Spotting in those Early Years

the green mile
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Joined: Tue Sep 24, 2019 10:00 am

Spotting in those Early Years

Post by the green mile » Sun Nov 01, 2020 2:13 pm

During lockdown, I have had many conversations on-line with a group of predominantly model railway buffs in the Bristol area as well as contributing to various newsletters. The following is something I put together quite early on covering many aspects of railways in the Bristol area. A few have said it deserves a wider audience so hopefully something to while away half an hour while we are curtailed from enjoying other activities. If anyone thinks it's rubbish, I won't be offended.

My Abc of Trains – The Ramblings of a Former Loco Spotter

Having moved on from my O gauge tinplate train set and my Hornby Dublo 3-rail ‘Bristolian’ set in my early years, thoughts turned to full sized trains resulting in my introduction to trainspotting. The stimulus was having been presented with Ian Allan’s Trains Annual and Loco Spotters Annual for Christmas, plus avidly watching the popular TV series Railway Roundabout.

At the age of 9, we ended up in a house with the four track Bristol to South Wales main line at the bottom of the garden. Whilst out doing the weekly family shop on the first Saturday, I picked up a copy of the same publisher’s Abc of British Railway Locomotives. It came from a local shop, probably the newsagents, which only goes to show how popular the hobby was back then. Instinct told me I needed the Western Region edition which also included the Southern Region. It cost 2s/6d. Had we bought a house a mile to the east I would have needed the Midland Region version as we would have been closer to Fishponds Bank on the Bristol to Birmingham route.

The following morning was fine and sunny so I perched myself at the bottom of the garden studying my new booklet, waiting for any sign of movement on the tracks. It was Sunday and it seemed like ages before I heard an approaching train. It was a Castle class 4-6-0 running north light engine on the Up Relief line closest to the garden fence. The smokebox number plate was easily identified as 5050. The nameplate on the splasher was a long one and very difficult to read as it flashed by. Referring to my new Abc confirmed it to be named Earl of St Germans, a sister loco to Bristol Castle, which was the Hornby Dublo model I had with my train set, not yet unpacked following the house move. My difficulty in reading number and nameplates was instrumental in discovering that I had eyesight issues. This led to me wearing glasses constantly from the age of 11.
So, having copped my first loco I encountered my first trainspotting conundrum as in how to record the fact. I worked out that the done thing was to underline it in my Abc. But how to actually do this? Pen or pencil? Ruler? Underline the name as well as the number? I think I worked it out eventually.

And then another conundrum landed in my lap. A slow freight train growled past with one of those new diesel locos at the head. The number had a ‘D’ in front of it and I could not find it in my Abc. Somehow these numbers had to be recorded separately until such time that I discovered there was an edition dedicated to diesel and electric traction and, very importantly, there was enough pocket money available to buy a copy. Further problems arose when I started to see locos with 5-digit numbers starting with a 4. More pocket money needed to buy the previously mentioned Midland Region version.

On the Monday following the house move dad took me along to enrol at the local Bannerman Road junior school. I was put into a classroom which was in earshot of the main line about half a mile north of home and quite close to Stapleton Road station. I soon learnt that the routine when a train approached was for a group of lads to stand on their chairs with precision timing to look out of the high windows. This was a signal for the girls to go into little groups chattering away with each other. The poor old teacher Mr Lansdowne did his best to restore order but it was frequently a futile effort for a minute or two. Then it would happen all over again with monotonous regularity to the frustration of any kid who was actually interested in what was being taught. I’m sure our teacher had more than a passing interest in railways as on many occasions I spotted him glancing across in the direction of the railway with eyebrow raised, especially if it was a special loco like the white Sulzer powered Lion. He was quite tall so didn’t need to stand on a chair to see over the window sills.

It wasn’t long before I was befriended by a group of lads who were avid spotters. Once they learnt that our house backed onto the line, our garden was never short of visitors in the evenings. The one important thing I learnt from them was not to faff around with all these little booklets but to invest in the hardback Abc Combined Volume of Locomotives covering all regions and types. It just meant I had to save up the princely sum of 12s/6d, and also invest in a copy of the Locoshed book listing the shed allocations of all locos, which was a useful if not essential source of information.

