Locomotive Performance

Southern in the West

At Easter in 1955, shortly after my 16th birthday, I was taken by my father to Exeter for a "West of England" treat. We visited Cowley Bridge Signal box (twice), went around Exmouth Junction (72A) and Newton Abbot (83A) loco sheds, had a ride over Whiteball summit to Taunton, and then back, and travelled to Salisbury on the "Atlantic Coast Express".On our final day we went to Plymouth. Out from Exeter on the Western, and back on the Southern. It was 4 days of " pure heaven". But what I saw then of the Southern lines in the West of England made me want more. Within 3 months we were back as a family for 2 weeks holiday at Dawlish Warren, then a week in Paignton in 1957, followed by another week at Churston in 1958. So I got my wish. I had further trips on the Southern line to Plymouth, and also the Barnstaple line (though sadly I never did Ilfracombe), and did several tours of the "East Devon branches". 
Think of Exeter to Plymouth and most people would invariably think of The Dawlish Sea Wall and the South Devon banks. But there was another route, even more scenic, and equally as demanding on the locomotives. But I am biased. From my first journey at Easter 1955, the route up through Tavistock, on to the summit at Bridestowe, and down through Okehampton, became a firm favourite. Why did it ever close? 

12th April 1955: So, having gone down from Exeter St Davids to Plymouth North Road on 5092 "Tresco Abbey", we came back on the 3.50pm from Friary on West Country class 4-6-2 no 34037 "Clovelly". Initially the load was only 5 coaches, but at Tavistock 4 vans were added. The highlight of the run was the 81 mph maximum at North Tawton, but it was the journey itself which was unforgettable. In the low late afternoon sun the views of the Creeks of the Rivers Tavy and Tamar, followed by the views of Dartmoor as we continued up through Brentnor and Lydford, were spectacular. [view log of 34037]

24th July 1955: Three months later, during our family holiday at Dawlish Warren, I took a day off watching the trains on the sea wall, and went to Axminster to travel on the Lyme Regis branch. Returning from Axminster, the 1.40pm "stopper" from Salisbury had been delayed by Permanent Way works at Semley, and was 14 mins late away. But with a load of only 4 coaches, 34027 "Taw Valley" made up the whole of the lost time, and was in to Exeter Central "on the dot". From the Seaton Junction start, we were in to Honiton Tunnel at 51 mph, and later reached 76 mph down the hill to Sidmouth Junction. The journey is best described as a "fun run". [view log of 34027]

31st August 1958: During our 1958 annual holiday, I did a Sunday trip from Exeter to Barnstaple Junction. On Sundays the 10.45am from Waterloo to Ilfracombe went through as a complete train to Barnstaple Junction without "splitting" at Exeter Central. So 34079 "141 Squadron" had a decent size 10 coach load. We ran hard between the single line crossing slacks, and reached a maximum of 65 mph on the final stretch beyond Chapelton. [view log of 34079] 

31st August 1958: I returned from Barnstaple Junction to Exeter on the 2.45pm from Ilfracombe, a through service to Waterloo. This train had booked stops at Eggesford and Morchard Road. The loco was 34062 "17 Squadron", with load 8. We were 13 mins late away from Barnstaple Junction, and 11 late in to St Davids. Maximum speed was 64 mph at Newton St Cyres. [view log of 34062] 

2nd September 1958: Another trip to my favourite branch line, the Tipton St Johns to Exmouth line. But to make the day interesting I went via Plymouth. Starting from Totnes (father drove me there) I headed west on the Manchester-Plymouth sleeper double headed by 1002 "County of Berks" and 5015 "Kingswear Castle". At Plymouth North Road, I then caught the 11.00am Plymouth to Brighton, a 10 coach train hauled by 34036 "Westward Ho".For some reason I failed to record the starting time from North Road, left 5 mins late, so the log commences at Devonport. The running was adequate and we would have been on time in to Exeter St Davids but for a lengthy signal stop at Cowley Bridge Junction. Maximum speed was 75 mph at Bow. [view log of 34036]

2nd September 1958: I continued from Exeter Central as far as Sidmouth Junction on the 1.10pm Exeter to Salisbury "slow", rather hoping I might get an "King Arthur" or an "S15" 4-6-0. But what I got was another Bullied  Pacific, no 34104 "Bere Alston".  [view log of 34104]

2nd September 1958: Having been suitably "entertained" on the Sidmouth Junction, Tipton St Johns, Exmouth, Exeter Central, circuit, I retraced my steps west on the 11.30am Brighton to Plymouth Friary. Bullied no 34056 "Croydon" was the loco, with a 10 coach load. The running was competent without any outstanding features, and we kept time throughout. I finished the day  by returning from Plymouth to Newton Abbot on 5062 "Earl of Shaftesbury". [view log of 34056]

I have one serious regret. Look at all of the above journey details and it stands out like sore thumb. Every journey on the Southern lines west of Exeter was "Pacific" hauled. Why oh why did I not choose some services that were "T9" or "N" hauled. And then there were the "Interchange workings" with their Western motive power, usually 2-6-0's. And why did I never go to Ilfracombe. I  must have thought it would all go on for ever.
A late addition: On 3rd October 1965, I travelled on the Southern Counties Touring Society "Exeter Flyer" from Waterloo, billed at the time as the Last Steam to Exeter. The tour continued beyond Exeter with a pair of Standard 4 Tanks, numbers 80039 and 80043, which double headed as far as Barnstaple Junction. Here the train was split, and 80039 took 4 coaches to Torrington, and 80043 likewise to Ilfracombe. So here are logs of the Exeter to Barnstaple Junction section [view log of 80039 & 80043] and of the Barnstaple Junction to Torrington section [view log of 80039]