Sunday 10 July 2011

'Fred Tingey' back in steam today

A big weekend up at Kirkby Stephen East this weekend! Yesterday was the Stainmore Railway Company AGM and then in the afternoon Mike Thompson lit the fire in his 'Peckett' Saddle tank. The plan was to test all the boiler and pipe seals under full steam pressure and doing this kind of work you can only take it very carefully. If any of the seals are unreliable you have to stop the process, drop the fire and get back to work.

Mike was at the station all night, sleeping with our cat 'Quaker' and getting up to tend the fire. By lunchtime today we were up to full boiler pressure and the engine 'blew off' its safety valves and after a few minutes checking that the injectors and steam brakes were working he was off up the yard - the first time that 'F.C. Tingey' has steamed in the last ten years.

During the afternoon a few of us got a footplate ride a little way up the yard too. The passenger line is passed for traffic now but we are still very canny, checking every last nut and bolt for safety.

Still - a fine sight eh? In a few weeks time you will be able to see the engine in action on passenger trains too. Make a note to get up to the station soon!

'Fred Tingey' back in steam today

A big weekend up at Kirkby Stephen East this weekend! Yesterday was the Stainmore Railway Company AGM and then in the afternoon Mike Thompson lit the fire in his 'Peckett' Saddle tank. The plan was to test all the boiler and pipe seals under full steam pressure and doing this kind of work you can only take it very carefully. If any of the seals are unreliable you have to stop the process, drop the fire and get back to work.

Mike was at the station all night, sleeping with our cat 'Quaker' and getting up to tend the fire. By lunchtime today we were up to full boiler pressure and the engine 'blew off' its safety valves and after a few minutes checking that the injectors and steam brakes were working he was off up the yard - the first time that 'F.C. Tingey' has steamed in the last ten years.

During the afternoon a few of us got a footplate ride a little way up the yard too. The passenger line is passed for traffic now but we are still very canny, checking every last nut and bolt for safety.

Still - a fine sight eh? In a few weeks time you will be able to see the engine in action on passenger trains too. Make a note to get up to the station soon!

Thursday 7 July 2011

Return of '65033'

I was selecting some pictures this week to use in the main 'Stainmore 150' guide and we have been given permission from the Locomotive Conservation and Learning Trust to use this photo of '65033' in the section on 'visiting locomotives'. It is a timely reminder of the attractions of J21's as some of us will be across to Shildon next week to help get the engine ready to bring over to Kirkby Stephen next month.

If you haven't seen a J21 with a full boiler of steam you simply haven't lived!

The occasion here is surely the RCTS Railtour of 7 May 1960. I thought it was earlier in the year because of the bare oaks but looking carefully at the picture the 'May' is already in blossom. And the light fits too - from the south west and quite low in the sky. I'm not sure where on the Eden Valley line this picture was taken but the train was timed to depart 17:01 from Penrith and arrive at Kirkby Stephen East 17:48. That is the last time any J21 showed up at  KSE - a quick 'back of an envelope' calculation suggests that it has been 18,688 days since '65033' last drew up on the Darlington Platform.

But next month you will have the opportunity to see her here again.

Wednesday 6 July 2011

Pay attention in the pram at the back there!

Meet the Stainmore Railway Company's youngest shareholder, my grandson Thomas Halstead. He was only born three weeks ago but already he has a £10 stake in operations at Kirkby Stephen East. In fact he had it on the day he was born.

You know what Francis Xavier used to say "Give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man ...". Must make a note to get him here as often as possible over the coming few years so that he has a chance to grow up with the sound of safety valves 'popping' in his ears just like his grandfather. My first memory of steam locomotives even in my pram is certainly as being noisy beasts. When I was a small child we lived in a Nissen hut on Croft Aerodrome south of Darlington and my first dim memories are of (BR experimental blue!) Gresley Pacifics racing by. Who could ask for better first memories than that?

Young Tom is going to have to shape up though - no point in sleeping on when there is train spotting to be done.

And if you have a new child or grandchild in the family too - why not buy them a share in the Stainmore Railway Company and pass our heritage on bit by bit to a new generation?

Monday 4 July 2011

On local radio

On Saturday Belinda Artingstoll from BBC Radio Cumbria was up at Kirkby Stephen East making some recordings for an upcoming piece about the Stainmore Railway project. She interviewed nearly a dozen of us in total and it was interesting to see how she used different sound 'backgrounds' - walking outdoors for example - to add contrast for the listener.

At one stage during the afternoon she interviewed Louis and Jimmy Richardson about their working lives on the railway in the buffet car. They made such an interesting sight all hunched together around one of those Gresley formica tables that I just couldn't resist whipping out my tripod and going for an 'arty' photograph to capture the atmosphere of the occasion. I also provoked an occasional grin from the contributors as I aimed my camera through the carriage window.

And here it is - that high-tech microphone busy capturing oral history for posterity. Back in 1960 we still had reel to reel tape recorders! It seems to me that this 'oral history' angle is one of the most interesting and valuable elements of our complex project at the moment, there are still so many still around with interesting tales to tell.

Car Rally Fun

We could hardly have asked for a better day for the 'Classic Car Rally' yesterday - a gorgeous day and hot too. In the shop I seemed to be selling a constant stream of cans out of the fridge and it was so hot for Edera out in the sunshine on the door that I had to go and scrounge a hat for her from the Mess Room. Never thought that I would hear her complaining about how hot it was in Kirkby Stephen!

I was so busy inside that I only got to scout around outside a couple of times but what a wonderful collection of cars there eh? I guess that there must have been nearly forty and there was such a great variety. Phil Thompson and his team had their work cut out getting everyone a pitch in our car park and it was lucky that we could borrow some parking over on the other side of the station for other visitors.

So many beautiful cars. I look forward to seeing them all, and the really classic 'near vintage' end is so interesting. But personally I have a soft spot for the stuff that I remember in my youth - the Morris 1000 and Fort Escort end of the universe.

This event is really 'shaping up' as a part of the Kirkby Stephen East calendar and if you didn't manage to make it yesterday be sure not to forget it in 2012!

Saturday 2 July 2011

No Trespassing

Just eight weeks to go until the 'big weekend' in August and there was plenty of paint being slapped around up at Kirkby Stephen East today. A team was outside priming the 'Tebay Platform' shed doors and inside several paint jobs were also in progress.

Here is Edera priming two new replica cast iron 'No Trespassing' signs. They are EXACTLY the ones that I remember over the Stainmore Line - signed by 'C.N. Wilkinson'. Not sure when he was the Company Secretary but it must have been early in the 1900's because the penalty for trespass was already 'forty shillings'. Cheap by today's standards eh? I think the going rate now is £1200.

