Someone recently asked me on Facebook why I liked railways. It’s an interesting question. Look on the bright side. It’s a harmless hobby…
The Elder Statesman introduced me to railways. He grew up in Gloucester and went on family holidays back to the ancestral home in Bude so if you snap him in half he has “GWR” written through him like a stick of rock, and his second favourite is the Southern.
His Uncle was signalman at Yeovil Junction and the Elder Statesman used to go there in holidays to work the ‘box under tuition. My Great Grandfather was a Stationmaster on the LSWR. Started way down in the Lizard as a lad porter and moved east as he got promoted, ending up living in Bude.
Bude station in 1907
For me, I like odd things, experiments, and performance. I like narrow gauge, LNER and GWR. I don’t mind LMS or SR but it gets a bit particular with them: – Hughes Crab, Stanier developments, Q1, Leader, and USA tanks. I like mechanical signalling, industrial railways (particularly brewery railways), and the study of railway accidents.
The one thing that is common in that list is that I am interested in clever mechanics, and providing the best solution to solve the problem at hand.
The history of the engineering experimentation and development over the course of the industrial revolution is fascinating and the only acceleration of development of similar proportions has occurred in the last 30 odd years with the development of computing power to enable CAD / CAM, 3D printing, rapid prototyping, and the like.
If you find me on a locomotive footplate I’ll probably tell you about the performance; if you find me under a locomotive, the ingenious design; in a signalbox, the sheer complexity of mechanical interlocking; at the Railway Technical Centre, the history of the fantastic creations born there; at a disused railway site, what made the railway important; the railway museum, the designs that changed the world; and if you want to know what I think of the current railways I’ll remind you of the unbelievable growth in the last 20 years. I’ll probably do all that with an enthusiasm which marks me out as slightly bonkers. But then I’m an enthusiastic railwayman. It’s in the blood.
Stockport No.2 ‘box interlocking © Peter Whatley
I’m going to start sounding like a stuck record in a minute. The Elder Statesman likes the elegance and class of railways, particularly locomotives. He loves pointing out that it is likely there are more books written about the GWR than any other single subject on the planet. Not sure about that one, but it is an interesting theory.
For that reason he hates Hawksworth while I’m fascinated by him, His style wasn’t Churchward or Collett, but to my mind his style was GWR. Experimenting, improving, trying to win back the years lost when Collett was past it and didn’t step down. He was too late of course. But what might have been? His 15xx was a leap in the right direction. His Modified Hall should never have been called a Hall it was so different from the original. His County took 2 cylinder locomotives beyond the classic 4 cylinder Castle. And his Pacific would have been the most powerful locomotive in the UK.
That’s what I love. The investigation of what was and what might have been. Pioneers at the top of their game. Which means come Christmas time, at some point, over a Purple Moose or two, the Elder Statesman and I will have our usual conversation where he waxes lyrical about the GWR and I tell him I’d be more impressed if they’d sorted grease and mechanical lubrication, roller bearings, accessibility, crew comforts, left hand drive. All the things that made the GWR, great though it was, flawed. And then we’ll argue whether the GWR or the Ffestiniog was the real pioneer (they both were).
I’ll probably also get a chance to get my usual little jest about my favourite Southern locomotive. It’s called Ellerman Lines….
Happy Christmas everyone. Cheers!