This will be the last post for a while at least in my blog of memoires and musings of all things with yellow ends and blue body sides. Both requiem and ulogy.
I first started doing haulage as we called it, behind class 37s as a hobby in 1980, having had a short period as a spotter. Gone immediately was my ambition to clear-everything, that is to strike off all locos in the listings book as being spotted. Instead in was the great game which I fell upon like going through the wardrobe into Narnia or finding a secular meeting going on in the snug of the pub to which you were ushered in, and welcomed as a new believer.
That was it in a nutshell, we were all 'believers' and more over of course 'followers' usually of one faith over the other. By in large that had meant following one of the big five locomotives in the 1970s but by 1981 the smart money had moved onto the swansong of only one of those , the class 40, and over to the class 37 as it entered a new unexpected era of widespread passenger workings. There were also of course the MacRat crowd, lamenting the spluttering epitaph of the dieing class 27 in particular, which met a more ignomonious end of life scurrying around on the fife circuit and Dumfries route and being subject to frequent failures. One thing most of us could agree on and that was we hated duffs and duff bashers!
Back then on my first visit to a works, St Rollox, there was an immediate feeling of nostalgia, of the railway and rolling stock belonging to an era which was old fashioned yet vibrant. A testimony to british engineering that 1950s technology was reliable and economic 30 years later. Having said that in 1980 the youngest duffs were less than 7 years old, while the syphons over D6950 were still fledgling teenagers. Rolling stock off the main ECML&WCML\&GWML was mostly still mark I steam vacs.
Of course back then there was actually the start of a completely opposite situation of what is now DMU/EMU domination. First generation DMUs were so knackered that something had to be done, and this affected all regiosn where in particular locos like the 30 something classes found new use hauling semi fast and stopping passenger services. The locos were freed up from the decline in light and mixed shunted freight, the coaches were cascaded down from ECML/WCML where air cons and HST sets ruled the roost even by the mid to late 1970s. So then the scene was set for possibly the most riotous fun a haulage fan could have in the years forward to the eventual withdrawal of class 40 in 85.
It was a great game. New loco hauled diagrams. Alterred availability of locomotives. The unreliability of the sulzer LDA engines. Not only on the standard diagrams which were loco hauled or became such in this great era of yellow-blue bashing. The public en masse still took the traditional working class holidays to Blackpool, Scarborough Yarmouth, Newquay and Skegness. This meant addex trains from July to the Aiugust Bank Holiday weekend with whatever old stock they had, and no need for a loco with ETS. Also sets were freed up as replacement rakes in case of failures on DMU and Class 45 /47 routes. By the summer of 1983 the 47/7 fleet and 27 fleet were so unreliable that your were almost certain to get a few 'big' NBs working those routes if you spent a week bashing. Each new timetable threw up a multitude of tantalising 'bails' which involved running over foot bridges or galloping down underpasses when there was no crew change, just a chance crossing or a pause due to single line operation.
On top of basing yourself with a local transport area day pass from one metropolitan area, there was of course the main event for most back then, and that was going on an 'all line' fortnight for the serious bashers, or a regional rover for a week for us 'neds'. For me that meant one thing and that was the Freedom of Scotland. The aim of either end of the spectrum of expense, was to do routes by loco hauled trains and cover them with a rare loco if possible, while also mooching about the city terminals waiting for 'gen' or 'viewing' particular trains, in our case most often the carstairs portions, the 0715 Ayr/Glasgow and the 1715 Glasgow-Edin. Many big loco bashers slummed it in terms of loco haul and went for the scenic extremities of the network. Penzance with a 37 or rat. The far north with hopefully a pair of 26s. The infamous 1S81 and its forwarding overrnight to Elgin with a type 2 or boilered 37.
For me the highlights of my short five year career as a syphon basher were mostly on freedoms or on excursions to the west country and midlands. The best day ever was probably doing the overnight to Inverness, followed by the wick service with a pair of 26s to Dingwall, followed by a 26 to Kyle, then the ferry over to Skye, the bus over said island and then a good thrash down from mallaig again to complete the Scottish grand tour. Then you could say the craziest day was the first day of syphons on the Cambrians, pairs and single big NBs and as many bashers if not more than Ada's and Berts ! Hundreds. They drank the pub at Caersws dry on the fester for the purposefully impossible bail at Mach'. I include a little appendix below which I will maybe update for the sake of accuracy, just being a bit of a disjointed list of best thrashes.