Somewhere I have an excellent photograph of such a sign by the stile at the east end of Tees Valley Viaduct taken with my first Brownie 127 camera in 1958. In the background is a stripy blur which I can tell you is the pilot BR 4MT on a 'Blackpool Special' legging it out of Barney for the foot of the bank. This was the first time I learned about the issue of shutter speeds. Nice picture of the 'No Trespassing' sign though!

Anyway the point I wanted to make was - if you are a 'dab hand' at painting or any similar tasks this could be a good time to turn up at the East Station as a volunteer ...

Friday 1 July 2011

Aerial View

Here is an interesting photograph that Mark Keefe sent me yesterday. To take it he had to get a ladder and clamber up onto the station roof but it was certainly worth the effort. It shows just how far the platform extension has come over the last couple of weeks.

You can begin to see the final layout here quite clearly - which is just as well I guess as it will be in use in eight weeks time. On the right is the running line and on the left the siding into the Tebay Platform. In the middle is the new 'West Bay' where I guess the DMU will be usually parked up. Yes, for the first time in its 150 year history Kirkby Stephen East has its own 'bay' platform. I wonder why it was never built that way, as 'Barney' station was?

Still a bit of track to lay there lads ...

The really striking thing here is that we have a heck of a platform area now - you could actually use this space quite creatively to hold events. Outdoor concerts, shows, business presentations ... a space like this is an asset. Maybe we could even have a bandstand there!

Thursday 30 June 2011

Donation from afar

I heard an interesting bit of news today. The appeal for the replica 'Stainmore Summit' sign is going well and we are on target to have raised sufficient funds to erect the sign during August.

But Mike tells me that one of the cheques that arrived today particularly delighted them both It arrived on their door mat all the way from New Zealand.

The contributor was Charlie Oxley, a former shedmaster at Kirkby Stephen who will be known to many of the ex-employees who read this blog and who will be around at Kirkby Stephen East on 29th August. Charlie is now 83 years old and lives in Taranaki which if I remember right is on the east side of North Island somewhere north of Wellington.

Charlie was shedmaster at Kirkby Stephen shed from 1956 to 1957.

Amazing to think that half a century later and half way around the world the old line should still remain so vividly in some one's memory. But it doesn't surprise me at all. Charlie says that he is beyond making the trip back to the UK now to attend the reunion in August but he is delighted that the sign is going back up at the summit again.

Wednesday 29 June 2011


Few things are certain in life but I guess one of them is probably that BR 'Britannia' Class 70007 'Coeur-de-Lion' never hauled a 'Blackpool Special' over Stainmore. It isn't beyond the bounds of theoretical  possibility that one of the Class might have found itself running into 'Barney' station on a troop 'special' from Darlington or even possibly 'around the block' from West Auckland on a 'running in' turn after attention at Darlington Works. But such large and heavy engines were absolutely verboten over the wrought iron viaducts of the Stainmore Line.

To be honest I'm not even sure where 70007's 'native turf' was. I am no expert on 'Britannias' and my only reference book is on a bookshelf 7,000 miles away. But I think she was an Eastern Region engine. Can any of our readers tell us?

Anyway the reason I am posting today's image is that it is one of the beautiful paintings by John Robinson that we are currently stocking in the shop at Kirkby Stephen East. I just love the late 1950's atmosphere of this work and the portraits of the footplate staff.

But if you want a copy, don't delay. There are only a limited number of this picture available in our stock , and we are expecting it to be popular. Drop in at the station soon!

Monday 27 June 2011

D3 at Kirkby Stephen

Here is a neat picture I came across in a collection Mark let me have recently - a Great Northern Railway 'Ivatt' D3 4-4-0. The picture was taken by H.C. Casserley, I think on the coaling track at Kirkby Stephen shed. It must be between 1933 and 1935 which was when '4349' was based at Kirkby Stephen.

The D3's cam north in 1931 and were originally based at Darlington for trains to 'Barney', Saltburn and Bishop Auckland. But two years later they found their way 'over the top' and they were not popular. Not only were they designed for the flat lands of Lincolnshire and Cambridgeshire but they had spartan cabs too. As you can see complaints by footplate crews led to the fitting of a cab extension with a single window but they certainly weren't as 'roomy' as Worsdell cabs. Those 6'8" 'drivers' were probably dodgy on greasy rails too. Pretty little engines though.

Anyway they were gone by 1935. As luck would have it when they closed the Redhills direct link between the Eden Valley and Cockermouth lines the engines were too big for the turntable at Penrith.

If you look just above the front buffer you can see a railwayman working on his allotment on the embankment side.

Sunday 26 June 2011

One way of watering a locomotive

This made me smile up at Kirkby Stephen East today. The Peckett 0-4-0 Saddle Tank 'F.C. Tingey' is now almost completely reassembled and due to be steamed soon and the time had come to fill her up with water for the first time this year.

Unfortunately we are lacking a water column at the Heritage Centre. There hasn't been one for fifty years and I'm not sure where we would find one these days, let alone any ample water supply to run through it.

The only answer is a garden hose. Mike attaches it to the sink in the 'Gents' and runs it across the platform. As the locomotive is being filled from scratch it has to be filled through the boiler inspection hatch rather than the tank. When the engine is in steam and running of course the injector will be used to carry water from the tank into the boiler.

I never thought that I would see some B&Q plastic hose being used for this job. It takes all day to fill to half way up the glass, but it works.

Saturday 25 June 2011

New picture stock arrives

The railway artist John Robinson called around at our house yesterday to drop off a stock of reproductions for the shop at Kirkby Stephen East. His painting "Those were the Days ... Heading For Stainmore" has been one of the most popular items in the shop and we sold the last copy in our stock three weeks ago. Now, thanks to John's generosity we have a good stock available for the summer. But if you want a copy better to drop in sooner rather than later as the are likely to sell quickly again. When they are gone, they are gone!

In with this stock that we have there are also examples of other work by John, including his popular painting of footplate staff with 70007, 41350 with a passenger train at Holmfirth and J21 65089 ion the Weardale branch with a passenger train, but just a few copies of each.

Why not drop into the shop and take a look at them soon? We are open Saturdays and Sundays from 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM throughout the summer.

Wednesday 22 June 2011

Old drain new flood.

I had to go up to Kirkby Stephen East this afternoon to pick up some things but as I was putting my shoes on around three the heavens opened. We had the biggest deluge that I've seen anywhere in England for a long time (although to be honest it was tame stuff compared with some of the autumn monsoons we get in Japan). It fairly stair-rodded it down here for two hours and going up to the Station seemed a bad, bad idea, especially with the old place so churned up by diggers over the last couple of weeks.

Anyway in the end it did stop raining and I drove up through the floods on Nateby Road. When I got there it wasn't as bad as I'd feared - there were some small ponds formed near the Tebay Platform extension but not the lake I had anticipated.

