Not a soul in sight

Those of us who worked the last main line steam turns are OAPs now. The youngest firemen in 68, were 16, that makes them circa 66, drivers will be at least 73, and most likely more than that. Some heritage crews have more years on the footplate than some of these men, me included. However, a heritage crew might do 80 to 100 turns a year, a regular footplateman would do 100 or more turns in 4 months. There are many other factors which make comparison difficult, if not impossible, speeds, loads, and distances travelled, hobby versus paid employment, even the condition of the locomotives themselves.

The rules and regulations for the safe operation of the railway are, if anything, more stringent and rigidly applied today than they were in the 60s. If we take just one aspect – tresspass, a way of life, almost, for many who later became the ‘preservationists’, bunking sheds and works, the luckier ones getting footplate trips. Today, increasingly, lineside access is via a permit, or, in some cases, prohibited altogether and as for ‘bunking’ the sheds – I don’t think so. The lineside permits are themselves being made more restrictive, by insisting that holders have undertaken a personal track safety course, at the line – PTS certificates at one line not being valid on another.

All of which begs the question, how did it get this way and why? One answer I’ve been given is insurance,  which, as one manager told me, was a major item in his railway’s budget, outweighing the cost of coal. Can this be the only reason, do some insurers demand that to have track access a PTS is essential and others don’t?  Maybe it’s simply that many people who now visit and enjoy the heritage railways don’t know how to conduct themseleves on or near the lines, thus creating a danger to themselves and others. I don’t know the answers but, I do believe that those whose hobby and enjoyment of the heritage railway is photography deserve something better than the current ad hoc, different system at almost every railway. Is there a case for something being organised through the HRA?

In the photograph, double-headed Manors No.7820 Dinmore Manor and No.7822 Foxcote Manor are hauling an ECS working through a deserted Berwyn Station on the Llangollen Railway.

If you have enjoyed my blogs – I have written a book about my 60 years involvement with railways, from trainspotter, via steam age footplateman, to railway author and photographer, this is a link to it:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Gricing-Real-story-Railway-Children/dp/1514885751

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Favourites

60 years ago, in the summer of 1957, I spent two weeks of school summer holiday, sat alongside the WCML, in and around Rugby; at Midland Station, at the girder bridge, where the GCR crossed the WCML, and at Hillmorton, near to where my aunt and uncle lived, at night I would fall asleep to the sound of freights rolling by.

I remember seeing No.10000 and 10001, they caused quite a stir but, I doubt that many of us, sat beside the tracks, at the time, fully appreciated just what they represented and what we were about to loose. New steam locomotives were still being built and they lasted for decades, so we imagined. How wrong we were, some of these newly built engines had barely one decade of service before becoming washing machines, fridges, and Ford Escorts.

We travelled to Rugby by taking the bus to Bradford and catching the ‘South Yorkshireman’, it saved changing trains, and stations in some instances, if you went via the Midland from Leeds City Station. Once we arrived in Rugby there was a very busy railway scene  providing a huge number of different classes, LNER & GWR types on the Great Central, whilst on the Midland there was everything from the proto-type diesels to ancient Ex-LNWR, Bowen-Cooke 0-8-0s, hauling huge numbers of wagons.

Without doubt, however, the star attraction was the WCML and, in the summer of 57, this was a main line still almost exclusively steam. All the famous names, the Caledonian, the Mid-Day Scot, The Red Rose, The Royal Scot, The Irish Mail, The Emerald Isle, were all on the menu. And each day was a seemingly endless procession of Stanier Pacifics, Scots, Patriots, and Jubilees. The Scots, Pates and Jubes, all came to Leeds, but not the ‘Lizzies’ and the ‘Semis’ – seeing them hurtle by was definitely the highlight.

I made this trip to Rugby for each of the next four years, though not always on the South Yorkshireman. And if I have one favourite  memory of these trips it’s the sound of the single chimney Lizzies, working hard, on ‘up’ trains, as they climbed away from Rugby heading towards Kilsby Tunnel.

