When the last fires dropped

50 years ago I stepped off one of these work horses for the last time, collected my final pay packet – redundancy beckoned. No more baked onion, cooked on the manifold, or cheese toasties done on the shovel. No more signing on at 04.00 for, a freezing cold, tender first run down the Dearne valley line either. The last six months of terminal decline did little for moral.

In my all to brief footplate career, I count myself lucky to have been able to experience a whole range of different workings from a humble branch line goods to the Royal Wessex. I fired for young drivers only a few years older than me and for others who had begun their railway service in World War I. At Wakefield, my final depot, even the link system was scrapped, because so many turns were now single-manned diesel jobs. All the firemen were put in one long link covering the remaining steam jobs and diesel turns requiring a second man. A situation which could see you working with a different driver every day you were on duty.

More and more duties were signing on and off at Healy Mills and I was spending quite a bit of time on English Electric Class 3s, not what I signed on for. Once I knew that I hadn’t got the vacancy I applied for at Blyth, it was all over. No fairy tale ending, no big send off, just mount the bike jump on the kick-start and go home. I didn’t even take a souvenir, though I do now have a 55C shed plate – the place where it all began. Amazingly railway preservation and operation has now been going for longer than British Railways was in existence and some of the preserved locomotives have spent more time at work, in private hands, than they did during their BR service.

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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200 years of progress

In 1815 this was the white heat of technology – a beam engine with a few cogs and wheels, which, if only it would stop breaking the rails, or itself, would pull 10 times the tonnage of a horse, further and faster. They say money makes the world go around, it certainly made the wheels on the engine go round and round. These engines were not the mass made product of the later Victorian age, they are craftsman built, every nut and bolt made by hand; and a great deal of head scratching trial and error.

The arrival of Puffying Billy had taken milennia, in just three generations since we’ve gone to the world wide web,  put men on the moon, have mass surveillance, and the Maglev. You can travel to Tibet on a high speed train, have a Pizza delivered to your door, swim with dolphins and blow each other to bits a million times over. And a few other things besides.

And in all that change it was the steam engine, steam power, and steam locomotives which have provided the driving force – even nuclear power stations turn water into steam to drive the turbines. The really odd bit in all this is that despite what many folk think steam power wasn’t the bright spark of James Watt, it wasn’t even British in origin, nor even 19th century – the ancient Greeks discovered the power of steam – the Aeolipile, a form of steam turbine, was invented in the 1st Century AD  by Hero of Alexandria, a Greek mathematician and inventor.

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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‘dreamin’ in the midday sun’

On a hot summer’s day a shady spot, under the trees, watching the trains go by is as good as it gets. And every school holiday from 1954, until I began working on the railway, in 1962, was spent, ‘watching the trains go by’ – it’s why Steam Age Daydreams, is “Steam Age Daydreams”. The following details, from a recently acquired note book, are for a trip from Leeds to Doncaster at Whit weekend 1958 – I could, quite easily, have been there myself as my own trips to Doncaster were fairly frequent – with the ‘Plant stream’ being a highlight.

There are 168 numbers listed representing close to 30 different classes of locomotives, including the ‘one of’ W1 Class 4-6-4 No.60700. No.60017 Silver Fox was another on the list – in 1936 she held the British record of 113mph, attained on ‘Stoke bank’, hauling the ‘up’ “Silver Jubilee” service. The other A4s that day were No.60025 Falcon, 60029 Woodcock, 60032 Gannet, 60033 Seagull, 60006 Sir Ralph Wedgewood,  60010 Dominion of Canada, and the ‘preserved’ No.60007 Sir Nigel Gresley. One of the half-dozen A2s in the list was the rebuilt P2 No.60506 Wolf of Badenoch. In amongst the A3s was No.60103 Flying Scotsman and 60110 Robert the Devil. The 7 A1s present included No.60113 Great Northern, the controversial rebuild of Gresley’s first Pacific.

