December 12 2013 Latest news:
Saturday, August 24, 2013
It is a skill not normally associated with women and can involve 12 hour shifts in front of blazing hot fires.
But Tina Pinney, 65, who has volunteered on the North Norfolk Railway from Sheringham to Holt since 2010, has qualified as a steam engine fireman for the vintage vehicles.
She passed after a challenging three-day exam shovelling tonnes of coal for 12 hours at a time into blazing hot furnaces on the footplate of three engines to raise the steam which made the trains move.
Her final test day, July 16, was one of the hottest days of the year as temperatures reached 30C.
Mrs Pinney lives in Hucknall, near Nottingham, but spends her holiday in Weybourne every summer. She said: “I was elated to pass because there were times when I did not think I was physically capable. It is quite rare for a woman to become a fireman.”
The retired teacher added: “When I am determined to do something I get on with it.”
She first became interested in steam engines about 30 years ago when her ex-husband, Henry, volunteered for the Midland Railway heritage line in Ripley, Derbyshire.
The mother of three and grandmother said: “I found that he was being called away at Christmas and leaving me to do the work and I thought I must go down to the Midland Railway and see what it was all about.”
She started out as a volunteer behind the buffet cart on the old engines, which she did for 10 years, but then moved on to work as a cleaner on the footplate.
“It gets in your blood after a while with the smell and the sound,” she added.
She did start fireman training at the Midland Railway but could not finish it because she moved to Nottingham in 2001.
After volunteering for a couple of years on the Nene Valley Railway at Stibbington, near Peterborough, she became involved with the North Norfolk Railway, known as the Poppy Line, in 2010 with her partner and fellow steam enthusiast Melvin Chamberlain.
Mrs Pinney first visited the Poppy Line about five years ago when she was part of a group which brought the George Stephenson 1947 engine from Northumberland to Norfolk.
She said: “It is the nicest railway I have been to.
“It is a pretty line to travel on. I have found it is the one where I have felt most comfortable because some don’t like having women around, but I’m a tough old boot so I ignore it.
“People are quite surprised when I tell them I’m a fireman. I don’t think they fully appreciate what the job involves.
“You have got to make sure you are safe and everybody else is safe and the extra challenge is to make sure the fire is good enough to create enough steam to do the job.”
During one day she can shovel up to one and half tonnes of coal and the fire can increase to 1,000F.
On each shift as a fireman Mrs Pinney is joined by an engine cleaner and a driver – the most skilled position on the locomotive.
When she is not on the footplate she helps mend the engines on the Poppy Line.
She said: “I muck in and do some of the mechanical jobs. I don’t mind getting covered in grease. I find the engines fascinating. When you start taking pieces apart and seeing the technical side it is amazing that men designed them over 100 years ago.”
Despite her love of steam she does not like gala days because “there are too many boys” and a lot of testosterone.
Out of the 400 volunteers at the Poppy Line, there are currently about six women who are footplate crew.
There is currently one woman driver, Heidi Mowforth, from Sussex, who has been a regular visitor to the Norfolk attraction since 1990, but Mrs Pinney is the oldest woman to have passed as a fireman on the Poppy Line.
She had three years of experience on the footplate before taking the exam.