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Bryan Benn stories

Who's Who of Southern Steam

Reading the latest batch of emails is a bit like a Who's Who of Southern steam! Dave, "Dropgrate Wilson", Fred Prickett, and an engineman with the surname of O'Sullivan.

Not sure it is the same engineman, (hopefully I made an error with name on my notes and it is!), but my June 1965 notebook records a run behind 34019 in June 1965 with the crew just shown in my notes as "Sullivan/Rowe". 12.10 Southampton to Waterloo on a Sunday when there was single line running between Eastleigh and Winchester City. But from the Winchester re start a superb heavy load performance. And I mean heavy! 14 cars for 500 tons. And yet the crew of Sullivan and Rowe got that massive load over Roundwood summit behind a light pacific at just under 55 mph. And from the Basingstoke restart we would have done the 23.5 miles to the Woking stop in under 23 minutes but for a signal stop by the Junction. 20 late leaving Winchester. 7 late leaving Woking! Probably the very best heavy load performance I ever timed behind a light pacific.

And yes, Fred Prickett was a real gentleman. I once timed him on the down 10.30 ex Waterloo along with John Evans, (sadly left us a few years ago). At Bournemouth the three of us went to a local cafe for lunch during Fred's break. Lovely chat over lunch, and Fred insisted on paying for our lunch that day. Looking back it is nice to think back to those days when there was such a good bond of friendship between the enginemen and us enthusiasts who timed their daily work on those maginficent Bulleid pacifics.

And that leads onto Dropgrate Wilson! With whom myself and a number of enthusiasts, (and at least one other loco crew), from those long past days, are in virtually daily contact via a small e mail group. Many were his exploits on the shovel, but the one that will always remain in the front of my memory is the 21.20 Waterloo - Bournemouth on 15th May 1965, when he was Gordon Hooper's fireman on 35005's 105 mph rush down Roundwood bank. We would have gone over the summit of MP 31 at 80 mph earlier in the run but for Dave deciding to put the injectors on. Something about needing to keep water in the boiler he told us afterwards!! And Dropgrate has never forgotten his allegance to his fireman colleagues. When our e mail group gets into discussion about a particular 1960s steam run, we had better watch out. "And don't forget the fireboy", is Dave's inevitable reply if we only mention the drivers name!

Wonderful web site. Compulsive reading for anyone who was involved in those long since gone days.

Email from Jerry O'Sullivan :

Looking at Bryan Benn's latest article he mentions an O'Sullivan at Nine Elms in 1965, I must confess not guilty on this one. The O'Sullivan he was talking about was, I think, in fact driver Jim Sullivan whom I knew very well but was not related to in any way. I hope that clears things up for Bryan.

Fred Prickett and the 10.30 Waterloo

I've been working through my old steam mileage book, chasing up my many long lost timing logs from steam on the Bournemouth and Salisbury lines in the 1960s. I was looking at 27th March 1967, and following a lead I found, (online), a log I once timed on the 10.30 ex Waterloo on 27th March 1967. Just a few days before that train was taken over by class 47 diesels for haulage. This version of the log timed by Geoff Bloxam.

It has brought back some lovely memories!

We left Waterloo behind 34040 with Fred Prickett at the controls. No spectacular running but just a decent, everyday philosophy, "I'll run to time even with a few out of course checks" that characterised Fred's superb enginemanship. Until we had to stop at Basingstoke, (inside 56 minutes from Waterloo with a couple of checks on the way), because his fireman had broken his shovel. And he was sent over to Basingstoke shed by Fred to get another one, ( I wonder if he had to sign for it!).

Fred, being Fred and a totally professional engineman, examined the whole loco while his fireman was away, and found he had a hot box on a loco tender axle! So off came 34040, to be replaced, on a fast Bournemouth Express, by Basingstoke's very own BR class 4 75033. A log of the run onto Bournemouth doesn't seem to exist!

But Fred and his fireman got us there. Because I clearly remember John Evans, (who was also timing the train), and myself joined Fred for lunch in a local cafe/restaurant at Bournemouth. And Fred insisted on paying for lunch for all three of us: gentleman that he was. And during lunch he gave as both a gentle lecture about those "young upstart drivers in number 3 and number 4 links" who by then were running rather fast on late evening trains between Basingstoke and Woking at the head of trains that included two axle parcel vans: (75 mph limit). I can't find the timing log of our up run from Bournemouth that day yet. But I do know we had a 2 axle parcel van, and I am sure that with a few out of course checks Fred and his fireman kept time without going much above 77 - 78 mph.

R.I P. Fred, and thank you so much for the memory of that day. And for lunch!."

35005 night to remember

Meeting Gordon Hooper again at the Bluebell re-union, and then seeing Dave "Dropgrate" Wilson's recent E mail, takes me back to the night of 15th/16th May 1965.

Loco inspector Brian Smith, Gordon and Dave were the crew of 35005 "Canadian Pacific" on the ten coach 21.20 Waterloo to Bournemouth. Loco specially selected for a very unofficial high speed run, with my elder brother Don, myself, John Evans and Terry Bagworth invited to bring our stop watches etc to properly record the event. And that was the fastest start to stop Waterloo-Basingstoke time ever with steam: 43 mins and 48 seconds, with a 19 mph temporary speed slowing at Wimbledon C box. 89 mph at Byfleet Junction, 77 mph over milepost 31, and 90 mph at Newnham siding. There was talk that we could have gone over mp 31 at 80 mph if "Dropgrate" hadn't put the injectors on: but I reckon he thought it useful to keep some water in the boiler.

Things got better. A storming start from Basingstoke culminated in a wonderful 105 mph between Wallers Ash and Winchester Junction boxes.

I can't recall much about the return trip, (03.48 into Waterloo I think). But I do recall Brian Smith driving us home to various parts of South London in his large American car. Ending at home near Croydon when Brian and "Dropgrate" came into our dining room at around 05.30 for a cup of tea with Don and myself. Giving my mum who came downstairs quite a fright to see the coal dust covered faces of the two who had been on the footplate.

I did manage to thank Gordon for that wonderful night at the recent Bluebell re-union: albeit 42 years after the event!

Bryan Benn

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