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Selkent

Would you ever work on a real full size steam railway

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 I am going to present a report to a Steam Heritage line and would love the following input from railway modelers, of which I am one. 

 

I would like to know the answer to the following questions, as many heritage lines, local steam railways has paid staff and volunteers.   You may  have  a few steam railways within an easy drive of some of you on here.  The question is how come you don't volunteer or want to volunteer on them.  Is your passion, model railways and recreating an era or actual steam & modern locos.   I found this in flying as a pilot, lots of plane spotters love aircraft but never thought about having a go flying one. If you as model railway fans, had the chance to work on real engines, track, signals and infrastructure as a hobby, would you?  and could you?

 

Of course some may volunteer already, it is RM's who don't I am interesting in getting feedback from

 

Also how many of you have ever actually driven a steam or diesel locomotive, and if not why not and do you have the desire to do so.

 

Would any of you ever consider a working holiday on a heritage railway where a new skill can be taught or a skill you have could be used.

 

Of course every steam railway has its steam buffs and photographers, but again many of these don't actually want to get their hands dirty or be part of the actual operation of a railway.  Could it be a age thing, ie lots of jobs particular to engineering and line infrastructure do require a bit of agility and fitness. 

 

I know these seem odd questions to ask but there is a  valid reason and ways to attract more volunteers to real steam railways.

 

 

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Intriguing questions!

 

Alright then, here's me. I don't volunteer because I'm not that dedicated! I have been a member but never really got into it.

I don't sleep well so I really struggle to get up early enough to put in a worthwhile day at a preservation centre.

Also, the prototypes that really interest me are just too far away from where I live in the NW UK.

 

I have done a driver experience and really enjoyed it and I would enjoy doing it again but simply cannot dedicate myself sufficiently to deem myself of use.

My great passion is model railways, it has to be said and being perfectly honest, I get more out of my models than I would the real thing.

A bit sad really but there you are.

Cheers,

John.

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Family commitments.

 

The times/dates when preserved railways run are very “family unfriendly” from a volunteering perspective for the very good reason that they are “family friendly” for visitors.

 

That having been said, I am looking into volunteering on work to extend our local line, hoping that they permit older children to participate, because I think it would be a good “dad and son” thing.

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I have volunteered on one standard gauge (NYMR) and two narrow gauge (Festiniog and Corris), but am in no position to do anything active now, both due to distance and other priorities when in the UK. (In France, volunteers are a rarity on preserved railways, bar the Somme and a few others, and enquiries are met with "well, you can hand out leaflets or sell refreshments". No thanks.) I spent almost all my career working for the "real thing", which involved very long hours over six and often seven days a week for most of it, but we did get a decent amount of holiday. Many of my colleagues had little interest in a "busman's holiday" but there were a few. Personally, I rarely had the opportunity to do my bit, and in reality, the romance was bashed out of me for several decades.

 

But, if it helps, the one huge thing that made a difference, once I was married, was whether there was an opportunity for the current Mrs Storey to get involved too. (On the FR it did not matter, I was young and fancy free, and got a few unofficial goes driving and firing a loco). The NYMR and Corris were very good at this - we were part of the gardening crew at the NYMR, when she still could do that sort of thing, but when working at the Corris, she was far less able (she has a severely crippling disease, as with the spouses of many on here, I believe), but they welcomed her nonetheless, and she ended up sitting in the cabin at Maespoeth, several times, making the tea and jawing with other volunteers, whilst I changed some track somewhere. What she would not do, is sit in a hotel or spend the day (or a week!!) on her own all day whilst I disappeared to do my thing. Some of the more successful model railway movements, particularly the 16mmNGA, encourage the involvement of spouses who are not that interested otherwise.

