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  • Merseyside Traction by Doug Birmingham

    On 15 March 2017, at a rarely photographed location, Rail Operations Group, Class 47, No 47815 arrives at Edge Hill Wapping with 5V67 12.17hrs Allerton Depot to Long Marston empty coach stock move. The train consisted of two Class 319 EMU’s No’s 319218 and 219 which were being returned to storage pending possible further use. This image was originally considered for the front cover of the book before the present cover was selected. (Merseyside Traction, Amberley Publishing)

    I think most people during their lives have wishes, some would call it a bucket list but more often than not they remain just dreams. Occasionally some dreams do happen which fortunately for me some on my bucket list have actually come true, mainly by good fortune rather than preplanned. One of my wishes, has been to publish a book with a selection of my railway images, but approaching any publisher with such a proposal has always been put on the back burner. Consequently, as the years go by, it has remained just a dream. By sheer coincidence and out of the blue on my birthday in 2017, Connor Stait on behalf of Amberley Publishing emailed me asking would I be interested in compiling a book, entitled ‘Merseyside Traction’. At first, I thought this may be a little wind up but in reality it was not, as Connor had viewed my 8A Rail Flickr photographic site and thought I would be the ideal person to compile such a book.

    Connor had agreed that it was up to myself what the contents would be as long it was related to Merseyside. In due course, the formalities were agreed upon, along with providing two previous published book examples to give myself an idea what the layout and format of the book should look like. On viewing these book examples, I knew that I could complete the project given a little time with the brief of a maximum of 180 images and 10,000 words, along with the front and back cover images too. I also had to consider that other authors had published books on a variety of rail related subjects linked to Merseyside, some whose knowledge and experience I would acknowledge well beyond my own.

    Now the hard work began with a completion date set for December 2017. I had to choose the images first and foremost. That was not an easy task, as I have been photographing trains in Merseyside since 1980 with a total of images taken running into five figures! This figure did not include other images I have taken around the UK, let alone the thousands I have taken of preserved steam too. Clearly I had to decide a time spam to cover, as realistically it would take more than one book to cover almost 40 years to give the locality some justice. Having decided to cover a 20 year period from 1998 to 2017 rather than say the last 10 years as example, I wanted to include the variety of motive power and liveries that had operated in Merseyside during that time, as well as the variety of photographic locations too.  Basically I needed to make the book as interesting as possible to attract wide attention as Merseyside is not exactly known as a mecca of railways within the United Kingdom. However, I knew different and maybe this was an opportunity to prove otherwise?

     

    Another image that did not quite make the final cut but still provides a good representation of the contents of the book is GBRf Class 59, No 59003 working 6F27 12.47hrs Liverpool Biomass Terminal to Tuebrook Sidings Biomass were the Class 59 will detach before heading to Drax AES Power Station behind a single Class 66 locomotive. It is seen here on a nice autumn day approaching Edge Lane Junction on the Bootle Branch line. 29 October 2015. (Merseyside Traction, Amberley Publishing)

    However, the hard work was only just about to begin with the process of selecting images for the book given the thousands of images to choose from! Why I selected the last 20 years was an easy decision as one of the images I wanted to show, was the last occasion a ‘Peak’ class locomotive hauled a Freightliner train in May 1999 and I was one of the few to record the working(s). I had also established early on, that over that period of time, numerous different locomotive classes had appeared in the area, not forgetting the variety of multiple units along with all the different liveries too. However, what I needed to avoid was the repetition of the ‘much loved’ EMD Class 66’s as that alone would be prevent people looking at the book let alone purchasing one! So a balance had to be met in order to make a fair representation of the motive power operated in Merseyside. Also during the 20 year period I had chosen, many locations and lines had changed, especially with regards to the railway infrastructure, basically out with the old, in with the new. Non-more so than the Liverpool & Manchester line with the introduction (and long over-due) of the overhead electrification. In consequence this allowed me the opportunity of one or two before and after images to be presented in the book.

    While compiling the images for the book, it was only then I realised the extent of the actual Merseyside county boundaries, where I thought a couple of locations were in Cheshire, were actually in Merseyside. However, I also then noted that the ‘Merseytravel’ transport boundary did actually go beyond the county boundary which gave me good reason to include, for example, Rainford which is in Lancashire. I had also noted at least twenty-six locomotive classes had been recorded as well as the appearance of twenty-two classes of multiple units most of which are regular visitors to the area. Merseyside is currently regularly served by seven Train Operating Companies, including Arriva Wales, Arriva North, East Midlands Trains, London Midland (now LNWr), Merseyrail, Trans Pennine Express and Virgin Trains with three Freight Operating Companies operating daily in and out of the area including DB Cargo, Freightliner and GBRF. However, Colas, Direct Rail Services, Network Rail, Rail Operations Group, and West Coast Railways do pass through the area too. So there is much variety to be recorded and that does not include the amount of liveries that have appeared too. It would also beg the question, how many areas around the UK actually provide such variety too? Not many I imagine!

