Trainee Notes

Trainee Notes

The Driver Training days at Gilling are primarily designed for absolute beginners to learn how to drive a 5” gauge steam locomotive. This does not exclude those who have had some experience in driving and wish to come and improve their skills. The day will not only include driving the locos but will allow the participants to learn the techniques of working the yard, shunting and operation of the signal box, all to proper railway working practice.

The essentials of what you will learn during the day are listed below, though are not necessarily in the order of priority. Once you have learned to drive one steam loco, they are all the same, although the controls may be in separate places.

Preparing the Engine

The most important aspect of preparing and running any steam locomotive is to ensure that there is adequate water in the gauge glass.

The water in the glass must be at least half full before any attempt is made to light the fire and the loco side tanks or tender should be full.

Lay the fire using either paraffin-soaked charcoal or chopped sticks and put enough in the firebox to cover the whole grate area to at least the depth of one lump of charcoal. Methylated spirits can also be used but the flames are invisible on a bright day so not highly recommended.

Lighting Up

Leave one piece on the firing shovel so that this can be lit and then dropped into the fire.

Once you can see that the flames have spread over most of the charcoal or wood, switch on the steam raising blower and watch the flames be drawn into the tubes.

There are several types of coal suitable but the best we find is a mixture of Welsh Steam Coal and Anthracite. Size matters! The most convenient size for a five” gauge engine is “beans.”

Remember, from now on, everything will be HOT.

Once the fire in the engine has been lit, the most important thing is to keep an eye on the water level in the glass and ensure that the engine has always at least one quarter of a glass full.

If you are in any doubt about the water level at any time, call one of the instructors immediately.

The sticks should now be well ablaze, and you can start adding coal in an even layer across the fire.

Remember firing shovels are made for shovelling and not digging.

Take a shovel full of coal and insert it through the fire hole door and with a twist of the fingers, tip the coal down the left-hand side with a slight shake to spread the coal around a little.

Do the same to the right-hand side and then one down the middle.

This method of firing is called “putting a round on.”

At this stage you may need to put at least four rounds on but do not smother the fire and make sure that the flames are always burning above the coal.

The secret of good firing is “little and often.”

Whilst the coal is burning through, you can take the opportunity to oil around the engine with lubricating oil.

Check that the lubricator has an adequate amount of steam oil in the reservoir. This should come at least to the top of the pump.

Keep an eye on the GAUGE GLASS and when the water begins to bounce in the glass, it indicates that the water is boiling, and steam is being produced.

The PRESSURE GAUGE needle will begin to move and when there are about 5 lbs. on the clock the loco’s own BLOWER can be turned on to draw the fire.

The blower is a nozzle in the smoke box to direct a jet of steam up the chimney. This creates a vacuum in the smoke box which, in turn, draws the fire through the tubes.

As the pressure rises the note from the blower will change and the force of the blast will increase. The blower should be closed progressively to keep the sound constant.

Working The Injectors

When the pressure reaches 30 lbs. it should be possible to evaluate the INJECTORS. These are steam operated devices which feed water from the tanks or tender into the boiler. There are two valves to work each injector, a water valve which should be turned on first and a steam valve which is turned on second. When the steam has been turned on, the water can be “trimmed” to suit the steam flow by closing the water valve gradually until the injector “picks up” and issues the very comforting chirruping or sucking sound. This will create a pressure drop in the boiler so you may need to increase the blower a little to compensate. If the injector overflow begins to dribble the water will have to be trimmed further until the injector stops overflowing. If the pressure gauge is rising you may need to increase the water flow otherwise the injector may “knock off” and steam will issue from the overflow. Once the water in the gauge glass has risen to about 3/4 full, the steam can be turned off and then the water.  Remember water on first, water off last.

If steam blows out of the injector overflow you will have to turn both valves off and start again.

A few locos still have axle driven pumps, but this only work whilst the loco is travelling. Some have a hand pump, but this is for emergency use.

Preparing for moving off

The pressure should continue to rise and on reaching about 40‑50 lbs. the cylinders can be warmed through by opening the cylinder cocks, putting the reversing lever or screw into forward gear, and gradually cracking open the “REGULATOR”. The steam should blow any condensation out of one of the cylinder cocks. Allow the engine to move forward slightly and condensation will issue from one of the cocks on the opposite side. The engine should be allowed to move forward slightly again until only steam issues from all the cylinder cocks.

