Other things I have driven #1 – ex LMS Stanier Black Five M5337

19 Aug

A few years back I used to work in Chesterfield quite a lot and used to explore the area in my spare time. I’d also visited Matlock on the train one evening whilst working in Derby back in around 1986, and so knew the Peak Railway preservation operation a little.

In about 1997 my then boss arranged one of his team meetings in a hotel at Rowsley. On my early morning walk around I found the remnants of the old Midland/LMS peak line and, walking along a way, the northern  end of the Peak Railway line.

My interest in their work grew and I joined the society. One day a brochure arrived advertising steam loco driving days, and I applied successfully. My day was to be spent sharing with someone, and we would get a go on an 0-6-0 tank engine and the main line Black 5 4-6-0 that was on loan from the East Lancs Society that Summer.  The latter was ex LMS 5337, later BR 45337, but was at the time painted as M5337 in the British Railways style of immediately after the 1948 nationalisation of the railways.

I was working in Chesterfield the day before, so stayed in Rowsley overnight and was at Darley Dale to sign on ot 0800 the next morning. It was a bloody awful day with slate grey skies and steady rain, but that only served to make the steam more dramatic (as well as the rails more greasy). Somehow it fitted.

My day was brightened by news that the guy due to share with me hadn’t turned up, so I would get his share of driving time. Over a mug of tea the three of us who had arrived had our safety briefing and we tossed a coin to decide who whould get first crack at the Black 5. The other two won that so I went off to take the J94 0-6-0 tank down to Rowsley South to do some shunting and I spent a happy hour down there driving and doing a little firing.

Accuracy is called for in these things; in firing you need to get the coal into the right part of the firebox to keep the fire at the right level and provide steam in the most economic way. When driving accuracy with the controls is essential if you are to stop in the right place. Shunting in the yard meant a lot of short runs, hopping off to set points, move again and we re-positioned a few wagons and I generally started to get the feel of what the controls did and, in particular, of the brake.

Time passed quickly and my turn on the Black 5 came along. The crew and I introduced ourselves and we backed out of Darley Dale to the Matlock side of the station. My driving would be from this point to just outside Matlock Riverside and I would be shunting back and forth between these points for the duration of my stint. We quickly established that the regulars were happy to handle the firing so, unless I really wanted to have a go at that, I could just enjoy a full spell at the controls.

Now maybe a confession here, I am the owner of a British Railways engineman’s greasetop cap, the one that you’ll see the footplate crews wearing in old photos, and mine had an authentic, for this line, Midland Region “Driver” badge. This was a birthday present from my Mum and she bought it at the old surplus shop that used to be round the back of Euston station. Naturally I was wearing this for my day at Peak Rail.

And so I found myself sat on the driver’s seat of a 90 ton main line steam engine built by the London Midland & Scottish Railway (LMS) in the 1930s and painted as it had looked in the late 1940s just after the nationalisation of the Big Four into British Railways. Apart from the modern incongruity of a the high viz vest I might have been a true engineman in my dark overalls and grease top cap as I sat at the controls.

The driver stood behind me and we made our first run out and back. He then moved over to help fire as I went to start again for Matlock but, on the greasy rail I pulled the stiff regulator handle a little to sharply and spun the wheels. Now this is dangerous in a steam engine if not caught quickly enough and can cause severe damage. The driver shut the regulator quickly  and let me try again. This time I was away without slipping and he resumed occasional firing to punctuate chatting with the fireman who was taking a break and watching the track from his side.

Running to Matlock we were in reverse as there was no turning facility and it would have taken too long even if there had been. I just reversed to Matlock and then ran back to Darley Dale forwards. And in relative silence; the crew seemingly having abandoned me and I began to wonder if I had been written off after my faux pas. Far from it; after about the 4th round trip I was asked how many other engines I had driven? Just the J94 this morning and tis one I told them. They asked if I knew that I was pulling up within a yard of the same spot at each end of my runs? Yes I said, and explained that I was trying to get a bit more accurate, but was finding that difficult, to which they told me that the stopping points I had been given were generous for the limits within which I was allowed to drive as most people couldn’t stop within 50 feet of them. They had thought that I was handling the engine as a veteran hence having left me alone to get on with it.

All to soon my time was up and, instead of stopping on the final run into Darley Dale I slid off the seat around my normal stopping point and allowed the regular driver to take over and bring her into the station.

I can’t remember what it cost me, but it was worth every penny.

Black 5 M5337

Me stood in front of my steed Same about the modern need for a hi-viz.

Have a look at the old girl here in this YouTube video

Learn a bit more about Peak Rail here

Buy a model Black 5 for your railway here Hornby R2881 00 Gauge LMS Class 5 Black 5 Locomotive Railroad Locomotive

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