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The 55 Club

It was 1981 and I was the Regional Information Manager (the second in command in the Eastern Regional PR team) at York where we had an excellent working relationship with the NRM ever since their opening day was timed to coincide with our 150th Anniversary of Railways Celebrations in 1975.

So I wasn’t surprised that one day I got a call from David Jenkinson inviting me over to the Museum to chat with him and his deputy Gwen Townend about an idea that might help support their ‘orphan’ engine, Duchess of Hamilton.

At our meeting David mapped his idea whereby the orphan, and thereby unfunded engine, which had been a gift from Sir Billy Butlin, and not previously vested as part of the State funded National Collection, could be made to contribute towards its upkeep and restoration costs.

David’s plan would see the loco utilised to haul a number of BR’s own Cumbrian Mountain Express enthusiasts’ specials from York and Leeds and out and back to Carlisle over the then still threatened Settle & Carlisle line. To increase its earning power, the trains would also convey two recently withdrawn Metro Cammell built Pullman cars, Emerald and Eagle in which pre-booked meals be served by volunteers. This would keep costs to a minimum and channel profits back into the care and maintenance of the loco. Oh, and would I like to be one of those volunteers?!

Now, I always had had a soft spot for LMS Coronations stretching back to the days when I would join the appreciative crowd of spotters who congregated to witness the spectacle of the departure from the old Euston station of the 4.14pm Caledonian train to Glasgow Central. Invariably it would be hauled by one of these magnificent maroon machines.

Scroll forward two decades and I am being offered the opportunity to ride behind a ‘Duchess’ and all it will cost me is my time (and my labour). I was in. The Cumbrian Mountain Pullman was born.

Pullman carriages Eagle and Emerald in the early morning sun in the NRM yard looking pristine for their day’s work ahead.

For me a typical Cumbrian Mountain Pullman day began in the NRM yard where I and my catering colleagues would climb abound our respective cars – Adrian Ashby and I were on the Eagle team – and begin the task of laying cloths and setting the tables.

Fine attention to detail, all cups inverted with handles to the right, as the Pullman place settings are prepared.

Afterwards we would invariably join the loco support crew for a warming drink and hasty breakfast in the adjacent former LNWR Royal Train full brake vehicle number 5155 , the ‘55’ in the 55 Club.

LNWR No 5155 in the NRM yard. Royal Support Vehicle, built in 1906 and converted and transferred to royal duty in 1925, it remained in service until 1977, and was restored by BREL Wolverton in 1979.

Breakfast over we went our separate ways, the loco crew getting dirty with the Duchess, while in sharp contrast, we changed into our smart ‘uniforms’, replete with customary bow ties, ready to welcome our dining guests who would be joining us at Leeds. After that it was all hands to the pump for the service of coffee as we began the climb up into the Fells on that spectacular journey towards our photographic stop at Armathwaite.

One of the ‘run-pasts’ with 46229 making a very lively start for the benefit of the photographers and the signallers on the cabin’s staircase.

This photo stop enabled those who wished to leave the train and take photographs, not just of the locomotive that they had paid to travel behind, but also to see it in action during a series of ‘run pasts’. These would see the train pull away from the platform, usually with great gusto, before reversing back along the same track in order to repeat the process with even greater gusto!

The crew stand at the rear door of Eagle awaiting the return of their passengers (David Jenkinson, Adrian Ashby, Mike Whitney, Gwenn Townend, Bob Fern).

With everyone back on board and reloading their cameras with new rolls of film, we would head for our destination in Carlisle. While the passengers stretched their legs in the city we would clear up and reset the tables for the meal service on the return trip.

The run pasts apart, as working volunteers we saw very little of what was going on outside of the train although I do have one abiding memory and that is of flashguns going off in the winter gloom as photographers in the bleak and beautiful moorland attempted to capture a picture of our progress. This for me is best captured in picture (46229 on cover of world Class Trains DVD – see below) of an up Cumbrian Mountain Pullman on Dandry Mire Viaduct just north of Garsdale.

If there was one highlight for me it would have been when the Duchess took us in a different direction and I got up close and personal to her. This happened on 23 October 1982 when we performed our duties on the Welch Marshes Pullman to Hereford and back over the challenging North and West Route via Craven Arms.

The crew relax. After serving sumptuous meals to the passengers, a box of six individual steak and kidney pies seems to be the preferred fayre with a can of something cool!

This trip for me began like any other, but during a stop at Craven Arms on the return journey I was handed a boiler suit and was informed that it was ‘my turn’ to ride on the footplate! This turned out to be the ride of my life as I held on tight squeezed into the tightest corner of the tender watching in awe as footplate crew got the best out of this magnificent monster. Indeed, as I stepped down from the footplate and was asked how I would sum up the experience, my instant and honest reply was that it was “the next best thing to sex”. Forty years on, and I wouldn’t demur from that assessment!

To this day I have no idea how much money our labours contributed to the preservation of this iconic locomotive, but I am proud to have played my small part in this story.

All photos courtesy of Mike Lamport

Mike Lamport

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