30 DEC – VERY NEARLY HAPPY NEW YEAR!

It has been a bit of a mixed week for the GWR – with, regrettably, 2 days lost to snow and ice.  Not that we weren’t prepared to run at Cheltenham of course but a collective (and wise!) decision was made that things were too difficult elsewhere.  I suspect that there are some risks simply not worth taking.

And, whilst our mid-week activities were confined to sweeping and gritting, it didn’t escape notice that there was an awful lot of debris on the platforms and the banks (with fortunately little on the line).  One of the beauties of the Racecourse Station is the stand of Scots Pines on either side of the line – attractive they certainly are but there are some serious downsides in terms of pine needles and broken boughs!  The worst possible conditions are ‘heavy’ snowfall (well heavy for Gloucs) and strong winds – so no prizes for guessing what last week’s consequences were!

Therefore, first up this morning was a general tidy and second task was to clear some of the more obvious windfalls from Platform 2 – not that it’s in use but too many scattered branches make the place look uncared for, which it certainly isn’t.

We are in the process of making a pretty big bonfire for some time in the close season!  We just need a nice south-westerly breeze (away from the A435 Malvern Road) and no passengers!

Overall we were in winter volunteering mode (some colleagues are clearly hibernating!) with Colin, Ben, Mike, Dave T and Dave G (busy ‘stationmastering’) – hardy annuals all.  That said I know that several have been busy elsewhere on the line – whilst others, very reasonably, have family priorities this time of year.

Since this is probably the last blog of our active season and the calendar year – may I wish all readers a Happy New Year and see you all in 2018.  Should auld acquaintance be forgot………

Kind regards,

Tim

 

 

23 DEC – WIRELESS RECEPTION!

Regular readers may have detected that I’m not a big fan of the previous attempts to fence at Cheltenham Racecourse Station – whether it’s stark (& ugly) green metal fences, barbed wire or dodgy concrete posts.  None of these (naturally) have been put up by the current GWSR teams – even in the ‘let’s just get in there and get the trains running’ early days.  Probably British Rail, and possibly the dying days of the original company, may have combined with wartime exigencies and manpower shortages.  Anyway, one thing which is certain is that none of them removed previous fences when installing new ones – they simply added another layer.  As such the periodic clear out in which we are now engaged produces much scrap, viz:IMG_20171223_122249

Luckily, under the more far-sighted approach of current management, we should be able to progress to the traditional GWR ‘spear point’ fences and some nicely laid hawthorn and blackthorn hedges.  Of course these are neither cheap, nor instantaneous, nor maintenance-free but should be long-term and aesthetically pleasing!  I hope to bring you evidence in later blogs.

On a less controversial (or preachy!) note there was a small handful of trusties at CRCS this morning and hundreds of passengers – which is good!  Here are Mike, Colin, Steve, Maurice and Ben enjoying hard earned ‘refs’ at 11 of tea and cake (thanks Steve)!

The Dave twins (Tomlin and Griffin) were busy bossing the car park – which requires great patience and strategic planning at this time or year but, most of the passengers are jolly, excited non-railway buffs (obviously no criticism of buffs intended!) here to see Santa with the children or grandchildren or even great-grandchildren.  All very cheerful providing the trains are running – which they were!

Here’s the usual bedecked engine and a suitably impressed observer.

Merry Christmas one and all!

Tim

 

 

16 DEC – SANTA’S BACK!

There was, last weekend, a sad interruption to Santa Specials as the weather was too problematic on Sunday for any train service to run.  In common with the GWSR website and, I am sure, all the other train bloggers, our regrets for the inconvenience and apologies for anyone whose day was affected; sadly the weather is beyond even Santa’s control.  Luckily I am assured that he and his helpers are aware which children (and adults) missed out and will be refunding them all.

Today, however, proved to be less of crisis though not, I gather, without its issues because of Toddington’s water supply!  At Cheltenham all was relatively serene as railway passengers blended happily with multitudes of race goers.  Once again the heavy mob were in short supply due to illness, Santa duties and dodgy weather conditions.  As such the blog is light on participants and I noted Dave G, Terry, Ben, Steve plus Bob (briefly) and Dave T (on late shift).

The clearance work continued with Terry and Ben chopping, dragging and raking furiously.  Where once this bird box was secretly nestling in the wooded recesses  it now stands rather proud and may need our resident birdman to come and relocate!

Elsewhere Steve did some fettling in the loft whilst Dave painted and Bob made a list! The trains were, as ever, the most splendid adverts for our railway and here’s a black and white of an early arrival:IMG_20171216_094113 (2)Meanwhile, another form of transport was visible up near the ticket office:IMG_20171216_121521Now, for those in the know this is Steve’s bike and he carefully (and wisely) avoids the traffic in New Barn Lane by biking it up from Prestbury each Saturday morning.  However, as you can see this week his stabilisers appear to have fallen off and whether he got home safely or not no-one knows!  (Actually they are wheelbarrow wheels and Steve, as our resident Mr Fixit, takes these home to mend – all too frequently.)

