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Quainton News Archive - Quainton News No. 66 - Winter 1989 / 90
The Chesham Celebrations
In July 1889 the Metropolitan Railway opened its extension line from Rickmansworth to Chesham, which then became, albeit briefly, the northern terminus of the line from Baker Street. The Metropolitan had originally planned to build its station on the outskirts of the town but a vigorous campaign by the townspeople and traders of Chesham convinced the railway to purchase additional land to bring the station closer to the town centre (channel tunnel planners eat your heart out).
This town's interest in the future of its railway seems to have continued and as the 100th anniversary approached the Town Council were determined that it should be celebrated rather than forgotten.
If memory serves me correctly it was as far back as 1985 that a preliminary meeting was held to discuss the possibility of a steam hauled special between Chesham and Chalfont & Latimer stations.
Little was heard of the scheme until 1988 when I unexpectedly received a phone call from Roger Paddison of London Underground Ltd asking if we could supply Met 1 and crews for special trains on the Chesham branch.
From this point on the whole thing began to grow rapidly developing into a plan to run a shuttle between Watford and Chesham. As there were no run round facilities available the train would be steam hauled towards Chesham and hauled on the return to Watford by electric locomotive Sarah Siddons. There were to be nine return trips plus outward and homebound runs from and to Neasden where the train would be stored overnight. The event was to be staged over two weekends - 1st / 2nd and 8th / 9th July 1989. The intention was to use Met I as the steam loco with ex GWR pannier 7715 as standby in case of failure. 7715 was to be repainted in its London Transport identity as L99.
From an engineering point of view several snags were immediately obvious. Firstly the two steam locomotives were to be examined to BR specification by the Derby Inspectorate. This presented few problems for Met I which was already part of their system but L99 would have to be stripped which would include removal of the boiler and de-tubing for a thorough internal examination. Furthermore she was required in steam for the Quainton Santa Steamings until the end of December and was located in the up yard away from our repair facilities. This was not on our side but she was believed to be in reasonably good condition except for her water tanks which were a perpetual source of trouble and needed to be replaced. Secondly both locos had to be fitted with air brake equipment to make them compatible both with Sarah Siddons and the BR 4-VEP unit which it was proposed to use for the train.
As soon as Christmas was over L99 was transferred from the up yard and the race against time commenced. At first all went well. The engine was completely dismantled within a few weeks but as work progressed it soon became clear that she was not in such pristine condition as we had hoped. By the end of March the boiler had been completely stripped of tanks and fittings and was ready for inspection. Then came the first shock - tile BR boiler inspector couldn't come to examine the boiler until the beginning of May! This provided an unnecessary delay but other work continued apace. Tubes were ordered and the contract for fitting let. New water tanks were designed and then constructed by a local company, Banbury Fabrications.
Meanwhile Met 1 had a number of cracked wheelspokes repaired, again under BR supervision. Valves and pistons were removed for examination and a number of small maintenance jobs undertaken to ensure that she would meet BR's exacting standards. Both locomotives passed ultrasonic axle examinations with flying colours and then diaster struck. The BR boiler inspector required all of L99's 500 odd steel firebox stays to be replaced together with about 100 rivets.
It was immediately clear we did not have the manpower resources to cope with this. Several sleepless nights and many frantic phone calls later it also became abundantly clear that no contractor could meet our deadline for this job and reluctantly we were forced to withdraw L99 from the celebrations.
Fortunately a knight in shining armour was not too far away. Dennis Howells and his locomotive, GWR pannier tank 9466, had been at Didcot all season recovering from a heavy winter work programme which involved retyring the loco. Having recovered from a state of deep shock on hearing that his engine was to be defaced by the fitting on non GWR braking he agreed that 9466 could become the spare engine for the Centenary Celebrations, provided that it was allowed to share in Met 1's glory and work the odd train or two - little did he know what was to follow.
On Sundays l1th and 18th June special crew training sessions were held at Neasden for our crew members to be familiarised with the layout and operation of Neasden Depot and to have an opportunity to practise the operation of an airbraked train - something very new to most of us.
Each day ended with a road learning trip along the route of the specials to familiarise drivers and firemen with the location of signals, stations, gradients, etc. By now it was abundantly clear that the impossible was about to happen - we were going to operate our locomotives with our own crews (albeit chaperoned by a LUL pilotman and inspector) on one of Britain's major railway systems. A few butterflies began to flutter around inside a number of handsome stomachs!
