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A Trip to Highdyke in Winter’s Chill

photographs by Colin Walker

(…except where noted)

On a freezing cold day in the early 1960s Grantham Driver 'Sam' Pearce and his fireman welcomed photographer Colin Walker onto the footplate of their powerful heavy freight locomotive standing on the Up goods line, opposite Grantham South signal box.  They were about to set off for Highdyke Yard, about four miles south, with a train of empty ironstone wagons returning from Frodingham, near Scunthorpe, to the quarries served by the High Dyke branch line.

Let's enjoy the trip as it was captured through the lens of Colin's camera.

First, we'll meet our crew...

Photograph taken by Colin Walker.

The fireman and Driver Pearce await the Guard's signal to start.

"Turn around and I'll take your picture!"


Photograph taken by Colin Walker.

Both men are well wrapped up against the cold.  The fireman, thought to be Keith Yates, wears the usual 'bib and braces' overall and jacket, but he also sports a Tootal scarf and a corduroy cap; both were fashionable accessories for a young man of the day.  'Sam' Pearce (his real name was Wallace) is more conventionally dressed, his greasetop hat bearing a 'British Railways' enamelled badge.  His leather belt is secured with a short length of wire.

Driver Pearce and his fireman have probably just relieved another Grantham crew, who would themselves have taken over the footplate from Frodingham men at some point between Louth and Boston, depending on how the trains were running.


Photograph taken by Colin Walker.

A study of Sam Pearce.


Photograph taken by Colin Walker.

The fireman tends the fire using one of the long fire irons carried on the tender.  He is probably breaking up clinker, fused masses of ash and impurities which form over a period of time when coal is burned intensely.  The locomotive may have been 'on the road' for several hours already that day.  It's uphill all the way to Highdyke and steam pressure had to be maintained.

Now we'll meet our locomotive...

No. 63956 at Doncaster shed on 15th June 1958.
Photograph taken by W.R.E. Lewis.

The O2 class were the Great Northern Railway's largest heavy freight locomotives.  Introduced in 1921 following trials of a prototype, they embodied innovative features patented by the company's Locomotive Engineer, Nigel Gresley, which he carried forward into his highly successful express passenger designs of the 1920s and 1930s.

As later batches of O2 were built they incorporated updates and several sub-classes evolved.  No. 63956 was completed in December 1933 as an O2/3.

As O2s became due for boiler renewal in the early 1940s a new standard design of boiler, recently developed for the B1 class 4-6-0s and known as the Diagram 100A, began to be fitted to some of them.  Locomotives so modified were designated O2/4; No. 63956 became an O2/4 in 1961.  It was in service at Grantham from late 1960 until the shed closed in September 1963.


Photograph taken by Colin Walker.

In the cab - the driver's side - of No. 63956.  The large shiny handle controls the steam regulator valve in the boiler.  At bottom left is the upturned end of the horizontal handle which adjusts the cylinder valve gear.  The driver manages the power output of the locomotive using these two controls.

The small shiny handle near the bottom of the picture applies the locomotive's steam brake.  The large item of equipment on the far left powers and controls the train vacuum brake, when a vacuum-fitted train is being worked.  The circular gauge with two needles indicates the performance of the vacuum brake.

The fireman observes the boiler water level using the device at upper right, a gauge glass, which is a glass tube shielded by thick slabs of glass on three sides for protection in case it breaks.  There is a diagonally striped background to aid visibility.  To its left and slightly below, with the large partly-hidden circular handle at the centre of the picture, is an injector for feeding water into the boiler.

No. 63956 would most likely have left Grantham Loco earlier in the day, travelled tender-first to Highdyke yard and taken a loaded ironstone train from there to Frodingham.  Then, after a layover for fire cleaning and lubrication, it would have set off again for Grantham with the train of empty wagons.  So by the time our crew took over No. 63956 had worked a fair shift, during which it would have been worked by at least three sets of footplatemen.

Right away!  We're off...

Driver Pearce gets us on the move.

