The fireman

The ‘Singing Fireman’, Don Bilston, wrote, ‘ driver sits there like a god, not a bad mate just an idle sod, though I be shovelling on my knees, he just sits there at his ease …..’  This is the footplate of one of the first locomotives, ‘The Steam Elephant’, not much room for anyone to sit at ease there. I’m not certain but, I can’t imagine many small boys growing up wanting to be ‘firemen’, it was just something you had to go through to reach that coveted driver’s seat.

The fireman was a second class citizen, they even became, in the fullness of time, ‘second’ men; being a fireman was to be anonymous. In all the logs and tales of the footplate it’s driver, this, that, and somebody or other, with barely a nod to the long suffering stoker. Not a word about his struggle with fire iron and shovel to coax an exta 10lbs of pressure out of some steam shy old nag, with a clinkered fire and a tender full of dust.  Every dirty job, from trimming the coal to raking out the ashpans was on the fireman’s to do list – and all the time there was that carrot, that hand on the regulator, the driver’s seat.

And then you get out on the main line with 12 on and begin to realise that the fireman isn’t anonymous, for it is his skill, or lack of, which determines what kind of ‘performance’ can be delivered. One footplate wag, many years ago, commented, ‘when they built bigger engines they should’ve built bigger men to fire them’ and relatively few British locomotives had mechanical stokers.

Being the season of good will to all men, when you go out a wassailing don’t forget to raise a toast to the fireman, the man who makes the puff ‘n’ go.  To firemen, long may your needle hover on the red line and the white feather show. – None of your ‘half a glass’ now – up to the top nut!

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

Until New Year the eBook edition of Gricing is on offer at just £3:95, that’s a whole book for less than a monthly mag.

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And we wish you ……

Well here we are again, steaming into yo, ho, ho, and for some lucky folk, this week, sun, steam, and yo, ho, snow. We are also rapidly approaching the 70th anniversary of the birth of British Railways, on 01/01/1948. How different things were back then, very few had tv, computers were the size of a house and there were, probably, no more than a handful in the entire country; most people didn’t have a phone, and a mobile phone was pure science fiction.

The first objective for BR was to complete the repairs to the war ravaged network and catch up on the regular maintenance programme which had been almost abadonded during the war. Life expired and war damaged rolling stock and locomotives needed replacing; on top of these practical considerations was the need to bring together the management and operations of the four, nominally, competing companies into one publicly owned corporation.

When the newly Nationalised railway opened for business R A Riddles was sitting in what was, in effect, the CME’s chair, assisted by E S Cox and R Bond, this trio were responsible for the creation of British Railways ‘Standard’ classes. Riddles railway life began at Crewe, in the days of the LNWR, he rose to become principal assistant to Stanier at the  LMS, and in 1943, on secondement to the Ministry of Supply, he designed his 2-8-0 and 2-10-0 ‘Austerities’ – the forerunner to the 9Fs, one of which, No.92214, is pictured above departing from Loughborough.

Despite being ‘standard’ the 9Fs had their share of modifications, some were fitted with Franco-Crosti boilers, and then they weren’t, some were fitted with mechanical stokers, several more had air pumps fitted for working the Tyne Dock – Consett iron ore hoppers and No.92250, the last in the class, was fitted with a Giesel ejector. The 9Fs were built between 1954 and 1960, by  July 1964 Nos. 92169,70,71,75,76,77, which, in 1960 were all allocated to 36A Doncaster, had all been withdrawn.  In 1960 No.92214 was a Banbury engine and, in all probability, worked trains on this very line when she was – ironic really when you think she has spent more time in service on heritage railways than she did on British Railways.

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

Until New Year the eBook edition of Gricing is on offer at just £3:95, that’s a whole book for less than a monthly mag.