In the photograph, sounding wonderful, No.6201 Princess Elizabeth, is close to the summit of Aisgill with a Cumbrian Mountain Express working.

If you have enjoyed my blogs – I have written a book about my 60 years involvement with railways, from trainspotter, via steam age footplateman, to railway author and photographer, this is a link to it:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Gricing-Real-story-Railway-Children/dp/1514885751

 

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Battle of the gauge (glass)

Farnley Jct. had a number of these handsome engines on the allocation and, as a young cleaner, in the 1960s, it was my job to keep them clean. It was also part of my job to learn the rules, regulations, and skills needed to become a fireman. British Railways did not provide any schooling in these matters, you had to learn from those around you and read, and re-read, the rule book until you knew the ones which pertained to you and the work you would undertake.

The practical skills you needed you learned in the ‘monkey see, monkey do’ tradition. To do this you would spend time with the fitters, steam risers, boilersmiths, washout men, and by going on the footplate with the regular crew on a rostered job. When your turn came, to go before the Shed Master, to be examined on the rules and your practical knowledge of the locomotive, to become a ‘passed cleaner’ there were certain questions which would always be asked. With regard to the rules, Rule 55 and Rule 178, Detention of trains on running lines, and Train protection, respectively, were absolutely essential knowledge. On the practical side the most often asked questions were, what was, ‘the passage of steam’, ‘how do you change a gauge glass’ and ‘how do you test the gauge glass’.

In my own case I not only knew how to change a gauge glass but, had watched it being done and then replicated what I had watched; it wasn’t just a set of instructions I had been given, it was something I had done, on a footplate, under supervision. Not quite like having one go bang out on the road but, at least you had actually done it as opposed to being told or reading ‘how to do it’. Testing the gauge glass is done so that you know that the water level you see in it, is actually measuring the level of water in the boiler and is a routine part of the preparations undertaken before going off-shed. My routine when getting on the footplate was to check the fire, then test the gauge glass, before spreading the fire and putting a few rounds on – wouldn’t want to start and build up the fire if there was no water in the boiler.

The photograph of, No.(4) 5690 Leander, is  at Burrs on the East Lancashire Railway, a few years back.

If you have enjoyed my blogs – I have written a book about my 60 years involvement with railways, from trainspotter, via steam age footplateman, to railway author and photographer, this is a link to it:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Gricing-Real-story-Railway-Children/dp/1514885751

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Let’s do the Locomotion

‘Ground control to Major Tom’ – please land your Rocket at Locomotion, Shildon, Co. Durham,  ‘roger, wilco, over and out’.  Not this Rocket and not Major Tom, but Major Tim Peake and his space capsule. This month, Locomotion will display the craft which returned our very own British ‘Rocket Man’ and space walker, Tim Peake, to Planet Earth, along with an exhibition of the very latest in Samsung, ‘space age’ VR techno.

Rocket’s crew might not have made it into orbit but, they were travelling at speeds previously unknown – when the railways really got going, engine drivers and firemen were the ‘fastest men on Earth’.  And, like space travel, it did give them a new view of the world, the one flashing by!  In 1957 the Russians launched Sputnik 1 and, in 1961, Russian cosmonaut, Yuri Gagarin, became the first man in orbit, seven years before steam locomotion finished as the driving force of British railways.

Strangely, the Russian connection to Shildon goes right back to the beginng of the railway age. Timothy Hackworth, who, as many of you will know, built the locomotive, Sans Pereil, which competed against Rocket at Rainhill; a replica of his Sans Pereil is housed at Locomotion. Born in Shildon, Hackworth had a locomotive building workshop there, where, in 1836, he built an engine for the Tsarskoye Selo Railway, in Russia. Hackworth’s son, John Wesley Hackworth, travelled to Russia to help assemble the locomotive and teach them how to operate it. According to legend, Hackworth junior taught the Tsar how to drive too!