In March 1963, when I was still aged 9, a gang of us from school ventured by train from Stapleton Road to Temple Meads to see our first Eastern Region loco. It was none other than the famous Gresley A4 pacific no. 60022 Mallard on a special working. It was a memorable day out getting soaked in the rain, having an internal sliding door on a dmu slammed on my thumb, struggling to work out how to get back home as we didn’t understand railway timetables and then finding myself stood near the front of the loco in a photo on the front page of the Bristol Evening Post. Luckily, I had been up front with my parents as to where I was going that day, otherwise I might have had to protest that I had a double out there somewhere.

Trips to Temple Meads became very regular on Saturdays and I started to learn a lot about railway locos and operations. Our regular little gang were frequently seen congregating with many others at the west end of platform 4 which afforded panoramic views of Bath Road diesel depot. A large notice mounted on a post there dictated that ‘Locospotters and members of the public must not pass this point’. There was always the temptation to go beyond and nip down the ramp onto the end of the barrow crossing just to get a better view of a loco which was stabled at too acute an angle to read the number. A few brave souls would chance their arm and see how far they could get into the yard before being shouted at. Little could I have known at that time that within around five years I would be an apprentice there and allowed to walk down the ramp, across the crossing and into the depot with impunity. Something I learnt from my peers was the art of ‘cabbing’. As soon as a train came to rest, a small group would congregate around the cab asking the crew if they could step on board. If the outcome was successful you were allowed to put a ‘c’ against the number in your Abc. The first time I was successful happened in the old Brunel train shed. Two of us watched a Midland 4F 0-6-0 draw a rake of empty stock into the platform. While waiting for the train engine to back on and take the service forward towards the Midlands, the crew of the 4F, which had just been uncoupled pending running light engine back to shed, actually invited us to climb onto the footplate. They spent quite a time chatting to us while we roasted in front of the open firebox door. I suspect they had a laugh at our expense as we must have had very red faces when we eventually climbed back down onto the platform. With rows of withdrawn locos languishing on our local sheds, cabbing became quite easy. In later years and with the number of actual locos severely reduced, I understand that the next challenge was to record ‘mileage’ travelling behind each loco although I don’t think it was a general objective in my day.

During light summer evenings trips to Bristol’s Midland shed Barrow Road were commonplace. We used to mess about on the swings and roundabout in what became known to us as Atchley Park. It was directly in front of the concrete coaling stage and we could watch numerous locos coming on shed to be serviced and stabled for the night. We would also attempt to bunk the shed itself by descending the stairs leading down into the yard from the long viaduct over the complex. It was usually successful but on the odd occasions that we were slung out there was the option of climbing over the parapet of the bridge round the back in Days Road. That way in was infamous for the brown sticky goo which stained your hands and clothes as you climbed over the wall. It took some creative explaining to your mum when you got home. To this day I don’t know if it was a fallout of residue from the gas works next door or did the shedmen put it there as a deterrent? Around this time, the Western Region shed at St Philips Marsh closed and its remaining steam locos transferred to Barrow Road. Panniers, Prairies Halls and Granges became stable mates with the remaining London Midland Region 4F’s, 8F’s, Black 5’s, Jubilees and BR Standards. In addition, the old carriage sidings alongside the roundhouse were frequently filled up with withdrawn Southern Region locos stabled there while en-route to await the cutter’s torch in the South Wales scrapyards. In the final year before closure I lived with my grandparents a few doors away from the shed while mother spent a long spell in hospital. Every cloud has a silver lining!

With such a variety of traction in the Bristol area during the 1960’s, having the Abc Combined Volume was an absolute must to record your sightings. Steam was rapidly being replaced by the new generations of diesel traction, so the new annually published updated version was equally important. Otherwise the inside back cover became inundated with jottings of new locos which were not yet listed. Most of our travels would take us past Max William’s model shop, a very short stone’s throw from Lawrence Hill station. Max would always display the new edition in the shop window as soon as he received it from the distributors. That was a signal for us to pop in and ask if we could browse a copy. We would stand there aghast at how many classes of steam loco had been decimated or disappeared altogether since the previous edition, also checking on the lists of planned new locos which had yet to enter service. The new book always had a rather pleasant distinctive smell straight from the printers. Of course, the shrewd amongst us would have put aside the 12s/6d pocket money to invest in a copy straight away. As the years progressed it could take up to a week to transfer all of your cops across from the old book, carefully noting those which were no longer listed. Realising that this would be a recurring problem I came up with the idea of a separate master book listing all locos I had seen in as far as possible numerical order. A computer would have been very useful back then.

