Tag Archives: Swindon

Turning back the clock

When the future’s uncertain, there’s always the past. Mourning for what has gone, disparaging its replacement. It was better then, it’s dreadful now. Nowt wrong wi canals, why would thi want to be rushin around at 30 miles an hour, I don’t know how they manage to breathe at that speed – it’s all a matter of perspective.

2017 saw numerous galas and events, at quite a few of the major heritage lines, commemorating the end of Southern steam, in 1967. 2017 was also 70 years since the Big Four, LNER / LMS / SR / GWR, were Nationalised but, I don’t recall any major gala commemorating their demise. And to date, I haven’t spotted any events to mark the creation of British Railways, in theory at least, a more important event than the end of Southern steam, in so far as it was an Act of Parliament, rather than simply an operational objective in the modernisation of the railway network.  What we remember and what is commemorated or celebrated, from the past, are two very different things.

There’s even a certain degree of irony here too because, despite the rhetoric, the re-privatisation of the railways, which was sold on ‘nostalgic images and iconography’ drawn from the days of the Big Four, has been a far cry from what was promised in the sell off prospectus. And there is now, in 2018, a high level of public support for the re-Nationalisation of the railway network and the slim, but growing, possibility it might happen.

Cycling Lion anyone?

The photo is of 8F No.48624, with a train of mineral empties, passing Quorn & Woodhouse signal box, on the Great Central Railway.

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

 

 

 

 

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2017 A personal review

A year of firsts and farewells, though for me 2017 was the year of the ‘End of Southern Steam’; an event celebrated, if that’s the right word, at quite a few heritage lines; and I very much enjoyed seeing Nos. 34081 92 Squadron and 34053 Sir Keith Park, at the Great Central Railway’s offering.  There was even a brief glimpse of No.73156 running as No.73084 Tintagel, like Nos. 34081 and 34053, another engine I’d worked on back in the 60s.

No.73156 / 73084 was one of the firsts too, as she was making her debut appearance after being rescued from Dai Woodhams yard in Barry and restored to operational condition at Loughborough. Sadly, teething problems with the brakes curtailed her official workings, to just one passenger turn on the first day of the gala.

Earlier, in February, there was a bold experiment on the Settle & Carlisle line with No.60163 Tornado hauling regular service trains, for a 3 day spell, between Skipton and Appleby. There were two runs each day and I managed to photograph the first return working, at Selside, on Valentine’s Day. No.60163 also set a first, being given a trial run at 100mph on the ECML, a thrill for all concerned, I’m sure. The data being gathered was intended to support the case for raising the speed limit for steam, on the main line, from 75mph to 90mph.

Sticking with the main line theme, 2017 saw the S&C officially re-opened, after major repairs, with a run behind No.60103 Flying Scotsman, to Carlisle and the S&C also saw main line stalwart, No.46115 Scots Guardsman, bow out when her boiler ticket expired in August – she is pictured at the top of the article, at Kirkby Stephen station , on her last run over the S&C.

No.60103 Flying Scotsman, crossing Lunds viaduct, on the S&C.

Being a Leeds lad I’m rather fond of the Scots which, for many years, were the principal express engines on the former LMS / MR /LNWR routes in and out of the City. In line to replace her, out on the main line, is another engine steaming for the first time since being saved from the scrap yard, No.35018 British India Line, and again one of the engines I have fired on passenger services, out of Waterloo, in the 60s.

Continuing the Southern theme, I never worked on the Schools, though there were several in store at 70A when I started there. 2017 saw Schools Class, No.926 Repton, return to traffic on the North Yorkshire Moors Railway, following her ten year overhaul. She is pictured above, slogging up the last half mile of the steep climb from Grosmont to Goathland during the NYMR gala.

On a personal note, I made my first ever visit to the narrow gauge system at Threlkeld Quarry, a little gem in the midst of some wonderful scenery. The locomotive in the photograph is, Sir Tom, a Bagnall 0-4-0ST of 1926 vintage. Sir Tom was employed at BICC in Kent until 1968 and moved to Threlkeld in 2001. Sir Tom was overhauled and rebuilt at Threlkeld and re-entered traffic in 2010.

As the year drew to a close it was farewell to Black 5 No.44806 at the NYMR and No.7812 Erlestoke Manor at the Severn Valley. No.61994 The Great Marquess, and shortly No.60009 Union of South Africa, are to become museum exhibits, no longer gracing the main lines and flying a flag for the LNER, which is sad, especially as the locomotives, of constituents of the LNER, are few in number when compared with the other members of the Big Four.

