running The Bath & West Steam Railway
Driver Experience Days - great idea for a present! See under Events for more details.
We are now on Facebook as the Bath and West Steam Railway.
After planning, digging, hammering, sawing, painting and lots of hard work and laughter the interior of the tunnel is now black, the entrance reminds us of an old mine, the exit looks like stone and brick and the curve is disguised by logs!
The weeks up to Christmas are a very busy time for us Santas. Many of us have to go off and service grottos, although this is usually not a bad posting as we normally are given a nice, large chair to sit in; and the grotto, although perhaps dimly lit, is kept warm so that the little ones and their parents don’t have to suffer.
Another task that has become more common in recent years is the need for a Santa to travel on what are called “Santa Specials”. Here we board a, usually steam hauled, train, and we walk up the carriages “Ho, Hoing” and passing out seasonal cheer and presents for those young enough to believe in us. This can be very enjoyable but it does mean that you have to walk the length of the train, carrying your sack of presents. Often there is no elf to help you and it can all get a bit tiring, especially as you have to do the return journey in order to collect the sledge and reindeer.
The one I was called to in North Somerset was a new experience and very different. I was approached for my services by a lady called Essmee. At least I thought it was a lady until I was informed that this was an acronym for an organisation, The East Somerset Society of Model and Experimental Engineers. (What a mouthful, it’s no wonder that they shorten it to a person’s name!). This organisation runs a miniature railway at the Bath and West Show Ground which they call “The Bath and West Railway” and this was the railway for which a Santa was needed for their Santa Special.
It proved a most interesting, enjoyable and worthwhile excursion, even though the weather was not at its best. (One must remember that Santas frequently have to put up with much worse and are of course acclimatized to the cold.) I was able to stable the sledge and reindeer in the copious facilities provided by the Bath and West showground. This was really good; they have ample accommodation for many more reindeer than I required for my pre-Christmas sledge. (Nothing like the size of the one I need on Christmas Eve!)
I was collected out of view of the visitors, who were living it up with mulled wine and mince pies in the warm club house, and taken down to my ‘Grotto’. My train, of three sit-aside carriages and pulled by a very pretty blue locomotive, took me over a bridge, alongside a stream and a lake until we finally entered the tunnel which was to contain my grotto. The tunnel was delightfully lit with tiny lights and looked very fairy like and Christmassy. Near the end of it was a chair for me, and waiting patiently were two elves, a real luxury. These elves it appears had been hastily trained in all the health and safety issues by Essmee and so, red hatted, they were more than adequately prepared for the task which lay ahead. They took charge of my sack which I had charged with a variety of presents to suit the different ages of little people that I was to chat with. (They soon learned to distinguish the class of present beneath the wrapping).
Then the first train arrived (the elves were in contact with the station so that we knew when a train was due.) The train stopped in the tunnel and I was able to walk along the train issuing instructions on the correct behaviour for Christmas Eve bed-time, ho-hoing, discovering whether there was a chimney on the house in question or whether I might have to use a cat-flap, or make us of my magic key, and most importantly, finding out from their adults if they had been good enough. An affirmative answer meant that the elves handed me an appropriate present for me to hand to the little person.
The train then departed, having given a merry whistle, and the elves and I settled down to prepare and wait for the next train.
I read in the unofficial Santa Website that both children and their parents had enjoyed this novel experience especially as they had been able to wait in the warm for their train the meanwhile sampling mulled wine and mince pies. It was also generally agreed that the presents were a good choice.
All good things come to an end and after the last children carrying train had left another train was sent for me and the elves and so I was able to return to my reindeer who had been enjoying the rest, and the carrots and hay provided.
I hope I will be able to help again next year. Best wishes, Santa Claus
After many discussions, plans and ideas our new tunnel is beginning to take shape.
Before we left Devon, Mike used a batch of the steel remaining from his blacksmithing days to make up a 5” gauge portable track. It comes to a total of 150ft in approx. in 5ft lengths. We decided not to mount the sections on boards because of the weight, but instead made blocks to support each joint, where the lengths are bolted together. In addition he made buffers which are mounted at each end.
The track was put into storage on our son’s farm when we arrived in Wiltshire 4 years ago, but finally came into use in June this year. Our son Thomas is a key member of the Gillingham Imperial Silver Band, and when planning this year’s visit of GISB’s twin band from Germany he asked if we could run the track during their evening barbecue. The Village Hall where Thomas and his family live has a large car park with a suitable level length available, so the event was agreed (weather permitting). Since using a steam loco on such a track presents various problems, not least the necessity to fit a spark arrester for insurance purposes, we decided to invest in a “diesel” electric loco. Abbots Model Engineering offered a suitable engine – Neptune 4 – which was duly delivered (at 8 a.m. on a Saturday, from Telford !) a week before the planned first running.