The reason soon became apparent. A while back I mentioned that we had discovered the old cast iron water column feed pipe hereabouts, but today's heavy rain had also revealed the location of the iron cover of the old drain that the South Durham and Lancashire Union Railway had installed to drain away overflow from the water column. Amazingly after 150 years that drain is still working! It was very successfully coping with this afternoon's deluge.

Tuesday 21 June 2011

Classic Car Rally looms ...

I had some details yesterday from Phil Thompson about this year's Classic Car Rally. If it isn't in your diary yet it is going to be held at Kirkby Stephen East the Sunday after next - The 3rd of July. Admission is £2. Don't miss it!

Scanning down the list it looks as if Phil has had quite a lot of entries this year - so far 28 confirmed in total. There are four classes - 'pre-1930', '1930 to 1960', '1960 to 1990' and 'after 1990'. He calculates that there is space in the main car park for 40 cars so we should be OK BUT if you are one of the people who expressed interest but haven't got back to him so far to confirm PLEASE let him know this week to make sure we have sufficient space.

Years ago my dream used to be to own a Citroen DS14 - I loved those 'Maigret' programmes where the Paris cops use to hang onto the running boards shouting "That way patron!". But I'm afraid the only vaguely 'classic car' I ever owned was a pea green 15 year old clapped out Vauxhall HA series that had long been used by the driving instructor up in Kirkwall in the Orkney Islands. It cost me £40 and it wasn't a good buy.

Monday 20 June 2011

Read all about it!

On the North Eastern Railway many local station masters had the valuable 'perk' of acting as the local coal agent, ordering household fuel in by the wagon load and selling it on to local merchants. This was a practice that began in the earliest Stockton and Darlington Railway days. So I guess they were amongst the first of the modern 'franchisees'

But someone in the KSE shop yesterday reminded me of another perk that often came the stationmaster's way - to act as the local W.H.Smith wholesaler for newspapers and magazines. The person concerned had begun his railway career as a 'porter lad' at Castle Eden station and a part of his job had been to cycle around the area every day delivering the papers off the train. For this he received two shillings a week (10p).

I wonder if similar arrangements applied at any of the Stainmore line stations? I seem to recollect that the papers were dumped off the 7:14 AM from Darlington at Bowes by the guard every morning into the shelter on the down platform but it is only a hazy memory. Can anyone remember papers being dropped off at any other stations along the line or porters delivering them door to door?

Saturday 18 June 2011

Platform lamp-posts installed

Another chilly day at Kirkby Stephen East - whenever is this summer ever going to arrive? Today the volunteers installed the three cast iron lamp posts on the new platform extension, fitted the cable tubes and cemented them into place.

Whenever I did any work of this kind in my old garden in Lancashire I had a neighbour who just loved to come across and tell me that he 'couldn't help but notice' that whatever I had just cemented into the ground was not quite vertical. No risk of that with the KSE team. Everything was double checked for squareness and adjusted for height, lines and 'levels' were everywhere.

The heads of these lamps aren't fitted yet - they will need to await the wiring of the outdoor circuit. But I can't wait to see what they look like lit up on a warm summer evening when the trainshed doors are open and a locomotive is in steam with a couple of Gresley teak coaches in tow. That day is surely coming.

Friday 17 June 2011

Mystery Photo?

I came across this interesting picture in a collection that I was given last week, and I wonder how many Stainmore line aficionados know where it is? I think that this is the only photo that I have ever seen of the location. Ivatt 4MT 43102 is working hard up the bank even with such a light load and that should offer a clue. But actually now almost everything in this photograph has vanished.

The road along the hillside in the background is the real clue. These are the 'summit cottages' - a row of (I think) four terraced houses a few hundred yards west of the summit box and close to where the road to Barras used to leave the old A66. Often in photographs of the summit box you can see that group of trees behind the accommodation bridge in the background. The cottages went a couple of years before the end of the line, maybe in 1959.

I can only remember the cottages when they were derelict. Signalmen going on duty would park up in the cinder lane in front of the houses and climb over the fence just behind the locomotive here and walk up the line to the right to get to work. Once slithering down that lane in winter we went nose first into a couple of feet of snow in his 'mini' HEC159 going on 'early turn' but my grandfather always kept a shovel in the car to deal with that kind of thing.

Now the summit cottage site is under the westbound carriageway of the A66.

Thursday 16 June 2011

Tees Valley Viaduct

When I was a youngster I used to haunt 'Barney' Woods and I today I love to walk up the left bank to Cotherstone when I have the opportunity. You can still find the two abutments of the Tees Viaduct about a half mile upstream from the castle. But sadly this beautiful view, which I came across this week in a collection of photographs forwarded to me by Mark Keefe, has long since vanished.

Back in the 1950's any walk up the Tees on a sunny summer evening would be punctuated at some stage by the sound of locomotive whistles and that distinctive rumble of a loose-coupled train of hoppers clattering over the high girders.  Depending on where you were you might just catch a glance of the train high above the trees. The viaduct was an exquisite piece of engineering, built on a 'skew' at an angle of about 30 degrees to the banks. Those ashlar sandstone pillars were amazing pieces of complex masonry, the kind of craftsmanship that these days can only be seen in the work of the specialists who look after the fabric of medieval cathedrals.

And there was something quite special about this location too - the Tees flowing deep and fast under the forest. Always a rather sinister river to me, that dark peat stained water. As kids we were ever warned about the danger of 'rolls' after heavy rain.

But you can still get some feel of the grandeur of Tees Valley Viaduct because the abutments are still there in the woods if you go and take a look. Well worth the trip!

Wednesday 15 June 2011

On the record.

I was in the Links Centre at Kirkby Stephen this morning to meet up with Carole Lloyd. Two former employees from the Locomotive Department at Kirkby Stephen East, Ivan Dobson and Colin Walker, came in to let Carole record their reminiscences of working on the line, and I was also able to sit in on the conversation.

It was a very interesting session and I really enjoyed listening to their yarns, some of which involved old workmates of theirs that I knew myself as a youngster fifty years ago. I was keen to see how Carole organised a meet-up like this - we are very good the the UK at the techniques of recording oral histories.

Fun too. Once everyone had relaxed we forgot all about the camera and microphone and just chatted away about old times. I hadn't realised that Ivan was on the footplate of the Q6 63355 in the famous incident when it derailed at Smardale in May 1955. A real piece of Stainmore history!

If you have any memories of the line, either as an employee or a passenger or in any other way, and you would like to put them on record, please get in touch with us. You can click on my e-mail link here and I will forward your message, or drop in at Kirkby Stephen East any weekend and we will put you in touch with Carole. It is completely painless, in fact very enjoyable, and your memories will have been shared with future researchers.