    Passing the closed but now preserved Rainhill Signal Box on the Liverpool and Manchester line, Direct Rail Services Class 37, No 37194 with sister locomotive No 37667 on the rear hauling 1Q14 08.52hrs Derby RTC to Crewe 'Network Rail’ Measurement train. Since this image was taken, this line has now been fully electrified. 17 September 2012. (Merseyside Traction, Amberley Publishing)

    In selecting the 185 images which took me 3 months to complete and no easy task either (not including the captions), I then realised how many images that were excluded rather those included, that gave me the feeling that this project had only just began. This is also not forgetting the numerous images taken from 1980 to 1998 which could produce another book or two also? However, I need to wait to see how ‘Merseyside Traction’ is received first and foremost, along with the sales too! Added to this is the thousands of other railway images I’ve taken around the UK including preserved steam, which makes me wonder are there other book projects could be in the offering especially as I enjoyed putting ‘Merseyside Traction’ (Part One??) together.

    Finally, I must thank Connor Stait, Commissioning Editor for considering me for this project and hopefully his faith is rewarded in due course. I also wish to sincerely thank various staff at Amberley Publishing for their time, patience and support. Also to Gordon Edgar whose words of wisdom and encouragement were much appreciated. Now it remains to see how the book is received and hopefully it becomes a popular book, but more importantly, I have done my local area proud? Fingers Cross.

    Doug Birmingham's new book Merseyside Traction is available for purchase now.

  • Anglo-Scottish Sleepers by David Meara

    The Northbound London-Fort William Sleeper approaching the Cruach Snowshed between Rannoch and Corrour stations on the morning of 7 January 2010, running an hour late due to iced points. (Norman McNab, Anglo-Scottish Sleepers, Amberley Publishing)

    Paul Theroux’s amusing quotation, from his book The Great Railway Bazaar, sums up the sense of anticipation that a long railway journey encourages. I remember very well that sense of excitement when as a twelve year old boy I boarded the Royal Highlander at Euston Station to travel north to Inverness at the beginning of our summer holidays. It is an excitement that I was keen to recapture when I began writing my book on the Anglo-Scottish sleeper trains about two years ago. I knew that Serco, the new operator of the Caledonian Sleeper, was committed to improving the service, and together with the Scottish Government were investing £100 million into an enhanced experience and brand new rolling stock, and it occurred to me that no attractive and accessible history of the sleeper service existed. Having spotted a gap in the market I decided to do some research and see what I could find.

     

     

    Sleeping cars waiting for their passengers on Platform 1 at Euston station. (Author's Collection, Anglo-Scottish Sleepers, Amberley Publishing)

    The National Railway Museum was my first port of call, as they hold a big archive of books, leaflets and posters, of all of which I made good use of. Much of the detailed history is to be found in specialist railway magazines and books on the rolling stock of the individual railway companies that existed before nationalisation. There are also a few preserved sleeper carriages, both at the National Railway Museum and elsewhere. I wanted to write a social, rather than a technical history, and the atmosphere and style of the heyday of sleeper travel is best captured in period photographs and the wonderful posters which the ‘Big Four’ companies commissioned, often from well-known artists, to advertise and promote their services. The National Railway Museum holds a comprehensive collection of railway posters, and thanks to the help of Philip I have made good use of these in my book.

    I also wanted to describe travelling on each of the Highland Sleeper routes, to Fort William, Inverness and Aberdeen. So I booked myself onto the sleeper and did a round trip, travelling north to Aberdeen, across by train to Inverness, and on by bus to Fort William, from where I took the southbound sleeper back to London Euston. There is nothing on our railway network quite like settling into the sleeper lounge car, with a glass of malt whisky beside you, haggis, neeps and tatties being prepared in the galley, and the glorious expanse of Rannoch Moor unfolding before you in the evening sunshine.

    The northbound London to Fort William Sleeper passing through the remote Gorton loop on 1 May 2015 at 8.28 a.m., pulled by a Class 67 locomotive, Cairn Gorm, in the new Serco Midnight Teal livery. (Norman McNab, Anglo-Scottish Sleepers, Amberley Publishing)

    But one element was missing, and that was a selection of stories from the many thousands of people who have used the sleeper over the years. Their experiences would bring a book like this to life as well as providing valuable insights into the experience of the sleeper operation.  Happily a letter to ‘The Times’ helped to solve that problem, and thanks to a friendly ‘Times’ columnist I was inundated with all kinds of stories and anecdotes, funny, saucy, romantic and peculiar, which brings the story of the Anglo-Scottish Sleeper service to life, and reveal the great affection people have for the service.  From being the exclusive preserve of the grouse shooting gentry it has evolved over the years into a wonderfully democratic community of travellers, from business people to backpackers, and just occasionally the sportsman off to his Highland estate to escape the rigours of City life. The lounge car remains the social centre of the train, and has been the setting for many convivial gatherings, late night conversations, even an impromptu ceilidh or two. Hopefully the impressive improvements which Serco are introducing will not spoil this special feeling of being both on a working train and on a journey with a real sense of occasion and excitement about it.

    David Meara's new book Anglo-Scottish Sleepers is available for purchase now.

  • Ford Tractors by Jonathan Whitlam

    This early restored MOM tractor from 1917 has received the lettering along the sides of the fuel tank that was fitted to the first X series prototype to arrive in Britain in January 1917. (Ford Tractors, Amberley Publishing)

    While writing my new book on the history of Ford tractors, I was very aware that at the same time it was exactly one hundred years since the first Ford tractor entered production in the autumn of 1917. It had been rushed into production with such haste that it hadn’t even been given a name and, because Henry Ford could not put the Ford name on it because his fellow board members did not want anything to do with tractors, it simply became known as the MOM tractor, after the British Ministry of Munitions that had ordered the first 6000 to be built. Now as we arrive in 2018 it is 100 years since that first machine was produced for general sale as the Fordson Model F in the spring of 1918.

