That Trainspotter

Posted by Ben Angus On July 16, 2010 Comments Off on That Trainspotter

That Trainspotter Otherwise known as “The Boy on the Footbridge”

It has been said that train spotting is rather like bird watching or fishing. We think nothing of travelling miles for a rare catch or waiting patiently for long periods when nothing seems to be happening. Even today groups of enthusiasts – still mainly youngsters – can be seen at the end of some station platforms, but they are a mere handful compared to the hordes of train spotters in the days of steam. At that time most stations, particularly on main lines, had their complement of schoolboys lurking around corners or boldly monopolising luggage trolleys along the platform. Now most of them and many of the stations have gone and today’s trains seem to flash past unheeded.

Sadly we ‘spotters’ tend to go on the defensive when we talk about train spotting due to the current definition or perception of the subject by a so-called ‘modern’ sick society. They talk about the ‘anorak’ brigade, yet for me it should be more related to the ‘mac’ or ‘belted rain coat’ which nowadays has all but disappeared. School children used to wear them at all times except in the height of summer, usually slung over the shoulders with only the top button fastened like a cape.  As teenagers we were more concerned with appearance but the ‘mac’ was still with us, carried folded over the left arm and worn only on draughty platforms or during long waits at bus stops.

These days our school bags tended to be ex war department canvas satchels, which – because of their strength and durability – were also great for carrying the inevitable drinks, sandwiches, notebooks and other paraphernalia associated with a ‘respective’ trainspotter of the time. There are also contraindications: increased sensitivity to the drug, alcohol poisoning, severe depression, etc. Everything is described in detail in the instructions for pills, but you have to consult the specialist before starting the course reception. I note that Valium is prescribed as a sedative, as well as in dermatology (in case of dermatoses, i.e. itching). The doctors prescribe the in case of acute anxiety. People who drive a car should take this drug with particular caution. As for the contraindications. In general, the way of admission is as follows.

Rather than be defensive about train spotting now or in the past, we should be much more positive about the pleasures and enjoyment we get from the fascination of railways. Whether modelling or simply viewing the real thing I like to look at the subject as if I were an artist. Indeed I recall an old Scottish artist – when discussing the evils and bad weather of the day – responding positively by saying, “As an artist I look for lovely things, and I’ve always found them”.

That wonderful Great Western Railway artist Don Breckon, who seems to share so much of my feelings of the past, describes the life of a young railway enthusiast so beautifully in words and picture s. “I have pulled back from the trains to see more of the landscape, and the people going about their activities of work and play. The train remains the focal point but I hope it now relates more to its surroundings so that the scene can be visualised before the train has appeared, when it is only a sound in the distance, and after it has passed with just the smoke clinging around the trees.”

The interest in ‘watching the trains go by’ combined with our natural instinct for collecting turned us rapidly into enthusiasts. Initially I wasn’t really interested in writing engine numbers down, I was more attracted to locomotives with a name. I’m sure my strength in geography was simply due to Gresley’s D49 ‘Shires’ and A4 “Streaks” – and I don’t mean naked engine men!. My own county ‘Morayshire’ is still technically in steam today preserved at Bo’ness. And, who could fail not to be impressed by ‘Commonwealth of Australia’, ‘Empire of India’ or own beloved ‘Union of South Africa’. They must have been powerful countries, simply by the way these engines on the Glasgow run regularly beat those on the Aberdeen ‘4pm Races’ through Saughton Junction.

With my father working at St Margarets, and living next door to Jock Ross, a top-link driver at Haymarket, inevitably meant that I didn’t have far to look for support and encouragement, even to the extent of winning two ‘Meccano Magazine’ competitions in the 50s. ‘Mr’ Ross’s favourite engine was A3 60035 “Windsor Lad” (the first of the class) and he assured me that such was the power of these Gresley locomotives, that during the last war he took 26 loaded coaches unaided from Newcastle to Edinburgh!

Whilst a name in itself may not seem much; when applied to a locomotive it became almost human, and certainly more meaningful than simply a number on an assembly of steel! Part of the fun and attraction was finding out what the name meant. Though I do not recall anything about the ‘NBR Atlantics’, my late father thought very highly off them (even though he assured me they played havoc with the Borders tracks), but what names they had, like ‘Teribus’ – it’s enough to have you hiding beneath the bed clothes – or better still those of the ‘Waverley Novels’. Today I’m a great lover of the characters of Sir Walter Scott; I wonder why? Again, through being proudly adorned on the splashers of these engines, and their sister D30 ‘Scotts’, they truly brought the border country back to life.