Tuesday 14 June 2011

A ticket for Penrith.

Even in the 1950's many of the buildings along the Stainmore Line lacked any electricity supply. Bowes station was one example - I'm not sure if the domestic side of the property was ever wired up but there was certainly none in the booking office.

My grandfather told me that some time in the late 1950's he was on duty covering early turn as 'signalman-porter ' at Bowes one cold and wet winter morning.  It was still pitch dark, half an hour before dawn. The first train of the day was the 7:14 AM DMU from Darlington to Penrith and it was already 'on line' from Tees Valley Junction when he noticed a passenger on the platform. With the exception of the local track walker hardly anyone ever caught this train, and certainly in the middle of winter.

He took a paraffin lamp down from the signal box and hurried to unlock the booking office and groped around in the dark for a day return to Penrith which was what the passenger wanted to buy. Then he had to rush back to the signal box to offer the train 'on line' to Stainmore.

Just over an hour later as he was eating his breakfast 'bait' by the signal box stove and enjoying a pint tin mug of strong tea (made as always with condensed milk I guess) he received a call relayed across the telephone circuits from the ticket inspector on the barrier at Penrith. Might be have issued a dog ticket to the young man who had boarded the 7:14 AM train? Yes, groping around in the dark with only a flickering oil lamp to illuminate the scene he had found the Penrith tickets OK but not noticed the words 'Dog Ticket' there across the face of the ticket in the dim light. I guess it wasn't the first time it was done.

Monday 13 June 2011

Lynn Hopwood Collection

During the ‘Stainmore 150’ celebrations between 27-29 August there will be a selection of Victorian costumes from the Lynn Hopwood Costume Collection on display at Kirkby Stephen East. We are hoping that some of them can be displayed in the NER clerestory coach which will be stationed in the 'Darlington Platform' behind Fletcher No.910.

Lynn has a vast collection of authentic period costumes dating from 1800 together with an array of accessories from underwear to shoes and jewellery. The variety includes 97 wedding gowns from 1869 to 2002. Over the years the collection has become so popular that she spends much of her time giving talks, doing fashion shows and displays throughout the country.

Lynn and her partner now live in Kirkby Stephen and have a shop in Market Street called K.L .Vintage where they sell costumes from Victorian to 1980’s, accessories, bric a brac and small antique furniture.

Sunday 12 June 2011

"The 'J25' out in the Fog"

A couple of days ago I asked here one '150 Diary' if anyone had come across any 'ghost stories' relating to the Stainmore line. And now maybe we have our first haunting. Mike Thompson has passed on to me a file of material written by Vernon Pearson that he received earlier this year.

There is some interesting stuff in there and I won't fully disclose the full story here of this 'happening' because we will probably be publishing it soon in a new 'Stainmore Miscellany'. But here is the bare bones of what Vernon wrote.

He was coming off early turn at Stainmore one very foggy winter Friday and went down from the box and into the lamp room to prepare some signal lamps. While he was working there he heard the shrill whistle of a 'J25' which surprised him because when he had signed off a couple of minutes before no trains were 'on line'. He went outside to check but there was no train approaching he thought that he must have just imagined it.

Later he went back up into the cabin and jokingly told the three people there that he'd been 'hearing things'. But they told him that they too thought that they had heard an engine out in the dense fog, somewhere just near the 'up' home signal.

That use to be pretty well where the westbound carriageway of the A66 now comes to where the old road to Barras once branched off to the left.

Spooky eh? "The 'J25' out in the Fog." Any more stories of the inexplicable out there?

Saturday 11 June 2011

Platform follow-up

When I was up at Kirkby Stephen East this morning (see the 'blog' below) I put up a picture of work in progress and commented that things were moving so quickly now that it might be worth publishing an 'after' picture tomorrow so that you could see for yourselves.

No need to wait. Mike has just sent me some 'before' and 'after' shots covering progress today.

Here is how things were at the beginning of the day as the void between the platform extension walls was back filled.

and here's how things looked by 'knocking off' time after around 130 concrete sleeper beams had been laid. Impressive progress eh?

More platform news

There is another 'big push' in progress this weekend getting the new platform extension into shape. After the work on Wednesday the retaining walls for what will be the new 'West Bay' are now partly in place and at least you can get the feel of the full width of the platform area.

Here is a picture of the 'gang' at work around ten this morning. Just to give you some feel of the pace of work I will publish a photograph of progress at close of play tomorrow afternoon.

If you would like to help with this work as a volunteer please drop in at Kirkby Stephen East and you will be very welcome.

Thursday 9 June 2011


At our meeting of the '150' steering group last night we were talking about the possibilities for wearing uniforms at the '150 weekend' in August. Our plan has been for platform staff to wear 'period' railway costumes and we had thought that it would be possible to rent them from a theatrical agency but it seems not. I think that if you wanted anything as specialised as a 'Stockton and Darlington' or a North Eastern Railway uniform you would probably have to research it yourself and learn to sew.

Even a good old British Rail uniform might be quite hard to track down these days. I can remember when there was a 'surplus store' in a warehouse around the back of Euston where you could buy such stuff for a fiver but I'm afraid that it probably all sold out long ago.

I don't know what we'll do for the August weekend, it needs some thought. For anyone dealing with the public on those days maybe just matching blazers and flannels might work. After ten years of living in Japan where train staff not only always wear uniforms but wouldn't dream of being at work in the cab without their cap on and wearing a pair of white cotton gloves to keep their hands clean and the machinery shining it seems very strange to me these days to see anyone in charge of a railway with out some kind of a uniform on.

Wednesday 8 June 2011

Ghost stories?

One thing that has been going through my overly-fertile mind recently is that I have never - ever - heard any 'ghost stories' about the Stainmore line, although you could hardly imagine a railway anywhere more suited to host to the occasional blood-chilling tale. Railways the world over are routinely supposed to be haunted and in Britain we even have a substantial book on the topic - 'Railway Ghosts and Phantoms' by W.B. Herbert - billed on the dust jacket as '100 track rattling yarns'. It contains details of the famous 'Ghost of North Road Station'  from the nineteenth century and also a story from the Darlington area - 'The Man in the Black Beret' which describes and encounter at an unidentified spot in the 1960's which could have been on the closed Darlington to 'Barney' line.

There are two lengths of line that I always felt might make a good spot for haunting. one is the stretch just east of the summit as the line winds down into a hidden stretch of the upper Greta Valley at the County Boundary. This was always 'frontier country' right back into the days when it was the Marches between Northumbria and Strathclyde and there must have been endless dastardly deeds done around this spot. The other is Big Hill Cut, a place that sends shivers up my spine on silent dark foggy afternoons and where I wouldn't want to camp for the night.

