Twas the night before Xmas 1983 and driver Hartson and second man Sutton had signed on at Bletchley just after 1400. Their journey in to work had been a bit hairy with snow blowing around but once in the warmth of the mess room all concerns vanished. They were on the spare turn and withering remarks re keeping warm were directed as other crews trudged out into the snow to take up their duties. When other crews returned remarks like “wipe your boots Santa” were fired off as snow covered railwaymen traipsed in their day’s work over.
Then came bad news from the supervisor, a special brick train needed shifting off Forders and our spare crew were “spare” no more. Hartson remarked “who wants bricks on Xmas eve” then to which the supervisor sharply replied, “your lucky you’ve only got to take them to Sudbury Sidings and not Kings Cross goods, you’ll be back by 2000”.
So to much muttering of “bloody bricks” our crew ventured out into the swirling wind and snow on Bletchley’s platform 8. They kicked the covering of snow and on seeing 2 x 31 as the allocated power the cursing intensified. Kicking open the cab door of 31295 they clambered aboard the freezing cab. The engine start button was pressed and with a whirr and pop both 31’s fired into life. The cab heaters were working nicely as the 31’s exhaust swirled around in the snow.
As they applied power to leave the Holding Sidings the rear 31 shut down followed moments later by 31295. Attempts at a restart and checking all round the locos saw no obvious fault. The supervisor appeared and advised a fitter was on his way. “Fire up the Sulzer” just to keep warm. So our crew clambered aboard 25256 and the loco soon rattled and shook into life and the heater’s blasted out smoke filled air. They muttered “you can’t fix quicker than a Bletchley fitter” as the fitter arrived with tool bag in hand.
20 minutes later with no life from either 31 he advised the 31’s were “not to go” but the supervisor advised “you shud take the Sulzer”. Hope it’s a light load then joked Hartson a they left the snow covered HS towards Fenny. With the wipers swishing and the loco purring nicely spirits were high, “at least we’re on the move”. “Shame she’s not plough fitted” remarked Sutton but progress was steady through Fenny and Woburn. Drifts had been blown across the cutting just North of Ridgmont but the 25 was a “good un” and coasted onwards towards Stewartby.
The yard shunter emerged from his hut asking what kept you to which came abuse about some of the rubbish they try and give us to drive. Despite the snow, the coupling up and running round of a hefty 1000 ton brick train was carried out quickly as everybody wanted to get home. The shunter joined our crew for the run back to Bletchley, his shift over a good bit early.
The train crew banter continued as the 25 thrashed Westwards keeping sure footed on the climb up to Lidlington then rattling down through Ridgmont with a regulation toot and wave to the crossing keepers and the DMU driver they crossed at Woburn. The weather had eased a bit so a quick run up the WCML looked on and perhaps they’d be home for “tea”.
Back at Bletchley they were checked for a passing up liners with an electric up front but it wasn’t long before they got the clear road. With gestures to the mess room and power box staff Driver Hartson put on a bit of a show with 25256 being opened up in some style on leaving Bletchley with exhaust sparks adding to the wintry mix down Stoke Hammond way.
25256 pounded South slowly losing speed on the climb up to Tring. Passing Cheddington the snow seemed much thicker, the 25’s ride much smoother on an insulating layer of thick snow. Aye “we’re in the hills now” quipped Hartson and then cursed on getting a double yellow, then yellow as they passed the cement sidings. A big sexy red in Tring Cutting refused to budge so our second man clambered out and wiping snow and ice from the phone enquired of the problem. Watford PSB quickly advised that the liners in front had slipped to a stand just before Tring station and was going nowhere. Control want you to “give her a shove”…, with 1000 tons of bricks on the back as well thought Sutton…
Hartson shook his head on getting the news and keen to get moving remarked that we’ll see what this Sulzer can do. Inching forward towards the liner’s driver’s swinging bardic light, 25256 stopped and the liner driver clambered aboard, covered in snow. A Willesden man he too just wanted to get home. I’ve got 1200 tons in tow he laughed plus a stalled 86, you’ll never do it..
Said WN man was sent back to his 86 and Hartson buffered up to the rear of the liners the tail light illuminating their cab in a strange fashion. Sutton leaned out and waved his lamp as the 25 hooted hoping the 86’s driver would see it in the snow.25256 was powered up aggressively, sparks came from both exhaust portels and wheels but there was no movement. “Would help if he released the brakes” was bellowed in the cab. A brief silence from the 25, then more bardic light waving, hooting and…the 25 had power slowly applied, with a sparks, thrash and smoke show of huge proportions the loco lurched forward. With superb driving the 2000 ton plus consist was very, very slowly moved forward and speed then increased to walking pace. Then another lurch and with a faint hoot audible in the distance the liners now clear of the summit was being hauled rather than propelled. With the tail light moving away, to much hooting the 25 was eased back to stop at the red just south of Tring station.
“Hope we can restart” said Sutton, but Hartson said that this loco was a “real good un” and despite the snow and wind the bricks were delivered South in no time. Travelling back “on the cushions” with office types laden with presents and much ale was a world apart from the events at Tring Cutting earlier and train crew conversation was very limited. Once back at Bletchley they signed off and went home to celebrate Christmas but the legend of what 25256 and train crew did on Xmas eve 1983 remains part of local railway folklore….
Please note that this tale though based on real events has a hint of fiction as well. On Xmas eve each year locals tells of an almighty racket coming from deep in the cutting, a grid, “roarer”, 92 or perhaps the ghost of 25256…………….
Merry Christmas from the “logs team”