    A century later and a lot has changed, not least the fact that the Ford Motor Company no longer produces tractors. However, the big factory in Basildon, in Essex, built by Ford in 1964 still assembles tractors for sale worldwide under the New Holland name, a division of CNH Industrial owned by Italian firm Fiat.

     

     

    The Ford 8N was produced by Ford themselves after splitting with Harry Ferguson and caused Ferguson to take Ford to court over its use of his patents. (Ford Tractors, Amberley Publishing)

    70 years ago Ford launched the 8N model built in the USA, which was based on the 9N that had been constructed in co-operation with Harry Ferguson and incorporated his hydraulic lift; the Ferguson System. The 8N though, was sold exclusively as a Ford product and lead to Ferguson filing a lawsuit against Ford for unauthorised use of his patents!

    The same year the Fordson Major, built in Dagenham in England, was factory fitted with a diesel engine for the first time, using the Perkins P6 as the power plant of choice.

    Ten years later and Dagenham launched the Power Major in 1958, which was a world away form the original Major of ten years earlier while the same year saw the new Workmaster and Powermaster ranges arrive in the USA.

    The secret of the success of the 9N when in work was the Ferguson System of three-point linkage and hydraulic draft control, which required a range of matched implements, such as this two-furrow plough, to be bought with the tractor. (Ford Tractors, Amberley Publishing)

     

     

    Moving on another ten years and Ford had launched the Ford Force range. A major update of the 1000 Series introduced four years earlier and built in Basildon Antwerp and the USA. The big six cylinder 8000 also joined the range that year pushing power up to 115hp.

    With all these anniversaries it seems a great time to launch a book on the Ford tractor, especially on the anniversary of the Force range, as these machines set the standard for Ford tractors for the next two decades and beyond.

    Ford returned to the six-cylinder concept with the 8000 of 1968. A new 401 cubic inch diesel engine was used to great success and this 115 hp tractor proved much better than the earlier 6000 model and was only built in the USA. (Ford Tractors, Amberley Publishing)

    The Ford name might not grace the sides of tractor bonnets today, but the legacy of this important brand lives on, not only in the thousands of Ford tractors still out on the farms of the world still working for a living, but also in the ultra modern New Holland tractors still being built to this day.

    Jonathan Whitlam's new book Ford Tractors available for purchase now.

  • East London Buses: 1970s-1980s by Malcolm Batten

    The first North Weald Bus Rally was held on 31 May 1981. Among the exhibits was London Transport RML2760, whish was already a celebrity vehicle on account of being the final Routemaster. Alongside is the unique rear-engined FRM1, which was built in 1966. (East London Buses: 1970s-1980s, Amberley Publishing)

    For transport enthusiasts and historians, anniversaries are always important occasions, and 2018 is no exception. For railway enthusiasts 2018 marks fifty years since the end of main line steam on British Railways with the “15 Guinea Special” on 11 August 1968. Many of the heritage railways will be commemorating this in various ways. Already the Mid-Hants Railway have held a gala for which they brought in another LMS ‘Black Five’ 4-6-0 to work with their resident example and recreate this last BR train, which featured a pair of the type.

    The other locomotive that featured on that August day, Britannia No. 70013 Oliver Cromwell has been working some main line trips prior to the expiry of its boiler certificate in March. On Thursday 22 February it ran over its original stamping ground from London to Norwich. Unfortunately it suffered lubrication problems on the outward journey and the return trip was diesel hauled. This had been the last steam locomotive to receive a general overhaul before BR stopped overhauling steam, and was saved for preservation on withdrawal.

    Also from 13 July 1985, London Country took route 313, Potters Bar-Chingford. Seen in Chingford on 11 July 1986, AN323 is a former Strathclyde Leyland Atlantean with Alexander bodywork. (East London Buses: 1970s-1980s, Amberley Publishing)

     

     

    At the Epping Ongar railway, where I am a volunteer, we will be marking the end of BR steam with a photographic exhibition ‘Barry and after – 50 years since the end of mainline steam’ in our Penny Salon gallery at Ongar throughout August. This will feature the locomotives that were sent to Woodhams scrapyard at Barry, but were not cut up and survived to become the mainstay of the present heritage railways.

    For bus enthusiasts, 2018 marks 60 years since the introduction of the Leyland Atlantean, the first rear engine double deck type to enter production. This will be commemorated at the South Eastern Bus Festival at Detling Showground, near Maidstone on 7 April. Early Atlanteans are well represented in preservation – the first production examples from the two first operators, Wallasey and Glasgow both survive. Local company Maidstone & District were an early convert, taking Leyland Atlanteans from 1959 when they replaced the Hastings trolleybuses. Indeed they bought no front engine half cab double-deckers after 1956, unlike neighbours East Kent, who did not buy any rear engine double-deckers until 1969.

    At first the advantage of the rear engine design was in the increased passenger capacity it offered over the front engine half-cab bus. But from 1966, when one-person operation of double-deckers was legalised they had the advantage of being suitable for such work, with the passengers boarding alongside the driver. By this time other models, such as the Daimler Fleetline and Bristol VR had entered the market.

