The weekend of the 22nd & 23rd April saw the 8th Steam Apprentice Driving Course hosted by the Society. Despite a very wet afternoon on the preceding Friday as engines were arriving, the ground was to dry out very well and the weather stayed fine for the majority of the weekend. Once again, around 100 apprentices took part, with ages ranging between 5 and 21 years of age, from beginner to the more experienced. The format was similar to previous years, but Nick Allen and Pete Nixon had put together a more challenging driving test course and set up the opportunity to line engines to Michael Watts' baler. Engines used for this included Marshall 76751, Richard Parrish's Fowell No. 92, and Michael Maskell's Fowler "Lord of the Isles".
Lunch on Saturday was Jacket Potatoes as usual, accompanied by sausages, beans and cheese; the children had wrapped up the potatoes in foil themselves for cooking in the smokeboxes of various engines. Driving activities resumed after lunch and went on until around 5pm when there was a gathering for a group photograph, and presentation of certificates to all the apprentices taking part. Society member Stuart Gray kindly donated a new firing shovel for one of the apprentices to win in a draw, which was steam apprentice Henry Parrish, who was over the moon with his prize. Afterwards, there was the Mamod and Wilsesco steaming, which attracted as many parents as children! During this time, the enginemen had time to wind down and relax, watching Glenn Culpin’s dare devil stunts with his "Nifty 50" motorbike.
Sunday morning started with the popular "Breakfast on the Shovel" and it seems the example started by Russell Spry has taken off and more of the engine owners and crews appeared with shovels made for the occasion!
There was a good range of engines to choose from with Aveling & Porter being the most prominent maker. Steve Ward, Steve & Liz Grimes, Paul & Ian Vickery, Matt & Dan Barklem and Andy Harvey all bought their rollers, while Jonathan Vickery and Stuart & Chris Gray bought steam tractors, the Gray's "Clementine" making its last outing in their ownership. Chris Griffiths' Clayton & Shuttleworth was one of the larger engines and was joined by Fowler Road Locomotive "Sir Douglas" in attendance thanks to Brian Hagen and Kevin Higgins. John Forshaw Jnr had roaded over with his Ransomes, Simms & Jefferies as had John Kilgour with his interesting Spider 2. Miniature engines were popular with the younger apprentices and these were bought along by Glenn Culpin, Kevin Strawbridge, Dave Pope and Fran Baldock.
Sunday’s activities finished around 2pm, which allowed the engines to road home and gave the apprentices (and parents) chance to get home and cleaned up before school on Monday!
A most enjoyable weekend was had by apprentices, engine crews and parents and a big thank you must go to all those who helped to make it such a successful event.