I have written these reminiscences under themed headings to try to keep them in some sort of order, there are no specific dates as all the notes I made at the time, including the numbers of locomotives seen, have long since been lost, probably as a result of many house moves since the 1970s. For those of you who do not know me or have never heard of me (lucky you!), a little bit of my history: I started train spotting in the summer of 1964 at the age of eleven years following a family move from Birmingham to Bury in Lancashire, we lived on a new housing estate, I knew no-one, but two boys lived nearby and attended the same junior school, Keith Stanley and Dennis Woods. We became friends and during that long summer we spent many evenings on a bridge over the former Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway between Bolton and Bury Knowsley Street stations, we graduated to the latter named station where we met Dave Felton, Harold Collier and others, we joined Buckley Wells Railway Enthusiasts (BWRE). One of the rules was that the minimum age for membership was twelve years, but we were allowed to join a few months before that milestone was achieved, my membership number was 32. As is well known the BWRE merged with East Cheshire Railfans to become the NCTS, which is where these memories begin. All dates are estimates and reliant on my ageing memory, but I have tried to be as accurate as possible. I was a member of the NCTS from inception until 1972 when I moved to South Wales, I had ‘copped’ my last number in (I think) the Spring of 1972 when I was able to underline all the locomotives (never really bothered with DMUs and EMUs) in the Combined Volume produced towards the end of 1971.
1 - On an East Anglia trip probably in 1970 or 1971 our Ezra Laycock coach broke down near Doncaster, it limped to park-up near to the station to allow those who wanted to make their own way home, to do so. One of the drivers contacted his company and the only way to get everyone home was to send a replacement coach from their base in Barnoldswick, between Burnley and Skipton. No M62 in those days, so we had a long wait for our transport, I think all of the Sheffield contingent caught a train, but virtually all of those from the Manchester area had to wait. There were some people (Malcolm Littler and Paul Gascarth for example) who had no chance of getting home from Manchester as we were not expected to arrive back until gone midnight. I telephoned my parents and explained the situation and asked if a couple could sleep on our living room floor until Monday morning, they agreed. However, I think about four people stayed (including the two named above), we did not get to our house until about 02.00 hours. I was alright, I had my bed and did not wake until about 10.00 when everyone had gone!
2 – On an August Bank Holiday Scottish trip (1970 or 1971) as the coach pulled up at St Rollox Works the gear lever broke below the rubber gaiter, it could have been a major disaster had it happened almost anywhere else on the trip, but whilst we were escorted around the works clutching our notebooks and pens scrawling down all of the numbers, the situation was explained to a sympathetic member of staff there. He arranged for a member of the works payroll to come out to fix the broken piece of metal, presumably by welding or something similar. We were not delayed at all and the coach set off as soon as we had finished our number collecting session, the gods were on our side that morning.
1 – This incident happened on one of the ‘staying away’ trips to either Scotland or South-West/South Wales, I think it was the former. A meal break was taken, but there was not much of a selection of places to cater for a large number and we were split across a few places in the town centre (I do not remember where). I was in a group that included Roger Hendry and I think that quite a large number of us were sat around a big table, we placed our orders and the kitchen produced them as quickly as possible, but not all of them came out at the same time so some people had finished eating before others had received their food. Roger received his meal quite soon, but the person sat next to him (forgotten his name, unfortunately) was still waiting when Roger had finished eating, Roger’s neighbour received his meal just as Roger produced his packet of cigarettes and he came out with what I think was a marvellous statement, ‘I don’t mind you eating whilst I smoke!’
