Most Desperate days: 1989 - thanks to Jason Hall




Although sectorisation had taken a firm grip on the 50’s, 1989 was to turn out to be my highest mileage year bashing them. I look back on it as the last in which I was truly ‘desperate’ for the mileage and I started out by setting myself the seemingly impossible target of 100,000 miles on them for the year. I knew there was little chance but trying would be fun. Despite my on-going desperation that year I’m glad though I did lift my head up now and then to take a look at what else was going around me, such as a trip to Scotland in January for the West Highland finale, as well as another Scottish trip in November. Also a day trip to the North East in August netted some mileage with 31249, 31305 and 31320. All of this was easily facilitated with a two week ‘priv’ rate all line. Other than using my boxes up, there wasn’t a day when I didn’t have one. Here I detail my last desperate year of vac bashing.


At the start of the year there were 42 operational machines with the class divided into three fleets. NSSA for the Waterloo – Exeter route fleet allocated at Laira; NWRA for the Thames and Chiltern routes working off of Old Oak Common and DCWA, the engineers’ fleet allocated at Laira but mainly working off of Bristol and Exeter. Cross utilisation between the network fleets was reasonably common giving a certain amount of the old variety back but the DCWA fleet was a far different story. The engineers’ fleet contained all of the high engine hour’s machines and as a consequence of their greatly reduced operational speed of 60mph, they were to prove to be very rare over the coming year. That’s not to say though that some opportunities to enjoy these unloved beasts did not present themselves.


The early winter of 1989 will probably be best remembered as the time that the West Highland succumbed to the plastic revolution and that’s where I was at the start of the year. In fact I was actually on the West Highland when the first casualty of the year became known. 50012 was lost on the 16th January, ‘Benbow’ being a much rated machine.  Also on the night of the 17th, 50032 was to work the down midnight from Paddington but I couldn’t have been further away as I was in a B&B in Inverness looking forward to a day out on the far north lines. I was soon getting itchy feet and needed to get my ‘vac’ mileage quest underway. 37097 offered some small relief as it took us out of Edinburgh with 1C62 portion to 1O12, 07.50 Glasgow – Poole but with refreshed interest, I spent another two days enjoying the beauty of the West Highland.


My first vac of the year came on the 21st January. 50039 had the honour and I felt was great start to the first bash of the year. I was conscious that the Padd – Oxford / Newbury’s were not the highest mileage moves you could be doing when you’ve set yourself a mission but with such large logo machines available it was hard to drag yourself away from the Western. ‘Implacable’ was in particularly ‘scabby’ condition at the time and certainly looked the part at the head of a rake of NSE MK1s with 1F28, 13.15 Oxford. Further more, I was soon to see the mule nearly every day, before and after work. Other machines enjoyed during that day, in various liveries included 50023, 50037, 50030, 50024 & 50036. The 24th was to be my most rated move of the month when 50017 was enjoyed vice a sprinter on 11.20 Cardiff – Penzance and 17.30 return. Opportunities to travel west of Plymouth were becoming rare. This particular diagram would exist for a short while yet though as the 155 sprinter fleet had all been stopped with dangerous door faults. Unexpected interloper of the month was 47016 which rolled into Andover with 1O48 on the 28th. 50026 & 50023 were soon to add even more variety to the liveries off of Old Oak when they both appeared with black window surrounds. After such a slow start to the year, I knew I’d have to get my finger out! Total vac mileage for January: 3611.03


During this period 1V01, 01.40 Waterloo – Yeovil was booked a 33/1 & TC and it wasn’t to be until the summer that this overnight would become available. Indeed, it was already known that the 33/1 and TC combinations would be retired at the timetable change and replaced by more 50s. Hopefully the two 47 diagrams would also go over to 50 haulage. With 1V01 diagrammed a 50, and both Brush diagrams also, it would be possible to do a 1000 mile move with 50s in a day. Any pairs would push that total even higher.


