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For several months, in 1962, Jubilees Nos. 45581 Bihar & Orissa, 45695 Minotaur, 45708 Resolution, and 45646 Napier were regularly cleaned by yours truly. These four engines were the cream of the crop at Farnley Jct. They were used on turns such as the York – Swansea Mails, the Red Bank vans, and they took their share of the Newcastle – Liverpool services; taking over, at Leeds City Station, from the A3s or V2s which brought the trains in from Newcastle.

The Jubilees are 3cylinder engines and it isn’t just their paint work that the cleaners had to clean; the the wheels and motion, including the inside motion, also had to be cleaned. Crawling about, between the frames, under the engine, with a scraper in one hand and a paraffin soaked oily rag in the other was every bit as unpleasant as it sounds.  There’s not a lot of space to work in and there’s the little doubt at the back of your mind – what if someone moves the engine? What if they didn’t see the “not to be moved cleaners” board?

Oiling round was the responsibility of the driver but, as a cleaner, I often earned a shilling oiling up the middle motion on the Jubilees, and on the Jinties too, for some of the older / more rotund drivers. All good training of course and, apart from the MIC classes, it was the only training we had. (The only training the railway ever gave me was, how to operate the train heating boilers on the diesels.)We learned about the engines and how they worked by crawling about on them, from smokebox door to tender back, under them, on top of them and all points in between.

The photo shows, No.5690 Leander, getting away from Loughborough with the TPO during on of the GCR’s gala events.

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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Little green engine

Roaring out of M1 tunnel, Ex-NER H Class 0-4-0, No1310, heads the 12:20 Birthday Express to Park Halt, on the Middleton Railway. No.1310  was built in 1891 and weighs just 22tons 14cwt, her final owners were the National Coal Board and she was bought from the NCB by the Steam Power Trust, in 1965.

Last Sunday I was on the remote Cumbrian fells, at Aisgill, photographing ‘Flying Scotsman’, there were around 50 other people there with me.  Today I was a mile from Leeds city centre, with the M621 motorway running above the tunnel, with no one for company, with, or without, a camera. Though they would probably never say so themselves the Middleton Railway, Britain’s first preserved standard gauge line, has been pretty shabbily treated by the council, who, for many years practically ignored it.

Leeds and the antecedants of the Middleton Railway, Charles Brandling’s colliery railway, have some serious railway pedigree pre-dating Stephenson’s engine Blucher. Stephenson is reported to have visted Brandling’s railway to see Murray & Blenkinsop’s engines at work on th line, in 1812. Leeds was home to the Round Foundry, Murray, Fenton & Wood, Manning Wardle, and of course the Hunslet Engine Co. whose works were less than 1/2 a mile from the Middleton Railway’s Moor Road terminus.  David Joy, credited with the design of the famous ‘Jenny Lind’, and the Joy valve gear, was born in Leeds and worked for EB Wilson at the Railway Foundry.

These Leeds based locomotive manufacturers built ‘little engines’ in green, and many other colours too, in a history which stretches back over 200 years: A history which the city seems to want to ignore, which is a great pity.

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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Elegy

Ex-GWR 51xx Class 2-6-2T, No.5199, runs light engine through Berwyn Station, on the Llangollen Railway. Unusually, for a gala event, there isn’t a soul to be seen on the platform. In the 1960s the deserted platform was emblematic, in many ways, of steam’s last days. It wasn’t just the steam locomotives which were going, so too were large chunks of the railway itself. The trains no longer called at Little Sodbury-on-the-Marsh, the sidings at Grimeston were covered in weeds, Muckley engine shed burned down.

Back then, the word of the day was ‘axed’, locomotives were ‘gas axed’, the lines and services  were falling under ‘Beeching’s axe’. However, a more accurate description would have been ‘state sponsored, industrial scale, vandalism’. With the benefit of hindsight it is plain to see the folly in some of the closures, not to mention the costly replacements and re-opening of some of the routes which were closed. And it has long been admitted that the removal of steam was hasty and botched.

The locomotive building industry, the great workshops of Crewe, Doncaster,  Swindon, and Eastleigh are but shadows; the ‘trains’ we do make are built here by a Canadian Company, in the remains of the workshops at Derby. The demise of steam traction was inevitable but, I wonder, did the railway engineering business have to go too?

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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The hordes on Aisgill

Hordes is, perhaps, a slight over statement but, there were probably 50+ in the immediate vicinity, here at Mallerstang common, and earlier in the day, when I drove past Ribblehead, there must have been well over a hundred, judging by the number of parked cars and folk milling about – there was even a burger van.

