11 Jan Jason’s 2017 Mystery Tour – Day 3

Rapido UK Blog / January 11, 2017

Jason’s 2017 Mystery Tour

By Jason Shron

Follow Jason’s Magical Mystery Tour from start to finish:

1 – Roll up for the Mystery Tour!
2 – Reading to New Street to the wilds of Cambridgeshire
3 – In Stockton and Darlington country
4 – Yorkshire to Birmingham via the Wythall Transport Museum
5 – Driving and being run over by buses in Manchester
6 – Crewe-Sheffield-London-Leamington Spa… in one day!
7 – Adventures in Birmingham (via Peterborough)


Wednesday had a busy start as I realized: “Oh, crumbs! I haven’t sent out a UK newsletter.” There went the morning as I scrambled to let our 21 UK newsletter subscribers (happily up from 7) know about this trip. Once Richard Pearson had completely lost patience with me, he took me over to Darlington Locomotive Works where Ian Matthews was kind enough to give us a private tour of the new build P2.’

Richard was quite surprised that I knew what I was looking at, and Ian was even more surprised when I started asking questions about whether it was being built as delivered or in one of the rebuilt guises. “You’ve done your homework,” Richard said. Actually, I just read a lot of railway magazines and you sort of ingest this information by osmosis.

Having some experience with metal fabrication (there’s a lot of metal in the railway carriage in my basement), I could understand the scope of this project. And it is enormous. The smokebox door was annealed and hammered into shape, and it’s all compound curves!

While the front of the smokebox is tapered, the hinges must be vertical. Ian had quite a challenge getting them completely vertical using all sorts of straight edges and levels. A lot of the work is done by Ian alone. In the photo above, Richard and I are doing our own inspection of his handiwork.

In this overview photo you can see how the engine is coming along. This is a huge undertaking, but we know they will get there in the end.

The hornblocks provided all sorts of opportunities for goofing off.

The new locomotive will be called Prince of Wales. While I have always been partial to the name “Cock o’ the North” because I’m really a childish pratt, I understand the decision to give the new P2 its own name rather than take on the name of one of the retired engines. Our future monarch, the real Prince of Wales, is a big supporter of heritage preservation and I am betting that one day this will mean good things for the railway heritage community.

In a few years’ time when I see Prince of Whales fly by me on the mainline, blowing its whistle like nobody’s business, I can say “I did that first.”

I am so impressed by the UK railway preservation community. New builds like the P2 and Tornado – along with other projects like the Baby Deltic “kitbash” – are such incredible achievements. Rail historians and preservationists in North America can only dream of something like this happening because it never will. The current record holder for fastest production train in North America is the TurboTrain, yet all of the Turbos became aluminium cans in the early 1980s.

Forget the fact that few people would consider supporting a Turbo new build. Very few people have even heard of the train or know that it holds both the Canadian and American speed records. Compare that to Mallard. Every British schoolboy knows about Mallard and its speed record.

Railways and railway history are a part of mainstream life here in the UK, and you should cherish this. I also encourage you to support the P2 new build efforts. They still need another £3 million in funding. There are a number of P2 events going on this year, where you can meet the people involved and learn more about the project. Click here for more information.

Now who wants to start a TurboTrain new build? We only need about $10 million….

We then headed just across the way to Head of Steam, a small museum celebrating the granddaddy of all railways, the Stockton and Darlington.

I grew up with a pile of books on railways, most of which were published in the UK and most of which started with either Trevithick or the Stockton and Darlington. To be able to stand up close to Locomotion was like walking into a 1970s watercolour illustration from my youth.

The highlight of the exhibition was, of course, the toilets.

I just can’t resist a good toilet, and a Victorian toilet is even better.

For some reason everyone else in the exhibition room ran away. Did you know that the term “crapper” and the expression “take a crap” came from one Thomas Crapper of Chelsea, purveyor of fine water closets and accessories? Neither did I!

Richard then took me over to Skerne Bridge, which is in surprisingly good condition for its 192-odd years.

The workmen told us that the bridge is being fully refurbished and a bicycle path is being built alongside the river Skerne. Here’s how I’ve always known the Skerne bridge:

We then headed to Locomotion, the National Railway Museum at Shildon which needs no introduction.

Much of the day was spent in meetings with Brian Greenwood and the Locomotion model railway development team. We even had London in on a speakerphone and a board room table and everything! I felt very grown up. Thankfully the VIPs in London couldn’t see I was wearing a T-shirt and bellbottom trousers. Because, you know, I lke to maintain an air of respectability.

Of course, being the respectable clothhead that I am, I forgot to take any pictures of Brian. We only spent the ENTIRE DAY TOGETHER. So here I’ve Photoshopped him into a photo of me. We’re truely having a nice conversation in this Southern Region 2-BIL.

Brian is a wonderful man, and much of the credit for Locomotion’s highly-regarded “National Collection in Miniature” series can be attributed to his hard work. Spending a day with Brian is quite humbling. He has accomplished more since he retired 10-plus years ago than most of us accomplish in a lifetime. I am fortunate to consider him a good friend.

Being one of the NRM’s suppliers comes with certain privileges. I was invited to explore any of the stock at the museum, and being a passenger train fan I immediately asked if we could go inside the royal coaches. And amazingly they said yes!

To enter Queen Alexandra’s private coach we needed to put on little blue slippers so as not to disturb the carpet.

Feeling all posh I thought it only appropriate to use Her Royal Highness’s posh china to poshly drink some posh tea. Brian jumped in front of me, causing me to spill the tea all over the posh chair. I quickly ran out to a charity shop to find a replacement, and while I couldn’t find an exact match I did find something close. Please don’t tell anyone.

I spent some time just hanging around…

And driving locomotives…

By the end of the day, I was completely knackered.

Brian and I went for supper at a vegetarian restaurant in Stockton called The Waiting Room. Brian’s SatNav took us to a completely different waiting room in a completely different part of Stockton. We got there eventually.

The food was decent, but the service was a little strange. This was likely due to the fact that Brian kept asking for steak.

In Darlington I stayed at the Houndgate Townhouse. This is quite a nice hotel – clean, well-appointed, cozy, with a very generous breakfast. I learned a trick on the second night – if you leave the bathroom door open, it’s not a FREEZER in the morning. The first night I hadn’t figured this out and the next morning they had to call the fire department to pry me off the floor as my feet had frozen to the tiles.

Next stop is Leeds followed by Brum. I shall be in touch again on Sunday, all going well.

NEXT: Yorkshire to Birmingham via the Wythall Transport Museum

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