DELTIC - Reminiscences part 1


by Ian Strange

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One day I may write up my recording memoirs....and I promise it won't be as boring as you might fear! I present here some write-ups of recording experiences that relate to some of my published recordings:

Slug Hunting!

With a shiny new mini-disc recorder to play with, the summer of 1998 was an intense time for recording anything worthwhile. A top priority was to get some of the "unplugged" 37/9s on digital audio - the 2 Ruston machines being reputed to be the loudest locos on the network.

Work commitments prevented me from spending any weekdays in South Wales to see these locos until October '98. But by then they were popping up all over the country and final withdrawal was looming. Intrepid video man "Hoppy" kept us all posted on Slug movements, but somehow I kept missing them narrowly.

Then on 12th December, I heard that both Ruston machines, Slugs 5 and 6, were to double-head the Wakefield to Crewe leg of a railtour - and it was happening that day! Not enough time to get to Wakefield so I headed out to Crewe via Birmingham NS. By sheer luck, the next available train to Crewe was hauled by 37401! A bonus recording! I grabbed a front window and we eased out of New Street only to have the train brakes cause an involuntary halt just inside the tunnel. '401 is a pretty loud one, and there followed a rousing standing start in the tunnel!

I went across to Holmes Chapel, but the 2 Slugs were signal checked there. Slug 5 was withdrawn afterwards. Just after Christmas, Slug 6 was on the move again double-heading with another 37 towards Ketton. I dashed down to Stamford on a freezing night, waited a long time before giving up....and later found that the train had passed through 5 minutes after I left! But later still, learned that the Slug had been detached at Peterborough, so a quick dash over there on 30th December found 37906 idling in the shed. Not really material for a good recording! The next day the last surviving Mirrlees 37/9 (Slug 2) rescued a passenger service train, but it was too far away for me to get to in time.

In the New Year, Slugs 2 and 6 both ran for the last time in service, but I could not get a day off work. So that was that! Until the East Lancs Railway and EWS got their heads together for that unforgetable diesel gala in September 1999. The rest is history, and described in the listing for my "37 Thunder" audio title.

Blast off from Houston... sorry, I mean Euston

The "Cross Country Deltic" with D9000 - 13th April 1997

The route for this tour run by Hertfordshire Railtours was Euston-Birmingham-Bristol-Paddington. My mission was to record (onboard) the Euston departure and the Birmingham New Street arrival and departure.

With the "posh nosh" on this tour I was afraid that I might not even get a front window, but thankfully the dining cars were at the rear. I grabbed that front window with an hour still to go - I wasn't taking any chances! After a slight delay came the big departure. Superb acoustics between the walls, under bridges and through tunnels, plus load 13 and a steep gradient, but we were signal checked. Once we got clear signals D9000 had an almighty thrash through a long tunnel with both engines wide open. Then we overtook an underground train - its driver (zombie-like!) completely ignoring the Deltic! After that we cruised along as I watched in amusement at the reactions of normals at a garden centre that we blasted by!

Sunday engineering work interfered with our progress up the WCML, but the next highlight was our arrival at New Street. D9000 heaved the 13 coaches through the steeply graded tunnel and into the station to test out the acoustics. The place was almost deserted except for a few staff and a huddle of photographers at the far end. Then for a seriously loud passage through the tunnels - cautious driving, but pretty deafening.

After an easy cruise down to Bristol (clear running all the way), I got a bonus recording of RSG firing up both engines as it stood under the canopy at Temple Meads. All of these recordings can be heard on "Good Pulsations Volume 5".

I relaxed at the rear of the train for the final leg to Paddington. We had some unexpected entertainment, sadly not captured on tape. We stopped at a failed signal on the main line, and shortly after pulling away again, we were overtaken by an HST that had been switched to the relief line. But the HST was apparently not in the best of health, because in spite of our trailing load, we overtook the HST as "bashers" waved from windows and cheered! We made a schedule stop at Reading where our HST rival also pulled in. For some reason the signaller let us out first, and still on the main line. Meanwhile, the HST pulled out on the relief line clearly unable to keep up. Finally, we were signal-checked and the HST overtook again. Its driver tried to play tunes on the 2 tone horns in response to the Deltic "bashers" gesticulating their disapproval!

