Ancient and Modern

On the right is 1888 vintage Webb ‘Coal Tank’ No.1054 and on the left, 1951 vintage Riddles Britannia Class Pacific No.70013 Oliver Cromwell. Several years ago now, I wrote an article, for Heritage Railway magazine, about the Britannias, ‘The Last Pacifics’. On test, on the S&C, they proved capable of hauling prodigious loads and producing steam at phenomenal rates, using two firemen and top grade hard coal. I remember a quote from some footplate wag, when talking about building bigger engines, along the lines of, ‘they don’t build bigger men to fire them though.’

Unfortunately I never had the opportunity to fire a ‘Brit’ but, I did fire on all the Merchant Navies, a very high percentage of the WC / B-o-Bs, and even did a round trip Waterloo – Exeter, with an enthusiast special, so I know what it takes to keep a beast like this steaming, over long periods of time. However, we all started like the young lad leaning from the cab of No.1054, firing on a little tank engine; and at some rural depots or sub-sheds you might never work on anything bigger. The trade off was that these guys went home to their own beds, whilst the crews on the big Pacifics would be spending half a week sleeping in the railway lodging houses, and not just the crews on the Pacifics, long distance freight workings could also be lodging turns.

The lodging houses themselves varied enormously, for best part of a year I lived in the one at Old Oak Common, 24 hour canteen, snooker tables, nice little rooms, room cleaning service, all mod cons. Others were little better than a camp bed in a cubicle, and living in them would have been a prison sentence. When lodging turns were re-introduced in the 1990s, the crew were booked into hotel accomodation. A slightly more modern approach than a wooden cubicle with a curtain across the entrance and a camp type bed to sleep on.

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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