    Since 1969, some London Routemasters had carried overall advertising liveries. RM1255 is seen on route 8 at Old Ford on 30 March 1975 and is promoting an employment agency. (East London Buses: 1970s-1980s, Amberley Publishing)

    Meanwhile London Transport had been introducing production models of the Routemaster, a traditional front-engine half-cab design, although mechanically superior to the Atlantean. They did buy batches of Leyland Atlanteans and Daimler Fleetlines for comparison trials in 1965-6. They also built a solitary rear-engined Routemaster FRM1. But this did not enter volume production, and eventually London Transport chose Fleetlines to succeed Routemasters in the 1970s.

    This brings us to the third significant anniversary – that of the Transport Act 1968. This brought in the National Bus Company, merging the state owned bus companies run by the Transport Holding Company with the formerly private owned BET group. It also created Passenger Transport  Executives to merge the local authority bus fleets in major conurbations – Greater Manchester, Merseyside, West Midlands and  Tyneside. As a consequence of this, London Transport lost its country area green buses and Green Line express services to a new NBC fleet, London Country Bus Services from January 1970. The Act also introduced as bus grant scheme, whereby grants were available for the purchase of new vehicles to modernise fleets. As this did not include half-cab vehicles not suited for one-person operation, production of these traditional vehicles came to an end in 1969.

    Malcolm Batten's new book East London Buses: 1970s-1980s is available for purchase now.

  • East Anglian Traction by John Jackson

    Lowestoft has also enjoyed its fair share of locomotive-hauled passenger services in 2017. On 20 July, No. 68005 Defiant sits at the buffer stops having arrived with the 12.05 departure of Norwich. (East Anglian Traction, Amberley Publishing)

    My wife, Jenny, and I have been privileged to have travelled to many far-flung corners of the world. Yet it was Amberley Publishing who coaxed me to come out of copy writing ‘retirement’ to produce a range of railway titles on subjects much closer to home. Nothing could evoke stronger memories of my lifelong love affair with this country’s railways than writing ‘East Anglian Traction’.

    Although I was born and brought up in Northampton, it was the trips back to my parental roots that sparked this railway enthusiasm that was to last a lifetime. You see, both my parents, and several generations before them, came from a little corner of Essex, close to the Suffolk border.

    For many years our family made use of the long-closed station at Haverhill in order to return to our family roots. The railway line may have closed half a century ago but the memories of family outings around East Anglia by train will remain with me forever. Sadly, I did not possess a camera in those days – and, hence, have no photos of steam hauled passenger trains on the area’s branch lines. Despite the traction change from steam to diesel multiple units, the axe fell on this Stour Valley line in March 1967.

    The Freightliner stabling point at Ipswich still receives its fuel by rail. The tanks are worked to Ipswich from Lindsey on Humberside. On 5 October 2015, No. 66556 is seen shunting a short rake of fuel tanks at the stabling point. (East Anglian Traction, Amberley Publishing)

    It is ironic that it has taken half a century for the politicians and decision makers in this country to realise that there is a demand for connections that are east to west. Historically, those lines from north to south (i.e. to and from London) have seemed to be the priority. I say, bring on the East West Rail Link ASAP. This should see the reinstatement of direct services between our two major university cities of Cambridge and Oxford.

    Meanwhile, I have spent those intervening fifty years travelling the railway lines of East Anglia that have survived. What’s more, in recent years, my wife persuaded me to make sure that my camera is our constant companion. The photographic fruits of these extensive travels have been on display on the internet for many years now.

    That said, Amberley coaxing me to produce a modern record of East Anglian Traction has been one of my most enjoyable projects.

    At the opposite end of the traction spectrum can be found a small fleet of GA's one, two or three-car diesel multiple units. These can be found across the region's non-electrified lines. A typical East Anglian scene on 4 May 2014 sees a single-car unit, No. 153309, calling at Hoveton & Wroxham while working a Sheringham to Norwich local service. (East Anglian Traction, Amberley Publishing)

     

     

     

    You see, for me the region is an area of railway contrasts and setting foot on today’s platforms at many stations in East Anglia is like stepping back in time by a couple of generations. If those who run today’s railway are to be believed, much change is, however, in the offing. There is a promise by today’s passenger operator of the areas franchise that virtually all its rolling stock will be replaced in the next few years. We shall see.

    As I write this, the last remaining semaphore signals in the Yarmouth and Lowestoft areas are being replaced.

    Meantime, we have enjoyed our adventures in this lovely part of the world. Our aim was to compile a record of rail operations in the area in the second decade of the 21st century – before future changes are delivered and the railway we know today is consigned to history.

    It just remains for me to say thank you to Amberley for giving me the opportunity to once again re-visit my roots. I also hope that the reader gleans a sense of my enthusiasm and enjoys browsing the books pages.

    John Jackson's new book East Anglian Traction is available for purchase now.

  • The Early Railways of Leeds by Anthony Dawson

    Scale drawing of Salamanca - note the wooden silencer atop the boiler and the feed-water tank at the front end. (The Early Railways of Leeds, Amberley Publishing)

    The City of Leeds (and surrounding area) has a long and fascinating railway history, including the first public railway (the Lake Lock Rail Road of 1796 near Wakefield) and perhaps the earliest Railway viaduct, built near Flockton in 1758. Indeed, Leeds was once home to the highest concentration of locomotive builders in England; famous names such as Kitson, Manning Wardle, Fowler, Hunslet, Robert Hudson, Hudswell Clarke all had their works here. It was also in Leeds that Lion – aka Titfield Thunderbolt – was built in 1838, in the ground floor of a converted mill in Hunslet by Todd, Kitson & Laird.

