More about the Neilson Loco
A Trip to Gartsherrie
From 1968 Mercian Vol.1 No.3
By Trevor Cousens
On Friday, 16th February at 6.00pm a small party consisting of Lawrence Hodgkinson, Mike Lewis and myself, departed from Chasewater in Mike’s 30 cwt. Van en route for Gartsherrie, near Glasgow. The purpose of this trip was to purchase spare parts from the three Neilson locomotives remaining at Bairds and Scottish Steel Ltd.
A stop was made in Derby to pick up Steve Allsop, then we cut across to the M6 motorway. The speed of Mike’s van was limited by a governor to 45 mph so the going was slow.
It was quite a relief when a stop was made at a service area for refreshment. We made full use of the transport drivers eating facilities – in our overalls we did not really have much choice. Back on the motorway we continued our journey northward. I retired to the back of the van to try to sleep. After rolling my sleeping bag out amongst several hundredweights of tools, bars, rucksacks and other bric-a-brac I tried persistently to sleep. The noise of the engine and the tyres on the road, coupled with a sharp drop in the temperature precluded this. I heard someone groan ‘snow’ from up front. This is what we had dreaded. A climb up Shap with eight inches of snow on the ground!! After this, sleep was impossible. I lay on my back and watched icicles form on the van roof. About 3.30am on the Saturday morning the van halted. After many gear changes, reverses and sliding of doors up front there was silence for a moment. When I looked out we were parked on a small snow-covered country lane; fir trees on one side, a railway above us and the moon shining across snow-covered fields. They had had enough for the evening, and Steve, Lawrence and Mike came aft for sleeping bags, blankets, camp beds and other items necessary for comfort!! While the three sorted themselves out I got out with a camera and had a prowl around. I found that we had parked practically under the West Coast main line at Beattock.
In front of us Brush type 4s pounded up to Beattock Summit, assisted by English Electric type 4s, 2s, and 1s on the night mail trains and sleepers. One could not help thinking that there was something missing not seeing the flicker from the firebox silhouetting the fireman as he shovelled rapidly on a ‘Duchess’ at full pelt up the bank.
The others had comfortably settled down by now in the back of the van. I chose the driver’s seat as I was sure that it could be no more uncomfortable than trying to lie down again. With last reminders to wake up at 6.45 am to be in Glasgow for 8.30 am, we dozed off to sleep, a sleep punctuated by the clatter of trains over the bridge above and the wail of diesel horns as bankers attached and detached from the trains – we couldn’t have picked a quieter spot!!
At 7.00 am Lawrence and Steve spent 20 minutes trying to wake Mike, who seemed to be the only one who had really slept, despite the noise (still, he is a railwayman). We slowly began to thaw out when we were back on the main road to Glasgow, and the sun came out, picking out the snow-covered hills in a fiery pink light,
Arriving in Glasgow at 9.30 am we met the fifth member of our party – Gerald Wildish – who had travelled up on the overnight train from Darlington to Glasgow without any heating.
Neilson at Gartsherrie
After a meal we arrived at Bairds and Scottish Steel’s works about 11.00 am, where we weighed in and were directed to the loco shed. We mat a Scottish RPS representative who was also buying spares for their Neilson. After having a look at our Neilson tucked away in the workshops inside this gigantic, desolate steelworks, we proceeded to the engine sheds where we worked in pitch darkness with the odd brilliant ray of sunshine punching a dazzling beam across the shed, and with snow dripping from the smoke vents onto our heads. We dismantled the spares from the three scrap Neilsons and filled Mike’s van with spare parts. An amusing interlude was enacted when Gerald held tea-cups under the water crane to be washed out while I pulled the cord, drowning both the cups and Gerald in several hundred gallons of water.
The load was examined by Bairds and we were weighed out – 10 cwt. Of spares aboard. We then proceeded to the coal mines at Gartshore where we saw the Scottish RPS Neilson and an Andrew Barclay still simmering next to a red hot brazier which we stood around for 15 minutes to warm ourselves before returning to Glasgow, to a hotel and a well-earned drink. The hotel we had chosen to stay at was unfortunately a rather expensive one. I think they were rather shocked to see four really scruffy individuals – black all over with soot and dirt and in need of shaves. We were ushered up the back lift to two attic type rooms – but they had hot water and beds!!
The Saturday evening was spent feeding and drinking and we bade farewell to Gerald who was lodging in another part of Glasgow, prior to his departure back to Darlington. We all turned in, forgetting to put forward the alarm clocks and so missing breakfast by one hour!! Room service rang us at 10.00 am Sunday, and we cajoled the waitress to find us four late breakfasts. At 11.00am we made a start back towards Chasewater, after buying all the Sunday newspapers. We stopped for diesel at Lockerbie and continued south, the sun was beginning to thaw the snow and a thick mist was rising. Suddenly out of the mist our way was blocked by two policemen!! They directed us to the side, and asked why we carried no ‘C’ licence. They asked to see the load. When we opened the door what a sight must have met their eyes, with piping strewn diagonally across the floor of the van, a 20 ton lifting jack, and many other items, including a kettle boiling on a primus for tea!! After lengthy explanations, the showing of membership cards, driving licenses, etc., we finally convinced them that we were law-abiding, but we could not help thinking of Gerald on his way home with the receipt in his pocket!
Arriving at Hixon at 8.00 pm Sunday evening, we unloaded the spares and drove over to Hednesford for a sandwich and a drink in the ‘Queens Arms’. The rest of the RPS crew from Chasewater and Hednesford were there, and the tales of the week-end working parties were exchanged. Mike’s van had changed colour from dark green to white as a result of the salt spray.
So ended a 700 mile excursion to salvage parts which we hope will be used to help keep our 85 year-old Neilson running. If so, then it will have been worth while.At Chasewater – August 1969