Being technically minded; inevitably it was only a matter of time before one was drawn towards the origin and creator of these magnificent machines, whether named or un-named, all helped by the genius of ‘Ian Allan’ with his wonderful “ABC of British Railways Locomotives Part 4, Eastern, North Eastern and Scottish Railways” for the princely sum of 2/6d – half our pocket money in these days. In time I wanted to obtain the London Midland version, but as I was the son of an LNER man it was almost sacrilege (especially to my grandfather of NBR origin) to mention LMS, let alone buy a book of its locomotives. I cowardly got out of it by obtaining a copy of Part 3 for my younger brother, knowing that he wasn’t really as interested as me, and acquiring it in due course.

As Don Breckon rightly says, “Looking back now on those days of train spotting I realise that there was a strong moral aspect of the hobby that never really struck me at the time. There was no referee to check the little book of numbers”. Yet, while neatly underlining the names and numbers of the day’s sightings and looking longingly for all those engines still to be seen it never occurred to us to cheat by adding a few extra! Just to do it once would have destroyed the whole exercise. This is not to say that we didn’t suspect one another at times!

We had two primary ‘spotting’ locations; on the walls of Saughton Junction during the week and above the portal of Calton Tunnel on Saturdays and holidays. The school bell had hardly finished ringing before we scrambled on to the ‘dykes’ opposite the signal box in time to acknowledge the ‘victor’, usually by a responsive wave from the driver as he opened the regulator even wider for the clear road ahead.

Occasionally we would be around ‘the junction’ whilst the one and only ‘Maude’ or sister engine ‘Gough’ would shunt the sidings before continuing their ‘trip’ goods further west along the line. Most times we arrived just as the welcoming ‘four bells’ could be heard from the signal box, indicating both trains were clear off Haymarket. The creak of the signal wires would be heard, and the signal arms would spring upwards almost simultaneously. Now the scene was set. We would stare expectantly down the long straight track for the first sign of smoke against the distant horizon.

At last it could be seen and steadily it grew larger. Guesses came thick and fast as to which train was leading. As the trains rushed past – usually neck-in-neck – we were often engulfed in a mass of smoke and steam, usually followed with a shriek from the ‘Aberdeen’ engine’s whistle in defiance as it took the sharp curve towards Turnhouse and the Forth Bridge.

Four classes of ex LNER Pacific’s – the ‘Streaks'(A4), the ‘Shielders’ (A1 and A2),

and the A3’s together with the V2 2-6-2’s tended to dominate the motive power on the Aberdeen and Glasgow expresses. They also tended to be regular, well-known engines, but occasionally – very occasionally – a stranger would appear in our midst perhaps with a delightful evocative name like 60116 ‘Hal o the Wynd’. Such an occurrence was indeed a time of celebration. The strange behaviour, which followed such an occasion, is maybe why the unsuspecting public wonder if train spotters really are human beings.

On various shed visits throughout Fife and the central belt I had climbed on to the footplate of many of the ‘Director’ class of locomotives. Eastfield shed’s 62686 “The Fiery Cross” stands out, simply because it appeared with the break-down crane as the principal engine attempting to locate and secure a concrete footbridge over the lines between Carrick Knowe and Saughton Mains. A very pleasant Sunday was had in the fifties purely observing this piece of work being carried out, providing entertainment for a large group of onlookers!

These cranes always fascinated me, especially the St Margaret’s one (now stored at Bo’ness) during my many visits to the shed at Clockmill Road. My Great Uncle Tam was regularly involved in the operation of this intricate piece of engineering.

Today Saughton Junction no longer exists, though in some instances the ‘race track’ is still pursued by more modern traction. Nevertheless in the 50s there was also considerable carriage sidings and on one occasion there was a double celebration in so far as the shunting was carried out by an ex ‘dub-dee’ 2-8-0 freight engine 90340 which originated from East Anglia, though later became a Thornton engine, so in its own right was also a ‘cop’ for me.