2 – Nigel Capelle was very often the navigator on trips, he was brilliant, always knew where he was and got us to each of our calling points on time and without detours. On a small number of occasions when Nigel was not available (perhaps when he was in University) I deputised, I was never as good as he was, but we managed! The navigator generally had to stay awake throughout the whole trip, we were much younger and it was easier than it would be now! If our body has missed a night’s sleep it does not really desire a typical piece of breakfast food at 6 o’clock in the morning (for example). I was navigating an East Anglia trip which meant that there were few stops at depots near to others, most being about one hour away from the next one, so the navigator had to keep track of exactly where the coach was, I used to sit on the top step of the coach and talk to the driver so no-one was disturbed by the talking. We arrived at a depot at around dawn and people were beginning to wake up as it got light, though most were still trying to doze until the next depot was reached. As we pulled in to the parking space I opened a tin of Ambrosia rice pudding and proceeded to eat it, cold with a spoon, I think from the comments that I got, quite a few felt a bit nauseous at the thought of what I was consuming so early on a Sunday morning – I was fine I had been awake all night!
3 – On a London trip (c1971) we had a new driver as well as one of our regular Ezra Laycock drivers, one aspect of these tours was that around lunchtime the coach would drop off virtually all participants at Clapham Junction station allowing them to catch a train to Waterloo giving them the opportunity to record the numbers of locomotives and units between those two stations with the coach picking them up at the London terminus and hour or so later. On this trip our new driver happened to mention that he knew of a pub between the two stations that had a female stripper performing every Sunday lunchtime, word spread around the coach and most of those aged 18-years or older (or looked as though they were in that age group) decided not to take the train, but to visit the pub. On arrival at the pub it was found that the stripper was no longer performing, so the hopes of many young men were dashed that day!
OTHER TRIP ANECDOTES
1 – On a North-East trip (c1970/71) John Frisby and I were designated as the officials to get us round the depots/stabling points we were planning to visit, we arrived in the Newcastle area before dawn on that Sunday morning and one of the points of call was South Gosforth where many DMUs would be stabled. John and I found the ‘Foreman’s Office’, the gentleman in charge was a very amenable person, very chatty and he agreed to our request and offered to be the guide for the visit. He led the way round the depot and talked to John and I all of the time, at the end of the visit he asked us both to go back to his office, we feared the worst, had we done something wrong or incurred his displeasure? As the rest of the party returned to the coach we went with the guide, once in the office he opened a large metal cupboard that contained many shed-plates, mostly 52J (South Gosforth’s shed code) with some others from the NER, he asked us if we would like to take some as mementos, he agreed to let us take six, three 52Js and three others. As John and I walked back to the coach we discussed how best to handle the situation and decided that we would each keep a 52J and one other with the remaining two to be raffled on the coach to raise funds for the Society. I cannot remember the finer detail, but we possibly charged the equivalent of £0.10 per ticket (or 2 shillings if this happened before currency decimalisation in February 1971), if forty tickets were sold the Society would have raised £4.00, which does not sound very much, but overnight trips cost each person a mere £2.50 in early 1971.
2 – NCTS coach trips were not just about collecting numbers, there was a great social atmosphere before, during and after the trips, I made friends with many during my time with the Society and I am still in contact with about half a dozen people that I met about 50-years ago. A couple of happenings in connection with the social side of train spotting: For a number of years the Society used the coach firm Ezra Laycock from Barnoldswick (between Burnley and Skipton) so all those trips called at Bury (where I lived) on their way to Manchester. On one particular trip I met a couple of other members for a couple of drinks before catching the coach. It was my first visit to the establishment, its name has escaped my mind, but it was situated about 20-yards away from where we would catch the coach, it was a trendy, young person’s type of pub, I was a young person, but was never known for being trendy! Before leaving, I visited the toilets and was impressed with the décor, a pleasing shade of pink, but there were no urinals, it was only as I walked back into the bar that I realised I had been in the ladies’ toilets, there was a rousing cheer from my compatriots, they knew where I had been!
3 – Another part of the social side was that on most overnight trips a stop would be made for some supper, usually a fish & chip shop and very close to a pub for those old enough (or looked old enough) to obtain a drink. Nature being what it is, an hour or so later those who had partaken of a drink needed a ‘personal needs break’. On this particular trip to the north-east of England a break was taken, probably in Brinsworth, Sheffield (the pub being the Three Magpies), later travelling north on the A1 a stop had to be made in a layby at about 11.00pm. All those that needed to answer the call of nature lined-up outside the coach hidden from the passing traffic. The driver (one of our regulars) waited until the flow had started and pulled the coach forward leaving us all on full display to other road users!