The bucolic scene photographed is in the open air museum at Beamish and the signal box and station are from Rowley, brought here brick by brick and re-assembled. The locomotive, 1938 built Hudswell Clarke 0-6-0ST ‘Wissington’, is, like me, visiting the museum.  Wissington’s working life was spent hauling sugar beet from farms in west Norfolk to the BSC ‘Wissington’ sugar refinery.

At the end of her working life Wissington was donated to the the Midland & Great Northern Joint Railway Preservation Society in 1978; following a lengthy overhaul she returned to steam in 2012. Both the Midland and the Great Northern were represented in the notebook, the GN by J52s and  J50s, the Midland, well Midland design, by 3F No.47405. There was also former GCR D11 ‘Director’ 62666 Zeebrugge and an Ex-GER 0-6-0 J69, just to round out the numbers.

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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“Nice bit of Wensleydale Gromit”

Back in 1964 I was one of, if not the last, firemen to work on this engine before she was sent for scrap. We had her on Bournemouth – Waterloo service and then next thing she was withdrawn – no idea why, she certainly wasn’t a failure when we stepped off at Waterloo.

I could never have imagined then, that 54 years later I would be standing in a meadow, in the heart of Wensleydale, watching her steam by on her way to Redmire. Even now, several hours later, it still borders on surreal, a Merchant Navy Class Pacific sauntering along a North Eastern Railway branch line. Sometimes the truth really is stranger than the fiction.

The reason behind No.35018 British India Line being there was the 1940s event in Leyburn, the principal village along the line. When the Wensleydale Railway didn’t have a steam engine for the event, West Coast Railways stepped up to the plate and offered them the use of No.35018 British India Line, for the weekend – top marks to WCR for that.

While there every chance that this is  the first time a MN that has been up this line, there is at least some connection with the 1940s event, as the MNs rolled off the drawing board and onto the rails in the middle of WWII, 21C1, (later No.35001 Channel Packet) entered service in June 1941 and the first ten were all in service by July 1942. No.35018 British India Line was one of the second batch of 10 and was built in 1945, she was the 1st to be ‘converted’ and also played a part in the 1948 Locomotive Exchange Trials, so she’s a bit of a star.

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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Crewe – August 1958

My sister-in-law recently unearthed one of her Dad’s old spotters note books and, not unsurprisingly, handed it to me. On August 2nd 1958 he travelled from Leeds to Crewe for a day’s spotting and shed bashing. There are close to 300 numbers recorded, 12 Coronations and 3 Princess Royals, the ‘preserved’ No.46115 Scots Guardsman was one of 24 Scots and there was a supporting cast of Patriots both rebuilt and original(ish) served with a garnish of Jubilees.

There are also one or two notables in the un-named ‘also rans’ category; the now preserved Black 5s No.45110, of 15 Guineas fame, and No.45305, which was ‘preserved’ by the scrapman who bought her, Mr. Draper of Hull, were both there on the day, along with the 8F No.48188. No.48188 was the engine involved in the accident at Chapel-en-le-Frith, in February 1957, in which driver John Axon died whilst trying to stop his runaway train and avert casualties. For his bravery, in staying at the controls of his stricken engine, driver Axon was posthumously awarded the George Cross, in May 1957, in 1978, his medal was donated to the National Railway Museum.

Three days after the Crewe visit, on August 5th, the notebook records a visit to York, only 60 engines this time, though one of them was the now preserved Fairburn 2-6-4T No.42073. There are also some ‘wish we still had them’ amongst the engines present, including a Midland design 3 cylinder Compound No.41101, former P2 No.60502 Earl Marischal, and lesser lights like K3s, B16s, and, of course, V2s. Can we please have our ‘Green Arrow’ back mister!!

No.48188 did not escape the chop, the photo shows classmate 48624 with the same kind of a loose coupled working that 48188 was on, on that fatefull day in 1957.

