Driving St Christopher

This week I got the opportunity to drive St Christopher, a 15 inch gauge locomotive, on the Waveney Valley Railway at Bressingham.

The driver experience day started early. First I helped to prepare the loco. I cleaned the boiler tubes and smoke box and and cleared out the old clinker and ashes from the firebox. The waste is placed in the wheelbarrow for disposal.

Next lighting the fire. We soaked a rag in paraffin, lit it and I placed it in the firebox and built up the fire, first with small pieces of kindling, then with lumps coal. Although I added a little too much coal at one point I’m pleased to say the fire drew quite well.

There was plenty of time to clean and oil the loco while we waited to get the pressure up.

After about an hour there was a good head of steam and we were able to blow down the boiler.

Then we coupled up to an empty train, tested the air brakes and set off down the line.

St Christopher’s a 2-6-2 tank loco built by the Exmoor Steam Railway engineering works in 2001. She’s been repainted recently and I think she looks great in the new red livery. (Here are some photos of her in the previous blue livery if you are interested).

It’s an easy loco to drive and made light work of the empty train. There were some interesting challenges though.

There was a light drizzle falling and the loco wheels slipped at times. It’s a very interesting sensation, sitting on the footplate with the wheels spinning. The only things you can do are close the regulator and open the sandbox to add some sand to the rails. A little bit of sand is sufficient, and it adheres to the rails quite well and after the first two circuits all of the wheel slip was cured.

Keeping the pressure up is key. Getting the fire, the water levels in the boiler and the pressure right is not as easy as it seems. The goal was to keep the pressure around 8 to 9 bar (but not over 10 bar) with a reasonable amount of water in the boiler to give enough steam.

On a few occasions I made the beginners error of adding too much goal to the firebox and the pressure rose. Adding more water to the boiler solves the problem. However, there were a couple of times when the pressure rose and the boiler was full so we blew off excess steam. (Most unprofessional!), To rectify this I added less coal, which worked well, except once when I under fed the boiler and pressure dropped to 6 bar. Fortunately, St Christopher’s a flexible loco, the train was empty, and we made it back to the station.

In total we did six tours of the Waveney Valley Railway, around 9 miles and it was a great experience.

I’d like to thank Jerry Reid, my trainer on the day, for being an excellent host and everyone at Bressingham for making the day so enjoyable. Plus my family for clubbing together to buy me this combined Christmas and brithday present.

The steam railways at Bressingham are operating throughout September and October and the gardens are lovely at this time of year. Why not pop by?

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