I consider myself very lucky to have lived at a time when steam locomotives were still in service on our railway network. My earliest memory I can recall was when I was around 5 years old and out with my Grandfather, he pointed up to the railway bridge at a steam locomotive known has a garret and said “I drive those engines”. The locomotive was a monster, certainly the biggest engine I had seen and I can remember my opinion of my Grandfather after that moment increased by at least 100%. Steam engines were common place in Long Eaton where I lived. It was a railway town with a junction that joined Nottingham and Derby to the main London line. It also contained Toton marshelling yard that dealt mainly with the supply of coal from the Midland collieries to London and the south. Steam engines were magical to a small boy and have often been likened to a living creature rather than just a piece of engineering and if you have ever stood on a station platform on a dark night with a non stop express train going tearing through with its whistle roaring and sparks mixed with smoke coming out of its funnel you will understand exactly what they mean.
Both my grandfather and an uncle worked at Toton and it was with them that I went for my seaside holidays each year whilst I was growing up. Working for the railways meant that you received concessionary travel and so distances were no problem. Each year I was taken to faraway places like Bournemouth, Blackpool or The Isle of wight. Early journey’s I recall were in very primitive carriages that had no connecting corridors, you just stepped into a part of the carriage with two bench seats facing each other and you were stuck there until your journey’s end. Like most little boys once the journey had started I suddenly felt the need to go to the toilet and the only solution open was for a grown up to lower the carriage door window and to hold me up to the open window so that I could do what was needed, you just hoped that no one further down the train popped their head out of the window at the same time. The more modern carriages had corridors with toilets and separate compartments that meant if there were 4 or 5 of you in your party you would get a compartment all to yourselves. I soon became a railway enthusiast and a train spotter and my Journey to and from the coast were one of the highlights of the holiday. Equipped with both a notebook and a copy of Ian Allen’s ABC of Locomotives each journey became and exciting adventure especially when approaching a large city station, if you were lucky there would be a whole line of locomotives parked just outside of the engine sheds and you would have a frantic few seconds writing down all of there numbers before they went out of view. Steam engines came in all shapes and sizes and us young spotters had our own language when discussing what we had seen on the journey’s, there were Jinties and tanks and 8fs and 9fs and if you were lucky there were black 5s. What got us excited the most was if we caught site of a named engine often pulling an express. My favourite classes were Royal Scots and Britannia’s with there streamlined shapes and shining BR black liveries these were the bees knees to us spotters and if your journey took you out of our own London Midland and Scottish region there was the hope of seeing Battleships, Bullied Pacific’s as well as Castles and Kings.
I’m still a railway enthusiast and when possible enjoy visiting preserved lines, but nothing can compare to the days when Steam was common on all British Rail routes before Beeching came along and before Diesel became more of an economical alternative.