“There’s always a sense of anticipation,” says Mick Bond as the cloud of steam gradually lifted from Sheffield station to reveal the empty space left by the Cheshireman steam train on its way to the Hope Valley.
“The excitement is always there as you wait, as you’re never sure it will run on time. But it ran immaculately today.”
The 1950s passenger train, pulled by Britannia ‘Pacific’ 70013 “Oliver Cromwell” if you’re taking notes, included ten coaches, one kitchen, and over 300 passengers travelling from Cleethorpes to Chester and back again.
“It’s a very impressive piece of machinery doing what it was designed to do,” says Mick.
The Railway Touring Company of Kings Lynn runs dozens such tours every year, and popularity is high, says train manager Rob Tibbits. “It gives passengers a chance to see how train travel used to be.”
The train called at Sheffield for ten minutes just before 9am on Saturday, and there were scores of spectators waiting with their cameras and notebooks on the platform.
“Numbers are down a bit today actually,” says Mark Packham. “Normally you’d get a few hundred.”
Sheffield Station’s duty manager Peter Harding noted that some spectators had probably decamped to Dore, or to Heeley where Oliver Cromwell and crew were taking on water.
Unfortunately, many charter trains take the ‘old road’ to Chesterfield, and so miss Sheffield, but several steam trains do call at Sheffield station every year, and enthusiasts can come down to see them, or watch them fly past through Abbeydale.
Passengers paid from £78 to £179 for their day tickets. One was Lynne Tebay whose father had driven the train on its final outings in the final days of steam in the 1960s.
“It gives you a glimpse of the past,” says Mark Packham. “To see that on that platform, a steam engine and retaining wall without any modern paraphernalia. It is a bit of nostalgia, but it’s also keeping something alive. With a diesel you just press a button and it goes. But seeing this locomotive this morning, it’s a different world, a different age.”
The departure of a steam train at a deep station like Sheffield is something to hear and behold. After all the photos had been taken, flags waved and whistles blown, the steam billowed up and the engine uncoiled, hidden by smoke. “You can hear it under the steam, flexing its muscles,” says Mark.
Peter Harding grew up in London, and caught the last of the steam trains whistling through Wimbledon when he was a boy. You can’t really explain to modern children what a steam locomotive in action is all about, he sighs.
“All you can do is bring them down to see it for themselves.”