My school classmate, Richard, recommended we cover some weekend diversion "drags". Euston to Wolverhampton services were being diverted via Nuneaton, during engineering work. At Nuneaton, the electric locos were due to be swapped for class 56s. A chance to ride behind this powerful heavy-freight diesel, was not to be missed!
On the morning of 18th September 1983, we found ourselves gathered with a few dozen other eager punters, plus rail staff, at Nuneaton station. 56029 was standing by for its next duty. All was looking promising. Running on time, 86246 rolled in, and Richard and I got ourselves the front compartment of the leading coach. Yes, these were ancient compartment mark 1 carriages. As I poked my head out of the window, I observed rail staff on the platform puzzling over something. Our rake of coaches were vacuum-braked. The class 56 was air-braked! They looked around and noticed a class 31 (31171) nearby with nothing else to do, so they started it up and backed it onto our service. Oh... I forgot to mention that this train was 12 coaches long!
Richard was pretty peeved as were other enthusiasts there, but I sensed that I could be in for an entertaining recording. The poor old 31s were treated as a poor relation back then, but I had a soft-spot for them. At 13.10hrs, our driver was given the "right-away", but the signal was at yellow. As we got rolling, we turned to the left to take the line towards Birmingham. This was on a rising gradient of about 1 in 120 (from memory) and on a left-hand curve. Could a class 31 manage this with load 12? With a red signal half way up this short climb, I was not very optimistic!
The driver blasted the air-horns to attract the signalman's attention, before applying the brakes. We were almost down to a standstill when the red signal changed to yellow. Our driver applied some power, which shut off automatically as the wheels slipped. He tried again, and the wheels whined as they span wildy. The hissing of the sanding-gear could be heard, but it had run out of sand! We slipped to a stand, as disgruntled "bashers" leaned out of windows and shouted their disapproval.
The driver collected his thoughts (or maybe changed underwear?!), and very gingerly reapplied power and got us moving at a walking pace. Imagine my surprise when the brakes came on and the loco stopped alongside the signalbox just at the summit of the climb. This was at Abbey Junction where we met the freight line that crossed over a fly-over (now part of the passenger line). The driver had decided to have a few words with the signalman, although I could not hear what was said.
There was one slight snag: Most of the 12 coaches were still on the grade. As we started to pull away once more, the 31 slithered to a stand again, amid some colourful language from those heads poking out of windows. But our heroic driver gently got us underway and it was plain sailing after that. I was aware that I was the only happy person there, among peeved "bashers", a driver with his work cut out, and a signalman who might have had a hard time doing his job. Later on that day, we did get our class 56 haulage with 56029. All this fun and games was recorded on audio for posterity, and can be heard on the title "Diesel Traction in Action Volume 1"... edited for language!
The Double-Double Lickey, 24th March 2012.
The 1 in 37 Lickey Incline has been a favourite recording location for a few years, but it wasn't until 2012 that I got a chance for a steam recording there. "Vintage Trains Limited" ran a railtour, the "Double Lickey Banker" hauled by 46201 "Princess Elizabeth". For the ascent of the notorious climb, a pair of Pannier tank engines (7732 and 9600) were attached to the rear, to bring back memories of banking assistance.
As luck would have it, there was another railtour tackling the Lickey later that day. A pair of class 37s on "Pathfinder Tours" railtour, "The Coal Grinder".
Although it took place in March, we enjoyed summer-like conditions with the temperature in the low 20s. Local newspaper publicity had done its usual damage by bringing out the crowds. While they were all getting in the photographers' way, I walked up the hill to a deserted field where there is limited view, but plenty of sound. The weather conditions were perfect for carrying sound, while spring birdsong, sheep, lambs and a distant peacock provided the atmosphere.
The banking engines trundled passed down the hill as the crowds gathered. Shortly after 5pm, the tour pulled away from Bromsgrove and began a very loud assault on the bank. And I do mean loud! After 46201 blasted by, the little tank engines chuffed furiously by looking like a pair of little Scotty dogs with short legs trying to keep up! The sound of the front loco filled the air again as it headed over the summit and away. Down in the photographer's field, many spectators had already started to leave the moment the engines disappeared from view. I could never understand why folk don't stop for a few seconds longer to enjoy the whole experience, after going to the trouble of travelling and waiting? This amazing steam recording can be heard on Super Heated.
My accomplice and I re-fueled (sandwiches), and put on some warm clothing in anticipation of falling temperatures. It would be a 4 hour wait for the class 37s. In the darkness, the only company we had were the sheep and lambs calling to each other. All we could see were the twinkling lights of Bromgrove. I recorded a freight train (class 66) trundling downhill, only to find my recorder's battery failing in the low ambient temperature. A quick battery change under torch-light and I was ready. The sound was carrying even better by this time (after 9pm). A Voyager passed by and could be heard going over the summit and at the same time, I could hear the 37s travelling in hot pursuit. The railtour was 13 coaches long, plus a dead class 66 hooked on the rear, to create a formidable trailing load. The twin 37s growled and rumbled their way up and slowly passed. The sound carried so brilliantly that it almost sounded as though they were coming back again! Eventually, the driver shut off power, beyond the summit, ready for a scheduled stop at Barnt Green. The next challenge? Find our way back to the car! This event can be heard on the title Diesel Rumble.
You can also see my accomplice's video footage here: Youtube clip
Reminiscences part 1
Reminiscences part 2