Saturday, 26 August 2017

It's 1963 Again!

When I was very young, a trip to the seaside usually involved a journey to Hayling Island. Living on the south coast, it was just a short bus ride away, or, if very lucky, a ride on the "Hayling Billy", a short branch line from Havant to the Island, crossing over the weak and rather rickety bridge that was to be official reason for the line's closure. Personally, I think the huge traffic jams that built up at Langstone crossing played a part in the decision, even though the cost of rebuilding the bridge to take anything heavier than the life expired class A1X locos would have been ruinous.

This week, I managed to get myself an "official pass" to spend a couple of days out doing some photography at a preserved line that I had not previously visited - the Kent and East Sussex Railway. As it was on the way, I fitted in a trip to the Bluebell Railway, but it is to the K&ESR that we shall go to first in these rambling thoughts.

Because of memories of the Hayling line, I have always liked the A1X engines and an opportunity to see one running is always worth the effort. It so happened that 32678, one of the final locos to have run on the line was rostered for my visit.

32678 running around its train at Bodiam
Looking at the timetable, and having all day to waste spend on the line, I was able to wander back and forth and get the full value from my ticket. First train of the day is a rake of British Railways Mark One coaches, hauled by a GWR "pannier tank", or "Duck" as anyone who has ever read or watched Thomas the Tank Engine will call them.

"Duck" arrives to collect the first train of the day
This took me to the end of the line at Bodiam and then back again to Northiam where a 20 minute wait later, the A1X arrived complete with a train of proper coaches

Second train arrives. Notice how small the loco is when compared with the carriages

Formed as part of the train is an exquisitely restored former Metropolitan Railway First Class carriage. There's a surcharge of £2.50 for this, so any seat back to Bodiam and then travel in appropriate style all the way back to Tenterden.

You can just imaging John Betjamin travelling in here

I asked for a single to Verney Junction when paying my supplement. It took a few minutes to sink in... (Verney Junction being the furthest extreme of the Metropolitan Railway in rural Buckinghamshire). As the picture shows, you can see the quality of the restoration work.

Now back at Tenterden, I had intended to take another return trip, but missed the train while wandering around the museum. for those who prefer those strange diesel things, here is an oddity:

Designed and built at Swindon in 1964, where they had a reputation for doing their own thing, I suppose this is what happens when a bunch of steam engine designers are told to build a diesel. You'll notice the "proper" wheels joined by steam engine style connecting rods and driven from a jack shaft. Power came from a diesel engine via a hydraulic transmission. The idea was to replace the by then ancient locomotives used on short trip working, but this was a service that was dying in any case and so the entire fleet of these and other class 1 locos had ridiculously short lives with British Railways with some being sold for industrial use, mostly in coal mining.

Now it was back to Northiam by car to intercept the vintage train.

32678 arrives at Northiam heading back to Tenterden
Now leaving Northiam
Having processed the images, I had this idea: a quick repaint of the first coach in the picture above would re-create a scene reminiscent of the Hayling line. So, with the aid of Photoshop, here we are:

One final picture from this trip - the pannier tank leaving Northiam on the last round-trip service to Bodiam.

Picking Bluebells.

En-route to Tenterden, I spent the day at the Bluebell Railway, famous for being the pioneer standard gauge preserved railway and home to many former Southern Railway locomotives and carriages. On my visit, I was lucky enough to have two such locos in service:

Starting at Sheffield Park, the first train was going to be hauled by 30541, a small loco originally built for freight, but perfectly able to haul passenger trains as well. Here it is sitting while the tender is filled with water. My carriage for this trip was a 1930s express coach; as I was only going one stop, I slummed it in 3rd class

First stop: Horsted Keynes - a former junction, home to the motive power workshops and a location that will be very familiar as it is the "go to" location for film makers searching for a period railway station.

A trip to the loco depot is required. Much of the stock is held out of service awaiting overhaul, but rather than being stuck outside under tarpaulin, most of it is displayed in a shed. Lighting is poor and access is tight - but at least it can be seen.

Another class A1X, this time "Stepney" made famous by the Rev W Awdry in his "Thomas" books as "Stepney - the Bluebell Engine". A 10mm lens is the only way to get a picture, I'm afraid...

Sitting outside in gentle steam was class O1 number 65 of similar age to "Stepney" and one that survived in service until the early 1960s. Again, it was the lightweight of this engine that led to its longevity.

And a little newer is this U class 2-6-0 loco, designed by Richard Maunsell and built by the Southern Railway, although the design follows many of the elements of his earlier N and S classes built for the South Eastern Railway.

