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Quainton News Archive - Quainton News No. 19 - Spring 1974

Playing Real Trains

Last summer we were delighted to entertain the writer, Paul Jennings, at Quainton. By kind permission of the Daily Telegraph Magazine we are reproducing extracts from his delightful article which appeared in their issue of 1st February [1974].

On remote and rural branch lines the scent of coal smoke still pervades the air, the sound of a whistle breaks the silence......and steam trains still run as they did in the sunlit past'.

It was the kind of dreamlike, private English valley, a fieldscape dotted with rich trees gently rustling on a cloudless summer day, rising horizons just far enough away to have a touch of blue mystery, that every motorist hopes to find if he ever has time to turn off the main road.

But it had something else too. On one side of the single railway line (still minimally used by BR for goods) pointing straight to Aylesbury, a Hawthorn Leslie light steam locomotive (0-4-0ST, really just four big wheels) puffed slowly down the third of a mile of line owned by the Quainton Railway Society Ltd, pulling one very old, empty brown carriage. A lady in shorts was tending the station flower beds (Mrs Janice Uphill who, with her husband, does the publicity). There were people in teeshirts and jeans and peaked caps doing things with long oilcans. The driver, Ralph Turner, ex-BR, now a lorry driver (I'd go back tomorrow if it was steam) and the fireman, Geoff Fulcher (worked from Bletchley, left when the diesels came, now drives a concrete-mixer) were in proper child's-book overalls and peaked caps and kept up running jokes about their old lines, respectively LMS and Southern.

The waiting room on the up platform was a sweet-cum-bookshop full of railway books and posters. Children played. In the marvellous LNWR 1st class dining coach, built in 1901, there was a smell of furniture polish as Wendy Burgoyne (assembly worker at Skefko Bearings) polished the carved walnut-wood cornices; and Roger Howard (Marconi Instruments: "this carriage is my baby, I'm not all that keen on the engines") polished up the silver-plated Art Nouveau curlicued brackets and showed us the spotless range and the wine cupboard.

"It's a pity you can't be here on one of our Steaming Sundays, usually the last in the month, "(it had a liturgical sound) said Mrs Anthea Hanscomb, the Membership Secretary (they have 570 members, of whom about 140 are active weekend workers). She wore navy slacks and sweater and a peaked cap, and is the wife of an export company director, and is learning firing under their Crew Training Scheme. Her son Michael devised a lot of the signalling on the Severn Valley Railway, and her daughter "married into the Dart Valley Railway, because her husband, who is a dentist in Bristol, is a very active member of it". Firing involves many lectures on how an engine works, and getting used to individual ones. "You could have two identical engines on the run from Waterloo to Salisbury," said Geoff Fulcher, "and on one, once you'd started, you could practically put your feet up and light a fag, and on the other you'd have to have the fire dancing on the bars.

"We get crowds on Steaming Sundays, and the open wagons are most popular for rides, the whole place is full of activity." It seemed pretty active as it was. The unmistakable, unforgettable steam-smoke cloud (or was it always as dense and smutty as that?), tinged with the smell of engine oil, blew across the line to the other sidings, where several very large and impressive engines, some partly dismantled were standing.

At Quainton, for heavy repairs they either have to send pieces away ("These eccentrics," says a caption to a photograph of some huge bolted steel rings in their newsletter, "were remetalled at a cost of £110, with the proceeds from the White Elephant Stall"), or bring in compressors. But the four men working on the King Class 4-6-0 (which used to run from Paddington to places like Oxford) seemed equipped mainly with hammers, for de-scaling. They were the spearhead of one of these sub-groups, the 120 strong King Preservation Society. Chris Tankard, an accountant, and its secretary, said that, rusty though it looked, it had cost £4,000 when they bought it from Woodhams of Barry Island, where most ex-BR locos are broken up; and another £1,200 to transport it. One of their members put up most of the purchase price in an interest-free loan, and they raised the rest by their own efforts, including appeals in railway magazines. With Chris were Brian Baker, a heavy goods lorry driver, Dennis Harwood (works in security at AERE Farnborough) and John Cruse ("call me an architectural assistant"). There's nothing more classless than steam.

But where does the money come from? To be a full member of the Quainton Railway Society (annual subscription £1.50) you must also own at least one £5 share. Some buy ten or 20; altogether 210 have been issued. They don't pay dividends - this is a society, they do it for love' "Steaming Sundays" can bring in up to £200, and full Bank Holiday Open Days (adults 25p, children 15p, families 60p) up to £2,000 (but they cost £1,000), and Quainton also has a number of interest-free loans and the occasional really rich enthusiast. Moreover, it does not buy all its own engines; some of the industrial ones have been donated. The King Preservation people reckon on about six years' work to get their engine ready for steaming.

What then? They do not really look that far ahead, they enjoy their weekends so much, they said over the tea made by Mrs Hanscomb in the waiting room with its hanging oil lamp (only lit for committee meetings in the winter). But there is always hope of something grander than just a Steaming Sunday.........

The text in this Quainton Railway Society publication was written in 1974 and so does not reflect events in the 40+ years since publication. The text and photographs are repeated verbatim from the original publication, with only a few minor grammar changes but some clarifying notes are added if deemed necessary. The photos from the original publication are provided as scans in this internet version of this long out of print publication.

Playing Real Trains - Quainton News No. 19 - Spring 1974

Text © Quainton Railway Society / Photographs © Quainton Railway Society or referenced photographer
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Page Updated: 28 October 2017