If you liked the previous post, you’ll love this one.
It is a summer’s day in the early 1960s, there is an engine simmering in the engine shed yard and the silence is broken by the metallic sound of the Tannoy voice.
‘The next train to arrive at Platform 1 will be the 11.17 train for Manchester Victoria, calling at Prestatyn, Mostyn, Flint, Chester (change for Liverpool Crewe and London Euston, Helsby, Frodsham, Warrington Bank Quay, Earlestown, Newton le Willows, Patricroft, Eccles and Manchester Victoria. First class accommodation is at the front of the train. Platform 1 for Manchester Victoria.’
Such romantic names, Newton le Willows I thought of as a chocolate box pastoral idyll of a village with tea shoppes selling scones with cream and breakfast teas and Camp coffee. I was quickly dispelled of this image when I used this train regularly to travel onwards to university. By then it was a rattling corporate blue, anonymous diesel multiple unit. Newton le Willows was no rural idyll and would warrant prosecution under the Trades Description Act!
We’d stay on Platform 2 and stare through the heat haze beyond the H bridge to see the shimmering mirage of an engine becoming clearer . The signal gantry at the H bridge would be activated to show an engine on either the slow up line, or the fast up line taking the line for the platform. The signal arm at the signal box shown here would be pulled off to confirm the route.
By now we would be racing over the passenger bridge to race down Platform 1 to where the engine would stop just beyond the bridge and before the next signal gantry. If the signal had not yet been pulled it would indicate that the train was on or ahead of time and that might make the driver more affable to a request to join him on the footplate. If the signal was already off then he’d be impatient to be away and his fireman would be working hard to fill the firebox and adjust the injectors.
Sometimes the train would stop short so that it sat under the Vale Road Bridge. On these occasions we stood under the bridge with it, drinking in the magnificent aroma of live steam and hot oil and sulphurous coal. It made you giddy with excitement.
At the guard’s whistle, the driver would open the engine up and, if the rails were greasy from rail and the oil of previous trains the engine would slip and the wheels would spin, producing a cacophony of roaring slipping wheels and escaping volcanoes of steam which would envelop us. The driver would ease off to enable the engine to get a surer footing on the rails and move off to a succession of short sharp beats which gradually increased as the engine gained some traction.
The engine would move off at a quickly accelerating pace, the maroon carriages would then pass us by. The lucky people on the train were distractedly reading or lost in conversation or sandwich eating, not appreciating the wonder of their position on the train, a position we would have killed to occupy.
‘Look!’ we’d say, ‘at the mechanical wonder, of the scenery and sites, the other engines and the stations, the speed and the purpose, the adventures unfolding!’
But they’d simply give us urchins a glance and disappear behind their newspapers or relax into the sumptuous seating for a nap.
Train travel would look so much better with us on board!