By Don Benn
This time I am covering the recent performances of A4 Pacific No. 60009 Union of South Africa, plus some from the twilight years of Scottish steam in 1964/65. I have had precious few runs behind this engine in preservation, though I reported on the running of the ‘Jubilee Requiem’ in issue 196.
John Cameron, the owner of No. 60009, has announced it is his intention to retire the engine from the main line in 2019, so I took the chance for a run behind ‘No. 9’ on the Railway Touring Company’s trip to Minehead on Saturday, August 18.
The long hot days of June and July had seen Network Rail impose a requirement for diesel power on all trains with a steam locomotive present, to protect the linesides and adjoining properties from the risk of fire.
I suppose this is inevitable in these risk-averse times, though lineside fires in the days of steam were accepted as part of everyday life. By mid-August, there had been sufficient rain in most areas to hope the ban would be lifted – and word was the Western Region would allow the trip to Minehead to run diesel free.
However, when I telephoned the RTC office to book my place they were unsure of the situation, but I booked anyway as my information had come from a very good source inside West Coast Railways, as reported on the National Preservation website.
West Somerset Steam Express
So it was we found ourselves at Reading waiting with some trepidation for the train to arrive from Paddington, which it did a few minutes late, diesel free and with the familiar figure of driver Pete Roberts in the cab of No. 9.
The load proved to be a substantial one of 11 coaches, of mainly heavy stock weighing 410½ tons tare, and as the train wasn’t full, about 440 tons full. This would have been 12 coaches of traditional stock in the days of steam.
Eagle-eyed readers will have noticed that in the last issue all the ‘tons’ had somehow become ‘tonnes’, otherwise known as short tons. This happened somewhere in the production process, but readers can be assured that the weights were actually in tons. Hopefully this will not happen again.
As the train wasn’t full, we abandoned our booked seats to find milepost side positions in the third coach from the front, sitting with an old friend from the days of steam. Pete Roberts had Craig Stinchcombe on the shovel and we got away from Reading just over five minutes late for the short hop to the Theale loop to take water and let service trains past.
On to Newbury, some time was lost because of a two-minute stop for signals soon after the restart. Our last pick up point was Newbury and we left there four and a half minutes late for the 42.50 miles section to Westbury, easily timed in 56 minutes, but full of interest.
I have known Pete Roberts since he was fireman to Jim Robinson (senior) at Nine Elms MPD in the 1960s, and he inherited his driving skills, knowing just how to handle a steam locomotive to get the best out of it, keeping or gaining time where appropriate, and without ever needing to thrash an engine. He is one of the few drivers who knows how to handle the temperamental Tangmere properly, one of the others being the now retired Ray Churchill.
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