 

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Railway Royalty

In this photo of, No.46233 Duchess of Sutherland, she has just topped the climb out of Dunblane and is virtually coasting  through Blackford, heading for Perth. Strip out the head board and the beautifully done LMS in the buffers, this could quite easily be the last years of BR steam on the West Coast, before the wires went up. Some of the final duties these engines worked, over this route, were parcels and fish trains, a far cry from the Royal Highlander and further still from the Coronation Scot they were initially constructed to haul, though the Coronation Scot ran to Glasgow, not Perth and Inverness.

Somebody will correct me if I’m wrong but, I’m sure I’ve read somewhere, that back in the days, Perth men worked as far South as Crewe,  a duty which would have seen them tackling both Beattock and Shap; a real test of the fireman’s stamina and abilities. Having done a few years on the footplate of Bulleid’s Pacifics, including a run to Exeter and back from Waterloo, I know what it takes to keep one of these beasts of the main line steaming over long distances and at speed. Having said that, I always fancied having a go at firing a “Duchess” on a Crewe to Perth run, or even one of the Euston – Carlisle runs with the pre-war Coronation Scot – a 299 mile non-stop high speed journey. There’s a real sense of achievement in knowing your skills and effort provided the power to make this happen.

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

Until New Year the eBook edition of Gricing is on offer at just £3:95, that’s a whole book for less than a monthly mag.

 

 

 

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School outing

Named after ‘Public Schools’ these engines were, for the most part, driven and fired by the kids from Bash Street School, even if the Public School boys did want to be engine drivers when they grew up. Back in the day railway work was a job for life, and several generations of the same family often  in railway employment. In my own time on the railway I worked with several drivers whose brothers or sons were also footplatemen at the same shed. One father and son I worked with at Nine Elms, the Domms, were seriously injured when they were struck by a light engine.

The railway wasn’t just a job for life there was a whole culture which went with it. The BRSA, British Railway Staff Association had a network of clubs around the country were railwaymen, and their wives and families, enjoyed a drink, a dance, and ‘light’ entertainment’, risque comedians were not unknown, well some of them were. The Mutual Improvement Class went well beyond teaching the rules and how the vacuum brake operated; they held a variety of regular social events and Inter-regional quizzes.

There was a strong element of mutualism within the blue collar grades on the railway and the Enginemens Mutual Assurance, whose roots go back to Saltley in the 1860s, is a classic of self-help, or ‘Mutual Aid’ – it is also still in existence. All the railwaymen I worked with, pretty much, were members of the ‘Mutual’ the BRSA, ASLEF/NUR and attended the MIC, which might not have been a Public School, but it was the only schooling, in their job, they received and, as such, was invaluble.

The photograph shows Schools Class 4-4-0, No.926 Repton, passing under Darnholme Bridge on the North Yorkshire Moors 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

Until New Year the eBook edition of Gricing is on offer at just £3:95, that’s a whole book for less than a monthly mag.

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Is that snow on t’ hills Arkwright?

On a cold and frosty morning, No.49395, masquerading as No.49442, slips a little as she eases her train into the head shunt at Keighley, where she was a Gala guest engine. I’ve seen these antique 0-8-0s hauling huge trains of wagons, on the WCML, through Rugby, back in the 1950s. First introduced, in 1912, by the LNWR, the G1 class was a development of an earlier non-superheated design. No.49395 was a further  modification, the G2 class, with higher boiler pressure and, in some cases, like No.49395, the fitting of Belpaire fireboxes.

In my 1955 shed book some of these engines are in far flung corners with numbers allocated to Abergavenny, from where the LNWR had a line down to Merthyr, with several  branches running down the Welsh valleys, one, to a junction with the GWR at Nine Mile Point, had a sub-shed to Abergavenny, at Tredegar.  Swansea Victoria, also had a handful still on the books in 1955, but they’d all gone by the 1960 edition. When she entered BR stock, in 1948, No.49395 was allocated at 2C Northampton, in 1955 she was at 8C Speke Junction. No,49442 was at 10B Preston in 1948 and in 1955 she was at 2D Coventry. In the 1960 Shed Book neither engine is listed, my 64 Combined shows just 5 G2 / G2a remain in service.

