Boxing Day train ride

It's become a bit of a Boxing Day tradition that we go for a trip on the east Lancashire Railway. This morning Em wasn't feeling well, so we thought we'd go this afternoon. By 2 PM she was still feeling grotty, though busy researching a friends noble bloodline on tinternet. She said I was getting like dog who's been promised a walk and more or less ordered me to go on my own. I decided to see if I could join a train at Ramsbottom but I was just too late. It was crossing the level crossing as I arrived. I parked up and watched it leave, tender first, towards Bury. I was puzzled by the locomotive. It looked a bit like a Great Eastern J15, but something about it didn't seem right.

The next train from Ramsbottom was a diesel multiple unit, which didn't appeal to me, so I drove to Bury where the train was still in Bolton St station waiting to leave for Heywood as I parked up. I photographed it leaving, volcanoing  black smoke into the fading light of the afternoon. I went to find a takeaway as I was getting hungry.

Having consumed my piri piri ratburger  I entered the station, all decked up for Santa specials. The booking office was closed and there seemed to be no staff about, though the platform bar was moderately busy. A man wearing a brown suit and brown trlby told me that trains were free today. He'd just had a free ride from Ramsbottom. This seemed unlikely, knowing the cost of coal, so I went back and dinged the bell at the booking window. I could hear voices inside but no-one opened it, then I saw the notice saying you have to pay on the train today.

Back on the platform the imminent arrival of the 15.45 to Rawtenstall was being announced. I decided to try to photograph it, even though the light was rapidly disappearing. The slightly shaky results appear below.

The brass worksplate on the side of the cab revealed the identity of this mystery engine. It said "Hunslet Engine Company 1943" along with its works number, which was also boldly displayed along the smooth, unrivetted tender sides, which betrayed its recent construction.

This loco is a bit of a pleasant fake. It started life in 1943 as one of the World War 2 standard design of shunting engine for the War Department, based on a design of 1937. These highly successful locomotives were spread around Europe after the war as well as being used by the LNER as class J94. Many went into industrial service and more were constructed up until 1964, particularly for the National Coal Board. In total 485 were built, not all by Hunslet, of which 62 survive on heritage railways, making them the most abundant surviving class. I must admit that I feel a little dismay when I show up for a steam train ride to find an austerity in charge, though, were I running such a railway I would be pleased to have one in my fleet as they are such reliable and economical locos.

Being so abundant, heritage railways have had no qualms about modifying these engines. One has been transformed into a replica of a Great Western broad gauge locomotive. One has been rebuilt as a side tank to play the part of Thomas the Tank Engine. This particular example has mutated into a tender engine and has sometimes played the part of another Rev W Awdry character, "Douglas".

On this occasion there was no nameplate or smokebox face. The engine was playing the part of an early 20th century goods engine. Only the purist rivet counter would be offended by the all welded tender and cab.

I boarded the leading coach and, hanging out of the window, listened to the hard work of the fireman as he readied his little engine for the long climb into deepest Lancashire. 5 BR mark1 coaches is no insignificant load for such a small loco and I could hear the injectors singing, the fire being stoked and the blower roaring as the crew worked to raise steam for the task ahead.

The engine made a spirited start away from Bury and I enjoyed its confident barking progress up the line. I like to be hauled by small engines that have to struggle a bit. A 9F, for example, would chuff along hardly noticing its rake of carriages while it quietly reminisced about hauling hundreds of tons of iron ore up from Tyne Dock to Consett. After each stop the engine hauled the train away confidently, its strident exhaust leaving a long white cloud in the still air.

Beyond Summerseat I enjoyed watching a firework display of red hot cinders as the engine hauled its train through the curving tunnels, the smoke reflecting the orange glow from the firebox door.

At Ramsbottom we met the DMU on its run back to Bury, carrying no more than a taxiload of passengers.

I had decided to gt off at Irwell Vale, the penultimate station, watch the train depart, wander about for a bit, then rejoin it for the journey back to Bury. I stepped down on to the dark platform and stood beside the engine as the fireman continued his constant stoking. The guard walked up to inform me that the train didn't stop there on the way back. I thanked him for saving me a long walk and resumed my perch in the leading vestibule to enjoy the ride through the pitch dark to Rawtenstall.

There was sufficient artificial light at the terminal station for me to get some nice pictures of the engine running round, its safety valves roaring with excess steam. The fireman had perhaps worked a little too hard. The singing of the injectors told me that he was now doing his best to quiet the boiler.

Still no-one had asked for payment. I mentioned this to the guard as he supervised the coupling of the loco to its train. He said there were ticket inspectors on board but they obviously hadn't found me yet. If they did I could pay, if not, it was on the house.

There were now few passengers aboard. Most had detrained to recover their cars at Rawtenstall. I, once more, hung out of the window in the leading vestibule next to the engine, though now at the downhill end of the train. The return journey was less exciting as, save for a few chuffs to get the train going after each stop, the engine had little to do and could leave most of the effort to the force of gravity on the gently sloping track.

This being the last train of the day it stopped in platform 3, the engine uncoupled and chuffed away to the shed. I took a couple of photos of this process then ascended the Christmassy steps and through the Christmassy corridor on to Bolton Street, my wallet still unopened.

Back home Em was still in bed. She was excited by what she had discovered about her friend via her laptop, having traced back through Norman nobility almost as far as the invasion itself. Ironic as the lady whose noble roots were being explored is an ardent socialist.

Neither of us felt like cooking so I went out to Al Bilal, the best takeaway in Ashton. As usual the proprietor and his bearded friend were watching Pakistani TV behind the counter. I watched too, trying to guess what was happening in the televised game show as I don't understand Urdu. The news came on with pictures of politicians. Someone had resigned. The only person that I recognised was former cricketer Imran Khan.

The bearded friend ducked under the counter to leave, then turned to me and vented his frustration about the corruption of politicians. Apparently, recent hacking of accounts have revealed that 540 Pakistani politicians have between them salted away countless billions in tax havens whilst the national infrastructure languishes for lack of investment. I tried to acquaint him with the concept of the psychopath. "Yes" he declared "they all psychopaths, they not Muslims". With that he left. The gentle old proprietor brought me my lamb bhuna. We wished each other goodnight and I returned home where we enjoyed our excellent meal.