What we found in the Brit’s firebox last week has certainly thrown our plans for the next month or two out of shape: On carrying out the Fitness to Run exam on Friday the 14th of May we found a crack in the plating. Plans were quickly changed, instead of taking No. 70013 “Oliver Cromwell” to Faversham on the Shepherd Neame “Spitfire” charter, instead the engine was loaded onto a low-loader and taken to Loughborough for remedial work.
The crack in the ‘box was a blow to us because the engine had been working well, putting on great performances this spring, and everything had seemed OK the previous weekend when she was examined on her return from Bury St Edmunds, but that’s often the way with firebox problems; all seems well when the engine is warm, but the problems appear as the boiler cools down.
Now that the engine is back at Loughborough and has been examined we have an idea of what needs doing: there is work required on both back corners, so we have to get the cab and some of the backhead cladding off. Obviously that’s not as simple as it sounds as there are a lot of pipes, wires, rods and cables that need to be removed first. That work has already begun, Kevin disconnected the OTMR & TPWS wiring at the weekend and the job of surgically removing pipes etc has begun. We expect the engine to be out of traffic for several weeks, but aren’t going to give any firm dates yet.
70013 at Loughborough, with stripping underway
We had hoped to use the NRM’s other engine No. 30777 “Sir Lamiel” for the “Spitfire” instead but gauging issues meant that she is unable to work into Victoria so the TOC decided to use diesel power instead. To make matters worse for the charter, Southall was hit by graffiti artists again that night so when the train arrived to collect the passengers not only did it not have a gleaming steam engine at the front, but the coaches were graffiti covered and looked unloved, which is a great shame as Derek at Southall works so hard to keep the train looking spick & span, and in good order – an unsung hero of the Southern Charter scene.
Lamiel has a new brick arch that we had fitted while the Brit was off working the Bury St Edmunds Trip. This was another job which sounds easy, but turned into a bit of a marathon effort. First we had to demolish the old brick arch, which looked tired and ready for replacement, but when you start trying to demolish it with a hammer you find out that it’s still very very sturdy. In the cramped conditions of the firebox only one person can work at a time, so you have to demolish a bit of the arch, then pass the rubble out of the firehole to a helper to make space to stand so that you can break down the next bit.
Hugh demolishing the arch
Having demolished the old arch we ‘just’ had to expand a few weeping tubes, by hand, that took the rest of the afternoon and most of the evening, again, it’s a one-person at a time job, so Tom and Hugh took it in turns, finally finishing long after the ‘B’ (for Brit!) team came back on shed with 70013.
Tom expanding tubes.Tom has a breather while Hugh expands a few tubes.
Next morning we were able to set about putting up the formers in the firebox and mixing fire-cement for the new arch. You don’t want to rush the formers; they have to be just right as the arch will need to last for several years and it must be in the right place. Some of the 'B' team stayed to help with the arch after disposing the Brit, and others came for either the Saturday or Sunday, so in all the arch team comprised: Tom, Hugh, Alison, John & Greg Street, Simon, Declan, Gerry, and Nick, while Bill and Charlie concentrated on putting the Brit to bed with help from the others until the mixing job needed them.
Once the formers are in place someone has to go up on top to place cement, we sent Hugh as he's the lightest!
Mixing the fire-cement needed to be done by hand, it takes 23 bags of cement to make an arch for the Arthur (I know, I counted them as we mixed it) and we were all relieved when Tom called “enough, stop mixing”.
Mixing the cement
We cleared up the mess we'd made and left the arch to set with the formers in place, and probably all secretly dreaded the moment when the formers were taken down by the crew prepping Lamiel for the Royal Wessex – would the arch be OK? Of course it was! in hindsight there was no reason to worry at all, but even the late great Fred Dibnah always worried whether the arch would stand up when the formers were taken down!
Despite the failure of 70013, work continues; “Sir Lamiel” was booked to work the “Royal Wessex” charter to Weymouth on Saturday the 22nd of May with Cromwell, but with the absence of our other beastie, she was paired with 44871 instead and 30777 is now at Swanage waiting for the support crew to ready her for “The Swanage Belle” trip to Waterloo on Bank Holiday Monday the 31st of May. Work on the Brit doesn’t mean that 45305 is forgotten either, the frames have been lifted higher so that we can roll the wheels out of the way, the axlebox re-metalling is continuing and freshly painted springs are appearing in place under the frames.