4 – About twice a year there were trips that required overnight accommodation, one of them was to Scotland and this one had our second night’s hotel in Glasgow. A few of us that sat at the front of the coach went with the two drivers into the city centre on the ‘Clockwork Orange’ as that city’s underground service was called. The journey was far from smooth and we went round one curve so fast that I slipped off the seat onto the floor, one of the coach drivers said that he had been trying to do that to me on the coach for the whole trip.
5 – On a North-East England overnight trip we arrived at Sunderland shed (or possibly West Hartlepool) at about 02.00, the high gates across the entrance were closed and bolted from inside. This did not prevent the visit taking place as one member (nicknamed Scouse) clambered athletically over the gate and released the bolt, we all trooped in and past the foreman’s office, the light was on and the sound of the key being turned to lock the door was clearly heard. As soon as all numbers had been taken our exit was the reverse of the entrance, and yes, the door was re-bolted as we left!
On Board Catering
On most trips there were a couple of seats kept aside for the sale of snacks and drinks, such as crisps, chocolate, canned drinks, etc., they were priced to make a small profit and as there was a captive market stuck together for 24-hours or more with many requiring a psychological lift (a sugar rush?!) after having been woken up to wander around a cold, dark engine shed, a profit was made! However, the undoubted king of on board catering was Dave Felton, I often went round to his house during the afternoon on the day of an overnight trip to help prepare the food. The basic theory was that sufficient food would be made for (I think) one meal, either Sunday breakfast or lunch and it would be provided for both drivers (very important), Dave and a couple of others. Including the drivers was paramount as a small portable stove would be used to cook/reheat the food, and the cooking took place on the coach, Health & Safety rules were interpreted less stringently fifty years ago! Popular foods included a very tasty beef curry and boiled rice or tinned spaghetti in tomato sauce with grated cheese and bread & butter, but some breakfast time meals included scrambled eggs and (I think) bacon. Choosing when on a trip to prepare and eat these very tasty meals took some planning, two places come to mind, the first being lunch-timeish in the centre of Newcastle-upon-Tyne (very close to the station), this gave time for all coach participants to both do some spotting and get food from local establishments. The second was breakfast at Woodhams scrapyard in Barry where there were about 200 steam locomotives waiting to be scrapped/preserved and some town centre cafes open to obtain food, the lucky few were treated to a cooked breakfast on the coach, the smell was absolutely marvellous after a night of disturbed sleep and a body clock totally confused by what was happening to it. It certainly would not happen these days!
On Board Entertainment
An eclectic mix of songs would be heard during coach trips, including for those sat near the rear of the coach (known as the ‘Back Seat Club’) and led by chief orchestrator, Dave Felton, the songs were bawdy rugby songs, the titles of many would probably make us blush these days, a couple that have clean titles were ‘The Good Ship Venus’ and ‘The Ball Of Kerrymuir’ – if you do not know the lyrics may I suggest checking on Google or similar! The coaches we used (especially after about 1968ish) had built-in radios and Radio 1 was still in its infancy having only started in 1967, it was played during the day to help keep us all entertained, some records had good choruses that many on the coach would join in with, two songs in particular come to mind, ‘Young Girl’ by Gary Puckett and the Union Gap, released in 1968 (this could almost be described as the early NCTS days signature tune) and ‘Rosetta’ by Georgie Fame and Alan Price, released in 1971, it was high in the ‘charts’ during the Society’s Easter tour to SW England and S Wales and must have been played on every programme with many of the trip participants joining in with the chorus. On a more personal level, Nigel Capelle and I had become good friends as we had a number of common interests, one of which was our love of Led Zeppelin. On quite a few trips Nigel brought his battery powered cassette player, fresh batteries and a copy of a Led Zep album, the only downside to a very enjoyable 40-minutes or so listening to the cassette was that the batteries were then drained, so we only got to hear the album once!
