experience may de-train and make their way to the viewing area and watch three run pasts with mailbags dropped and collected each time.  Then the train picks everybody up and returns to Wansford, although I elected to stay put in order to get pictures of 44422 on a red and cream MK1 passenger train.  I don’t need to tell you that of course the heavens opened again, and when the passenger train turned up, it had class 40 D306 at the head because of operating difficulties at Wansford.  I wasn’t too bothered, the 40 in green livery looks great on the Mk1 rake so I was able to come away with some pleasing shots.

That was the end of my railway based shoot, as I was now staying on the train and travelling to Ferry Meadows for a landscape photoshoot to get some practise in with the camera and various lenses.  I’ll cover this in my other blog while I go and dry off ….

Many thanks to Steve for arranging the tunnel walk through and explaining all the finer points of the task that is one of the hidden aspects of railway operation that rarely come to light.  Fans of the tunnel may see it in action during some extended scenes during the James Bond film Octopussy.  The tunnel mouth also appears in the awesome Queen video Breakthrough that was filmed entirely on location at the NVR.

Saturday, 7 August 2010

Crash, Bang, Wallop ... What a Photograph!

31108 arrives under barbeque skies at Wansford.

After the frenetic activity of last weekend at Wansford, this week’s duty on Saturday was an oasis of calm by comparison.  Not that the journey down to the Nene Valley was quite as tranquil, however.  I was following a flatbed lorry, and around the Stamford area a large chunk of wood fell off the truck and bounced into the path of a car that was travelling in the outside lane.  This duly ricocheted across into my lane and hit the nearside front headlamp unit, which promptly disintegrated in a shower of glass.  I wasn’t best pleased, although had the wood bounced a foot higher then it would have been through the windscreen and I don’t suppose that would have been a pretty sight.  Cheaper, mind you – windscreens are replaced free of charge under my insurance policy but headlights aren’t covered.  You can quote me unhappy on that clause.  Once at Wansford I promptly undertook emergency action – get a good photo for my Facebook page.  I’ll worry about repairs later, but let’s get priorities sorted out for now.

Amazingly, all the lights still work!

My shift today was Booking Office, and things were rather quiet although the second train filled up nicely.  The steam ban is still in force, because although there’s been some rain of late it tends to descend in short, sharp bursts but evaporates in the heat rather than have the opportunity to soak into the ground where it would be of some use.  Consequently we were running Austerity 22 on the Wansford – Yarwell segment, with trusty 31108 on the main leg down to Peterborough.  The loco change caused delays as expected, so that the last train ended up running a good 45 minutes late.  People generally seemed happy enough, and the mood was good.

I had a brief chance to try out my latest purchase towards the end of the day – a Canon EOS DSLR camera.  My interest in photography has evolved throughout the year and I’m keen to learn more and improve my technique.  I used to have a Canon in my old film camera days, so I chose the brand this time round hoping to get a piece of kit that would match the results I last got in the late 90’s.

The camera came from Ebay, as new camera prices range from ridiculous to the truly sublime.  It’s an American refurbished model sold by a firm specialising in such things – but seems new in every aspect when opening the box that was delivered the day after ordering.  As it’s for the U.S. market the battery pack has the American two-prong plug fitment, but the company thoughtfully provide a UK adaptor free of charge, which is a nice touch.  I duly charged the camera up last night and packed it ready for today, so had no time to read the book or try out any settings – charge it, pack it, drive!

By late afternoon when I had the opportunity to nip out for some pictures, the sky was leaden in between short but frequent downpours.  I managed a few shots around the yard before a shower drove me back indoors, and also snapped off a few shots as the last train departed from Wansford.  Difficult to assess the performance from these hurriedly obtained photos, but I did get some half decent shots, which weren’t bad in the conditions.

No. 22 has been exchanged for 31108
which prepares to depart from Wansford.

This isn’t the end of my trusty Panasonic TZ6 by any means!  Although it’s a point-and-shoot it’s an amazing camera and was used throughout for my recent foray into model photography – the results of which may be seen here.  Once you explore the various settings and menus, it can cope with a huge range of permutations.  It’s also my default video camera, and being pocket sized makes it ideal to take with me on NVR shifts so that I can always record interesting moments.  The Canon is for proper photoshoot days; an opportunity to learn more about creative photography skills and to capture scenes that are beyond the capability of point and shoot.  The Fuji S1500 is destined for Ebay as I’ve never really got on with it and recent shoots such as the Bus Rally were disappointing.  I tried some scenes with Sian the model at Wansford and it just seemed to give up, resulting in the TZ6 carrying out the entire session on its own.  Not that my description on the auction site will say that of course – it’s a truly wonderful piece of kit that I’m reluctantly selling so that ‘er indoors can buy a new pair of shoes.

