40 Years of steamsounds


The end of steam on British Railways in 1968 coincided with the end of my school days and, with a little more than pocket money available, I was able to start, no, not making sound recordings but film making which was something I'd been keen on ever since our family acquired a very simple cine camera some years before; the movie equivalent of a Box Brownie I suppose.
My first serious cine camera was a Bolex D8L. It was clockwork driven, had three fixed focal length lenses on a turret and encouraged properly framed shots that weren't too long; none of these 10 minute panning shots with plenty of zooming in and out that blight many of the railway DVDs that I see on sale these days.
When, after starting my first job, I had a little more money available my thoughts turned to sound recording again but at that time film making came first so my first recorder was a small, mono cassette recorder...

46115One of my earliest recordings is of 'Scots Guardsman' a loco which I first saw stored at Carlisle Kingmoor then later at Haworth and Dinting from where it managed a couple of main line outings before disappearing from the main line scene with little likelihood of returning, or so we thought...
On 11th November 1978 I spent a day at York where I recall it was very foggy.
Later in the afternoon LMS Rebuilt Scot 4-6-0 6115 'Scots Guardsman', heard from the end of Platform 15, departed into the fog heading west.
At the time I thought I might never get the chance to record a Scot again.

6115 departing from York. 11th November 1978
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KeighleyI was still making films in 1979 and continued to do so for a few more years but by then I'd bought a stereo recorder which was the size of a breeze block. Because of its size it didn't get many outings though I took it for a ride from York to Carnforth and back but it missed out on riding on the York Circulars that ran during the summer.
It did get an outing, to the Keighley & Worth Valley Railway in October (perhaps for the steam gala?). The K&WVR is somewhere I've spent an awful lot of time making recordings over the years...

On 7th October 1979 ex Midland Railway 4F 0-6-0 43924 and SR USA 0-6-0T 30072 (but carrying the number 72) are heard in this recording departing from Keighley.


43924 & 30072 departing Keighley. 7th October 1979
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This year was notable for me in that I began to spend more time riding behind steam on the main line and far less time at the lineside with my camera and, while in those days there were good photo opportunities for passengers with photo stops and runs past, I started to spend more time making on-train recordings.
It was also about this time that Bernard Staite began to run more and more trains under the auspices of SLOA; the Steam Locomotive Operator's Association including the first regular programme of trains over the Settle - Carlisle line. The popularity of these trains soon increased to the point where there was something to ride on virtually every weekend...

5305 CarlisleOne of my earliest serious and successful attempts at recording was on 20th September 1980 when HLPG ran a special from Hull to Carlisle and back hauled by LMS Black 5 4-6-0 5305.
This time I didn't stick the microphone out of the window and the recordings were very much better.
I have had better recordings of 5305 since but the recordings that I made that day were probably responsible for my continuing liking for Black 5s (and 5305 in particular) and starting my on-going interest in sound recording.
I had already travelled over the S&C behind 5305 earlier in the year on one of Bernard Staite's early SLOA trips over the line and while the loco had performed well enough on that occasion no records were broken.
Sadly, I have no notes or logs of this but 5305 put in a very fast time for the climb from Settle Jc. to Blea Moor which I seem to recall being told was some kind of record.
Well, this is part of a recording which started passing Settle Jc. and ended entering Blea Moor Tunnel lasting just a little more than 21 minutes which seems pretty good to me. And it doesn't sound too bad either.

5305 near Ribblehead. to Blea Moor. 20th September 1980
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By this time I had become one of Bernard's regular passenger and was out riding behind something almost every weekend. In addition to those SLOA trains, through the Summer, we had the Scarborough Spa Express running, though only between York & Scarborough, so while I was still keen on film making, I would usually have a recorder with me...



By the following summer York Circulars had become the Scarborough Spa Express, steam hauled between York and Scarborough and locos were regularly exchanged between York and Carnforth.
On Sunday 26th July 1981 I dragged out my 'good' recorder for a run with 5305 from York to Carnforth.
Engineering work at Church Fenton caused us to go through the platform road but the 'Five' sounded fine recovering from the check.

