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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The white mist

Oozing steam, No.70013 Oliver Cromwell, makes a fine sight as she approaches Woodthorpe bridge with a train for Leicester North, on the Great Central Railway.  However, it’s a different ‘oozing steam’, that which eminates from the cylinder cocks, or taps, as many railwaymen knew them, I want to say something about. I have noticed a growing tendency, and I’m not the only one, for drivers, on the heritage railways, to run about, often for considerable distances, with the taps open – this is not good practice.

I have read many comments on Facebook on this topic, some of which have been quite fiesty, so it is obviously a subject that gets folk going.  If you look at all that lovely footage from the last decade of steam, do you see engines heading out of Kings Cross and into Gasworks tunnel with the taps open, or Bulleid Pacifics shrouding Waterloo in a blanket of white mist, even when they began to slip, as they did? In the case of Waterloo, I might well have been on the footplate myself, so can vouch for the fact that we didn’t run half-way to Vauxhall with the taps open and nor did we run around all over the shed yard with them open either.

In a recent exchange with another footplateman from the last decade of steam, quite unsolicited, he made the following comment, “Although they all do a great job on heritage lines I do despair sometimes (and main line steam) at the ‘techniques’ employed like not moving off quickly after the RA (wouldn’t last long on those fast stoppers) and then leaving taps open for several hundred yards…… Are they really that fearful of going hydraulic or is it meant to impress? wish I knew!! “

I couldn’t put it better myself.

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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Much Steaming in the Dale

With sheep and cattle grazing the hill sides, and the first shades of autumn in the tree tops, Black5 No.45212, is pictured here, between Commondale and Kildale,  with a Whitby to Battersby Junction service, during the North Yorkshire Moors Autumn Gala. Following the closure of the coastal route, in the 1960s, this is now the only route to Whitby by rail, a journey which involves a reversal at Battersby Junction.

The line from Battersby to Northallerton closed, before the coast route, in the 1950s, and the branch to Rosedale Goods, which had been opened in 1861, closed in 1929. The Rosedale branch, which replaced an earlier narrow gauge line, was built to carry Ironstone for the Ingleby Ironstone & Freestone Co. and for the Rosedale Ironstone Co. At Battersby itself, the North Eastern Railway had a 3 road engine shed, with turntable, and built a number of houses which still stand today.

In Kildale, St. Cuthbert’s church, which is reached via a bridge over the line, has a stained glass window depicting a steam train passing through the Esk valley. And, despite the rural location, Commondale had, until 1947, a brick works, with it’s own sidings. In the abutments of the now disused bridge, carrying the line to the works, are all manner of ‘Masonic’ marks, left by the stonemasons who built it.

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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Tender First

Unlike express engines, freight engines spent a fair amount of time running tender first, like No.48624, seen here approaching Loughborough with a train of fitted box vans. There are few creature comforts on the footplate of many British locomotives, when running tender first there are fewer still. The coal dust blows in off the tender and trying to use the slacker, (pet), pipe got you wetter than the coal; whatever the weather, that blows in too.

There were quite a few turns, at Wakefield, where you were running tender first for half of every days work, like the vast majority of the turns on our heritage lines. The fireman spends a little more time watching for signals when running tender first, ground signals especially. On the Austerities, which were the stock in trade at 56A, when running tender first, you shut the back damper and opened the front one. The damper handles, on the WDs, consisted of a nothched length of metal which sat over a plate in the cab floor, in theory, this allowed some adjustment. However, in reality the lever wouldn’t sit on the notches and, unless they were held up by the use of the large 7/8th Whitworth spanner, they simply fell shut, no matter which notch they were on. If you didn’t watch them, it was easy to be firing and thinking ‘why are we not making steam’ – only to look down and see the damper had closed itself.

It’s easy to forget, when wearing the rose tinted specs and dreaming of dashing down the main line with the distants all ‘off’, that much more railway work is tender first chugging, firing wearing a great coat, down a freight only line, with a few dozen empty mineral wagons in tow. The highlight of the day, if you were lucky, was a game of dominoes, wth the driver, the guard, and the shunter, while you had your bait.

Above is the link to Part I of my memories of footplate life in the 1960s. The book about my lifetime of involvement with matters railway is still  available on Amazon – Below, is the link to that work.

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

Steam Age Daydreams began in 2014 and since then over 600 blogs have appeared on all manner of railway topics.  They are all still available to read in the ‘Archive’ section. I am writing this to let you all know that when the existing webhosting contract expires in December there are, currently, no plans to renew it – Steam Age Daydreams will cease.

