Last Week of the 37's?

Jonathan Wilcox describes...

Tuesday, 18-7-2000
Right - well, there I was, sitting on a pair of dud Centro 150's awaiting departure of the 07.54 to Dorridge from Kidderminster for the first time that week.  Word has it that next week (beginning 24.7.2000) will probably be the end of the "tractors" on the Coast, and I didn't want to miss out.

Galton Bridge station, Smethwick.  Probably the most boring station I've ever visited.  After "an incident involving a firearm" (on the opposite platform!) a fortnight before, both waiting rooms were locked out of use, and outside it was freezing.  Typical!  Anyway, a chance phot of 86247 and 86253 passing each other on Virgin services was soon to be had, before the (late) 08.37 unit to New Street finally poodled around the corner from Sandwell.  323202 - dud.  I had this feeling that all was not going to go to plan.

New Street - platform nine.  The 0715 Bristol-Edinburgh (1S48) "Midland Scot" was reported as being twenty minutes late.  A quick look in the "bible" and then it struck me.  1S48 was booked into Crewe at 09.59 and the 10.19 FNW unit (which gets you to Prestatyn with seven minutes to spare) left exactly 20 minutes after that!  Anyway, Virgin-liveried, de-named 47747 (required!) finally strummed in on a rake of eight air-cons, and detached, heading for Saltley, as a crew wandered down towards 86251 in the siding.  Ten minutes later, the crew wandered back from 86251 in the siding.  "What's wrong?" I asked.  "It's broke," the fitter said (who had now joined the confused driver).  I could've told him that!  Panic stations - crew off 1S48 at Saltley - jump back into 47747 to take her all the way back to New Street, couple her back up to 1S48 and we were away!  Scratch one!  We were away, alright.  Via Bescot.

The run up to Crewe was not as bad as it could've been.  At Perry Barr we passed 37429 "Eisteddfod Genedlaethol" - my machine - on the 0629 Holyhead-Birmingham.  The move was sorting itself out!  A hurried photo of 37428 on an engineer's train was to follow, as we wound ourselves through the West Midlands, and, after the Wolverhampton stop, out into the open countryside.  Twenty-five minutes to re-book at Crewe onto a "North and Mid Wales 3 Days Out of Seven Bus And Train Rail Rover" (no, I had to write it down, my memory's not that good), and 37429 rolled into Platform 11.  Nice!  Away we were to Holyhead (on time for once!).  She was clagging very nicely!

Aha - now this is usually where the move falls apart.  Chester.  What rolls in on the 0950 ex-Holyhead?  37412 - low mileage machine (only 37.0 all time)!  Over the footbridge.  Front window.  Right away Crewe.

 A rapid run all the way to Holyhead followed which got me into three-figure mileages for "Driver John Elliott".  Chips from the Globe over the other side - but no fried egg butties.  That was bad.  Leaving Colwyn Bay, eyeing my notes for the day - I suddenly realised that I'd only had two of the three 37s out that day!  What was the third?  Was it a Heavyweight?  Quick - Diagram Diary!  A scrabble in my bag produced a dog-eared pink Diagram Diary - apparently this "other diagram" came into Crewe on the 0746 from Holyhead, then retired into hibernation until 1527 when it tripped out to Crewe and back to Birmingham - my homeward-bound train.  Hang on a minute, I thought, as we plunged into the tunnel that I can't pronounce, let alone spell (it's by Old Colwyn and the A55 bridge - any ideas?), 37425 was on Crewe Diesel in the morning?  Was it her?  Quick - the mileage record!  37425 - in the two hundreds, but I hadn't had her since about 1996 when the 0830 NEC-Bangor always produced her.  I decided to take the chance and bail at Rhyl.

  Rhyl - according to my grandfather, it was the top holiday destination in 1939 when he first visited.  1939, I thought - no Buckets or Bombs?  How can it be?  Oh, I thought.  It's not 425, as an EWS liveried one rolled under the bridge.  37695 and 37710 had been out over the weekend - 695 was EWS - could it be?  No.  37426; four hundred spungle off her.  Ho hum.  Leap at the Junction and double back for 429 on 1D45, 1719 off Piccadilly, I suppose.

Llandudno Junction.  37426 storms out of the station, and what rolls in past it on the 1558 ex-Holyhead?  175003.  A Coradia.  I've got the next twenty/thirty years to do these, I thought.  And then I did think.  A Coradia?  They're using those?

Colwyn Bay, seven minutes later.  Scanning the "bible" for some kind of notice above the 1646 Llandudno to Piccadilly (unit) saying that it was Tuesdays Excluded or something similar, 158752 glided in.  Not required.  Anyway, I thought.  It's better than that Alstom device.  I took it.

The 1819 departure to Llandudno (37429) - 10 minutes late.  10 minutes later - last reported 20 minutes late.  This time she did arrive.  Battered and bruised, as normal, but she was doing her job, and still clagging nicely!  Off we go...  Northgate Locks.  The brakes slammed on and we came to an abrupt halt, coffee cups flying everywhere and a comical scene as the bloke pushing the trolley had to hold onto a partition in the Mark 2 as his trolley went skidding away down the aisle!  Is 429 alright?  I poked my head out of the window.  Yeah - she's fine, I reported to nobody in particular.  A Central 158 tottered past.  We were on our way.  By now, however, we were well down and we were probably going to miss 1G79 if I stuck to my original plan and leapt at the Bay.  Correction - I glanced at my stopwatch as trees whipped past at 78 and a half miles an hour - I was going to miss it.

