Published in Heritage Railway, 2007
In the 1960’s the Stephenson Locomotive Society(SLS) and the Railway Correspondence and Travel Society(RCTS) ran many memorable rail tours over unusual lines using rare motive power but as the very end of steam in the North East rapidly approached the local Teesside Branch of the Stephenson Locomotive Society tried to organise one very last trip. The Three Dales Rail tour of May 20th 1967.
The itinerary had to be changed many times as events unfolded but the date was fixed well in advanced as 20th May 1967. The historical significance of this last steam rail tour is apparent when the first thoughts were to start the train at St John’s Crossing, Stockton on Tees, the original 1825 passenger terminus of the Stockton and Darlington Railway but the absence of platforms sadly prevented this. The route would include the three Dales of Wensleydale, Swaledale and Weardale and include the Catterick Military Railway 3½ mile branchline.
Today organisers of rail tours are often faced with a last minute headaches and the Three Dales Rail tour forty years ago was to be no different. The indemnification for operation on the Military Railway to Catterick had been given to the Defence Land Agent well in advance. However with 7 days to go the Agent required Third Party cover for £500,000 and some hectic telephoning was required to secure this in the nick of time. The other headache was the diesel operation of the Weardale leg of the trip because all the water columns at Darlington and Bishop Auckland were to be removed. However intervention by the Divisional Maintenance Engineers Office in Newcastle saved the day and the Weardale section was only confirmed “Steam” fourteen days before the tour ran. As word spread about the tour being “on” the initial thought of a three coach train had to be doubled to six with eventually 310 passengers being carried.
The motive power for the trip was to be one of the last K1’s of which only a handful still survived. The engine chosen was No 62005 from Sunderland South Dock, and by this time was almost the North East “Royal engine” and had been given special treatment at Heaton Shed. Its previous duty just prior to the Three Dales Railtour was to provide heating for the Royal Train at Durham on Maundy Thursday when the Queen attended Durham Cathedral. This was indeed the second time 62005 had been on Royal Duty as it did a similar role in May 1960 when a Royal Train was stabled on the North Yorkshire and Cleveland line at Picton Junction, near Yarm. On that occasion apparently when the brakes were applied the abrupt stop spilt the royal talcum powder! The same locomotive had also been involved in railtour work having partnered the then preserved K4 No 3442 “The Great Marquess” on the SLS/MLS “Whitby Moors Railtour” in March 1965
So it was that on the night before the Railtour I found myself on West Hartlepool (51C) shed where amongst the last working warn out Q6’s, K1’s and W.D’s was 62005 which had travelled down from Heaton ready for the next days railtour which started its journey from Stockton on Tees Station. The K1 looked in reasonable shape externally but rags, paraffin and oil were found to give it a total all over clean. The buffer beams and buffers were also repainted with red gloss paint to make the locomotive look ex-works. The empty stock from Heaton was brought down to West Hartlepool by BR/Sulzer Type 2 No D5160 where 62005 took the stock forward to Stockton on Tees. As 62005 stood in West Hartlepool Station she really did look the part in the morning sun yet surprisingly I was the only photographer there.
There then followed a most incredible days photography but a lot of time had been spent on researching every photographic position on the whole route. There would be no second chance. All I needed was good luck, sunny weather and a good performance from my 11 year old 1956 Ford Consul chasing the train! The day got off to a cracking start with a nice departure shot from West Hartlepool then I chased the train to Billingham to see it speed through with an arranged black exhaust. How the Ford Consul beet the K1 on the old roads between West Hartlepool and Billingham and beat it I will never know! At Stockton Station, then with its fine overall roof, the 310 passengers boarded but not before the West Hartlepool crew had proudly posed in front of the loco. I had to warn them the red paint on the buffer beam was still wet!
Departing from Stockton at 10.17am the train took the former Leeds Northern line over Yarm viaduct before tackling the 1 in 170 Picton bank where speed was down to 36mph. At Northallerton came the first of seven reversals with D5160 coupling up to the rear of the train. This was necessary because the only run round loop at Redmire on the Wensleydale Branch would not accommodate six coaches. A maximum speed of 25 mph was enforced because the branch was only used by limestone trains, some of which the special passed at Leyburn. The weather was proving to be really excellent for all photographers who were chasing the train in a cavalcade of cars. Many remarked how the K1 sparkled in the spring sunshine in marked contrast to the diesel box of tricks coupled behind the tender for the return down the dale to Castle Hills Junction with the East Coast main Line. Here the train ran on straight to Darlington passing Eryholme Junction but the speed surprisingly never went over 40mph on this main line stretch.
At Darlington the diesel came off and the K1 ran round once more before setting off southwards, retracing its route down the East Coast Main Line to Eryholme Junction where it diverged onto the Richmond Branch running some 14 minutes late. The highlight of the tour – the Catterick Military Railway – now approached with the K1 running round again and propelling the stock under the A1 motorway before running forward again onto the Military railway. The K1 set off up the branch in fine style and immediately after crossing over the River Swale the line sweeps round a sharp right hand bend and climbs for 2 miles at 1 in 50. The line ran parallel to the road so a chase developed with the photographers in their cars and the train much to the amusement of all! At the Catterick Camp Station time was saved with smart running round before the steep decent with many full application of the vacuum brake. It was in 1917 at this spot that a seven coach train ran away with fatal results. After a short pause at Catterick Bridge the train continued to Richmond where 62005 ran round again before a very fast run down the branch reaching 51 mph before Eryholme Junction where it joined the East Coast main line “on time”.
After taking water at Darlington Bank Top Station the train departed for the last of the three dales – Weardale. Beyond Bishop Auckland the line speed limit was restricted to 25 mph because the branch was only used for freight traffic and three great storms swept down the dale from the west swelling the River Wear that followed the line. Fortunately the luck I was seeking allowed me to capture the special crossing the River Wear before Stanhope and climbing from Unthank Crossing all in full sun! Beyond Stanhope the train continued through Eastgate and passed the Cement works to the then terminus station at Westgate. Here the heavens opened but by the time the train departed from Westgate tender first a rainbow had formed over the entire train.
This proved to be my final decent photograph with my luck running out as my Ford Consul suffered a puncture near Bishop Auckland so I never caught the train up again.
However the train ran tender first to Middlesbrough where the train terminated. The special was to run empty coaching stock up the coast route through Hartlepool to Newcastle and on to Heaton Carriage sidings. Such was the courteous nature of the railway authorities, with the late John Bellwood on the footplate the whole day, he allowed the 60 passengers with ordinary tickets to Newcastle to travel on the empty coaching stock on what turned out to be the last steam hauled passenger train over the coast route. He added in extra stops at Stockton, Hartlepool, Sunderland and Newcastle but such was the high speed nature of the run up the coast it arrived at Newcastle Central early.
John Bellwood writing to the Teesside Branch of the SLS some weeks after railtour said he still had the bruises of the rough riding characteristics of the K1 at speed! Somehow I think the 40th Anniversary Railtour in 2007 will not have this problem!