My kind of engine


We all have our favourites when it comes to locomotive types, big or small, passenger or goods, and this is how it should be – it’s our hobby – it’s about the things that matter in life, not money, power, or fame, but what brings us pleasure and enjoyment.

I’ve been away down south, the last few days, visiting my kids, one of them gave me a half-crown from the year of my birth, that’s 12.5 pence in today’s money. Back when I was a kid, this tiny sum of money would have bought me a brand new copy of Ian Allan’s Locomotive Shed Book, a cheap and cheerful version of the Combined Volume.

In those days, before my own footplate career began, I was very much a Northerner, I loved the rebuilt Scots, and Patriots but most of all I was inspired by the A4s which came and went from Leeds Central Station. However, when I went to work for BR a very different set of values kicked in, how well the engines steamed and performed began to influence the choice of ‘favourite’, every bit as much as peer pressure and personal idiosyncrasies, had previously coloured my tastes in ‘favourite’ engines.

Stanier’s Black 5s, those humble maids of all work, began to rise up the rankings, free steaming, reliable, many an engineman would refer to them as ‘the fireman’s friend’, and I learned why. The Jinties too were great fun and a joy to work on, as were those ugly ducklings Hughes’ ‘Crab’. And then I transferred away from 55C Farnley Junction and headed for the ‘Smoke’ – aka London. A decision which, to this day, informs my choice of favourite engines.

My home for 3 years, in the early to mid 60s, was 70A Nine Elms, the London & South Western Railway’s ‘top shed’. Here, along with the U-boats, Charlies, and Standard Arthur’s I was introduced to Oliver Bulleid’s West Country, Battle of Britain, and Merchant Navy classes – what an eye opener. I grew to love that chifferty-chafferty sound they made as they pulled out of Waterloo with 12 or 13 coaches heading for the ‘Sunny South’ or to the Atlantic Coast.

There’s a little post script to this. I went to 56A Wakefield, in 1966, and began working train loads of coal from the pits in the Yorkshire coal fields, to the yards at Healy Mills or dragging them over the Pennines to Rose Grove or Padiham power station. These turns were  the domain of the WDs, or ‘Dubdees’ – unglamourous, filthy dirty, wheezing, clanking beasts, they might have been, but from the fireman’s side of the cab they did everything it said on the tin – even if, in places, you could see through the ‘tin’ of the cabsides.

34070 Manston is pictured leaving Loughborough during a recent GCR gala.

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