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STEWART BLENCOWE
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News & Jottings

Many reading this page will be well aware of what the 11th August 1968 means in British Railway history. My Cheltenham friend and I had both been on the Fifteen Guinea Special on that day (un-beknown to each other) so this day, fifty years on, just had to be commemorated. We therefore joined the Pathfinder Settle & Carlisle Golden railtour, which started at Bristol, for an assault on Shap and return via the Settle and Carlisle. We travelled in dining style, with Union of South Africa on the front, ably supported by a class 66. The weather and the timekeeping both behaved themselves and so the milestone has past. Never could we have imagined on that dark day in 1968 what was to come in terms of the railway preservation movement and mainline running. Let’s hope that it is not just generational.

Readers of this column will know that my overseas exploits over the last forty years years have taken me on some hard rides, all for the sake of steam . Since the turn of the century Mrs B has been coming along, tempted by more ‘tourist’ orientated itineraries. On purpose we had left the USA alone, ready for our ‘older’ years when ‘easier’ countries might be more attuned to our failing knees etc!

Our previous trip to the States had been twenty plus years ago when the kids were taken to Florida and the delights of Disneyworld etc. On that occasion, I did manage to secure a permit from the head of the Florida East Coast Railway to visit their main workshops at New Smyrna Beach so the holiday was not totally devoid on interest!

So, in September, wishing an overview of America as a precursor to perhaps other, more focused trips, we joined Great Railway Journey’s ‘Coast to Coast’ tour, from which we have just returned. Of course American railways are freight railways and, boy-o-boy, in some style. 150 bogie wagon freight trains with up to nine locomotive on are impressive to say the least. It was almost a constant stream past our carriage window as we traversed America and I can’t wait to return to photograph a similar experience from the lineside – wherever.

It is also so refreshing to see so many factories, businesses and industrial estates connected to the rail system and actually being used! On a free day in Flagstaff I watched as a couple of twenty-five year old switchers shuffle around town dipping into numerous sidings, picking up the odd wagon or two and forming their train in the station yard. Talking to a trucker here it seems while road transport is a lot lot quicker, it can be up to thirty times more expensive. So rail charges must be pretty low!

Of course on a three week trip you bearly get time to settle anywhere. A day and a half each in New York, Washington, Chicago, Denver, Flagstaff, Long Beach and San Francisco is derisory but, it was what it said on the can – an overview. Still, highlights stood out for me (different for Mrs B I’m sure) such as the hump yards of outer Chicago, the Chicago Metro with it’s elevated section in the city centre, the ride from Denver to Grand Junction, the Silverton and Durango, the Grand Canyon and it’s associated railway from Williams (tacky, but in a very good way!), the Queen Mary at Long Beach and the San Francisco cable cars and trams.

Threading all these iconic locations together of course, was Amtrak. Much maligned and un-loved it is continually buffeted between the freight railway and the American political right wing. However, on our brief experience of three overnight journeys and three daytime journeys, I’d give it at least eight out of ten. Invariably freight comes first so one has to be aware of and accept that delays can and do occur. But the seating and accommodation is very comfortable, although a little tired in places, and ‘dinner in the diner’ is still a very acceptable and agreeable way to watch the American countryside drift by. Lets hope that the airline type meals now served on the Washington-Chicago ‘Capitals United'does not spread to the other routes, although the prospects don’t look great. Enjoy Amtrak while you can!

So next year the ‘Big-Boy’ is destined to hit the rails in the biggest come-back in railway history – it may be time to get those American railroad maps out again.

So far 2019 has been somewhat subdued in terms of railway visits and activities. During the early part of the year visiting relatives was a priority as well as fitting in mini-breaks to long-ignored destinations. So trips to Cornwall, West Wales, even Huddersfield and Hull occupied much of the Spring before the cricket world cup started! Enough of that though, so a commitment has been made to spend next Christmas ‘down-under’ with son number one, in Adelaide which should hopefully deal with the winter 'blues' very nicely.

For a small summer break we have just returned from participating in the Railway Touring Company trip to Hungary and Slovakia. We began in Budapest – what a city! Never been there before but it was all it has been cracked up to be. The public transport system is awesome, with, so I understand, the biggest tram network of anywhere in Europe. On top of trams, there are trolleybuses, buses, metro and suburban railways, and all totally free if you are over 65! In addition the city has probably one of the best railway museums in Europe.

The first part of the trip included a day on the rails around Lake Balaton behind immaculate 4-8-0 424 247 and our special train. Despite temperatures in the high 30’s a couple of hours spent at Tapolka was very pleasant watching diesels on three coach branch line trains and old Czech railcars amongst traditional infrastructure.

Our special train, conveying us from Budapest to Kosice, in Slovakia, was hauled by M61 019, one of the well respected Nohab machines that have only recently finished their front line activities. The M61 performed well despite her rather garish pink livery!

Slovakia is another European country that has risen through the ranks and could show the UK a thing or two. Once again free travel for all over 70, all day tram tickets for three euros and beer at £1.50 a pint. The railways carry a huge amount of freight and the substantial use of trains formed of a locomotive and coaches means the system retains it’s flexibility to deal with spikes in traffic. Based at the steel town of Kosice it was interesting to ride tram service R1 actually terminating in the enormous steelworks complex. Interestingly, the steelworks is served by a totally isolated broad gauge line from the Ukraine.

Our special train travelled along lines leading to the Ukraine and freight only branchlines behind 2-8-2T 432 032 which performed faultlessly. Much of the diesel and electric locomotive classes here are thirty to forty years old with a few 1960’s examples relegated to shunting. As a contrast, a day spent on the narrow gauge Tatra mountain lines was by modern units, understandable judging by the sheer volume of travellers visiting this popular area.

So, all in all, a very enjoyable trip, facilitated by the usual high standard of RTC organisation.

Meanwhile, life returns to as normal as it can get. The annual retro-festival here in Gloucester seems to get better and this year was graced by the 'Retro Express' from Birmingham hauled by 7029. Perhaps as a consequnce interest in the railway section of the Antiques Centre was above normal levels with a totem and a cabside both finding new homes.

The sad death of a long standing customer has meant a considerable increase in the range and quality of items in our unit. He had been a life long collector particularly of paycheques and ephemera of all kinds, much of which will have to find it's way onto the auction scene in due course.

Looking on the bright side, recent visitors to the Antiques Centre may have thought Blencowe had completely lost his marbles this time. There, for all to see, was a lavatory door, but not just any lavatory door, a LSWR example complete with a SECR advert in the glass panel. A superb practical item that could have graced the cupboard under the stairs or the loo out the back. Eventually it was eagerly carried away by some French visitors who were returning home by Eurostar. Imagine the scene by the scanning machines at St.Pancras.

Well, if we don't see you in the unit hopefully it will be at one of the usual auctions or collectors fairs so in the meantime the usual plea's apply, please remember me if you are downsizing, especially working timetables, ephemera and photographs etc. Always willing to travel for large quantities and it's helpful if you have lists, but happy to help out anyway. I'm just an email away.

I am an avid collector of Indian railway publicity, guides, books, folders, leaflets etc. In line with English railways, such publicity started with the original Indian companies, the Bombay, Baroda and Central India, the Bengal Nagpur, the East Indian etc in late Victorian times and continued up to the 1950s. I am particularly trying to obtain all the folders, like the one illustrated below, and would love to hear from anyone who has one of the following;

Big Game Shooting in India
India and the Tourist
India for the Tourist
Tourist Cars
Indian Cameos
South India
Travancore
Kangra Valley
Delhi