Where does one begin with ‘trainspotting?’ At the very beginning of course. I first became interested in spotting steam locomotives (also fondly known as ‘wagging’ or ‘gricing’) in 1956 at the age of ten, the objective being to underline (‘cop’) as many locomotives as possible in the trainspotters ‘bible – the Ian Allan combined volumes (GWR, SR, LMS, LNER, BR). At first it was at my local stations – Shirley and Solihull – bastions of gleaming GWR engines. Next was to the fantastic venue of Birmingham (Snow Hill) where the question was asked many, many times to footplate crews: ‘Can I ‘cab’ you, mister, please?’ Most times the answer was ‘yes’ and I would proudly sit on the driver’s seat and imagine myself at the controls – happy days.
Peter Hands ‑ Culloden September 1959
The author of What Happened To Steam and Chasing Steam on Shed as a young trainspotter aged 13.
As I grew older I expanded my horizons to the likes of Crewe, Rugby, Tamworth (with its famous field of fellow ‘spotters’) and Stafford. In 1958 and 1959, during the school holidays, I went to Scotland by rail to be met by my aunt who worked at Aberfoyle and Aviemore respectively as a silver waitress. 1958 was to Glasgow (Central), luggage label around my neck with my name and home address, changing trains at Crewe. 1959 to Aviemore, same luggage label, changing trains at Crewe and Perth. Needless to say, especially in 1959, I was never far from the railway scene. At Aviemore I obtained a railrover ticket for a week (courtesy of my aunt’s ‘purse’) and spent many a happy hour at Inverness station where I managed to ‘bunk’ (unofficially go round) the local motive power depot.
Peter Hands ‑ Mexborough 12 May 1963
Hands on hips, the ‘I’m‑in‑charge’ chap from the Warwickshire Railway Society keeps a close watch on hordes of spotters who have detrained from a special hauled by SR WC/BB Class 4‑6‑2 No. 34094 Mortehoe as they potentially threaten to engulf him, ‘King Canute‑style,’ whilst on a visit to 41F Mexborough on 12th May 1963. The immediate focus of attention of the notebook‑waving ‘gricers’ are three Mexborough based WD Class 8F 2‑8‑0’s Nos. 90211, 90220 and 90668. Note the varying styles of 1960’s clothing on show.
Photograph by Peter Hands
Moving on to 1960, thanks to my paper round, I travelled by rail on excursions to the likes of Paddington, Gloucester, Swindon, Cardiff and York but it soon became plain that I needed an alternative method, rather than rail travel, to ‘spot’ more locos – depots ‘magical cathedrals of steam’, needed to be visited and on a ‘grand scale.’ The answer; join locospotters clubs. This I duly did and my ‘Ian Allan combined’ soon became filled with more and more ‘underlined’ entries.
From late 1960 until the end of steam in August 1968 spotting was a compendium of rail travel, locospotters coach trips, sometimes overnight and by independent means – moped, motor cycle, motor car (ancient). All in all I ‘spotted’ in excess of 12.500 steam locomotives, an astonishing feat considering spare money was at a premium.
During 1964 and 1965 I worked for British Railways in signalboxes and in 1966 emigrated to Australia (£10.00 pom) and worked in the shunting yards in Sydney where, fortunately, steam still abounded. 1973 to 1976 I visited West Germany a number of times and after steam ceased paid a visit (only once as it was not a nice place to be in those days) in 1979 to East Germany, a mecca of steam in a modernised European rail system.
Peter Hands ‑ Southall 28 April 1963
Notebooks to the fore, we espy another group of enthusiasts on a depot visit after having detrained from a ‘special.’. The location is 81C Southall and the occasion is the last GWR King run from Birmingham (Snow Hill) to Swindon Works on 28th April 1963 behind No. 6018 King Henry VI, organised by the Stephenson Locomotive Society. The centrepiece of the spotters attention is another WD Class 2‑8‑0 No. 90433, from 2F Woodford Halse, seen here in filthy external condition. Once again there are varying styles of clothing.
Photograph by Peter Hands
What did trainspotting do for me? Apart from the sheer enjoyment of the hobby which enabled me to travel the length and breadth of England, Scotland and Wales learning the geography and history of the same, it inspired me to write about my escapades in a humorous style in ‘Chasing Steam on Shed’ which was published in 1982. Spotting was harmless fun though one did occasionally cross swords with ‘irate shedmasters’ when ‘bunking depots’ but if I could go back in time to my youth I would do exactly the same. I still follow steam, albeit in preserved form. Steam is in the blood for a lifetime once you are hooked.
Included are two photographs of groups of ‘spotters’ on organised visits to locosheds. One is taken at Southall on 28th April 1963 (Stephenson Locomotive Society) and the other is at Mexborough on 12th May 1963 (Warwickshire Railway Society). A suitable caption would be:
‘Where are they now?’