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 dying of the light

Earlier this week I was listening to Richard Burton reciting Dylan Thomas’ poem, ‘Rage against the dying of the light’. A poem which could, in so many ways, be a leitmotiv for the railway preservation movement. That great engineman Norman McKillop titled his history of ASLEF, the footplatemen’s union, ‘The Lighted Flame’ a flame the preservationists have succeded in keeping alight ever since they revived the near extinct  one, at Talyllyn, almost 60 years ago now.

Such was the rage against the dying of the light of the steam locomotive that, over the ensuing years, the achievements of those who saught to keep the flames burning are mind-boggling. What began as the ‘perpetuation’ of the seven mile, narrow gauge, Talyllyn Railway, in a remote corner of Wales, is now a substantial sector of the Country’s tourism industry. Steam hauled main line tours like the ‘Great Britain’, seen above, with the city of Dundee in the backdrop and scheduled daily services, such as the Jacobite, are no longer the novelties they once were.

That diminutive quarry railway in Wales provided the inspiration for a thousand more preservation schemes large and small, branch lines, main lines, bridges, rolling stock, S&T equipment,  all the apparatus of an operational railway was rescued and what they couldn’t find or repair they made anew – up to and including a replica of an LNER A1 class Pacific. The sums of money and volunteer man hours are even more mind-boggling, hundreds of millions of pounds and literally billions of man hours – all of which is, of course, on going.

The photograph shows Black 5 No.45407, carrying a wreath on the smokebox door, passing Peace Hill Farm with the Dundee – Edinburgh leg of the GBII Tour.

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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One to savour

In the current drought and steam bans up and down the land I thought I’d share this image from a few years ago. A pair of main line favourites battling Druimauchdar, the last remanants of the snow clinging to the hill sides – a real, never to be repeated, highland drama. With No.70013 Oliver Cromwell supplying the grunt for an ‘off colour’ K4, No.61994 The Great Marquess, they are seen here less than a mile from the summit.

Later this year No.70013 Oliver Cromwell will come to the end of her ten year boiler certificate  and is set to undergo a fast-track overhaul. No.61994 Great Marquess, however, is a very different kettle of fish. No.61994 is already on her way to a purpose built museum, in Fife, where, in due course, she will be joined by No.60009 Union of South Africa, once her ticket expires. A state of affairs which leaves a great many people unhappy especially as the K4 is the only one of the class to survive. Losing two Ex-LNER engines further depletes the already scant number of  representatives of the LNER and its constituents. Not only that but, the very line No.61994 The Great Marquess was built to work over, the ‘West Highland Extension’, from Fort Willian to Mallaig is still enjoying timetabled steam specials for 2/3rds of every year.

Mr. Cameron is, of course, entitled to do as he wishes with his locomotives, but equally I think we are entitled to have our say nontheless. And I say its a shame to reduce these fine machines to static exhibits.

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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Headgear

Footplatemen were issued with a uniform, bib and brace overalls, a smock jacket and greased topped cap. The attrition rate of the caps was high, taken away at high speed as you hung your head out of the cab to spot a distant signal. However, uniforms they might have been but, they were frequently worn with some small degree of ‘nonconformity’. One or two of the more senior drivers always wore their smock jacket with the top button fastened, some of us young firemen narrowed the legs of our overalls, in keeping with the fashions of the day.

The real non-uniform aspect though was hats; grease tops were worn pinned down at the sides, sat up like a pie, or all pulled down either on one side or the other or to the back, and I remember spending money, to buy an old ‘Southern Engineman’ cap badge, to replace my BR hotdog. Like so many others it ended up in a field or on embankment, somewhere along the line. Not everyone wore a grease top and my regular 3 link mate, Eric ‘sooty’ Saunders, always wore a cloth cap, often with motor bike goggles – he rode a motor bike and side car to work.  Another fashion was for ‘cheese cutters’ a cloth cap made from  corduroy,  black with stripes of yellow, blue, or red. For quite a while the style amongst the firemen was for a brightly coloured, knotted hanky, pulled over your hair – or used to wipe the sweat, as needs be.

