When I was growing up steam engines had been coming to the end of their professional life on British Rail, although I didn’t recognize so. As a young boy aged 10 steam trains had been 1 of that merchandise that virtually all boys of my age had a passion for and I spent several hours on Rodway Hill overlooking the Cadbury Factory where the principal line from London divided. One going on to Southern England and the other going to Bristol – Temple Meads.
But I wasn’t a “trainspotter” these people spent their time on the end of platforms taking down numbers of the engines as they came and went. There had been unique “I Spy” books filled with all the current numbers of engines on the network and their ambition was to see every person. This, of course, was almost impossible because most engines stayed in their own backyard so the only way to see them was to go to wherever they operated. Some older spotters did indeed do this and I know they spent several pounds in pursuit of their hobby.
No my sole reason for watching the engines was because I loved the sound of the wheels as they “click-clacked” over the rails. The noise of the steam as it was inserted into the cylinders that drove the massive wheels and the greater pitched sound as it was ejected again having carried out their function.
A steam engine was not a piece of machinery but a living breathing woman, I don’t know why a woman but somehow engines seemed to be female. Later in life, I did get an opportunity to not only be on the footplate of a Great Western Castle Class engine but to DRIVE IT! I know it was only 3 miles out and 3 miles back but it was the culmination of all my dreams.
Strangely as I grew up the number one ambition of boys was to be an Engine Driver, not for us the boredom of a job in an office or a shop or working in a factory We wanted to be on the footplate of a living throbbing engine, to race down the rails, blowing the whistle and waving to all the folks in the fields and villages we passed.
However, virtually all of us ended up exactly where we didn’t want to be, in a factory, a shop or an office. The closest we came was when we traveled on the train as a passenger.