Saying Goodbye To David

One way or other, last year ended on a bit of a low note. I lost a number of old friends in a relatively short space of time and it all seemed a bit dark for a while.

Today we made our final farewell to David, a friend and colleague from the days when I earned my living running railways. Sadly, he was one of the losses of 2014.

David had instructed his family that he wished his ashes to be laid in a beautiful woodland setting alongside the South Devon Railway, a heritage steam railway that he loved and helped to rescue from scrapping way back in the 1970’s.

It was with mixed feelings this morning that I fired up Harley in delightful spring sunshine and headed for Buckfastleigh, the headquarters of the railway.

The trip took us across some of South West England’s most rugged and beautiful landscape, Dartmoor. Despite the wonderful day, I was not really in the mood to stop and take photos, so please forgive me and I hope you understand. I was aware of the loveliness, but felt a bit grim about what was to come.

On arriving at the railway I met up with David’s family and other friends. We all boarded the special train and it was unanimously agreed that David’s ashes should make the trip on the locomotive, he would have loved that!

Soon the train arrived at the designated spot adjacent to the lovely River Dart and after a short committal ceremony, the ashes were interred. As we climbed back aboard the train, the locomotive sounded a shrill sad whistle and we started our return journey, I instinctively waved good-bye to my late friend.

Back at Buckfastleigh, we swapped stories and anecdotes and generally enjoyed sharing our memories over a late lunch; whilst not forgetting to watch the public service train depart, this was a railway occasion after all!

GWR Pannier Tank 6412, built 1934 at Buckfastleigh.

GWR Pannier Tank 6412, built Swindon 1934, at Buckfastleigh.

Where the hard work is done!

Where the hard work is done!

Departure and on the left the next generation learns about steam engines!

Departure and on the left the next generation learns about steam engines!

In due course we made our farewells and as I threw my leg over Harley I sat and remembered one of David’s favourite sayings when a job had gone perfectly:
“Don’t you just love it when a plan comes together?”

I do indeed my friend, I do indeed.


Love Affairs

OK, so it’s no great secret and I think that I have said it in previous posts, I am seriously in love with that Harley of mine! It’s not just that she has great looks and sounds wonderful, but it’s also a lot to do with that undefinable thing called “Character”. My mate, Big John, once said about my Harley travels that it’s not where I go, but more the bike I go there with, that makes the trip more interesting. In a slightly egotistical way, I guess that it is also something to do with the way a Harley Davidson always seems to get attention wherever you go, not that I am in any way an attention seeker! Let’s just agree that for lots of varied reasons, I really do love that bike!


I do, however, have to confess that long before I ever dreamed of owning a Harley I had and still do have, another mechanical love…steam locomotives!

This is a love affair that stretches back more than fifty years and was, without doubt influenced by my late father who was a steam locomotive engineer. Not an” Engineer” in the American sense of what we call a Driver, but rather he used to build and maintain those behemoths. Some of my earliest memories are of sitting beside railway lines excitedly watching steam trains thunder by. In later years I was fortunate to learn to fire and drive steam trains myself, both on heritage lines and most exciting of all, professionally on special excursion trains on the main line. I never forgot that small boy standing by the line side and often had to pinch myself that I was actually getting paid for what I was doing! Having left the rail industry some years ago now, I am occasionally lucky enough to be invited to keep my hand in on a heritage line from time to time, which is nice.

Last week I got news that an excursion train would be visiting Cornwall and as the railway line is only about twenty minutes away from Dookes H.Q. by Harley, it would have been a shame not to go and watch the train go by… and so there we were, Harley and I, enjoying the evening sun near Bodmin Parkway last Sunday.

The railway line here winds and climbs eastwards through the oak and beech woodland. It really was a lovely evening, birds sang in the trees and the air was still. Then from the west I could make out the syncopated beat of a three cylinder locomotive working hard against the gradient and coming our way. The distinctive sound signature told me that this was a type of loco known as a Bullied Pacific, (O.V.S. Bullied was the designer and “Pacific” refers to the wheel arrangement of 4-6-2) and one of my favourite classes, both to work on and as a youngster, to watch go by! Time then seemed to rewind, there was no-one else there and this really was just like watching trains go by as a kid again. The steady beat grew louder, echoing through the trees and calling attention to the train’s progress. The steels rails began to sing announcing the imminent arrival and the hairs on the back of my neck stood up, this really was just like the old days!

Then she was upon us, a quick photo and she was gone, like the poem says, “Each a glimpse, then gone forever”, wow and what a glimpse!


34067 “Tangmere” a Battle of Britain class Light Pacific, originally built by the Southern Railway in 1947 and named after the famous World War Two airfield. She was hauling nine carriages, about 315tons and doing mighty well at approximately 50mph up the grade. Her shrill whistle sounded as she flashed by and the exhaust smoke hung in the air long after her passing.

I stood savouring the moment and the lingering smell of hot oil and coal smoke as she chattered her way eastwards. The years rolled back as I walked to my time machine and fired her up, only two cylinders this time, but one big, big, smile! It really is love you know!

“Just be right there when the whistle blows…all down the line”