Narrow Gauge Wonders-Chapter 1-Penders Big Break
It was beginning to cloud over as Laurence entered the yard at Dulwich, which was a sure sign of rain. As he neared the station building, Laurence saw Matt Durkan, a railwayman from Bolton, reading a magazine under the platform shelter. Ah, morning Matt, said Laurence as he walked up. Good morning, greeted Matt cheerfully, Late again?. Laurence groaned. My sister borrowed my alarm clock last night, so obviously I was late, he said. Dont worry mate. Chuckled Matt, I was late as well today. Oh, so, whats Mr. Clarke going to make you do as a punishment? The Yard Forman, Mr. Clarke, had a habit of making people who turned up late for the morning briefing do some of the more unpleasant jobs around the railway. Ah, well thats the brilliant thing, chuckled Matt, That rule only applies to people who turn up late to the briefing. But I havent gone in yet, so Im not technically late am I?. Laurence thought about this, and supposed Matt had a point, and decided to wait with Matt until the briefing was over. But just then, the door to the office opened, and a red haired girl poked her head around the door. It was Kathy, the stationmasters daughter, who helped her dad out a lot on the railway. Laurence, youre late again!, she snapped, Youd best get inside before Mr Clarke makes it worse for you. Laurence, jumped, surprised. How did you know I was out here?, he asked. Ive practically lived in this station for most of my live, said Kathy exasperatedly, I think I know how to tell when someones outside. Alright, sighed Laurence, defeated, Come on Ma
. He looked around. Matt had disappeared in the blink of an eye! The magazine laying flat on the floor was the only sign that he had been there at all! Who are you waiting for?, asked Kathy. No-one, said Laurence quietly, as he was led into the office.
Mr. Clarke looked disapprovingly at Laurence as he sheepishly took his seat in the office. The other loco-crews and railway staff were sitting down as well. Right, said Mr Clarke as soon as Laurence was sat down, Today, weve got regular passenger services, as well as the usual freight and supply trains up the valley and back. In order to ease the level of congestion around Dulwich and the surrounding area, the railway had been given permission to haul regular freight trains to help take more lorries off the roads. However, continued Mr Clarke, Theres a special freighter thats got to be at Eskwell in good time. Its an urgent job, and as the route will take it over Merlins Ridge, well need a strong engine and a steady hand on the regulator to do it. Excuse me sir, said Carl Rivers, a platelayer from Wales, What will be in this train that makes it so special?. Its urgent supplies for the Eskdale flood defences, said Mr Clarke, Bricks, mortar, sandbags, as well as emergency food supplies. Sounds important, said Kathy. Aye, it is, said Mr Clarke, And as Laurence was late this morning, hell take it all the way up and back. Me!, yelped Laurence in alarm, But I have maintenance to catch up on in the workshops!. Yes, but youre a driver as well, said Mr Clarke, And you know the rules. Dont be late or do the jobs you hate. Alright, said Laurence grudgingly, vowing to never have to hear that stupid rhyme ever again.
