Following the popular mini series looking at the history of 35005 Canadian Pacific (which can be found here), I was lucky enough to come across one of her former fireman on Facebook. As part of the Mid Hants “Canadian Pacific – Engineering a Future from the Past” project (if the Heritage Lottery grant is successful) they will be creating a historical record (oral, video and displays) of how steam trains were used for evacuations from London in the Second World War, immigrants travelling from Southampton in the 1950s, holiday maker specials in the 1950s and 1960s such as the Atlantic Coast Express (a tale from the Atlantic Coast Express can be found here) and other tales about the locomotive itself. After a brief chat Dave kindly agreed to write an article about a rather special run he was part of on May 15th 1965. So a big thank you goes out to Dave Wilson for sharing this wonderful tale about Canadian Pacific.
35005 Canadian Pacific – Record Holder
By Dave Wilson
The author on Fireman duty aboard 35023 Holland-Afrika Line at Nine Elms
Beyond the nicknames, card schools, banter, cans of tea and cheese and pickle sandwiches the mess-room at Nine Elms also bred a rivalry in the running of trains. It was this jocular but ambitious rivalry which was largely responsible for the very fine enginemanship in those last two years of mainline steam hauled services. Gordon Hooper, Gordon Porter and Eric Saunders were all Three link drivers in 1965 – and it is their names which crop up over and over, (between them more than thirty appearances in the performance tables covering the South Western section), in D.W.Winkworth’s book Bulleid’s Pacifics. It is no coincidence that a link of just twelve crew should provide such a high percentage of the most memorable performances.
In late Spring of 1965 the beginning of the end of ‘Southern Steam’ begins with a run from Waterloo to Basingstoke. On May 15th 1965 I was rostered to work the 21-20 ex-Waterloo, the driver was not my regular mate Eric ‘sooty’ Saunders, but another of three link’s drivers Gordon ‘madman’ Hooper. Driver Hooper had earned his sobriquet not for any reasons of insanity but for his fast and fearless running and I was about to discover just how ‘fast and fearless’ that was. This was the run which, both in Winkworth’s book and in Don Benn’s 1987 Railway World article ‘threw down the gauntlet’ (Benn, D. Bournemouth Line Steam – 20 years On, Railway World, July 1987, p408) for the final fling. Revised schedules were being introduced from mid-June 1965 with the commencement of the Bournemouth line ‘electrification’ – the crews at Nine Elms knew that once that juice rail started it was all up for the steam hauled mainline express.
35005 thunders up through New Milton with a Bournemouth to Waterloo 2-hour express in during the horrendous winter of 62/63 (Photo Courtesy of Nigel Kendall http://www.steamweb.net/ )
Our engine that night was one of preservation’s finest – MN class No.35005 Canadian Pacific, the load behind the tender was ten coaches and the evening was fine and dry. Being only the fireboy I, of course, had no idea of what was about to happen and driver Hooper gave no direct indication that record setting was on the agenda. The 360 ton load was light for a ‘Packet’ and No.35005 was in fine fettle.
The route from Waterloo to Basingstoke has no major banks but, it is mostly rising gradients throughout its length. A brief summation of the route would be that a little under four miles out of Waterloo comes Clapham Junction and a permanent speed restriction followed by a short climb up to Wimbledon from there the running is fairly level to Byfleet Junction from where the line climbs to milepost 31 before a short dip down towards Farnborough were the line again takes on a slightly rising gradient almost to the outskirts of Basingstoke.
On the night No.35005 ran from Waterloo to Basingstoke in 43 minutes 48 seconds, 41 minutes net, that’s 47.8 miles, start to stop, mostly against the grade and with the permanent speed restriction through Clapham Junction – not bad going, but, more was to come. After leaving Basingstoke driver Hooper continued in the same cavalier style and No.35005 reached 105mph on the descent to Winchester – not the highest speed attained by a Merchant Navy but well in the top ten. Benn’s 1987 article puts it thus, ‘…the ease with which No.35005 reached 105mph below Wallers Ash Tunnel with a 360-ton train one May night in 1965.’ (Benn, 1987, p412) However, it was not the 105mph which was to become the yardstick but the 41 minute net time for the start to stop journey between Waterloo and Basingstoke.
