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.’

‘I’m enjoying your book. It’s a real page-turner, thought provoking and great photos, to boot’

‘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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1948 and all that

No. 76079 is now in her 60th year, built at Horwich, she entered service, in February 1957, at Sutton Oak, she was withdrawn, from Springs Branch, a little over 10 years later.  Nearly all of the locomotives, built under the auspices of British Railways, had equally short working lives and many see this as a criminal waste of men, money, and materials.

One school of thought was that building new types of steam locomotives was wasteful, they added to the number of spares depots had to carry, and would, inevitably, have teething troubles. In this view instead of adding new types, more engines of already succesful classes should have been built. British Railways did, to some extent, do this and Black 5s, B1s , even ancient designs, such as the J72s, continued to be built after the formation of BR, as did quite a few other classes such as the Bulleid and Peppercorn Pacifics and Brighton Works built Fairburn tanks.

This leaves us with a couple of questions, why were the Standard classes built and why did they have such short working lives? There are no short answers to either question and issues ranging from keeping employment high to worries over the security of oil supplies played their parts in the decision to keep building more steam locomotives, though not necessesarily new designs.

The decision to build new classes of locomotives, rather than more of the existing ones, does seem to be influenced by Riddles’ desire to be the ‘last steam giant’, in the mould of Stanier or Bulleid. Given the history of competition between the pre-Grouping companies, and, in turn,  the Big Four, trying to bring them together under one banner must have been akin to dealing with a sack of ferrets, and then there was the GWR – for whom the only way was Swindon’s. They painted some of their ‘Standards’ green! One came to Nine Elms, No.73029, and I worked on her quite a few times on stoppers to Basingstoke and on boat trains to Southampton docks.

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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Land of the midnight sun

Like No. 3 Twizell, in this picture, the clocks have gone backwards, the trees have lost their leaves, and we’ve had gunpowder, treason, and plot, so it must be time for the North Pole Express. The curmdugeons will ‘bah humbug’, the volunteers will gird their loins, for one more ‘yo, ho, ho,’ as Santa and his Grotto come to a line near you.

Before the hurly-burly begins, this coming weekend, a shed load of gifts from Santa have all to be wrapped, the tickets have been sold, queries answered, Sherry bought, mince pies ordered, and all to keep the fires burning, wheels turning, great railway steam show, rolling for another generation to savour and enjoy. Every railway has its Fat Controller and its Santa Claus, often the same person,  and there are his little helpers, dressed as eleves, or wearing reindeer antlers. Well done to all of you, guys and gals.

How different this all is from my Christmas on the railway in 1964, when, on December the 22nd I was working the 17:30 departure from Waterloo to Bournemouth, as far as Southampton. The load was 12 for 435tons and the turn was usually booked a Merchant Navy. On the day were had No. 34097 Holsworthy and the run was marred by two severe signal checks, one between Surbiton and Hampton Court Jct. and one between Winchfield and Hook. However, the really remarkable bit of running was between Woking and Milepost 31.

After the stop for signals, and the distant for Hersham only coming off as we approched, speed was back up to 69mph when we went through Woking and only on the final stretch between Brookwood and MP31 did it fall below that, and the summit was reached at 66mph. A fair effort for a light-Pacific with 12 on. (My thanks to performance recorder, Terry Jackson, for the details)

No.3 Twizell is pictured in Causey woods, on the Tanfield Railway, with a North Pole Express working, trundling backwards down to East Tanfield.

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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Take water

2018 is the 70th Anniversary of the creation of British Railways, and the Locomotive Exchange Trials, it is also the 50th of the ‘End of Steam’ and the 130th of the first ‘Railway Race to the North’, The ‘races’ started on the 2nd of June 1888 when the London North Western Railway made a last minute acceleration to their 10:00 “Scotch Express”, as a tit-for tat response to the East Coast route partners decision to allow 3rd class passengers to travel on the 10:00 ‘Flying Scotsman’  from London to Edinburgh.

What followed was a whole series of reductions in the timings, by both routes, on their London to Edinburgh services. We’re not talking a few minutes here either, the West Coast’s initial cut was 1hour and the subsequent acceraltions were of 30 minutes by the East Coast, and a further 30 by the West Coast in response.  And all of this is going on at the height of the Summer service schedule. Journey times, in just a few short weeks, on the West Coast route to Edingburgh fell from 10 hours to 8 and on the East Coast from 9 hours to 8.

When describing these events in his book on the 1895 Races, OS Nock comments, ” … there is no doubt that racing fever had taken complete hold of the West Coast companies. In countering the final East Coast acceleration of August 14th they threw caution to the winds, and without the flicker of an eyelid ran their train as far ahead of time as their engines would take it.” (Wilson, C.D.,Racing Trains, Sutton 1995 p33)

And what has this to do with ‘taking water’, I hear you ask. Well, in 1895, when the East & Wast Coast companies were, once again ‘Racing Trains’ the West Coast route had a not so secret weapon – water troughs, allowing their engines to refill the tender with water without the need to stop. Troughs were first used by the LNWR in 1860, on the North Wales route, to allow the acceleration of the Irish Mails, by cutting out the need  for water stops. In 1895 they were still the only one of the competing companies to have troughs.

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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Treasured Scot

No.46115 Scots Guardsman is getting up to line speed, after stopping in Dundee, and she is seen here, beside the river Tay, approching Broughty Ferry. Broughty Ferry was where passengers, from Tayport, landed before the opening of the Tay Bridge. Prior to the opening of the Tay Bridge, passengers from Edinburgh and the South, heading for Aberdeen and the North crossed the Tay by ferry, just as they did across the Forth before the opening of the Forth Bridge.

The Tay, at this point, is about two miles wide and local folklore has it that lying in the Tay’s shifting sandbanks are the remains of sixty boats laden with gold, silver, and jewels plundered from the City of Dundee, in 1651, by one of Cromwell’s Generals. Legend has it that as the boats, full to the gunwales with booty, set sail, a violent storm blew up and all were lost. No one, as yet, has found the sunken treasure, despite several attempts over the years. However, what I can say is that when the first Tay Bridge collapsed, in December 1879, the engine, a Wheatley designed, North British Railway 4-4-0, No.224, which fell into the Tay, on that dark and stormy night, was, eventually, pulled from the river, taken to Cowlairs works and repaired. Forever after she was known to the crews as ‘The Diver’; original built in 1871, she remained in service until 1919.

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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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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