In the sheds, the engines were waking up. Matt had gone in to see how they all were, and one engine in particular, his favourite engine, Pender. Pender was an engine with an eventful, and slightly odd history. She had used to work on the Isle of Man Railway, but had ended up in a museum where she had been literally cut in half so the tourists could see how a steam engine worked. A few years later, the museum had decided to rebuild her and have her sent back to the Isle of Man. However, during the rebuild, a mistake had occurred in the plans, and she had literally shrunk. Instead of the Manx 3 foot gauge track, she was now 2 and a half feet instead. As another rebuild would have been too costly, it was decided to sell her to a different company. The Dulwich and Swane Valley Railway was the first company to make a bid for her, so it was to there she was delivered. Luckily, Matt had had experience with Manx engines, and became her regular driver, and Pender proved to be a very worthy purchase. At the moment, she was lazily snoring, while Matt stoked her fire gently. Time to get up now lazy wheels, he said quietly. Pender yawned. Mo
morning Matt, she yawned sleepily, Whats for us today? Im afraid I dont know, said Matt sheepishly, I wasnt at the briefing this morning. But Laurence will be along soon, so hell tell us Im sure. But itll probably be shunting for you again today or maybe a passenger train to Swane. Humph!, grunted Pender, I always get the small jobs. I used to pull proper passenger trains back on Man!. Easy now, hushed Matt quietly, Youll wake the others! And dont worry, he added, patting Penders pressure gauge fondly, Youll get your chance soon enough. I hope so, said Pender, Ever since I came here I havent been out properly. I just want to see all of my railway, you know?. Matt was about to reply, but at that moment, Laurence came in to the sheds, with Kathy, Carl and Rosie Butler, a female driver whose experience covered a variety of railways, from the Watercress Line to the Snowdon Mountain Railway. Unbelievable, fumed Laurence, I had all that maintenance to finish, now Im going to be late finishing Princesss ejector before shes due back in service. And now Im meant to be taking a special over Merlins Ridge to Eskdale for the flood barrier, all for the sake of an alarm clock! And its going to be pouring down with rain today, according to the radio, so things just couldnt be Hunky-Dorier! Sorry man, said Matt. And theres another thing, said Laurence, Could you have timed your disappearing act a little better, like, after the briefing? Err
yes well I had to come and check on Pender, said Matt, while Pender dozed comfortably. You really are devoted to her arent you?, commented Rosie, smiling fondly at the devotion shown between a man and his engine. I just like to check that shes in good order, said Matt modestly. Well, Id better get on with this freight train then, said Laurence, placing his cap on his mop-haired head. Who will you be taking?, asked Carl. Ill take Kingsley, said Laurence, nodding in the direction of the railways most powerful engine, a Garratt, who was snoring loudly close to the shed doors. Kingsley had spent most of his life hauling freight trains in the Yorkshire Dales, and was well suited to the steep gradients and tight curves of Merlins Ridge. Laurence climbed up into Kingsleys cab, and began pulling and pushing the revering lever backwards and forwards to wake him up. Kingsley yawned loudly and blinked. Im up! Im up, he grunted sleepily, before falling back to sleep again. Cmon Kingsley, said Laurence, as he looked at Kingsleys fire, Weve got a bigun to take today, and youve been chosen to pull it. Oh whoop-de-doo, grumbled Kingsley sarcastically, Well, I suppose its down to me as usual to save the day. He gave a loud cough, and his fire started burning brighter. Good lad, said Laurence, Well just wait for your steam to get up properly, then well go and get coupled up. Ill just fill your tanks first. You know, voiced Pender absent-mindedly, This is just a suggestion, but I was thinking, maybe, if youd like
I could take the train!, she finished, hopefully. I thought it would be something like that, chuckled Matt, Pender, you know why you cant take the train. Youre the station pilot, we need you here to arrange the trucks, sort out the coaches and run the Light Train to Swane. Penders face fell as Matt said this, but she knew he was right. And anyway, put in Kingsley, as Laurence took out the hose he had been using to fill his tanks, Even if you were strong enough, I honestly think you wouldnt be all that good at it. Im just saying, you need a lot of patience to haul freight, and well, lets face it, youre too
hyper. Im not, squealed Pender angrily, And how do you know anyway you big lump. Ive never been given the chance before!. Easy girl, easy, soothed Matt, Its not that you cant pull the trains, its just we need you here. Youre essential to the railways operations. Pender was flattered by this compliment, but still frowned crossly as Laurence opened the regulator of the Garratt. Steam rushed into the twin power units at both ends of the boiler, and Kingsley snorted out of the sheds. Some of the other engines were awoken by the loud noises, and some made this quite clear to the rest of the shed staff. Pender sighed, and she and Matt puffed out into the yard, towards the carriage sheds.