The 21.20 ex-Waterloo was not a regular Three link turn, but the 17.30 departure was and like the 21.20 it was also first stop Basingstoke. The impending slowing of the timings and the inevitability of engineering works and their attendant speed restrictions once the ‘electrification’ began meant that any attempt to meet ‘Madman’ Hooper’s challenge ‘get to Basin’ in 40 minutes’ was going to have to happen ASAP. For driver Eric ‘sooty’ Saunders (driver Saunders had a part-time chimney-sweeping round – hence the ‘sooty’) the chance to have a crack at taking the laurels came in early June just a week before the new timings were to commence.
Canadian Pacific languishing in the sunshine on an Eastleigh open day in the early 1960s.(Photo Courtesy of Alex ‘Mac’ McClymont
Driver Saunders and I had been rostered together in three link for best part of a year when this all started and as I had been firing for driver Hooper on the night of May 15th there was nothing so certain as that ‘Sooty’ and I would have a go at snatching the record. Having engine No.35005 on that June evening was itself more than a little fortunate, in fact, when we ‘booked on’ No.35005 was not even rostered for the turn. The running shed foreman that evening was Len Trigg, affectionately known as ‘Pierpoint’ – after the public hangman, and driver Saunders persuaded him to swop our booked engine for No.35005 – if memory serves it might have involved a ‘clean chimney’ at the ‘Pierpoint’ residence.
Arriving at Waterloo we backed down onto twelve bogies equal to 435 tons. Behind the tender the first coach was crammed with ‘recorders’ – stop watches at the ready. On the footplate everything was ‘ship shape and Bristol fashion’, carefully built up fire, ¾ of a glass of water and 240lbs boiler pressure. The crew on the engine which worked the stock in had been briefed to give us an extra push out and the minute the guard whistled up for the right-away I gave ‘Sooty’ the tip. The great start and hard work was paying dividends as we sped through Hampton Court Junction at with speed well into the eighties. However, all good things come to an end and the distant for Hersham was ‘on’ bringing us to a dead stand. No sooner had we stopped than the board came off – by Woking speed was back in the upper 70s.
Milepost 31 was passed at 75mph and, according to Benn’s calculations, had we not been brought to a stand at Hersham a sub 41 minute time to Basingstoke would have been achieved. ‘…I believe that without the signal stop at Hersham the impetus of such a fast start would have taken us past Woking in a shade over 23 min and Basingstoke could have been reached in under 41 min.’ (Benn, 1987, p408)
It all sounds so cool when you write it down, but on the day it wasn’t like that. The distant for Hersham is one which the fireman could see first – travelling at over 80mph with an all up weight of more than 500 tons and vacuum brakes meant that every inch of stopping distance was needed. When I shouted across the cab ‘it’s on’ driver Saunders made an immediate full brake application – we only just stopped, a few yards more and it would have been a ‘spad’ incident.
35005 ‘Canadian Pacific’ waiting for the road at Waterloo station London in July 1964. (Photo Courtesy of Stuart Axe http://www.flickr.com/photos/stuart166axe/)
When the ‘peg’ came off again it was me who urged ‘Sooty’ to continue to go for it – commenting, ‘we can try not to lose any speed on the climb to milepost 31’, an achievement in itself. The success of this can be judge by the fact that between Byfleet Junction and Brookwood speed increased. On the record setting run of May 15th with only ten coaches and 360 tons of train speed actually fell over this same section, which gives some measure of the effort being put in to overcome the signal check. According to some of the wags present on the day the noise from No.35005 was, ‘enough to wake the dead in Brookwood Necropolis’. Some of the rockets are still in orbit.
