The Train, now standing on platform three…
The Train now standing on platform three…
A steam engine is a mechanical device that converts water into steam by the use of extremely high temperatures. The steam, under great pressure then supplies the motive power; via a piston, to drive the whirling, sharp toothed blade of a wood saw or perhaps a water pump or even a traction engine; the fore runner of our modern day tractors for example and, in this particular case, a steam train or locomotive, fondly referred to as…
Puffing Hennery T.
Huffing and puffing; rushing along iron tracks, huffing and, puffing great clouds of steam and sooty grey smoke into the late afternoon skies, Hennery T; as he was known to the engine driver was beginning to tire. Heaving and, hauling fine carriages so imposing, across the land so green and fair. Hennery T thought long and hard about his life as a steam train. ‘How long had it been now?’
Not surprisingly, Hennery T knew exactly how old he was; to the year in fact, as never a day went by when, resting momentarily in a station for passengers to board and disembark, Hennery T was constantly reminded of his age by the groups of inquisitive children, that milled about his panting and wheezing boiler, looking for his creators name and date of manufacture, which, depending on its age, was stamped into an oval metal plate and mounted on the smoke box.
Hennery T’s age had never been an issue before, until, one grey and rainy Sunday afternoon in late November, standing on platform three of Leeds City Railway Station, whilst passengers boarded for the Liverpool connection, a group of duffel coated children sauntered up to him. Hennery was reading the departures and arrivals board and, although he had witnessed it many times before he was still fascinated at the way the letters and numbers; displaying destinations, times of departure, lateness etc; flicked, flapped and clicked over in a blur; as if by magic until, stopping abruptly to display new information for the traveler.
‘Hey Joe, you got this one?’ Frankie asked, struggling to pull from his duffel coat pocket, a rather damp, dog-eared note book.
‘Nah, I never seen it before Frankie, are you puttin it your book then?’
‘Well it’s an old one in it, might as well.’ Joe replied.
‘Where’s the number then?’
‘Here it is Joe.’ said one of the other train spotting children. ‘1936 it says; built by “Jack Posthlethwaite’s Steam engines and Locomotives’ Company and sons.” Burnley, Lancashire.’ ‘Blimey Fred, that is old,’ as he copied the information diligently into his train spotters book, adding. ‘It’ll be ready for the scrap yard soon.’ And that was precisely what was worrying Hennery T at the moment; the scrap yard.
Hennery wasn’t quite sure what a scrap yard was, except that each time he heard the words they sent a shiver down the length of his shinny copper and brass pipes and, he knew that wasn’t good; because the last time it had happened, Bert, the fireman, the one who shoveled coal into his fire box, had remarked on it a week earlier.
‘Here Harry, did you see that?’Bert the fireman had said, during a brief stop at Preston Station. ‘Old Hennery’s got the trembles he has,’ he’d remarked, as yet another, train spotting child had made notes in his book and uttered the chilling remark; “Blimey this one’s ancient” .
‘See what Bert? The train driver had enquired absently.’
‘All his coppers and brass’s started to tremble, you sure you didn’t see it? Bert had asked him.
Harry had replied, ‘I’m tellin yer, I never seen nothin, but ‘isn’t he due to be decommissioned soon?’
The trembles, if indeed it was that; was the death knell for a steam locomotive of Hennery T’s vintage, an incurable cancer which over the years could spread throughout his high and low pressure pipe work, causing flapper valves, automatic governor, multi directional steam spigots, poppet valves, superheater and super heatertubes, horizontal and, diagonal brace-bars to.distort Pressure seals of all shapes and sizes; usually located in the most inaccessible of places, to fail, not to mention, the slow demise of other important mechanical devices which were critical to the smooth and efficient running of a steam locomotive. The prognosis was precise. A slow and steady decline in mechanical efficiency leading to the eventual and inevitable decommissioning of Hennery T as a functioning steam locomotive, in other words… Hennery T was heading for the scrap Yard.