On the 4th Feb 50018 made her debut appearance in revised NSE livery. This was becoming the increasingly standard livery for the NSSA pool. That same day I was off to Kings Lynn and back with 31442 before late turn! From February 7th I started to become truly desperate as I began to do 1V01 overnight regardless of the booked 33/1 as this would increase a days 50 mileage. Meals were increasingly taken in Waterloo and Paddington staff canteens amongst others, and I’d only return home for clean washing and to assure my family that I was still alive. 33109 was 1V01 that morning which was swapped for 33115 at Salisbury on route to Yeovil. On the return I bailed at Gillingham for 1L12, 06.08 Waterloo. My third ‘machine’, 50048 was at the head this morning and after a phone call for the gen I planned the days bash. 50032 was on loan from OC and a nice allocation to 1V07. The day planned I joined 50032 at Basingstoke and was off on a storming run to Exeter. 50029 on 1O28 for 50002 on 1V09 provided the fill in move for 50041 to Penzance on the 12.15 vice sprinter turn from Bristol. After a short rest at Penzance I was heading back to Bristol with ‘Bulwark’.


Sundays presented the opportunity for a trip to Hereford. This was one of my favourite choices as not only was this line beyond Oxford particularly rateable, any reason to get away from the usual Southern moves was a good one! On the 5th 50031 was 1B31, 13.45 Paddington – Hereford and 1A79 return. On the 19th I was doing the same move with 50033. Total vac mileage for February: 8522.76



March would also mark the return of 50049 on the 16th when she was released in a fresh coat of revised NSE. The freight 50 experiment had proven unsuccessful and so ‘Defiance’ was back as a passenger loco in the NSSA pool. Sadly this brought about the loss of 50019 from NSSA to the DCWA pool.


There were other excellent alternative moves on a Sunday. 1C28, 10.02 Paddington – Plymouth was diagrammed a 50 and opportunities to have London based machines so far afield were currently limited. Sundays of course meant engineering work and that brought about the inevitable diversions. With 1C28 booked non-stop Reading to Exeter it was always worth enquiring about the route. On the 5th 50032 was allocated and with a route of Bristol Parkway and Temple Meads made for an excellent start to the day. At Plymouth ‘Courageous’ retired to Laira and to our surprise 50044 was to arrive later and couple to the stock for the return 1A69, 16.20 Paddington. ‘Exeter’ made easy work of the run to Paddington and this was welcome change from having her on the ‘mule’. Usually I would go home after such a move but more miles were available so a quick run to Reading with 50034 on 1F80 for 50039 on 1A79 ended the day.  


10th March and after a full day on the mule I was at Paddington heading for the early morning vice sprinter turn from Cardiff. 50050 headed 1F88, 23.20 Oxford and was taken to Reading for a tram forward to Cardiff. After a few hours on the wooden benches in Cardiff waiting room 50003 rolled in with 2V07, 04.56 Penzance. Despite my initial plan to head west, news of 50039s allocation to Birmingham had me leave ‘Temeraire’ at Starcoss and headed back to Waterloo with 50018. 50039 was had from Banbury on 1V96, 14.41 from New Street and reached via 50026 and 47611. The day was wound up with a return trip to Oxford with 50030 on 1F56 for 1F85.


DCWA allocated 50008 worked 1O55, 16.17 Exeter – Waterloo on the 13th and I was not happy when I heard about it the next day. It was no consolation being told that it had been a poor run as the driver had stuck to 60mph all the way. I was pleased though when on the 16th I had 50021 on the same train and she was doing line speed. I could only have her from Woking after a manic dash from work and even then had a tight plus of an 8 CIG from Waterloo but it was worth it. Another rateable move came on the 12th. 50050 performed the honours from Paddington to Plymouth with 1C28. At Plymouth one of my top two favourites was running around the stock to form 1O57, 16.10 Waterloo. With gen that we were to be diverted via Richmond, 50028 performed stunningly for the 233 mile run. Saddest news of the month was that, 50047 had left Laira on the 25th with 50022 en route to Vic Berry’s and the great loco shed in the sky. 50045 had the dubious honour of hauling her. Farewell old friend.  Total vac mileage for March: 6032.61