Thumbing a lift... in a Deltic cab

The date was 7th August 1999. The location, Oxford. The mission, to try and get some in-cab and engine room recordings of D9000 during one of the Ramsgate trips for Virgin.

Oxford was bright and sunny as always, and a good crowd of photographers had gathered. I had informed engineer Chris Wayman that I would be there that day, and as the Deltic eased to a halt, Chris leaned out of the front cab and directed me into the rear cab. I greeted assistant engineer Andy Todd, settled into the second man's seat and opened the side window to get some recordings. I learned that Alan Bun-Clark was driving which meant that we were in for some fun with the standing starts.

D9000's speedo & ammeter - 2200 amps!

I asked if I could make a recording in the engine room (having already done so on one previous occasion) and Andy very kindly agreed to open some of the little side windows to let in some of the external sounds. My previous engine room experience was a little bit worrying, since I was wearing short sleeves and the slippery floor was awash with oil as I squeezed between a very hot engine and the bodyside that was also too hot to touch! But this time, Chris assured me that he had fitted some white carpets. Naturally I thought that he was joking, but sure enough, there were indeed little white oil-absorbent matts on the floor!

I sat on top of one of the battery boxes with no.2 air-intake duct behind my head and no.1 exhaust silencer near my fore-head. I wore ear-defenders and turned down the record level on my mini-disc recorder and settled down to the amazing sensation of pulling away from Banbury with a Deltic engine on each side of me. By Leamington, the oil fumes were stinging my eyes, so Chris lead me back to the rear cab where I grabbed the driver's seat.

With the windows open, the sound was better than anything ever heard on-board the leading coach. By Coventry, driver Alan was in his element as we blasted out of the station. Sadly, we were signal checked, preventing any 3 figure speeds. The standing start from Birmingham International was the best that I have ever experienced - this was the definitive "storming" departure. The rear engine opened up fully before we had even passed the platform end! The ammeter surged passed 2300 and I'm just sorry that I did not get a photo of it (the above ammeter photo is from another cab ride). Chris Wayman's face was also a picture as he observed how close the Deltic came to overload! It took just 108 seconds to get from 0 to 60mph, going by the speedometer.

I normally hate any visit to New Street, but this was arrival in style. As the Napiers boomed inside the station confines, I looked down on the crowds of 'normals', some of the ladies with their hands over their ears!

Mission accomplished!

My Best Ever Lineside Deltic Experience

I had for many years wanted to get a Deltic recording at Burton Coggles (about 8 miles south of Grantham). It was a popular recording location in BR days, and on 9th April 2000 the opportunity finally arose. A football special was hauled by 55019 from Newcastle to Kings Cross and return. I recorded it at Great Ponton in the morning and it was going so slowly that I thought I'd better count the coaches. Crikey! Load 14! I could be in for a treat for my evening recording at Burton Coggles, just as long as the wind drops.

The wind had indeed eased by the evening. I had the recording equipment all set up and ready by 9pm. The sky had cleared and the stars and moon were shining. It had also become misty and the signals were glowing nicely. I could see blue flashes from sparks lighting up the mist in the distance long before the class 90s and 91s came into view. The wind was not favourable, blowing across the line, yet an HST climbing the bank sounded pretty impressive.

It looked as though Peterborough power-box were on our side since a class 86 hauled football special running ahead of the Deltic was routed on the slow line, while it appeared to be fast line all the way for Deltic 19.

At 9.15pm I started recording, not wanting to miss the moment that '19 came into hearing range. At 9.16 the familiar drone could be heard. At the time I had no idea just how far away it was, later estimated at 8 miles! An owl hooted in the distance to give some excellent atmosphere. A Sprinter emerged from Stoke Tunnel, and I began to worry that it would spoil the recording. The Deltic was after all getting much louder and was surely about to come into view? But no! It was still about 4 miles away! The Sprinter passed and Deltic's sound faded a little. After over 6 minutes of droning, no.19 passed at, I would guess, 75mph. The droning gave way to the roar of the exhausts as it could be heard all the way to the tunnel. I couldn't hear it after the tunnel, but I was not complaining!