Thundering through the tunnel at the Acrington flyover, his whistle blowing forlornly, Hennery T burst out into the bright autumn day trailing smoke and steam behind him; his future a constant worry. ‘I’ve got to do something; I’ve got to do something, I’ve got to do something,’ the steel wheels squealed as Hennery T sped down the track towards Warrington Central, ‘but what shall I do… what to be done… what shall I do… what to be done,’ as they slowed before easing across the complicated system of points two hours later and, finally entering the rather Grandiose Victorian Station of Warrington Central, Hennery T drew to a gradual and, slightly shuddering halt; the passenger carriages clanking together metallically; as they do, only to be lost from view momentarily; amidst a final blast of steam from Hennery’s boiler. Pshhhhh…
“This is Warrington Central. Warrington Central. All change for Liverpool Street. Croyden East and Edgebaston, platform four,” the public address system squawked harshly”. Carriage doors were flung open as passengers tumbled out onto the platform and, gripping their luggage firmly they ran helter-skelter for the iron stairs which led to the bridge and platform four; only to be caught in the vast billowing cloud of sooty grey smoke as the 12.45 Express from Burnley whooshed frighteningly though the station, its whistle blowing franticly. It was as this point that Hennery T’s fortune changed for the better.
‘This is a T 34S isn’t it.’ Said one of the passengers to the fireman confidently; a dapper little man, who wore a dark beige trilby and was dressed in a well fitting dark blue, Herring bone pattern suit. He was accompanied by his two children whom, from the look of glee in their youthful eyes had fallen in love with Hennery T at first sight. ‘One of Jack Posthlethwaite’s Steam Locomotives’, the man went on,’ built in the 1930s if I’m not mistaken and, if you want my opinion; the last of its kind.’ adding. ‘It’ll run forever this locomotive.’
‘Were they talking about him?’ Thought Hennery, could it be?
‘ S’pose you would know all about them would you, locomotives,’ said Bert the fire man; disparagingly, leaning out of the cab and drawing deeply on the Woodbines cigarette glued to his bottom lip; it looked quite strange as it flicked up and down as he spoke.
‘I should do, I’m James Posthlethwaite; Jacks brother, I designed this beauty for him.’
Eying him warily for a moment the fireman said.
‘Well, this beauty as you call it; is on his last legs; he’s got the trembles and soon to be decommissioned and you know what that means…The scrap yard.’
Ptshhhhh, Ptshhhhh, Hennery shuddered at the sound of those words again
‘It’s possible but not probably.’ replied the man smiling confidently.
‘What’s that?’ The fire man said confused. ‘You mean he won’t be going to Woodham brothers scrap yard after all?’
‘What I mean is; that Hennery T will be decommissioned; at the end of this month, as a matter of fact, but he won’t be going to Woodham brothers scrap yard, you’re wrong about that.’ He went on.’ Hennery T’s been bought by the Crowehampton Railway Preservation society in Yorkshire.’ ‘Hennery T’s being put out to pasture so to speak; after a complete rebuild of course and, that’s where I come in.’
‘I’m not with you mister’. The fireman said shaking his head.
‘It’s quite simple really.’ The man said proudly.
‘Hennery T’s last trip; before I restore him to his former glory again, will be to Neepsend Railway Station in Yorkshire; where I shall begin the restoration.’
‘Well I’ll be.’ Exclaimed the fireman, and Hennery T sighed contentedly. Ptshh…
Hennery T is a fictional character and never ran for British Rail, although, he could have done…
“The steam locomotives of British Railways were used by British Railways over the period 1948–1968. In addition, BR built 2,537 steam locomotives in the period 1948–1960, 1,538 to pre-nationalisation designs and 999 to its own standard designs. These locomotives had short lives, some as little as five years against a design life of over 30 years, because of the decision to end the use of steam traction.”
It may be interesting to know that, “Woodham brothers scrap yard” situated in the marshalling yards at Barry Docks, bought most of the retired locomotives and, rolling stock during this transitional stage in B R’s evolution.
