Tag Archives: Tyneside

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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Merry Christmas relief

The Tanfield Railway, and Twizell No.3 ‘s exhaust catches the setting sun, as she crosses Causey Arch car park bridge, heading for Andrews House, with the last North Pole Express of the day. The festive season is upon us and once the Mince Pie specials have run their course many of our heritage lines take a winter break, though Tanfield isn’t one of them.

My own memories of working for BR, during the festive season, are somewhat less than festive, I don’t remember joyful passengers bringing us a plate of mince pies, or a slice of Christmas cake, the engines weren’t decked with tinsel and no one wore reindeer antlers. On Boxing day the railway provided a skeleton service and single blokes often dropped for a Boxing day shift. When I drew the short straw, my reward could have been a lot worse than the time and three quarters plus a day in lieu for a mundane day at the office on an ECS, station pilot, and train heating duties, turn.

From the day after Boxing day it was pretty much business as usual until New Year’s Eve. And I have a vague memory of working a boat train special, down to Ocean Liner terminal, during this time, in 1963, with driver Gordon Porter and No.35001 Channel Packet.  Gordon was a lovely bloke to work with and I was fortunate enough to have had a few runs with him during my time at Nine Elms; including a fine run with No.34006 Bude, one of the engines chosen for the 1948 Locomotive Exchange Trials, on the 22:35 Ex-Waterloo, where we reached 95mph on the run down to Winchester. RIP Gordon.

Well that’s the ‘relief’ – now where’s that plate of mince pies?

Merry Christmas to all who follow and enjoy Steam Age Daydreams.

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

Until New Year the eBook edition of Gricing is on offer at just £3:95, that’s a whole book for less than a monthly mag.

 

 

 

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The fireman

The ‘Singing Fireman’, Don Bilston, wrote, ‘ driver sits there like a god, not a bad mate just an idle sod, though I be shovelling on my knees, he just sits there at his ease …..’  This is the footplate of one of the first locomotives, ‘The Steam Elephant’, not much room for anyone to sit at ease there. I’m not certain but, I can’t imagine many small boys growing up wanting to be ‘firemen’, it was just something you had to go through to reach that coveted driver’s seat.

The fireman was a second class citizen, they even became, in the fullness of time, ‘second’ men; being a fireman was to be anonymous. In all the logs and tales of the footplate it’s driver, this, that, and somebody or other, with barely a nod to the long suffering stoker. Not a word about his struggle with fire iron and shovel to coax an exta 10lbs of pressure out of some steam shy old nag, with a clinkered fire and a tender full of dust.  Every dirty job, from trimming the coal to raking out the ashpans was on the fireman’s to do list – and all the time there was that carrot, that hand on the regulator, the driver’s seat.

And then you get out on the main line with 12 on and begin to realise that the fireman isn’t anonymous, for it is his skill, or lack of, which determines what kind of ‘performance’ can be delivered. One footplate wag, many years ago, commented, ‘when they built bigger engines they should’ve built bigger men to fire them’ and relatively few British locomotives had mechanical stokers.

Being the season of good will to all men, when you go out a wassailing don’t forget to raise a toast to the fireman, the man who makes the puff ‘n’ go.  To firemen, long may your needle hover on the red line and the white feather show. – None of your ‘half a glass’ now – up to the top nut!

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

Until New Year the eBook edition of Gricing is on offer at just £3:95, that’s a whole book for less than a monthly mag.

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A Winter’s tale

In a number of recent commentaries, several views have been aired about ‘professionalism’, the need to adhere to modern-day standards of maintenance and safety, customer services and information, and the operation of everything from main line charters to photo shoots. Thing is, did any of the preservationists ever imagine, when they began their efforts at the Talyllyn, Middleton, Bluebell, and Festiniog, that they were giving birth to a new ‘industry’.