The Skye route was a must do for myself. An itinerant 14 year old lieing to my mum about it being with a gang of pals, I set out to do it alone really after I stepped onto the platform at Dingwall, solo. Other Must-Dos of the time were the riotous 1S81, all the way from Carlisle if you were a 'top man' for the day with most often a roarer on the top. The bail at Blair Atholl, blair aweful to make for a piss poor doss as an overnight, which often ended up being Pitlochry . Down again to cover the 0650 Ft Bill bedz and if that was rancid out towards Ayr for the 0715.
If you took the 0650 Ft Bill then the de rigeurr foot move was from Tyndrum Upper over the Glen to the halt at Tyndrum lower. The cobbled road out the upper station which was original to the 1880s and the walk through the mist drenched glen before most of the country had got to worrk was the sign of a devoted syphon basher.
Other must dos by 1984 were to get 40s on some of their traditional routes on service trains, this meant Settle-Carlisle, Dundee, Blackpool and so on. We managed to do 40 118 over Settle , steaming on 5th of january. Booked a dual heat duff we went anyway and it was on. There were a lot of people who would become prominent in the CFPS on that train or its return that day. 40047 on the other hand boasted only me and a man who would go on to be the director of Virgin rail, then a 40, western and v220 nut.
In 1985 various things happend, 40s came to an end and not nearly enough of them have been preserved unfortunetly. Locos like 40155, 170 and so on were in very good nick and it was criminal to cut them up. Also boilered stock took a bow from time tabled diagrams with the advent of the 'combine harversters' aka 37/4s and the cascading of other ETH class types into secondary duties. Sprinters were establishing themselves too and the end was nigh on invisible plakats we hung round our own necks.
I got older, into outdoor sports more, more sheepishly interested in girls, and lost interest in continuing with ETH stock and no 40s to add variety to endless v12 miles of growling EE type 3s. I lost a whole gang of freinds and all those weird adult aquaintances who on reflection now were at best eccentric and a little school boyish while at worst just a bit sad.
Regrets? No, not one minute would I miss and not one minute more would I spend. I would be very happy if there was a heritage train on the WHL and far north with type 2 and 3 haulage, and a 40 running in Scotland somewhere, but for me there is no going back and it was a more of less clean break in autumn 1985. It seems like then it was more a nostalgia trip than now when I look at youtube where every so often someome has digitised their 8mm or VHS footage of all things blue and yellow at the ends.
Today I took time to look at some footage from MC Metals, Crewe and Donnie works from the time when the second generation locos were being decimated and the peaks and forties were decaying hulks. Also a look at 37s having their open heart surgery to become the new HGRed sub classes. It was kind of like looking at videos of your grandparents being in hospital and it felt like you were seeing a funeral you couldnt face to go to. It was kind of a catarthis today looking at lumps of blue and yellow steel , just disected boxes now with their lungs, muscles, nerves and hearts strewn around in piles like offal at an abetoir. It kind of gave me some closure in a way. Now 37s will of course continue to rumble over UK metals a while longer, and for the rest of my life at least on preserved routes. However it is more that the era we lived through often felt stolen from us I think. We lived five years of withdrawals of locos we loved. The deltics, the forties, the boilered diagrams.
Like much in life, good eras and good times are fleeting. We think they are constant, they will go on, we can keep on reliving them. In fact they always fade away or die abruplty. Change is the only cliche in life..Our interests change or become impractical to follow. Boats, planes and trains get cut up en masse and a couple go into an endless retirement from their former glory. Freinds move on, lovers come and go. Children consume our middle lives ..the only constants are that there will be decline, decay, death and then renewal, novelty and enterprise again.
So if that was the era for you or an era before, and you like me now find the internet rekindles interest, then just look back and let a tear come to your eye. Maybe take a wander down to East Lancs or NYMR or Boness with the kids and have a wry smile at the enthusiasts and the 25mph workings but dont start ranting on about where and when and all. Those days are passed now, and in the past they must remain.