April got off to a bad start when on the 1st I was told that 50028 was working 1E35, 12.03 Poole – Newcastle from Poole. She worked the train to Reading but her late allocation meant I had no chance of getting down to Dorset. Did she even actually do it or was this an April fool? There was little consolation in 50024s allocation to 1B46, 17.02 Paddington – Hereford but that’s where I was that afternoon. The following day was even worse. I stood at Reading waiting for 50025+50034 to arrive with 1F45, 11.15 from Oxford. I had the gen on these long before their departure so when they did arrive with 50034 shut down, ‘Furious’ is exactly what I was. This was compounded by the news that 1C28 had been 50050+50039 which I had missed by 5 mins thanks to the pathetic efforts of the circle line! I hadn’t known about them at all even though it was my initial plan. 50035 was the consolation prize on 1B31 to Hereford and back that afternoon. Later that day 50039 worked 1O59, 18.22 from Exeter back to Waterloo.


The following day 50039 was enjoyed from Andover to Waterloo on 1O51, 12.20 from Exeter, only slightly making up for the withering of the previous days. The 4th and all was well again. 50041 was allocated 1O28, 09.40 Plymouth – Portsmouth Harbour and 1P40, 15.30 Waterloo. This was one of a tiny number of NSSA vacs of the existing fleet still required for the ‘Pompy direct’ so 50003 was happily taken to Exeter on 1V07 to join ‘Bulwark’. An added bonus was 50028 heading 1V17 so after a short brake at Waterloo I was soon heading westwards to Axminster for 50049 back on 1O61. Plans for an after work bash from Paddington were dashed on the 7th as 31454+31455 had charge of 1P13 commuter from St. Pancras to Derby.


The 21st brought a run to Portsmouth Harbour with 50040. The next day was a ‘Network Day’. This would mean that all 50 hauled services in the NSE area would be totally wedged. 50010 on 1V01 a few years before on one such day had been particularly challenging as the train had been grossly overloaded. I booked the day off and decided to go rather than work, besides my notices revealed a few relief services and with further gen that NWRA vacs would have to help out I had finally made my mind up. 50036 was drafted in to work 1O51 up from Exeter. 50024 was also employed to work a 15.35 relief up from Exeter to Waterloo so all in all a successful day out.  Total vac mileage for April: 7192.56


May, and the end of the winter timetable would bring the end of vac haulage over the ‘pompy direct’ line. So it was on the 14th that I was pleased with gen that 50028 was allocated 1P40 from Portsmouth whilst sat with 50048 with 1P15, 09.22 to Pompy. I joined ‘Tiger’ for another blast to Pompy and then one final storm up the direct to Waterloo. 50019 made an appearance in a new version of the BR blue livery on the 9th


The timetable change in May brought significant changes to the fleet allocations. 50037/40 & 46 were lost from NWRA to DCWA. 50030 & 50 were transferred NWRA to NSSA but best of all, 50005/7/9/16 & 45 were transferred from DCWA to NSSA. This meant Laira had 20 machines to cover all of the mule services. As per previous information all the 33/1 & TC services were replaced with 50s. Laira’s 3 NSE Brush were transferred to OC making the mule a 100% vac operation. There would be less vac activity from Paddington from now on with the Sundays Hereford turns now booked for 47s but we kept our summer Saturday Paignton diagrams. 1V01 was now diagrammed a vac so we had an overnight back.


The summer Saturday of the 27th was one to remember when 50023+50034 worked 1C41, 13.02 Paddington - Paignton. Sadly ‘Furious’ was shut down before the return to London on 1A91 due to concerns over fuel. The day had started with the usual 1V01 overnight with the usual 50027, and after 50028 to Waterloo, it was over to Paddington for the pair to Oxford and back. It then came through that the pair were allocated to Paignton! That made 1259.87 miles for the day after finishing up with 50009 on 2L77.


