It’s a very cold and frosty morning at Andrews House Station on the Tanfield Railway and, after taking on coal and water, 0-4-0ST Sir Cecil A Cochrane, is backing down onto her train. It was all so much simpler back then when everything was in black and white; there was no crime, politicians were honest, schoolboys wore short trousers, National Service made men of us and people stood for the National Anthem. There are a thousand variations on these rose tinted pictures of the past. In many ways this hankering for the ‘good olde days’ is what brings visitors to the railways and puts the coal in the firebox, so to speak.
On the coldest days and bleakest winter mornings people drag themselves from warm comfortable beds, travel for miles, sometimes many miles, wrestle with fire irons, and / or injectors, shovel coal, take water, (freezing cold water), and face the icy blasts when running bunker first, and all to recreate what you see here – in minute loving detail.
Tanfield with its little industrial engines and tiny wooden bodied coaches may be a far cry from topping Shap, on the footplate of the Duchess, with 12 on but, it is the same spirit of preservation which motivates the volunteers. Several times over the past few days I have been party to discussions about volunteers, how vital they are, how many are ‘gentlemen of a certain age’ and the need to draw in younger volunteers if the presnt levels of activity are to be maintained. And, as part of this discourse, the question of how the transmission of the skills and knowledge, of more than 150 years of railway operating practices, had long been the cinderella of preservation.
The generation, of which I am a part, are the last of the BR steam footplatemen – we were firemen to drivers who had been footplatemen during the Great Depression and WWII and they had learned their skills and knowledge from men who worked on the footplate in Victoria’s reign. Unless more effort is put into gathering, recording, and putting to use, these vast reserves of knowledge and skills, they are in danger of being lost – for good, or should that be for bad?
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: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Gricing-Real-story-Railway-Children/dp/1514885751