Not to end on sour note No.7812 Erlestoke Manor, pictured above approaching Bewdley tunnel with a Bridgnorth – Kidderminster service, is to have a fast track overhaul and is expected back by 2020. Good progress is being made with the new build No.82045, a project of which I’m a keen supporter. The 82xxxs were great fun to work on and the ideal engine for a heritage railway operation. I’m very much looking forward to seeing and photographing the finished item.

All of you, I’m sure, have your own highlights from 2017 and I could have added a few more of my own, seeing the Steam Elephant in operation at Beamish was a treat, as was having the Tanfield Railway just 15 minutes drive away, and I leave you with one of my favourite shots from Tanfield in 2017.

Keighley Gasworks No.2, with Bobgins cabin in the background, is heading for Andrews House with a train from East Tanfield.

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

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A brief review of my 2017 in words and pictures.

A year of firsts and farewells, though for me 2017 was the year of the ‘End of Southern Steam’; an event celebrated, if that’s the right word, at quite a few heritage lines; and I very much enjoyed seeing Nos. 34081 92 Squadron and 34053 Sir Keith Park, at the Great Central Railway’s offering.  There was even a brief glimpse of No.73156 running as No.73084 Tintagel, like Nos. 34081 and 34053, another engine I’d worked on back in the 60s.

No.73156 / 73084 was one of the firsts too, as she was making her debut appearance after being rescued from Dai Woodhams yard in Barry and restored to operational condition at Loughborough. Sadly, teething problems with the brakes curtailed her official workings, to just one passenger turn on the first day of the gala.

Earlier, in February, there was a bold experiment on the Settle & Carlisle line with No.60163 Tornado hauling regular service trains, for a 3 day spell, between Skipton and Appleby. There were two runs each day and I managed to photograph the first return working, at Selside, on Valentine’s Day. No.60163 also set a first, being given a trial run at 100mph on the ECML, a thrill for all concerned, I’m sure. The data being gathered was intended to support the case for raising the speed limit for steam, on the main line, from 75mph to 90mph.

Sticking with the main line theme, 2017 saw the S&C officially re-opened, after major repairs, with a run behind No.60103 Flying Scotsman, to Carlisle and the S&C also saw main line stalwart, No.46115 Scots Guardsman, bow out when her boiler ticket expired in August – she is pictured at the top of the article, at Kirkby Stephen station , on her last run over the S&C.

No.60103 Flying Scotsman, crossing Lunds viaduct, on the S&C.

Being a Leeds lad I’m rather fond of the Scots which, for many years, were the principal express engines on the former LMS / MR /LNWR routes in and out of the City. In line to replace her, out on the main line, is another engine steaming for the first time since being saved from the scrap yard, No.35018 British India Line, and again one of the engines I have fired on passenger services, out of Waterloo, in the 60s.

Continuing the Southern theme, I never worked on the Schools, though there were several in store at 70A when I started there. 2017 saw Schools Class, No.926 Repton, return to traffic on the North Yorkshire Moors Railway, following her ten year overhaul. She is pictured above, slogging up the last half mile of the steep climb from Grosmont to Goathland during the NYMR gala.

On a personal note, I made my first ever visit to the narrow gauge system at Threlkeld Quarry, a little gem in the midst of some wonderful scenery. The locomotive in the photograph is, Sir Tom, a Bagnall 0-4-0ST of 1926 vintage. Sir Tom was employed at BICC in Kent until 1968 and moved to Threlkeld in 2001. Sir Tom was overhauled and rebuilt at Threlkeld and re-entered traffic in 2010.

As the year drew to a close it was farewell to Black 5 No.44806 at the NYMR and No.7812 Erlestoke Manor at the Severn Valley. No.61994 The Great Marquess, and shortly No.60009 Union of South Africa, are to become museum exhibits, no longer gracing the main lines and flying a flag for the LNER, which is sad, especially as the locomotives, of constituents of the LNER, are few in number when compared with the other members of the Big Four.

Not to end on sour note No.7812 Erlestoke Manor, pictured above approaching Bewdley tunnel with a Bridgnorth – Kidderminster service, is to have a fast track overhaul and is expected back by 2020. Good progress is being made with the new build No.82045, a project of which I’m a keen supporter. The 82xxxs were great fun to work on and the ideal engine for a heritage railway operation. I’m very much looking forward to seeing and photographing the finished item.