5305 passing Church Fenton and climbing Leeds Bank. - 26th August 1981
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My main line steam rides became ever more frequent in 1982 and my annual mileage was boosted considerably through the Summer by rides on the Scarborough Spa Express which now included the York Circle at the start and end of each day...

46229 York

Compared with the sort of loco performance that we came to expect on the SSE, 1982 was a pretty poor year; performance was Ok but nothing to write home about.
One loco that we could have been expecting great things of performance wise from the ex LMS Coronation Pacific 46229 'Duchess of Hamilton' but if we had we would have been disappointed.
During the evening of 19th August 1982 the loco is heard plodding up the bank through Headingley.

46229 passing Headingley. 19th August 1982
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The pattern of previous years continued in 1983 with plenty of SLOA trains and the SSE through the Summer.
Most main line steam was restricted to certain routes; the Settle - Carlisle and Welsh Marches saw most activity but Bernard did get to run Flying Scotsman on the ECML which, at the time, came as something of a surprise to the enthusiast community.
Of the regular routes, one that I always enjoyed was the Welsh Marches and a high spot on the way back from Newport was the stop for a couple of runs past at Abergavenny...

4930 On the Welsh Marches Express on 19th February 1983, from Hereford to Newport and back we had the ever popular GWR Hall 4-6-0 4930 'Hagley Hall'. Perhaps 'ever popular' isn't quite the right phrase to use as, with students of loco performance 4930 was anything but popular. We always got where we were going but never at any great speed, especially up hill.
However, those of us who wanted noise could always be guaranteed plenty.
On the way back from Newport we stopped at Abergavenny for runs past.
Recorded from near the signal box just south of the station 4930 is heard performing a run past then setting back before performing another.

4930 performing two runs past at Abergavenny. 19th February 1983
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For some years I've had a great deal of difficulty in picking out a single recording but for other years I have no trouble at all.
While 1984 was particularly notable as being the beginning of steam working on the West Highland Extension from Fort William to Mallaig, something which has continued to this day, the run that stands out in my memory was from an August evening on board the Scarborough Spa Express; I'll never forget this one...

The Scarborough Spa Express of 26th August 1984 will always remain as one of the most remarkable steam hauled journeys that it has ever been my good fortune to make. The loco was 5305 with the usual 9 vehicles behind the tender. Performance got off to a good start in the morning with what proved to be the fastest run from York to Harrogate for the season followed by an equally good, if not record breaking run from there to Leeds. Performance deteriorated a little after that and the running from there on to Scarborough was merely satisfactory.
It was during the evening that sparks really began to fly.
From Scarborough to York, although there was plenty of scope for fast running this rarely materialised with the usual running time being somewhere around an hour. We always felt that a time of 50 minutes or less should be achievable and, earlier in the season 'City of Wells' had done the run in just less than 51 minutes.
On this occasion with a driver by the name of Anderson who we couldn't recall having before we completed the run in no more than 50 minutes 11 seconds net despite a signal check near Malton and being brought to a stand by signals approaching York.
5305 at YorkWaiting to take over at York was Bernard Wilkinson who was one of the York drivers who could always be counted on to do his best for us.
On a Sunday at York we had plenty of time to talk to him while the loco took water and after ensuring that he knew what the current state of play was regarding fastest times the subject of a run to Leeds in under the half hour came up. I seem to recall that Bernard made some comment about having to put in a stop at Church Fenton to get the running time up to that figure. Someone then suggested that his young and only recently trained fireman might not be sufficiently capable. Bernard's reply was, 'I can fire it as well if need be!'.
By the time the front coaches were clearing the end of York's Platform 8 we were in no doubt that Bernard was really going for it although I'm sure that no one quite expected what followed. As early as Chaloners Whin, passed in under 4 minutes from the start we were over 50 mph and 60 was exceeded before Copmanthorpe. .
A little later as this recording begins we are approaching Church Fenton.
I was in my usual back to the engine seat and was in a good position to see the expressions on the faces of spectators standing on the platform as we swept through the station at no less than 77 mph.
With the train onto the curve beyond the station and Leeds Bank ahead Bernard soon began to open the engine up until, a mile or so up the 1 in 143 gradient the loco was really roaring. The fireman was obviously doing a good job as, despite the way the loco is being worked the safety valves lifted. This was a really remarkable performance.
Approaching Micklefield, passed in 4 minutes 31 seconds from Church Fenton, speed had only just dipped to below 60 mph and reached a minimum of 55 mph at the top of the bank before Garforth.
On the falling gradients beyond Bernard kept steam on until we recorded a maximum of 74 mph at Cross Gates where the regulator was closed and this track ends.
After this it would have been a crying shame had we been checked on the approach to Leeds and fortunately we were not coming to a stand alongside Platform 6 just 27 minutes and 6 seconds after leaving York. I hardly need add that this time has never, to the best of my knowledge, been bettered by a preserved steam loco.