The train Laurence, Kingsley, and Chris Turbo Jenkins acting as fireman had to take to Eskwell consisted of gravel hoppers, vans full of emergency food supplies, two flat trucks carrying wood and bricks, another van full of tools and a few covered trucks full of sandbags. Kingsley backed down onto the train, and Turbo jumped down to couple the train to the engine. The guard walked up to Kingsley. Right, Ive been told weve got a clear passage to Eskwell, he told Laurence, So lets make it there as quickly as possible so everyone else doesnt get held up. Well do our very best sir, said Laurence. Very good, said the guard approvingly, as Turbo came back onto the footplate. Are we ready to go?, asked the guard. Ready when you are chief, smiled Turbo. The guard walked back to his van, and blew his whistle. Laurence gave a reply on Kingsleys whistle, and opened the regulator. Kingsley lurched out of the yard, with each of the wagons clanking in turn behind him. From the other end of the yard, Pender watched enviously as the mighty Garratt with his train moved sluggishly out of the station. I wish that was me, she said wistfully. Dont worry, soothed Matt as he manoeuvred Pender in front of Princesss coaches, Youll get your chance someday. I hope I do, replied Pender quietly, as Kingsley whistled again in the distance.
Merlins Ridge is a notorious climb, which tests the mettle of any engine and the driving skill of any driver. All engines need to get a good run up on the downhill stretch of the Swane Valley to avoid slipping on the trestle bridge that spans the river itself. After that, the climb is not so bad, but it is the only way to get over the bridge without calling for a banker. The railway had tried to buy an engine just for that job, but not such luck yet, so engines have to be careful when travelling to Eskdale. Kingsley knew this, but his load was proving difficult, even for an engine as powerful and used to these sorts of loads as he was. Laurence kept a steady hand on the regulator, while Turbo shovelled coal into Kingsleys firebox to keep the fire burning well. They were going well as they approached Swane, but as they approached, they came to a signal at danger Bother, grunted Kingsley, as Laurence shut off steam and slammed on the brakes. They came into the yard to see the station master waving at them to stop. Whats wrong?, asked Laurence. Theres been an accident on the route to Eskdale, explained the station master, A wagon overturned on the way down here. No one was hurt, but youll be stuck here a while until the line is cleared. Laurence groaned. Due to the steep incline leading up to Eskdale, the villagers would sometimes send single wagons down the track to Swane filled with goods such as grain, wool and other farm products. Usually, this worked well, but there were times when a wagon could find a jolt in the rails and overturn. The track should be clear in about 20 minutes, said the station master, Until then, could you put the goods train in the sidings over there until the lines clear?, he said, pointing to an empty siding at the other side of the yard. Laurence nodded, but as soon as the guard was gone, he made his mood very clear to both Kinglsey and Turbo. Could this day get any worse? he sighed. That a trick question chief?, grinned Turbo.
Though Garratts are powerful and strong engines, they do have one weakness. Often, the coal and water on a Garratt is held over the two power units in front and behind the boiler. As the coal and water is used up, the bogies become lighter, and therefore lose their grip on the rails. Because Laurence and Turbo had to keep Kingsleys fire going, the coal and water slowly decreased. They could have filled up at the station, but that would have taken too long, and so it was with great enthusiasm that they attacked the bank that was Merlins Ridge.
They started confidently, but as they got higher and higher up, Kinglsey found it harder and harder to keep going. Come on old boy, urged Laurence, Not far now. Kingsleys pistons pumped harder and harder, but his wheels kept slipping. Turbo shovelled on more coal, and Laurence switched on the sanders, but it was no good, and they stopped dead. Now what?, panted Turbo. Well, we cant take it up in two parts, sighed Laurence, Not enough time, and the weathers going to turn foul in a while. I think our best option would be to go back to Swane and call for a banker. OK chief, replied Turbo, moving across to his side of the footplate and peering out from the cab. Ooh, idea, said Laurence suddenly. There was a hiss as Kingsleys sanders were switched on. If we lay sand down on the rails and press it down with the wheels, said Laurence, Itll be easier for us to get back up here. If we get back up here, muttered Kingsley darkly. Laurence said nothing as he released Kinsleys handbrake and the long train coasted gently back down the hill like a long metallic snake.