If at any time the loco is left standing for more than a couple of minutes, the cylinder cocks must always be opened before moving off. They can be closed once one can hear that all condensation has been cleared.

The loco should now be nearing the working pressure point so watch the pressure gauge as the needle rises. The pressure can be controlled now by use of the injectors, the fire hole door and the firing technique and the ash pan dampers if fitted. From now on, a close eye should be kept on the pressure and the water level.

Before leaving the loco shed you must ensure that the water tanks or tender are full and that there is sufficient coal on board for at least a couple of hours work. The boiler should be full, the pressure just below the red line on the gauge and the fire should be lively. You are now ready to move “off shed.”

Give a sharp pop on the whistle to indicate that you are about to move, and the turntable will be set to your road. You can give another pop on the whistle to acknowledge the positioning of the turntable and move on to it. Make sure that you open the regulator gently and be aware of where the brakes are, should you need them.

The turntable will then be set for the signalled road to the “UP YARD.”  When you are comfortable with your position, pull up to the signal and give a pop on the whistle to ask for it to be pulled off. When your signal goes off it is usual to give a further pop on the whistle to acknowledge that you have seen it. This will be your first signalled movement.

Make sure that you are ready to move off as soon as the signal goes off as the Signalman may only have a narrow window through which to initiate your move. With any shunting or crossover move you must complete the move by passing to the rear of the opposing signal otherwise you are out of the control of the Signalman.

In this case, however, you will be expected to continue as far as the red and white board bearing the inscription “Stop and Await Instructions” at the Yard throat. From this point you will normally come under the authority of the “Yard Master” who will wave you into one of the sidings once the road has been set. At the Training Weekend this will most probably be your instructor.

The sidings are long enough for you to run up and down to get the feel of the engine so that you can evaluate the brakes and familiarize yourself with the loco. You will be asked to hook on to some wagons to get used to the way they behave, particularly when braking. Try to stop in the correct position for filling the tanks at the water column as by now you will need to take water.

Depending on which locomotive you are working, the instructor will then probably ask you to marshal a train to take out on the Main Line. Once the train is ready, complete with brake van and tail lamps, you will need to prepare the loco for Main Line working.

The fire needs to be raked through to clear any ash and clinker, the bunker, tender or driving truck needs to be well coaled, the tender or tanks full of water and the fire well made up and lively. You may need to turn the loco for the Main Line run.

Run on the Main Line

If time permits, you should have a run on the Main Line before lunch. Once your train has been made up it is your responsibility as Driver/Fireman/Guard to ensure that the loco headlamps are displaying the correct code for the train. It is the shunter’s responsibility to see that you have a tail lamp(s) and that all the wagon brakes are off. The Instructor or Yardmaster will telephone the Box for a road out and when ready you will be asked to pull up to the signal at the Yard exit.

For the Main Line run a second driving truck or passenger truck will be marshalled behind the driving truck so that the instructor can ride behind the driver.

On the Main Line remember to watch the signals ahead, keep having a look round to make sure the train is following and most of all watch the water level and keep a check on the fire.


At 12.45 p.m. all the locos need to be back “ON SHED” as all fires will be dropped for lunch at 1.00 p.m. This is a good opportunity to have a good discussion, compare notes and get to know the others taking part.

After the lunch break the proceedings re-commence and you will be accompanied by a different instructor on a different loco.

Once you have gained experience on your second loco, you should take the opportunity to change places with the others to widen your experience and get the feel of working all the diverse types of engines. By the end of the day, you should feel confident to take over any of the locos as regularly happened in full size working. Often, an engine crew would take a train as far as their route knowledge would allow and then swap trains with a crew working in the opposite direction to work the other train back home again. It was nothing unusual to work a train of empty wagons on a downhill run only to take over the full return working all the way back home uphill. One can imagine the difference in technique required to work these two diverse types of train.

When taking over a train from another driver, you should have a quick discussion on how the loco is performing, how the fire is, how the water is and if everything is working well. Then, do not believe a word that you have been told and check everything for yourself before departing as the loco is now your responsibility.

On many occasions I have taken over a train which is said to be “full of everything” only to find that there is no fire, the pressure low and the water in the bottom of the glass.

The main thing is to enjoy every minute of the day, try to remember what you have been told, although it will not all sink in for one day. Try also to remember little incidents throughout the day as it will help you to remember other things. Do not be afraid to ask questions however trivial they may seem. We all had to start somewhere.