But maybe we do have some ghost stories of our own. Has anyone ever heard of one?

Tuesday 7 June 2011

An all-male cast.,

Mark Keefe brought a box of books into the shop the other day that I need to try and place with an antiquarian bookseller to raise money for SRC funds. Most of the stock seems to have belonged to a former member of the North Eastern Railway Association. There is some very interesting stuff in there including a bound volume of the 'LNER Magazine' from the 1930's.

Browsing through some original bound copies of the British Transport Commission minutes from the 1950's the listings of Commission members and officers attending board meetings caught my eye. There were around thirty individuals attending the fortnightly sessions and - well, no surprise here I suppose! - not a single woman in evidence anywhere. When it came to managing the nations publicly owned transportation system women might just as well have not existed in those distant times.

I found myself trying to remember if I could think of a single female member of staff along the Stainmore line anywhere back then. There were a few kind stationmaster's wives of course, and I am sure that in common with the rest of Britain during both World Wars there may have been female cleaners at Kirkby Stephen shed and a few female signalmen and porters. Does anyone know who they were? If we don't record there names now it will be history lost forever.

The only female staff that I can recall in the 1950's were the (two or three?) ladies that used to work in the refreshment room at the east end of Barnard Castle station building. I think that that there may also have been a lady who worked as a book-keeper or clerk  in the big office at Barney station too. 'Women's Work' they would have said back then in that utterly different world.

Apart from that I fear that it was an 'all-male cast', a bit like the theatre in Shakespeare's day eh?

Monday 6 June 2011

More about William Hogg

To take a break from more serious work that I OUGHT to have done last night I squandered an hour on my 'Family Tree' web site trying to patch together  more detail about William our first stationmaster at Kirkby Stephen East. He worked here from 1861 through into the 1890's after which he vanishes from the local record . He must be one of the several 'William Hoggs' that died elsewhere in the UK during the following decade and a diligent search should turn him up soon.

His father Thomas was born at Gainford in 1782 and his mother, Ellen was born in Great Ayton in 1803. They had at least seven children and William, born in 1834, was the fifth.

But here is the interesting thing. Thomas must have been married before, he had a son Joseph born in 1818. And in the 1851 Census William Hogg was working as a porter working for the Stockton and Darlington Railway, employed at Redcar station where his older half-brother was  stationmaster. So it was family connections that eventually brought him to the top Kirkby Stephen job. Later, when he was 23 he was working as a guard on the newly built Darlington and Barnard Castle line and there, somehow he met his wife Sarah Annie and their marriage was registered between April and June 1857.

So there are some bare bones of a biography. Often you can get no more. But at Kirkby Stephen East, thanks to 'Poet' John Close, we at least know what kind of a man he was and what he looked like later in life.

Sunday 5 June 2011

Belah and Stainmore Trip

If you have looked on the '150' web site in the last couple of days you will see that I have added a page on the trip that will be available to visit Stainmore and Belah. You will find it here.

On Saturday 27th August - (the 'Grand Re-Opening Day' when we will reintroduce passenger train services at Kirkby Stephen East) - Mark Keefe has organised two coaches to take visitors to the unveiling of the new 'Stainmore Summit' sign (assuming that we have raised the cash!) by Steve Davies MBE. The coaches will also to visit the old signal box at the south end of Belah Viaduct. There is no charge for these coach places.

But part of this trip crosses private property and we have to limit capacity to just the two official coaches. So it is likely that there will be more demand for the available places than we can satisfy.

The organisers feel that the only fair way to deal with his is to hold a lottery for the available places. To enter this all you need to do is to follow the link to the new web page and log your name and contact details on the form available there. If you are lucky when we draw the numbers you will be allocated a place but we will be asking for a deposit from winners to hold the place open. This is refundable before you board the coach on the 27th August.

The important thing is that if you want to make this trip we must have a form back from you by Sunday 10th July. So if you want to attend please don't delay - why not fill it in now? Here it is.

Saturday 4 June 2011

Model line-up

Well, there's the Model Railway Show over for another year. Although temperatures plunged today after the baking hot afternoon we enjoyed yesterday at least the rain held off. The event turned out to be a lot of fun, occupying the whole of the 'Darlington Platform' and two of the rooms in the central range of the building. Those of us on duty amongst the volunteers were kept busy all day in the buffet car and shop as the construction team kept up a cracking pace outside on the new platform work.

I always really enjoy a good 'local' model railway show, a real British institution. While large club layouts often dominate the big national exhibitions it is at the smaller shows that you often see some real ingenuity and imagination in the development and design of smaller portable layouts. There were some great trader's stalls there today too.

Kirkby Stephen East is ideal for putting on this kind of event because in is just such an interesting and friendly venue. It makes me wonder what other 'happenings' might work well in this setting. Talking to Mike this afternoon we were reflecting that by the time we run the third Model Railway Show next year we are likely to have steam trains operating on site and that should be a real crowd-puller.

Friday 3 June 2011

Model Show Tomorrow

Coming over to Kirkby Stephen East for the Model Railway Show tomorrow? I was up at the Heritage Centre for a few hours this afternoon and before the crew arrived to start setting up for the event I took the opportunity to sweep the platform - somehow it has got very dusty during the last few weeks with all the work outside the west end.

Just before four exhibitors started to arrive and as you can see there was soon a line of layouts spread along the Darlington Platform and in some of the adjacent rooms. By the time I came away there was already quite a mixture of 'N' and '00' gauge layouts in evidence.

Portable layouts always fascinate me, all that effort in construction to make sure that they fit together seamlessly. But at the same time they have to be robust to cope with all the transportation involved and the changes in temperature.

Hope we will see you at Kirkby Stephen East some time tomorrow! The weather looks set to be fine and I think we will have quite a crowd over the weekend. Admission is £2, with children under 14 at £1. Some good stuff in the shop too.

Thursday 2 June 2011

Ask a question ...

Ask a question, get an answer. That is usually the way of it on this '150 Diary'. And today David Rayner has reminded me that the answer to my question about locomotive water supply is already answered in Keith Richardson's excellent book on the history of Kirkby Stephen East.

You might remember that yesterday I commented that I'd noticed an old cast iron pipe revealed in the trench being dug for the new Tebay Platform facings and I speculated that it must be the old feed for the Stockton & Darlington water column. That is it at the head of this 'blog'. Well, checking old photographs today it must indeed be the locomotive water feed - if you look at the photograph below you can see that this pipe was heading directly for that water column next to the tender of the locomotive (although I think this 'ironmongery' was a replacement column of NER vintage).