All of you, I’m sure, have your own highlights from 2017 and I could have added a few more of my own, seeing the Steam Elephant in operation at Beamish was a treat, as was having the Tanfield Railway just 15 minutes drive away, and I leave you with one of my favourite shots from Tanfield in 2017.

Keighley Gasworks No.2, with Bobgins cabin in the background, is heading for Andrews House with a train from East Tanfield.

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

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On another day

A little tank engine and a single coach, the epitome of a rural backwater, in some bygone era when summer skies were always sunny. The line was worked by the same little engine, the same crews,  and all housed in a handsome little two road engine shed, the entire operation the railway equivalent of being put out to grass. Truly the slow train of poetic fame and chocolate box lid.

The little slice of life that was the rural railway station, the parcels office and the goods agent, probably a coal merchant too. On the platform mail bags for the village post office, a few churns of milk, maybe a basket of hens / chickens. School kids, farmers wives on market days, the bread and butter of its passenger trade. It wasn’t just the steam that went, it was the entire way of life that went with it, literally.

The bucolic bliss of the rural branch line idyll is captured in 1000 piece puzzles – copies of paintings by Breckon, Hawkins, or Cuneo. In real life things are rarely like this, which is, I’m guessing, the reason for the popularity of such images.  In the real world, there are leaves on the line, late for the office, stuck at a signal, with a view of the gasometer railways. Gasometers, now there’s something you don’t see everyday, but would you want to.

The photos show No.5526 with the auto train in ‘pound field’ at the Llangollen Railway and SECR 0-6-0 No.178 at Andrews House station on the Tanfield Railway.

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

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Not a soul in sight

Those of us who worked the last main line steam turns are OAPs now. The youngest firemen in 68, were 16, that makes them circa 66, drivers will be at least 73, and most likely more than that. Some heritage crews have more years on the footplate than some of these men, me included. However, a heritage crew might do 80 to 100 turns a year, a regular footplateman would do 100 or more turns in 4 months. There are many other factors which make comparison difficult, if not impossible, speeds, loads, and distances travelled, hobby versus paid employment, even the condition of the locomotives themselves.

The rules and regulations for the safe operation of the railway are, if anything, more stringent and rigidly applied today than they were in the 60s. If we take just one aspect – tresspass, a way of life, almost, for many who later became the ‘preservationists’, bunking sheds and works, the luckier ones getting footplate trips. Today, increasingly, lineside access is via a permit, or, in some cases, prohibited altogether and as for ‘bunking’ the sheds – I don’t think so. The lineside permits are themselves being made more restrictive, by insisting that holders have undertaken a personal track safety course, at the line – PTS certificates at one line not being valid on another.

All of which begs the question, how did it get this way and why? One answer I’ve been given is insurance,  which, as one manager told me, was a major item in his railway’s budget, outweighing the cost of coal. Can this be the only reason, do some insurers demand that to have track access a PTS is essential and others don’t?  Maybe it’s simply that many people who now visit and enjoy the heritage railways don’t know how to conduct themseleves on or near the lines, thus creating a danger to themselves and others. I don’t know the answers but, I do believe that those whose hobby and enjoyment of the heritage railway is photography deserve something better than the current ad hoc, different system at almost every railway. Is there a case for something being organised through the HRA?

In the photograph, double-headed Manors No.7820 Dinmore Manor and No.7822 Foxcote Manor are hauling an ECS working through a deserted Berwyn Station on the Llangollen Railway.

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

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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:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Gricing-Real-story-Railway-Children/dp/1514885751

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Public School

The Schools did most of their work on the Eastern Section of the Southern Railway; and the head code being displayed by, No.926 Repton, could be for a train from London Victoria to Ramsgate. In reality she is hauling Friday’s 11:30 departure from Grosmont to Pickering, on the North Yorkshire Moors Railway.

Repton itself is far more than the School the engine was named after, it is also the burial place for several of the Kings of Mercia. Probably, the most famous of the Mercian Kings was Offa, who built the eponymous dyke, though Offa isn’t one of the Kings buried here. The Diocese of Mercia was founded in 656, with the first bishop, Diuma, based at Repton, and for the next decade, or so, Repton was the centre of Christainity in formerly pagan Mercia.