However, the real speed is that it took human society millenia to reach the point, technologically, where we could travel faster than the speed of the horse, it then took a mere 132 years after the Rainhill trials to put a man in space – escape velocity is, crudely speaking,  25,000mph.

In the photograph, the Rocket replica is departing from Quorn & Woodhouse station on the GCR, which is not a million miles from the National Space Centre in Leicester – eeeH, it’s a small world!!

If you have enjoyed my blogs – I have written a book about my 60 years involvement with railways, from trainspotter, via steam age footplateman, to railway author and photographer, this is a link to it:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Gricing-Real-story-Railway-Children/dp/1514885751

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Bookends

These wheezing, clanking, beasts bookend my time on the footplate, my first run out, as a very young cleaner,  on a goods working from Leeds to Mirfield, was on one and my last duties as a fireman, before being made redundant, were at Wakefield (Belle Vue), where I worked on little else.  My last Combined Volume, the Summer 1964 edition, lists 461 still at work, none of them survived the big cull. The one in the photograph, No.90733, seen emerging from Mytholmes Tunnel on the K&WVR, was rescued from Swedish Railways, who had bought it from the Dutch Railway.

They were almost never cleaned, certainly during my cleaning days they never saw more than an oily rag on the cab side numbers, ‘work stained’ was synonymous with any description of them. However, they did work and they did ‘deliver the goods’, coal and iron ore mostly but, I’ve worked fish trains from Hull with them, on occasion. It has to be said, they are not the most comfortable riders when you get them jogging along but, they’d drag the ‘town hall behind them’. They were absolutely in their element hauling heavy coal trains and I  really enjoyed working with them on the Healy Mills  – Rose Grove or Padiham workings during my spell at Wakefield.

On these runs over the Pennines, beyond Hall Royd Junction, there are around five miles at 1: 60 to 1:70 up through Cornholme and Portsmouth to Copy Pit summit, gradients like this, with a heavy train, really made them bark, you could feel every power stroke as the whole engine swayed side to side with the effort. However, once you made it to Copy Pit, and pinned a few brakes down, you could sit back, have a fag, and roll all the way to Gannow Junction. It was never quite so hard going back over the Pennines with the empties, sometimes you got one of Rose Grove’s Stanier 8Fs on the return working, which made a pleasant change.

If you have enjoyed my blogs – I have written a book about my 60 years involvement with railways, from trainspotter, via steam age footplateman, to railway author and photographer, this is a link to it:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Gricing-Real-story-Railway-Children/dp/1514885751

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Up close and personal

Earlier today, Sunday, I was listening to a very fine version of that old blues classic ‘Rock Island Line’, an Arkansas prison work song, immortalised by Huddie Leadbetter, aka ‘Leadbelly’. We don’t have a tradition of prison work songs here but, we do have a very fine piece of English folk music dedicated to the man, who died at the controls of his engine, just like the one above, trying to save the lives of others.

John Axon was posthumously awarded the George Cross for his heroism and a forty five minute radio programme, based on the tragic series of events which led to Axon’s death, ‘The Ballad of John Axon’ was broadcast in 1958 and repeated later that year; and again in 1960 and 63. The GCR, where the photograph above was taken, have also held events to celebrate Axon’s heroism and his George Cross was donated to the NRM by his family. I remember listening to the broadcast, as I guess many a trainspotter did, it made quite an impression on me, as my own Dad had just died, though not in a horrific accident. When I listened to it again, in 1963, I was a footplateman myself.