    Leeds has three internationally important claims on railway history, thanks to the pioneering Middleton Railway.

    It was here that in 1758 that Charles Brandling obtained the first Act of Parliament for a railway. Brandling, owner of the Middleton Estate and its collieries, ordered to secure various wayleaves and legal agreements for his embryonic Middleton Railway which was to carry his coals from his pits to staithes on the River Aire near Leeds Bridge. This was the result of ‘cut throat’ competition between the three major colliery owners in Leeds: Brandling (Middleton), William Fenton (Rothwell) and Joshua Wilkes (Beeston), with each trying to undercut the other as to the price of coal in Leeds. Brandling’s Act of 1758 stated he would supply coal at 4¾d per corf (a corf being an old measure of coal, approximately 210lbs) for a period of sixty years – the best his rival Fenton could do was 6d per corf for a period seventy years. Under his Act, Brandling was to supply no less than 22,500 tons of coal per year and the first waggon load of coals was brought down the Middleton Railway in September 1758; the local Press referring to the railway as being ‘of such general Utility … beneficial to every Individual within this Town.’

    Leeds Hunslet Lane in LMS days. (David Joy Collection, The Early Railways of Leeds, Amberley Publishing)

    But the story of the Middleton ‘firsts’ does not end there: in 1808 the Brandlings appointed John Blenkinsop as their manager at Middleton, and around 1810 he experimented with a low-pressure condensing single-cylinder steam locomotive but it was not a conspicuous success. In 1811, believing plain iron wheels on iron rails would not have sufficient adhesion for a locomotive to be able to move itself he took out a patent for a rack-and-pinion system of railway and in the following year introduced the world’s first commercially successful steam locomotive. These two engines had been built by Matthew Murray of the Round Foundry in Leeds and were named Prince Regent and Salamanca. The pair started work in June 1812, one of them hauling the first train load of coals from Middleton pits to Leeds in twenty-three minutes. Two more locomotives were built for the Middleton Railway, attracting international interests with visitors from France (Monsieur Andrieux), Prussia (Dr S. H. Spiker, Librarian to the King of Prussia), and even the future Tsar Nicholas I of Russia who travelled to Leeds to carry out an inspection. Blenkinsop’s engines – despite two of them blowing up – remained in use for nearly twenty years.

    No. 2593, a Midland Railway Class 2 4-4-0, prepares to depart Leeds Wellington, c. 1910. (The Early Railways of Leeds, Amberley Publishing)

    Not only was the Middleton the first railway to be built under an Act of Parliament and the first to commercially use steam traction, it was also the first standard-gauge railway to be preserved. The Middleton had been nationalised in 1947 as part of the National Coal Board, but despite it being the railway’s bicentenary year, the NCB announced it would be going over to road haulage in February 1958. Although the future seemed bleak for the little railway, a special train was organised in June, carrying 300 passengers on a bicentenary trip in cleaned up coal wagons. But, by August 1959 coal was leaving the Middleton pits by road, and by 1967 the coal traffic over the line had all but dried up. This is where the enterprising students of the Leeds University Union Railway Society became involved. Under the leadership of Dr Fred Youell, the society had the idea of acquiring a short stretch of railway line as a museum on which to display preserved artefacts, and the Middleton Railway was suggested – but the Leeds University Union had other ideas and did not approve of one of its societies running a railway. Thus in December 1959 the LUURS formed the Middleton Railway Preservation Society, and entered into negotiations for the use of the line. During Rag Week 1960 it operated its first train, comprising of a Swansea & Mumbles tramcar hauled by a Hunslet Diesel and driven by Dr Youell wearing Leeds Academic Regalia. During the week over 7,000 passengers were carried, and what had started as a [temporary] passenger service gave rise to another, even more radical idea: why not run a goods service? And so it was that a group of volunteer railwaymen commenced running a commercial goods train in September 1960, carrying scrap metal, thus becoming the first standard-gauge railway in the world to be preserved and run by volunteers.

    Although mainline steam in Leeds ended in 1968 – Leeds Central and Leeds Wellington stations had closed 1966-1967 – and the last steam locomotive for industry was turned out from Hunslet’s Jack Lane works in 1971 for export to Indonesia, steam still survives in Leeds where it began in 1812. For over fifty years the preserved Middleton Railway has carried happy passengers from its Moor Road terminus to Middleton Park and is home to a flourishing collection of locomotives which once bore ‘Leeds’ on their works plates.

    Anthony Dawson's new book The Early Railways of Leeds is avialable for purchase now.

  • The Seventies Railway by Greg Morse

    A Class 46 on a 'parcels' in 1975, by which time Post Office traffic had dropped from its peak. (c. Colour-Rail, The Seventies Railway, Amberley Publishing)

    My earliest memory of the real railway is of the prototype High Speed Train plunging under a bridge near my Swindon home, but I got a much better look later in 1975 when a certain D1023 brought a long (long!) freight to a stand at the station while I was there with my Mum and Dad.

