News & Jottings
Anyway, the main event of the year, a wedding in the Blencowe clan, was in June, at the start of two months of glorious weather (at long last). The ceremony in Abingdon was a super affair, conducted in the modern wedding style and I for one thoroughly enjoyed the day. It’s been many a year since I have been enticed onto the dance floor although I must say that the current state of my back had nothing to do with it – that’s down to an errant trespass plate and the issues of getting older!
In spite of the ‘main event’ we did manage to get away elsewhere, for railway purposes of course. Firstly, while Mrs B was cruising in the Baltic with a lady friend, I took the opportunity to join four days of the annual Irish Railway Society shindig in May. A friend of mine in Cheltenham, who was a traveler on these railtours in the 1960’s, reminds me, so many of the byways and nooks and crannies of the Irish railway system have been lost, never mind the motive power. Well that’s true, but within todays limitations, what a wonderful job the IRRS does in coming up with a near week-long programme that one can pick and mix into, all with the accommodation book as well, if required.
I joined the tour at Dublin and, with the wonderful 4-4-0 No.85 at the front, headed off to Mallow where the stalwart 2-4-6 tank No.4 took over for the trip to Tralee. Very little remains of the narrow gauge Tralee and Dingle of course and even the preservation scheme at Blennerville seems moribund. After a day tootling to Mallow and back behind No.85 we started back to Dublin in earnest on the Sunday. On reaching Dublin we were informed that No.4, our onward traction to Belfast, had failed, so we would have to travel on behind the 4-4-0 – imagine the disappointment!! Now 85 is classic machine and with the right crew, wonders can be performed – and we had the right crew! A tremendous performance up the Dublin-Belfast main line ensued. On reaching Carrickfergus, after 300 plus miles of 4-4-0 haulage, I thanked the driver for such a wonderful experience. With white teeth shining through a coal-blackened face he said he had enjoyed it as well – and I’m sure he was right. My time with the tour concluded the next day with a wander around Belfast and Antrim with newly restored small 4-4-0 No.131. Wheres the booking form for 2019!
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.
Meanwhile, life returns to normal and a busy autumn is upon us with shows at Cheltenham, Burton, Pershore, Wickham, Stoneleigh and of course, the Warley Model show at the NEC. Roll on 2019! 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.
Otherwise do make contact if there is anything specific you need or come a say hello if you actually notice me on the stand somewhere.
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;