No.49395, being the first of the G2 class, was saved to become part of the National collection, No.49442, along with all her chums, met the grim cutter, and was transformed, in showers of sparks, to cars fridges, and ten million razor blades.

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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“Arrer”

No.34092 City of Wells probably did haul the Golden Arrow,  the ‘Arrer’ as the ‘cockneys’ called it, but not hauling that coaching stock, the Golden Arrow was a Pullman service. I know there’s a Pullman train running around the Surrey hills but, what I’d love to see is a gala where not only do guest engines appear but, guest rolling stock too. It would be wonderful to recreate the Yorkshire Pullman and Harrogate Sunday Pullman, as well as the Bournemouth Belle and Golden Arrow, with appropriate motive power for each one. A whole weekend of gourmet Pullman dining and wining on board a 7 or 8  coach set of, all original, Pullman coaches. Maybe all the special events being planned for the various 2018 anniversaries is just the time to do this.

I’m not well up on my vintage rolling stock but, if it were possible, it would, I think, make a wonderful gala if there were sufficient rolling stock to run only pre-Grouping coaches with  appropriate motive power in matching liveries – an 1870 to 1920 weekend.

Early in 1963 I moved from Leeds to be made fireman at Stewarts Lane, the ancestral home of the engines booked to work the Golden Arrow. What I didn’t know was that practically all the steam workings at Stewarts Lane had finished, or that my little over 1 year of seniority would place me in No.1 link.

Sadly, the place was a bit like a morgue and the only steam I saw was a couple of BR 2-6-4 Class 4 tanks and a similar number of Maunsell moguls. There were a couple of trips up to North Pole Jct. with inter-regional freights, and the highlight a Saturday morning passenger service from Tunbridge Wells to London Bridge. The nearest I got to the Golden Arrow was using a dart to break up clinker, cleaning fires, on a P&D turn. And No.34092 City of Wells, pictured at Burrs on the East Lancashire Railway, is one of a little over a handful of ‘light’ Pacifics I didn’t get to work on before they were withdrawn.

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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Christmas Special

From Friday 1st of December, until New Years Day, the e-book version of Gricing is at the Special Offer Price of £3:95

“Gricing” – 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

These are some totally unsolicited comments from people who have already read  Gricing: Amazon Customer on 6 Jan. 2016 Format: Paperback Verified Purchase:  “Brilliant and interesting book”

By Amazon Customer on 17 Mar. 2016

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase

“Not a murder mystery, but one that I found hard to put down. One of the best additions to my collection of books about railways.”

‘treated myself to a copy of “Gricing” for Christmas, excellent reading.’

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‘I bought and enjoyed “Gricing” etc and would heartily recommend it to readers’. 

‘I was given what I believe to be your book called “Gricing” the other night.  Very much enjoyed the book if it is yours!

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A Jinty in dreamland

The sub-title to my blog is Trains of thought, and who would have dreamed, in 1960, that a bunch of kids, mostly, would go on to create a network of heritage railways from Aviemore to Bodmin and Gwili to Sheringham, re-create a working, twin-track, main line railway, and run regular steam hauled services on the national network.  And that  50 years on they would be a major part of the nation’s tourist infrastructure, as they undoubtedly are.

2018 is going to be a year of great ballyho for the 50th Anniversary of the ‘End of Steam’ and not a little personal reflection on the end of my own railway career too. The white heat of technology was going to bring us a bright new future and we should embrace it. We’ve swapped our Box Brownies for Digital SLR and Camcorders and exchanged the land line telephone for Google and the internet; and 50 years ago no one dreamed of those things either.