To try and keep up with all the alterations it was necessary to buy one of the monthly railway magazines which listed withdrawals, new locos and reallocations. I didn’t consider it necessary to continually update my Combined Volume with all the alterations especially as my neatness with the pen left a bit to be desired. The pages would have started to look a bit like a spider had walked all over them had I done that. My chosen method of recording cops was a line drawn with the aid of a ruler straight across under number and name. One of my mates who was very neat used to underline the numbers and each word of the name separately and it looked really tidy. With the glossy paper used in my later editions you also had to be careful to avoid smudging the ink which looked very untidy.

Loco spotting in my case lasted for a little over a decade. During that time main line steam disappeared altogether, firstly on the Western Region and later on the Southern and Midland Regions. I never once made it as far as the Eastern or Scottish Regions during the steam era. There were numerous trips to South Wales chasing the last remnants of steam as well as the impressive sounding new English Electric type 3 diesels which rarely ventured through the Severn Tunnel in their early years. Severn Tunnel Junction, Newport and Cardiff were visited by train on numerous occasions, as often as pocket money allowed.

At my grammar school there was a railway society. As well as monthly after school talks by masters and senior boys, a day out was organised each term with permits to visit loco sheds and main works. We went to locations which not only had I not heard of but would have had no way of reaching on a day out travelling under my own steam. We had a trip along the Somerset and Dorset from Highbridge to Templecombe behind an Ivatt 2-6-2 tank, then on to Bournemouth including a shed bash there behind a Standard class 5. A repeat visit was made to Bournemouth and included Weymouth , having travelled up to Paddington and across to Vauxhall to pick up the former London and South Western main line. I remember a very slow journey to Paddington during heavy snow, crawling into London one signal at a time while the up Bristol Pullman was allowed to overtake us. That was a trip to Finsbury Park diesel depot, home to many Deltics and Brush type 2’s. As steam came close to the end we concentrated on the Midlands and North West, taking in depots such as Saltley, Tyseley, Crewe, Stoke, Buxton, Westhouses, Stockport and Patricroft over several trips. We would often arrive at some of the smaller depots to find just one or two locos still on site. I remember Stoke shed being such a dirty place that I joked about it not mattering if you took your photos in colour or monochrome, the result would look the same.

With steam gone from the main line the D prefix on diesel locos became redundant so it gradually disappeared, leaving just the number of up to four digits. Presumably it was a policy decision by the BR Board. With less and less locos overall, as you held the latest copy of the Combined Volume in your hand it always seemed to be thinner than the preceding one. As Dr Beeching carried out the remit he had been given by the government of the day, railways were in serious decline and locospotting became a bit less interesting as a result.

Mr railway apprenticeship started a year after main line steam ended. My home depot was Bristol Bath Road but a few years in I was sent north to far flung places like Derby, Doncaster and York. Although basic engineering training was carried out at the once great Swindon Works, it became marginalised as far as actual main works experience for trainees on loco overhaul was concerned. The Western Region non-standard classes of diesel hydraulic locos were being downgraded to secondary duties before being phased out altogether. It made sense for training to concentrate on the diesel electric fleets which would be the mainstay of traction on non-electrified routes for many years into the future. My time at Doncaster was supposed to give me a grounding in the English Electric type 3’s and Brush type 2’s. But given the opportunity, who wouldn’t have taken the chance to play around with the mighty Deltics including witnessing one being taken up to full chat in the test house? I continued loco spotting during this period as, being so far away from my home turf, there were lots of new cops to be logged. It was extremely rare for the English Electric type 1’s and type 4’s and the Sulzer type 2’s to venture south of Gloucester but they were plentiful up in Derbyshire and Yorkshire, as well as during my occasional foray over to Lancashire at weekends.

