Snow fun and games

British Railways 2-6-0 No.78018 entered traffic in March 1954, and was allocated to West Auckland, less than a year later, according to my 1955 Shed Book, she was based at Kirkby Stephen, the opposite end of the line most commonly known as the Stainmore route.  And, in February 1955, whilst working the 04:20 goods from Kirkby Stephen,  she, and her train of eight 20 ton loaded hopper wagons and a guard’s van, became entombed in a snow drift just beyond Barras station, close to ‘Stainmore’ summit.

What began as an ordinary day’s work for the crew turned into a nightmare of epic proportions. Travelling eastwards out of Kirkby Stephen, No.78018 became fast in the snow at around 05.00 on Thursday 24th of February and it wasn’t until 15:00 the following Monday, the 28th February, that a rescue was made. 50 men, armed with little more than shovels, set out behind an engine and snow plough, from Barnard Castle, and headed west, they were accompanied by a film crew, hastily assembled by British Transport Film’s Producer, Edgar Anstey.

The film crew, Kenneth Fairbairn, Director, and cameraman Robert Paynter and his assistant David Watkin did much of the filming in darkness using Tilley lamps for lighting. Shot in black and white the results of their efforts became one of the most evocative and atmospheric BTF  documentaries ever filmed – ‘Snowdrift at Bleath Gill’.

The photograph shows the ‘film star’ No.78018 getting away from Loughborough with a local service for Leicester North, on the Great Central Railway; with not so much as a snowflake in sight.

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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