But David reminded me that the North Eastern Railway (nor the LNER nor BR after) never trusted the new-fangled electricity supply for anything as essential as locomotive water supply. In Keith's book it records that right up until the end of steam they relied on a pump driven by a small stationery steam engine in the locomotive shed to lift water out of the River Eden. Presumably that was the same pump that had been used ever since Stockton and Darlington days. I wonder if it went for scrap in 1960, or was rescued by someone?

It doesn't surprise me. The railway never trusted new-fangled technologies. At Barney West and many other signal boxes for example they had gas lighting right up until closure although for the price of 50 metres of cable they could have run electric over from the station.

Or could they? That is an interesting question. Did 'Barney' station actually have electricity installed? Can anyone remember?

Wednesday 1 June 2011

More on the 'Tebay Platform'

Up at Kirkby Stephen East for a while this afternoon and the amount of progress since the weekend was just amazing. This is a very exciting time to be a volunteer on site and if you are tempted I suggest that you get down and get your overalls on quick! This will be a time that one day will live in legend in the story of the rebuilding of the Stainmore Railway.

The widening of the running line extension to the 'Darlington Platform' is well underway but what really got me excited today was the work being done one the other side of the building on the Tebay Platform. The foundations were being dug to extend the platform facing westwards, and a gang were hard at work rebuilding the stone work of the platform wall.

In British Rail days in the early 1950's the Tebay Platform lost its trainshed roof and later the outer retaining wall from the 1886 rebuilding was lowered and one bay at the east end was demolished. As you can see from the photograph the roof added when the station served as the 'bobbin factory' is low and barely clears the roof of the Gresley coach parked for restoration in our cavernous workshop. But given time, patience and money it is all very restorable. As soon as we have the work on this 'facing' complete we will be connecting up these track panels to the rest of the track on the site.

There hasn't been this much building work in progress at Kirkby Stephen East since the trainsheds were rebuilt more than a century ago. It is iinteresting to see what the digger is turning up here as the concrete foundations go in - today I noticed in the trench a cast iron pipe that must have supplied water to the Stockton & Darlington water column here. I wonder where they got the supply from before the hydro-electric supply  at Stenkrith was available.

Tuesday 31 May 2011

Platform Progress

Took this picture on Sunday of progress on the extension of the platform. Sea of mud job there eh? I can hear my granddad muttering "Just like the trenches!" With all the heavy equipment, deep holes and general mess out here we aren't going to be able to allow visitors to the Model Railway Show this weekend out of the trainshed to walk up the site.

But you can see the general lines of progress here. On the right the connection is complete between the new platform - built to modern UK railway standards - and the existing 'vintage' length of the Darlington Platform. The paving stones for the platform edge are all stacked up and ready to be laid. To the left you can see the two trenches for footings to widen the 4 metre single platform already constructed - this new platform will now have a double facing by August.

With the better weather work is advancing quickly - perhaps I'll put up an 'update' picture after next weekend so that you can check on progress.

Monday 30 May 2011

Show looms Saturday

A reminder to everyone today that the next of our key 2011 events is looming on Saturday. Our Second Annual Model Railway Show is being held at Kirkby Stephen East and the Heritage Centre will be open to visitors from 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM.  There will be an admission charge of £2.00 for adults and £1.00 for children and limited parking will be available on site

You can find details of the event on the main 'Stainmore 150' web site here. From what I here there will be eight layouts on site and also four trade stalls and also we hope plenty of action in the Company's own shop. It will also be an opportunity to take a look at what is happening with the platform extension work - at least through the door or over the fence for I've heard that so much is happening at the moment that for Health and Safety reasons we will need to close that part of the outdoor area to the public.

I also had an e-mail from Cath this morning. Her fund-raising sales for the Stainmore Railway Company on Ebay are taking off now and she is running out of the packaging materials that she has been setting aside to dispatch stuff. If you have any old jiffy bags, bubble wrap, polystyrene strips etc in reasonable re-usable condition please bring it with you on Saturday and leave it at the entrance and she will pick it up on the day. Also of course any items that you might have for her to put up for auction. You can contact Cath at

Sunday 29 May 2011

Is spending your money a problem?

Wondering what to spend my money on is always a big problem for me, I never seem to be able to get through the darn stuff quickly enough. And if you are the same  I have a couple of excellent bits of news for you today!

The first of these is that over the last couple of days we have had some very generous donations of books and magazines made for the shop, and today I have been very busy checking and pricing this new stock. Most of it will be on the shelves for the Model Railway Show on Saturday, so come and take a look. But some of the items offered were so valuable that we have decided to try putting them on Amazon rather than in the bookshop where average prices are a 'fiver' or often less and around £20 seems to be the most we can ask.

As we don't currently have a Stainmore Railway Bookshop Amazon Merchant Account you will find these items listed on my own account here. All the railway related items are posted there on behalf of our bookshop and all income earned on them will go to SRC funds. On the other hand if you want to buy an interesting book on East Asian urbanisation it's all mine!

The other thing to remind you of today is that places are going fast now for the 'Stainmore 150' Photo Charter on Tuesday 30th August. This event is intended for serious railway photographers and the day will be spent organising locomotives and stock on site for photo-shoots. There are only a limited number of places available and the cost is £30 - if you are interested in attending please e-mail David Tillotson on

Saturday 28 May 2011

'Black Five' arriving soon

Working in the shop at Kirkby Stephen East oday - where were you all? It was pretty darn cool in there, you wouldn't have needed much air conditioning. I guess it is all we can hope for on Bank Holidays.

Anyway we had plenty of visitors to keep us moving. And around lunch time Anthony from the Croglin Brewery dropped in with some very interesting news. He was telling me that they are planning a special brew to celebrate the 'Stainmore 150' weekend and he brought along the artwork for the pump clip to show me. The 'Crog' will be running a Beer Festival to concide with the '150' event. Things are certainly going to be hopping along at our end of town during the August Bank Holiday weekend.

The new  ale will be called 'Black Five' and as soon as I get more information I will put a page up on the main 'Stainmore 150' website and I am sure the brew will be featured on the CAMRA site too. You might think that LMS 'B;ack Fives' were much more of a feature of the West station and of course they were but there was at least one visited Kirkby Stephen East in the 1950's on an SLS 'NorthernFells Railtour'. There is a photograph of the engine (42962) at the Darlington Platform not 50 yards from the 'Crog'  (see page 184 of Peter Walton's book). Of course that is as far as it ever got - no chance of anything as large as a 'Black Five' being allowed eastwards over Stainmore.

As the famous Fletcher 2-4-0 is going to be on loan to use Kirkby Stephen from the National Railway Museum from August for the next five years I can't help but feel that the Croglin Brewery might have missed a bit of a trick in not calling this new ale 'Old 910' after their legendary new neighbour but maybe that's one that they can consider for some future amber nectar!

Friday 27 May 2011

Volunteer 'guides'.