So the afternoon went by until we felt it must be teatime and cycled off back home, always hating that last express which was to be heard roaring through just as you turned into the front garden. All day and all night through (and you got used to it) the sounds of the trains could clearly be heard. Over time your ear became tuned to the various whistle tones, many times wondering if it would have been another ‘Cop’.

In moving to secondary school nearer the city centre meant the traditional rush to watch the ‘4pm Race’ between the Aberdeen and Glasgow expresses was now con- signed to history, apart from during school holiday periods.

New ‘Cops’ were more likely to be obtained on the weekend trips to Waverley Station, which usually commenced on a diesel railcar at either Pinkhill or Balgreen stations. This enabled opportunity to espy locomotives south of the Border being serviced at Haymarket Depot as the train slowly built up speed on departing from the Halt.

The ‘Elizabethan’ in particular gave a sporting chance being non-stop, and the suspense was overwhelming as the dull staccato of the A4’s beat grew louder as the train crawled out of the tunnel, initially hidden from view by it’s own smoke. Then all was revealed as the moment of truth dawned. If a ‘cop’, then a yell went up that would have drowned the crowds at Easter Road or Tynecastle, followed by the quiet satisfaction of going home and carefully taking pen and ruler to underline neatly in light blue ink (I made a habit of underlining in the colour of whatever region it was seen) the number of the engine, and bless Sir Nigel Gresley for designing such a wonderful machine.

At least three of Mathew Holmes 1900 origin J83 tank engines spent most of their life, right to the end of steam, as station pilots at Edinburgh’s Waverley complex. They became as synonymous to the ‘Waverley’ scene as the steps by that name leading to Princes Street. Over a long period of time from regular ‘spotting’ trips to Edinburgh’s main station, I got to know these locomotives vey well indeed.

My great uncle regularly performed pilot duties and became very acquainted with 8474 in LNER days. In many ways they had the last laugh in so far as at first sight their apparently meagre shunting duties with coaches in and out of the platforms to release the leading engine was carried out to the end of steam. By the time they were ousted by diesels and scrapped, each of these engines had run over one million miles, and one even managed two million!

Many of their more illustrious and better known express locomotives constructed later had long gone to the breakers yard whilst these small, yet attractive, engines chugged their way up, down and across the intricate pointwork at the station throat. I recall reading somewhere that on the 1 in 78 gradient in the Calton Tunnel, these little ‘terriers’ could push heavy passenger trains from a standing start and unaided. One Royal Train stalled in the tunnel when the A4 ‘lost its feet’. There was nothing else for it, but to put a J83 on front of the A4 and haul the lot in!

Whenever I think of a steam engine, Gresley’s V3 tank always springs to mind as the first class of locomotive with which I could identify. I’m sure this comes from the drawings my father made, plus my mental images of holidays, to which I associated these engines. I could only have been about five years old (hence immediately after the last War), but whenever we went for a day out we started our journey at Leith Central where empty coaching stock tended to be stored overnight. Invariably it was a V3, which hauled these trains up to the ‘Waverley’ before handing over to a V2 or a Pacific. It also meant you got the best seats before the masses boarded at the principal station!

I have always had great affection for the V2’s, and had more of them been named, it is possible that they might have become even more popular than the A3s and A4s. It was a named V2 that I climbed up on at St Margarets when I was eight years old — plus a few ‘Glens’, K3s and ‘pugs’. Anyway, Sunday at St Margarets was quite a highlight for a very small boy beside an extremely large, but beautiful locomotive, well accoladed as the “engines, which won the war”, such was their power and reliability.

Whether hurtling round the curve at Saughton Junction, or accelerating away from the Tay Bridge towards Leuchars at the head of the ex Aberdeen ‘Blue Spot’ refrigerated fish special bound for London, this class of locomotive seemed to be perfectly at home on any part of the railway system. For that reason, more than any other, I feel the V2 is the real Gresley masterpiece, and not really given the full credit to which they were entitled.

Sir Nigel designed his engines as unique structures in their own right, even though most of them had a common means of propulsion. The K3s in particular couldn’t help but impress, with their massive six feet diameter boilers. To me the conjugated valve gear on this class seemed to sound out more prominently than any other Gresley three-cylinder locomotive. Nevertheless, after all these years, it is surprising that the

Gresley engines which stand out in memory – by association – are A3 class “Dick Turpin”, “Shotover”, “Neil Gow”: 60080/1/2. (The mental picture of a notorious highwayman jumping over someone playing a fiddle has always remained in my mind, though in reality the A3s were primarily named after racehorse winners.)