A few A3s were transferred to Holbeck, when they were displaced from the ECML, and ended their days working over this former Midland Railway route between Leeds and Carlisle. Quite what the Holbeck men thought of them, after working with the Scots and the Jubilees, for most of their time, would be interesting to know.  This is one area in which the fireman on today’s main line runs have to be credited. Getting to grips with the quirks of different firing methods and patterns, on an A3 one trip an 8F or Castle on the next, isn’t easy; especially if you are only out firing main line steam on a few trips a month.

During my time as a fireman with BR I fired on over 20 different classes of locomotives, from all regions except the Western and from Jinties to Merchant Navies. Some, like the B1, Fairburn tank, and 9F, I only worked on one or two trips – on others, like the Bulleid Pacifics, Standard Class 4 & 5s or WDs I worked on countless times and over hundreds of miles, so I know just how tricky it can be working on different engines out on the main lines.

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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Very Windy

Tornado, ‘very windy’ ha, ha, but, as you can see from the sideways exhaust, it was very windy. I have often wondered if the chaps who do the timing logs add this into their calaculations when they work out draw bar horse power. I don’t know the formula for such things but, when running into a cross/head wind, what I do know is you burned a lot more coal.

I wrote a book about ‘Racing Trains’, covering the 1895 Railway Races to the North and the sensation they created at the time. Timing and logging runs has been around for a while, and in an era where there were no speedometers fitted to the locomotive, it was the stop watch which was the only method of determing the exact speed. However, when, as it inevitably did, this activity extend beyond the timing of special runs, to recording the everyday work of the crews on the fastest services it takes on a different aspect.

In these circumstances it was particular crews who were followed; drivers who would run hard and fast had bands of followers who knew which duties they were on and which trains they woud be working. However, there is no shortage of published runs where the actual crew were, and remain, anonymous; the vast majority of the published logs never gave the fireman any credit, which, given the vital role he plays, is a little odd. Being knowlegeable about the railway and the footplate isn’t the same as actually being a footplateman at work on it. The ability to deliver maximum power outputs, over sustained periods, isn’t so much about the engineering genius of the design but the symbiotic relationship between the crew and the locomotive.

No.60163 Tornado is pictured, during a visit to the North Yorksire Moors Railway, at Moorgates, with a train fr Pickering.

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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Running backwards

I was, recently, in conversation with a driver who worked on the Appleby – Skipton ‘Plandampf’, with No.60163 Tornado, he reminded me just how cold it can be running mile after mile tender first – it’s marginally better when bunker first with a tank engine. This one is Ex-GWR 2-8-0 No.4270 and she is working the early morning goods from Bewdley to Bridgnorth, on the Severn Valley Railway, during their ‘Season Finale Gala’ in November, of 2016.

At my last shed, before being made redundant, Wakefield (Belle Vue), there was quite a lot of tender first work and almost all of it was done on WDs, to some of the most famous collieries in the Yorkshire coal fields.  Like the WDs the pits have all gone, Ackton Hall, Prince of Wales, Sharlston, and Grimethorpe, of brass band fame, and many, many, more – and not just in Yorkshire, you can repeat this for the whole of the coal mining industry.

The usual method of working on these colliery trip jobs was run out to Healy Mills engine first and then trundle off tender first with a string of empties to which ever pits were on your roster. On some turns you might do more than one trip. After returning to Healy Mills with the empties exchanged for loaded wagons you would pick up another train of empties and repeat the earlier run, though not necessarily to the same collieries. Needless to say that on these turns half of your shift was spent ‘running backwards’.

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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The Great Scottish shed bash

This grainy photograph, courtesy of my pal Ken Webb, is me at the line side, at Buckie Bay, between Aberdeen and Stonehaven, in the Summer of 1964. The trip was organised around a Freedom of Scotland Rail Rover ticket for my chums and a free pass and a couple of ‘privs’ for me as I was, at the time, a BR footplateman.

One feature of the trip was utilising as many overnight trains as possible, sleeping on the seats or in the luggage rack. I have memories of ‘Angus steak burgers’, a novelty in 1964, in the buffet at Fort William, after one over night run from Carlisle. It was also my first introduction to ‘mutton pies’, in a little cafe, close to Buchanan Street Station, called ‘Super Eats’. Buchanan Street is now a huge shopping mall, back then it was a busy station.

Carlisle was used several times during the trip as a starting point for runs over the Waverley route and along the Glasgow & South Western  through Dumfries to Ayr and Kilmarnock, (Hurlford). An overnighter from Carlisle to Inverness was followed by a run on the Highland line down to Keith and then over the Great North of Scotland to Aberdeen with a bunk round Inverurie works thrown in. The now preserved Ex-LNER D49 class 4-4-0, No.62712 Morayshire,  was in storage there when we visited.