 

The other issue is time - who should preservation groups be targetting? The people with most free time are obviously pensioners, but they are more likely to be in a similar position to me, or are less physically able to do the more demanding roles. Younger folk either are too young, or have commitments these days, such as multiple jobs, or very long working weeks and not much holiday, compared to what some of us remember. Spare time is probably more precious, if they have to consider spouses or boyfriends/girlfriends etc. I think there are far fewer people these days who can make the sole decision about how that time is spent, and, importantly, have the funds to do so. It can be quite expensive to spend a week or two in Kent, or in many other places in the UK, compared to tripping abroad (although that appears to be changing with imminent events). The availability of hostels is much reduced now for preservation societies, and even then, what I was prepared to sleep in when in my teens in North Wales, I would not put up with now! The ideal targets are the early to middle-aged, unmarried or the divorced, I would speculate, who may well have both the funds and the independence of action, to be available and willing. Everybody needs to feel useful for something or to somebody, and preservation groups are an excellent place for that (if they treat their volunteers in that way - the NYMR had a period a few decades ago where it did not, and suffered accordingly). Don't ask me how you find them, but dating clubs and the like could be a good place to start?

 

Hope that helps for your survey. Believe me, I would have done an awful lot more, had I had the opportunity and the time, when I was younger!

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Successful preserved lines need to have the ability to attract new people and younger generations, otherwise they don't remain successful as essential work is only just covered and other projects don't get completed. But most have volunteer bodies ageing faster than they can be replaced.

 

I volunteer on a well-known main line railway, with the aim of making it longer so it links up with the bit I live near. What folks may not realize is the variety of types of work which need doing. It's not just heavy track and rolling stock work but a great variety including talking to the public, fundraising and public events, admin and compliance, technical and web related etc. Even model making in my case. Whatever your skillset, some aspect can be useful on a preserved railway.  

 

You can do something that matters, even if only a few hours a month, and you get a sense of involvement and contributing to something bigger and longer lasting than you are.

 

Dava 

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Been there some years ago when I was fit and lived 30 minutes from the Bluebell and 90 minutes from the Mid Hants. Both Railways got my help as a  Porter and general dog's body as well as interacting with the public that many of the dedicated Volunteers did not really enjoy doing.

I did consider helping at the GC at Loughborough when I moved from Sussex when I retired from FT work, but found the journey and commitment too much from where I am at my stage in life.

Did a bit of time at Barrow Hill when they had big events but found it very exhausting and there wasn't a lot to do there except Stewarding if you were not into heavy work.

Offered my services to the A1 Steam Trust in 2008 and was able to travel on the first public trip it made from York to Newcastle and back as a Coach Steward. Didn't find them particularly  interested in other offers I made so I left it at that. I am a Covenantor though so I sort of help keep Tornado running.

Drove and Fired Steam Loco's in Poland and Ukraine 15/16 years ago when I was still reasonably fit. Don't want to do that any more as it was bloody hard work but most enjoyable at the time.

I still fancy doing something at the Railway Museum but have not done anything about it and it would only be something lightweight and easy.

Phil

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As a PS, I've noticed that I didn't properly read and answer the questions set, which means I've probably already failed the exam, but:

 

Driving locos - yes, I've driven NG diesels on odd occasions, and started to learn to fire steamers, and, no, driving isn't a magnetic attraction.

 

Working holidays - love to, although the question of family commitments is large, as is the alternative attraction of cycling tours.

 

Mike's point about accommodation is important, though. It would need to be low-cost ......... I rather like the idea of a camping coach, provided that its clean, and has decent shower and loo, unlike the filthy wrecks that were de riguer when I last volunteered.

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Interesting question. Since I'm working full time anyway I don't like the idea of extra regular commitments at the weekend, even if it's something I'd love (had to force myself for about once a month for something unrelated - digging through a collapse in an old mine - although it was one of those things I was happy I was doing once I'd got started for the day). So hats off to those who do. I also think what would put me off is not having the technical skills to be useful for anything maintenance / restoration related and being scared of the responsibility for something like driving or signalling.

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I know you did,t really want to hear from existing volunteers but I have been involved with both sides of the hobby and it does have its advantages. I first started out with modelling by joining my local club in Nottingham and went on to help build Deepcar  and Carstairs, this was on tuesday nights.On saturdays and wednesday nights I used to go to Swanwick and helped with the restoration of Deltic 15. While there I was asked to train to be a second man on our loco, which then led to riding on several different classes  as well.  The point is that I was able to check out all these locos at close quarters for free so that when I came to start modelling in O gauge I was able to measure them in great detail. I  know I am very lucky to have an understanding wife , but I think she is glad to have saturdays to herself  whist I am at Barrow Hill still working on those pesky Deltics. These two sides of the hobby do have the advantage of travelling all over the country  exhibiting at exhibitions with layouts and also supporting locos at preserved railways. So my advise is get involved if you can, both sides of the hobby can be great fun.