I’ll leave you with the way Ewan McColl began his ‘Ballard of John Axon’:

“The year was 1957, the morning bright and gay,
On the 9th of February John Axon drove away.
In a class 8 locomotive from Buxton he did go:
On the road to Chapel–en-le Frith his steam brake pipe did blow.
It’s a seven – mile drop from Bibbington Top, oh Johnny,
It’s 1 in 58 and you’ve no steam brake, oh Johnny,
She’s picking up speed and the power is freed; it’s a prayer you’ll need,
But you’ll never make it, Johnny.
It’s hell on a plate, it’s a funeral freight, oh Johnny,
It’s the end of a dream in steel and steam, oh Johnny,
There’s a world in your head and you’re due at the shed and there’s life ahead
But you’ll never see it, Johnny. …….”
You can find the rest of the song and much more besides by following the link, if you’re interested: http://www.setintosong.co.uk/downloads/PDF/rb_website_john_axon.pdf

If you have enjoyed my blogs – I have written a book about my 60 years involvement with railways, from trainspotter, via steam age footplateman, to railway author and photographer, this is a link to it:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Gricing-Real-story-Railway-Children/dp/1514885751

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Autumn morning & the cold light of dawn

On a branch line, far, far, away GWR 2-8-0T  No.4270 is hard at work hauling the morning goods. I’ve done these jobs; you got up at daft o’clock, in the pitch black, pot of tea, slice of toast, and then a couple of mile bike ride, in sub zero temperatures, to freshen you up. Invariably you got your own engine ready, you were given an hour to do this. Wrestling with the frozen leather bag, of the water column, whilst standing on the tank top was an art form, on a frosty morning. Get things wrong and your were going off-shed soaking wet.

An hour for prep might seem a long time but there was plenty to do from filling sand boxes to filling and trimming lamps. The steam riser would’ve left a few shovels full of fire under the door,  60 to 80lbs of steam and, more often than not, a boiler so full it was a wonder it wasn’t coming out of the whistle! It doesn’t sound much but, when you’ve got to check the injectors work, and check the gauge glasses, it’s a bit of a nuisance.

You made trips to the stores to draw the lamps, detonators, bucket, and tools, and a couple to the sand store – when you filled the sand boxes, you checked the smokebox door was tight shut. There was, usually, a taper kicking about on the footplate, if not, you made one and lit the lamps, the driver would use it to check for leaks and blows, if needs be. In between doing all this you steadily built up the fire, so that when you rolled off-shed it covered the whole grate and was burning through nicely.

The last and most important task was a trip to the mess room to make a brew, before calling the bobby to get the road.

If you have enjoyed my blogs – I have written a book about my 60 years involvement with railways, from trainspotter, via steam age footplateman, to railway author and photographer, this is a link to it:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Gricing-Real-story-Railway-Children/dp/1514885751

 

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Steam Age Daydreams 2018 Calendar

This years calendar, featuring  engines great and small, including; No.6990 Witherslack Hall – 60 years after she was one of the engines in the 1948 Locomotive Exchange Trials, the fresh from overhaul, Schools Class 4-4-0 No.926 Repton, the tiny ‘Sir Tom’ at Threlkeld Quarry and ‘Ugly’ at Tanfield, to name but a few, is now available via eBay. http://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/302485587635?ul_noapp=true

One satisfied customer had this to say,  “2018 Calendar arrived this morning  – superb and worth every penny. Thanks for the fast response”

Now less than a dozen left, so don’t miss out – order yours now.

 

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The life and times ……….

The footplate was no place for faint hearts, nor fair ladies. The footplate and, in the main, the shed was a world of men, there were no footplatewomen or Shed Mistresses, though I do know some footplatemen who had mistresses. The banter could be ribald and there was no political correctness, it hadn’t been invented. Facilities in the shed were, generally, primitive, on the footplate they consisted of the firing shovel and a tin bucket.

In  summer, in the enclosed cab of engines, like the Merchant Navies, for example, the temperature could well be in the 90s, even before you opened the fire door and began shovelling.  Half an hour of this and you were sweating like a pig in a lard factory, with an odour to match. At the other extreme, you could be running half the day tender first, into gale force winds and teeming rain, firing in your Pea jacket, (The Pea jacket was a sort of 3/4 length ‘Great Coat’), just to try and keep warm.

Every minute, of every hour, day or night, a footplate crew were either just booking on, or off. Once the buses stopped running you made your way to work by bike or walked, in he 50s and early 60s, few had the luxury of a car, one or two more had motor bikes. It was the same at the end of your shift, you might have just done a couple of hundred miles, with 400 tons hanging on the drawbar, shovelled 5 or more tons of coal for your day’s work, and then you had to get on your bike and pedal  home.

