Smoke gets in your eyes *

This is about an astonishing private railway. If you’re not interested in industrial heritage and railways, look away now. Scroll down if you want to skip the chat and just see the pictures! (Click on any picture to see it full-sized)

Family visit in Kent in the 1950s. That's me with the blond hair sitting next to the man in the hat!

Family visit in Kent in the 1950s. That’s me with the blond hair sitting next to the man in the hat! Click to enlarge.

I can just remember as a very small child in the late 1950s being taken to a private narrow-gauge railway in Kent that ran through the woodlands not far from my home. It made a huge impression on me – the smoke and steam, the hot oil, the little tracks disappearing off into the woods.

Last Saturday (8 August) I was able to visit something on a much vaster scale – the Statfold Barn Railway in the Midlands. As a subscriber to the Railway Magazine, I was offered the chance to be there for a private ‘enthusiasts’ day.

Two engines, one coach! (Yes, there's another engine at the back...)

Two engines, one coach! (Yes, there’s another engine at the back…) Click to enlarge.

I can’t quite think of the right superlatives for this experience:

  • I counted ten engines in steam (I may have lost track, there were so many.)
  • There was an intensive service – something moving or within earshot all day.
  • There was no officious ‘health and safety’ presence – barriers, stewards etc – you could just wander about, even in the engine sheds.
  • The locos, coaches and wagons (yes, there was freight) were absolutely spotless – in ex-works condition.
  • The intricacy of the track network (most of it is dual-gauge – 2′ and 2′ 6″) was a wonder to behold.
Paddy is prepared for a trip round the garden line

‘Paddy’ is prepared for a trip round the garden line. Click to enlarge

Rides around the lake behind Paddy. Note the curious (vertical) boiler. Click to enlarge,

Rides around the lake behind ‘Paddy’. Note the unusual vertical boiler. Click to enlarge,

The man behind this railway paradise is Graham Lee. I can only imagine how many staff and volunteers he needs to put on a day like this. His commitment and finance have provided the immense engineering effort involved in getting the engines and wagons into the pristine condition that you see in the photos.

He started with a simple garden railway – 2′ gauge – running around a lake in the garden. That’s where I took my first ride, with a delightful vertical-boiler engine Paddy, recently restored.

Engines being serviced between trips

Engines being serviced between trips. The loco on the right is ‘Statfold’ a new-build Hunslet ‘Quarry’, built on the site in 2006. Click to enlarge.

Before that, I had discovered the engine shed area. Locos were coming and going all the time for coal and servicing as they came off trains on the ‘main line’ that runs through the farm fields to a  loop about half a mile away.It was great to be trusted enough to be able to just wander around this busy yard.

Mixed-gauge points - slightly complex!

Mixed-gauge points – slightly complex! Click to enlarge.

Mr Lee has rescued many of the engines from dereliction in far-off countries.  Some 15 years ago, he repatriated some engines that had been running in Indonesia on 2′ 6″ sugar plantation lines. So now he had to deal with two gauges. This makes all the pointwork very intricate, and (I suspect) an engineering nightmare. On his first Statfold main line everything can handle both gauges.

Howard and bvbv about to leave Statfold Junction Station

‘Howard’ (a 1936 Hunslet ‘Brazil’ class, formerly ‘Josephine’ ) and ‘Lautoka’ (rescued from a Fiji sugar mill line) about to leave Statfold Junction Station. Click to enlarge.

Graham Lee’s  particular interest is products of the Hunslet company in Leeds, and his first ‘rescue’ was Trangkil No 4, the last ever steam engine built in Britain for ordinary commercial use (pic below). Hunslet built it in 1971. He now has 5 working Hunslet locos – not to mention a dozen or so other engines built in the UK, France, Germany and the USA. Narrow-gauge lovers would recognise one or two engines from the Welsh preserved lines or other industrial sites.

'Trangkil No 4' was Mr lee's original 'rescued engine', built in 1971. In the background, another train is climbing from Oak Tree to Statfold Junction. Click to enlarge

‘Trangkil No 4’ – the original ‘rescued engine’. In the background, another train is climbing from Oak Tree to Statfold Junction. Click to enlarge

Trangkil No 4 is one of a family of Kerr Stuart designs.  Kerr Stuart were subsumed into Hunslets, and one of my rarer books is A Hunslet Hundred, written for the centenary of the company in 1964 by the engineer and preservation pioneer LTC Rolt. Their ‘Brazil’, ‘Tattoo’ and ‘Wren’ designs have the same basic outline as the Talyllyn’s Edward Thomas which achieved literary fame as Peter Sam on the Revd W Awdry’s ‘Skarloey Railway’.

Down in the fields, the loop saw three trains at once (and six engines all steaming away...)

Down in the fields, the loop saw three trains at once (and six engines all steaming away…) Click to make even larger.

Fiji leads a passenger train along the new main line. Click to enlarge

‘Fiji’ leads a passenger train along the new main line. Click to enlarge

Searchlight wagon in the freight train. Click to enlarge

Searchlight wagon in the freight train. Click to enlarge

aksjdfh at Oak Tree

‘Isibutu’, a 1945 Bagnall engine used in South Africa at Oak Tree. Click to enlarge

The thing has grown so much that in recent years a second main line was laid, parallel to the first. So the whole network (not too ambitious a word) can really get very busy. At one point I saw two passenger trains and a freight in the loop at the far end. Even in the heyday of narrow-gauge operation in the UK, such a scene was probably unknown.

The detail of the restoration and construction of the line and the rolling stock is amazing to see. The freight train was a particular favourite. Really keen types will have noticed that the train had wagons of both gauges within it, as well as some exhibition-quality finishing details.

Halfway along the main lines is Oak Tree Halt. This is where trains cross, so it’s busy. It’s also where you can get off to visit the Grain Store. It sounds agricultural, but it’s actually a treasure trove of narrow-gauge materials and railway ephemera. Lord knows how much it is all worth.

The Grain Shed - a narrow-gauge cathedral. well worth enlarging.

The Grain Store – a narrow-gauge cathedral. Well worth enlarging this one.

There’s a whole round-house in there! Some fully working, others in the queue to be restored.

So, three cheers to Mortons Media, publishers of The Railway Magazine, (click here to visit their site) and to Mr Lee, for making it possible for us to enjoy this fantastic piece of railway mania! (click here to visit Statfold Barn Railway site)

I’ll finish with two last pictures. Note the quality of the paintwork on the engines and the freedom of access given to visitors…

*Smoke gets in your eyes: 1933 Broadway show song – think the Platters, Bryan Ferry, or plenty of others in between.

'Saccharine', a 1912 engine used on sugar estates in South Africa. Click to enlarge.

‘Saccharine’, a 1912 engine used on sugar estates in South Africa. Click to enlarge.

The freight train (three locos) approaches Oak Tree. Note the lovely Hornby-Dublo-style 'Saxa Salt' wagon. Click to enlarge

The freight train (three locos) approaches Oak Tree. Note the lovely Hornby-Dublo-style ‘Saxa Salt’ wagon. Click to enlarge

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2 Responses to Smoke gets in your eyes *

  1. Pingback: My Old Man’s a Dustman * | bathwellschap

  2. Pingback: I don’t want to talk about it… * | bathwellschap

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