Best wishes and season’s greetings,

Tim

9 DEC – GROUNDHOG DAY!

It was a fine clear day in Cheltenham, with the sun glinting off the slight snow covering on Cleeve Common to the east and the Malverns to the northwest.  The vast majority of tickets for the Specials having been pre-sold means that we are guaranteed lots of busy days from now until Christmas.  Hurrah for the income stream and our (mostly) happy customers!

The weather provided different challenges this morning, with a thin coating of frost adorning Platform 1 – very nice to look at but not great from an ‘elf ‘n safety perspective (Ho Ho Ho!) –  so a dose of salt was in order first thing (which was more than the roads in Prestbury seemed to have benefitted from!), especially on the platform edges.  Sadly, though the sun may never set on the Empire, it sun never quite gets high enough to shine on P1 at this time of year!  Nonetheless, I hope our customers enjoyed a skid-free and pleasant day out.

After providing  such small assistance to the Station Staff there was more concrete post pulling to achieve – to which the frozen ground added a further dimension of difficulty.  However, we appear to have finished this task unless there are any recalcitrant posts lurking in the nether regions of the station.

Here is the sledge hammer king himself making his way to the temporary tip with the last load.  Hopefully our friendly neighbourhood B&S colleagues will come along with their truck and remove the heap.

For the simple souls like myself that haven’t a watch and can’t reach their mobile, timekeeping on a volunteering morning is done by the periodic arrival of trains.  In particular the departure (1055) of the first train of the day usually signifies time for tea break.  Santa Specials disturb this local circadian rhythm so that, if not paying proper attention, one can find oneself scurrying up the ramp an hour early!  Anyway, it was great to see Dinmore Manor rolling majestically into the Station on time and (below) puffing impatiently as it awaits the signal for the return journey:

As last week many of our regulars were busy on the line as Santa’s assistants in one way or another so I won’t try to list all who contributed. However, in an adaption of the words of the 12 Days of Christmas:

one Bob was plumbing,

one Dave was painting,

one Dave was parking,

one Bill was lunching,

one Maurice gardening……………..etc etc

And just in case we have a fire, here’s the new assembly point sign:

 

Grid Reference: 51.923508, -2.069145; should you need to find it in a hurry simply put this into your smartphone!
Happy mince pies to all,
Tim

2 DEC: CHRISTMAS IS COMING………

It always seems a bit of a challenge to ‘re-start’ the railway, even if we only seem to have been closed for 5 minutes.  With the Racecourse specials splitting the November break in two you wouldn’t have thought the points had time to rust up!  Today, therefore, the GWSR was busy getting steam up for the first of the 2017 Santa Specials.  Which, as ever, seems to induce a cheery mood amongst our customers, the Station Staff and last, by no means least of all, the Saturday gang.  Maintenance work took something of a back seat as the customer facing duties up and down the line quite rightly took priority – so if I fail to mention what all our volunteers were doing then please excuse me.  I saw Dave G, Dave T, Bob, Colin, Mike, Steve, Dick & Ben and there may have been others; I know some of our regulars are busy up the line being Santa’s helpers at Winchcombe etc.

The weather dawned dull and damp but the early rain desisted by about 1000, by which time the post removal team (Ben, yours truly and Colin) had achieved early success with some of the concrete monstrosities which have been disfiguring the bank above Platform 1.  Here are a selection of our efforts:

 

The posts are tapered and it is the dickens of job to pull them out ‘vertically’.  Sometimes the concrete breaks meaning the reinforcing bars needing to be chopped off and leaving  2 x 4 sharp spikes to impale oneself upon!  Much use of the sledge hammer, the bolt croppers and the lump hammer – and occasional recourse to expressions such as ‘Dash me that was a tough one’ or similar. Anyway, a bit like Fred Dibnah after felling a chimney, here is Ben declaring victory over another post:IMG_20171202_114730

I have to say that I never want to see another concrete post again or engage in any post hoc discussions! Ho, ho ho ……………

Meanwhile, everyone else on the Station was revelling in the general bonhomie and early festive spirit. I note, in passing, that it is often a grandparents treat to visit Father Christmas (perhaps they enjoy the nostalgia element as much as we do) – so there’s a marketing dimension to this blog!  Here are some of the crowds (of station staff!) waiting to greet our visitors and a new addition – live music.

I have to say that the all lady singing group was excellent – and so much better than the tannoy tunes!  I hope they managed to keep going all day?

Meanwhile we had another visitor (from South Devon I believe ) in the form of engine 5526:IMG_20171202_120455

Here, resplendent in its Christmas finery, and taking a well earned drink after the wheezy ride up from Toddington.

Keep up the good work everyone, only another 50 or so Santa Specials to go!

Tim