The sound of a whistle announced the arrival of a train - 541 arrives from East Grinstead while, from the south, another train was approaching from Sheffield Park:

847 is an example of class S15. The history is a little complicated, being originally designed by Robert Urie for the London & South Western railway primarily for express freight. They are closely related to class N15, better known as the "King Arthur" class. Following the "grouping" which brought the Southern Railway into existence, Maunsell became Chief Mechanical Engineer and set about improving the locomotive stock. 847 is an example from a later, improved batch. Although designed as freight locos, they were quiet capable of running relief passenger services and did so regularly.

Having made a quick run through the station to the right platform, this train took me to East Grinstead and eventually back to Sheffield Park.

Just arrived at Sheffield Park. I've jumped off the train and crossed the bridge to the other platform to take this picture. In the background, you can see a set of vintage coaches

Leaving Sheffield Park with the return service to Horsted Keynes.

A thoroughly enjoyable two days!

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Car Shows - And Finishing the Next Book

It's strange how quickly life gets back to normal. I've got three new books on the go; the first is a pictorial history of standard and Triumph cars from 1945 to the end of production with the Acclaim - which wasn't really a Triumph, but a re-badged Honda built in the old Morris factory in Oxford. This one is due to the publisher in October, so a bit of an effort needed to finish the words, sort the pictures and write the captions. Now finished and being proof-read by my trusty and extremely pedantic proof reader and might even be sent to the publisher ahead of time.

It is already available on Amazon for pre-order and as we get closer to publication, I'll be able to offer a limited number of signed copies.

The other two books are a new history of Triumph's small saloon cars; everything from the 1300 to the Dolomite. This will be in the same series as the Triumph 2000 book that was published in 2016. There is a lot to do for this book (in other words, I've not actually done much more than the skeleton!), but nothing like a looming deadline to encourage a bit of work to be done. And finally, the third book is a study of the buses and coaches built by Guy Motors.

Writing the books is an excuse - if one was ever needed - to drop in on a few classic car shows. Last Sunday was no exception as there was a show held at Breamore House on the edge of the New Forest. Here's a few of my favourites:

An Avon Standard Special Tourer

Not often that you see a Marina at a show, especially an early one and in such good condition as this. Despite all the mocking, it was a car that sold in high numbers when new and despite not being the class leader in terms of , well, anything, they are not that bad to drive. And the stories of them not going round corners is not true as the problems were addressed at a very early stage of production.
Citroen DS Pallas. Originally dating from 1955 when we thought a Morris Oxford or Standard Vanguard was the height of sophistication, these must have seemed more like a car from the future rather than a new product from France. Fiendishly complicated and quirky - just like a proper Citroen should be.

The car pictures and many others can be seen at my gallery:

Monday, 7 August 2017

Homeward Bound

We now have around 450 miles to travel back to Denver to return the RV. It would be possible to do it in one long day, but we've chosen to split the journey. and rather than retrace our steps, we planned a different route that just took us into Montana, so we could cross another State off the list. Here's the route.

We pretty much had the entire route to ourselves and soon found ourselves in a Montana State Park that seems a reasonable place to stop for lunch.

We thought we might see some Buffalo roaming in the grassland, but nothing to be seen, bust miles and miles of open space. Our overnight stop was in the small town of Guernsey, Wyoming on a campground inside a State park. At one point, we thought we had the entire park to ourselves, but a couple of other people showed up in the late afternoon. The park, like many others, is built around a reservoir with the resulting lake being used for boating, fishing, swimming and skiing. Once a year, the water level is dropped to allow the silt to flow over the downstream farmland and it so happened that the "silt run" was starting as we arrived.

The water level being dropped

From Guernsey to  Denver, we followed this route. Almost all the way on Interstate with storms on the horizon. Just south of Cheyenne we found a Bison ranch that offered tours to view the Bison. As we'd still not seen any, we stopped and took the trip.

And then our final night with a bit of a clean up, ready to return our RV in the morning.

Our journey home is the reverse of our outward trip with an overnight in Munich. Denver airport is HUGE! It is modern and replaced the old Stapleton airport some years ago, which had been seriously outgrown. There are multiple terminals, all connected by a train, so having checked in, we head to the correct terminal for our flight to find that Lufthansa use the United lounge, which is in another terminal. So back on the train to the first terminal and we install ourselves in the lounge for a few hours. Our flight is announced as "boarding" and he head back to the correct terminal and gate to be met with a sea of humanity! 