I dare say that different regions and even sheds had their own styles and traditions – the NYMR footplateman in the photo has chosen a beret.

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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Standard Stopper

At the beginning of 1963, when I first arrived at Nine Elms, I spent a short time in Link 4 with driver Fred Walker and these BR class 4s were amongst the first engines I worked on, No.75078 was one of them. A regular duty for the 75xxxs was the Waterloo – Basingstoke stoppers, calling Woking then all stations to Basingstoke. The key to keeping time on these services was starting quickly and braking late – and the 75xxxs were very nippy, ideally suited to this task.

When stopping at the intermediate stations, once the train had been brought to a stand, Fred would blow the brakes off and hold the train on the engine’s steam brake while waiting for the tip. Starting in full forward gear he would ease away from the platform steadily opening the regulator before reeling in the cut-off, first to around 50% before giving her  full regulator and then notching up to around 25 – 30%, by which time speed would be nudging 50. A mile or two at 60 ish and then time to shut-off for the next stop and a repeat of the process.

On my side of the footplate it was keep a good fire under the door, thinning to the front and top it up each time we stopped. Between Woking and Farnborough there was a bit more to do because of the climb up to MP31 but, once over the hump that was it; apart, that is, from the top ups at the stops.

The train engine No.34092 City of Wells was one of the dozen or so Bulleid ‘light’ Pacifics I never worked on during my days at Nine Elms but, on the plus side, the preserved 34007 Wadebridge was the very first of the original Bulleids I fired. The photograph shows the pair departing Keighley with the 11:55 for Oxenhope on 26 June, during the 50th anniversary celebrations.

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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Joe who? & Tommy who?

A couple of days ago, on the 3rd of July, it was the 80th anniversary of Mallard’s epic thrash down Stoke bank. There were the usual plaudits, a half hour talk on the radio and even a whinge about the duckless statue. One word out of any of you and the duck is pate!! Joking aside, what is frequently missing in these celebrations is any understanding of how vital a part the crew played in setting the record.

Despite the magnificence of the machine itself, all the drawbar horse power readings, and flickering needles, pored over by technicians in the dynamometer coach, it was Duddington and Bray who made the record, their skills, knowledge, and efforts, not to mention bravery was what coaxed 126mph out of No.4468 Mallard. The steam locomotive is, by its very nature, dependent on the crew for its power output. No amount of engineering design will overcome the limitations of the crew – optimum performance is only achived if the crew are likewise performing to their best.

During the mid/late 1990s I was a regular visitor to the reading room at the NRM and, at lunchtime, I would sit and eat my sandwiches beside the exhibit of No.35029 Ellerman lines, the sectioned Bulleid, Merchant Navy Class, Pacific, just yards away from Mallard. No.35029 sits on rollers which slowly move the wheels so you can see the valve and piston motions. Alongside the engine display boards told the viewer what the bits were but, nowhere did it explain the role of the crew in making it all happen – a glaring omission and not the only one.

The most glaring omission was that there was not one word about Joe Duddington and Tommy Bray on, in, or around the Mallard display, at the time, circa 1995 – 7, which was more than 20 years after the NRM opened. When I raised the issue I was told the reason was ‘insufficient funds’ – what an insult. Over a period of 20 or more years,  they expected me to believe, they didn’t have the money for a few boards and a pot of paint to celebrate the two most important men in the creation of the 126mph record – not only an insult to Duddington and Bray but to anyone with an ounce of nous.

To see how things changed follow this link. http://www.theguardian.com/society/2002/may/01/arts.artsnews

The photo shows visiting A4, No.60019 Bittern, at New Bridge crossing, approaching Pickering, on the NYMR.

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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