A vice sprinter diagram for the summer was 2O93, 16.54 Bristol – Weymouth and 2V82, 19.44 return. Although not diagrammed a 50 it was always one to watch. Usual power would be green 37350 but a lack of driver traction knowledge would occasionally lead to the use of a DCWA 50. One of the few occasions I was able to cover it was on the 19th of May when I joined 50020 at Yeovil Pen Mill for a run to the Dorset seaside and then a return run to Bath Spa, for a HST to London. Total vac mileage for May: 7830.37


June would see the withdrawal of 50039 on the 4th. By now I was covering 1V01 for three to five nights a week. Occasionally it was less but my parents would soon begin to wonder who the stranger was who would walk in and dump a mountain of washing, eat, sleep and then leave again early in the morning. 1V01 was to become my second home for the next 6 months or so until finally, after a couple of ‘riots’ with pathetic platform johnnies Yeovil Jnc, I would reduce it to once or twice a week depending on my shift. I hope the staff at Yeovil enjoyed the game of coke can football as much as we did. I recall filling in the place of abode section of a poll tax form with 1V01. Never heard a word either.......


10th June and another ‘Network Day’ was upon us. Once again I was out for what would turn out to be a good day. DCWA 50037 was drafted in to work 1V17, 17.15 Waterloo – Exeter and I can firmly confirm she wasn’t doing 60mph. I got off at Sherborne for 50005 working a 1Z67, 19.50 Yeovil Jnc – Clapham Jnc relief. The most memorable journey of the month came on the 29th when I joined NSSA 50030 at Exeter with 1A50, 10.20 Paignton – Paddington formed of a long string of NSE MK1s. I can still remember clearly the hypnotic thud of ‘Repulse’ from my leading compo as she blasted unfettered across the desert and straight through Reading with green lights all the way. This was truly a nonstop assault and probably one of my top ten runs! Total vac mileage for June: 9810.84


The 2nd July was one of four consecutive Sundays that Southern services were diverted via Southampton. 1V01 that night produced 50001. Also to feature were 50017 on 2L18, 50049 on 1V11, 50018 on 1O37 and 50045 on 1V17. At Sherborne I left ‘Achilles’ and joined 50005 on 1O43, 17.35 from Paignton. On arrival at Salisbury I viewed 50028 in the opposite platform with the stock for 1L30, 21.24 Waterloo so I left ‘Collingwood’ there. Sadly the engineering work was complete for the day and ‘Tiger’ made the run to Waterloo via Andover as booked. At Waterloo I joined 1V01 again but with 50017 this time.


A shortage of stock was evident at Old Oak on July 6th. I joined 50031 at Slough on 1F28, 14.40 Paddington - Newbury with a train formed of 7 MK1s, 6 of which were blue and grey half brakes! The next day brought a large logo visitor to the mule to join 50009, 50016 and 50045 when 50033 was loaned to work 1V17, 17.34 Yeovil. She was enjoyed to Yeovil and back to Salisbury on 2O99. Thanks to some ‘dud gen’ that the up Riviera was a 50, I found myself on 47714 from Bristol to Paddington. My efforts were rewarded with 50023 to Paignton and back. On my return to Paddington I found 50036 tied to 1M12, 14.15 Paddington – Birmingham formed of a string of NSE MK1s so I took up a compo for the run to Brum. I recall a crowd of whistle blowing brummies invading the train at Coventry……again. Wednesdays during July would be ruined by a series of 1 day strikes. I was also to miss out on 50015 which worked vice a failed DMU to Barnstaple on the 11th


29th was a particularly good day starting with 50016 on 1V01. 50025 was on loan from Old Oak Common and taken from Woking to Exeter on 2V07. 50032 then provided sustenance to Paddington with 1A50, 10.20 from Paignton. Then it was two return trips to Salisbury with 50002 for 50030, and 50025 for 50025 back again. The day was wound up with 50009 on 2L77, 23.55 Salisbury. The boot was on the other foot the following day when LA allocated 50041 worked 1M19 from Paddington. Total vac mileage for July: 12754.58


August would see the premature loss of 50025. She was derailed at West Ealing on the 6th whilst working the 21.15 Oxford – Paddington. Fortunately there were no fatalities but ‘Invincible’ proved that she wasn’t and was withdrawn at OC on the 18th. My last run with her was on the previous day from Exeter to Paddington on 1A91, 17.45 from Paignton.


