Past and Present: Two Scottish ‘Black Fives’ and preservation

With Hornby releasing 45025 as a model in its Railroad series, and the Strathspey Railway putting the final stages to the real engine’s rebuilding at Aviemore as LMS 5025 (hopefully in steam again next year on that heritage line), it is perhaps time to record that wonderful day in 1981 when the preserved engine hauled a special train from Perth to Aviemore. Coincidentally, it is a fine opportunity to acknowledge the railway career of its driver, who is still alive to tell the tale. With Ian Lamb

The August 2005 issue of The Railway Magazine stated that “the phrase ‘only a Black Five’ is one often heard in railway circles, yet these machines were the match for many larger and supposedly superior locomotives. Nowhere was this more so than in the Highlands of Scotland, where Stanier’s mixed-traffic 4-6-0s triumphed over mountain grades in all seasons.”

As proud as a peacock, and in immaculate condition in May 2010. The oldest-surviving Stanier ‘Black 5’ 4-6-0 No. 5025 stands in the yard of the Strathspey Railway motive power depot at Aviemore. Photo by Hendy Pollock

At a time when steam was becoming more and more downgraded, railwaymen north of Perth – with local pride and determination – did all they could to maintain timetables and operating standards. This was particularly so where the main lines were dominated by Stanier’s ubiquitous ‘Black Fives’, better known as ‘hikers’ to Highland personnel. Here they were received with greatest acclaim, proving themselves tireless climbers of the long gradients through the Grampians to Inverness and the north.

The first, No. 5020, was completed in August 1934 and initially retained at Crewe for trials, but 5021-9 were sent to Perth. At Nationalisation in 1948, British Railways’ Scottish Region inherited 206 of the total stud of 742 ‘Black Fives’ (another 100 were yet to be built) and, in 1954, Perth alone had 65. No. 5025 was built at the Vulcan Foundry in Lancashire in 1934, starting its long career at Perth before moving south to spend many years in the North West of England.

This historic engine was withdrawn from mainline service in 1968, its final duty being to haul the Belfast Boat Express from Heysham to Manchester on May 5 as one of the last steam locomotives on British Railways.

The overhaul of the engine is being carried out at Aviemore. It is the only ‘Black Five’ still to retain a domeless boiler. The fact that it was purchased from BR and not from a scrapyard means most of the fittings from its railway service are still with the engine.

One of the regular ‘Black Five’ drivers was the now 94-year-old Jock Hay, who started his career as a fireman/cleaner in Forres in 1940. Only after a hard apprenticeship, starting by shovelling coal on steam trains as they moved vital supplies during the war, did he eventually become a driver in the heyday of the railways. His Inverness home has plenty of clues in the form of models, photographs and paintings of steam and diesel engines regarding his former occupation.

For the full article, see November’s edition of Modelling – available now!

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