Following on from the success of previous years, the Society hosted its 7th Steam Apprentice Driving Course over the weekend of 23rd and 24th April at Old Warden Park.
Many of the engines turned up beforehand with some arriving on the Friday afternoon ready for the next morning's activities. The event was well supported by our members with all of the engines coming from the local area, and only two needing low loading to the event due to distance, these being the Pumfrey family's Ruston Proctor "Success" and Chris Griffiths' Clayton & Shuttleworth "The Gaffer". In total 14 engines turned out, with 7 miniatures giving a wide selection of engines of different types for the Apprentices to experience. Saturday morning arrived quickly with many eager apprentices awaiting their tasks for the day. Soon fires were being cleaned out, tubes swept and brass cleaned giving the drivers the chance to get used to names and talk through the basics. There were 92 children in attendance ranging from 5 to 21, from those with experience and logbooks to prove it, to those who had never even been on the footplate of an engine. They were all-eager and made the most of the experience with smiling faces all around.
Once the fires were a light, Paul Worbey called the apprentices over to the marquee to welcome them and explain the activities of the day. They then wrapped jacket potatoes in foil and these were put in the engines’ heads to cook for lunchtime.
With groups of three to four on the engines they took turns driving and steering throughout the morning whilst learning how to maintain the fire and water levels, practise moving away and stopping, applying the brakes (if fitted) and lubricating the moving parts. Those with more experience needed little interaction from the teachers, and those attending for the first time were keen to learn the new skills.
Lunchtime soon arrived and the cooked potatoes were taken out of the engines, mostly cooked well with very few burnt ones. There was a choice of bolognese, baked beans, cheese or coleslaw to go with them. Some of the committee commented that there was a tray of potatoes missing and it wasn't until the end of the afternoon that these were discovered in Burrell Scenic Showman's "Ex Mayor" and were apparently cooked to perfection!
After lunch, the driving continued until around half past four when a group photograph was taken and the certificates were handed out for attendance, these being printed in A5 format to allow them to be stored in logbooks. Then the Mamod and Wilesco steaming started, this lasting for around an hour with the models steaming on the low loader beds, with several re-lights and refills of water.
Saturday night gave the Apprentices chance to generate on "Ex Mayor" whilst Keith Honour's fair organ played a selection of tunes to keep all entertained. Sunday morning was a hive of activity with fewer apprentices, as this day is for the older children to gain further experience. The morning jobs were all done by 9 o'clock so that the breakfast cooked on a shovel could begin. From what I saw very little was lost into the fire although several shouts of "they're on fire again" were heard from the engine next to me! I was looking after the apprentices on Marshall 76751 and have to admit that we covered our shovel with foil, although we were not the only ones.
After breakfast, it was time for the activities to continue. Some apprentices were eager to just drive around whilst others wished to try their hand at the driving course. The course involved driving around a corner into a space, and reversing around the opposite corner before pulling into a straight road. Then a reverse park manoeuvre was made between two parked vehicles with the apprentices expected to use appropriate hand signals and look around at all times. At any point in the test, an emergency stop was to be expected.
On completing the manoeuvres, Nick Allen asked the teams questions on common road signs, and given a debriefing on how well they did. Nick, who organised the test with others, commented that all those who took the test did very well and he was very impressed in particular with those of little experience.
Many Apprentices were keen to take the driving test on "Ex Mayor" as it proved more of a challenge with the limited viewpoint and this being the longest engine, when it came to the reverse park. The Apprentices that had taken the test received a certificate. Sunday finished around 2pm allowing engines to road home and the apprentices chance to get home and cleaned up before school on Monday.
Apprentices, engine crews and parents had a most enjoyable weekend. A big thank you must go to all those who helped to make it such a successful event.