From Aberdeen we journeyed down to Dundee,  Thornton Junction, and Dunfermline in Fife. We didn’t make it up to Wick or Thurso, but we did get to Bathgate, and all the Edinburgh and Glasgow sheds.

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 secondary lines

5 on, flying a feather, steaming o’er the lea; No.44806 accelerates past Moorgates with a Pickering bound service train, on the North Yorkshire Moors Railway.  Working on secondary lines, like the one across the North Yorkshire moors to Whitby, on a fine day, with a light load and a good engine, was what made those 3a.m. starts, in pouring rain, with a 20 mile tender first run, seem worthwhile.

The work was never too arduous, and many a driver would give the fireman a go driving, on these sorts of turn, I know mine did. Day jobs with a civilised starting time, prepare your own engine before going to the station to collect your train. An enjoyable jog through 50 or 60 miles of countryside as you baked an onion on the mainfold, to go with the cheese toastie done on the shovel, when you arrived.

At each stop along the way mail and parcels would be exhanged, guards and porters would have a couple of minutes craic and, on the footplate, time for a fag and a chat about the weekend’s football match. The whole pace of life was so much slower, no ‘rush, push, cash’, no snapchat and instagram, not even a mobile phone – how did we cope? Very well I thought but, that was then and this is now, it might only be 50 years ago, it seems like a different planet.

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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THE END

And then there were none. When the last fire was dropped and all that was left was cold hard metal, few if any believed that new steam locomotives would be built, that steam would run again, regularly, or that 100mph by steam would be repeated. We know now that all that came to pass and much more besides.

Today, Sunday, 50 years ago, steam hauled services stopped across, what had been, the Southern Railway – now it was all electic. I had already left Nine Elms and was a fireman at Wakefield, (Belle Vue), no longer firing WC class pacifics – I’d moved from WCs to WDs and was dragging coal over the Pennines when the lights went out, for the last time, at 70A. I had started railway life at a mainly freight depot 55C Farnley Jct. and it was ending at another 56A.

The last couple of months at Wakefield were grim and I can’t imagine it was that much different at my old shed 70A.  Everything was just being left to fall apart, if an engine failed it was simply put on the scrap line, an air of despondency hung about the place. Single-manning meant fewer jobs for firemen and they were leaving in droves. We got recruitment blurb from South African Railways and I believe one or two took up the offer. We had these at NineElms too, during 1965, when I was still a fireman there; and again some lads took up the offer.

The last steam services I worked were colliery trip workings around Wakefield, Barnsley, and Pontefract, along with Healy Mills to Rose Grove, or Padiham,  with loaded coal, returning with the empties. My last passenger working was a little unusual, a run from Wakefield Westgate to Bradford Exchange with a Fairburn tank on the Bradford portion of a service from London to Leeds.

The photograph, a scan of one of my old mono prints, shows No.34101 Hartland approaching Goathland on the NYMR. I worked on No.34101 Hartland, when I was at Nine Elms and she was still in active service with BR.

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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Heading for the final curtain

In a few days time it will be the 50th anniversary of the last steam hauled services on the Southern Region. 50 years ago the ‘grand finale’ was in full swing and crews young and old did their best to put on a show. There were quite a few attempts, and some successes to reach 100mph  beyond Basingstoke on the ‘up’ and on the Salisbury / Exeter route too. You only need to remember the recent 100mph run by the new build A1, No.60163 Tornado, to see the genuine excitement created by reaching the ton. (I’ve done it myself, so I know the feeling.)

The inevitable was only days away and everyone wanted one last roll of the dice. Some got to run fast others, less fortunate, used one loco to drag several more away, on their final journey, to the scrapyards of Wales – a sad duty if ever there was one. Generations of practical skills and knowledge was about to count for nothing – there were no vacancies for steam locomotive firemen, in the local Labour Exchange.

I was, when Nine Elms closed, a fireman at Wakefield – it wouldn’t be long before I too was surplus to requirements. In one of those weird little twists which life sometimes throws I became the boilerman at Lady Anne Mills, in Batley.  Here I hand fired a Lancashire boiler, in a mill, adjacent to the very line over which I did my first main line firing trip and made my very first main line footplate ride. I’d come full circle  but, the boiler I was stoking now, had no wheels!!

The photograph is of one of Drummond’s M7 Class 0-4-4Ts No.53, BR No.30053, departing from Loughborough at one of the GCR galas, a year or two 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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