On the footplate, everything was hard or hot, often both, bruises and minor burns were ten a penny, grit in your eyes an occupational hazard. The public ignored you, comedians made fun of the railway you worked on, much of which was falling apart before your very eyes. There was little room for sentiment or romance, you worked your rest days because you needed the money and the one thing they advertised, in all the copies of the Locomotive Journal, was surgical trusses.

Hauling the teak set which, only weeks earlier, had been seriously vandalised, No.80136 looks quite at  home rolling across the North Yorkshire Moors, between Grosmont & Pickering, a duty often performed by these engines, in the last years the line was part of the National network.

If you have enjoyed my blogs – I have written a book about my 60 years involvement with railways, from trainspotter, via steam age footplateman, to railway author and photographer, this is a link to it:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Gricing-Real-story-Railway-Children/dp/1514885751

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Straight bananas

Fifty five years ago I was at work, cleaning engines, at Farnley Jct., one of five sheds in the city. It wasn’t ‘Top shed’ but, that didn’t detract, one iota, from the quality of the enginemanship possesed by the crews who worked there. Some of the old hand drivers had been there since before the Grouping, and worked through the Great Depression and WWII, these men, and those who were their firemen, were the ones who taught me.

Men with a pride in their work, respect for their engines and decades of experience. They didn’t teach in classrooms or lecture theatres, they taught by example, on the footplate, in the mess room, and in, and by, the institutions they created, the MIC, the Enginemen’s Mutual Assurance Fund, and their Trade Unions.  They knew which rules must be obeyed and those which could be bent a little, in short they were ‘professional’.

Fifty four years ago I was sharing the footplate with a driver who had been a fireman in the 1948 Locomotive Exchange Trials and another who had been at the depot since WWI, and honing my own firing skills and railway knowledge, benefitting from their vast experience of working on one of the busiest parts of the railway network, out of Waterloo to Bournemouth and Salisbury, under every imaginable kind of difficulty, and weather condition.

Fifty two years ago, I had progressed to the point where my own skills as a fireman were being tested and records were being set on the runs on which I was working – records which still stand.

Twenty six years ago, after 3 years as a mature student, at the University of Leeds, I began four years of reseach, much of it in the reading room of the NRM, for my books on the Railway Races of 1895 and the changes in the lives of the footplatement between 1962 and 1996. Research which, eventually, ended up becoming a campaign to have Driver Duddington and Fireman Bray properly recognised, within the musem, and on the Locomotive, which they eventually were but, not before an article in a major national newspaper. You can read it for yourself by following this link: http://www.theguardian.com/society/2002/may/01/arts.artsnews

During this same period I persuaded the owner of 35005 Canadian Pacific, the Great Central Railway, and Steam Railway News, to hold a Red Nose event with 35005, on the GCR. The event took a whole train load of disabled children and their carers for a ride on the railway. Some of the more able bodied kids even ‘cabbed’ the engine. The railway featured on the telly, got some great publicity, the kids had a wonderful day out, and the Red Nose fund was Two-grand better off. Everyone was a winner.

No.35005 Canadian Pacific and some of the kids and their carers before setting off for their Red Nose Day train ride.  Picture Copyright John East.

Forty eight hours ago, for so much as daring to comment about the excessive use of cylinders cocks, I was, pretty much, branded a liar by one commentator and, in a stunning example debating eloquence,  a ‘Bell End’ by another, who, I might add, wasn’t even born when steam ran the national network.

Given the general levels of rudeness, ignorance, and abuse, so much in evidence, I rather think the term Unsocial media would be more appropriate way to describe Facebook, Twitter et.al.

PS ‘We have no straight bananas’ – and the box vans are being hauled past Kinchley Lane by Ivatt 2-6-0 No.46521.

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Trains of thought

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