Amberley Publishing - Transport, Military, Local and General History

Class 55 Deltics by Colin Alexander

When first approached by Amberley in December 2015, I could scarcely have believed that nine months later I would have two books in print and on sale, with another two almost ready to go.  Amberley had spotted my Flickr photostream account and I was flattered when they asked me if I would fancy putting together a book on my favourite subject, namely the British Rail Class 55 ‘Deltics’.  How did this all begin?

PHOTO 1 Here is a photo of Harry, after retirement, beside his last ‘box’, Howdon-on-Tyne, about 1970.

My Dad had always been interested in railways and used to visit his uncle, my Great Uncle Harry, at work as a signalman at places like Heaton Junction, Newcastle.

When I was only about two or three, Dad had built for me my first model railway, including a Triang Freightmaster set. I can clearly remember aged between about four to six years old, being taken up to the top of Newcastle’s Castle Keep, and to the old cattle market, both of which were great vantage points over Newcastle Central station, to see steam specials hauled by “Flying Scotsman”, “Sir Nigel Gresley” and “Clun Castle”.  There were also some interesting diesels such as the big yellow HS4000 “Kestrel” prototype, Clayton Class 17s with their centre cabs, and of course, the ‘Deltics’.

Every summer holiday, always in Britain, would just happen to be near a preserved steam railway, and my mother was very tolerant, being dragged around corrugated iron sheds full of muck and rust to see a locomotive being restored from scrapyard condition to its former glory.

PHOTO 3 My brother wasn’t as keen, but here he is posing with me at Plymouth with D1054 “Western Governor”.

Some holidays revolved around the railway entirely, such as when we had two weeks in Cornwall in 1976, the long hot summer, and travelled from Tyneside to St. Ives by train and were able to enjoy the last summer of the ‘Western’ diesel-hydraulics, travelling to Newquay, St. Austell, Plymouth and Penzance.

We attended the 150th anniversary celebrations of the Stockton and Darlington Railway at Shildon in 1975, even talking my 79 year old grandmother along.  A twice-weekly fixture for Dad and I was the Newcastle and District Model Railway Society where many friends were made and great fun was had every November setting up and taking down the annual model railway exhibition.

By 1978, aged 14, I was deemed old enough to venture out on the railway on my own and quickly developed friendships on the platforms of Newcastle Central that have lasted to this day.  For the princely sum of £2.60 a Northumbrian Ranger ticket could be bought which gave a week of unlimited travel between York and Berwick, and across to Carlisle.

My only regret from these days was that I did not possess a decent camera.  I made do with a Kodak Instamatic until 1981 when I inherited my Dad’s ancient Agfa 35mm camera.  Its fastest shutter speed was 1/200th of a second, which meant it was only good for static objects in bright daylight.  Needless to say about 95% of my early railway photographs were either too dark, too bright, too blurred or off target due to parallax error.  The other 5% were simply unusable.

PHOTO 4 In lunch hours I could race across to the footbridge on Leeman Road and watch ‘Deltics’ in their last months of service.

While Dad was an engineering draughtsman on the Tyne & Wear Metro, when I left school I managed to get myself a trainee position in a similar line of work in BR’s Signalling and Telecommunications Dept at Forth Banks, Newcastle, starting July 1981.  This was an interesting time as there was still a lot of mechanical signalling about, and a lot of freight-only branch lines.  I was involved in the replacing of giant 1950s relays in the control room above the ‘wallside’ sidings at Newcastle Central, and also worked at Pelaw, Blaydon, Morpeth and Hendon in Sunderland.  Trainee induction was at Hudson House, York, on the site of the original York station.

The second half of 1981 was notable for the number of ‘Deltic’ hauled railtours that were run, and I was able to travel behind these machines to Whitby, Hull, Bradford, Harrogate, Liverpool, Carnforth, Inverkeithing, over the Settle to Carlisle line, Aberdeen, Portsmouth and Bournemouth among other places.

Class 55 pic 1 No. 55013 The Black Watch erupts into life in the centre road at York on 17 April 1981 (c. Class 55 Deltics, Amberley Publishing)

By then I had become an active member of the Deltic Preservation Society which aimed to raise funds to save one of the locomotives from scrap.  I organised local events and delivered newsletters, and for my efforts was rewarded with an invitation to Doncaster Works in August 1982 to attend the ceremony when two Deltics were handed over from BR to the DPS.  The following day I was travelling behind them on the North Yorkshire Moors Railway.

By then I had left my job on BR, realising that a life of dodging high-speed trains was not for me.  I was not too concerned because I had begun a love-affair with the North Yorkshire Moors Railway and the DPS’s two Deltics that were based there.  A few of my mates and I found ourselves volunteering both for the DPS and the NYMR.  We were signed up trainee firemen and as such would be rostered to a steam locomotive, which we had to clean and light-up to raise steam, at about 5am, in preparation for the driver and fireman arriving later.  We then got to spend the day riding on the footplate, learning how everything worked; and even shovelling coal in the firebox from time to time.

By the time I had got myself a decent 35mm SLR camera in the mid-80s, I had gone off to Cornwall College to be a student of Graphic Design, and so my interest in railways took a bit of a back seat.

9781445656953

Colin Alexander's book Class 55 Deltics is available for purchase now.