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Memories of the Tay Bridge centenary - 20 June 1987

One of my happiest memories as a member of the NRM Locomotive Support Crew is of a trip with 4771 Green Arrow of the celebration of the Tay Bridge Centenary in June 1987. I should perhaps first point out that this was the anniversary of the opening of the second Tay Bridge, which still survives today and not its predecessor, which dramatically collapsed some eight years earlier.

The locomotive was prepared for an early start on Friday 19 July by the Support Crew, consisting of engineers Kim Malyon, Pete Pickering and Adrian Ashby, with a locomotive support crew of Rob Tibbits, Pete James, Helen Ashby and Mike Blakemore. The Responsible Officers for the weekend were John Bellwood, who was already rather unwell at that time, and Ray Towell.

It was an early start as we were off the shed at York, leaving at 06.00 with the Friends’ support coach in tow. We stopped for water at Newcastle, Berwick and Edinburgh Waverley and called in at Edinburgh Haymarket for coal, before heading off to Perth, where we were booked to arrive at 18.08 where we would turn and water ready for the next day’s shenanigans.

I’d like to say that the trip was without incident but that wouldn’t be quite true. Most of the details given above had slipped my mind, and were refreshed by Pete James, who had kept a detailed record of the trip including the original timing sheet. What I remember about that part of the trip was a feeling of gratitude that I had recently undergone fire safety training at the NRM and was able to operate the correct fire extinguishers when the locomotive set fire to oil soaked wooden sleepers at the coaling point in Haymarket Yard!

I also remember being set aside at Blackford for a long period, whilst other trains passed us, and standing in the support coach watching hundreds of rabbits playing on the embankment alongside.

‘Rabbit embankment’ at Blackford, just short of midway between Dunblane and Perth, with Green Arrow and our own Friends’ support coach (since sold). Photo: Peter James

Our overnight stay was in the support coach in a bay platform on Perth Station. This was fine, there was no-one around but us, but unfortunately an 08 shunter had been left alongside with its engine running for most of the night, so there was little sleep to be had despite our long day.

Perth station with the noisy Class 08 shunter alongside. Photo: Peter James

Nevertheless, we were up bright and early on Saturday 20 July, for a breakfast ably cooked by Rob Tibbits and then to prepare the engine for the day’s festivities before leaving Perth for Dundee at 09.35. At Dundee we picked up a train for the commemorative run over the Tay Bridge. I can’t be sure, but I think it was at this point that two elderly ladies climbed aboard the support coach and made themselves comfortable. They were extremely surprised when we explained to them that this was not the normal service train and that they would have to leave the train and find the right platform for their train!

Green Arrow at Dundee where the two old ladies made themselves at home in the support coach. Photo: Peter James

We left Dundee tender first at 10.43, arriving at Tay Bridge South at 10.50, where the locomotive ran round before heading back across the bridge, arriving in Dundee at 11.20. The actual commemorative run was short and sweet, but we then stood on display in Dundee Esplanade Station for the rest of the day for visitors to enjoy, leaving Dundee at 17.40 and running south to Millerhill Depot, calling at Edinburgh Waverley to detach the train and to take water.

The Tay Bridge from Dundee looking south. Photo: Peter James

Green Arrow tender first on the Tay Bridge looking north towards Dundee with Dundee Law (174 metres, 571 ft) and the WW1 memorial erected in 1923 on top. Photo: Peter James

A much better night’s sleep was had in the quiet confines of Millerhill Yard. After an overcast and somewhat gloomy trip, the sun came out on Sunday 21 July and we had the whole of the morning to clean and prepare the locomotive for the run back to York.

The crew in Millerhill Yard, south east Edinburgh with Green Arrow in immaculate form ready for the run back to York. Photo: Helen Ashby

We were scheduled to leave Millerhill at 13.45 and booked to take coal at Haymarket and water at Berwick at Newcastle, arriving York at 21.30. We were also supposed to be scheduled into a couple of loops to allow HSTs to overtake us but once we were on our way this did not happen. The HSTs must have been running late and as a result we had an exhilarating trip with speeds well over the supposed 60mph limit.

It was the most enjoyable trip with a wonderful locomotive and gave us such happy memories that Adrian chose to wear his Tay Bridge Centenary tie for our wedding the following March!

Helen Ashby

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