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An ex volunteer here. Yes I've driven steam and diesel. Acted as guard and signalman as well. Cleaned things, took things apart and hit them with big hammers. But I gave up on that a few years ago.

 

Three main reasons. Time. Travelling. Commitment.

 

Time. 

 

Sometimes I have plenty of spare time. But working on a heritage railway you need to be there regularly and reliable IMO. It's also the fact that many railways have their running days and working parties scheduled for weekends or summer. Times when I am often busy.

 

Travel.

 

I don't drive, so any railway I would attend has to be within easy travelling distance. The nearest to me are all about two hours travelling each way. They are also virtually impossible to get to at the sort of times when you need to be there at. Unless you stay over the night before.

 

It doesn't help that most heritage railways are in the middle of nowhere.

 

Commitment.

 

From previous experience you have to be committed. If I was to volunteer again I would almost certainly have to start from the bottom again. Am I really going to do that again? Probably not.

 

I have been asked quite a few times (member of a few societies). But it's highly unlikely. I would possibly be swayed doing something like restoring wagons though.

 

As for the other question. I'm into locomotives and rolling stock. If I had vast amounts of money I would be buying the real things and not buying models. Oh for a substantial lottery win. :locomotive:

 

 

 

Jason

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11 hours ago, Selkent said:

Ok, I've added my answers to your questions in Blue:

1. The question is how come you don't volunteer or want to volunteer on them. 

Don't?  Good question.....probably distance from a Steam Heritage Line that would interest me enough. (Herts, close to the top of the M25).  The idea of travelling best part of a hundred miles (or several hours) each way for a day volunteering would be a serious downer for me.  My favourite would be NYMR, but that's a trek. I would be very interested if a free/v.cheap, clean place to sleep with showers and loos were available (not expecting the Ritz here), with reasonable parking (the costs of regular B&B etc. would be a no-no unless very cheap) . As I'm seriously contemplating telling The Boss to poke it and apply for (very) early retirement imminently then my free time goes vertically upwards.

 

2. Is your passion, model railways and recreating an era or actual steam & modern locos. 

Either model or real, but not modern.  I draw the line just after Green Diesels, though paying to travel behind one (unless its a Deltic) doesn't happen...

 

3. If you as model railway fans, had the chance to work on real engines, track, signals and infrastructure as a hobby, would you?  and could you?

Would I? Yes, quite possibly.  Could I?  Yes, definitely.

 

4. Also how many of you have ever actually driven a steam or diesel locomotive, and if not why not and do you have the desire to do so.

Been on a couple of Footplate rides at the Mid-Hants (excellent), but no driving.  Would love to do so, on the right line (NYMR etc.; sadly I see the Nene Valley Line, which is a lot closer as a bit uninspiring for me).  I'd love to do Poland, but not sure if I ever will now.

 

5. Would any of you ever consider a working holiday on a heritage railway where a new skill can be taught or a skill you have could be used.

Yes, could be interested.  Especially engineering & footplate.  Gardening/signalling/guard/ticket collector/mending door frames - no.

 

6. Could it be a age thing, ie lots of jobs particular to engineering and line infrastructure do require a bit of agility and fitness.

Yes, without doubt.  However, I'm sure there is something for most people if they are interested enough.  What may be a big factor for many retired people would be travelling expenses to and from, or a contribution to.  If you're on a basic state pension it'll be a no-no for many.

Finally, and by no means least, I'd like to feel that I'd achieved something, enjoyed it and been appreciated.  There's been threads on RMWeb in the past about volunteering, with stories of being left standing around for hours, being treated by the regulars as 3rd class citizens etc. etc.  I'd also like the opportunity to (after earning it, naturally) ride the footplate for half or one day maybe - others may have different aspirations etc. depending on interest and physical fitness.  Perhaps a week volunteering gets a footplate turn, if only as a ride, but with increasing footplate tasks (firing etc) as time goes on.  Keep people interested and they'll want to keep coming back.  Treat them as free labour so the small minority can drive trains all day isn't going to work  (However, I do appreciate that the term "small minority" refers to those who may well have been devoting their time for twenty years or more, so certainly isn't intended to be offensive...).

