What a memorable meet it was. This meet was to mark the first big run for Fairfield Railroad’s new Pacific named “Lady Barbara” as well as the first major use of DAMAR’s box car that carries the fuel, air (for brakes), and electrical supplies.
The weather could not have been better…cool in the evenings and moderate during the day. Excitement was in the air when I arrived on Thursday with DAMAR’s boxcar and caboose in the Explorer and towing a trailer with a gondola, flat bed, and another box car. Wayne had already arrived at the meet the day before, coming directly from a work-related trip. The weatherman was predicting good weather and the talk was that the meet might set a new record for locomotives in attendance. In actual fact, a new meet record was set when a total of 137 locomotives were registered. Surprisingly, the main line was not overcrowded. I think that owes to the great preparation for the meet done by the Midsouth Live Steamers and the effort they put into expanding the sidings and other facilities.
Day One: All the remaining cars were unloaded and coupled. Safety chains (required to run at Midsouth) were attached between all cars. It wasn’t long before I started seeing familiar faces in the crowd of engineers making ready to run. We fired Lady Barbara and had a full head of steam in a very short time. Wayne took Lady Barbara out onto the mainline cautiously as he let her “stretch her legs” for the first time on a track of this size. It wasn’t long before many of our initial questions about her ability to make and hold steam pressure on the long uphill climbs and the effectiveness of her braking system were answered. Steam was absolutely no problem whatsoever. In fact, we had to turn the fire down for a large majority of the time as we made a round to keep from popping off all the time. The brakes worked even better that anticipated as we were able to bring the consist to a stop at any point on the track. The air compressor did a fine job of keeping up with air consumption for the brakes.
Day Two: We used a single 30# tank of LP yesterday. This was also a pleasant surprise as we were unsure how much fuel we would consume in a day. After performing the pre-fire checkout (oiling, water supply check, etc), Lady Barbara was fired to being the days running. Later in the day several families of friends from our church in Atlanta joined us. Each had made the trip to experience the train meet with their children. Rides were provided to anyone wanting to ride. We limited the number of passengers to 6 in the interest of safety and because the track was growing increasingly slippery as locos continued to drip oil on it. It was the first time that I’ve actually seen some of the diesel locos unable to pull the hills with a trainload of passengers. This was also the day that I became a life-long advocate of safety chains. Somehow during the days running, the key holding the drawbar pin that attaches the tender to the loco was sheared off and the pin dropped out. All this happened unbeknownst to us…we were happily making round after round on the mainline. It was only discovered later on near the end of the day. If it had not been for the safety chains, we would have disconnected from the fuel supply (that’s bad) and from the air for the brakes supply (that’s worse!). We have no idea how long we ran without a drawbar pin but are thankful for the safety chains.
Day Three: A new drawbar pin was fabricated from a 3/8” bolt and locked into place until a permanent pin can be fashioned at the Fairfield shop. We corrected a sticking check valve in the lubricator that was allowing steam to blow back into the lubricator and eject all the steam oil. A fire was lit in the belly of the beast and we made a day of running Lady Barbara around the track. Two new engineers were briefed and took the controls of Lady Barbara for the first time. They were Tom Hill (an old friend of Wayne and Barb from Florida) and Wayne’s oldest son, Richard. Both engineers appeared a little nervous at the start but both did a fine job at the controls. Tom is an engineer with Amtrak in real-life but stated that running a scale live steam loco was something completely different. I cannot agree more with him…there is nothing like it in my book!!
After a great dinner and as it grew dark, we opened the blowdown valve and let Lady Barbara cool down. Loading of the various cars and Lady Barbara went surprisingly quick. We had all thought that with the record number of locos in attendance, that getting in line for the loading ramps would require a substantial wait.
Other Activities: When not engineering Lady Barbara, I had the opportunity to browse the vendors (never a good thing with me…I spend too much money!). I talked with a boilermaker, Ray Pennel from Cypress, Texas, and was very impressed with the sample work he brought along. I showed him my boiler plans and he said he could make one. All he needed was 8-10 weeks and a deposit of 1/3 of the total amount. I’ll be giving him a call soon to get the boiler in the works. I also purchased a couple of other fittings for the boiler and my wife bought me a whistle for my shay…oh…that’s a Father’s Day gift that I’m supposed to forget until then…sorry!
Enjoying the company of all the other railfans from around the area was just great. I can’t wait until next year!!!!