The flight isn't boarding, and there is a problem. Apparently one of the jet ways is broken and it will be necessary for all passengers to board through the forward door and walk through the plane, which means those of us in First Class and Business Class will have to wait while the hoi-polloi take their seats. Almost an hour later, we get on the plane and the flight crew introduce themselves with the usual "Eine schoene guten abend, meine Damen und Heeren. Hier schprect ihre FlugKapitain.......". when he gets to the English, he explains the reasons for our (continuing) delay.

It appears that the aircraft auxiliary power unit is "defekt", but normally this is not a problem as they can use the gate power to start the engines. Except, we have been parked at a gate that is "defekt" - he may even have been a little more accurate and used the word "kaputt" and they were arranging for a compressor truck to attend to get the engines started. So, we were having the engines of an Airbus A340-600 started with a compressor not that much bigger than the one I have in my garage. Business class on Lufthansa is, as you would expect, functional and precise. Having flown on many airlines, I'm not sure it is the very best in the world, but it beats sitting down the back!

Arriving at Munich next morning, we headed straight to our hotel, this time we had got a cheap deal at the Airport Hilton, to take a quick shower and drop our bags before heading into town for a walk around to pass the day. It's a train ride into the City and while trying to figure out which ticket option we wanted, we were approached by a young couple with a baby and asked if we'd like to share a ticket. It seems that a group ticket for all day travel is the cheapest way to get into and back from the City; it would cover us all day on the S-bahn, U-bahn, trams and buses and they could travel to their stop half-way into town with us. In return, they paid half the ticket cost and we all saved money. And all perfectly legal. Well, in keeping with the strict interpretation of the rules, if not the spirit.

A wander round the Englischergarten and we are falling asleep on our feet! Back to the airport, a bite to eat and sleep. Next morning, it is the very final leg, back to Southampton by British Midland. Usual check-in, which works perfectly as BM operate this flight in co-operation with Lufthansa, so we check in at LH. It's a bit of a hassle getting through security. My camera bag gets pulled for inspection, not surprisingly. The security guy looks at my bag and says "Canon or Nikon?" I give him a bit of a sideways look and reply "Canon, of course". I open the bag and he pulls out the camera and takes a picture. "Ja! It works. A very fine camera!". Then he pulls out all the lenses and looks through them. "You know, this is one of the very best lenses that Canon have ever made", he says looking at the lens that is on the camera most of the time. "People pay crazy money to get an "L" lens [the ones that are either white in colour, or have a red ring around them], but this is just as good". "Ah, yes, this ist eine gut lens also". He obviously knows his stuff, so I say "Are you a photographer as well?" and he replies."No, not really. Before getting this job I was a product marketing manager for Canon"

And so onto the plane. It is a flying cigar tube again:

The camera bag is designed to meet the requirements for cabin bags and has a tag on it to confirm it meets the IATA regulations, but on these tiny aircraft, you carry your cabin bag to the door where it is taken from you and goes into the hold ready to be returned to you as soon as the plane lands and the doors are opened.

But not at Southampton, it seems. Despite having a tag on it that says "Delivery at Aircraft"

and the trolley being waiting for the "hand luggage" at the aircraft side, the baggage handlers have decided different. Eventually, after a "full and frank" exchange of what I think of their airline and baggage handling, I conclude that I'm not going to get my bag here. so I watch the bags being thrown from the aircraft onto the trolley and  those that aren't thrown are being deliberately dropped because the bag handlers are too lazy to bend to put the bags down gently. I remind the ground handler that it is "cabin baggage", valuable and fragile. His response: "Maybe you'll think again about bringing valuable stuff on a flight".

Luckily, everything seems to have survived without damage and there has been a complaint with British Midland since we returned asking for their comment. 

They replied immediately - the gist of which is "We have received your email and are currently dealing with a backlog of enquiries;  it may take us up to 30 days to reply". That just about says it all! I contacted Southampton Airport with a copy of the email I had sent and said to them "I know it's nothing to do with you directly, but you might want to know what goes on and this kind of treatment seriously influences my decision on whether I fly through your airport again......" That got a reply from the airport in a few hours - very sorry, "disappointed" at the ground handling and they will monitor BM's response. And so far, after just over 30 days, BM have been silent.

It was a sour note to the end of a wonderful holiday. Would we travel with British Midland again? Only if we absolutely had no choice, it was a dire emergency and it was free! In normal circumstances, I would avoid like the plague!

