The highs and lows. Vac bashing in 1987 - thanks to Jason Hall


1987 was to mark a turning point for the Class 50s and the beginning of the long march to their final demise. The first withdrawal took place very early in the year when 50011 took that dubious title, and the beginnings of sectorisation began to make their first marks. It was also the last year for classified work on the class at Doncaster works. Looking back I feel that this was my favourite year following the class despite a low annual mileage when compared with following years. Here I look at my highs and lows of bashing 50s in 1987.


First 1987 encounter with my number one machine:


 “The author’s machine, Swiftsure” a few years earlier prior to her noisy departure from Waterloo on the 1110 Exeter back on December 18th 1983


My first encounter with my favourite machine that year, 50047, was to come early. On the 6th January I found her at head of 1V09, 09.10 Waterloo – Exeter and so immediately had my day laid out for me. ‘Swiftsure’ blasted down the mule to the Western in her characteristically charismatic style. I can still remember hanging my head out of the window at Andover, watching the clag swirl around the fan on top of the loco as we idled in the platform. Then departure at full power, exhaust billowing along the sides of the leading coaches followed quickly by the roar of the air intakes as we rapidly accelerated towards Salisbury. Too soon I was at St.Davids and happily photing the comings and goings of the local DMUs. As per diagram 47 was soon bringing in the stock for 1O22, 14.17 to Waterloo so once again I settled down for another 172 miles of thrash delight to the smoke. Also noted on the mule were 50004 and 50013, another two fine machines, but ‘Swiftsure’ was the only one for me that day.


First mileage milestone of the year:

The first significant mileage event of the year for me came on January the 24th. Having started the day with 50010 on 1V01, I found out that 50016 was working up to London on 1O21, 12.20 Exeter-Waterloo. I required 10 miles or so to ‘clear’ her for 1000, and worked out that I could get to Andover quite easily to have her in to London and achieve another goal. 50020 with 1V13, 13.10 Waterloo-Exeter was to provide the move where after a short wait ‘Barham’ produced for the run back to Waterloo with mission accomplished. 50033 was to provide further entertainment that day before heading home.


Last run with Neptune:

One casualty of 1987 was 50006. This machine had successfully avoided me for years and my mileage on her will remain dismally low. My last run with her was also to be my first run to Birmingham of the year. 4th April 1987 I made my way from St.Pancras over to Paddington to view 1M10, 06.58 to Birmingham. Having just arrived at St.Pancras on 1M10 it was bizarre writing it again in my moves book. ‘Neptune’ was the pleasant discovery this morning so New Street was definitely my destination. A set of PVs formed the stock for an excellent but smoky run to Brum. I decided not to return south with her but to hang around New Street until 1V73, 10.50 from Glasgow, and head west with that. Hoping for a few ‘roarers’ I was only presented with 85022 on 1S39 amongst various 86s and 47s. The only other loco of note being 47401 on 1M03, 08.05 Portsmouth – Liverpool. Eventually 50005 was backing up to 1V73. I was never to get another chance of a run with 50006 and she was withdrawn three months later on the 20th of July.  


The marvellous Newquays:

The summer timetable marked the end of vacs on Inter City services between Brum and the South West. On the positive side the summer meant Newquay was back on the menu as well as the new territory of Portsmouth Hbr. As it turned out I was only to cover those marvellous Newquay diagrams into Cornwall five times that year. A seeming conspiracy in the rostering section as well as endless family events stitched up nearly every weekend. The memories are still clear of those days though, unlike many other peoples! First of all you had a choice of two overnights from Paddington. The down Penzance sleepers and 1C01, 00.12 Paddington – Newquay. Normally formed of a rake of MK1 compos, 1C01 would be my first choice on each of those occasions. On arrival at Bristol you were once again presented with further choice as 1V22, 19.30 from Newcastle would be changing from a 47 to a 50 at 02.00ish. 1C01 was a riot and further details best not be printed. I tended to stay out of the way and kip in the second or third coach but this didn’t dull the thrash or excitement of those occasions. The highlight of those trips was of course the Newquay branch. I still have vivid memories of being woken by the hard-core thrash through the tight rock cuttings and short tunnel into Luxulyan. Absolutely marvellous stuff!