    I was completely rapt by the locomotive, which was long, blue and sleek, which seemed to block out the sky.  Though I was yet to start taking numbers, I did notice a long, black nameplate on the side. It said Western Fusilier.  I had no idea what a fusilier was, of course, but I knew I liked the word.

    All-too-soon the signal went green, the right of way was received and the big beast growled and moved forward. Before I knew it, the brake van's oil lamp was twinkling in the moonlight and it was gone.

    The end is nigh as Class 52s D1013 Western Ranger and D1023 Western Fusilier bring the 'Western Tribute' railtour into Bristol Temple Meads on 26 February 1977. (c. Rail Photoprints, The Seventies Railway, Amberley Publishing)

     

     

    I only saw one more ‘Western’ – though I didn’t know it – for I was witnessing an end and not a beginning. Anyone older (and wiser) than me would probably have been chasing the class on railtours like the ‘Westerns South Western’, ‘Western Talisman’ or ‘Western China Clay’, or making pilgrimages to the Graveyard – the Graveyard of the Diesels at Swindon Works, where many withdrawn examples sat forlorn, their fading paintwork peeling slowly in the sun.

    The writing had been on the wall not long after they’d started entering traffic in 1961, BR deeming their hydraulic transmission systems non-standard just four years later. Though the ‘Westerns’ and some of their five counterparts had been largely successful, all British Rail’s other regions were equipped to maintain diesel-electrics, which were also cheaper to build and maintain. Withdrawals were such that by April 1975, the ‘Westerns’ were the only type left in service. As they lacked the room to house the electric train heating equipment required by BR’s newer carriages, and as more of their work was taken (first by Class 50s usurped from Anglo-Scottish services by electrification, then by brand-new HST), their numbers ebbed and ebbed to the point that by February 1977 it was almost all over.

    It's around 21.15 on 26 February 1977, and with the suitably adorned D1023 now leading, the 'Western Tribute' tour prepares to leave Taunton for the final run back to Paddington. (c. Rail Photoprints, The Seventies Railway, Amberley Publishing)

    Imagine it’s Saturday 26 February, it’s half-eight, it’s sunny, it’s cold and you’re at Paddington for BR’s ‘Western Tribute’ tour. The action’s all on Platform 2, where a phalanx of spotters, rail fans and enthusiasts vie for a view of Westerns Ranger and Fusilier at the country end. Cameras click, microphones rise, rubbings are taken – you’d think the nameplates were seventeenth-century church brasses.

    Departure comes with an almighty roar, as the mighty duo draw the train over the points and on towards Westbourne Park. By the time they return – having taken in Swindon, Bristol, Bridgend, Swansea, Plymouth, Taunton and Reading – it will be twenty-to-midnight. Fusilier will return to its birthplace to be preserved for the nation; Ranger will make for Plymouth Laira, where it’ll shunt a few wagons on the Monday morning, before towing the ‘Tribute’s’ two understudies – Campaigner and Lady – to Newton Abbot. When the driver powers down, takes out the master key and climbs from the cab, that’ll be it…Ranger will range on BR no more.

    The End was covered on the local television news, it was covered in The Guardian too. No one had shed many tears when BR’s early diesel failures had been withdrawn, but those had died in the days of steam. The ‘Westerns’ might have seen off the Great Western’s mighty ‘Castles’ and ‘Kings’, but for younger believers, they were a favourite and their loss was much mourned. Of course it all made perfect sense if you were trying to run a railway, but still... thank goodness for memories. Thank goodness for preservation.

    Greg Morse's new book The Seventies Railway is aviable for purchase now.

  • Working on the Victorian Railway by Anthony Dawson

    A mid-Victorian photograph of an LNWR locomotive crew, giving a good impression of the clothing and working conditions of early loco crews. (Working on the Victorian Railway, Amberley Publishing)

    Driving and firing, locomotives like Planet or Lion on the Liverpool & Manchester Railway was not too dissimilar from a BR ‘Standard’ or even Flying Scotsman. In fact, ever since Richard Trevithick had invented the first self-propelled steam engine on rails in 1803 the basics haven’t changed.

    Firstly, the fireman is responsible for the safe management of the boiler: he has to make sure there is sufficient water in the boiler, and that there is always enough steam. Early locomotives were remarkable efficient, Planet only requiring 18lbs (about 8kg) of coke per mile; Lion uses about double the amount. Unlike Flying Scotsman which has something called an injector (invented by the Frenchman Henri Giffard in 1851) to put water back in the boiler, Planet and Lion had to rely on pumps which only worked when the engine was moving. This made it particularly important that the boiler was re-filled towards the end of the working day as there was no means of getting water back into the boiler when the engine had stopped working. As an aside, there is absolutely no primary evidence whatsoever that these early engines were run up to a buffer-stop, oil liberally poured over the rails and the engine set running in order to get the pumps to work. Whilst Lion still has two pumps, the 1992-built replica of Planet has both a pump and an injector. In order to ascertain how much water is in the boiler, a thick glass tube called a gauge class is fixed to the back of the firebox, straddling the water line. Valves at the top and bottom control admission of steam (top) and water (bottom) and there is also a drain so that the gauge might be ‘blown through’ to get rid of any blockages which could cause a dangerous false reading.