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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Tender first

Unlike express engines, freight engines spent a fair amount of time running tender first, like No.48624, seen here approaching Loughborough with a train of fitted box vans. There are few creature comforts on the footplate of many British locomotives, when running tender first there are fewer still. The coal dust blows in off the tender and trying to use the slacker, (pet), pipe got you wetter than the coal; whatever the weather, that blows in too.

There were quite a few turns, at Wakefield, where you were running tender first for half of every days work, like the vast majority of the turns on our heritage lines. The fireman spends a little more time watching for signals when running tender first, ground signals especially. On the Austerities, which were the stock in trade at 56A, when running tender first, you shut the back damper and opened the front one. The damper handles, on the WDs, consisted of a nothched length of metal which sat over a plate in the cab floor, in theory, this allowed some adjustment. However, in reality the lever wouldn’t sit on the notches and, unless they were held up by the use of the large 7/8th Whitworth spanner, they simply fell shut, no matter which notch they were on. If you didn’t watch them, it was easy to be firing and thinking ‘why are we not making steam’ – only to look down and see the damper had closed itself.

It’s easy to forget, when wearing the rose tinted specs and dreaming of dashing down the main line with the distants all ‘off’, that much more railway work is tender first chugging, firing wearing a great coat, down a freight only line, with a few dozen empty mineral wagons in tow. The highlight of the day, if you were lucky, was a game of dominoes, wth the driver, the guard, and the shunter, while you had your bait.

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 railway landscape pt.II

In my previous post I wrote about the changes in the railway landscape when steam haulage finished on British Railways; at Tanfield they have kept alive another piece of the railway landscape – a Victorian engine shed on a colliery railway. Like the railways, the mining industry was Nationalised, and the colliery railways, which had been in private hands, became part of the National Coal Board. Modernising the pit railways was a much slower process than that of BR and steam hung on into the 1970s – a little more than a decade later and the pits themselves were disappearing.

In the 1855 built Marley Hill shed, the roads have pits to allow access under the engines, at the back of the shed, on the left of this photo, is a fully functioning forge, at the other side of the wall,  where No.20 is standing, is a working belt driven workshop with lathes, drilling machines, etc.  Marley Hill shed had pretty much everything that was required to enable the fitters to carry out most forms of practical day to day repair work on the industrial locomotives housed there – and they still do. They wouldn’t have had ‘electric’ inspection lamps though!

There are so many little details, the oil bottles, tool lockers, the everyday grime and detritus, is an atmosphere only time creates, even the overalled figure working in the smokebox could be from another age. You might have noticed that No.3 Twizell has had her dome cover removed – she’d been having work done on the regulator valve – all in a days work at Marley hill.

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 railway landscape

When you look at this scene it is hard to believe that it’s all a recreation, a facsimile of the Great Central route circa 1960. There’s just so much packed in there, from  dollies in the sidings to telegraph poles, even track circuit diamonds on the signals. To the right of Quorn & Woodhouse’s starter is a 1/4 mile post, to the left you can just see the lineside mail collector for the TPO, every detail of the main line railway landscape has been preserved.

It wasn’t just the steam that disappeared from our railways, it was the landscape too.  What was a station, signal box, and sidings, like those in the photo, became a car park and supermarket. Even on lines which did stay open stations became a platform with a bus shelter, no ticket office, you by your ticket on the train, from someone called the ‘train manager’ or some other  meaningless title.

One wonders what might have happened had all the signalmen, station staff, lampmen etc. been replaced, as they have been; would lines which were closed as ‘unprofitable’ have been profitable if all these wages had been striped out of the equation? We’ll never know, of course, but my hunch is that quite a few would have been. Even a small loss was probably worth it for the social amenity value, provided by keeping the line open.

One thing is certain, a great deal of time, money, and effort, was spent closing railways and even more has been spent re-opening bits that were closed. All of which seems not only a dreadful waste, but an exercise in futility too.

The photograph shows No.73084 Tintagel, (for a day), making a spirited departure from Quorn & Woodhouse station. I fired the real, No.73084 Tintagel, on many trips up and down the LSWR main line, between 1963 & 66 – she never looked this clean!!

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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Baffling smoke signals

This shot of No.34081 92 Squadron, neatly demonstrates the problems of drifting exhaust obscuring the driver’s view. Bad enough in daylight, imagine what it’s like, in the dark, trying to spot that distant signal with exhaust rolling down over the cab.  It wasn’t only the Bulleid Pacifics which suffered from this problem. Many classes suffered from the issue, especially under light or ‘eased’ regulator openings, and all kinds of solutions were tried and tested to try and eradicate it.