“The Train now standing on platform three,” is the first in a series of children’s short stories about Hennery Ts adventures.
James A Bresco 2012
Chapter two. A Phoenix Rising.
It’s a little known fact, that when the flame flickers and finally dies in a steam locomotives fire box, and the thick grey, powdery ash slips and slides silently through the grating into the ash holder; locomotives begin to dream…
There were times, during his refurbishment, when Hennery T dreamt of the lush green fields and vast orchards of Kent whilst he sped along on a bright summer’s day his passenger carriages full of laughing children. There were other times; frighteningly long, dark periods; when he felt dismembered and disembodied and, Hennery Ts courage would fail him then.
Hennery T’s refurbishment had taken four years to complete; two years longer than James had envisaged.
To begin with everything had gone according to plan, but as Hennery T was stripped down and each piece meticulously inspected, James found that more and more of his mechanical parts needed replacing and, steam locomotive parts were expensive. Now, in retrospect, James realised that his plan to reinstate Hennery T to his former glory had been flawed.
“I’m sorry, but the venture was undercapitalised to begin with Mr Posthlethwaite. It’s as simple as that. Mind you, we did warn you of such an eventuality.” The nondescript, balding and dark suited branch manager of the Yorkshire Penny Bank had told him when he had enquired about an overdraft to finish the work. “On the other hand,” the manager had continued. “It would be possible for me to arrange a substantial loan if that would help, but of course; the interest rates….”
James hadn’t even bothered to reply as he walked out of the manager’s office, leaving the door wide open in mute protest, his mind in turmoil.
’So that’s, that,’ he though, and sighed, then easing the gearstick forward on his venerable Morris Minor, the gear box growling in protest, he began the long drive home to Neapsend that afternoon, moreover, the thought of breaking the bad news to his wife Dorothy, filled him with dread; notwithstanding the children, who would have to be told of course.
‘And he wouldn’t even let you remortgage the house?’ Dorothy had remarked; surprised, when he had finally got around to breaking the news to the family after supper.
‘No, I’m afraid not,’ replied James sullenly, adding,’ the man’s got no imagination Dorothy, why you would only have to see him the once; to understand that there isn’t a grain of romance or even the merest hint of adventure in the man’s soul.’
That night the Posthlethwaite family had climbed the stairs wearily and gone to their beds with heavy hearts. James couldn’t sleep, although Dorothy, dear dependable Dorothy had fallen asleep seconds after her head had touched the pillow, whilst James; tossed and turned until, hours later, thankfully he too fell into a shifting and uneasy sleep.
Whereas…in the children’s room that night, no one was asleep, as little Jenny laid out her plans before her sleepy eyed brother, Jeremy.
‘Look its simple,’ Jenny said, ‘if they sell the house, then with the money from that, Dad can finish Hennery T, adding, there’s not that much left to do is there.’
‘Yeah; and where are we going to live when the house is gone, dumbo?’ Jeremy said.
‘Why we will live on the train you silly boy where else. Hennery’s got eight carriages, two flatbed trucks and a guards van, all of them repaired and paid for; we can live in one of them.’
‘What about school?’ Jeremy asked.
‘I’ve been thinking about that,’ said Jenny…
‘And?’ Jeremy asked.
‘Well I think that if Mum and Dad can convince the school people that we can do our lessons at home on the train; cause Mum used to be a teacher didn’t she, then they should give us all the books and stuff we need for next term and it’s good. What do you think?’
Jeremy thought for a moment then looking at his younger sister he said.’ I think you’re not as daft as you look Sis. But do you reckon they’ll take any notice?’
‘I know that Mum will; she doesn’t like it here anyway. She said. ‘As for Dad, she went on, it might take a while, but in the end Mum will change his mind, she always does,’ and they laughed.
‘So when do you think we should tell them, at breakfast tomorrow?’ Jeremy suggested.
‘It’ll be better to bring it up after tea when we get home from school.’