Photograph taken by Colin Walker.


Photograph taken by Colin Walker.

Starting away on the Up Goods line at Grantham South.  We're about to cross the junctions outside Grantham South signal box, glimpsed on the right.  The Goods line passes through the left hand, smaller arch of the Great North Road bridge in the misty distance.


Photograph taken by Colin Walker.

Approaching Saltersford.  At the centre, travelling tender-first on the Up Main line, is an A3 locomotive which has just overtaken us and is passing a colour light signal for the Up Main which is supported on a bracket over the Goods line.

This signal was known as 'Saltersford Up auto distant'.  Normally it worked automatically, going to yellow when a train passed then clearing to green when the train activated track circuits further along the line at Great Ponton.

This locomotive may be on its way from Grantham Loco to Highdyke to pick up one of the regular fully fitted ironstone trains destined for Aldwarke, near Rotherham.
On the far right is a sand drag leading from trap points at the north end of Saltersford Down Loop, an emergency overrun which protected the Down Main line in the event of a runaway.


Photograph taken by Colin Walker

We're about to cross above the River Witham on the bridge at Saltersford.  The A3 locomotive which has just overtaken us recedes into the distance.  On the right another A3 is travelling towards Grantham on the Down Main line. On the far right is the beginning of the sand drag beyond Saltersford Down Loop.
It's clear that there's a brisk easterly wind, so the 'wind chill temperature' as we ascend towards Highdyke is probably a good bit below freezing.


Photograph taken by Colin Walker.

Moving south from Saltersford.  The points on the far right mark the divergence of Saltersford Down Loop from the Down Main line.  The main lines have been kept clear of the light covering of settled snow by regular traffic passing at speed.


Photograph taken by Colin Walker.

Passing the site of Great Ponton station, closed in 1958 and demolished soon afterwards.  Immediately ahead  is a trailing connection into the Up Goods and Up Main lines from the goods yard, which remained open until April 1963.
The signal in the distance shows that the Up Main line, immediately to our right, is clear past Highdyke and on to Stoke for an approaching train.  It will overtake us in a few minutes.


Photograph taken by Colin Walker.

Approaching Highdyke.  Ahead, a signal gantry spans the three running lines: from left to right the Up Goods, the Up Main and the Down Main. In the distance, immediately to the left of the gantry, stands Highdyke signal box.
Signals are clear for trains on the Up Main and Down Main lines. Our train has to cross both these lines, so the Goods line signals are against us and we are being brought carefully to a stand by Driver Pearce.
The wagons on the near right are empties standing on a siding known as 'the bottom siding'.  Further to the right, on an embankment descending to the south, are 'the bank siding' and 'the brake siding'.  All three sidings could be used for storing empties before they went up the branch, or as a run off when a train of full wagons came down the branch before being reversed into the yard sidings (beyond the signal box) to be formed into a full train ready for departure. The brake siding,  furthest to the right, was used mostly to stand guard's vans.


Photograph taken by Colin Walker.

We have stopped on the Up Goods line at Highdyke.  In the distance is Highdyke signal box. To reach the sidings or the branch our train needs to cross both of the main lines, initially using the crossover into the Up Main a few yards ahead. The signalman has other traffic approaching on the main lines, so Driver Pearce has brought our train to a stand and awaits the signal to proceed.
The first train to go by is on the Up Main, hauled by the V2 class locomotive seen here on the right. The driver looks back, probably taken by surprise when he saw Colin leaning out from the cab of the O2 with his camera.


Photograph taken by Colin Walker.

We are still stopped on the Up Goods line at Highdyke.  Here's the second train to go by, a class 'F' unfitted express freight hauled by a WD class locomotive passes on the Down Main.  At the front are wagons carrying iron ore.

While we're waiting, let's study the signals.

