I thought that you might like to hear a little about “this narrator” and how my fondness for steam developed.
My other half has a 5” gauge model of a 2’ 6” narrow gauge steam locomotive built in 1953. It is a replica of the last ever narrow gauge loco to be built for industrial use in the UK. The original is one of seven similar engines constructed in the 1950’s, the other six were exported to South Africa. It is an unusual design of locomotive and the model is named as the original, and I wonder if anyone can guess what it is?
I am the only child of an industrial chemist and a stay at home mum (back in the late fifties and early sixties most mothers stayed at home). My father, however, was also an avid steam enthusiast and dabbling model engineer. We spent our holidays with my maternal grandmother on the Mid Wales border in Oswestry. From here we made day trips out to all the great little trains of Wales. I think my father would have liked to have had a son, but undeterred, he explained all the basic principles of the steam engine to me, and as I mentioned in my very first report on The Brecon Mountain Railway, I spent many a happy hour in the garage with him as he worked on his little Myford Lathe.
Fortunately, my mathematics was reasonably good, and science has always interested me more than the arts. It was not until I became a teenager, however, that steam started to creep into my soul. Up until the age of thirteen steam trips for me had been a pleasant and fascinating holiday pastime to indulge my rather fanatical father.
It was one early Autumn evening, most probably a Tuesday, when dad arrived home from work to find that mum was going out, clashing with his expected attendance at a meeting of the Stroud Society of Model Engineers. After a slight debate, as to whether I could be left in the house alone, I found myself in Dad’s car heading towards the outskirts of Stroud to an abandoned Work House, where the then newly formed society had leased some space to set up a club room and machine shop. I had homework with me and Dad suggested that I stay in the car and finish my work. “Not a chance” as soon as he disappeared I was out of the car exploring the huge building and its surroundings.
About twenty minutes later, I was balancing on a log, rocking to and fro, gazing at the Cotswold scenery, from what served as the car park, when a rather smart sports car pulled up, and a tall, skinny, dark haired young man jumped out, and tugging his hand through his thick dark hair, rushed into the building. I think it was the car that piqued my interest, a harvest gold MGBGT (that my father later called an upholstered roller skate).
I hopped off the log and followed the young man inside. What a delight drilling machines, a big lathe an assortment of bits and bobs all strewn around as about eight men tried to make order of their recent acquisitions. Even at this early stage it smelt like a machine shop, that whiff of oil and hot swarf. Needless to say, I did not complete my homework that night, I spent the remainder of the evening wielding a broom, clearing floor space for machines to be pushed or hoisted in. I am not sure how good a job I did, because I kept one beady eye on the skinny dark-haired young man.
To raise funds for their club, volunteers attended all the summer fete’s in the area. Arriving the evening prior to the fete and laying a straight length of portable track of dual gauge 3½” and 5”. Returning on fete day with either a 5” 0-6-0 tank engine with Baker valve gear, or a beautiful 3½” gauge Great Western 4-6-0 County class engine built by Gordon Jones, one of the first club members. Two running coaches that could seat about four or five children linked up behind to form the train and we were in business.
The very first fete I attended was, I think, where my awe of steam locomotives really began. To see an engine being lit and fired up, coming to life in front of your eyes is quite a sight to behold. A lovely aesthetic inert ornament turns into a warm living chattering animal, with a glowing fire in its belly and a life all its own.
At these fete’s I would help children on and off the coaches and sit at the back to avoid anyone falling off. Elf and Safety was laxer in the 70’s. One society member’s son did fall of the back of the train when we attended an away day at another club. It was a raised track and he was only about 3 ½ years old. When his mother finally reached him, he was screaming and protesting very loudly, not because he was hurt, but because the train was going on without him. That toddler today is also an avid model engineer and steam buff.
On rainy days I often sat behind the driver, sometimes this was my father, who would be smoking a cigar (Elf and Safety!!) holding an umbrella over his head as we ran up and down the track with no passengers trying to attract some children onto the ride.
At the end of the fete when all the children had gone home, there would often be a fire remaining under the boiler and some steam would still be available to power the train. I was the kid begging at the side of the track to be allowed to drive the engine and, oddly enough, they let me. To begin with the owner of the 0-6-0 tank engine sat behind me instructing me and modifying my speed as we romped up and down the track. As I grew older he would still sometimes sit behind me taking his seat after running his hands through his thick dark hair.
Perhaps it was not only the steam that I found so attractive!!!!