Steam Spotting Memories

There are now so many preserved railways  and rebuilt and lovingly restored locomotives that for an enthusiast  they are always  within fairly easy access. Not quite so easily reached down Nostalgia Lane are the memories of  locations and  experiences from days when Diesel  and Electric engines were still in the future. Those times of  first long trousers, bikes  and summer holidays when it never rained.
My first recall of  an interest in Railway  is of in about 1955/56 being given a friend’s cast-off  Ian Allen Spotters Book when I was aged about  14 years old. At the same time I was introduced to the ‘Glass Bridge’ which provided entry to the South end of Preston Station. From West Cliff a short track led down to a large, stone mullioned out-door room that overlooked the Railway. As we approached we could go left through a Wicket Gate, onto the Railway Embankment. The opposite direction was through a wood and glass built enclosed bridge, over lines 6 & 7, to stairs which led to the end of  No.6 Platform (Now No.4). A Ticket Collector, in his little wooden Office, guarded the entry at Platform level. From these vantage points we had perfect views of all traffic that passed. The area was always well attended  and someone always knew what was on the 5  o’ clock , or if an unusual Loco. Was in the area. Standing on the bridge we looked down the chimneys of all the large passenger expresses awaiting the ‘Clear Away’ to the South. On occasions when the short stop caused the Safety Valve to lift the noise was deafening. I can still smell the steam and smoke!
We were free from school on Wednesday afternoons and could usually be found on the embankment at Skew Bridge where we had an unrestricted view of a mile of straight track to the bridge over the River Ribble and Preston Station beyond.
Traffic was controlled by a fine Gantry of Semaphore Signals across virtually the whole pathway with the ‘Up Fast and Slow’ in the opposite direction. Signals then were positive, unlike today, and caused immediate interest as they were raised or lowered ,to indicate an imminent train. We could see the Southport line  passing under the main line, and glimpses of the East Lancs through the trees. Locos leaving Preston presented a fine sight as they powered over the upgrade, and those headed North freewheeled the approach to Preston. The Oak bushes which once were so much part of the scene, are now well grown and almost completely obscure the views.

As Train Spotting was part of our young lives, so our ‘bikes’ were basic to our spotting. We relied on them, and only by them, could we travel to the locations we loved. On Sunday Mornings Preston Shed -10B- was a must. As far as I can remember we were never refused entry, but then  I don’t remember ever asking.
This was our Patch – a Patch that is long gone. What I still think of as the ‘New Power Box’ has stood in it’s place for at least 20 years. Entry to Lostock Hall Shed (24C) was easy and we visited often. It was usually filled with Austerity 2-10-0s – large, powerful freight engines which strangely, we saw little of in our day to day spotting. Wigan Springs and Lower Darwen were more of a challenge but distance meant little to us in those far-off days. A visit to Horwich Works was special, with permits in advance and the journey by train to Blackrod Station so much a part of it. We were always amazed to see different parts of the same Loco scattered throughout the departments.
A favourite place on Saturday afternoons during Autumn was Farrington. Here, the line from Blackburn and East Lancs crosses above the Main Line heading West before a sharp right turn to drop down to join the Main Line North into Preston. We were here to see visitors from the LNER that ran excursions from Yorkshire and the Northeast  to Blackpool illuminations. They were always in the charge of a B 1 or ‘Antelope Class ‘which could handle all but the heaviest passenger trains, and were hailed with delight by us. Ourebi, Topi, Wildebeeste, Hartebeeste and the exception ‘William Henton Carver ‘were regulars. The first of that Class, No. 61000 – Springbok  crossed the Pennines often. They would appear without prior warning, steaming slowly and silently, crossing the bridge to the downward curve to Preston.
Soon, work and other pursuits pushed my interest in Railway into the background. I didn’t even notice that Steam was being replaced. It was to be some 20 years  later that on passing The Railway Station I suggested that my young son may like to see the trains. We left that day each carrying new Ian Allen’s – but that’s another story.
(Gerry Wareing)