Thursday, July 30, 2015

GWR Gunpowder Van

The Great Western Railway, like all of the major railway companies on the pre-nationalised British railway system, had a large fleet of freight wagons carrying a huge variety of loads. The bulk of the fleet (which numbered in the tens of thousands) carried standard loads like coal and other minerals, milk, food stuffs and finished goods.

The GWR also had a number of specialised wagons for special loads which could often be hazardous. These might have better suspension and shock-absorbers, or cooling/heating systems. Gunpowder vans traditionally had metal bodies with a wooden interior (to reduce the chance of sparks of course, potentially catastrophic on a train load of gunpowder!) Care was especially taken with the doors and no steel on steel contact was allowed. Brass was used for all hinges and fasteners and the wood interior was also lined with lead.

GWR 58725 is a surviving example of a gunpowder van which currently resides on the Severn Valley Railway. It was originally built as a standard iron Mink van at the end of the 19th century but later converted into a gunpowder van.

Watching the nothing happening

For a long time now i have wanted an internet enabled camera so i can see what happens in my house during the day when i am out. Of course nothing should happen if the house is unoccupied but for some reason i want to see nothing happening... or even better find out that my model aeroplanes somehow fly around on their own when i'm out!

I finally bought a very cheap camera which works fine, though its wi-fi range is very short but i suppose you get what you pay for. I haven't yet turned it on during the day when i'm out but here is a test photo of my landing. I could leave this on at night and see if it picks up the ghost that occaisionally haunts that area of the house on the infrared mode of the camera, though maybe some things are best left unseen.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Watership Down

Watership Down, Richard Adam's famous story about a group of rabbits fleeing the destruction of their warren to set up a new one on the Down, thrilled me as a child when i first read it. Without a doubt the story was a big influence on my own stories which have often featured groups like the rabbits in the story (though not actually rabbits - well apart from some space rabbits once...) Although its been a long time since i last read the book (and i do not have a copy anymore) i remember the story very clearly.

What i didn't know until recently was that there was a sequel (of a sorts!) "Tales of Watership Down" was written 25 years after the original and has a number of stories of our rabbit heroes in the aftermath of the defeat of Efrafa. There are also some tales from rabbit folklore and the hero El-ahrairah. A very enjoyable book indeed (and my copy only cost me 1p - albiet with 2 pounds postage!) One surprise was that when i got the book i found that it had been signed by Richard Adams!

When i first read the original book i did hope that there would be a follow-up, "Tales..." kind of fulfils that wish though it does leave the ending open. What happens to the likes of Bigwig and Fiver in the end... well i guess we just have to use our own imagination.
A rabbit on Holford Sports Field, Perry Barr

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Behind the scenes

Back to the Severn Valley Railway yesterday this time for the "Behind the scenes" open day, this is when the SVR grant the public access to areas of the preserved railway that are usually restricted to members and staff such as the workshops at Bridgnorth and the carriage sheds at Kidderminster. I had a great time exploring these areas of the SVR as well as the cab of a class 20 diesel locomotive, amazingly it was the first cab i have ever been in! You can see my photos here.

Maybe the best part of the day was being able to get "up close and personal" with locomotives. Usually you interact with locos at platform level but when you are track side you get a much different and much more impressive perspective of these machines.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

A question of fonts

I often agonise over what fonts to use on my blogs. Design and readability are my key considerations of course, plus i want to use the most accessible fonts possible to ease reading especially for dyslexics (being one myself!). One font which is good for readability but generates a lot of hate is of course Comic Sans though i personally like the font, its often fun to set it as your browser's default font and then force websites to use it (as you can in Firefox), reading serious news stories in Comic Sans is a somewhat surreal and relaxing experience.

So that brings me to this blog, i've become bored of sensible fonts and wanted to use something similar to Comic Sans and a bit weird so i am trying a webfont called Coming Soon. No doubt i will bore of it soon so i have attached part of a screen shot so future readers (after the font has changed) will know what it looked like! Update: I bored if it very quickly!

Derby Departmental

I returned to Derby at the weekend, its always a good place for rail photography especially because of the proximity of Network Rail's Derby base which means specialist track and infrastructure test and monitoring trains (what used to be called departmental trains in the BR days) are usually visible (something hit and miss elsewhere). I saw the New Measurement Train for the first time and another measurement train which had come down all the way from Inverness. You can see my photos here.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Mail Rail

The ground under London is criss-crossed by countless tunnels and subterranean transport links, one which was little known about by the general public was the underground railway run by the Post Office between Paddington station and Whitechapel. The system ran from 1927 until 2003 with the network's largest station at Mount Pleasant (where my great uncle worked after the War incidentally so he may have come into contact with the system). The driverless electric railway ran efficiently and barely noticed for many years and could carry mail from Paddington to the East End of London in just 26 minutes.

A new museum at Mount Pleasant is going to be opened soon and by 2020 a loop of Mail Rail will be reopened and this time carrying visitors not parcels! I am so going to go on this.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Britain on film

The BFI have put 2,500 films (and more are to come) from their archives online and made them available to watch (UK only i think). The films on the Britain on film website range from Victorian times to the 80s and seem to cover all aspects of British life. Unfortunately you only seem to be able to search by geographic location and not subject unless there is an alternative search front end i haven't found yet...

But i searched for my local area anyway and found a fascinating film from the mid-1970s on a family who move out of their highrise flat in Castle Vale to a lovely little house on... Tyburn Road! I wonder if my (not so near to be honest as they lived right at the other end of the road to me) neighbours are still there?

The second film i found was on the construction of the Gravelly Hill Interchange aka Spaghetti Junction and was a truly amazing insight into the running and planning of the junction. All the overhead gantry signs were apparently run from a big computer at Perry Barr police station, i suspect they are run from a somewhat smaller computer on someone's desk now.

Actually maybe the BFI got the search front end right anyway, i might not have found the films if i had been searching for subjects...

Saturday, July 4, 2015

A Thumper in Leamington

On a lovely sunny day i headed to Leamington Spa for some train thrash and a bit of canal walking. The main reason to go was to check out a preserved Class 201 diesel electric multiple unit which was running on a railtour from Hastings to Stratford-upon-Avon. I've never seen a "Thumper" (as they are nicknamed) before and certainly never thought i would see one in my beloved Warwickshire! You can see my railway related photos here. I must go on a railtour myself one day...