On the ‘air smoothed’ Bulleids, alterations were made in the shape of the front cowling, to the size and position of vents in the cowling, and in the shape length and curvature of the smoke deflectors, in the air smoothed casing. Various experiments were carried out on several class of LNER Pacifics; they varied from something which resembled little more than fins alongside the chimney, through smoke deflectors of varying lengths and curvatures, or not, right through to the adoption of the putative ‘German style’ currently being carried by No.60103 Flying Scotsman.

The need for smoke deflectors is created by, low exhaust speeds, large boiler diameters, and low or double chimneys. The large boiler diameter creates a larger low pressure area behind the chimney, the lower exhaust speed means it is more easily pulled down into this area, the smoke deflectors are designed to lessen or remove the low pressure area behind the chimney and thus prevent the exhaust from being drawn down. If that’s not too baffling a way of putting it!!

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 blackout

“Railway in Wartime”, was the name of the event and No.44806 was decorated for the occasion. In Grosmont there was a miltary marching band, a Spitfire in the car park and folk, in 40s / 50s dress, dancing on the platform, to the sound of ‘big band’ music.  I know these events put bums on seats and generate valuable revenue but, the clash with the reality of the railway in wartime could scarcely be more glaring.

During ‘the war’ the mainline railway was just as much under enemy attack as the frontline and a regular target for the Luftwaffe during air raids as this quote from the Locomotive Journal illustrates:  “Within three minutes of attaching, a bomb fell close to their engine killing the driver and severely wounding the fireman. The driver and fireman at the stop block end of the train immediately rushed to the spot, and using a platform trolley lifted the bombed men from the footplate …proceeding along the platform road a few yards a second bomb crashed in the vicinity…. within a few seconds a third bomb fell a few yards away. Blinded by dust and smoke, … they struggled through… handed over their charge to a First Aid squadron.” (Locomotive Journal; 1941, 214)

No dancing on the platform there, or marching bands for that matter. On the footplate, especially at night, during ‘blackouts’ with the cab all sheeted up, must have been a hellish place to be during enemy attacks.  And if being blown up and injured wasn’t bad enough, the railway companies didn’t treat those injured in the line of duty with the respect they deserved, as this piece from a footplateman at one of the Birmingham depots illustrates:  “One of our drivers was on duty during a rather bad blitz when a land mine fell and exploded within 20 yards of his locomotive, inflicting great damage to the engine and serious injury to our brother, which caused him to lose one eye. Now this driver is a shed messenger. For his devotion to duty and harkening to the now-famous slogans “Carry On” and “Go To It,” he has been reduced to shed labourer, deprived of all claim to the footplate; and also, as a generous gesture, deprived of the mean rate. …. Do you think this is justice to a man who has served for 40 years handling trains during an air raid(s)? No, brothers, I say certainly not! Why should we be degraded and cast asunder like dirt?” (C.E.Taylor Locomotive Journal; 1942, 115)

Any serious examination of the railways and the men who ran them, during WWII, paints a very different picture to the ‘Dunkirk spirit’ and a nation pulling together during very difficult days. The real railway in wartime, left men stranded miles from their home depots, when the railway was bombed behind them. They were paid overtime for this, the gutter press, however, accused them of profiteering. No, when you take a look at what really went on, marching bands and dancing seem to be in short supply and death, injury, wrecked lives, and destruction are all part of daily existence .

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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Collieries

This is Beamish Pit, now a feature in Beamish ‘open air’ Museum; the colliery as a tourist attraction. The last thing you would have described the collieries that I worked in and out of, during my firing days at Wakefield (Belle Vue), was a ‘tourist attraction’. Many of the buildings with broken windows,  rusting metalwork, a thick coating of coal dust everywhere you looked, and the grey / black mountains of slag, neither picturesque, romantic, or noble, just plain old fashioned industrial eyesores. Not so much ‘God’s green acres’  as ‘muck ‘n’ brass’.

I shovelled and burned many a ton of the coal the miners dug but, I didn’t envy them their job, digging at the bowels of the Earth. Footplate work could be hard graft but, at least you weren’t a mile underground, striped to the waist, and laying on your side with a pick in your hand, hacking at the coal seam. Seeing exhibits like Beamish Pit, on a nice sunny afternoon, it is difficult to imagine what life was like when it was in full production. The lack of safety, no National Health Service to treat you if you were sick or injured, as many were each year, quack remedies if you couldn’t afford to pay for a doctor, no sick pay either. Oh! Yes the good old days were well less than good for the vast majority.

No.18  was built, in 1877, by  Lewin & Co. and worked at Seaham Harbour until withdrawn in 1969. Stored at the harbour for 6 years No.18 then went to Beamish for restoration, she’s still there and still active, aged 140.

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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