On the first day of the main show at the Royal Bath and West Showground Countess Bathurst came to inaugurate the newly acquired carriage that will accommodate wheelchair users and those who find it difficult to sit astride our other coaches.
The Wheelchair carriage was christened with Thatchers Cider and the little left over was not wasted!
ESSMEE is indebted to Thatchers Foundation, a local personality, Avalon Rotary, Michael Richardson and an anonymous ESSMEE donor for sponsoring this carriage.
Another fantastic Bath and West Main Show this year. Visitors included Countess Bathurst, Jacob Rees Mogg and family, the Morris Men and a Newfoundland!
In time for the Main Show of the year members of the Shepton Mallet Mens Shed produced some animals for our passengers to spot on their way round the track.
My Driver Experience day with ESSMEE at the Bath and West Showground Miniature Railway.
In May of this year, my wife and I visited the Royal Bath and West Show at Shepton Mallet, something we had been meaning to do for a long time! The show was fantastic, with a wonderful family atmosphere, and having both been brought up in the country, we felt right at home!
We went through all the exhibitors and eventually ended up at my favourite, the East Somerset Society of Model and Experimental Engineers permanent passenger carrying track.
My Stafford, ‘Ifor’ was first steamed on Wednesday 31 July when it passed hydraulic & steam tests OK; I only managed a couple of circuits round the club house before loosing fire and steam etc. and packing up.
On Saturday ‘Ifor' was steamed again much more successfully and several circuits of the clubhouse were made by David Hale, Roger H-C and me. I am very pleased with the result as he runs very nicely when one gets the fire and pressure better organised! The injectors are a bit tricky to get working, but no doubt this is a matter of practice with these particular ones. Steam blew back into the lubricator which made an oily, watery mess.
Excitement mounted as the wheelchair carriage took to the tracks. It performed beautifully.
Not so much an article as a big scary picture (well, scary for the mechanical boys)
The Society held its first Spring Open Weekend on 21st and 22nd April 2018.
We were blessed with wonderful weather except for a short sharp shower on Saturday midday, and the rest of the time was full of activity, with the 20 or so traction engines enjoying the freedom of the extensive tarmac roads within the Bath and West Showground, and the locos enjoying frequent circuits of the recently repaired contractor-damaged track. A huge thanks to all those who battled against foul weather to complete this work.
We would like to thank Roy Proctor who contacted the Mid Somerset Series of Newspapers. They kindly sent a reporter, Maxine who wrote an article about learning to drive a locomotive.
You can read Maxine's report on learning to drive that was published in early August 2018.
It is several years since the upper yard was completed at the Bath and West Railway by those members most interested in 5" ground level, and shortly afterwards a second (lower) yard was added. From the start, access to the main line involved a rather complicated process, the Yardmaster first having to call up the signal box requesting permission to allow a train onto the main line.
Saturday dawned to torrential rain which didn’t let up until 2.30 and for the rest of the day a biting wind swept across the Showground putting a dampener on activities. The boys from Plymouth Miniature Steam were undeterred, something of the West country seadog in them, and steamed up as soon as they arrived and ran right through to 7.00pm. A great effort as they had to be back in Plymouth for public running the next day. Tom Yardley’s barbecue saved the day and all went to home or caravan replete and ready for the next day.
7¼" gauge Warship class locomotive D808 “Centaur”.
After a gap of 25 years I returned to model making and was surprised to find that electric passenger hauling locos were now relatively common. And much quicker to complete than a steamer built from castings and pieces of bar and plate! So I built a 5" Gauge class 20 electrically powered loco from a Maxitrack kit. I very much enjoyed the building and it ran well. But I was interested to move up to 7¼" gauge and a good strong passenger hauler.
The 2015 Royal Bath and West Show was another 4 days of fun and hard work at the Bath and West Railway.
A new passenger hauling record of 8295 journeys made by 699 train circuits of the line gives an average loading of nearly 12 passengers per train – a fantastic effort by all staff once again, especially the unsung heroes of the ‘Level Crossing’! The record was particularly surprising due to Friday morning being mostly taken out by a huge rain shower, with staff and locos seeking shelter where possible and only a few hardy passengers braving the weather.
The event went off nearly without a hitch, but there are rumours of something that broke.
Another great Main Show for the Bath and West Railway. Around 7000 passengers carried over the 4 days including our 100,000th passenger since the birth of the Railway, a fantastic achievement.
The usual collection of laughs, jokes and the occasional hiccup gave possibly the most enjoyable show to date. The new signal box worked well and the non-stop efficient flow of 4 trains on the line illustrates how the membership of the club have learned to manage the line over the years.
ESSMEE was busy again on the last weekend of September, with the open weekend, a free event which all are welcome to attend.