HTH

Brian

 

11 hours ago, Selkent said:

 

 

 

 

 

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Posted (edited)

original post deleted, not really relevant.

Edited by tomparryharry
Deleted; it wasn't really relevant

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I used to volunteer at the Midland Railway Centre in the 80's working in the engine shed way before the Matthew KIrtley building existed. I was a regular cleaner of 80080 and have been in the firebox of Princess Margaret Rose.

 

Motorbikes, bands and girls curtailed it and I never went back to volunteering although I still am a shareholder.

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Of course some may volunteer already, it is RM's who don't I am interesting in getting feedback from

Many years ago...43? I regularly volunteered at the SRPS, which back then was in Falkirk.. Mostly gopher jobs, later when they moved to Bo'ness, I did all sorts, like driving rollers along the platform to level the gravel, or track laying..

 

Also how many of you have ever actually driven a steam or diesel locomotive, and if not why not and do you have the desire to do so.

Unofficially yes with the real driver alongside.

 

Would any of you ever consider a working holiday on a heritage railway where a new skill can be taught or a skill you have could be used.

Sadly too many other committments now preclude this.

 

Of course every steam railway has its steam buffs and photographers, but again many of these don't actually want to get their hands dirty or be part of the actual operation of a railway.  Could it be a age thing, ie lots of jobs particular to engineering and line infrastructure do require a bit of agility and fitness. 

If I lived locally, once I have retired, i would be volunteering for some sort of light duties task, old injuries mean standing all day and heavy work is no longer possible.

As an old RADAR Man, I will be volunteering at the RAF RADAR museum nearby. https://www.radarmuseum.co.uk/

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12 hours ago, Reorte said:

Interesting question. Since I'm working full time anyway I don't like the idea of extra regular commitments at the weekend, even if it's something I'd love (had to force myself for about once a month for something unrelated - digging through a collapse in an old mine - although it was one of those things I was happy I was doing once I'd got started for the day). So hats off to those who do. I also think what would put me off is not having the technical skills to be useful for anything maintenance / restoration related and being scared of the responsibility for something like driving or signalling.

 

Don't let a lack of skills put you off - there's so many different jobs available that there's always something you can do. I know we've got a few porters and ticket inspectors at the Mid-Hants who have no desire to go on to the more safety-critical jobs because of the responsibility.

 

Most lines ask for a minimum of once a month, at least for operations staff, but for other things (like maintenance - can you wield a paintbrush on a station bench for example?) then any time you can spare always helps.

 

I started volunteering just over two years ago, at my wife's encouragement - I do about one turn a month, occasionally two if I can squeeze another in. My problem before was very much a lack of time, as like others above I work full-time, so I've only got the weekends spare, and there's various other commitments to fit in like housework, DIY, garden etc.

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I used to volunteer on my local heritage line back in the day, cleaner, fireman, and committee member for a while.

 

A back injury put paid to the physical work for a while and business and work commitments eventually robbed me of any time to give the necessary commitment to the railway.

 

Now retired, I still don't have enough time to get involved again, I need to get a layout built!

 

For the past few years, I've been getting my regular footplate fix in Poland, driving and firing steam, with the occasional go on diesel.

 

 

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Posted (edited)
5 minutes ago, Trofimow said:

For the past few years, I've been getting my regular footplate fix in Poland, driving and firing steam, with the occasional go on diesel.

 

Off-topic I know, but is that at Wolstyn? I would have loved to do one of their courses, but can't afford to at the moment and it looks like this will be the last year that they run.

Edited by Nick C

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Yes, at Wolsztyn.

You are right that the opportunity won't always be there, and also it's not as affordable as it used to be, so if you can find the cash from somewhere, go for it while you still can...

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Posted (edited)

First of all I need to ask why this is in the exhibitions section? surely  the miscellany section would have been better placed.

 

I am a member of the Bluebell railway, and also in close proximity to the Spa Valley Railway, Kent & East Sussex, Lavender Line and at a push the Romney, Hythe & Dymchurch railways, as well as the Bluebell railway, so I could have my pick of lines to volunteer at, but as has been mentioned, work and other activities mean that I am unlikely to be able to volunteer at this current moment. As I currently work as a signaller with Network Rail, I can understand that any railway would like me to do a similar position, but sometimes you need to do something different from a day job when on rest days. I might be more interested in the restoration side of the railway, rather than being a 'public face' to a railway.

