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I am weezerd

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A Tale Of Two Cities, One Greek Goddess and A Breathless Youth

In my youth, said the old man, when I was a sage.......................

I used to be a trainspotter (now there's a confession for you) before I became a teenager. In fact, I can't rightly remember how much before then this occurred. Suffice to say that when I was in grammar school I had to, at the behest of my parents, forego most all my childhood pursuits in the interest of spending time with homework and study.

Anyway, so I might have been as young as 11/12.

We lived in Audenshaw (or it may have been before then, in which case it was Hr. Openshaw), Manchester, which is an area overlooking the old route from Manchester to Sheffield via the Woodhead Tunnel. I used to watch the trains at Fairfield Station, no more than 200 yards from my house,

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or jump on one up to Guide Bridge and spot from there. Of course I went further afield, as far as Manchester (passing the Gorton Tank and the Beyer-Peacock factory) ...even remembering the conjoined line that ran between Victoria and Exchange Stations, giving us the longest passenger platform in the world (at that time). If I recall, it enabled two twelve carriage trains to stand at the platform at the same time, but I may have exaggerated slightly, though not a lot! I recall that I even travelled as far as Crewe. I was certainly a youngster, especially to travel so far alone, but it does indicate how much more stable and secure our society was in those days.

But to get back to the main story. I was spotting at Guide Bridge when the Sheffield-bound express came in. At that time British Rail was operating the line using a 500V electric power supply and electric locomotives for expresses and freight haulage (principally coal at that time) and sliding-door open compartment multi-car stopping trains for the Manchester to Glossop and Hadfield services. So this enormous electric loco stood there humming at me like an alien behemoth (I didn't think that at the time...I wasn't so much into aliens then). Perhaps I should say humming and chattering like an overgrown trolley-bus recharging its batteries.

As I stood there admiring this named beast (I think, as I write, that it was Ariadne but stand liable to correction, for reasons you will read a bit later), the Engineer leaned out his window and asked "Do you want to come up?" My heart pounding, I climbed the ladder into the cab. I was greeted by the Driver, who was also in the cab at that time. I was then shown all the dials and instruments they had to operate, and the dead-man's handle was explained to me. Then the Engineer invited me to "look at the engine". Behind me was a door at one side (it was the left as we were standing) which he opened and led me through. There was a narrow corridor with windows along one side and an enormous bank of more noise and switches etc. on the other ~ that was the magic engine; nothing like a big old steamer though!

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At the end of the corridor was another door into the cab at the opposite end, and through the windscreen of that end I could see the lead coach. Phew!

We went back into the forward cab and I asked the Driver what was the large round thing on the windscreens. He explained that it was a windscreen wiper, because at the speeds the loco travelled wipers like on cars would not work. I was fascinated!

Then I was asked if I would like to stay on to travel to Sheffield. I declaimed that I wasn't going to Sheffield and I would be lost and not know how to get back! The Driver laughed and said that they would bring me back the same way as we went. So I accepted ~ pounding heart again! In this day and age one would probably imagine and dread the horrors of paedophilia, but thank the Lord I was innocent of such charges.

The time came to set off and I was advised that I would have to duck down whilst we passed the signal box, or I might be spotted and there would be trouble. So down I ducked. After a couple of minutes I was told to stand again and marvelled at the way we sped along, fairly quietly, very smoothly, clicking over rail joints, clattering over junctions and points. I'm not sure now, but we may have stopped again at Dinting too. Anyway I was told again at one point to duck whilst we passed another signal box. Then we were into the blackness of the Woodhead Tunnel. I think it is even more awesome to watch the tiny black hole ahead on the track swell as we approached at about 60mph until suddenly we were in it and could taste the smoke and the soot of years of steam usage. ...and we were in it, and we were in it, and we were in it....... I think it took 4 and a half minutes before we came out the other end. As the tunnel mouth approached I again had to do my disappearing act whilst we passed Penistone signal box. Then we stopped at Penistone Station (Ah, that was it, not Dinting!). Finally we ran downhill

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all the way into Sheffield where the service terminated.

Sheffield was not very exciting really. I had to stay indiscreet whilst Ariadne was uncoupled from the train and shunted herself round to the other end for recoupling and the return journey. Then once we were "on the road" again I could resume my post as assistant driver. (I was not allowed to touch any controls, just admire the view.) We climbed up to Penistone again, a slower journey because it is apparently quite a climb, even though it seems to be pretty flat. Then back through the tunnel and down to Guide Bridge.

Wow! As you can see, for me it was a memorable occasion, some 45 years ago!

A few years ago I went with my family, or at least some remnants of it, to the Manchester Museum of Science and Industry. In there they have exhibited some locomotives of yesteryear. Amongst them is a 500V electric loco from Netherlands Railways. Apparently when the Manchester-Sheffield line was closed (or dieselised) the fleet of locos was sold to our Dutch friends, who were still operating that system. Finally, as Ariadne became redundant, she was bought and brought back for display at the Science Museum. I was flabbergasted! Here was the very loco which I had had such a historic and exclusive meeting with all those years earlier, quietly whispering to me "Remember the good times" ~ a fitting tribute to our encounter from the past.

Just another point of interest: upstairs in the Science Museum they have the cockpit of the last BAC 1-11 which was flown by British Airways. At the time that I was commuting from Manchester to Germany I had the surprising pleasure of being a passenger on the very last commercial flight of that very last 1-11, landing in Manchester under perfect conditions.

Hereto I set my seal:


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