Memorabilia. The trips and the trashes which stood out in my mind
Class 27 of all things to Oban, with John E Auguston, drain pipes, white socks and massive pentax wide format an' all. Gave me a taste for trundelling along in mark I steam vacs. Later preferred their more reliable cousins, the 26s.
Bailing at Helensburgh upper off a 37 at night, the thrash a foot away from the walkway through the iron lattice work. The thrash was deafening. I was hooked.
Seeing a pair of 37/0s haul the big aluminium ingot train up Arrochar bank while over the other side in the Argyll wilderness with a scout leader 'cheify' on a nature watch pack tour.
Kind of lowlights in a way> turning down 40047 on the ft bill euston bedz from of all places DUMBARTON, it was a dodgey move home for a nipper. Also turning down 40165 i think, or one of the last boilered centre coded 40s on the 22>40 glas -edin mail. on a freedom at the time i think too, much embarressed now. Not taking 40150 further than cumbernauld from mossend. "what a bunch of neds, bailing here, bashing 40s on a transcard" . while on 40s, 40155 replacing a failed peak at chester, we did it to warrington, great forty thrash with a late train and a stick weilding expert up front. 40188 of course, 1040 carlisle leeds 5th january 1985. riot, with a better thrash in the dark on the way home unfortunetly, would have been nice if the driver on the up service had thrashed her as much. Of course 40170 too dropping on the Inverness Bedz as far as perth, and working the return NB. It actually had a bricked second mans window, so allegations that the 40 bashers including the 'bradford bender' had smashed the windscreen on the duff which was booked and on pole position at eastfield are unfounded. They managed to brick the forty's side window, suggesting they were kids not able to chuck track ballast any higher!!! 40047 with a well known railway director, edin/dundee/edin the fife circuit in 1985. Not a great thrash, but I think it was the last steam heat 40 run I ever had if it was after 40118.
37014 made a good few monster runs on the whl and other places. One with load eight on the 1650 ft bill on a hot august evening, the loco was absolutely singing up the crianlarich banks. Also it ran like the wind with the infamous peter walker at the helm, with an hour late ex ft bill eth bedz, ethel in tow, which said PW made up entirely between crianlarich and dumbarton. He knew the route intimately and with this being the only airbraked rake on the WHL, he could really put the anchors on after getting max speed. I have never been so fast on the whl, and it felt like he was doing over 90 through cardross.
37028 on a self imposed eva and brother's 'baglet' tour. voh it was. Quite big, we expected it to be dualled or there were already rumours then in 82/83 about what became sprinters, and locos being mothballed. did it all the way to fort bill, then i think a rancidish 025 or the like mallaig return, and then all the way back.
37188 qrrived as a gleaming blue steed to eastfield in stark contrast to the wrecks which had come to ED from stratford depot, who seemed keen to get rid of dross first, 014 being an exception. I only remember one run on 188 actually out of many dozen runs behind her, with fred the skin head. it was a very clean running and powerful loco compared to the likes of 025, 027 and the long standing wreck 108.
37264 ex works. This was many a syphon bashers beast, having been one of the only high number 37s to be stratford based with a boiler. It was a good runner at IS and later ED, but the latter gave it the full treatment , ground in all the valves and probably put a new timing chain on her, and she ran like hell fire but with hardly any dark exhaust. Clag was bad then, a sure sign of a loco needing a trip for a D exam.
On clag, 37175 was the worst offender at ED for many years: smoke, flames, and a tendency to over rev. It allegedly hit the 1000 rpm rev limiter and shut down up queen street tunnel one day. It also had messed up field diversion system, and would cut out at full power and try to divert. Had 175 omnce with the returning fake boilered class 20 , a syphon oddity if ever there was one. It was put on on mindays on the ft bill bedz because the line was always slippy due to there not being any sunday services. It allegedly alleviated wheelslip and prevented the train from coming to a hault, but the odd monday I had it on the up service, up being the bigger smoke, not the wee Ft Bill, it was just a nice noise behind a thrashing syphon , kind of a little sister saying " I can run and play with you too, me too !! "
One loco which did get better for a while was 025. I think I had her on the rather slack dumfried route to get the line for a syphon. When it came to the WCML after Annan., the driver went ballistic and the thing thrashed through second and into third field and just pumped away until eithe he got a yellow signal or he reckoned it might be a bit uncool to over run the platform at carlisle. Also had heating the infamous 1s81, just to have a syphon on it, and it thrashed like hell through stirlingshire. hell fire for a loco which was before and after 1984 a bit of a heap, but was preserved with a functioning boiler at least then.