 

Colin

Edited by ColinW
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I had 12 enjoyable years volunteering on Swanage Railway, 1986 -98, in the days when I had plenty of spare time, I helped keeping the running locos in working order. But after a few years I got a little tired of spending 7 days a week in an engineering workshop of one sort or another, so I moved from loco to S&T doing site work in the great outdoors. But in the meantime I had left engineering, and had my own business, but the spare time had gone, so the volunteering ended. It was a time I enjoyed, and miss it, but in the intervening time I have suffered both Sciatica, and Myeloma, so I'm retired, and sticking with model railways.

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I used to volunteer on the NYMR when I was a teenager then in the late 80s through to 2000s on the north Norfolk had some good times and did some good work,  I was the first person ever to drive a preserved 37 for instance 

But sadly now I have no time for the place, it seems to be a thing on a lot of preserved railways where people only seem to volunteer to make themselves important or rather feel it.

Someone mentioned earlier in this post the volunteered as a porter...... not anymore to people do that , no you have to be a stationmaster at the very least and covered in gold braid and name badges,  blowing whistles at all times especially in peoples ears!

About seven years ago I was asked if I could do a driving turn but unfortunately had other plans so couldn't do it.

I popped down a few days later to say if I could help they could sign me back up as a driver,  but then some little Hitler said I had to start at the bottom and do front end turns! Err no!

To me it would be to help them and to be honest not that exciting  driving at 25mph on a five mile line, I've been driving over thirty years so they can get stuffed. 

I bet if I'd been a builder or something they'd have gladly had some free work done , but if they are jealous of my trade that's up to them 

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Posted (edited)

In reply to the driving and firing bit I've just 'retired' from the Mid Hants after thirty plus years of volunteering in the loco department where I started as a third man (now called cleaner), then fireman followed by nearly twenty years driving. I also spent nearly four years on the main line with Hosking's engines as support crew.

 

The upsides...living the dream I suppose (although it turned into a nightmare a few times), being on the footplate of and then driving the biggest locomotives in preservation up one of the bigger hills on a preserved railway, managing your crew (their problems are your problems), training and seeing them develop into railwaymen (it has to be remembered that we use proper trains which can bite the same as other trains, we don't play at railways). Also just getting the job right brings a satisfaction in itself, to have a safe day and know that people have gained enjoyment from your efforts.

 

The downsides....anything to do with steam engines is heavy, dirty, usually wet and carried out in Dickensian conditions. You have to learn to do as you are told on the footplate, realise that it isn't a democracy and the driver is in charge (some people don't get that bit)  In any loco department you have to have or develop a thick skin, the 'banter' can be merciless. You have to take responsibility for your actions (some see that as a downside) and be accountable for mistakes especially when in a safety critical role. 

When on footplate duties the hours can be long and arduous, on the MHR we have to prep the locos, do the day's work and then put the things to bed. This usually takes us up to the twelve hours maximum allowed. Conditions on the footplate can be trying too, sod's law says that on the hottest summer's day you get a closed cab loco ( for instance on a Bulleid Pacific, especially an original, temperature can get up to 110 deg in the cab especially when working hard up the hill, and as you are not going fast it doesn't really help to stick your head out the side window)

 

Conversely, when it's snow or heavy rain you are bound to get an open back cab loco, and of course the storm sheet will be missing or ripped. I remember years ago coming into Ropley tender first on an S15 in a snowstorm and the backhead was covered in the stuff...seems hard to believe but true.

 

So...as I said I've given it up now. As I also said I've had the pleasure of aiming a lot of the best locos in preservation up and down the line, I reckon about 40000 miles worth over the years but I am 70 soon and the prospect of getting up at 04-30 to then go and crawl under a  steam loco in a perhaps flooded pit is less than attractive these days

 

BUT...would I do it all again? 

 

YOU BETCHA!

Edited by PhilH
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Posted (edited)
1 hour ago, russ p said:

I used to volunteer on the NYMR when I was a teenager then in the late 80s through to 2000s on the north Norfolk had some good times and did some good work,  I was the first person ever to drive a preserved 37 for instance 

But sadly now I have no time for the place, it seems to be a thing on a lot of preserved railways where people only seem to volunteer to make themselves important or rather feel it.

