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Sir Nigel Gresley at Work - Around the Regions

by John Wickham

Taking a small break in our series of articles, we have a Christmas special from Scotland


In 1964 Christmas Day and Boxing Day were not bank holidays in Scotland, so a Monday-to-Friday train service operated, but without certain Anglo-Scottish trains. It was also well-known that on Christmas Day the 1.30pm from Aberdeen to Glasgow was rostered for two locos (black fives) as far as Perth. This was a 'balancing' move due to the cancellation of a Southbound fish train. So, armed with that information, and the knowledge that there was still steam working on that particular route, including A4s, I 'marooned' myself in Scotland.


I decided to stay in a 'B & B' in Aberdeen on Christmas Eve (arriving there behind A4 No. 60006, Sir Ralph Wedgwood on the 5.30pm from Glasgow Buchanan Street) so that I could travel as far South as I could on the 7.10am '3-hour' express to Glasgow, then return North with the diesel-hauled 10am from Glasgow to Stonehaven and change there for the 1.30pm from Aberdeen. This gave me the maximum express steam-hauled miles, as the "down" 3-hour train (8.25am from Glasgow) was diesel.


60007 and 72006 double-headingLeft: 'Pacific' double header at Forfar. Photo: John Wickham


It was bitterly cold, with a fair covering of snow as I walked to the front of the 3-hour to find that No. 60009, Union of South Africa had backed-on well before departure to steam-heat its train. We set-off 4 minutes late, only to be stopped by signals at the beautifully located Cove Bay for 2 minutes. This resulted in No.9 being 5¼ minutes late from Stonehaven. After a minimum of 56mph at Carmont, and a maximum of 82 at Marykirk, we stopped at Forfar in just under 40 minutes from Stonehaven (41.15 miles). Union of South Africa departed just two minutes late with the sprint to Perth ahead. I was not to be disappointed as it accelerated to 77mph, before a temporary speed restriction at Eassie slowed us to 23mph, followed by a top-speed of 83mph in the "dip" to the river Tay beyond Cargill. In spite of the temp speed restriction, we arrived at Perth 31¾ minutes after leaving Forfar (32.50 miles), but still 2 minutes late. Gleneagles was topped at 53mph following a max of 74mph before Dunning. Then 75 just after Kinbuck brought us into Stirling ½ minute early (33.5 miles in 33min 16 sec).


I crossed to the warmth of the refreshment room, had a tea, and joined the 10am from Glasgow. During the journey, I had time to reflect on a fine run from Aberdeen, and look forward to the two Black Fives. I had plenty of time to pass under the tracks at Stonehaven, shelter for a while in the waiting room, and make my way to the South end of the up platform. At exactly the expected time, a 'Britannia' was seen approaching from the North, which I thought was unusual enough, so I couldn't wait to read its smokebox-door numberplate, I could hardly believe my eyes when I did, it was actually No. 72006, Clan Mackenzie, as if that wasn't a surprise, the other "Black Five" came slowly to a halt in the shape of none other than No. 60007, Sir Nigel Gresley. I really couldn't believe it, a 'Clan' and an A4 double headed! After all, it was Christmas Day! Off the pair went, spot on time, and hauling 7 coaches, 'right time' from Laurencekirk, a minute late from Bridge of Dun and Forfar. In spite of the freezing conditions, I leaned from the window as we rounded the curve from Forfar to take a photo of this amazing pair. The restriction at Eassie again slowed us to 25mph, but then they reached 73mph before the Coupar Angus stop. Departing there a minute late, the two 'pacifics' reached 76mph in the Tay 'dip' and arrived at Perth a minute early. I had to nip smartly from the train for a photograph, and a shunter was already between the locos uncoupling as I passed. Perth isn't the best location for photographs of 'up' trains, but I did manage a couple before Clan Mackenzie disappeared off to the Shed.


60007 and 72006 double-heading

Unique occurrence? 72006 Clan Mackenzie double heading with 60007 Sir Nigel Gresley on Christmas Day 1964. Photos: John Wickham


60007 and 72006 double-heading

I rejoined the train, and travelled with a solo No.7 to Glasgow, its immaculate punctuality being spoiled by a temporary speed restriction at Stepps, just 4½ miles from the terminus where we arrived 2 minutes late. I followed the footsteps of many enthusiasts at the time, and returned to Aberdeen overnight on the 11pm from Buchanan Street hauled by Sir Nigel. At Aberdeen I crept unseen into the unlit stock for the 7.10 to Glasgow, and fell asleep. I was awakend by the loco backing on early to heat the train, so I popped out and was pleasantly surprised to find that it was an "old friend" from Kings Cross, No. 60006, Sir Ralph Wedgwood that had woken me. I was convinced that Christmas was well and truly over, as we had an extremely disappointing run to Perth, No. 6 suffering all sorts of delays, to arrive there just under 11 minutes late, it was just one of those runs. However, all was not lost, the fresh driver set off from Perth vigorously to touch 83mph at Dunning, and roared over Gleneagles summit at 70mph with safety valves blowing! An unexplained check reduced speed to 48 at Blackford, then 79 downhill through Kinbuck, the usual cautious approach to Stirling, brought us to a stand there 30½ minutes after leaving Perth (33.5 miles). I returned again to Stonehaven on the 10am from Glasgow to find the 1.30pm from Aberdeen headed by "Black Five" No. 44703, what a contrast to Christmas Day's ensemble! I presented myself at Stirling for the 'down' three-hour, expecting Sir Ralph, but it arrived with No. 60009, Union of South Africa in charge. We left there 3 minutes late, were checked climbing to Kinbuck, and as we reached a maximum of 81mph descending from Gleneagles, I couldn't help wondering what had happened to No.6. We arrived at Perth a shade over 2 minutes late. I decided to eat in style in my favourite fish and chip shop outside Larbert station, so I left Perth on the 5.30pm from Aberdeen with Black Five No. 44901, changed at Stirling into the 9.5pm stopper to Edinbugh Waverley with Standard Five No. 73149 to Larbert. After buying my meal, I returned to the station, and stood on the dingy up platform, eating it from newspaper, waiting for the 8pm from Dundee Tay Bridge to arrive. It was the second time for me to rejoice, as out of the gloom appeared none other than A3 No. 60100 Spearmint dead on time, and bravely carry "express passenger" headlamps. I attempted a time-exposure photo at Buchanan Street, with my camera resting on a convenient barrow. Sadly I shook it, if only we had digital then……….It was to be my last trip with an A3 on a 'timetabled' train, one can debate as to how many survived on Boxing Day 1964 as three Nos. 60062, 60106, and 60112 were actually withdrawn on that day, sadly the end of the A3s in England, leaving the Scottish trio Nos. 60041, 60052 and of course 60100, Spearmint to see 1965. I must not forget our national treasure. Today, it's hard to imagine that as Spearmint made its way to Glasgow, 4472 had been in private ownership for over a year, working special trains, and was, in fact, in Darlington Works receiving an overhaul which included a boiler change! Spearmint heralded the end of an enjoyable Christmas, with some excellent 'presents'.


60009 at Stirling
60009 arrives at Stirling on Boxing Day 1964. Photo: John Wickham

Researched and written by John Wickham.
First published in Chime 142, Winter 2006
Continue to Part Four
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