So I have my first set of pictures – and what a picture, but shame it took a crash, bang, wallop to get it!

Looking the other way from Nene Bridge presented this reflective scene.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Wedding Belle & Alarm Bells

Sunday was the busiest day that I’ve ever worked at the Nene Valley, which in one sense was unfortunate as I wasn’t in my usual peak physical condition to appreciate everything that was going on.  I wasn’t rostered in to begin with as I was attending a wedding on Saturday and expected to get a bit – ah, tired – during proceedings.  But the railway was desperate for staff with the extra activities, so I agreed to pop down and help out.

The wedding itself was excellent and celebrations continued long into the night, assisted by a glass or two as might be expected.  I was staying overnight at the hotel to avoid driving and eventually retired to my room for a good night’s sleep so that I’d be fighting fit and ready for duty.

Naturally, things didn’t go quite to plan.  The hotel was, like all British hotels, ridiculously over heated with radiators on even in the middle of our Lincolnshire heatwave.  I opened the only window to the regulation 6 inches before it jammed but that didn’t help.  Teams of navvies were practising riveting in my head – possibly related to all the free alcohol, but there’s no absolute proof of that.  Consequently sleep was impossible until I finally drifted off in the wee small hours.  And promptly awoke again, because I’m at that awkward age where waking up in the night is a daily occurrence.  Off to the bathroom where I made the catastrophic error of turning the light on.  This was connected to an extractor fan, which in turn was connected to a jet turbine in the car park and made enough noise to wake up everybody in the hotel plus several surrounding streets.

Return to bed, where I managed to get to sleep for a good five minutes before the alarm woke me up ready for the new day.  Oh goody.  Back into the bathroom, but this time sans illumination so that at least the jet turbine didn’t kick in.  The shower had two temperature settings, flay the skin or frostbite, so I was in and out as quickly as possible and wishing that I hadn’t left my burns kit bag at home.

Down to breakfast at the appointed hour of 08:00, only to discover that the appointed hour applies to guests, but not the staff who were having a lie in.  At 08:15 a waiter turned up and offered coffee and toast, but anything else was out of the question because the chef wasn’t in, and even when she did turn up she’d need to ‘turn everything on’.  I was too under the weather to argue, so accepted lukewarm coffee to go with toast that I consumed with those horrible packs of butter that had been left out in the restaurant all night with the radiators turned on during a heatwave, plus those plastic packs of marmalade that can only be opened by an arc welding kit.

I had to leave by 08:30 to get to the railway on time, so that ended my experience at this establishment – I won’t embarrass the Kings Hotel of Grantham by naming and shaming them – oops.  Sorry.

At Wansford I was able to get breakfast from Jayne’s ever reliable café and remedy that particular problem, but I still generally felt shattered from the previous day’s events.  And the NVR was in for a busy time as it was a major family fun day, with two mainline trains running as well as Thomas on the Yarwell shuttles, a Routemaster bus service, a kids play park had been set up in the fields and it was the peak holiday season.  I was working as TTI on the DSB rake of open coaches, and were we busy or what?!  All trains loaded very well and the atmosphere was great.  I also worked a couple of Thomas shuttles during the layovers at Wansford, as it was helpful to have extra bodies available to load and unload bikes, buggies, prams and toddlers.  The day passed very quickly and only on the last train of the day did I have the chance to sit down as the service returned to Wansford.

Unusually I was too busy / knackered to take photos, so those on this page are representative of the services we ran.  For the record, Thomas top n’ tailed with the Polish Tank (Piotr?) on two coaches up and down to Yarwell, whilst the Mk1 rake and DSB stock were hauled by our class 14 diesels due to continued ban on using steam locos on the eastern end of the line.

By the time I got home I was ready only for bed – or scrap heap depending on your point of view.  However, my initial task was to get the wedding photos uploaded and onto Facebook; such are the rituals of life in the 21st Century!

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