The Ghost Train

Over fifty years ago, in 1965, the scene at Waterloo, before the departure of the 2.45am ‘Bournemouth’ papers was quite a spectacle. Fleets of newspaper vans in the varied liveries of their day; Daily Express, Daily Mirror, Financial Times, Guardian and Telegraph, but not the Sun, which wasn’t being published under this banner in 1965, would be coming and going disgorging their contents onto barrows, marshalled like trains. Tons of newsprint off loaded  into the waiting vans of the paper train, where, just like the mails in the TPO, gangs of men sorted, labelled, and re-packed the lot, as the train rolled through the night.

The 2.45am ‘Weymouth’ paper train, was not the most popular of turns it has to be said and absenteeism, by the young firemen, was not uncommon. I myself enjoyed the turn and, on occasions, I was able to swap with the booked fireman – particularly if my shift was a day turn. The 2.45am papers was a turn usually entrusted to a Bulleid Pacific, and frequently a Merchant Navy, the return working, from Bournemouth West, was almost always a ‘Packet’. On one especially memorable occasion the engine was No.35004 Cunard White Star and we were to be joined on the footplate, from Southampton, by an engineer from Swindon Works.

No. 35004 Cunard White Star was unusual amongst her class in as much as she steamed best with a light bright fire rather than being ‘boxed up’ under the door and in the back corners of the firebox, which was the ‘common’ method of firing on these engines. However, if she was fired light and bright, a half dozen or so well placed shovel-fulls would put up a white feather. From Southampton up to Worting Junction is the most difficult section of the return working from Bournemouth – with the section from Winchester, our final stop, up past Micheldever to Roundwood Box being one continuous slog. Our footplate visitor was treated to a display of copy-book firing – more by accident than design I should add. 35004’s penchant for light, tight and bright was not the only accident as I was also with my regular three link mate ‘Sooty’ Saunders – though this was not a three link duty.

The route from leaving Southampton Central is fairly leisurely round St. Denys to Eastleigh, where the line straightens and the long climb to Roundwood begins. Sooty and I had already decided beforehand we would ‘entertain’ our guest and as we passed Eastleigh Works and the MPD, Sooty put the handle in the roof. Charging through Eastleigh station the rockets were really beginning to fly, our speed climbing into the upper sixties as we passed Shawford Box, heading for our final stop at Winchester. However, the real show was yet to come – leaving Winchester is where the continuous against the collar gradient really begins to create some ‘chimney chatter’  – almost eleven miles with a ruling gradient of 1 in 250 from a standing start with a train of approximately 450 tons and next stop Waterloo.

By the time we passed Winchester Junction two miles out from Winchester station it was time to put the second injector on as Sooty had No. 4 in full second valve and 35% cut-off – even the normally soft beat Bulleid coughs a little when being driven along like this. The engineer from Swindon was sitting in my seat, not that there was much chance to sit down as firing was now almost continuous. By Wallers Ash our speed was rising sixty – no firing through the tunnel, just time to watch the rockets hitting the tunnel roof and enjoy a lid of tea before starting to shovel again for the last five miles up to Litchfield. Once the summit has been reached the road to Waterloo is mostly easy running, a little hump between Farnborough and milepost 31 – a pull away from the pws at Clapham Jct is about as tough as it gets. Apart from keeping the footplate clean and sprinkling a few shovels full round every now and then the graft is really over once you passed Worting Jct. It would have been very interesting to have been a fly on the wall when the engineer from Swindon returned to the home of the Great Way Round to tell of his footplate trip on one of Mr. Bulleid’s Pacifics.

The paper train has long since passed into history, TNT saw to that, and their recreation in preservation has yet to happen – but for more than a century these trains put the Times on the table for breakfast – now only the ghosts remain.

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:

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