Moving school to Gorgie introduced me to another important aspect of the Edinburgh railway scene, namely that of the former LMS which I’d certainly known about through almost annual trips down the ‘West Coast’ to relatives in Coventry via Birmingham New Street Station. I have always admired Stanier’s “Jubilees”. This love for these 4-6-0s mainly came about by a daily sojourn after school to Dalry Road sheds to see what had brought in ‘the Birmingham’. One of the most regular engines was 45620 ‘North Borneo’ of Nottingham shed.

The beauty of the LMS compared to (my preferred) LNER was that the former’s locomotives tended to be “common users”, so it was not strange to see “Jubilees” in Edinburgh, which had originated throughout the LMS section. This was particularly so with Rugby Internationals (especially Welsh) when ‘spotting’ at Dalry Road was simply paradise!

Another of Stanier’s magnificent creations was the ‘Black 5′, which gradually spawned its way onto most of the former LNER Scottish metals. With ‘running rights’ between Stirling and Princes Street Stations, they were fairly regular ‘intruders’ through Saughton Junction and latterly on the Perth runs. Some had Scottish regiment names, which made them even more attractive.

Indeed as I ‘pilgrimage’ over the rough ballast on the track base of the original Highland Railway line at a cutting beyond the former Grantown-on-Spey West railway station quite near to my home, it takes little imagination to envisage the staccato and pounding beat of these 4-6-0s as they came to grips with the long incline to Dava summit and beyond.

For three years as a teenage schoolboy I daily looked forward to being greeted by J88 and N15 tank engines, 68339 and 69169 as they stood in tandem at the Gorgie loco- siding, often blowing off impatiently as if to say, “Come on, I’m ready for work, aren’t you?”, as they glowered down on the heavy traffic trying to progress towards the city centre.

Me and my bike’ made easy effort meandering between the almost stationary vehicles to get to school well on time to observe for a few moments the apparently inconspicuous steam leviathans at rest above me. I especially awaited the metalwork sessions (a subject I disliked!) because the workshop was an outbuilding adjacent to Gorgie Station approach, which gave the best and closest views of the locomotives.

Perhaps more satisfying were the history lessons in the second floor classrooms which commanded a marvellous view over the sidings; or the P.E. periods out in the open playground when one was almost nursed to a background of clanging wagons, especially empty cattle trucks, as these locomotives ‘banged’ to and fro all day long at Chesser Sidings – and of course keeping oversight to my ‘education’!

My maths teacher, Mr Lee, used to enthral us with stories about his railway exploits in India during the last war, and how he was involved in ‘blowing up’ bridges to stop the Japanese entering that great continent. One day, however, he was not very happy when marking my geometry exercise book. Not satisfied with lines of angles, I had enhanced my work with cuttings, over bridges, signal-boxes and signals, which he considered “quite unnecessary”.

Being in a railway family meant cheap rail travel through ‘PTs’ (Privilege Tickets) which enabled one to afford visits throughout the land, especially on Sundays with the local ‘Railfans’ club based at Dalry. A visit to the Carlisle sheds had been planned and the journey from Edinburgh’s Princes Street Station in these days ended at Symington Station (rather than Carstairs) .

On that wet, windy and forlorn platform came one of the most magnificent railway scenes I’ve ever beheld . Emerging through the mist and inclement weather was Polmadie’s 46230 ‘Duchess of Buccleugh’, resplendent in Brunswick Green livery at the head of the Glasgow Central to London Euston express. The massive size and power of this engine simply overwhelmed me.


Sunday school outings, especially to Fife, was always a great opportunity for train spotting, with the added attraction of a return trip across the Forth Bridge. Whilst my fellow trippers at Aberdour were fighting over the ‘egg and spoon’ race, I scurried up the short embankment to watch the trains go by. My main recollection of that day however, was eating a cold pie for the first time. It was years before a ‘Scotch Pie’ ever entered my diet again.

On a family day out to Kinghorn, whilst my siblings were enjoying the sand, I was happy on the platform, and – headed by the ubiquitous B1 – the “Fife Coast Express” rushed through the station; certainly not living up to its reputation of being the slowest express in Britain!