Also on dumfries , we had 37119, D6700 for posterity all the way to carlisle on a rupert special family rail card extra run having been to bristol to bash what ever was there.
37 296. Little did we know it would become a humdrum ED class 37/4, it just appeared on Scr during the miners strike and dropped on the infamous 1715 glas edin. excess ticket ensued. great thrash. all the macrat 27 neds including the worst, sellers and blakey, were on it to get a line in the book. Perth man said they had to jack the tunnel up / it was so big you see. it struggled to get over 75mph or maybe the driver didnt botherr too much.
I did also a 37 12x to stranraer for the route. nothing of note on the way down, but after telling the driver it was a good loco, he decided to give it welly up the galloway banks and it was a thrash to remember from the itinerant big nb. Also not much to write home about as the power unit was sick, we did 37292 at 2000bhp on a euston-stranraer, getting the maybole /kilmarnock route for syphon at the same time. In that guise it worked only a handful of passenger trains during the miners strike of 84.
I think also my first run to Brora or Helmsdale with 37262 and another on return must be up there, because thundering through the night up there in december with sleet and rain was cool. also that month in 1983 decmeber i took 37183 with the empty flat bed wich had a through steam pipe for the stock, on the only mixed goods passenger train then running in the UK. have photo to prove it.
Riots then, well doing the far north bashes and when 37s as above, dropped onto the stranraers, the dumfries route, the carstairs portions and the odd glas edin service, plus them doing the skegnesses and scarbororuhghs from either newcaslte or edinburgh on return to glasgow. 37174 showed the fife tip top a clean pair of heals out of haymarket with load 9 vs load 4 pah, 27 junk.
we had hoped Ethel would mean that any old ed or ML syphon could drop on the sleeper, but alas the loco was booked onto the mrk 1 steam vacs still used to mallaig at the time. The only riot was when 133 was sent up in a dual header on the 1650 or the 1820 oban in the winter to releive a failed loco, probably 025! Unfortunetly the drivers took the pair up easy, but at least they bothered to connect the blue start up.
The biggest ever riot was of course the completely barmy first day of syphons on the cambrians. there were undoubtedl more bashers than punters. riot. total utter riot. we drank the pub dry at caersws.
other things of note, first family rail card run to bristol with rupert. 50008 , the shreddies and that mad 4511x on the glasgow bedzx to brum. up[ lickey like it wasnt there. much better than a duff . I thhink we went just out of NB season and there were no 37s to be had, with only one or two dual heat workings possible out of cardiff then. We also saw part of a very eventful or rather fateful test train for british locomotive production: we saw a stone train being hauled under test by a pair of 56s and it was those tests which lead to the class 59 being considered a better loco, whcih they are, and then the yingy shed 66s being ordered with public money.
My first ever shreddie was part of another type of tour , a mystex, which was going to chester or shrewsbury from glasgow. We kidded ourselves on we didnt know where the mystex was going. we bailed at crewe to take a shreddie down and very impressed were we too. lovely movers, so much betterr than their vermin relatives.
I'll finish where I started now that I have mentioned vermin type 2s. Syphon bashers had a soft spot for 26s partly because if one turned up on the far north route, you were as well to take it, but more over that it annoyed 25 and 27 bashers, because the crompton equipped machines with their early 6LDAs were better made and more reliable than their after comers from BRCW. I had a rare run on a pair of them on the first wick & thurso one cold october morning frrom snechie, and in a pair they could inflict dammage on that route as far as tain at least. But back on the WHL, and one wet but icey cold satruday we all turned out as usual to put more mileage on the usual ED suspects, especially 188 my beast, when lo and behold the whole line had gone back ten years and it was teacuppping heaven for macrat fans. Only the sleeper and one other service got a 37 that day, there was some blah blah gen about the boilers all needing inspected after a failure of one. It almost doesnt need to be said, but every train that day ran bloody late and the whole affaire was pedestrian until finally we piled on the 1650 Ft Bill which had a decent bit of v12 kit on the front. Vindicated. Sypohon Bashing, I LOVED YOU