Monday, 19 October 2015

The Great Shackerstone Goodbye...

"Smoke & Steam with 5521 - Sep 2012" (N Bates)
Evening all. It is with deflated optimism and a sinking heart that I write this; no doubt my final post about the Battlefield Line: The Great Shackerstone Goodbye. Careful wording is key here but, in short, my feelings towards the current situation that the railway is facing and those who are in place to change its future have led me to follow my morals rather than my heart on this one and regrettably hang up my driving jacket. After 8 years loyal service and three successful events, one would have thought that my contribution would have been recognised: allas...no. It is therefore with an almost biting grief that I write this post and talk about my eight years on Battlefield Line rails. I began my time at Shackerstone following an invite from a friend in the freezing January of 2007. There I met 'Pockets' who immediately became my tutor, both on site and off with his wealth of steam locomotive knowledge. Having acquainted myself with the then thriving team attentions turned to the work at hand. At age 15 I was restricted to what I could do. There were rules back then: I wasn't allowed in the cab, I wasn't allowed on the running plate and I was definitely not allowed on a moving engine. All this I gladly accepted. It was widely known that when one turned 16 they could take their rules exam and become passed for firing training. I did my rules in the December and immediately had a turn out with "Sir Gomer" the following Easter. I tell you what, I bloody loved it!

Following that experience, my life was to be almost joined as one with Shackerstone for the next few years. Mum will no doubt always remember fondly the joy of rising at 5am to take me to Shackerstone to break up soaking wet pallets under cover of darkness with great warmth in her heart. In August 2008, my training was now well under way and turns were coming about as and when. Traction back then was an immaculately kept "Sir Gomer", a far cry from the hideous blue livery she carries today...
From 2008 things only got better. I began learning my trade as a fireman: the do's, the don'ts, the definitely not's! In my younger recollections of Shackerstone I was kindly smiled upon by the late Gerald Boden who allowed me to go out with his beautiful B1 4-6-0 "Mayflower": my first proper experience with a main line express engine. In 2010 I found myself aboard 5786; a Great Western 5700 Class Pannier Tank. I've always been fond of Pannier's and have great memories of 5786: it was a lovely tool...
"5786 Out On The Line - Oct 2010" (D Hanks)
In 2011, the huge bulk of 1939-built 2-8-0 No3803 arrived and regular firing of a tender engine became an attractive prospect...
"Firing 3803 - April 2011" (D Hanks)
Back then we were still doing the popular Thomas events too and, in April 2012, I am spotted aboard 3F Class No47298 a month after passing as a Fireman...
"Out with a Jinty - April 2012" (M Heseltine)
In September 2012 I lived my ambition of firing a Black Five 4-6-0: a thoroughbred Stanier 5MT in the form of Mid Hants based No45379. That occasion was enjoyed with good friend and regular Statfold driver John Britt (JB to his friends)...
"Can't Beat A Black Five - Sep 2012" (D Hanks)
In 2013 a real vintage lady arrived: Beattie Well Tank No30585. I had a cracking day aboard that engine with fellow engineman and good friend Eddie...
"In Love With A Beattie - Mar 2013" (D Hanks)
The day after the Beattie, I was driving my beloved Peckett 0-6-0 "Sir Gomer" in the station limits for the second day of the 2013 Steam Gala. Throughout my time at Shackerstone, through thick and thin, I've loved being involved with "Sir Gomer" and have fought her corner in more than one steam loco based argument! Perfect for the job she'll never be but will always be a free steaming and powerful ignorant industrial; just as Peckett's intended! I will miss her, having been Engine Rep with her at all four of her outings to other preserved railways. Poor old gal'; maybe one day I'll win the Lotto...
"My Beloved Sir Gomer - Mar 2013" (Debbie)
In 2014 there was the opportunity to fire and drive SECR 'P' Class No323 "Bluebell" a couple of times. That was fab...
"Bluebell Near The Battlefield - April 2014" (R Eborall)
Naturally, in the background of all these outings (which are only a few of the countless I actually did!) there was training going on. I learnt and learnt, on and off site. My head was in books on lunchbreak at work and during evenings at home, learning the skills required to become a competent engineman. I was passed as a Driver in December 2014 having worked my way up the ranks for 6.5 years on the footplate, spending most weekends aboard an engine of some description on Battlefield Line metals. I did my bit and I earnt my stripes, just as the process has always been since the footplate men of old. I am spotted aboard Large Prairie No4141 during a driving turn in March this year...
"4141 Driving Day - March 2015" (D Hanks)
Another Prairie that impressed me greatly was No5542, billed by all as the Planets Favourite Prairie. Its a lovely thing, beautifully cared for and a pleasure to be on...
"Firing 5542 - April 2014" (P Biggs)
One thing I must touch upon are the many friends I've made over my years with Shackerstone. There was Pockets and the lads and of course David (Gay Dave to his friends). This isn't to mention of course the countless others like DJ, Carl, JB, Phil, MJ, Jase, Dan Dan - the list goes on and on. One must not forget the bringer of breakfast, glad tidings and general lateness 'Eddie the Late'. Had I not met Eddie I would perhaps be thinner if nothing else, as a good few years of relentless 'Three Course Challenges' has done nothing but murder my formerly fast metabolism! Jokes aside, a great mate and a bit of lateness never hurt anybody I guess. Our final day as a three man comedy crew came in May this year; an event planned by all three of us in case one or two of us made an unavoidable ever imminent departure...
I knew at the time of driving "Cumbria" that my time with the railway was coming to an end and I said to MJ during the last day that I was determined to enjoy my last outing. Its been an enjoyable, exciting, often dissapointing eight years and I've learnt so much with countless drivers and firemen for fellow crew. I've worked my way up through the ranks of cleaner, passed cleaner, fireman and finally to Driver; something that was always my final frontier and a great ambition of mine fulfilled. It fills me with sadness to know that my firing and driving days at Shackerstone are now over, particularly as certain individuals have created a railway that I no longer recognise as the line I once loved. Its a shame but it seems to be a common trait sometimes with big railways.

