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.
I was in my element as I had recently returned to the hobby after a 30+ year absence raising a family and having retired, could devote more time to it.One of the members approached me holding clipboard and asked if I would like to have a driving experience on the track, in a few weeks time. His name was Chris Kelly and I jumped at the chance and eagerly awaited his invitation to appear in my inbox!
The weeks passed and eventually, in early September whilst on holiday in Croatia, I was invited along to have a go! The delay was quite genuine, the ever present issue of insurance coverage had to be resolved and it was decided that a fee of £30 would be charged, with the added bonus of club membership! BINGO, problem solved. On my return to the UK I made my way to the showground on Saturday 29th September at the time arranged. It was a glorious day, sunshine and blue sky, perfect for my driving experience.
I was warmly met by George White and Chris Kelly, being first asked if I would like a cuppa!! What a great start and everyone I met greeted me in a way that made me feel welcome. They are a great bunch of guys and what they have achieved there, is nothing short of a miracle!
The track is all ground level, in 7 ¼ “ and 5” gauge and beautifully set out. Starting from the station platform it snakes around the clubhouse and engine sheds, before negotiating a level crossing then on to a tour around a very large pond/lake,
My initial instruction was given on a battery powered diesel loco, just so that I could get to know the track. It has some tricky gradients that can catch the novice unawares, but with some excellent guidance from the loco’s owner, I made it around safely. After 2 or 3 laps, my instructor was happy and it was time to move on to the steam loco, a very large coal fired engine, owned and built by the society. Its name was “Mendip” and an absolute delight to drive! It was large enough for you to sit IN the tender, rather that astride it!
With George in attendance and after some thorough instruction and safety briefing, I set off around the track. I was in my element and it brought back all the memories of building and running my own 5” loco more than 30 years ago! After I had done 2 to 3 laps, George said I could take it out on my own! Wow, what a responsibility, but the instruction had been thorough, covering all the safety aspects of driving a steam locomotive.
It goes without saying, I LOVED IT and was disappointed when my time was up! Now that I am a member, I will certainly be back to help with the mountain of maintenance that a project of this size needs.
I left the site with a big grin on my face and daydreaming about what the future might hold for me. They are a great bunch of people; warmly welcoming me into their midst and always ready and willing to give help or advice.
If you would like to enjoy a day like I did, just go to their website (www.essmee.org) and get information about driver experience days. I can guarantee you won’t be disappointed!