    Cross-section of a typical 1840s locomotive. (Working on the Victorian Railway, Amberley Publishing)

    The boiler had to be kept full in order to keep the top of the firebox covered with water; early fireboxes were usually made from iron but from the mid-1830s onwards they were made from copper. Copper melts at about 1,000ºC, whilst the fire in the firebox can be as much as 1,500! The firebox must be surrounded with water – and free from any scale which acts as a good insulator – in order to stop it from overheating and melting. If it does overheat, the fusible plug (a bronze bush with a lead core screwed into the top of the firebox) melts: the lead running out, jetting hot water and steam into the firebox as an early warning system to tell the crew to put the pumps on (and take the fire out if safe to do so).

    The foorplate and controls of Planet. (Working on the Victorian Railway, Amberley Publishing)

    In order to drive Planet, there are a pair of polished steel levers on the left hand side of the footplate. These drive the valves which admit or exhaust steam from the cylinders. Because these handles are directly connected to the valves, it means the engine can be driven ‘on the levers’ with the driver setting the valve timing by hand to get the locomotive moving. But this would be very tiring for a thirty-mile trip to Liverpool. So to get the locomotive to run on its own, the valves are worked via an eccentric on the driving axle. An eccentric works like a crank, turning rotary motion (round and round) into reciprocating motion (backwards and forwards). On Planet, the eccentrics were sandwiched between a pair of collars and are free to move laterally (side to side) between a pair of ‘driving dogs’ clamped to the crank axle. These ‘driving dogs’ are set 90º apart, providing fore- and back-gear. Each dog corresponds with a slot in the collar, into which it engages as appropriate. A pedal on the footplate shifts the eccentrics to the left or right so that the driver can select the direction of travel. Fastened to the eccentrics are ‘eccentric rods’. These pass to the front of the engine and work a rocking shaft. The eccentric rods end in a drop-hook called a ‘gab’ which can be locked or unlocked from the rocking shat. With the hooks unlocked, the valves can be worked by hand; with them locked in place, the valves are worked by the eccentrics. It all sounds very complicated, but it is in fact quite simple – when you know how!

    A id-Victorian photograph of a Furness Railway Bury-type locomotive of the 1840s. (Working on the Victorian Railway, Amberley Publishing)

    If starting, and getting the engine moving was one problem, then stopping it was quite another. For a start, there were no brakes on the engine, merely a hand-brake on the tender (the parking brake) which could be used in emergencies. Guards, sitting on the roofs of the carriages each controlled a hand brake, and if the driver wanted the train brakes putting on, he blew his whistle three times in quick succession. If he wanted them off, three times in longer beats. In order to slow down and stop the engine, it has to be put into reverse.  This often conjures up images of Casey Jones, throwing his engine into reverse, the wheels spinning round backwards, sparks flying. But nothing could be further from reality – it’s really quite gentle. The driver closes the regulator, shutting off steam to the pistons and the locomotive slows down, still moving forward under its own momentum. At about 5mph he can release his foot pedal, shifting the eccentrics over, putting the engine into reverse. After a revolution of the wheel (so the ‘driving dog’ engages into its slot on the eccentric cheek) reverse is engaged and the regulator slowly opened, putting steam back into the cylinders, but in reverse. So instead of pushing the engine forward, the pressure of the steam in the cylinders – because the engine is still going forward – cushions the piston, acting as a brake, bringing the engine slowly to a halt, and, with practice and skill, can be used to keep the engine stationary. Even though the replica Planet is fitted with a modern air-brake system, many drivers prefer to stop her 1830s style.

    Planet with a mixed train (first- and second-class) standing in front of the 1830 Railway Warehouse at Liverpool Road Station, now part of the Museum of Science and Industry, Manchester. (Photo: Matthew Jackson, Working on the Victorian Railway, Amberley Publishing)

    Enginemen of the 1830s were a hardy lot: neither Planet nor Lion have cabs, and only an ornamental railing to stop you falling over the side. On a bright summer’s day, chuffing along at about 20mph can be very pleasant indeed, but in the cold, wet, or wind it can be a harrowing experience.  Nor were the crews allowed to sit down to take a breather (at least officially); they were to stand up at all times and keep a sharp look-out. A billy can of hot tea could be kept warm by standing it close to the firebox and food kept in one of the lockers on the tender. Relief of another kind was a different matter entirely: there were no toilets at any of the stations so many enginemen must have, in emergencies relieved themselves onto their coal or over the side – in fact the Leeds & Selby Railway passed an order preventing enginemen ‘making water over the side of their engines’. They couldn’t even sit down and have a sandwich at the station: the Lancashire & Yorkshire prohibited loco crews from using any public bench or seat or refreshment room – presumably because they didn’t want dirty footprints all over.

    Drawing from practical experience of operating the replica Planet locomotive, Working on the Victorian Railway explores how drivers and firemen of the 1830s and 1840s were trained – or not! – their pay, working conditions and responsibilities and shows how there is very little difference between the first mainline express steam locomotive, Planet of 1830 and the most recent, Tornado (2008).

    Anthony Dawson's new book Working on the Victorian Railway is available for purchase now.

  • Scottish Traction by Colin J. Howat

    Class 37403 (ED) “Isle Of Mull” at Oban ready to depart with a service to Glasgow Queen Street. Taken April 1985 (Author's collection)

    Moving on from my earlier books, Ayrshire and Strathclyde Traction, I have now delved deeper and further into my archives. Scottish Traction as the title suggests covers Scotland from Thurso in the far north to Gretna Junction in the south. I have also included a couple of shots of trains just south of Gretna.

