Thursday, March 02, 2006

Growing up in Saddleworth

Steam trains and cowboys: a child’s vocabulary in the 60s

This A4 Pacific class locomotive ‘Sir Nigel Gresley’, named after the engineer responsible for its design, is an example of the type of loco that still holds the record fastest speed ever achieved by a steam train (123 mph). ‘Mallard’ named after our most common species of wild duck.

As eager children, we would journey up to York station to catch a glimpse of these fabulous engines – we were always rewarded – some days it would be ‘Mallard’ or ‘Sir Nigel Gresley’, but on others it might be ‘Bittern’, ‘Sir Archibald Sturrock’ or ‘Dwight D. Eisenhower’.

Towards the end of their time pulling express passenger trains up and down the country, they began to be replaced by the new ‘Deltic’ class of diesel-electric locomotives.  These were named after former Epsom Derby winners, and had names like ‘St. Paddy’, ‘Ballymoss’, ‘Meld’, and ‘Crepello’.  

I remember seeing one of these monsters in York station – the vibration from the huge English-Electric engines was so great that the lines cracked underneath its wheels and the passengers heading south had to wait until a replacement engine could be brought in and the lines replaced.
On the Manchester – Sheffield line, through the now closed Woodhead Tunnel, sky-blue electric locomotives pulled passenger and goods trains alike across Dinting Viaduct.  They were chiefly housed in sheds in Reddish near Stockport and had names like ‘Electra’, which sounded marvelously modern to us children as we took down their numbers in our notebooks before transferring them into our ‘G. Bland’ pocketbooks, which held all the numbers of locomotives on British Railways at the time.

This was in the 1960s.  Living as I did near a line (the Manchester Victoria-Huddersfield mainline), I never missed the chance to watch the huge, dirty trains hurtle through our valley of Saddleworth.  In those days, you could set your watch by them with the Palethorpe Sausage train coming through at five o’ clock, pulled by a ‘black-five’, a ‘namer’ like ‘Bihar and Orissa’, or a Patriot class with windshields; ‘E.Tootal Broadhurst’, or ‘Private E. Sykes VC’.  More usually though it was a workhorse 73 or 92 numbered locomotive.  We soon grew tired of these and made a face at the drivers as their blackened faces peered out at us as they passed noisily.

After the train had gone, we mooched back for tea – dinner, and hoped we would see a ‘semi’ like ‘Sir William A. Stanier F.R.S.’or a Princess class engine – ‘Princess Alice’, for our collection of numbers.

As steam engines, which were responsible for the blackening of dry-stone walls in our valley, came to be replaced by diesels that were identical whichever way they were going, we were drawn down to the railway less and less.  Instead, we took to the hills and did our own naming; we watched out for imagined ambushes in ‘Rustlers’ Den’ and the ‘tomahawk’ and the ‘Winchester’ figured in our talk.  Slowly, the names of former American presidents, chief engineers from British Railways, the names of Indian states and heroes of Rork’s Drift and the like left our youthful lexicon.

We learned words like ‘lariot’, and expressions like ‘dry-gulched’; we rode through ‘Blanco Canyon’ with ‘Wyatt Earp’ and ‘Doc Halliday’, and the ‘Dalton gang’ into ‘Dodge City’.  

Our youthful minds were full of episodes of ‘Wagon Train’, ‘Wells Fargo’ and ‘Laramie’, and the green and purple hills of Saddleworth with names like ‘Pots and pans’, ‘Alphin’, and ‘Alderman’ became so many ‘butes’ like the ones we had seen in the blood-red sunsets of Montana on our TV screens.

We used expressions like “Aw shucks”, and “Well, I’ll be” and talked out of the corners of our mouths in imitation of our heroes; Dale Roberston from ‘Wells Fargo’ and ‘Trampus’ from ‘The Virginian’.

We ‘totedrevolvers - ‘six-shooters’, and wore ‘Stetsons’ as we re-enacted the ‘shoot-outs’ and ‘ambushes’ that we loved so much.    We watched out for ‘sheriffs’, ‘deputies’ and ‘bounty-hunters’ as we crept around the bulrushes at the edge of Royal George Mill lodge, and learned to duck when one of the mill foremen spotted us and threatened to tell our fathers working away inside if we didn’t “skedaddle” or “beat it”.
                                                                                                                                  Robert Leslie Fielding


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home