The first three signal posts from the left refer to routes that can be set for the goods line on which our train is standing.  They each carry a white 'D' sign which denotes that a fireman's call plunger was provided at ground level, for use by the driver or fireman to remind the signalman of the presence of the train in accordance with 'Rule 55'.  This important rule requires the crew to take action to remind the signalman if they are detained at the signal.  This would often mean the fireman walking to the signal box, but at Highdyke the call plunger has been installed at these signals because of the distance to the box and the hazard involved in crossing the main lines.

The other set of three posts, on the right, relate to the Up Main line.  They carry white diamond signs which indicate 'exemption from Rule 55' on account of there being a track circuit (or other form of train protection) that automatically indicates the presence of the train to the signalman.

Left: 'D' sign indicating fireman's call plunger.
Right: Diamond sign denoting track circuit or other form of train protection.
Source: Railway Signs and Signals of Great Britain

For both groups of three signals the left hand, tallest signal relates to going forward towards Stoke tunnel, the centre, shortest signal with the miniature semaphore arm is for the sidings at Highdyke yard, and the right hand signal indicates that the route is set for the High Dyke branch.

OK, wake up there!  We've got the road...

Photograph taken by Colin Walker.

We're on the move again, as the exhaust from the chimney shows.  Having brought us to a stand while the other traffic passed by, the signalman has set the points and cleared the signal for us to move forward and cross over the main lines.

It's possible to deduce, by reference to the previous photograph, that the middle signal has been cleared (even though its arm is hidden by steam), so our train is being directed into the yard.

The crossover a few yards ahead will take us first onto the Up Main.  It's followed by another connection across to the Down Main, and finally from there over to the branch and the yard.  We will pass behind Highdyke signal box in the background to access the yard sidings beyond.  Driver Pearce may then set back to shunt our train of empty wagons into one of the spurs on our right.

That's the end of our trip.

Maybe the shunters will welcome us into their cabin for a warm, or perhaps we'll get a look inside the signal box and a chat with the 'bobby' (a railway term for signaller) ?   John Pegg worked  Highdyke box in the 1970s.  He remembers that "Highdyke box had a very heavy frame.  Setting the road from the up slow over the up and down main lines to the branch line was particularly hard, especially in the cold weather of winter."  This is exactly the route that was set for us, so let's hope that today we didn't cause our signalman too much physical strain.  You can read more of John's recollections of working at this and other boxes in the Grantham area on this page, where there are some photographs taken by Mike Mather inside Highdyke box.

We don't know for sure where the next part of our crew's roster took them.  They would not take a loaded train out of Highdyke yard with the same engine because there was no means of turning locomotives there.  Most likely they returned to Grantham Loco with No. 63956 'light engine' for servicing, and to be prepared for its next duty as described by Roy Vinter in his page The Ironstone Trains.  This would mean travelling tender-first down the main line, when the open-backed cab would provide little protection from the elements.

Chris Pearce has sent some personal memories of his Grandad, our driver Sam Pearce, which you can read on this page.

For more on Grantham shed's O2s see Kevin Roche's page Grantham Class O2 Locomotives.

With thanks to Martin Walker for permission to use the photographs, and to those present at our Tracks through Grantham meeting on 16th October 2019, where these pictures were shown, for numerous helpful comments.

Copyright note:  the article above is published with the appropriate permissions.  For information about copyright of the content of Tracks through Grantham please read our Copyright page.

4 thoughts on “A Trip to Highdyke in Winter’s Chill

  1. John Pritchard

    Oh, so enjoyed reading this article, and the photographs were great - atmospheric, but you could sense the cold!! Thank you very much!!

    1. TracksthroughGrantham1

      We're grateful for your feedback John, and glad to hear that you enjoyed the pictures.
      John Clayson

    2. Andrew Martell

      Brilliant. What a marvelous piece. Pictures were fantastic, boy it looked cold that day. Thoroughly enjoyed this, just wish it could go on for longer.
      Many thanks, Andy.

      1. TracksthroughGrantham1

        Hello Andy,
        Thank you for your feedback - we're very glad to hear that you enjoyed the page. It was our hope that the photographs and writing would capture something of the atmosphere and the working environment of the steam railway.
        Best wishes,
        John Clayson


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