A Lifelong Love of Steam

Bedford Trains in the 1950s

By early days BMES member, Trevor Barber

My early days were in Kings Place, Bedford, just across the road from the Bedford Hitchin Line and all the sidings and junctions.

My grandfather was chief Ganger on the Bedford Hitchin track which entailed a lot of weekend maintenance on the line. My earliest memories go back to 1945.

There were times when I was unofficially smuggled on board steam locos; mainly 4F and 8F’s on Sundays on this line. I also remember a ride in a Midland Compound but cannot remember where to? I also remember being with him riding shotgun on the loco with Grandad shooting rabbits, stopping  the train and crossing the fields to pick up and bring home the dinner. So steam was in my blood from a very early age.

I was a frequent trainspotter at Kempston Road Bridge. I can remember watching an 8F and its freight wagons crashing as it crossed from the slow line to the fast line to by-pass Bedford station. I have vivid recollection of the steam gushing out and the wagons piling up. I ran home balling my eyes out. A long time later I found out that no was seriously hurt.

Bedford Model Engineering Society

00 gauge railway at St. Peter’s Conservative club. Trevor is second-left, front row. Frank Palin controlling. Circa 1950.

When I was a little older I used to ride my bike and one day found the model railway club in Kempston Park. At that time there was a OO Gauge and an O Gauge up in the stables as well as the ride on multi-gauge up to 5″ track in the park. I became a member and a regular ticket collector for many happy years. Names that come to mind were Mr Palin, Jack York, John Crawley and Dick Fields , there were many others which have slipped my mind. I can remember the Kempston Shows and all of the crowds and was very proud of my official pass to get to the track. One year I steared John Crawley’s Showman’s Traction Engine along Kempston Road and into the Park. Something I will never forget.

1950's Train Ridew

Kempston Park, circa 1951. Trevor Barber is on the far-left at the back. Frank Palin is driving the 3½” gauge loco.

I can remember once cycling to the park and meeting Jack York just after he had crossed the Queens Park footbridge and heading up Kempston Road with his wheelbarrow laden with his 5” Gauge 2-6-0 Tender loco. This he did regularly to and from the Park each time he ran his loco.

I can remember Mr Palin, who lived opposite the Park running his 2-6-0 Mogul Steam loco. John Crawley with his 5″ Gauge 0-6-0 Tender loco. I can remember it being blue but the name escapes me ( Juliet comes to mind?). There was another regular character whose name I have forgotten. He was very wealthy and would turn up with exhibition quality locos such as a 3½” Princess one week and a few weeks later would turn up with a superbly built different kind of loco. This happened quite a lot of times.

There were many other friends and locos there , bearing in mind that I was only around 8 years of age. I can remember one accident when John Crawley’s 0-6-0 loco fell off the track carrying passengers . Only the loco and tender left the rails, the driver and passenger were OK otherwise my years there were most enjoyable and friendly.

As a sideline Jack Palin had the beautiful OO Gauge layout in the Kempston Park stables  which was portable and many times I would travel with him and others to exhibitions to help assemble the layout  in the Bedford area. In 1952 my parents and I moved to Goldington so my days at Kempston Park were over and I never returned.  I still remained being interested in trains with my own Gauge 0 railway and from 1954 to 1957 travelled daily by train to Luton Technical College. This was the last days of steam, memories of which I treasure.

Times moved on. An engineering Apprenticeship, becoming a draughtsman at Robertson, getting married then onto Vauxhall Motors. My love for railways never stopped and by coincidence I lived in Maulden and just down the road I discovered a little known  Narrow Gauge peat railway and my passion was re-ignited.

Steam Loco built by hand

Woburn, circa 1969. Back-row: David Geeves, Roger Kenspeare, George Woodland, Brian Barber, Trevor Barber. Front-row: (Unknown), Colin Smith.

At about the same time I heard that the Dinorwic Slate mine had closed down. I was most concerned about the fate of the locos there that I went to Wales to have a look. To cut a long story short, I bought one of the 2ft gauge Hunslet Locos, No 1 an 0-4-0, Saddle Tank.  I brought it back to Bedford to Gowers in Elstow Road for the once-over before being allowed to run a  weekend  passenger line at Woburn Park. Sadly, this did not work out and after a year picked up all the track, coaches and locos and went to Overstone Park, Northampton.

At about this time the end of steam was happening at the Irchester Quarry and I saw many  of the steam locos being carted away for scrap. I heard that there were still two steam locos in the Cranford Quarry which was connected by rail to the Cohen scapyard  by the old mainline track. I saw a Standard Gauge Austerity  Bagnall  0-6-0, Cranford No 2 working on picking up the quarry track and travelling back and forth to the Kettering scrap yards,  which eventually was to be her demise as well. I was privileged enough to be on the foot plate for one of these runs. I made immediate enquiries and to cut another  long story short I arranged to purchase her to avoid being scrapped.  She also went to Overstone Park until I left the Park  and was then sold.

Overstone  was very successful but after two years and a growing family I decided to close the railway and I sold my Hunslet to Mr Bill McAlpine . This began a relationship which eventuated in me working as Manager with Mr Bill to get the Whipsnade and Umfulozi  Railway started. I had the privilege of running the railway and looking  after four 2’6″ Gauge locos in Whipsnade Zoo. I was responsible for restoring  the three remaining Bowater Locos back to steam  within 12 months and the grand opening of the full circuit around the Zoo.

It was time to move on again ,leaving the railway and returning back to being a Design Draughtsman I joined the North Sea Oil Rig bonanza. Over the previous years I had designed a small, 0-4-0, 2′ Gauge tank engine using modern techniques and in 1975 I completed, possibly the first 2′ Gauge Steam loco since WWII . She weighed  five tons and went by the name of Trixie.

Hand built steam loco

Trixie at the Bala Lake Railway in North Wales, 1975. Trevor Barber on the footplate.

Trixie was based on the Kerr Stewart and Bagnall designs. Alan Keef sold the loco and it has had several homes since and was still working until recently in France. As time permitted I still indulged in steam, acquiring  a 5″ Gauge half built Speedy  and completing this and selling it and then onto Gauge 1 which remains my interest to date.

After this,  family life became the priority as well as my profession ending up as a CAD Consultant with a major 3D Graphics Computer modelling company that saw me travel the world many times until I retired.

In 2006 I emigrated to Australia with the family and still build Gauge 1, recently completing a Gas fired Britannia. Currently in the workshop are three gas fired S Class Victorian Pacific Locos from three periods. The original, a modified and the streamlined version that became the famous ‘Spirit of Progress”. These are all in a completed visual state but will be finished and running later in the year. The streamlined version has a compliment of six coaches including the Observation Car.

In 2013 we returned to the UK for a visit and made the journey to new BMES and the Haynes track. I spoke to a few members but I didn’t know anyone or they knew me. It was good to see that it has continued to thrive and since re-connecting with the club, I gather that  there are still a few that can remember the BMES in Kempston.

I shall be back in the UK this year in September and hope to meet some of the members and  spend a little time on one of the running days at the track at Haynes .

As the saying goes, currently on the drawing board ( Actually in CAD) for the next project is a 7¼” gauge, 2-4-0, ride-on steam loco. We shall see?