Two Drowned Rats Visit a Duke

Two Drowned Rats Visit a Duke

By Ian Murray

After a smooth and uneventful train ride from Cheshire, Trevor and I alighted at Tyseley station and admired the typical Great Western features, from paintwork, lamps and overall roof to general feel and smell.  However, as we exited the station and began our short walk to Tyseley Locomotive Works, Mother Nature greeted us in her own special way.  The wind blew, the rain began to fall with increasing intensity and, on the final part of our short walk, we were lashed by hail as well.  It was two very wet individuals indeed that presented themselves at Bob Meanley’s office, where hot tea and chocolate biscuits soon revived our spirits.  Trevor introduced me to Bob as this was my first visit and a very pleasurable half an hour or so was spent talking about all things steam, whilst Trevor and I quietly steamed in front of Bob’s electric heater.  The discussion included a very interesting insight into just a few of the problems encountered when Tyseley was re-streamlining Duchess of Hamilton.  We were then joined by Alastair Meanley who said that they were almost ready to lift Duke of Gloucester’s boiler – which was the reason for our visit.  After a further few minutes talking ‘shop’ with Bob, Alastair popped back in to say that they were now ready.

With a growing sense of anticipation Trevor and I followed Bob and Alastair into the light and airy main works boiler shop, where we walked around and past a number of iconic locomotives in various states of repair, all minus boilers.  There were a number of boilers sitting grounded around the interior, but there was no time to stand and stare.  The Duke was positioned on a side road at the far end of the boiler shop, looking quite sad in its partly stripped state.  The cab was sitting on the ground behind the loco which had lost its running plates, smoke deflectors and the cladding and insulation from the firebox and rear boiler sections.  Two chain slings looped under the rear boiler section being attached to the large overhead, yellow painted travelling crane, which runs the length of the boiler shop.  The general feel was one of quiet efficiency and I was struck by how clean the interior was and free from general clutter.

Trevor and I quickly made our way to a set of stairs at the end of the shop, opposite to where The Duke was sitting and my eyes were drawn to the contrasting silver and rusty colouration of the exposed boiler and firebox.   Alastair was in charge of the lift, assisted by several of the orange suited members of staff.  As they went about their final preparations I was struck that although the quiet efficiency was making what they were about to do seem just an ordinary part of an ordinary working day, in fact I was about to witness an historic event.  After the little group of workers under Alastair’s control signalled that they were ready Alastair, standing close to the loco’s firebox, pressed the button on the pendulum control. Slowly, ever so slowly, the boiler, firebox and smokebox assembly weighing in the region of twenty tons (net of boiler tubes and superheater elements) began to inch upwards.  Daylight appeared beneath the smokebox as the assembly rose clear of the frames.  Nothing had been overlooked, everything that needed to be disconnected had been and the point of balance had been correctly established. There was no rocking in the slings as the boiler assembly continued to rise into the air.  Up and up it slowly went, much higher than I was anticipating, then the firebox was pulled towards the centre of the shop, everything pivoting around the chain slings.  With a metallic clank the crane began to slowly traverse until the whole boiler assembly had been moved away from the loco’s frames and hung in the air with nothing underneath.  A large space had been created on the opposite side of the shop to where the chassis was now sitting and the boiler was moved down the shop until it was opposite this space.  Once again came the metallic clank and the boiler was moved sideways into the space and slowly lowered. A large metal stand had been positioned ready to accept the boiler support attached to the underside of the front ring of The Duke’s boiler.  The boiler assembly was slowly lowered then held as final adjustments were made to the positioning of this stand.  Timber packing was placed onto the stand and under the twin supports attached to the bottom of the boiler throat-plate.  When Alastair was satisfied with everything the boiler assembly was eased down onto the packing and, as the weight was taken, the chain slings slackened – job done.

The whole lift and move had taken but a few minutes and had been executed without fuss or drama and in a thoroughly professional manner. There was almost a feeling of anti-climax as this major and much anticipated milestone for the BR Class 8 Steam Locomotive Trust had passed off so smoothly.  It is greatly to the credit of Tyseley Locomotive Works that they have both the staff, experience and facilities to make such a major operation appear mundane.  Once the boiler assembly had been lowered into position Tyseley’s men simply carried on with their day and it was not long before various individuals were getting stuck into the boiler.  Trevor and I then spent an enjoyable half an hour or so wandering around looking at the locos and equipment, including the wheel drop and impressive wheel lathe capable of turning wheels up to seven feet in diameter.  The whole place is impressive in the extreme and we could not have been made more welcome nor treated with greater courtesy.  All the staff we met were cheerful, polite and courteous and Trevor and I both came away much impressed and feeling that there is a very good foundation in place for the ongoing partnership between our respective organisations.

Mother Nature ignored us on our return to Tyseley station and we made our way back to Crewe happy with all that we had seen.

6th April 2016

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