On playing back the recording, I was unhappy at first at the amount of background hiss competing with the faint Deltic sound. But thanks to modern technology in the form of intelligent digital noise reduction and digital equalisation, the end result is impressive.

'Twas A Wild And Loooooonely Place!!!

The West Highland line is reputed to have the best acoustics in Britain for recording, helped along by the fearsome gradients. With very low speeds, any locos can be heard for ages. But no Deltic had ever traversed this route until one of the Regency Railtours visited Fort William over a weekend in March 2000.

This was a golden recording opportunity and so my accomplice and I travelled by car up to Scotland one Saturday evening. A prior engagement meant that we could not see the train during its outward journey. The railtour had arrived in Fort William after dark on a Saturday night when the weather had been clear and perfect for recording. Oh well, the British Isles were basking in sunshine all that weekend and I was optimistic about recording the return leg on the Sunday. We went to Edinburgh and stayed over-night before continuing north the next morning. The bad news was that there were black clouds over the far north west of Scotland! By Fort William, it was a gale with horizontal rain. I staggered up the platform with my umbrella in front of me (to the amusement of the train's passengers!).

After we had seen it leave on time, we headed for our first recording location at County March Summit. The weather was the most appalling I've ever been out in! At that altitude, the rain had turned to sleet. We found a footpath by the line, but the path was like a river and water was cascading down the hillside at the opposite side of the line. The wind became even more severe and almost blew me down a long drop! But I found a slightly sheltered spot and waited. I can't wear water-proofs while recording because of the rattling noise and cannot wear gloves either, so I got soaked through and frozen solid! Oh well, only 10 minutes of this to endure. Wrong! A slight timing error (does anyone want a 2nd hand brain - hardly used?!) meant that I had to stand there for 40 minutes while the sleet turned to snow which covered me all down my right-hand side.

So, did I end up in hospital? Did my recording equipment work in those terrible conditions? Would the Deltic slip to a halt on such gradients hauling load 11?

After 40 minutes of waiting, I noticed some photographers leaping out of their cars ready to take some pics. They had a better view of the Deltic in the distance as it pulled out of Bridge of Orchy station. The snow had turned back to sleet and it was difficult to see all that far through it and hard to hear the Deltic over a mile away through the racket from flowing water. But it was just possible to hear as it climbed a 1 in 70 gradient and then the driver shut off the power as it negotiated the Horse-Shoe Curve (out of view from me). Then followed the fearsome battle up the 1 in 55 gradient to County March Summit. I put down my umbrella and awaited the big moment. A few hikers were losing their way and a couple of youngsters decided to stop next to me to discuss matters (you would not believe how often this kind of thing happens! While recording, I become a noise magnet!).

The hikers pushed off just in time as I heard the Deltic roaring away on full power, clearly not having trouble with the slippery conditions. It rounded the left-hand curve into view doing about 30mph and passed me in a slight cutting as I looked down upon its blue roof. As it passed, its engines dropped to idling as the wheels slipped, but the driver regained full power straight away and continued.

I squelched my way back to the car, put in my ear-phones and confirmed that the recording equipment had worked, although not possible at that stage to assess the standard of the sound. Next we headed off to Glen Douglas and found a good location about a mile from the summit. A hair-raising 1 in 57 gradient for a Deltic to haul 11 coaches in slippery conditions! Worse still, there was a very tight check-railed curve to negotiate first, so that it could not get a fast run up.

I took up position on a rocky slope looking down into the railway cutting. The wind had eased a bit, and there was only light rain. This time only a short wait as well! "Royal Highland Fusilier" came round that tight bend at about 20mph using very little power. The coaches rattled passed, and I noticed the Deltic get a bit of wheel-slip. Undeterred, the driver very skillfully started to build up power progressively. The acoustics of that place were perfect and although I could no longer see the train, I could hear it loud and clear. The Deltic's leading engine revs gradually built up to maximum. Then I heard a deep groan from the trailing engine as it reluctantly began to wake up and earn its keep! That rear engine finally got up to full revs and the wheels promptly slipped. Not wanting to loose speed (let alone end up going backwards!) the driver reapplied power from the leading engine then the rear one joined in again. A deep pulsating sound confirmed to me that the two engines were more or less synchronised and the driver had conquered this mountainous challenge!