On a train journey home to Bristol one weekend I spotted a very strange sight. It was commonplace on passing through Birmingham New Street to see a few of the light blue overhead electric locos numbered in the E3xxx range hauling services between Euston and the North West. But on this occasion, if my eyes hadn’t deceived me, there was one with a five-digit number and no E prefix. I made a note of it and parked it to one side for the time being, but over the following weeks I noticed several others in this format. It turned out to be a wholesale reclassification of BR’s loco fleet with renumbering as a means of introducing the TOPS (Total Operations Processing System) computer package. It was a system which allowed the location and status of each loco to be accessed from a mainframe computer. It became an essential tool for traction controllers. Renumbering of some classes of loco was fairly straightforward. For example, the Deltics became class 55 with D9001 becoming 55001. In the case of the Brush type 4 fleet which was made up of several sub types it was a lot more complicated. The basic model became the 47/0 whereas the electric train heating fitted version was the 47/4. Later modifications resulted in the 47/7 (Scottish Region push-pull) and 47/8 (Inter City long range fuel tanks) to name but a few. It was probably the most intensive renumbering exercise since the Grouping of railway companies in 1922. Even the renumbering at nationalisation in 1948 was fairly straightforward by comparison, with the Western Region not being affected at all so as not to necessitate removal of the brass cabside number plates. Not all locos survived long enough to receive their new numbers. The Western Region Western class diesel hydraulics became class 52 and while they were briefly referred to as such in official records, they retained their cast D10xx number plates until withdrawal. Similarly, the Hymek diesel hydraulics became class 35 but none were physically renumbered.

I don’t remember ever attempting to transfer all of my old records into the new format. It was probably around this time that I ceased going out of my way to record loco numbers. With my daily ‘fix’ of working in the railway industry I suppose there wasn’t much point. There were no prizes for being first past the post in underlining every loco in your Abc, even if you were able to verify the accuracy of your records. One of the older lads we used to hang around with claimed to have seen every steam loco bar one in the then current edition of the Abc. He drove all the way up to Scotland to try and locate his final J37 0-6-0. Taking things to extremes surely!

I once found out that if you were a bit over zealous in insisting that you had seen a particularly rare loco in your part of the world with nobody else able to confirm it, you could become the subject of much derision. It happened one summer evening when I had just returned home from a spotting trip with my mates. As I walked indoors, I heard an unusual steam whistle in the distance and dashed down to the bottom of the garden. I was treated to the sight of a rare Britannia Pacific no. 70054 Dornoch Firth heading north at the head of the City of Birmingham Holiday Express. Proudly announcing this at school the next day, nobody believed me despite my fervent protestations. It probably wasn’t worth falling out over but recently, by pure accident, I actually found a written record confirming what I had seen. The following week I saw the same train with an English Electric type 4 no. D320 whistling away as she accelerated to dig in for the long climb up Filton Bank. A very unusual cop indeed for the Bristol area at that time. There was also a rare visit to Bristol of an ER K1 mogul which drifted down Filton Bank one evening on a mixed freight. At the end of the day, your records were personal to you. You might occasionally compare notes with you mates but apart from the abiding memories of a bygone era, they had no material value. Over the course of time involving a number of house moves, the Abc’s appear to have been disposed of. The important cops, like the ones just mentioned are fixed in the memory hopefully never to be forgotten. It isn’t necessary for those to be written down. Luckily, many of the books from that era were reprinted in recent years. Copies do sit on my bookshelves mainly for nostalgia’s sake. If nothing else, together with the various published railway atlases, they are very useful references to help you complete the Railway Magazine crossword when you are stuck for a loco name, an obscure sub-depot or a never before heard of station.

