29th October 1984

"Thank goodness for digital watches"


It’s been made years since I’ve uttered the words “I need it” especially where Rats are concerned.  However there was a time when I did need a few of these little engines and I was prepared to go to great lengths in order to “rake them in”.  By the 29th October 1984 I was down to needing just three and waiting for the summer of 85 to chase them down.  My normal evening move was a West Midlands Travelcard leap on this day it was to Wolverhampton and back with 86227 and 86318.  I was more pleased to see ‘227 as I still needed it for 1,000 miles, those were the days!

Anyway, I digress, back home for about eight o’clock I was busy setting up the darkroom when the phone rang.  Could I get to St.Helens in 86 minutes as 25309 was working the Liverpool portion of the 1815 Glasgow departure?  Now from Birmingham that was going to be tight but just how tight I was to find out.  The fast car was waiting outside the house and within minutes I had made my excuses and left.

The journey north was a little hairy to say the least.  For mile after mile I concentrated on the tail lights of the car in front of me, not that far in front of me it has to be said for torrential rain had eliminated all visibility!  The car’s wiper blades were operating on max power and still the windscreen was awash with water.  It eased off as I arrived at Warrington and started to look for signs for St. Helens.  I had fifteen minutes left as I turned off the motorway.  There are two stations in St. Helens, Shaw Street (as it was called then, Central now) and Junction.  It was the latter I wanted and unfortunately it was not a well known or signposted station.  I stopped to ask locals and was directed to Shaw Street, a wrong turn here, a one way street there and finally I arrived at Junction station some five minutes AFTER the train I had driven all that way for should have left.

I sat down on the deserted and almost unlit station.  Ninety minutes and a journey of about that many miles and I had missed it.  I waited ten minutes or so and watched a local DMU arrive and drop off a couple of passengers.  Five minutes late for the Glasgow train surely wasn’t unusual, especially if the portion had an underpowered loco on it?  Fifteen minutes went by, there was no point in waiting if I had missed it and at an unstaffed station there was no one to ask whether I had or not.  I looked for an internal phone but there was none on the station.  There were no signals either but as I mournfully gazed towards Liverpool two lights of a ground signal could be seen flickering in the distance.  By the look of it they controlled access to the local scrap yard and alongside at rail level I could just see a trackside phone.  I gingerly made my way down to it and opened its cover to see a dial and a piece of paper with what looked like phone numbers.  I was too far from the station lights to be able to read it and as I struggled to make out any of the numbers my frustrations grew.  Then I remembered that my watch had a backlight and using that light I was able to illuminate the phone numbers just sufficiently to make out the three digits for Warrington box.  I dialled them and when a voice answered, asked in my best Liverpudlian accent, where the Glasgow train was.  I held my breath as he shouted across the box, “Hey, Pete, where’s 1F27?”  I heard the answer before it was relayed to me, “It’s standing at Preston”.

It was 45 minutes late, I hadn’t missed it.  I wasn't going to either even though with that sort of delay there wouldn’t be a train to get me back to St. Helens for the car.  I got a taxi back then and following a more sedate, non rain affected journey was back home and turning into bed at 0215.

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