This new ‘heritage railway’ industry might have a substantial volunteer input but, most of the large lines, both standard and narrow gauge, have paid staff, employ contractors in a variety of ways from catering and toilet hygiene to p-way work and locomotive repairs. They employ haulage contractors to move engines, or deliver water, engineering companies manufacturing parts and spares, specialist oil and coal suppliers and suppliers of gifts, souvenirs,  sandwiches, pies, printers, leaflet distributors and probably Uncle Tom Cobleigh too, all of them, and more, help to keep the show on the road.

The 1960s ‘Pie in the sky’ trainspotters, of which I was one, trying to raise money, selling cake, buns, and raffle tickets, to extricate a ‘rusting’ Barry hulk are today, the stuff of legend. The tales they tell are worthy of a pint down the local each time they are told, polished and retold with some new embellishment added.

And there’s the rub, heritage railways are businesses, with customers, complaints, insurance claims, rates, VAT, and a mountain of paperwork. None of which is the stuff that led a bunch of wildly optimistic kids, in the main, to undertake one of the most monumental feats of industrial archeology. However, for some, especially those who have been around for the odd decade or three,  the increased levels of commercialisation are seen as little more than a necessary evil – faces on the smokebox to pay the bills.

Starry eyed romantics have, in the past, achieved miracles, but today it’s hard-headed commercialism which keeps steam in the boiler and the pint in the refreshment room. There’s no shortage of truth in the old adage – ‘you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time’. And this can be applied in Spades to; loco liveries, Flying Scotsman, black smoke, cylinder drain cocks, paucity of info, and the rumour mill. I nearly called this piece ‘winter of discontent’  but then I thought maybe being discontent is what makes us try and improve things, so not all bad.

The photo shows Ex-Keighley Gas works 0-4-0ST No.2 at Bobgins 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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Land of the midnight sun

Like No. 3 Twizell, in this picture, the clocks have gone backwards, the trees have lost their leaves, and we’ve had gunpowder, treason, and plot, so it must be time for the North Pole Express. The curmdugeons will ‘bah humbug’, the volunteers will gird their loins, for one more ‘yo, ho, ho,’ as Santa and his Grotto come to a line near you.

Before the hurly-burly begins, this coming weekend, a shed load of gifts from Santa have all to be wrapped, the tickets have been sold, queries answered, Sherry bought, mince pies ordered, and all to keep the fires burning, wheels turning, great railway steam show, rolling for another generation to savour and enjoy. Every railway has its Fat Controller and its Santa Claus, often the same person,  and there are his little helpers, dressed as eleves, or wearing reindeer antlers. Well done to all of you, guys and gals.

How different this all is from my Christmas on the railway in 1964, when, on December the 22nd I was working the 17:30 departure from Waterloo to Bournemouth, as far as Southampton. The load was 12 for 435tons and the turn was usually booked a Merchant Navy. On the day were had No. 34097 Holsworthy and the run was marred by two severe signal checks, one between Surbiton and Hampton Court Jct. and one between Winchfield and Hook. However, the really remarkable bit of running was between Woking and Milepost 31.

After the stop for signals, and the distant for Hersham only coming off as we approched, speed was back up to 69mph when we went through Woking and only on the final stretch between Brookwood and MP31 did it fall below that, and the summit was reached at 66mph. A fair effort for a light-Pacific with 12 on. (My thanks to performance recorder, Terry Jackson, for the details)

No.3 Twizell is pictured in Causey woods, on the Tanfield Railway, with a North Pole Express working, trundling backwards down to 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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Let’s do the Locomotion

‘Ground control to Major Tom’ – please land your Rocket at Locomotion, Shildon, Co. Durham,  ‘roger, wilco, over and out’.  Not this Rocket and not Major Tom, but Major Tim Peake and his space capsule. This month, Locomotion will display the craft which returned our very own British ‘Rocket Man’ and space walker, Tim Peake, to Planet Earth, along with an exhibition of the very latest in Samsung, ‘space age’ VR techno.