The Abc books were more than just the place you recorded your spottings. The contents were very educational, almost encyclopaedic in content. The WR 4-6-0’s covered a lot of famous and not so famous buildings such as castles, halls, granges and manors as well as the counties of England and Wales within the Region’s catchment area. Famous aircraft which had taken part in a recent conflict were honoured. Only a few months ago while scanning an Ordnance Survey map covering the Gloucestershire/Warwickshire Railway I spotted the name of a hall which I had never come across before. My immediate thought was that it had probably had a loco named after it and I was absolutely correct. Royalty and other nobility such as earls and duchesses were covered by numerous classes of loco. If anyone asks how many King Georges there have been you would immediately be able to say at least five and if you consulted your Abc you would see that it is actually six following the renaming of King class no.6028. The LMR Jubilees were a very mixed bag of Commonwealth countries, Canadian Provinces, naval commanders and famous sea battles as well as reusing the names of early locomotives. Sport got a look in with locos being named after football clubs and racehorses. Army regiments were widely covered by the Royal Scots and Patriots. Every nameplate carrying the name of a person had a story behind it, whether it be a local character or the recipient of a medal for gallantry. The Southern had a different take, naming locos after shipping lines plus towns and cities generally within their sphere of operation. And of course, half of the light pacific fleet paid tribute to the Royal Air Force and the debt owed to it following the Battle of Britain.
So what did all those years of spotting and the subsequent years of being a railway enthusiast achieve? The lists of numbers had no material value but the time spent collecting them forged long lasting friendships with like-minded individuals. The camaraderie of sitting together on an old barrow at the end of a cold, damp and windy platform waiting for that special cop was priceless. In between trains we would dig into our duffle bags and haversacks to pull out our Abc’s, comparing notes while we tucked into the cheese or marmite sandwiches and the fruit pie (the one where you sucked the fruit up through the hole in the middle), which your mum had packed you off with for the day. There was the thrill of successfully outwitting the foreman to bunk a shed with your heart in your mouth while you rapidly jotted down numbers, before deciding to chance your arm and do a bit of cabbing, as well as the disappointment at being shouted at and told to clear off. Photographs were taken with great enthusiasm using an old Box Brownie, the results frequently proving to be somewhat disappointing when the prints came back from the chemist.

While there are still youngsters out there these days who take an interest in steam, sadly they will not enjoy the experience that my generation did. They will never witness the distinctive sound and smell of a Black 5 dragging a heavy Newcastle bound passenger train slowly up Fishponds Bank with a well worn 4F pushing for all she was worth from behind. Nor the sight of the driver on a Bulleid Pacific using all his skill and experience to get a heavy Waterloo express away from Bournemouth Central amidst a cacophony of noise, smoke and slipping; or a lowly pannier tank fussing around Lawrence Hill goods yard with the sound of clashing buffers as it fly shunted wagons around, the shunter running alongside with his pole and brake stick. While there are plenty of heritage railways in existence today giving a flavour of what went beforehand, sadly to those of us who experienced it first-hand there is something lacking in the overall atmosphere which can never be recreated – except in our memories of that bygone era and by nostalgically browsing through those old Abc’s, if only they hadn’t been disposed of!

Roy Kethro
April 2020
Last edited by the green mile on Sun Nov 08, 2020 10:36 am, edited 1 time in total.

Devonian
Posts: 15
Joined: Tue Oct 01, 2019 7:09 pm

Re: Spotting in those Early Years

Post by Devonian » Mon Nov 02, 2020 11:47 am

Thanks for posting Roy, a most interesting read. There aren't many reasons for wishing one was older but I wish I had clearer memories of steam in the Bristol area. The timid 4 year old version of me was scared stiff at the propensity of those wretched engines to make sudden loud noises for no apparent reason! Mum tells me of an occasion at Bristol T.M.when she turned to me to say "look at the engines" only to see I had hidden behind the running in board! This would have been 1961/62 so heaven knows what I missed!

I do have some dog eared ABC's on the shelf but the underlinings are by other people.............

Anybody got a time machine going cheap?

22A
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Joined: Wed Oct 09, 2019 11:26 am

Re: Spotting in those Early Years

Post by 22A » Mon Nov 02, 2020 7:06 pm

Thanks for the OP.
I started in 1962 and finished in 1970. I started again in 1992 (yep; the class 50's never existed for me).

In about 1974 driving along my friend and I stopped at a level crossing and couldn't understand what we were looking at. A Brush type4 bearing the number of a Jinty and going the other way, a Peak with the number of a Black 5.

Robin Summerhill
Posts: 51
Joined: Tue Sep 24, 2019 9:36 am

Re: Spotting in those Early Years

Post by Robin Summerhill » Mon Nov 02, 2020 8:09 pm

As Roy and I were around at the same time one would expect our stories to be similar, but they are actually very different, although there were one or two parallels.