My very first footplate journey, whilst still a schoolboy, was on a Jinty, my last, as a steam fireman, was on a WD; in between was an eclectic mix of motive power, MPDs and routes worked. Being a fireman was a challenge, it was down to you to produce the steam. Opening the regulator of a steam locomotive is not the same as opening the controller on a diesel or electric locomotive where the available power is pre-determined; on a steam locomotive the skill of the fireman determines what level of power, up to the engines full capability, is available. The challenge is to keep as near as possible to maximum pressure without excessive blowing off and, with so many variables involved in doing so, it is a great deal more difficult than most people imagine, or should I say dream.

In the photograph No.47406 is drifting towards Loughborough, on the Great Central Railway, with a train of empty mineral wagons.

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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On another day

A little tank engine and a single coach, the epitome of a rural backwater, in some bygone era when summer skies were always sunny. The line was worked by the same little engine, the same crews,  and all housed in a handsome little two road engine shed, the entire operation the railway equivalent of being put out to grass. Truly the slow train of poetic fame and chocolate box lid.

The little slice of life that was the rural railway station, the parcels office and the goods agent, probably a coal merchant too. On the platform mail bags for the village post office, a few churns of milk, maybe a basket of hens / chickens. School kids, farmers wives on market days, the bread and butter of its passenger trade. It wasn’t just the steam that went, it was the entire way of life that went with it, literally.

The bucolic bliss of the rural branch line idyll is captured in 1000 piece puzzles – copies of paintings by Breckon, Hawkins, or Cuneo. In real life things are rarely like this, which is, I’m guessing, the reason for the popularity of such images.  In the real world, there are leaves on the line, late for the office, stuck at a signal, with a view of the gasometer railways. Gasometers, now there’s something you don’t see everyday, but would you want to.

The photos show No.5526 with the auto train in ‘pound field’ at the Llangollen Railway and SECR 0-6-0 No.178 at Andrews House station on the Tanfield 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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A Winter’s tale

In a number of recent commentaries, several views have been aired about ‘professionalism’, the need to adhere to modern-day standards of maintenance and safety, customer services and information, and the operation of everything from main line charters to photo shoots. Thing is, did any of the preservationists ever imagine, when they began their efforts at the Talyllyn, Middleton, Bluebell, and Festiniog, that they were giving birth to a new ‘industry’.

This new ‘heritage railway’ industry might have a substantial volunteer input but, most of the large lines, both standard and narrow gauge, have paid staff, employ contractors in a variety of ways from catering and toilet hygiene to p-way work and locomotive repairs. They employ haulage contractors to move engines, or deliver water, engineering companies manufacturing parts and spares, specialist oil and coal suppliers and suppliers of gifts, souvenirs,  sandwiches, pies, printers, leaflet distributors and probably Uncle Tom Cobleigh too, all of them, and more, help to keep the show on the road.

The 1960s ‘Pie in the sky’ trainspotters, of which I was one, trying to raise money, selling cake, buns, and raffle tickets, to extricate a ‘rusting’ Barry hulk are today, the stuff of legend. The tales they tell are worthy of a pint down the local each time they are told, polished and retold with some new embellishment added.

And there’s the rub, heritage railways are businesses, with customers, complaints, insurance claims, rates, VAT, and a mountain of paperwork. None of which is the stuff that led a bunch of wildly optimistic kids, in the main, to undertake one of the most monumental feats of industrial archeology. However, for some, especially those who have been around for the odd decade or three,  the increased levels of commercialisation are seen as little more than a necessary evil – faces on the smokebox to pay the bills.

Starry eyed romantics have, in the past, achieved miracles, but today it’s hard-headed commercialism which keeps steam in the boiler and the pint in the refreshment room. There’s no shortage of truth in the old adage – ‘you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time’. And this can be applied in Spades to; loco liveries, Flying Scotsman, black smoke, cylinder drain cocks, paucity of info, and the rumour mill. I nearly called this piece ‘winter of discontent’  but then I thought maybe being discontent is what makes us try and improve things, so not all bad.

The photo shows Ex-Keighley Gas works 0-4-0ST No.2 at Bobgins on the Tanfield 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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Trains of thought

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