First trip to Pompy:

Up until now Portsmouth had been rare track and it was 14th May 1987 when I first covered the new diagram starting with 1V01 from Waterloo. 50034 that was to be my first vac over the direct. 1P15, 09.25 Waterloo – Portsmouth Hbr was a bizarre odd man out amongst a sea of DC EMUs and after an excellent thrash we were soon snaking our way into the Harbour. After a short wait in Portsmouth I was departing with ‘Furious’ on 1V12, 12.03 Paignton. Covering the balancing diagram over the route meant bailing at Southampton and after another wait I was rewarded with 50015 for the run into Portsmouth and then up to London with 1P28, 15.30 to Waterloo. The day was closed with a trip to Oxford with 50031 and 50023 back to the smoke.


Buzzed by a Spitfire!

I clearly recall a bizarre incident that occurred on the 20th September providing the rare chance to appreciate two of the most magnificent sounds to be heard at the same time. All was normal as I boarded 50003 at Reading with 1A67, 16.15 Hereford – Paddington. We were heading back to London after a skin full in the ‘Rising Sun’. Somehow my small party managed to find a seat in the leading coach of this always busy train. ‘Temeraire’ made the usual riotous departure from Reading and we settled down for the short run to Paddington. The hypnotic thud of 3 could be clearly heard but shortly into the journey the EE beat was shattered by another familiar sound. I got up and put my head out of the window behind the loco and could just make out the shape of a spitfire tearing up the line ahead of us, just feet above us. It soon banked away and disappeared. It repeated it’s ‘buzzing’ of the train a couple more time before turning away for good providing a one off chance to enjoy Rolls Royce Merlin and EE 16CSVT at the same time. Great stuff!


The last summer Saturday & some late in the day mileage:

3rd October 1987 and I was heading for Pathfinders ’45 Finale’ from Bristol. This was supposed to be the official farewell to the ‘peaks’. Having been my local power for the last 10 years of living in Bedfordshire, I had developed a soft spot for the class and was booked on the tour with some friends. Getting to Bristol for the tour was easy as we had a choice of two trains from London, both booked for ‘vacs’. As it turned out the down sleepers produced 47564. This left 1C01 of course which tonight was allocated 50046. An army of ‘vac’ bashers had turned out for the train and I found myself regretting my decision to do the tour as I crashed out in a compo on the train for one last time. 24 hours or so later, after a fine day out with three different ‘peaks’, we were back at Bristol looking for a move home. This was provided by 1A01, 20.45 from Penzance which tonight rolled in with a very welcome 50040. My small party slept all the way to London on this very wedged train. Over 10 years later I was informed that we had been diverted via Hawkeridge that night providing an extra 5 miles on ‘Leviathan’ that I would otherwise have lost!


Bowled by the same Crompton twice:

33s were of course obvious replacements for 50 shortages on the mule. Usually though I would know their location in advance and be able to construct a move around them. One such day when I didn’t was the 16th of November. I had just left 50018 at Woking with 1L15, 22.10 Waterloo – Salisbury and was waiting for 1O24, 19.47 from Exeter. This was a regular fill in move for me after an evening on the Paddington commuters and before joining 1V01 newspapers. ‘The Network Express service to London Waterloo’ was being announced as 20 minutes late. The alarm bells began to ring and I braced myself for some illuminated numbers. I was right and ‘62’ appeared in the distance and a few seconds later 33057 rolled in with a string of PVs. I joined without argument for the short run to London. By diagram the 33 worked 1V07 again in the morning but I fully expected it to be replaced by a 50 overnight. How wrong I was. Having just had 50017 all night on the newspapers, I left 2L10 at Andover and decided to head west for some Cornish action. The dreaded announcement was made telling of a 10 minute delay and I braced myself for the arrival of 33057. Sure enough the crompton arrived. I was annoyed as this had really screwed up my plan and decided I’d wait for 1O12. I was rewarded with 50043.