When we came to a stand in Basingstoke, over ten minutes early, I took the opportunity to pull some coal down – we’d burned the odd hundred weight or ten in getting there. Standing in the coal space, coal pick in hand, I was hailed by a chap in a very smart uniform all gold braid and shiny buttons – who, despite his obvious importance, was clambering up to join me in the tender. Despite my grimey and sweating countenance he insisted on shaking hands – informing me that he was, ‘district Station Master’, and that ‘this was the finest run he’d had over this route’ – a compliment indeed, fireboy’s were not usually given so much as the time of day – we didn’t even get a mention in the logs!
Two days later, this time with engine No.35017 Belgian Marine, another attempt was made. On this occasion the distant for Hersham was ‘clear’ but a series of checks occurred between Brookwood and Farnborough which did not bring us to a stand but did reduce our speed considerably. Remarkably, despite the checks, the start to stop time for the journey was 44 minutes and 21 seconds, just 33 seconds slower than the actual time set by driver Hooper and myself on the 15th of May and the load was one coach heavier. These three runs, May 15th , June 7th and 9th 1965 represent, to the best of my knowledge, the three fastest timings over this section of the former LSWR mainline with these size of load.
Bulleid pacifics are very much a ‘like ‘em or loathe ‘em kind of engine – as someone who fired, and on occasions drove (unofficially) them, over much of the former LSWR I am definitely one of the former persuasion. Despite the abuse and neglect these engines were subjected to as steam came to and end on Southern metals the performances speak volumes for their power and durability – performances in preservation have served only to confirm this reputation.
Shortly after these runs took place I moved out of link Three and was rostered as regular fireman to driver Frank Morris of Two link – a disaster. Two link had most of the Salisbury turns and these turns were being handed over to the Warship class diesel hydraulics, so eagerly being discarded by the Western Region. I quit Nine Elms and went back to Yorkshire signing on as a cleaner at Holbeck before eventually moving to (Belle View) Wakefield. No Bulleid pacifics here but at least I did carry on working with steam until August 1968 – when I was paid off surplus to requirements.
Canadian Pacific approaching New Milton in 1963 (Photo Courtesy of Nigel Kendall http://www.steamweb.net/ )
The Mid Hants volunteers on this project have dedicated an amazing amount of time and energy to Canadian Pacific’s stripping down, we just need to get the funding in place to get the restoration started. The quicker we get the money in place the quicker we can get this beast thundering up the Alps hauling passenger trains again. As I have mentioned before, the boiler work alone is expected to exceed £100,000; so anything you can give will be gratefully appreciated, no matter how small you think it might be.
Both links take you to the Mid Hants Railway Website which is where you can find out more information on how you can help. Thank you.
Don’t Forget to check out the Brookes Castle – Volunteer Diary to catch up on previous posts!
Thanks for reading.
What is Gricing? Gricing – is a term describing the activities of a diverse group of people whose hobby covers, amongst other things, the photographing, timing, and operation of steam locomotives or preserved steam railways. The book discusses railways from their relationship to music and culture through language and literature, and on to high art and low morals, from the earliest days of the Stockton & Darlington Railway to the advent of the High Speed train. Gricing is a warts and all view of the railway’s role as a catalyst in the creation of the ‘modern’ world, all human endeavour is there, from saving the past to creating the future. Gricing looks at what the steam railway preservationists have saved, and what they haven’t. It is based on the author’s 7 years as a British Railway footplateman in the days of the steam powered railway, more than six decades as ‘a gricer’ and four years of research in the archives of the National Railway Museum. The text is supported by more than 100 colour photographs, of engines great and small, on all types of trains at work on the preserved railways and the main line routes of Britain’s national network.
Benn, D.; Bournemouth Line steam 20- years on, Railway World, Ian Allan, London,
Winkworth, D.W.; Bulleid’s Pacifics, George Allen & Unwin, London, 1981