‘Oh hang on. Just slow down if you please young lady,’ said James, astounded by Jenny’s proposal that night, we can’t just, up sticks and disappear into a disused railway siding in Kent, can we. In any case it costs money to run and, maintain a locomotive; I thought you both knew that by now.’
Dorothy looked on proudly, as the children continued to put their case to James undaunted, and by the look on his face, he was beginning to weaken already.
‘Of course we do Dad, said Jeremy; we’ll just have to run some freight and the occasional passenger, that’s all.’
‘And that’s a great idea about a siding in Kent, well done Daddy. Jenny said, piling the pressure on whilst, smiling sweetly at him. She went on. ‘And if we were to find one close to the coast, well, it would be just perfect.’ She added, her little face beaming.
‘Now look here you two, said James, sensing defeat was at hand, he went on. It’s a nice dream, but I’m afraid that like most dreams; when you both wake up you’ll realise that the whole idea is quite preposterous.’ He went on. ‘And there’s your education to consider, we mustn’t forget that.’
‘It doesn’t have to be a dream you know dear,’ Dorothy said. I for one think it could work very well, why only last week, you were scolding Mr Beechham for his short sighted Rail policies; in closing down some of the less profitable branch lines, she hurried on before he had time to protest. Tell me dearest, who’s going to be running the passenger services on those branch lines in the future?’
And so it went, until the early hours of Saturday morning when finally, James, having put forward all of his arguments against the plan, had been defeated on each and every one of them and, called for an end to it.
‘Come along it’s late and, I for one am ready for bed. He went on. Let me sleep on it tonight and I’ll give you my answer in the morning.’
It’s worth noting at this point; that secretly, James had in fact begun to enjoy the idea of running his own Railway Company, only at the time he was fairly sure it couldn’t work, until, the following morning, whilst the family were still fast asleep in their beds, he called a Mr Shutleworth from the telephone in the hallway…1,159 w
Chapter three Mr Shutleworth
…Lifting the handset, James read the number from the Sheffield directory, then dialed the first number, waiting impatiently for the dial to ratchet back to zero before he could continue with the next number and so on until he had finished. There was a pause then, followed by a crackle of static on the line after which a distinct series of clicks and the number began to ring until, an unseen hand lifted the receiver and a familiar voice said….
“Harry Shutleworth speaking, can I help you?”
“Harry, its James Posthlethwaite.”
“Im sorry Mr. Posthlethwaite, have we met?” Replied, Mr. Shutleworth.
“Yes, at last year’s Wheel Tappers Ball,” adding, “we shared a table together… near the band stand, do you remember now?’
“Blimey, yes lad, now I do, I could hardly hear myself think with that racket going on. What can I do for you Mr Posthlethwaite…?”
A little while later Jeremy awoke to the tantalising smell of bacon frying. Throwing on his dressing gown he thumped down the stairs in his usual noisy manner, only to find his father busy in the kitchen. James said. ‘Breakfast is nearly ready son,’ as he finished laying the table.
‘What’s this? Have we won the pools then?’ Jeremy asked excitedly; rubbing the sleep from his eyes. ‘’I can’t remember the last time you cooked anything Dad,’ and noticing the ominous column of smoke spiraling upwards from the toaster. He shouted. ‘Dad, the toast’s burning… Dad.’
‘Hells teeth.’ James exclaimed, as two pieces of flaming toast were launched into the air from the depths of the Electrolux toaster; each slice flying on a different trajectory, their destinations uncertain. ‘Why on earth your Mother ever bought this dam toaster in the first place, I’ll never know,’ said James angrily, and catching one smoldering slice deftly in his left hand, the other slice; out of reach and spinning wildly across the kitchen, trailing smoke as it lost altitude rapidly, landed on top of “Sylvester”, the family cat. “Sylvester” who had been sleeping peacefully on the laundry, and dreaming of thick juicy slices of bacon, shot into the air with a howl, his whiskers singed, and growling angrily he hissed at James before disappearing through the cat flap to safety. James sighed wearily and slumped against the kitchen wall and said. ‘Are your Mother and sister up yet?’