The sound vanished as the train went over the summit. Then I could hear machine gun fire! A good time to leave maybe! I understand that there is an army firing range near there. We left the area by a different route, passing a police car along the way. We then went passed the same entrance to the road on that mountain and found that the police were sealing it off! Perhaps a couple of suspicious characters had been sighted?!

55019 arrives at Dumbarton

As I tried to dry off in the car, we decided (as an after-thought) to see the train once more at Dumbarton station. Had we not bothered, I would never have subsequently mis-spelt that place and had the Scottish army massing on the border ready to avenge this great insult! We expected the Deltic to coast through slowly, but got a bonus as it came to a brief halt and then roared off into the distance again. Finally we started off on the 400 miles drive home before I could finally get out of my soaking clothes! And the recordings? They came out far better than I had hoped for considering the weather conditions. Admittedly they could have been even better had it been a dry and still day, but we may have been the only sound-recordists out there on that very special occasion, and captured a bit of railway history.

The last 3 of the above reminiscences relate to recordings featured on "Good Pulsations Volume 7".

A Bridge Just Far Enough!

55019 at Shap

When the word got around that the DPS/VSOE deal was to be cut short, there was renewed urgency to get some lineside recordings in the late summer of 2000. One place I had wanted to try was Shap. Pioneer sound recordist Peter Handford published sounds from that location recorded way back in the 1950s and '60s with atmospheric sounds of birds (lapwings) and sheep in the background.

In August 2000, a Northern Belle special was laid on via the WCML to Edinburgh, so this was a rare opportunity. I travelled up by car, courtesy of my accomplice, and went to a footpath near the summit. There is a footbridge high above the line at a deep cutting. It was a miserable drizzly day and no sounds of any wildlife for atmosphere, but at least it was silent and deserted.

With the ever present risk of people turning up at the wrong moment, my accomplice set up the spare recording equipment a slight distance from me, while I stayed on the bridge directly over the down line. In such a peaceful spot on such a damp day, surely I might remain undisturbed just for once? No chance! At midday, just ten minutes before the tour was due to pass, a couple out hiking appeared and were heading my way. They did not just pass by either, but decided to stop and eat their lunch on the bridge with me!!! Before I completely cracked under the pressure, I told the gentleman that I had just come 200 miles to get a sound recording of a preserved diesel. Instead of recommending a good doctor (or a strait-jacket!), he asked, "Is it a Deltic.....which one?"! You could have knocked me over with a foam windshield! He was happy to move on and leave me in peace.

A seemingly endless parade of down service-trains passed by and it was evident that the Deltic was being held until they had all passed. Then an up service went by propelled by a class 90 that seemed to have square wheels. The row from its tapping wheels eventually faded away just as a familiar droning sound faded in. "Royal Highlander Fusilier" was really motoring and there was virtually no background noise to interfere with this Napier music! The droning slowly built up and no.19 finally came into view as it snaked its way up this long climb. There was an unusual whining noise from the loco, but apart from that, all seemed well, and it passed underneath me doing around 70mph. As soon as the summit was passed, the sound vanished. Another important mission accomplished!

You can hear the above recording on "Good Pulsations Volume 8".

D-Day at Doncaster - the greatest Deltic display, 27th February 1982.

A few weeks after the Deltic farewell, Doncaster Works arranged an open day for enthusiasts to pay their last respects to the surviving Deltics. This was arranged at short notice and I believe a printing strike put paid to what little advertising it might have had.