The shunting done, Matt and Pender were sent with the Light Train to Swane. The Light Train usually consisted of one single coach, a mail van, an open truck and a break van. It took early bird passengers, mail and any small amount of freight up to Swane and returned with the same things but from Swane. Often they collected the wagons that the villagers sent down with farm produce, and took them back to Dulwich for the markets. Pender was usually picked for the job, partly because she was perfect for doing it, and also because the other engines were less enthusiastic about it. Still, Pender loved it, it was the one job she had which took her beyond the confines of Dulwich Yard. As she entered the yard at Swane, she was surprised to see Kingsley with his freight train still there. Laurence and Turbo were there as well, looking very pleased to see Pender. Whats up?, she asked as Matt applied the brakes. Laurence and Turbo explained what had happened with the truck. And so now, we cant get up there, finished Turbo. Yeah, and we need a banker to get up there in time, added Laurence. Look no further, said Pender excitedly. Laurence looked around. Why? he asked, puzzled. Ill do it, she replied exasperatedly. Turbo looked at her. Do you think you can?, he asked. I think I can, replied Pender confidently, You said you put sand on the rails up there, so it should be fine, as long as Kingsley helps too. OK, sounds like a plan to me, said Laurence , Turboll stoke your fire, then well try again. Great!, squealed Pender in delight. At last, she was going to go out. She was going to see the world. And one more thing, added Laurence to Pender, Please dont quote from the Little Engine That Could, if thats ok, its so
Penders train had been put in a siding while Turbo had used his knowledge as a fireman to stoke Penders fire until it was burning nicely, while Laurence helped himself to what was left in the station coal bunker for Kingsley. There hadnt been time to fill Kingsleys tanks up all the way, so Laurence made do with what they could get in the time they had. Now they were ready to go. Turbo rejoined Laurence on Kingsleys footplate, and waved his hand to the guard. The guard, nodded, and waved his flag to Pender. Pender gave a blast on her shrill whistle, which was drowned out by the thunder of Kingsleys deeper toned hooter. Both drivers opened the regulators as wide as they would go without slipping, and the long train with both engines going for the best start they could lurched forwards and out of the yard.
It was tough going to say the least. The rhythmic beat of Penders exhaust was echoing across the valley, accompanied by Kingsleys much slower pounding. It was lucky that there had been sand laid down on the tracks as Kingsley came down, otherwise it would have been almost impossible. Matt keep a steady hand on Penders controls, while Pender screwed up her face in effort as she tried to keep the train going. Kingsley was also finding it difficult. The steep incline, combined with the heavy load and his loss of power was starting to get to the experienced Yorkshire veteran. But they werent giving up yet!
Slowly, gradually, the load seemed to lighten as the crest of the hill approached. Turbo was shovelling every piece of coal available onto the fire, while Laurence adjusted the controls to make the best use of what steam Kingsley had left. It came as the hugest relief when the crest of the hill passed under Kingsleys wheels, then the trucks, then finally Pender was on level ground. She whistled in delight, as did Kingsley. Theyd done it! Theyd beaten Merlins Ridge. The journey to Eskdale was easy now. The ground was more level now, so Kingsley and Pender had something of a rest as they coasted down the valley, full of pride that they had finally beat the hill. Kingsley, the mighty Garratt, and Pender, the little shunter, had conquered Merlins ridge.
The supplies had come just in time, as it had nearly started raining. They were met by an anxious construction manager and council officer upon arrival, and were keen to know why it had taken so long for their urgent supplies to get through, but after Laurence, Matt and Turbo explained what had happened, they changed their minds about launching an official complaint and were instead full of praise for their actions. Pender in particular was proud that shed become a proper mainliner, and Matt especially was proud of his little Manx engine for having done so well against all the odds.
3 cups of tea and a fresh supply of coal and water later, Turbo asked what they should do now. We should probably get back down to Dulwich, said Matt, Me and Pender need to get the light train back anyway. Aye, agreed Laurence, And I have stuff in the workshop to catch up on. And Im meant to be firing the Special later put in Turbo. They stood up, drained their mugs and headed outside. It had not started raining yet, but they still made a dash for the safety of the cabs. Pender was tired after her trip, so she was coupled behind Kingsley and they got back down the hill without any problems. Pender fell asleep on the way back, but though she was weary, she was happy that shed proved to the others, and herself, what she was made of. She knew that this would be enough to prove to Mr Clarke that she could haul proper trains now. This really had been her Big Break!