Our arrival at Keighley coincides with some welcome respite from the rain. My first task is to uncouple the loco from the carriages.
After a shouted “Going under” to the driver – he needs to know where we are – fireman Chris and I climb down between loco and train, keeping our backs to the cylinder drains in case of an accidental discharge of steam.
The coupling is heavy and space limited. With a crowd of spectators it is difficult to accomplish while maintaining dignity.
Having scrambled back onto the platform, our next job is to walk the next hundred yards to unlock and set the points to enable the engine to run round the train.
Having waved the loco forwards, we re-set the points and climb back onto the footplate for a lift to the water tower where we swing out the heavy cast iron jib and replenish the water in the left-hand tank.
After more points setting it’s back to the coaches to couple up.
Now for a final check on the fire, boiler pressure and water level before we leave for Oxenhope. The gradient is 1 in 70 – that is the average over the five miles. For a railway, this is steep.
Demand for steam will be high. Fireman Chris comments that I am “At one with the shovel” and suggests that he now leaves me to orchestrate the boiler management without his intervention.
After thirty minutes of almost non-stop activity with shovel, injector and dampers, we arrive at the destination with the pressure gauge just under the red line, plenty of water in the boiler and a fire in a state to be proud of.
I am overjoyed, exhausted and soaked with perspiration. Time to stop for lunch. We are all escorted to the station buffet car where linen tablecloths and polished cutlery are laid out in readiness.
The in-house catering team has done a splendid job. Delicious home made carrot and coriander soup is followed by a vast choice of sandwiches and tea and coffee. Everyone is relaxed and excited.
The atmosphere is great. John the diver is firing next. He asks me how it was. “Hot and hard” is the honest answer. Fed and watered, we spend some time looking round the very interesting indoor display of locomotives until summoned to return to the train.
It is time for me to travel in the carriages with Anne and the other guests and enjoy the next hour chatting and drinking coffee.
On the return journey we all get off the train at Oakworth – the “Railway Children” station – to look at the restored booking office.
John the diver surprises everyone by jumping off the footplate, collapsing on his back on the very wet platform, gulping from a bottle of water and leaving a man-shaped silhouette of dry stone. He must have been very hot! Quite comical really.
On reaching Oxenhope we all take our stations (no pun intended!) for the final trip of the day.
Fountains Abbey Chris and I reclaim the footplate and while he and Chris the fireman discuss the finer points of firing, Graham introduces me to the driver’s controls and briefs me on the gradients and speed restrictions that we will encounter on the descent to Keighley.
After a thumbs-up to the guard and a green flag, we pull away with a modest amount of steam. Once under way, I “notch-up”, that is, adjust the reverser to stop the admission of steam to the pistons earlier in their travel.
This allows time for the steam to expand, giving up more of its energy and so improving efficiency.
For most of the journey, the regulator remains closed, with gravity replacing steam.
I must say that the steep gradients do encourage close monitoring of our speed, with timely applications of the brakes to prevent the train getting out of control.
The rails are wet and slippery.
Hard braking could see us sliding, wheels locked, all the way to Keighley and a sticky end.
I have vivid memories of an anecdotal tail recounted by Driver Evan of the Llangollen Railway, of a driver, bemused at night by a receding green signal light.
Although the loco was in forward gear, his train slid backwards for five miles down the gradient previously ascended!
We arrive at Keighley with dignity, feathering the brakes for a smooth stop, and I am pleasantly surprised to be allowed to run the loco round the coaches while the two Chris’s do the honours with couplings and points.
In no time at all we are ready for the return journey. The gradient out of the station is a challenging 1 in 56 but the Ivatt steps away with alacrity, accompanied by a glorious bark from the exhaust.
The rain has returned in earnest, making it difficult to view the signals. We have two choices – lean out of the cab for a cold shower or open a forward facing window. We open the window.
Pausing at two of the intermediate stations provides the opportunity for uphill stops.
It is surprising how quickly an upward gradient robs a train of kinetic energy and it is tempting to close the regulator prematurely.
Restarting requires the application of steam to coincide with the release of the brakes. Even though both events are far from instant, it is relatively easy to get underway without rolling back.
All too soon, we are back at Oxenhope. My final act as driver is to reverse the loco a few inches backwards to compress the buffers between it and the first coach and so enable to fireman to uncouple.
We gather in the buffet carriage for a quite touching farewell speech from host Tim and the presentation of goody bags that include A4 prints of the group taken at the start of the day.
Tim’s offer to show us round the engine shed and works at Haworth is eagerly accepted by everyone and we drive the two miles down the road to meet him in the station yard. Fireman Chris and Driver Graham have been not only superb mentors but also very good company and here they are, still hard at work, putting the Ivatt to bed for the night.
These two deserve a medal! Chris is shovelling ash out of the smokebox while Graham refills the coal bunker using a loader. We watch with fascination.
It doesn’t take much to entertain a steam enthusiast.
Tim’s tour of the engine shed and works is accompanied by a knowledgeable and interesting commentary. We could spend a full day there. However, it is now late and people have to travel large distances to get home.
The party comes to an end. It has been a superb day. Even Anne is enthusing over the fact that the cold wet weather, with a surfeit of condensing steam, added such atmosphere.
The Railway has honed its Footplate Experience days to perfection.