On 19th June Met 1 arrived, by road, at Neasden Depot. Clearly reluctant to return to her old stamping ground Met 1, low loader and all, first became bogged down in best LUL ballast- which was impersonating snow quite successfully in scorching June weather - and once freed promptly fell through a drain cover which the "snow" had discreetly camouflaged. Eventually she was coaxed onto LUL metals and dragged off to her new home - the former Neasden steam shed. The next day she was steamed for a further BR exam. However a team from Thames TV appeared on the scene and decided to make the day their own - the poor BR examiners couldn't get near the loco until after mid-day but fortunately took it very well especially as this meant that they got to inspect the canteen as well!
The rest of the week was spent finishing off one or two odd jobs and smartening up the loco by means of a paint brush or two.
9466 had arrived, by rail, from Didcot and so had the moment of truth - the first test run. This was to be a full dress rehearsal of the complete run, under cover of darkness. Neither Sarah Siddons nor the BR coaches were yet available so the test train was made up of a Mk I coach (a Didcot chocolate and cream support coach) and an assortment of LUL wagons headed by a battery locomotive with Met 1 and 9466 attached to the rear. In the very early hours after service trains had finished, this unlikely combination slipped quietly out of Neasden towards Chesham.
Watford was the first stop and an opportunity to have a quick look round to make sure all was well. Alas, the worst had happened, Met 1 had run a hot axlebox. There was no alternative but to remove her from the train, so she was placed in a convenient siding while 9466 roared off into the night with the test train towards Chesham - her moment of glory had come. The next problem was how to get Met 1 back to Neasden and it was eventually decided to work her back slowly under her own steam. Ever resourceful, LUL staff managed to rig up a water supply at Watford where we had to remain until a pilotman and inspector could be found to take us back to Neasden. To make life just that little bit more difficult the main line was under engineers possession near Moor Park so we couldn't expect to leave before this was lifted. Around 5 am we eventually began the slow journey home, stopping frequently to check the temperature of the errant axlebox. By now the first service trains were running and approaching Northwood one was hard on our heels. We stopped in the platform and our inspector left to telephone control suggesting that we put into a siding to allow the service train to pass. As he moved towards the phone one commuter commented, looking up from his paper, that he hadn't time to make calls as we had made him late already.
Once back at Neasden it was all hands to the pumps. With fire dropped and Met 1 back inside the shed the Neasden breakdown gang arrived and by late afternoon the offending axlebox had been removed. The Ffestiniog Railway had agreed to remetal and machine the box and Roy Miller set off for Wales.
By now the celebrations were upon us and 9466 - the spare engine - had to bear the brunt of this first weekend. She acquitted herself handsomely and, in so doing, paid tribute to her owners and the small band who had worked so hard to restore her from a Barry wreck.
On Sunday 2nd July the repaired axlebox returned and the tedious task of refitting had been completed by Monday night so on Tuesday the breakdown gang arrived to lower Met 1 back onto her wheels. By mid afternoon her fire was alight and the rest of the day running in around the yard, pausing occasionally to allow the three legged depot cat to cross in front of us! The process continued for two more days and we were allowed a test run to Ruislip depot. However on arrival we found a string of battery locos blocking the depot entrance and were forced to continue to Uxbridge sidings which are on the site of the original Uxbridge station that Met 1 opened in 1904. Returning to Neasden for water we made a second trip to Ruislip, successfully gaining access to the depot. These first two trips were made with the Didcot support coach for company but the next day we delivered a 150 ton train to Ruislip, the day after Met 1 was due to haul the Chesham special so it was no holds barred. The walls of Wembley Park shook and the commuters looked bemused as she climbed the 1 in 30 up out of 'the hole' (a fly under) into Wembley Park Station.
All was well and, on Saturday 8th July, exactly 100 years after the railway opened Met 1 made it back to Chesham - a busy few weeks but worth it. Despite traumas, the months of planning had paid off. All the scheduled trains ran, most were full and, most importantly, everyone had a thoroughly good time.
May I take this opportunity to thank everybody who contributed to this event both our own Society members, all of whom worked long and hard, the LUL staff who looked after us so well, the owners of 9466 without whom the whole event would have been spoilt and Didcot Railway Centre for their cooperation and use of their support coach. Finally a quick reminder to LUL - the centenary of the Aylesbury extension is 1st September 1992 . . . hint, hint!
Text © Quainton Railway Society / Photographs © Quainton Railway Society or referenced photographer
Page Updated: 26 November 2017