The Cornish Locals and a bout of ‘Rover Brain’:

During the summer and latter half of 87 I tried to escape the confines of London area diagrams as often as possible and as a consequence would spend many a day on the Cornish locals. The mileage of such days out was never as much as a day on the mule could offer but the stunning scenery and hellfire nature of the line west of Exeter made every mile worth double that of anywhere else. As was usual I spent most of my two weeks summer annual leave on these trains and enjoyed every one of them. Most of these hellfire little trains would be formed of four or five MK1s. Their condition left much to be desired and the rotten window frames and sills full of damp moss are still vividly remembered. Inevitably though vacs were not always guaranteed and many a fiasco and bowl were to be endured, not all though would be British Rails doing.


For example on the 18th of November. On the 17th again I found myself heading west with 50021 on 1V11, 11.10 Waterloo – Exeter. I’d decided to go to Exeter and make a gen call, besides if there was nothing to head west for then ‘Rodney’ back to London would suit me fine. The call revealed 50047 allocated 1F88 from Plymouth so now my move was obvious. Every mile possible with ‘Swiftsure’ was to be savoured, as she didn’t have long to live. After another run to Yeovil with 50021 and back to Exeter with 50043 and it was time to head west.


1F88, 18.30 Penzance - Bristol was a train that I’d covered often that year from Plymouth. It was diagrammed a 47 from Penzance and as such 47450 arrived with the train that evening. After the Brush had set off ‘Swiftsure’ eased up to a set of Lairas finest for the run to Temple Meads. I found a compo in the leading coach and relaxed in MK1 splendour listening to this fine machine doing her thing. All too soon it was time to get off. The rest of the move was nothing short of dire but when you’re young you don’t really care.


I curled up in an abandoned ‘Brute’ to wait for the up sleepers. ‘Swiftsure’ deposited her coaches in the centre road and set off for Bath Road. By diagram she would take those coaches ECS to Swindon again in the morning. My destination was therefore Swindon and after 3 hours of being contorted into various impossible sleeping positions across random bundles of newspapers I was getting my head together to join 47450 that was arriving with the sleepers. I tried to sleep on the train but it was in vain as I was soon getting off again at Swindon. No sleep was had at the station either and the stock for 1C11, 06.45 Swindon – Penzance couldn’t arrive soon enough.


As soon as those grubby MK1s arrived I boarded and lay out in a compo. The coaches were freezing as the shunter at Bristol had obviously thought it too much effort to plug in the ETH to preheat the stock on the empties run to Swindon. ‘Swiftsure’ was soon ready to head west and so was I. I dozed between stations all the way to Plymouth and was wide-awake now for the run into Cornwall, working out a move for the remainder of the day. I bailed at Camborne for 2C84, 12.03 Penzance – Plymouth. A lack of gen made this a dangerous move and sure enough I was rewarded with 47560. Mileage lost on 50047 for no reason I was not best pleased but only had myself to blame. By now lack of sleep was really taking its toll. I fell asleep on ‘Tamar’ and suddenly woke up as we arrived at St.Austell and bailed for next westbound service. ‘Rover brain’ had taken charge. In rolled a DMU heading for Penzance so I boarded and fell asleep again. I was woken by the clamber of people getting off the train at Penzance and across the platform stood NSE liveried 50037 and a short rake of MK1s. Obviously 2C86, 15.35 to Plymouth, I boarded and went straight to sleep in a compo.


I was oblivious of the next four hours and was next aware of some platform staff trying to wake me at Plymouth. Eventually they succeeded and I was bundled onto an empty platform and into a waiting room. I was in a right state and decided to head for home. An up tram deposited me at Exeter for 50002 on 1O24, 19.47 Exeter – Waterloo. Once again I slept almost throughout and remember waking as we departed Woking. Feeling much refreshed after a ‘bog wash’ and all this much needed kip I decided I’d stay out after all. I did in fact go on to do three more overnights on 1V01 before total exhaustion. 50036 on the 19th, 50037 the 20th, and 50002 on the 21st. What a mess!