Although I was brought up in Gloucester Road, Staple Hill, and a mere 70 yards from Teewell Hill bridge between Staple Hill and Mangotsfield, I was largely indifferent to railways in my very early years. My interest in transport started with buses when my age was still in single digits, but that changed abruptly on 8th September 1962 when I was taken on a day trip to Bournemouth. The sight of an unrebuilt Bullied Pacific hammering into Templecombe started my trainspotting days.

Other major difference between my experiences and those of Roy were that my father worked on the railway so I had access to privilege tickets, and that my parents were quite happy to let me go off on my own within reason. Within a few weeks I had been to Salisbury, Gloucester and Swindon so I got more of an impression of other areas, and also of course found out very early that the types of engines you could see were often limited to certain areas such as the MR dock tanks in Gloucester and the O2s on the Isle of Wight.

The winter of 1962/63 was notable and not just for the bad weather! It had been the intention to fully dieselise the Midland line expresses from the start of the winter timetable, but the failure rate of the “Peaks” kept many steam workings going, and when the weather got really bad the diesels were freezing up. Some “Scots were still to be seen in Bristol until the spring of 1963, and a number of “Jubilees” that had been sent to store at Burton were pressed back into service. It was certainly a good time to stand at Temple Meads or Teewell Hill seeing what was happening.

My primary school was also near the railway, but the problem was the railway was in Staple Hill tunnel, and all we could see from our window was smoke coming out of the ventilation shafts!

As time progressed I became less interested in spotting for its own sake and more interested in what was being lost following Beeching. I tried to make sure that I travelled on many lines that were scheduled to go, such as going to Leamington and Nuneaton via Gloucester to Stratford, or Hereford via Gloucester and Ross on Wye, despite the fact that there were through trains Bristol to Hereford via Maindee in those days.

Although I continued to visit the local Bristol sheds I found my interest waning as steam declined, and I stopped altogether after Barrow Road closed in 1965. With diesels it had all become too repetitive. By September 1966 I was chasing steam around its last haunts, firstly to the Southern Region until it ended there in 1967, and thereafter virtually all of my trips were to those last steam pockets; the north east, Scotland, Yorkshire and finally Lancashire.

And then in 1968 steam was all over, and so too was most of my railway enthusiasm. After that it was just down to the occasional visit to a heritage railway, although I continued to use trains quite frequently when I worked for the railway between 1969 and 1980. By then I honestly wondered why anyone still bothered with spotting – I especially remember in about 1980 arriving at Inverness behind a class 47 thinking that you could just as easily have arrived at Penzance behind one the same day.

Times had changed, but my interests had not changed with them.

Devonian
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Joined: Tue Oct 01, 2019 7:09 pm

Re: Spotting in those Early Years

Post by Devonian » Wed Nov 04, 2020 12:29 pm

Robin,

If you'd taken some pictures of those shiny boxes in the 1960's they would be of great interest now. It's a funny old world....................

Robin Summerhill
Posts: 51
Joined: Tue Sep 24, 2019 9:36 am

Re: Spotting in those Early Years

Post by Robin Summerhill » Thu Nov 05, 2020 12:16 pm

Devonian wrote:
Wed Nov 04, 2020 12:29 pm

If you'd taken some pictures of those shiny boxes in the 1960's they would be of great interest now. It's a funny old world...........
This needs to be seen in the context of the time.

Photography was expensive in those days. There were no such things as digital cameras; and films needed to be bought, then developed ad printed. It will be seen from my earlier post that I was getting around a fair bit and, other than free passes for the longer trips (5 a year for my father’s grade and seniority in those days) all the rest had to be paid for, even if they were at privilege rates. Other than 5 bob a week (25p for our younger readers) pocket money, the money was coming from my paper rounds. Looking back on it now, it was more by luck that I could afford photography at all, let alone of diesels!

All that said,, however, I did take a small number of diesel shots. There are some in my greater Bristol album on Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/93122458@ ... 2309656301

There are also some taken in Cardiff in 1965:
https://www.flickr.com/photos/93122458@N08/28333516232/
https://www.flickr.com/photos/93122458@N08/28405738166/

Achnasheen 17th August 1967
https://www.flickr.com/photos/93122458@N08/30647546998/

DP2 at Perth
https://www.flickr.com/photos/93122458@N08/8466486042/

A Manchester-Sheffield electric at Dinting:
https://www.flickr.com/photos/93122458@N08/8465907080/

And a hybrid – a Black 5 and class 40 double heading a freight at Carnforth:
https://www.flickr.com/photos/93122458@N08/29939957028/

There are others but that will do for now!

