Steam Train To Ramsbottom

STEAM trains – or more specifically steam railway engines – are dirty, noisy, smelly, environmentally unfriendly, labour intensive… and magical. The few remaining ones, lovingly restored by enthusiasts, are living works of nostalgia.

In 1963 British Railways chairman Dr Richard Beeching swung his metaphorical axe, removing more than 4,000 miles of track. Diesels were replacing steam, but enthusiasts were determined not to let steam die… and they didn’t.

We are incredibly lucky to have the East Lancashire Railway on our doorstep, reminding us of steam’s glory days. And for people like me, who were boys in the 1940s and 1950s, every visit to the ELR – Ramsbottom station is one of my favourite spots – revives memories of school holidays spent trainspotting. Today’s youngsters wouldn’t believe that we sat for hours in all weathers, waiting to see grubby engines, but we did and we loved it.

The first part of a trainspotter’s kit was a notebook in which to write down trains’ numbers. After a day’s trainspotting we took our notebook home and reached for Ian Allen’s ABC book of British Railways Locomotives… our train book. I still have four, all in fine condition even though one is more than 70 years old.

The ardent trainspotter then took his pen and ruler and looked up that day’s numbers in his train book, neatly underlining any that he had just spotted for the first time. An engine that was new to us was “a cop.” One we had seen before was “a stink.” Some engines had a name, signified by a nameplate on the engine’s side.

These “namers” were prized catches, often greeted by cheers from trainspotting boys. A “stink” was roundly booed.

By Terry Hamilton

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