5305 from passing Church Fenton to near Cross Gates - 26th August 1984
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For me, 1985 was my peak year for main line steam mileage. I travelled over 12,000 miles behind steam that year and it almost bankrupted me.
Scarborough Spa Expresses ran again and gave us some excellent runs but this is another one of those years when it's not hard to pick a recording as 1985 saw the 150th Anniversary of the Great Western Railway and SLOA and BR had put together an ambitious programme of trains including a number of runs on the West of England main line between Bristol and Plymouth...

Easter Sunday 7th April 1985 was confidently expected to go down in the history of railway preservation as a very memorable date and, indeed it was, though not for the right reasons.
In case you have forgotten 1985 was the year of GW 150 and one of the main events was the planned 6 steam hauled trains on the main line between Bristol and Plymouth including the steep South Devon banks and the first of these trains ran on that day.
Motive power for this first train was GWR King 4-6-0 6000 'King George V' and Manor 4-6-0 7819 'Hinton Manor' and, in true Great Western tradition, the train engine, the King was coupled in front of the assisting loco.
Just a few minutes late the pair at the head of a fully laden train of 13 coaches departed from Bristol Temple Meads as a band on the platform played what later proved to be some very appropriate music. I gather that 'Wish me luck as you wave me goodbye' was played as the Titanic set sail...
Leaving Bristol almost every vantage point was packed with spectators. We must have presented a magnificent sight and one group of onlookers burst into spontaneous applause as we passed.
After a satisfactory run from Bristol with speeds in the mid 60's it became apparent as we approached Taunton that all was not well with the King. Smoke could be seen emerging from underneath the right hand side of the tender and, once we arrived in the station for our booked water stop the King was detached and moved to the bay platform. On the tender, the right hand leading axlebox had run hot and the damage was serious enough to preclude the King continuing further west and the decision was taken to allow the Manor to continue but with diesel assistance on the banks. Two Class 37 diesels appeared and were coupled at the rear of the train, initially as far as Tiverton Jc. to provide assistance over Whiteball.
They say that lightning never strikes twice in the same place but on that Sunday, it did.
4930 & 7819Approaching Exeter we were stopped by signals at Cowley Bridge Jc. Having got the road 7819 soon had the train under way but we were all too aware what the clearly audible high pitched whistle indicated. You guessed it, another overheated axlebox. What was even more remarkable was that the offending axlebox was the right hand leading one on the Manor's tender, the same one that had affected the King.
And that was the end of steam haulage. We continued with diesel haulage to Plymouth in a very sombre mood, especially since some of us had booked to do the return journey from Plymouth to Bristol on the following day.
Came the dawn. On arrival at Plymouth North Road station on Easter Monday 8th April 1985 we were delighted to discover that, not only had 'Hinton Manor' been repaired but that 4930 'Hagley Hall' had arrived having travelled overnight from the Severn Valley Railway.
What was not quite so good was the quality of the coal provided for the journey. Someone had ordered the wrong grade of coal and the small stuff delivered caused problems for the firemen.
Still, we were getting our steam hauled run where 12 hours before it had seemed most unlikely.
So, 15 minutes later than planned, in somewhat higher spirits than we had expected to be, we departed from Plymouth.
The first of the South Devon banks, Hemerdon, is encountered just a few miles from the start. Falling gradients soon after leaving Plymouth usually allow the bank to be approached at a reasonable speed but we were denied this by signal checks out to Laira and, as this recording begins, we are approaching Plympton at the foot of the bank with speed in the low 30's.
Once on to the bank itself and on a gradient of 1 in 41 speed falls with alarming rapidity. What we didn't know was that Manor was down to 120 psi and the Hall wasn't doing a great deal better. Still, the pair soon settle down to a steady 10 to 12 mph on the gradient and the sound effects were quite satisfactory.
Eventually the steep gradient eases and the pair pick up speed past Hemerdon sidings. So far so good and I'm pleased to be able to report that we made it all the way to Bristol without any further problems.
A later attempt to run westbound from Bristol also came to an unfortunate end when the locos slipped to a stand on Dainton causing considerable delay to other trains while waiting for diesel assistance to arrive. That train terminated at Totnes and we didn't get back to London until the early hours of the following morning. After that, no more attempts were made to run westbound and all trains in the programme ran from Plymouth.

