As is usual, preparation work for this trip started a couple of days before the actual run. The fire was lit on Thursday afternoon. We always warm the boiler slowly, to avoid putting it under undue stress. Our rule is to only have 20 psi on the clock twelve hours after lighting the fire.

The day before the trip, known as "Prep Day", involves all the support crew putting in a full day's work, from at least nine o'clock through to five o'clock. We usually also have several extra willing volunteers along to give a hand, as we did in this case. Even though people have been working on the engine since the previous trip, there is always a lot to do. As well as cleaning the locomotive, tender and support coach, we also have to ensure that everything is well oiled, and the lubricators are full. The tender has to be filled with treated water and coal, and the sanders filled. We also have a Fitnes To Run (FTR) examination, carried out by DBC, which involves taking the engine outside to test the safety valves, the braking system, etc.. We were concerned about coal usage on this trip, so we also loaded several bags with extra coal, some of which we took in the support coach, the rest being taken to Basingstoke by the family members of one of the support crew. We passed the FTR without any major issues that we couldn't sort out (there are always little problems that need addressing).

The day of the trip also involved an early start. Everybody was asked to be at Stewarts Lane by six o'clock, and most people made it on time. There are still several things to be done before the train rolls into Victoria. We have to sort out the fire, and get it burning well, before handing it over to the crew. We then have to reverse out into Battersea Loop to couple up to the coaching stock, which has recently arrived. After a brake test, we then have to shunt the stock towards Clapham to get out of the loop, before being pulled into Victoria.

The climb out of Victoria onto Grosvenor Bridge is quite a test for a cold engine, so, as in the days of steam, the loco that pulled the stock into the station banks the train out. The diesel drops off the back of the train afterwards, so it is already uncoupled.

As is usual, the first part of the trip is not particularly exciting, as we have to fit in with scheduled stopping trains. We stopped at Grateley, where we were met by a water tanker to top up the tender. We also loaded the bags of coal that we had been carrying in the support coach. After Southampton, we had to pass through Eastleigh at twenty mph because of a Temporary Speed Restriction (TSR).

Clan Line at Basingstoke - Photograph by John Chappell

Our next stop was at Basingstoke, where there was another water tanker waiting for us, and some more coal to be loaded. From here, Rob was driving what may turn out to be his last drive on Clan Line, and Paul gave him plenty of steam so that he could make the most of it. We accelerated away pretty quickly, and were soon up to our maximum allowed speed. After dropping passengers off at Woking, we were back to following yellow signals most of the way back to Victoria.

The support crew's day was not yet over, though. After all the passengers had left, we were towed back to Battersea Loop, where we were detacched from the train. We then had to turn the engine on the triangle round Stewarts Lane, before blowing down the boiler. The engine and coach where put back in the shed, the trimmings removed, and most people went home.

However, for some of us, the work still wasn't over. We like to keep up on maintenance, so the plan was to remove the smoke deflectors, so that we could get to the steam pipe glands. We kept the engine in steam, and, on Sunday morning, moved it up the shed, so that we could use one of the cranes to remove the smoke deflectors.

Clan Line's smoke deflectors have been removed

We now have quite a bit of work to do before our next trip. Our painters will also take advantage of the absence of the smoke deflectors to do what they do best.