Rocket’s crew might not have made it into orbit but, they were travelling at speeds previously unknown – when the railways really got going, engine drivers and firemen were the ‘fastest men on Earth’.  And, like space travel, it did give them a new view of the world, the one flashing by!  In 1957 the Russians launched Sputnik 1 and, in 1961, Russian cosmonaut, Yuri Gagarin, became the first man in orbit, seven years before steam locomotion finished as the driving force of British railways.

Strangely, the Russian connection to Shildon goes right back to the beginng of the railway age. Timothy Hackworth, who, as many of you will know, built the locomotive, Sans Pereil, which competed against Rocket at Rainhill; a replica of his Sans Pereil is housed at Locomotion. Born in Shildon, Hackworth had a locomotive building workshop there, where, in 1836, he built an engine for the Tsarskoye Selo Railway, in Russia. Hackworth’s son, John Wesley Hackworth, travelled to Russia to help assemble the locomotive and teach them how to operate it. According to legend, Hackworth junior taught the Tsar how to drive too!

However, the real speed is that it took human society millenia to reach the point, technologically, where we could travel faster than the speed of the horse, it then took a mere 132 years after the Rainhill trials to put a man in space – escape velocity is, crudely speaking,  25,000mph.

In the photograph, the Rocket replica is departing from Quorn & Woodhouse station on the GCR, which is not a million miles from the National Space Centre in Leicester – eeeH, it’s a small world!!

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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Straight bananas

Fifty five years ago I was at work, cleaning engines, at Farnley Jct., one of five sheds in the city. It wasn’t ‘Top shed’ but, that didn’t detract, one iota, from the quality of the enginemanship possesed by the crews who worked there. Some of the old hand drivers had been there since before the Grouping, and worked through the Great Depression and WWII, these men, and those who were their firemen, were the ones who taught me.

Men with a pride in their work, respect for their engines and decades of experience. They didn’t teach in classrooms or lecture theatres, they taught by example, on the footplate, in the mess room, and in, and by, the institutions they created, the MIC, the Enginemen’s Mutual Assurance Fund, and their Trade Unions.  They knew which rules must be obeyed and those which could be bent a little, in short they were ‘professional’.

Fifty four years ago I was sharing the footplate with a driver who had been a fireman in the 1948 Locomotive Exchange Trials and another who had been at the depot since WWI, and honing my own firing skills and railway knowledge, benefitting from their vast experience of working on one of the busiest parts of the railway network, out of Waterloo to Bournemouth and Salisbury, under every imaginable kind of difficulty, and weather condition.

Fifty two years ago, I had progressed to the point where my own skills as a fireman were being tested and records were being set on the runs on which I was working – records which still stand.

Twenty six years ago, after 3 years as a mature student, at the University of Leeds, I began four years of reseach, much of it in the reading room of the NRM, for my books on the Railway Races of 1895 and the changes in the lives of the footplatement between 1962 and 1996. Research which, eventually, ended up becoming a campaign to have Driver Duddington and Fireman Bray properly recognised, within the musem, and on the Locomotive, which they eventually were but, not before an article in a major national newspaper. You can read it for yourself by following this link: http://www.theguardian.com/society/2002/may/01/arts.artsnews

During this same period I persuaded the owner of 35005 Canadian Pacific, the Great Central Railway, and Steam Railway News, to hold a Red Nose event with 35005, on the GCR. The event took a whole train load of disabled children and their carers for a ride on the railway. Some of the more able bodied kids even ‘cabbed’ the engine. The railway featured on the telly, got some great publicity, the kids had a wonderful day out, and the Red Nose fund was Two-grand better off. Everyone was a winner.

No.35005 Canadian Pacific and some of the kids and their carers before setting off for their Red Nose Day train ride.  Picture Copyright John East.

Forty eight hours ago, for so much as daring to comment about the excessive use of cylinders cocks, I was, pretty much, branded a liar by one commentator and, in a stunning example debating eloquence,  a ‘Bell End’ by another, who, I might add, wasn’t even born when steam ran the national network.

Given the general levels of rudeness, ignorance, and abuse, so much in evidence, I rather think the term Unsocial media would be more appropriate way to describe Facebook, Twitter et.al.