So, on 27th February 1982 I set off early for Doncaster. I had to change trains twice to get there that early. Firstly a train from Leicester to Derby on which I observed quite a few enthusiasts. Then I hopped aboard one of the south-west/north-east services, and this was almost full of enthusiasts! Good grief, what's the next train going to be like?! Awaiting the final train at Sheffield, our platform was packed from end to end. The train arrived and it was only a two-car DMU.....and already packed out! BR were more or less on the ball and had and extra 2-car unit which they coupled up straight away. They were corridor stock and we were jammed into a corridor shoulder to shoulder. I'm sure the staff were using shoe-horns to get the last few passengers in before struggling to get the doors shut!!!

As we poured off this train at Doncaster, there were more crowds pouring off other recently arrived services. The subway leading to the exit was wedged with a sea of parka coats! The queue to get out was lengthening by the second and other passengers were having trouble getting into the station. Finally, the man at the ticket barrier decided to let us flood through without checks, before the whole station ground to a halt.

It takes twenty minutes to walk from the station to the works, but we had only got half way when we encountered the tail end of the queue to get in - and it was four people wide! This was not a bad turn out for an event that had little or no advertising! The bush-telegraph had done its job well. Within seconds, the queue had lengthened behind me until I could not see either end of it! It took 45 minutes before I even got within sight of the works entrance where I saw that there was a second huge queue trailing off down another road. I was expecting to see a long line of forlorn Deltics in the scrap line, once I got in there, but as I waited, I heard the uplifting sound of a Deltic revving up its engines! What was going on? And what did I actually find in there? How many Deltics, and what on earth were they doing?

Deltics everywhere! Donny Works 27-2-82

I wasn't sure if all the survivors were actually at Doncaster at this time. When I finally got inside, I discovered that the staff had carefully scattered the Deltics all over the open-air area of the works so that it was easy to take photos of each one (but impossible to get them all into one shot!). There were Deltics everywhere! I had never seen more than two together at a time, but I counted fifteen! That was all of the survivors in one place. KOYLI had been sent over by the NRM just for the event, and it was standing on "the green" and it had both engines running. Occasionally, the driver would rev up an engine. Nearby, "Royal Highland Fusilier" had one of its engines running. Now and again, these two Deltics would perform a duet of revving engines, howling away like a pair of dogs abandoned by their owner. Quite a haunting sound, but I was very glad that I had taken my tape-recorder! A little further away was "Alycidon" also with its engines running.

Sound recordist in 55005

You have to realise that since the "Farewell" I had had many dreams about Deltic farewells, Deltic comebacks and Deltic this, that and the other! So this whole event was just like one of those dreams and I staggered around the place in a daze wondering when I was going to awake! Needless to say, all of the nameplates had been removed for safe keeping, although I managed to get some rubbings of numbers. "Queens Own Highlander" was looking very sad with a huge dent revealed on its bodyside as some filler had broken away (it must have been an interesting crash!). "The Prince of Wales's Own Regiment of Yorkshire" had been robbed of all useful components a long time ago. A few people were climbing inside to have a look, so I climbed aboard, sat in the driver's seat and got my friend Dave to take a photo.

There were so many of these locos in a sorry looking state, and we had only a limited idea about which ones were going to be saved for posterity. The two that were running that day (excluding KOYLI) were likely candidates. In the afternoon, KOYLI set off to return to the museum and rather startled us by going under its own power, so this raised a few eye-brows!

Donny Works 27-2-82
The other two running locos continued to rev up and pump out great white clouds of lubricating oil. Eventually closing time came at 4pm and the crowds melted away. I lingered just inside the entrance where the staff said I could stay a bit longer. It was difficult to drag myself away knowing that this was the last time that I would see most of these majestic metal giants. The DPS had set up their sales-stand outside the works on this special day and I understand raised considerable sums for the "Racehorse Appeal" which ultimately saved "Alycidon".

Donny Works 27-2-82

Having bought a few items from that stand, I dashed back to the station to find my train already wedged with passengers. When I opened a door, I half expected a few people to fall out! After getting home, I spent the next few days, weeks, and so on, wondering if it all really happened?

A few recordings can be heard on "Good Pulsations Volume 1" as evidence that it really did happen!

Reminiscences part 2

Reminiscences part 3

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