A severe shortage of NSSA vacs would lead me to be being heavily bowled out on the 19th. As usual I was fast asleep on 1V01 in a PV compo when I was woken by an unusual sound. The windows vibrated in the way that indicated that a sulzer was on the train. I pulled back the curtain and viewed some of my friends on the platform looking pretty unimpressed and I stuck my head out of the droplight to see a large logo 47 buffered up to the stock. I gathered up my belongings and got off the train to observe. 47401 was tied to the train and looking back on it and given a different set of circumstances I may have got back on but instead we walked over to Paddington and killed time chatting whilst waiting for 1C09. We were rewarded with 50023 and I managed a reasonable day out from there.


NWRAs 50034 was helping out on the mule on the 26th and was had into Waterloo on 1O34 having just done 1V01 with 50027 (what else). I went over to Paddington for 50031 on 1C41 for 1A91 to Reading and retuned to the mule for ‘Furious’ on 1V20, 20.40 Waterloo – Yeovil. The 27th was the highlight of August though. The day started in the usual way, 1V01 with 50027. 2O01 returned us to Salisbury where we joined 50041 on 2L18. At Grateley I left ‘Bulwark’ to join 1V08, 08.15 Basingstoke – Paignton and in rolled 50004 the anticipated. This by now rare DCWA beast was left at Teignmouth in order to join 50003+50028 on 1O37, 11.25 Paignton – Waterloo. The pair was split at Exeter and 50003 allocated to replace ‘St.Vincent’ later in the day. With that knowledge I decided to make my way to Plymouth to cover 1O41, 14.42 Waterloo which was allocated 50005. ‘Collingwood’ was a low mileage machine for me at the time and I left 47559 at Plymouth to join her for an excellent thrash to Waterloo. Total vac mileage for August: 10210.4


September started for me with a loco failure. On the 2nd I was at Waterloo for 1V01 again with 50049 as the train loco. It made a change from 50027. ‘Lion’ had been haunting me on this service for months. At Woking I was woken by a commotion with ‘Defiance’, which was soon shut down and abandoned. I went back to sleep. I was woken again by another 50 backing up to the stock. A quick investigation revealed the inevitable 50027. Saying this though, 27 was a pleasant discovery at Paddington the 4th when she was found at the head 1C67, 17.42 Paddington – Bristol, and happily taken to Bath Spa. In fact it was very much a ‘Lion’ kind of month as on the 16th I walked into her at Exeter topping the 07.35 Penzance – Paddington HST. A very pleasant run to London indeed!


A desperate shortage of stock became obvious on the Southern as TC stock was pressed back into use. On the 8th I was at Salisbury when 50001 arrived with 4 coaches, including two first class half breaks, on a terribly wedged 1O49, 10.20 from Exeter. I flagged it for a more comfortable move. Bowl out of the month was on the 30th after being told that 50042 was working the 14.25 Paignton – Rose Grove to Birmingham vice a 31. I’d just arrived home after 4 overnights with a pile of washing. Total vac mileage for September: 10666.37


The last day of the summer timetable on the 1st of Oct was a suspected last chance for a run to Paignton and I wasn’t disappointed with 50028 on 1O37, 11.25 Waterloo and 50031 on 1A91, 17.45 Paddington which was my move back to London.