    A lot has changed with the Scottish Traction scene since these days. At one time there was an extensive internal sleeper service within Scotland out with the main Anglo-Scottish services. I can remember travelling overnight from Glasgow Queen Street to Inverness and back and also travelling from Ayr to Carlisle. I even remember turning out at Ayr station at 4:30 in the morning to capture the last Stranraer bound sleeper working from London Euston (May 1991). However, disaster struck as my 35MM Chinon camera jammed and I lost the shot – every photographers’ nightmare. I did however, capture the last south bound working. The advent of low cost budget airlines and other developments put an end to these trains and most were withdrawn by the early 1990s.

    47610 (ED) arrives at Edinburgh with a service from Birmingham. Taken May 1982 (Author's collection)

    Scotland has a diverse range of scenery from the rolling flat countryside of the Nith Valley north of Dumfries, through the fantastic West Highlands to the remote fields of the Far North line north of Inverness,  all offering their own unique characteristics. I have included 3 images for this blog that are not included in the book but hopefully will give a taste of the main ingredients contained within it.

    As time has passed, the Traction has also changed. The old class 303 electric units long associated with the Glasgow area are now gone. However their successors, Class 314s, are almost 40 years old and are also expected to be withdrawn by 2019. Class 318 and 320s along with Class 334 and 380 units now cover the electric scene. DMUs are long gone but again their replacements, Class 156 and 158 units are almost 30 years of age as well.

    Class 47 crosses the River Tay just outside Perth station on the single line to Barnhill with a London Euston to Aberdeen service. Taken August 1981 (Author's collection)

    With the impending electrification of the Glasgow Queen Street to Edinburgh via Falkirk High route expected to start at the end of 2017, this will trigger another cascade of traction with more Class 170 DMUs expected to be diagrammed onto the new Border Railway. The new electric Class 385 Hitachi units are expected to dominate the Central area for the next 30 plus years but are still to be tested out. Freight unfortunately has fallen to an all time low. Coal traffic is only a shadow of the past and container traffic looks like the future as in England it is increasing gradually. I would expect further lines around the Central belt to be electrified as the government wishes to cut emissions. As the old saying states “Nothing stays still” and I expect the changing rail scene to continue on.

    Colin J. Howat's new book Scottish Traction is available for purchase now.

  • David Brown Tractors by Jonathan Whitlam

    Arriving in 1945, the VAK1A replaced the original model and featured a modified front axle arrangement as well as quicker engine starting. (David Brown Tractors, Amberley Publishing)

    While writing the book David Brown Tractors it became apparent that 2017 was a good year to produce a book dedicated to the David Brown tractor line. Why was this I hear you ask? Well 2017 marks no less than 70 years since the David Brown Cropmaster tractor was first introduced. A tractor that did nothing less than put the David Brown tractor on the map and was also responsible for several firsts.

    Otherwise known as the VAK1/C, the Cropmaster was the first David Brown machine to feature a model name and this no doubt helped to catch the imagination of the farming public of 1947 when it was launched. David Brown had first brought out a tractor on their own back in 1939, known as the VAK1, followed by the VAK1/A in 1945. The Cropmaster was very much an evolution of that design with an improved engine and a longer build incorporating a hydraulic lift system. The whole engine and gearbox of the Cropmaster was also offset slightly towards the nearside, giving the driver a better forwards view. The company also claimed it improved traction on the nearside rear wheel when ploughing with the other wheel in the furrow bottom as the weight distribution was where it was needed.

    One of the reasons the Cropmaster was so successful was the fact that many items, such as pneumatic tyres, electric starting, lights and hydraulic lift, were included as standard features rather than extras as was the norm with the competition. Although a four speed transmission was standard, a six speed version was also offered as an option, this being the first tractor to offer such a huge range of gears. Another feature was a turnbuckle top link, which was an industry first and used by every tractor manufacture today.

    A David Brown Cropmaster working with a binder at a show in the south of England. (Photo: Kim Parks, David Brown Tractors, Amberley Publishing)

    In 1949 a diesel version of the Cropmaster became available, built by David Brown and making the Cropmaster the first British tractor to feature a direct injection diesel engine. This only further enhanced the popularity of the tractor.

    As time passed the Cropmaster inevitably evolved and in 1950 the more powerful Super Cropmaster appeared, followed by the Prairie Cropmaster in 1951 and a narrow version in 1952 for orchard and vineyard work.

    But all good things must come to an end and so in 1953 Cropmaster production ceased in favour of the new 25, 25D, 30C and 30D models which continued the evolution of the David Brown tractor but saw the end of the familiar Cropmaster name.

    70 years is a long time, and tractors have changed a great deal since then. But the Cropmaster was a landmark model and one that would set the pattern not only for future David Brown tractor features but also tractors industry wide. Not a bad feat for a tractor produced in a small factory at Meltham Mills, near Huddersfield in Yorkshire!

    David Brown Tractors tells the whole overview of tractors produced by the David Brown company from the Ferguson Type A of 1939 through to the very last Case IH 94 Series that left the factory in 1988.

    Jonathan Whitlam's new book David Brown Tractors is available for purchase now.

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