Not many people can say, with to the second accuracy, exactly where they were and what they were doing, 50 years ago; good fortune allows me to do so. Fifty years ago today, on this very engine, I was the fireman on an epic run with the 21.20 Ex-Waterloo – Poole. When I went to work that Saturday night I had no idea of what was about to unfold. I wasn’t with my regular driver, Eric Saunders, I was with driver Gordon Hooper, and I knew something was going on, because on the footplate with us was Technical Inspector Brian Smith.
No.35005 Canadian Pacific had recently been, ‘half soled and heeled’, railway slang for having an intermediate overhaul, so she was in fine fettle. The load wasn’t an especially heavy one 10 for 360 tons and we were first stop Basingstoke. There was some comment about keeping 005 ‘on the mark’, but nothing more than that. Even when we stopped at Basingstoke I had no idea what we’d just done, or that more was to come.
On the night, No.35005 Canadian Pacific ran from Waterloo to Basingstoke in 43 minutes 48 seconds, given as 41 minutes 15secs net, that’s 47.8 miles, start to stop, mostly against the grade and with the permanent speed restriction through Clapham Junction – not bad going, but, more was to come. After leaving Basingstoke driver Hooper continued in the same cavalier style and No.35005 reached 105mph on the descent to Winchester – not the highest speed attained by a Merchant Navy, but well in the top ten. Don Benn’s 1987 Railway World article puts it thus, ‘…the ease with which No.35005 reached 105mph below Wallers Ash Tunnel with a 360-ton train one May night in 1965.’ (Benn, 1987, p412) However, it was not the 105mph which was to become the yardstick, but the 41 minute 15 second net time for the start to stop journey between Waterloo and Basingstoke.The time was a record, a record which, according to the Railway Performance Society website, still stands.
This photograph, taken by John East, is yours truly with No.35005 Canadian Pacific, at the Great Central Railway, during a special event to celebrate her return to steam, after she was bought, by Andrew Naish, and subsequently rebuilt, at Loughborough,
The colour photograph, which opens the article, shows No.35005 Canadian Pacific, in Blue livery, approaching Woodthorpe Lane bridge, on the Great Central Railway, before it was made into a twin track main line. The black and white photograph is also taken approaching Woodthorpe Lane bridge.
PS contrary to common belief, it is the fireman, and not the driver, who is really behind epic runs – NO Steam – NO Show.
The printed edition of “Gricing: The Real Story of the Railway Children” – is now on sale.
Below, is the link to it.