Working with engines here over the years has been such an eye opener. We saw the changing seasons, the morning and the evening glow. We saw the glow of the fire through the frost bitten night sky on evening trains in the dark of winter, we saw snow on the roofs of village cottages as we steamed by with Mince Pie specials. We saw a railway and nature entwined and drove and fired steam locomotives through some of Leicestershire's prettiest countryside. It was a pleasure and, if it weren't for my morals, I'd still be doing it now.

So thats it folks: eight years, three events, countless engines, countless fires lit, countless whistles blown and now the curtain falls at last on my swansong of steam at Shackerstone. To all my friends who remain in service there I dip my head and remove my cap in respect for you and thank you for your pleasant and often comedic company in the past years. To those who have trespassed against the principles of why we give up our time, well, I think the end to that sentence would give some an undeserved sense of achievement so, allas, I leave it open. Thank you all for reading this no doubt depressing post and I remind you that every Shackerstone outing, footplate day, work day and doom day is recorded and available to view on this blog. Thank you all; cheers and goodnight...

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Wow Sam, that was pretty intense and probably quite difficult to write. I'm a little emotional just reading it, and I wasn't involved, other than as an avid reader of your blog, for a good few years now.
There was much unsaid, reading between the lines, and it is a shame, but as one door closes, another often opens. I'm certain you'll be back on the footplate of the "big engines" again soon, and who knows, maybe we'll be reading your mainline steam adventures one day?
Here's to the future, ay?
Emma-claire.

Anonymous said...

Boo Hooooooooooooooo!

Eddie The Late

Anonymous said...

I hope this isn't the end of your blog Sam? Please keep blogging about your steam exploits at Statfold, Wales, with your model engines and (of course) when you establish yourself at another big railway. You are bound to establish yourself somewhere else. Regardless of railway politics, once a man of steam, always a man of steam - the itch will need scratched again!
Phil, in Northern Ireland

Sam Brandist said...

Hi to all three of you! Yes, allas, it wasn't an easy decision to make and I've spent many happy hours underneath Gomer or the Prairies or the B1 and god only knows what else in that dingy pit over the years, as has good old 'Eddie the Late'. If one could simply drive the engine and not worry about the rest, its fine, but we can't do that as we wanted to see the railway succeed. Unfortunately, in its current direction that is unlikely and its a shame its come to this. We are not the only ones, they've lost half a dozen drivers this year as well as other helps, sad to say its a current trend. Oh well, onwards and upwards. The blog will certainly continue Phil, one way or another! :) All the best, Sam