‘Well Jenny’s up and hogging the bathroom as usual, I don’t know about Mum though.’
‘Well whip back upstairs and tell them to hurry, will you son, I’ve got some very important news for you all.’
‘James…’ Dorothy said; don’t keep us in suspense dear, as the family tucked into their bacon rashers, scramble eggs on toast and, a fat, juicy sausage from the local butchers at Neapsend market. ‘Well’ replied James ‘I’ve just come off the phone with Mr. Shutleworth,’ he went on. ‘Mr Shutleworth, if you remember; from last year’s “Wheel Tappers Club Ball” on New Year ’s Eve, has been given the task of finding suitable applicants for a new government project regarding the closure of certain branch lines which, Mr Beecham in his wisdom, has decided to close.’ He went on. ‘As you know the countries in uproar about it and, the Governments extremely concerned. The idea is; that some of the more important branch lines will, for the moment, remain open to soften the blow, even though they will eventually face closure, Moreover these lines will be offered for lease to the private sector at what’s know as a Penny Rent, which means; very little indeed, to interested parties who, possess the required rolling stock to continue a reasonable service for passengers and, what’s more, they are prepared to offer zero percent interest finance, to get the thing moving. In other words,’ and he paused, ‘I think were in business.’
Three sets of knives and forks clattered noisily onto the breakfast plates in surprise. Dorothy gasped and Jenny began to laugh whilst, Jeremy, being Jeremy said. ‘That’s wonderful Dad,’ as he struggled with the top of the “H P Sauce” bottle. ‘What’s the catch?’ James looked at his son as proud as could be and said. ‘The catch is son, that after five years, we will be expected to buy the line; lock stock and barrel and, run it independently of British Rail.’ ‘In any case,’ James went on. ‘I have arranged to have a meeting with Mr Shutleworth on Sunday morning, after church, at the Fairfield Inn, to talk it over with him…’
It was a grey, wet and overcast day as September drew to close and, as the Posthlethwaite family left St Michael’s church at Neepsend ,having thanked the vicar for his illuminating sermon on the “Perils of consuming alcohol”, they climbed into the Morris and set off for their meeting with Mr Shutleworth at the “ Fairfield Inn.”
The “Fairfield Inn,” thought to have been built in1754, stood at the entrance to the historic “Hill Foot” bridge which, spanned the river Don and, at first glance had a peaceful, pastoral feel about it until one noticed the monstrous, grey gas holder which stood to the Inns left and, the busy Manchester, Sheffield, and Lincolnshire Railway line which ran almost directly behind it.
‘Now then lad.’ Mr. Shutleworth said, after the initial introductions were over. ‘Sit thee self down there James,’ speaking in his native Yorkshire brogue,’ and, Dorothy, you sit there; next to my Gladys and Freddy and, if you can squeeze in there Jenny love… Now then,’ he said. ‘I’ll get them in,’ adding.’ Shocking weather we’re having what you drinking James, pint of Yorkshire?’ ‘That’ll do fine James replied; ‘and Dorothy, what’s yours?’ ‘Oh a dry sherry will do nicely Mr Shutleworth,’ ‘call me Harry m’dear.’ ‘And you Jeremy what you having lad?’ ‘A pint of Yorkshire Mr Shutleworth if you please.’ ‘And your lass James?’ And, looking at Jenny he said, ‘what would you like young lady?’ ‘Erm; a Babycham and a cherry, if you would Mr Shutleworth,’ and, off he’d gone then, heading for the bar to order their drinks, leaving behind him a pregnant pause; with no one really knowing quite what to say until, Dorothy said. ‘Freddy’s at St Beads isn’t he, Gladys…?’