Devonian
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Joined: Tue Oct 01, 2019 7:09 pm

Re: Spotting in those Early Years

Post by Devonian » Thu Nov 05, 2020 2:24 pm

Robin,

That is a fair point regarding the cost of photography in those days. I have about 20 hours of 8mm cine of steam filmed by a late friend who would only have been in his early to mid twenties and I've often wondered how he afforded it. Thank heaven for the well heeled folk who could aspire to 16mm cine and Leica 35mm cameras, to say nothing of full plate.

I was interested to see your shots of the Bath Road Open Day in Open Day in October '67. That was my first railway photographic foray at the tender age of ten. I was disappointed that my shots were horribly underexposed but looking at the weather conditions maybe I shouldn't be so hard on myself!

With regard to the two West Countries I remember the late friend referred to above declaring that one of them was Appledore and I suppose my curiosity was awakened - "how did he know that?" I don't think I'd latched onto ABC's at that time!

the green mile
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Joined: Tue Sep 24, 2019 10:00 am

Re: Spotting in those Early Years

Post by the green mile » Thu Nov 05, 2020 7:32 pm

I believe the other West Country was 'Okehampton', both on their final journey to South Wales. I think I was there at that one aged 14, possibly the first one I attended.

Roy

Devonian
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Joined: Tue Oct 01, 2019 7:09 pm

Re: Spotting in those Early Years

Post by Devonian » Thu Nov 05, 2020 11:16 pm

The other one was indeed Okehampton. Interesting that they both had a claim to fame in that Okehampton featured on one of the last S&D tours and Appledore hauled the last steam hauled Golden Arrow. I remember climbing onto the footplate of one of them and having the impression she had been out of service for a considerable period whereas they had only been withdrawn the previous July.

the green mile
Posts: 84
Joined: Tue Sep 24, 2019 10:00 am

Re: Spotting in those Early Years

Post by the green mile » Sun Nov 08, 2020 10:32 am

I'm pleased to see we have had so many views to this thread and more than a few replies from our regular contributors. When I wrote it, I wanted to emphasise the learning curve I went through in those early years as a trainspotter, rather than just quoting historical facts. Having shared my original work with one of the higher-ups over at the S&DRHT at Midsomer Norton, it was suggested that it would make a good piece for the Trust's Telegraph magazine if it could be rewritten with a Somerset & Dorset focus. This is the result which was published in the latest edition. Apologies in advance for any repetition from version 1.



Discovering the Somerset and Dorset – A Bit Too Late


Having the Bristol to South Wales main line at the bottom of our garden, trainspotting activity in my early years tended towards the Western Region. Even my train set just had to be the Hornby Dublo ‘Bristolian’ with a Castle class loco.

I was barely into my teens when steam vanished from the Bristol area. Together with a gang of lads from school, our main focus was on collecting loco numbers rather than learning about railway history, operations and geography. As we explored the local area, we did eventually find a useful spot where the Midland line crossed the Western at the north end of Lawrence Hill station. The Midland line turned out to be especially interesting as it provided a much more varied selection of motive power. In view of the obviously severe gradient on that route, many of the heavier trains had what we learnt to be a banking loco on the rear to assist on the slow, arduous climb up to Fishponds.

With most coaching stock in our patch at that time being maroon, with the odd blood and custard or chocolate and cream examples still around, it never stirred our imagination to investigate why some of the shorter trains coming down the bank into Temple Meads from Bournemouth and Bath had green coaches. We did understand that this was the colour scheme on the Southern Region but that’s about as far as we went. Sometimes these short trains went back with a loco at each end which to us defied explanation at the time, especially as it could have been a pair of standard class tender locos.