This week I have been typing up some guides for volunteers working in the Kirkby Stephen East shop and also serving in the Company's buffet car. I spent a large slice of last Sunday following Sue around as she got into 'full flow' with a note pad and we went right through everything we do in the shop and galley from turning on the power in the morning and re-stocking shelves through to cashing-up the till and locking up.

To be honest I am a bit of a perfectionist when it comes to doing guides like this. On Wednesday I was back with my camera to take some pictures to include so that anyone using these little guides in future could see just which buttons to press and which cups to use for tea, coffee, chocolate and soup!

Here is the key point though! We are almost into June and by the time we arrive at the '150 Celebrations' at the end of August we will need many more volunteers who can give a few hours sometimes to help us run the visitor services. We are moving now from a focus on re-building to a focus on running a railway and that can be a lot of fun.

Would you like to sign up as a visitor services volunteer, or at least come up to the station and see the kind of things involved? Then why not give us a ring? You can contact me, Iain Robinson, on (017683) 74988 and I will tell you all about it

Thursday 26 May 2011

June 1890 Timetable

Ann Sandell sent me an interesting image today - a copy of the Stainmore Line passenger timetable for June 1890. And it has got a 'local' slant too - it is a copy printed by J.W. Braithwaite's in Kirkby Stephen. It was clearly intended for local use as it also includes Midland Railway services from the West Station.

In June 1890 there were five services daily each way between Kirkby Stephen and Darlington, and five services each way between Kirkby Stephen and Penrith. In Victorian times the through trains from Darlington ran on to Tebay, and you changed at the East Station for the 'Valley Branch'. There are a couple of pictures taken from  what is now the A685 bridge looking east where you can see a train hurrying in from Stainmore with another train 'waiting in the clear' in the loop just beyond the bridge waiting for the incoming Tebay train to depart before it pulls into the platform behind it with the 'Valley Branch' connection.

You can enlarge the picture by left-clicking on it. The 5:00 PM departure from Darlington espcially caught my eye - into Kirkby Stephen by 6:24 PM with nine intermediate stops! So probably around 70 minutes net running time. You would pushed to drive it in that time via 'Barney' today. Must have been a speedy locomotive in charge - in the 1890's perhaps a Fletcher '910' Class 2-4-0?

Wednesday 25 May 2011

Bowes Level

Apart from the main junctions I always used to think that Bowes was by far the most interesting station on the Stainmore line. I often used to spend time there and I will probably write about the place several times here over the next few months. It makes me sad to see the ruin of it all now as I turn off the A66 towards 'Barney' but  at least the old SDLUR goods shed still seems to be faring well.

But what I wanted to talk about today was the 'Bowes Level'. Many aficionados of the Stainmore Line seem to think that the climb to the summit was unremitting but that was far from the case. Through Bowes station there was nearly a mile of almost level track.

Climbing up from Tees Valley the ruling gradient was about 1 in 69 but that stopped at the farm accommodation bridge just east of Bowes station where the gradient - though not actually completely level - eased right down to 1 in 3,900. It picked up again just at the skew bridge over the A66 at the west end of Bowes village to 1 in 154 and then a steep 1 in 62 again by Spital.

From the signal box or station platform this 'roller coaster' was clearly visible. Eastwards it almost looked like the line was dropping off a cliff while westwards it climbed away towards the sky. But I have never seen a photograph that captured this sight. Of course the irony was that in railway terms 'Up' was down while 'Down' was very much up.

Drivers of westbound mineral trains made good use of the 'Bowes Level'. The train engine and 'bankers' would burst under that eastern farm accommodation bridge struggling against the bank and then really get shifting through the station in the hope of building up a good head of speed and momentum before they had to put their shoulders into the bank again. I wish that I'd taken some 8mm cine film of it!

Tuesday 24 May 2011

Some J21 history.

I had an e-mail passed on from Sue today from Don Nicol who is a volunteer guard on the North Norfolk Railway (I had forgotten for a moment that there were even chillier places than Kirkby Stephen East!). The information he has provided answers some questions that have been puzzling people about the preservation of the LCLT-owned J21 '65033' which will be visiting us in August

Don worked at the Stooperdale Offices in Darlington and had open entry to North Road Works from 1960 until end of 1964. At that time two J21's were stored there, '65033' and '65099'. He confirms that people in the works thought that '65099'was in better general condition and was probably the one to be preserved. However when a thorough inspection was made of the locomotive it was found that one of the frames was cracked and so '65099' went for scrap (according to Yeadon's register in February 1966). However the boiler from '65099' was retained and swapped for the boiler on '65033' which was not in such good condition before the engine was rescued by Beamish.

Don comments that he was looking forward to the day when he would be guard on the NNR 'Quad-Art' set with '65033' at the head of the train. But it was good  to see her leave for Shildon knowing she was to be looked after by the LCLT. Let's hope that he soon gets a chance to be a 'guest' guard on the Stainmore line with '65033' in steam at the head of some of our own Gresley coaches ...

Monday 23 May 2011

KSE goes live on Ebay

I heard today that Cath Ainsley has recently set up a dedicated 'Ebay' account for the Stainmore Railway to sell donated items - and especially surplus shop stuff, items that we wouldn't normally stock in the shop at Kirkby Stephen East and donations that we may get a better price for with national coverage. She says that this will enable her to do something positive towards fundraising when she is unable to get over to Kirkby Stephen very often.

The account name on Ebay is stainmorerailway and she has already begun posting items.

Cath wants readers to know that she can accept donations of ANY item to sell on Ebay, just so long as it is in good condition and postable and within Ebay rules to list!  They don't have to be railway related - they could be household goods,  clothes and shoes, DVD's and CD's, any bric a brac or collectables etc. Certain larger or heavy items might be advertised for collection only, either from the KSE shop or from my Cath's house. She doesn't want to pass up anything that might raise funds for the project.

At the moment the scheme is being given a trial and we will review how it is going after a few months to see if it is worth continuing after Ebay have taken their commission. Cath adds that 100% of profits will go to the railway and comments "Anything recieved that I think may better used for a tombola or raffle I will keep for that purpose. Its all about maximising profit as we can"

If you want to donate items please contact Cath by e-mailing her on

Sunday 22 May 2011

Passengers Past

This weekend I have been busy in the shop at Kirkby Stephen East. We have some nice new stock in there - especially some crystal ware that we have ordered in for the '150' celebrations. if you get a chance stop by at the weekend and see what we have on display.

Often when I walk along the Darlington Platform these days I find myself thinking about all those 'passengers past' - the people that must have passed through on trains over the century that the line was working. Even assuming an average of a couple of hundred a day on the half dozen trains then it would add up to more than seven million over the years. That number must have included many famous people but of course we will never know who was on all those trains. It might make an interesting collection  - maybe even a literary competition! - to put together a collection of short stories that shared a common thread of what brought passengers to draw up on the Darlington Platform.