Bad language littered the conversations of most participants on coach trips, drivers included, on one trip in about 1971 one of the drivers suggested that those at the front of the coach should pay a fine every time they swore, I cannot remember the size of the fine, but it was probably one ‘new’ penny (Decimalisation of the British currency occurred on 14 February 1971), a very small amount by current standards, but an overnight trip back then cost £2.50. The agreement was that at the end of the trip the total fund would be shared equally between all who joined-in, basically we got our money back, after all it was just a bit of fun. Not surprisingly, the pot of money grew quickly, the surprising element was that someone (who shall remain nameless to protect his embarrassment) was sat very near the front of the coach and could hear and see what was happening asked if he could join in. The existing group of members considered the request and agreed on the condition that he contributed an initial amount to ‘catch-up’, probably something around £0.50, he joined!
Two incidents from Scottish trips that included hotel stays, i.e. ones at Easter or August Bank Holiday weekends, probably in the late 1960s or very early 1970s, I can be no more precise than that. I think that alcohol had a bearing on both incidents! The first was at a hotel where the Society had exclusive use, so no normal guests to be offended, fortunately. A group of us had been out for a meal and a few drinks, just enough to make us tipsy, we were in high spirits and having fun. Some of the details are a little unclear now, but my recollection is that once back at the hotel I was dared to run around the establishment wearing just my underpants, not a pretty sight 50-years ago and even less so now! Foolishly I agreed to the dare, I think it was Dave Felton who dared me, now of course, he sadly can neither deny nor confirm that statement. The long and the short of the story is that I accepted and carried out the dare, I think it was a big topic of conversation during the remainder of the trip! If my mother had ever found out, I would have been in deep trouble, but fortunately she did not.
The other incident was really quite silly, no malice just youthful idiocy, the bedrooms in the hotel had multiple beds, I think that there were six or seven in the room I used, they included John Frisby, Nigel Capelle and Malcolm Littler, but I cannot remember the names of the others. Readers of a certain age (probably most of you) will remember a TV programme called ‘The Waltons’ and last thing each night all members of a quite large Walton family would say goodnight to each other. Lying in bed, the room lights having been extinguished and in our slightly tipsy state my fellow room-mates and I bid goodnight to each other, there was quite a bit of giggling. Once the ‘goodnighting’ had concluded there was a brief silence until one of the group said ‘Goodnight Willie Wardrobe’, this was followed by similar comments such as ‘Goodnight Colin Carpet’, this went on for a while as we all gave names to the many items of furniture etc and bid them a goodnight, each wish was followed by gales of alcoholic induced laughter, it all seems so silly now, but it has obviously made an impression upon me.
Cardiff overnight stays
Once a year there would be a weekend tour to south-west England and south Wales that included a couple of nights hotel accommodation in Cardiff. The total cost for each member was £8.00 in 1971, what can you buy for that 50-years on from then? Two hotels were used, they were situated on Newport Road, a short bus journey away from the city centre. For many participants it was a chance to let down their hair as they were not under the direct control of parents for the weekend, those who were aged over 18-years (or looked as though they were) would sample a pint or two of beer. The best known brewery in Cardiff back then was Brains (still in existence but now owned by Marstons), one their brews was called ‘Brains SA’ – the letters being the initials of a member of the Brains family, it was a bit stronger than that brewers’ regular bitter and the youthful machismo of some members meant that they would drink the strong version. Unfortunately, Brains SA would give hangovers that were never forgotten even if only a few pints had been consumed. The brew gained the nickname ‘Brains Skull Attack’ because of the consequences of its consumption, I clearly remember Dave Felton reminding everyone on the coach as our hotels were approached, to avoid this particular brew! Some fifty years on and I sometimes drive past the two hotels we used, one was quite down at heel and still a hotel, the other empty and almost derelict when I last saw them.