St Wystan’s in Repton has an 8th-century crypt beneath the church, which  is the burial place of Saint Wigstan, as well as his grandfather, King Wiglaf of Mercia.  King Æthelbald of Mercia, under whose reign the building was first constructed, is buried here and upon the burial of St Wigstan, the crypt became a shrine and place of pilgrimage. And speaking of pilgrimage, many a railway enthusiast made their own pilgimage to the shrines at Crewe, Eastleigh, Swindon and Doncaster, and, possibly, most famous of all the sites of pilgimage Dai Woodham’s yard at Barry, where the mortal remains of several other English Kings where entombed.

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

 

 

 

which bears his name, though he himself isn’t one of those buried here.

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Elegy

Ex-GWR 51xx Class 2-6-2T, No.5199, runs light engine through Berwyn Station, on the Llangollen Railway. Unusually, for a gala event, there isn’t a soul to be seen on the platform. In the 1960s the deserted platform was emblematic, in many ways, of steam’s last days. It wasn’t just the steam locomotives which were going, so too were large chunks of the railway itself. The trains no longer called at Little Sodbury-on-the-Marsh, the sidings at Grimeston were covered in weeds, Muckley engine shed burned down.

Back then, the word of the day was ‘axed’, locomotives were ‘gas axed’, the lines and services  were falling under ‘Beeching’s axe’. However, a more accurate description would have been ‘state sponsored, industrial scale, vandalism’. With the benefit of hindsight it is plain to see the folly in some of the closures, not to mention the costly replacements and re-opening of some of the routes which were closed. And it has long been admitted that the removal of steam was hasty and botched.

The locomotive building industry, the great workshops of Crewe, Doncaster,  Swindon, and Eastleigh are but shadows; the ‘trains’ we do make are built here by a Canadian Company, in the remains of the workshops at Derby. The demise of steam traction was inevitable but, I wonder, did the railway engineering business have to go too?

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

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Running backwards

I was, recently, in conversation with a driver who worked on the Appleby – Skipton ‘Plandampf’, with No.60163 Tornado, he reminded me just how cold it can be running mile after mile tender first – it’s marginally better when bunker first with a tank engine. This one is Ex-GWR 2-8-0 No.4270 and she is working the early morning goods from Bewdley to Bridgnorth, on the Severn Valley Railway, during their ‘Season Finale Gala’ in November, of 2016.

At my last shed, before being made redundant, Wakefield (Belle Vue), there was quite a lot of tender first work and almost all of it was done on WDs, to some of the most famous collieries in the Yorkshire coal fields.  Like the WDs the pits have all gone, Ackton Hall, Prince of Wales, Sharlston, and Grimethorpe, of brass band fame, and many, many, more – and not just in Yorkshire, you can repeat this for the whole of the coal mining industry.

The usual method of working on these colliery trip jobs was run out to Healy Mills engine first and then trundle off tender first with a string of empties to which ever pits were on your roster. On some turns you might do more than one trip. After returning to Healy Mills with the empties exchanged for loaded wagons you would pick up another train of empties and repeat the earlier run, though not necessarily to the same collieries. Needless to say that on these turns half of your shift was spent ‘running backwards’.

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

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“And now for ……..”

The last few postings have all been about my own footplate work during the last years of steam on BR but, what of heritage steam footplate work and serving staff working with heritage traction on the main line.  If the levels of wibble on social media is anything to go by the production of huge volumes of unburned gases, or ‘clag’, often raises temperatures, if not steam.

My own credentials are firing on more than 20 different classes of locomotives on every kind of duty except a troop train and a breakdown train, firing with soft coal, hard coal, and coal eggs: Oh! And I never worked a circus train,  funeral train,  pigeon special, or royal train but, I did work the Royal Wessex and the first East Devon Rail Tour, enthusiast special, to Exeter and back!

The important thing to remember, in all the debates, is that what really counts is, did the driver have the steam he needed to run the train to time, was coal and effort wasted through excessive blowing off and did you have a good day at the office.

All manner of things can and do affect the way an engine is fired and even engines of the same class  sometimes need to be fired in a different way to the majority of their class mates. And speaking of mates, what also makes a fireman is how well he works, not only with his own regular mate but, with other drivers and with the crew from other depots who he relieves or, is relieved by. The real test was not on those days when the road was clear, the needle on the red line, and you had a tender full of grade A steam coal – no the real test, was a poor steamer, shovelling dross from the back of the tender and working with the fire irons, just to keep the brakes off.  That was when you found out how good you were as a fireman, as part of a team, and how well your mate knew the road!

The black out of Goathland, on the North Yorkshire Moors Railway,  is being performed by GWR 2-8-0 No.2807.

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

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