One person that we surely know for example must have often been on trains passing through Kirkby Stephen around the turn of the century would have been the locomotive engineer William Worsdell. When he retired in 1890 he moved to Arnside where he built a beautiful house for his family. But then he must have made frequent trips to see family and colleagues back over to the North East for another 25 years.

But what about all those we don't know about? An ageing Charles Dickens meeting up with friends in 'Barney' maybe? Or Benjamin Disraeli perhaps during the 1868 Election campaign, Marie Lloyd on her way to sing at the Newcastle 'Empire', or General Kitchener headed from Deerbolt Camp to pick up a convoy at Liverpool?

Fact or fiction, there must be a lot you could write about the 'Darlington Platform'.

Saturday 21 May 2011

Cats go everywhere

Our station cat 'Quaker' featured in the '150 Diary' last week when Rieko and Tom from Tokyo came to take her picture for a new Japanese book in preparation on 'Station Cats'. Actually the previous week Sue had sent me this lovely picture of 'Quaker' settled on Mike's lap as he works on 'F.C. Tingey' which might have been handy if we hadn't been able to coax 'Quaker' out of the valve gear.

It is interesting how quickly and easily cats adapt to the interests and passions of their humans. In almost every context from the Amazonian jungles tot he polar ice caps cats seem to happily adapt to events in the the lives of their two-footed friends.

This particularly struck me this week because someone sent me a link to a cat on the deck of a boat involved in some dolphin watching. You can find this amazing little piece of film here.

Friday 20 May 2011

KSGS visit soon.

I learned yesterday that we are expecting a visit from some of the students from Kirkby Stephen Grammar School before the end of term. Mrs. Rachel Steels, Head of the History Department, hopes to bring her Year 8 students up to Kirkby Stephen East one Wednesday before the summer holidays start.

Year 8 are just beginning their studies on the Industrial Revolution. As part of the project the plan is for one of the students to write up the visit and  I will publish their material either on the main '150 Site' or here on the '150 Diary'.

I am looking forward to receiving their stuff - and I hope I'm around at KSE on the day they visit. I used to love history and geography excursions when I was a teenager. And now we have enough material on site to make for some really interesting educational visits.

It is strange to think that not only does the current generation of students in the area have no idea about the reality of the railway that was once so important to the town, but actually the station was long closed even before their parents were born. Makes me feel old!

Thursday 19 May 2011

'B1' at 'Barney'?

At our committee meeting yesterday evening David Rayner was showing us a photograph that he had been loaned. It showed when appeared to be an LNER 'B1' Class 4-6-0 at Barnard Castle station. The locomotive was at the head of a train headed westwards.

Now all aficionados of the 'Stainmore Line' will know that B1's were far too big and heavy to pull trains over the Stainmore viaducts.The route was limited to engines light enough to classified RA2 but the B1's were much heavier - RA5.

It is an interesting one and I wondered if any regular readers here could offer any information. I think that on the branch to Middleton-in-Teesdale RA5 engines were - in theory anyway - permitted to haul trains and perhaps this was a special  'Bank Holiday' excursion. But what would you do with such a big engine when it reached the buffers at the end of the single line at Middleton? It doesn't seem plausible.

Thinking about the picture driving home afterwards another possible explanation occurred to me. During the early 1950's there was a considerable traffic in military trains at Barnard Castle moving troops to and from Deerbolt Camp. Some 'big beasts' were used for this traffic - sometimes V2's and on at least one occasion an A1 Pacific. The trains pulled into the platform and then the locomotives ran around the train and hauled it back to Darlington tender first. This picture of a B1 could be one such event

Wednesday 18 May 2011

'150' leaflet available ...

Committee meeting tonight to talk through the details of the 'Stainmore 150' programme - all the things that need to be done before the end of August. It is a scary list, and we are going to have to work hard to get through it in the fourteen weeks and two days that we have left to finish all the work.

But once good piece of news tonight was that our 1/3A4 'Flyer' leaflets are back from the printers. Copies are already heading to railway centres and museums around England and in Kirkby Stephen you should soon be able to get a copy at the Tourist Information Centre. From Saturday there will also be copies available at Kirkby Stephen East in the shop. The posters should also be soon available.

Tuesday 17 May 2011

Bain 'Clerestories'

I was writing up a page for the main '150' web site today about David Bain's stylish coaching stock  used on passenger trains over Stainmore from the late 1890's until about 1945. Somehow I just missed riding in them, my earliest memories of travelling by train involve the later and more prosaic Thomson stock introduced in the late 1940's. But I guess some in the 'gang' at Kirkby Stephen East will remember riding in style in clerestory coaches in late LNER days.

David Bain left York in 1902 to go and work for the Midland Railway where he developed railway coaches very similar to those that he had designed for the North Eastern Railway.

A handful of these coaches survive. In August we are borrowing Diagram 7 No.818 from Beamish. I'm not sure if there will be any opportunity to ride in the vehicle but for the celebrations it will be marshaled next to '910' on the Darlington platform. It was sold on to the NCB by British Railways in 1949 and worked for years on miner's trains at Ashington colliery and so survived to be saved for preservation.

I am looking forward to getting a good 'gander' at No.818 and running a ruler over all that beautiful 'Crimson Lake' side panelling. Back in my garden shed in leafy Chiba Prefecture in Japan I have a stash of 'Plastikard' awaiting my attention this winter, and I am hoping to build a rake of at least four '0' gauge models of Bain clerestory coaches before I get back to Kirkby Stephen East again in Spring 2012.

Monday 16 May 2011


One aspect of working as a signalman over Stainmore which is probably now almost forgotten was the effect that the aurora borealis could have on the block and telephone circuits between signal boxes. This could occasionally be a problem anywhere in northern Britain but especially on upland lines. In those years of heavy sunspot and geomagnetic activity when an aurora appeared in the northern night sky these magnetic storms could play havoc with those long strands of copper wire stretched from pole to pole across high lonely moorlands.

I remember seeing this happen at the summit box once in the autumn of 1958. It had been dark a couple of hours and we were waiting for the last DMU from Penrith back to Darlington when all the bell circuits and phones started to jangle and the 'train on line' needle began to twitch. But the ringing was erratic and variable, when the train eventually came it was easy to notice the firm 'real' ring from the block telegraph instrument at Belah. I was told that 1947 had been a very bad year for it.

Even confident in the knowledge of the cause it was darn spooky I can tell you.  I wouldn't have fancied working a night shift alone at one of the lonelier boxes with the instruments ringing and dancing through the cold 'wee hours' and the fingers of the aurora creeping up the northern sky!