My father always promised me that when I was ten years old he would take me on two great return railway journeys: an overnight visit to London for the day, and a run up the ‘West Highland’ line to Mallaig. True to his word, excitement soon mounted as the respective dates neared and the great adventures began.

Too excited to absorb any real sleep, the Wills cigarette factory on approach to Newcastle, and the eventual early morning arrival in the LNER shrine of Kings Cross, still stands out as the highlight of my first visit to London. New and strange engines – especially freight and shunting were picked up on that journey, then once home were proudly underlined in dark blue and orange within the pages of my ABC Part 3.

The ‘West Highland’ venture was even more memorable. Fighting like mad to keep the Fort William sleeper going, plus professional outdoor commitments in the area, has meant a very close affinity with this magnificent railway line for fifty years! Was it simply the rain or the newness that made a gleaming A1 pacific locomotive look like some monstrous leviathan in the eyes of a ten-year old about to commence the journey of a lifetime as the ‘Night Aberdonian’ shot out of Calton Tunnel hurtling dark smoke and soot to the heavens whilst its powerful staccato reverberated around the surrounding hill?

At three in the morning imagination runs riot in the mind of a child, but there are poignant memories forever ingrained of that train which had commenced its journey around 7.30pm from London Kings Cross the previous evening. Once the Fort William portion had been detached for the run to Glasgow Queen Street, I believe the rest of the train simply headed on to ‘the Granite City’.

Who cares? It was travelling on ‘the West Highland’ line that was all important. Threats of cancelling the event unless one had a few hours sleep carried no weight against the power of excitement preceding the venture. Even riding on a night bus service from Saughton Mains to Princes Street was an adventure in itself.

Overall the event was a bit too much to grasp, but new engines were seen amongst quite spectacular scenery, which was indelibly etched into my mind. My main recollection of the day was in fighting with the leather strap to release the window in order that I could get a real view of Loch Shiel from the Glenfinnan Viaduct. Failing to close the window in time on descending into the murky depths of Queen Street tunnel resulted in the inevitable speck of soot in one’s eye. There’s no such thing as a completely perfect day!

In more recent times although steam had long gone from everyday mode of power, and with it the tremendous and noisy staccato from two locomotives (usually 5s – ‘Black’ and ‘Standard’) pounding up Glen Douglas, it is still a glorious environment in which to savour the power of the class 37s diesel. The same adrenalin still flows, and the ‘butterflies’ flutter, on hearing the dull throb of a ‘37′ on the same pathway as its steam predecessors before it cuts off suddenly for the descent to Crianlarich Station. Often it seems like eternity before the train comes into view – no smoke plume as a ‘give away’, though occasionally black diesel exhaust.

Most of my Forth Valley ‘spotting’ ventures was by bicycle, both for cost savings and convenience. A particularly memorable and long Sunday cycle run of 126 miles (arriving back home in Edinburgh about midnight?) which also took in Stirling and Motherwell sheds, was mainly to Grangemouth to ‘cop’ the first of the ‘English Electric’ diesel shunters allocated to East Scotland. Rather proudly 13136 was well underlined in my ABC as my first 0-6-0 diesel shunter.

These locomotives quickly established themselves in all kinds of shunting and general freight duties, not least of all in Fife. In later years when taking up residence in Levenmouth, these 0-6-0 diesels were regularly seen in Methil Sidings and with long trains of coal empties in and around Wellesley Colliery, or shunting at Methil Power Station.

Although perhaps not possessing the glamour and romance of steam, the sheer brute power typified in the more modern freight locomotive prompts admiration from the most ardent enthusiast of the pre-diesel railways. Rather remarkable in many ways, these locomotives do not seem to have aged in any way, and look as much a part of the scene under electric lines as they did performing the same duties at the height of steam.

Apart from shunters, the Class 47 fleet were the most numerous diesel locomotives in British railway service. In a ‘Railway magazine’ (Nov 94) article it referred to naming many of the class. This was support for me as I tried so hard to have Gateshead’s D1515 named ‘Bonnie Dundee’ in acknowledgement of its fine achievement in April 1973 when making up lost time on the run from Dundee to Edinburgh. I believe this journey is still the ‘all-time’ record for a diesel hauled train between the two cities.

