Update October 2020
Well what a testing time 2020 has proved to be? We managed to take part in the March Race trains before the GWSR had to shut down due to the Corona Virus situation and of course the national lockdown. The engine’s boiler was drained of water and a mudhole door removed to allow the boiler to vent and dry out. We did not return to steam until the weekend of the 8th & 9th August when Dinmore Manor and Foremarke worked the railway’s test trains for volunteers to establish if the control measures that the GWSR had developed worked. These proved satisfactory and so 7903 returned to service the following weekend. The trains have been shortened to six carriages and the majority is compartment stock which has to be pre-booked. That format has continues since on reduced running days. The closed period will impact on 7903’s earnings in 2020, quite where we will end up has yet to be seen. The GWSR is trying to give all home engines a fair share of all steamings that are available. We have to hope 2021 will be more of a normal season however it is a case of wait and see.
The engine is doing what it does well as you can see by Jack Boskett’s photograph. Very rare is that fact that it’s a Saturday and I am driving. As numbers are restricted I am not at Toddington on a Saturday as I used to be as we have limited numbers allowed on site and I leave it for those that work in the week to attend on a Saturday.
Just after lockdown was eased I was able to collect 4 new injector delivery pipes that had been bent to shape by Trevor Tremblen the retired coppersmith. This is a project we have been meaning to do since the last overhaul. If I explain the injector delivery pipes are in three sections each side. The section that curves up and over the boiler to join to the clack boxes and Safety valve are made in copper as in BR days. However the pipe from the injector runs up and along the underside of the running plate, where it joins to a second piece of steel pipe that rises through the running plate and disappears behind the nameplate and joining to the copper pipe. This joint is hidden by the nameplates. All this work was replicated exactly as Swindon works did it on Restoration and has lasted up and till now. However as the engines spend more time idol than they did in BR days the steam pipes have been corroding on the inside. The result of this is when the engine is in steam and water is injected into the boiler it takes rust and metal particles up into the clack valves on the Safety valve. As these clack valves are made of bronze this cause excessive wear as well as making a safety critical valve faulty. We have repaired/refurbished and replaced these valves many times whilst the engine has been in service. So by replacing the steel pipe with copper pipe the issue of rust and metal bits getting into the valves will disappear. Since return from lockdown we have taken these bent pipes and started to fit them with their new bronze flanges and generally getting them ready to fit. We have four pipes to finish off, one is completed, the second one will be finished by the time you read this and we shall continue the preparation work up to the Winter maintenance period when we hope to change all four sections. We are pressure testing them 50% over working pressure before we fit them. See pictures.
So Lockdown whilst far from ideal has allowed us to get on and do some of the outstanding jobs. Obviously with the engines earnings being significantly reduced we are trying to keep our spending down as well. We should be working some of the Santa Experience trains in December Covid restrictions allowing the railway to do so, we hope.
Finally I must report the loss of two of our working members on 7903 in recent times. Mike Strange although not a shareholder was an avid 7903 supporter and worker on Wednesday’s and a great personal friend. He died very quickly after diagnosis of Lung Cancer on the 7th December 2019. Fortunately I was able to attend his funeral before this pandemic. Then again recently I got the devastating news that Tony Kavanagh again not a shareholder but avid supporter of 7903 on a Wednesday and any other day as required. He actually helped John Hancock do the return to steam test on Friday 7th August and sadly died very suddenly early the following week from a brain aneurysm. Two good man so sadly lost. RIP you two.
Sadly to add to that we must report the passing of Philip Powley who had been a staunch supporter of 7903 since early days.
We must send our deepest condolences to the families of all these fine men