PS ‘We have no straight bananas’ – and the box vans are being hauled past Kinchley Lane by Ivatt 2-6-0 No.46521.

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Much Steaming in the Dale

With sheep and cattle grazing the hill sides, and the first shades of autumn in the tree tops, Black5 No.45212, is pictured here, between Commondale and Kildale,  with a Whitby to Battersby Junction service, during the North Yorkshire Moors Autumn Gala. Following the closure of the coastal route, in the 1960s, this is now the only route to Whitby by rail, a journey which involves a reversal at Battersby Junction.

The line from Battersby to Northallerton closed, before the coast route, in the 1950s, and the branch to Rosedale Goods, which had been opened in 1861, closed in 1929. The Rosedale branch, which replaced an earlier narrow gauge line, was built to carry Ironstone for the Ingleby Ironstone & Freestone Co. and for the Rosedale Ironstone Co. At Battersby itself, the North Eastern Railway had a 3 road engine shed, with turntable, and built a number of houses which still stand today.

In Kildale, St. Cuthbert’s church, which is reached via a bridge over the line, has a stained glass window depicting a steam train passing through the Esk valley. And, despite the rural location, Commondale had, until 1947, a brick works, with it’s own sidings. In the abutments of the now disused bridge, carrying the line to the works, are all manner of ‘Masonic’ marks, left by the stonemasons who built it.

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 railway landscape pt.II

In my previous post I wrote about the changes in the railway landscape when steam haulage finished on British Railways; at Tanfield they have kept alive another piece of the railway landscape – a Victorian engine shed on a colliery railway. Like the railways, the mining industry was Nationalised, and the colliery railways, which had been in private hands, became part of the National Coal Board. Modernising the pit railways was a much slower process than that of BR and steam hung on into the 1970s – a little more than a decade later and the pits themselves were disappearing.

In the 1855 built Marley Hill shed, the roads have pits to allow access under the engines, at the back of the shed, on the left of this photo, is a fully functioning forge, at the other side of the wall,  where No.20 is standing, is a working belt driven workshop with lathes, drilling machines, etc.  Marley Hill shed had pretty much everything that was required to enable the fitters to carry out most forms of practical day to day repair work on the industrial locomotives housed there – and they still do. They wouldn’t have had ‘electric’ inspection lamps though!

There are so many little details, the oil bottles, tool lockers, the everyday grime and detritus, is an atmosphere only time creates, even the overalled figure working in the smokebox could be from another age. You might have noticed that No.3 Twizell has had her dome cover removed – she’d been having work done on the regulator valve – all in a days work at Marley hill.

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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Collieries

This is Beamish Pit, now a feature in Beamish ‘open air’ Museum; the colliery as a tourist attraction. The last thing you would have described the collieries that I worked in and out of, during my firing days at Wakefield (Belle Vue), was a ‘tourist attraction’. Many of the buildings with broken windows,  rusting metalwork, a thick coating of coal dust everywhere you looked, and the grey / black mountains of slag, neither picturesque, romantic, or noble, just plain old fashioned industrial eyesores. Not so much ‘God’s green acres’  as ‘muck ‘n’ brass’.

I shovelled and burned many a ton of the coal the miners dug but, I didn’t envy them their job, digging at the bowels of the Earth. Footplate work could be hard graft but, at least you weren’t a mile underground, striped to the waist, and laying on your side with a pick in your hand, hacking at the coal seam. Seeing exhibits like Beamish Pit, on a nice sunny afternoon, it is difficult to imagine what life was like when it was in full production. The lack of safety, no National Health Service to treat you if you were sick or injured, as many were each year, quack remedies if you couldn’t afford to pay for a doctor, no sick pay either. Oh! Yes the good old days were well less than good for the vast majority.

No.18  was built, in 1877, by  Lewin & Co. and worked at Seaham Harbour until withdrawn in 1969. Stored at the harbour for 6 years No.18 then went to Beamish for restoration, she’s still there and still active, aged 140.

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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