My efforts were thwarted by a ‘snooty’ letter from ‘BR York’ indicating it was not their policy to name diesel engines. Was I simply before my time in the north for in the mid 60s a handful of Western Region locomotives (D1660/77) were given ‘GWR’ associated names, applied in capital letters in traditional style straight plates? Could my request to York be just sour grapes?

Whilst my suggestion never materialised, nevertheless common sense eventually prevailed and from the late 70s many of these locomotives were given names. Not least of all was 47 716 “Duke of Edinburgh’s Award” which was specially rostered to take our train from Aberdeen to Glasgow (Queen Street) after the marathon 800 miles walk from London (Buckingham Palace) to Ballater (Balmoral Castle) celebrating the Award Scheme’s 30th Anniversary. For my part I was given the privilege of a footplate pass for the whole journey.

Diesels of the 0-4-0 variety were not new to me as they had led on from the numerous pugs which hung about every nook and cranny at St Margarets, with any excuse, such as taking my father’s ‘piece’, to enable one to board them. My various pretences to call on ‘Big Tam’ (as my father was known) at St Margarets enabled me to become very familiar with the glossy black ‘North British’ shunters. One of this class, 11706, is the only locomotive I have ever driven!

Whilst still in my early teens on a general ‘spotting’ foray to Leith Docks, my mate Colin Stewart and I followed this loco as it worked its way in and out of the myriad of points and sidings criss-crossing the approach to the Edinburgh seaport. After awhile we were invited into the cab whilst the driver (Control/motor man?) pursued his normal duties. It was quite an exhilerating experience, and on one of the manoevres I operated the control bar to start the locomotive moving. (Of course the driver had his hand on the bar as well!)

No matter what time of day I arrived at St Margarets on the pretence of calling on my father, there was always a Y9 lying at the ‘old’ shed, dead or in steam. As a wagon repairer, my dad spent most of his time in the Joiners Shop which gave me plenty of opportunity to stand on the footplate of these ancient engines, and let my imagination run riot! Even more so for the short time my father was relief foreman at Seafield Sidings.

What really fascinated me about these engines was not so much the machines them- selves, but the wooden coal-truck they invariably towed behind them which were simply converted open wagons. These mobile ‘museum pieces’ looked their best when heading a short train of bauxite coloured ‘Leith’ grain wagons. My father hated working on them because they tended to be rat-infested, but – like the true professional he was – just got on with it. The ‘NE’ ‘toad’ brake-van was also important for two reasons; firstly it seemed to be the type of vehicle he was happiest working on; and secondly, the remains of a damaged footboard found a second life as the main frame for my “guider”; that is, a trolley on pram wheels.

When I lived in East Fife there were no indoor swimming pools of any appreciable size, so I took my students on weekly journeys to the ‘fair city’ of Perth. My usual minibus route was through the Glenrothes conurbation which took us past the Lurgi Gas Plant where Type 20s (and if I recall correctly also Type 37s) provided the power for these long cylindrical bogie wagons.

In the winter-time in particular, with the obvious dark nights on the way home, this Lurgi Plant beaconed like a fairy city; it’s bright twinkling lights interspersed now and then with the locomotive’s or wagon’s red tail lamps. All in all it was quite an eerie sight with the still atmosphere occasionally broken by the rythmic throb of the diesel engines.

I have never lost my love for the railway scene – past and present – especially what goes on around that environment. Throughout this delve into ‘train spotting’ I have been moved and encouraged by the views of Don Brekon who sums up so perfectly what it meant for us to live in these times.

“The dictionary defines nostalgia as ‘a sentimental yearning for a certain period of the past’, but in today’s technological age it is more complicated than that. Most people have a strong feeling of affection for the time when they were young. Their ‘good old days’ are the memories of humour and the drama of youth but also prompted by a reaction to the world as we find it today.

In the age of technology and the microchip our lives are changing at such a pace that we can easily feel disorientated. We linger with pleasure on the safe and familiar wherever we find it, seeking stability from the past. A look at recent history confirms this. In the post-war years the nation was rebuilding slowly. Austerity was the key word and any change at that time was for the better.