So the winter timetable brought about the inevitable loss of summer holiday trains and our return to the obvious Waterloo – Exeter and Paddington – Oxford work. It only took to the 5th and I was enjoying 50015 from Exeter to Plymouth and back again with single engine HSTs. One pleasant alteration was 1V01 now being booked via Southampton. I was most impressed when 50016 was the power on the 9th.  The following day I was boarding 50029 at Andover after a prolonged period out of service with 1O34, 08.11 from Exeter when she became my second failure of the year. At Milepost 57 ¾ her main generator flashed over and after an hour or so wait 73133+73126 rescued us for the run to Basingstoke and the obvious termination of the train. It took 50027 until the 11th to be my loco on 1V01 via Southampton, but it had to happen sooner or later. I was far more impressed when 50048 did the honours the following night and 50045 the night after that. NWRA got involved again on the 15th when I joined 50026 at Axminster with 1O39, 15.48 Exeter – Waterloo. Most memorable move of the month was on the 29th with 50017 on 2V13, 13.15 Waterloo – Exeter diverted via Richmond. Then from Basingstoke over to Reading for a by now rare run on an NSSA vac off of the mule. 50029 was joined at Reading with 1F78 14.45 Paddington – Oxford and then back to Paddington with 1F79. Total vac mileage for October: 13718.05


November the 8th marked the withdrawal of 50040 at Laira. The month didn’t really hot up for me until the 17th. Unsuspectingly I joined 50034 at Paddington on 1M20, 09.15 Manchester when shortly into the journey I was told that 50017 was allocated to 1V97, 15.18 Manchester – Paddington throughout! I stayed on 90007 that backed up to our train at Coventry. Many times I had found out about 1K09 being a vac in the past but this was the first time I was actually in position to have Piccadilly with a vac on a service train. I joined ‘Royal Oak’ at Manchester for the run to London. As the journey progressed more and more cranks would join the train. Arrival at Paddington came all too quickly and I went home to bed, that being almost as rare as 17 out of Manchester. On the 19th it was 50017 again that I was enjoying from Reading to Paddington vice a 47, on 1A48, 11.50 from Plymouth. The 26th and I was joining 50026 vice another 47 at Pewsey on 1A68, 15.45 from Plymouth. Best pair of the month goes to 50032+50018 on the 20th, with 2V13, 13.15 Waterloo to Exeter.

Total vac mileage for November: 4347.42


By December I had just over 5300 miles to my target figure so couldn’t afford to take my foot off the power just yet, although I knew I needed to slow down as I was beginning to feel the strain of working bashing, working and bashing without any real break. 50009 made an appearance in a fresh coat of revised NSE on the 8th, as did 50029 on the 16th. 50009 made an appearance in a fresh coat of revised NSE on the 8th, as did 50029 on the 16th. On the 10th new track was available again when I endured the masses to have 50007 to Windsor on a shuttle from Staines. I can also recommend ‘Sarah Siddons’ if the opportunity ever presents itself again. It didn’t take long to reach the magic figure and on the 13th I knew I had cracked it. The 100k target was made on 50002 with 1V11, shortly after departure from Basingstoke, but it didn’t occur to me to take the foot off the gas. Instead I decided to keep going and see what I could do!


On the 14th Old Oak Commons 50023 was enjoyed on various trains on the Southern. The 16th was a good day for mileage on the Southern again as three pairs were enjoyed during the day. 50048+50050 had 1O34, 08.11 from Exeter; 50045+50049 worked 1V11, 11.15 from Waterloo and 50050+50048 later worked 1L13, 14.15 Waterloo to Salisbury. The 18th was a night I was glad I decided not cover 1V01 as the next day I was told that a DEMU had done the honours. I quite rated that idea until I was told that the unit had had no heat! My Christmas present came in the shape of 50046 on the 23rd when I joined ‘Ajax’ at Sherborne on 1O38, 14.22 Exeter – Waterloo. The best part of it being it really was a surprise, as I had no idea that she was coming! The year book was finally closed when 50018 arrived at Waterloo on the 31st with 1O43, 18.35 from Exeter. Total vac mileage for December: 13042.81


And so at years end I made my target. Looking back on it I’m not sure that I would want to repeat it but I can honestly say that I was certainly at my most desperate! Total vac mileage for 1989: 107739.8

Total loco hauled mileage for 1989: 125108.6


Thanks again to Jason Hall for the memories, any more “most desperate days” for us to feature?


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