Prestatyn.  Sun's just right - 429 accelerating away into oblivion (or not).  Great photo.  Just in time for 426 to come storming in from Rhyl.  Great ride back to New Street.    And so ended a "perfect day".  And I was gonna do it all again two days later!

Thursday, 20-7-2000 (The "Quick Day")
Same move.  Two units into Brum for 1S48.  86248, the spoon had already strummed off towards Saltley.  Quick run to Crewe.  ON TIME!  Strummer 701 was curiously sitting in one of the Salop bays light engine.  37425 took the ECS off the 0746 ex-Holyhead towards the carriage sheds.  66141 sailed through.  156440 came in.  Oh.  Dud.

Prestatyn again.  426 - again.  Chester.  412 on the 1007 off New Street all the way to Holyhead (I get this deja-vu feeling).  Back down to Rhyl.  Virgin tram down to Chester.  Then the fun started.   I thought that 37429 - my machine, remember - would be working the 1527 off Crewe.  Right!  This time, Northgate Locks was passed at speed and off we were to Holyhead.

As I said - Quick Day.  Everything happened so fast!  I managed to "cab" 429 at Holyhead before a speedy run back to New Street.  Comparing this log with those of the late 80s right up to today, that was the fastest diesel-hauled run between Wolverhampton and New Street we'd recorded.  Only 85025, 90019 and 90005 had beaten this!

Monday, 24th July 2000 (The Slower Day - The Second "Last Chance")
  The 08.54 from Kidderminster to Dorridge was late (as usual).  I was fretting a bit because I wasn't sure if I was going to make the 323 into New Street from Smethwick.   This time, the waiting rooms had reopened and about three minutes was spent in there before the "stopper" into the city.  In the meantime, what would precede my train but 87008 (one of my last two - aaaargh!) on the 0919 Wolverhampton-Euston.  One glance at the "bible" told me that I couldn't go out to the NEC and double back for the 1007 "tractor" to Holyhead.  Anyway, if this bloke who was talking to us on the train's gen was true, the 37s would be finishing this week and the 87s would almost definitely not be (and I wasn't valid).

37429 "Eisteddfod Genedlaethol" - my machine, remember - was sitting at the head of 1D67 and load four (three Mk 2s and a solitary Mk 1).  Right away Holyhead!  A "leisurely" run to Wolverhampton followed (top speed 49 and a half!) before heading onwards to Crewe, where I had a bellow at 55019 and noticed 37109 on Crewe Diesel....hmmmm.   Once at Holyhead, fifteen minutes was to be had to walk the length of four carriages to get that prized "logging seat".  Still, I had the next two and a half hours to enjoy "my" 37 all the way to Piccadilly, despite having to re-book at Chester (excess to Manchester 'cos my rover wasn't valid...was it)?

Storming out of Chester, I wandered up to the conductor, flashed my North and Mid Wales Rover and asked for a cheap day return Chester-Holyhead.  He was convinced that I was valid to Manchester with my Rover, so I didn't argue, saw 60049 (one of my last two!) at Arpley, and we rolled into Platform 13 at 16.13 - twenty down.  Surely that was some kind of omen?   The Ian Allan bookshop was visited, and some time was killed watching 87s arrive/depart and "photting" 47822 arrive on a cross-country service.   429 arrived, and the atmosphere in the front coach was rather subdued for some reason before we left for Llandudno.  The move was to leap at Colwyn Bay for 426 coming the other way..

The Vulcan Foundry was given the respect is deserves with a loud blast on the horn from the driver (who, incidentally, leapt off at every stop with his camera!), and, passing Arpley, I noticed an addition to the collection of locos which were there - E.W.& S livery 37109...

We were nine down leaving Prestatyn, so it was decided to leap at Rhyl (bog-hole of a dump).  The footbridge is not one designed for ease of crossing at speed, so I was a little late reaching the end of the opposite platform to say goodbye to 37429 with finishing my film - 37426 was almost surely going to be working 1G79 (1822 ex-Holyhead), so it wasn't worth saving a frame for her, I had millions of 37426 shots anyway... Crewe - clunk!  "Okay, drive!", then the sound of a poorly 37 limping away.  The tannoy crackled into life, "First North Western are sorry for the delay of this service.  This is due to a "mechanical fault with the engine", and we are trying to find a replacement."  Maybe those few shots at Rhyl were a bad idea.

I ran up the platform, just in time to see 426 shutting down, and 66201 starting up.  Oh.  But 37109 was already running and sitting in front of it Erm...  109 pulled forward, reversed across the crossover and the driver changed ends.  She accelerated towards our stock.  I couldn't believe it. No frames left!  Everybody else had their Olympus' and Pentax's raised, apart from a few who had camcorders.  My "Last Chance" for 37/4s had turned into a replay of the official "Last Chance" for the "noughts".  Dreadful!   I clocked 82 on the WCML, but I only properly logged it from Stafford - maybe a mistake.  A great way to end off a rover, and the last couple of enjoyable years thrashing up and down the coast.  Long live the "tractors" (RIP-37026).

Jonathan Wilcox (accompanied by Don Wilcox)

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