Sundays after dinner bash:  

During the winter timetable of 1987-88 it became something of a tradition for the bashers of Bedford to gather after dinner for an evenings bashing and beer. Our personal loco preferences were forgotten with beer and bellowing being the main objectives. As a result many a great day out was had, all involving vacs. The regular move to London would be 1C22, 12.15 Derby – St.Pancras. Booked for a 47 it would actually produce any combination of 31s, 45s or 47s. Then it was over to Paddington to look at 1F18, 16.10 to Oxford. If this was a 50 we’d head for Oxford and after an hour in the pub would be back at the station for 1A67, 16.15 Hereford – Paddington. This would be done to Reading for refuelling in the ‘Rising Sun’ and then stumble back again to view 1A79, 19.30 from Bristol, 1A80, 18.25 from Hereford and 1A78, 17.30 from Plymouth. Although the latter was diagrammed a 47 it would still produce a 50 or two over the coming months.


There are two favourite days out based on this variation. The first was the 18th of October. I had spent the morning on the mule and met up with my friends at Paddington. 50028 was a machine I rated as highly as ‘Swiftsure’ and today she was tied to 1F18. After an hour of supping 50007 was to arrive with 1A67. After more ale we were back at Reading and chose 1A79 as our run back to Paddington. At the helm today were 50003+50020. The second came on the 22nd. 50036 had been 1F18 and 50027 1A67 and now we were at Reading again. A crank informed us that 1A78 was today a 50 and in rolled 50019+50028. A quality pair!


As it turned out over the coming months 1A79 would usually be first choice for the run to London, assuming it was a 50 of course. The train was actually diagrammed a pair so I soon convinced the non ‘priv’ holders in our party than in future we’d go all the way to Bristol despite their increased expense. As a result some of my most enjoyable Sunday trips with the lads would produce. There were two that I consider particularly successful. First was on the 15th of November when 50047 was 1C63 and many ‘red babies’ were put away. The return from Bristol was made with 50020 singularly. No guesses for why that Sunday trip was a favourite. After a skin full in London I made my way over to Waterloo for the overnight, V01 with 50021. Next was on the 6th of December when a war weary 50013 was 1C63. The amount of clag spilling over the side of ‘Agincourt’ was sign that she had little time left. I recall the exhaust seemed to overhaul the air con and began to slowly suffocate everyone in the leading coach. Arrival in Bristol came as a welcome relief. The return to London was made with 50021+50034. A wet ‘bog roll’ exchange with the train spotters at Swindon was particularly enjoyed.


Worthy of mention also is the move home off of 1A79. At this time the Inter City service from St.Pancras was more of a calendar than a timetable. 1A79 was due into Paddington at 21.24 and there was a 21.40 HST from St.Pancras that was ‘right away’ Bedford. Crossing London by ‘circus’ line in 16 minutes was just not possible so a taxi was required. At this time the taxi rank at Paddington ran straight through the middle of the station and as 1A79 ran into an adjacent platform the move was on. What a site it must have been to see doors fly open and half a dozen cranks fall out of the train and be in a taxi before it had even stopped. There was usually a scrum for a cab too as you can bet an HST or two had just arrived in front of us. On nigh on every occasion though, we made the 21.40 home.


Of course vacs wouldn’t always produce and we had our fair share of bowl outs. The most memorable was on the 13th December. As this was likely to be the last time we’d get together that year everyone was in high spirits and looking forward to the bash. 45115 had been 1C22 today so many were in a good mood already as 50028 backed up to 1C63. I was especially pleased to see her and we made our choice to head for Bristol. A call for the gen revealed no allocation for 1A79 but two 50s at Bath Road in OK status. We assumed that one or both would be our locos and merrily headed west. By Bristol it was decided that we needed more ale so a crate was purchased, at great expense, from the station buffet. My friend and I walked backed from the buffet, our hands full, to see 47628 coming off of Bath Road. As we sat down on the train we should have known what was to happen next as we felt a loco ease up to our coaches. We glanced across to Bath Road where two 50s could be seen together amongst other types. The leading ‘vacs’ marker lights were now off. I bailed to take a look and found GWR Green 47628 tied to the train. I was not impressed but took the bowl out in good spirit. The initial shock gone we proceeded to get enjoy our drink anyway. Shame to waste all that beer!


Thanks again to Jason Hall for the cracking memories…………..


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