4930 & 7819 climbing from Plympton to Hemerdon. - 8th April 1985
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Having had a full programme of SSEs in 1985, we were looking forward to more this year but it was not to be. A management change at York saw SSEs reverting to just running between York and Scarborough and we had to look elsewhere for our summer entertainment so the recording I'm choosing for 1986 is my most northerly one...

44767By this time the experiments with Radio Electronic Tokenless Block (RETB) in Suffolk had proved successful and the system had been installed on the lines north of Inverness to Wick & Thurso and Kyle of Lochalsh.
By allowing the closure of the majority of signal boxes on these routes large savings in manpower and infrastructure costs had been made. In view of this the West Highland lines were to be the next to 'benefit' from the introduction of RETB.
This would, of course, have an impact on the steam hauled services running between Fort William and Mallaig so Scotrail decided to carry out an experiment to see if there were any inherent problems in using RETB with a steam loco by running Black 5 4-6-0 44767, which had been running that summer from Fort William, on the Far North Line from Inverness to Helmsdale and back on Sunday 31st August 1986.
The main climb on the route to Helmsdale is that from Culrain, through Lairg and to the summit beyond.
Having reached Lairg without difficulty 44767 departs and climbs the 1 in 70 gradient to the summit a little over 2 miles beyond.

44767 departing from Lairg. - 31st August 1986
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Once steam running from Fort William began in 1984 I'd always hoped that one day there would be a chance to have steam haulage over the West Highland line south from Fort William and this eventually came to pass in October of this year. 5305 was the on first of two trains but that run was dogged by very poor weather (remember Michael Fish? 'There isn't going to be a hurricane'.) and the attentions of a helicopter filming our progress.
The second run south was in the hands of the K1 and in much better weather so it's from that run that I've chosen a recording that I remember well, not particularly for the noise but for the experience...

2005During the run south from Fort William behind LNER K1 2-6-0 2005 on 14th November 1987, aside from the weather which for the time of year was superb, the highlight of the run for me was the climb from just beyond Arrochar & Tarbet to the summit after the Glen Douglas passing place.
The sun had set some time before but there was still light in the sky over the mountains to the west and as we climbed high above Loch Long it was one of those occasions when I wished I could have been in two places at once. Seen in the dusk from the road at the other side of the loch we must have made a superb sight with the smoke and steam hanging in the still November air.
But then I would have missed this excellent recording, which begins soon after 2005's departure from Arrochar at the foot of the 4 mile climb.
The best part of the recording for me came when, after slowing through the loop at Glen Douglas, the K1's exhaust echoes back from the trees as the loco climbs the final 1 in 56 gradient to the summit
This is what steam in Scotland is all about.

2005 departing from Arrochar to Glen Douglas. - 14th November 1987
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