Someone mentioned earlier in this post they volunteered as a porter*..... not anymore to people do that , no you have to be a stationmaster at the very least and covered in gold braid and name badges,  blowing whistles at all times especially in peoples ears!

About seven years ago I was asked if I could do a driving turn but unfortunately had other plans so couldn't do it.

I popped down a few days later to say if I could help they could sign me back up as a driver,  but then some little Hitler said I had to start at the bottom and do front end turns! Err no!

To me it would be to help them and to be honest not that exciting  driving at 25mph on a five mile line, I've been driving over thirty years so they can get stuffed. 

I bet if I'd been a builder or something they'd have gladly had some free work done , but if they are jealous of my trade that's up to them 

* that was me.

Shame that you experienced that however I know what you mean. hen I lived in Horsham in West Sussex I found a niche at the Bluebell where I worked Saturdays at Kingscote when it was the northern terminus. The 'Stationmaster' was a lovely chap. Nobody seemed to want to work at Kingscote, probably because it was a bit remote and nothing really happened there. Many enjoyed the busy Sheffield Park and HK and many enjoyed dressing up for the part as you suggest but were generally good people but not so great at dealing with the general public who wanted ice cream and clean toilets. I enjoyed Kingscote for that very reason of bursts of activity followed by long periods of calm and quiet in a beautiful setting. In the summer there was a small ice cream stall and a picnic field. Some people stayed over and they were grateful for someone to chat with some of the time.

I got to do Mince Pie specials at the Bluebell (rostered days) during the week when staff were thin on the ground and I was able to take time off work (mainly TOIL as I worked quite a few evenings doing exhibitions and meetings). Suited me these jobs as I like to potter about without a lot of responsibility but feeling as if I am contributing and the few colleagues were generally lovely to work with. The specials also got loads of kids groups and special needs visitors that many regular staff found a bit challenging; I loved that as they were excited and loved Hoathly Tunnel and seeing the steam loco's.

At the MId Hants I started just doing a few chores with I think the Wednesday 'Gang'. That was mainly clearing up, cutting grass around Ropley and cleaning up the Station areas. I only used to do that in the summer and when there was a big event coming up. I then used to do whole days during the big events litter-picking and general wandering around making sure folk were happy and knew what was going on the big field adjoining the station. Most colleagues were excellent but tended to be localish and dedicated regular people with their pet roles; fine with me.

Sadly most of these outfits require regular dedication from volunteers so that the admins can allocate tasks but almost every railway I have visited seemed happy to welcome people to just 'lend a hand' around the site. 

If I were fit and well I'd be off to the Nene Valley as it is only just over an hour away or (as I mentioned earlier) the GC at Loughborough but I wouldn't want to work at Loughborough as it was a bit 'overstaffed by uniforms' if I can put it that way. I'd be happy to travel up and down on the trains, keeping them fairly tidy and chatting to folk.

One thing about these places that is important. The company that people can get if (say) they become single or have retired and have lost the company of colleagues at work. It can also get blokes out of their partner's way as when both are retired things can sometimes get a bit 'niggly'!

My attitude is, if you have some time then see if there is somewhere locally, even if it is only a small outfit. Give it a try and if it is fun and the place is willing to take the time you can give, then give it a go. Their loss if they can't be arsed to use your offer.

Phil

 

Edited by Mallard60022
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It seems that you got stuck in to do real work,  a lot of volunteers on the north Norfolk these days don't seem to want to do real work anymore. 

If I had time I would possibly do a bit on the mid Norfolk,  but while we still have 37s at work no preserved railway can match doing 90 on a mainline charter. 

I would actually like to buy a 37 but can imagine all kinds of politics on preserved railways with one especially those who know it all and drive like idiots with no mechanical sympathy whatsoever 

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Hi Selkent,

 

I guess it's a dream of mine to have the time to volunteer. Unfortunately life and work commitments just get in the way. I have driven both a class 55 and class 40 on the East Lancs and have a steam loco experience booked for later this year. Retirement (still many years off) may give me the time but I would be concerned that by then my physical ability may limit my usefulness. Still I can hope that my numbers come up on the lottery and then I could live the dream.

 

PJ10

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