Harry was back soon after and, having passed the drinks round, he and James began to discuss the possibilities of James taking on one of the soon to abandoned rail links. At times; Dorothy noticed, that occasionally, the men’s conversation became quite intense as James argued a point or disagreed with something or other Harry had said and she worried that his stubborn nature would cause Harry to withdraw his offer ,but eventually as she watched, the men fell silent for a moment and she overheard Harry saying. ‘You’re a hard man James Posthlethwaite, I’ll give you that lad, but you got yourself a deal, now you get that locomotive running and ready to go and I’ll take care of the finance,’ adding, ‘I send you all the paper work through the post on Monday, mind you, it’ll take longer than that to find a suitable line for you to run on, but is isn’t as though we didn’t have one or two going spare these days,’ and the both laughed. ‘Shake on it lad…’
Half an hour later, James, returning from the bar carrying a second round of drinks and, offering the tray to Dorothy, whilst he sat back down next to Harry Shuttleworth once more, said. ‘Well that’s our situation Harry and, if we can get the finance; as you say, then the locomotive will be running again in three to four weeks time’
‘I see James, well on the face of it lad,’ said Harry, taking the pint mug from Dorothy and drawing deeply on the thick creamy head of Guinness. As I said to you before; ‘from what you’ve told me, I’d say you’re well equipped and, ready to take on one of the Southern branch lines.’ He went on. ‘That is, if you’re prepared to up sticks and, move down there.’ ‘Of course, you’ll need to discuss it with the family.’ He went on. ‘I’d like to see you again next week lad,’ and, fumbling inside his waistcoat pocket for a moment, produced his card. ‘Now you give me a call on Tuesday morning and we can arrange another meeting.’
‘Now then, Jenny lass.’ and looking over to Jenny he said. ‘Why don’t you tell my lad here all about your plans whilst you’re Dad and me order some food from the bar…’
Now it might have appeared rather strange, to a woman, that a fully grown adult male; the father of two lovely children, could form an attachment with a mechanical thing, but not Dorothy; she was different. She knew just how much James and, the children loved Hennery T, and she had to admit that recently, as the final touches to his paintwork were lovingly applied, Hennery T, was looking rather striking, and what’s more; from the very first day that she had set eyes on him; his boilers leaking and wheezing forlornly, she had sensed that there was something more to Hennery T, than just steam and sooty grey smoke…
Six weeks had gone by since James’s meeting with Harry Shuttleworth at B R, six long weeks which had felt more like six months.
‘No letter from Shuttleworth I suppose’ said James gloomily; returning home, one cold and windy night in October, dressed in his faded blue overalls and ‘Pork Pie’ firemen’s hat, his hands and face streaked with patches of oil and grease.
Shutting the front door behind him quickly to keep out the cold, he shivered and Dorothy hugged him warmly.
‘Oh your all cold love,’ she said, ‘kick off your shoes, then come on into the kitchen and warm yourself by the fire,’ adding cheerfully, ‘dinner won’t be long.’
‘Are the kids not home yet?’ James said, as he unfolded the Sheffield Star and, pulling the kitchen chair closer to the fire; he sat down and skimmed through the headlines.
‘They’ve gone to the Gaumont,’ Dorothy replied, ‘to see the new Halley Mills film, they shouldn’t be late though.’
‘Ah.’ James replied, and for a while they were quite, Dorothy preparing the evening meal and James reading his newspaper, until, reading an article on page two, column three he called to his wife saying…
‘Listen to this Dorothy’, and he began to read from the Star. “A spokesman for British Rail announced today, that an annual rent of 2,500 pounds, for a five year lease, on the four mile Horsted Keynes-Sheffield Park section.” has been agreed.” ‘Well I’ll be,’ he went on; ‘it looks as though their actually getting their act together at last.
‘Is that good? Dorothy said,’ distracted with her cooking.
‘Good?’ James replied. ‘It is if you compare it with the 55,000- pounds they previously wanted… to buy the line.’ He went on. ‘You know, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if we didn’t hear from Mr Shuttleworth quite soon now.’
‘Why, do you think that’s what’s been holding things up?’
‘I would imagine so. James replied, and as he continued to read more about B Rs sudden change of plan, he said. ‘In fact Dorothy,’ ‘I’m sure of it…’