Very occasionally we would witness a strange looking loco drifting down the bank, presumably towards the nearby Barrow Road shed. It could best be described as a larger version of our local parallel boilered Fowler 4F 0-6-0’s but with the outside cylinders and motion of the much larger and more modern looking Stanier 8F 2-8-0’s. The 7F’s were the only locos we ever saw in our part of the world with a 5-digit number beginning with a 5 on the cabside.

Much of our railway learning curve was dictated by the rumour mill. One of our gang announced one day that he had been heard about lots of unusual steam locos which could be seen at Bath. We jumped on a train from Temple Meads to Bath Spa one afternoon and spent a frustrating few hours watching Westerns, Hymeks and multiple units, most of which we had already seen in the Bristol area. It was some weeks later that we discovered there was another station in Bath at nearby Green Park. In fact, we had probably had a brief glimpse of the overall roof there as we drifted in after Oldfield Park.

In 1964 I was enrolled at Bristol Grammar School. Pupils were expected to join one of the newly introduced after school clubs, most of which I had little enthusiasm for. There was sufficient interest to subsequently form a Railway Society and I opted sign up for that one. Railway Society monthly talks and slide shows were presented by the senior boys and some masters. I do maintain tongue-in-cheek that this was probably the most productive part of my education at that school, standing me in good stead for my 42-year railway career. My ambition on leaving school was to be a chemical engineer but fate intervened and I ended up with a railway apprenticeship almost by accident.

An event to relish was the Railway Society outing which took place each term. The very first one I went on involved a trip from Bristol down to Highbridge. From there we crossed the footbridge to the S&D platform, probably casting an eye over the strange angular signal box adjacent to the acute flat crossing over the main line that led onto Burnham on Sea. We boarded a short two coach train headed by an Ivatt 2-6-2 tank loco no.41223. The trip across the Somerset Levels was memorable in that much of the surrounding landscape was under water with just the railway line running on an embankment above it. A phenomenon not unusual in that part of the world as we were reminded of a few years ago.

At Templecombe, we disembarked to join another service for the onward journey to the south coast with BR Standard class 5 no.73001 at the head. We experienced the curious move being hauled back out of the station the way we came in before proceeding down under the main line and past the shed where a few locos were simmering away in the yard. We eventually reached Bournemouth Central where a depot visit had been pre-arranged, copping many Bulleid Pacifics and BR Standards. Bournemouth West station appears to have been closed to passenger traffic by this date. The only time I ever visited that area was for a job interview at the electric multiple unit depot at Branksome some 20 years later, by which time the site had changed beyond recognition. The interview was unsuccessful, subsequent information years later indicating that it may have been a lucky escape.
This S&D outing must have been early in the year because most of the return journey to Bristol was in darkness and I think I probably nodded off most of the way.. I know we came back via Mangotsfield so must have reversed at Bath Green Park. The memory is a bit hazy but I seem to recall that we ended up back at Bristol with a Hymek on the front.

I am proud to be able to say that I travelled over the Somerset and Dorset in its final few years, albeit at a time in my development where I was too young to appreciate its significance in railway history as an important cross-country route. That learning came years later thanks to the wonderful work of the likes of Ivo Peters and Norman Lockett in earnestly recording the day to day activities on the line before they ceased.

To have fully appreciated the Somerset and Dorset first hand you really had to be born before around 1950. I arrived around three years too late but at least I was able to enjoy and appreciate the last decade of main line steam. For anyone younger interested in the steam railway I find it sad that they will never experience many of the sights I witnessed; such as the driver of a Bulleid Pacific using all his skill and experience to get a heavy Waterloo express under way from Bournemouth Central amid a cacophony of noise, smoke and slipping. Or a well worn Black 5 clanking away as she dug in for that long climb up Fishponds Bank at the head of 12 coaches, with a grimy 4F pushing for all she was worth at the rear. All the while, a pannier tank would be fussing around in the yard below with clashing of buffers as wagons were fly shunted around the various sidings, the shunter running alongside dropping the couplings and controlling speed with his brake stick. My own nearest experience of ‘The Pines’ in action was a pseudo representation on a heritage railway during a steam gala. Somehow it just wasn’t the same as the real thing pounding up the gradients with Evening Star at the head, but at least it had a couple of genuine ex Bristol Barrow Road 4F's (43924 & 44422) on the front, albeit without all the grime.

Roy Kethro

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