The 1950s saw a slow development, but the ‘swinging sixties’ burst on us like a wild party. Affluence went to our heads and the image of a bright new world swept any doubts aside. Then the 1970s brought a hangover from the previous excesses. It was a time to weigh what we had gained against what we had lost but speed of change is now the order of the day, being left behind was unthinkable and no time was allowed for reflection.

Inevitably the reaction to all this was a surge of interest in the recent past. Societies were set up to protect things in danger of being swept away. . . it is only after time has removed us from the inconveniences of an age that the choice can be made between modern efficiency and the cosy old-fashioned.

The steam train brings back a host of memories to those who remember them as any everyday part of life, and even to those too young they have the fascination of being from another age. The setting, however, creates the greatest sense of period. The little stations, the dress of the people, the cars and the street furniture come together to make up a moment from a time gone by. .. one reminiscence leads to another.

Some paintings are like time machines and it is a great pleasure to slide into them. Our storehouse of memories includes impressions of people and of things, places and events which have shaped our lives and made us what we are today. It is pleasant in quiet moments, or in conversation with friends, to relive these memories, to look back nostalgically and to let the past bring colour into our present. Tucked away in many homes are probably dog-eared books of locomotives with names and numbers neatly underlined.”

No way do I consider that I had a ‘misplaced youth’ for that time spent train spotting has left such a kaleidoscope of good times and very happy memories. That trainspotter: the boy on the footbridge; I wonder what he’s looking at? But that’s another story!

“On our way home from school we would lean over the bridge as the engines blasted underneath, delighting us with the clouds of dense smoke sent to engulf us. As we grew older trips to the lineside in the train spotting days increased the interest in drawing trains, very often all at the wrong time. They began to appear in the margins of my school books….

Since that time I have gone on exploring not just railways of the past but increasingly what goes on around the railway (and I’m sure you’ll want to do that as you develop your project at Kirkland). So the memories bounce off one another serving up their atmosphere as good as new.”

“In this way there can be a feeling of a moment in time, the landscape glimpsed from the train and the train glimpsed from the landscape. An interesting aspect of the development of the setting is that the atmosphere of the period can be recalled by working in farm machinery, or cars, or small but significant things which bring the exclamation — ‘I remember those days’.”

“An artist is something of a visual beechcomber constantly looking for images he can use in his work, which stir the emotions and – in my case – rekindle memories of times gone by.

Ideas come from flicking through railway photographs, from images noted while cycling through the Cornish lanes, from listening to comments from friends or even from watching films or television.” (Creating the illusion)

“Steam locomotives had long working lives and with developments in design they were often altered or completely rebuilt during their careers. The enthusiast is well aware of all the changes and is always ready to notice when detail has been misrepresented. (Balance of fact and fiction: ‘Flying Scotsman’ in LNER green yet with smoke deflectors?) Colours were altered by new owners; new chimneys, lubricators, steam pipes and even numbers were fitted over the years of an engine’s life. So the period chosen has to relate to the condition of the locomotive and to its surroundings, and all this information must be checked against details from books and magazines. Gradually the mechanics of the subject are covered and the authenticity of track, signals, stations and rolling stock is confirmed.” (Next follows research into the actual location.)

“So the research is often spread wider with a visit to the library or a browse through bundles of photographs. There is a need to know local domestic architecture, how building materials affected the appearance of the countryside. In the past hedges and verges were wilder and more natural in appearance. For the human element, too, the detail must be right. Vehicles , road signs and lamp posts must all fit the period to build the sense of atmosphere.” (Tracking down photographs of everyday objects of the period is both fascinating and absorbing) “worth every moment if it helps to communicate the atmosphere and feeling of a particular time. .. essential to the success of the finished model .”

“The last stage .. is to check the ‘conviction’ factor. Discovering the number of an engine which performed a specific duty or researching the colour of an enamel sign may be time-consuming but it can be verified. .. A more obvious illusion is that of movement. .. When capturing the movement of a train in a landscape, think in terms of three moments in time. Imagine that scene before the train arrives, then think of the moment it has gone so that the activity in the landscape is continuous and is disturbed just briefly by the passing train. If this sequence comes over to the viewer, his own imagination will provide the feeling of movement.

[Don Breckon’s Great Western Railway]

[Peter Westwater: Locomotives in Fife]

“.. there was the Summer phenomenon of the Sunday School trip trains.”

By Iain Lamb

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