Saturday, 5 August 2017

Mount Rushmore, the Deadwood Stage and wildlife at last!

They do warn you that Mount Rushmore is popular and to expect it to be busy. And they are not wrong! Admission is free, but there is a charge for parking. Once you've got through the fee barrier - it took us about half an hour from the time we joined the "line", there are attendants at the various car parks and level entrances to help you find a space. And there is plenty of space as well.

It's pretty amazing and you can see on Washington how the intention had been to create busts rather than just the heads. My first thought was I was expecting it to be bigger, but then you are viewing from quite a distance and the size can be judged from the trees below.

Also on the same site is an exhibition of the Civilian Conservation Corps - an idea developed in the 1930s to overcome unemployment during the depression by creating work for those who had no work - and no chance of finding any, see The Grapes of Wrath to understand why - by building numerous public works such as trails and buildings in the National Parks being established. What a brilliant idea!

You'll spend maybe half a day at Mount Rushmore if you don't rush. The restaurant was full to the seams, so we headed off to Hill City to find a bite to eat. A nice little place, but busy. Buffalo burgers later, we headed to the Crazy Horse Monument.

This time you have to pay and rather like attractions at home, there are "begging signs" everywhere: "we get no funding"; "your donations fund all this work", etc. A big visitor centre full of stalls selling genuine native American artefacts (maybe) and a viewing platform to see Crazy Horse emerging from the mountain:

A good degree of imagination is required t see what will eventually emerge from the mountain

The size of what they are creating can be seen from the machines

Here's a model of what will eventually emerge

 Somewhat underwhelmed, we took ourselves off to Custer State Park. A HUGE park with proper scenery. We took one of the scenic drives that took us through several low and narrow tunnels:

Rocks, Mountains, Trees

The road comes to an abrupt halt, it seems. But it continues to the left through a narrow tunnel

It's tight for a SUV - there is no way in this world that we would have fitted our RV through here! This is Needle's Eye Tunnel.

And here's the rock formation that gives the tunnel its name.
We'd planned to drive around the Wildlife Loop, but there wasn't really time, so back to the RV and the Wildlife Loop could wait for another day.

The Deadwood Stage is a rollin' on over the plain...

Taking the scenic route, we headed off to Deadwood, not really knowing what to expect and with our knowledge of the story of Calamity Jane and Wild Bill Hicock formed entirely from watching Howard Keel and Doris Day.

There's plenty of trees and lakes along the route. Very different to two weeks or so earlier when we were in the desert

How much of Deadwood is genuine? we couldn't really tell. It is still mostly a gaming town with all the hotels and saloons being full of gambling machines and tables, rather like Las Vegas, but on a smaller scale. We couldn't find Henry Miller or the Golden Garter and suspect that both were just Hollywood artistic licence!

A trip in a proper old school bus took us to "Boot Hill" to see the graves of Wild Bill Hicock and Calamity Jane:

Wild Bill's grave

And Martha "Calamity" Jane Burke's grave 
Lunch today was in a newly opened saloon offering pizza for lunch, either by the slice or a whole pizza. We had a "small", which turned out to be enough for dinner as well. Thank goodness for "Doggy Boxes"!


Having spectacularly failed to see any bears in the wild, we took ourselves to a drive through wildlife park just south of Rapid City. A slow drive around enabled us to have a few close encounters with the residents. The windows on the car have to be kept closed, so this does have an effect on the quality of the pictures:

Fancy walking around with that on top of your head...

The nearest that we got to a fully grown bear. I wouldn't want to be any closer... 

The resident Grizzly bear

Some of the animals were kept in a traditional zoo environment:

A Lynx. There are thoughts of reintroducing these into the UK. Not exactly your friendly pussy cat...

Bobcat. Just a little larger than a decent sized moggy, but not quite so cuddly.

Cubs playing in the trees. They separate the cubs from their parents to prevent them being killed. Unlike Yogi looking after his nephew Boo-Boo, then.
On the 4th of July, we finally managed our circuit of the Wildlife Loop. We forgot to take into account that it is a National Holiday and therefore all the wildlife had the day off! All we saw were a few donkeys, or burros as they are called in the US. We were hoping for spectacular fireworks, but that was not to be; a combination of being in a sparsely populated area and a ban being in place due to the high fire risk.

We now have two days to get ourselves back to Denver to fly home. That will be in the next and final section of this story. Watch this space....

If you have enjoyed looking at these pictures and others in this blog, they are available in higher quality and resolution at my gallery where you can purchase prints, artwork and gift items.