A GROUP set up to save old locos from the scrap heap marks its 50th anniversary this weekend.

The North Eastern Locomotive Preservation Group (NELPG) was formed on October 28, 1966, as diesels took over the region’s railways. Its original aim was to preserve two of the few remaining steam engines still working on the Durham coal field.

Nineteen people attended the inaugural meeting in an upstairs room at the Bridge Hotel in Newcastle, raising 5/6d – just 27.5p – towards the target.

Now the group owns four operational steam engines and has more than 600 members worldwide, many of whom – including some of the founders – will again meet in the same room of the Bridge this Friday evening as part of a weekend of celebrations.

“Unfortunately, a bottle of Newcastle Brown Ale is likely to cost rather more than the 1/9d that we paid at the first meeting,” said NELPG secretary Chris Lawson.

The North Yorkshire Moors Railway, with which the group has worked closely since 1970, is also staging a steam festival weekend in which three of the group’s locos will operate. A celebration dinner will be held at the Hardwick Hall Hotel in Sedgefield on Saturday evening.

By April 1968 – “a lot of fund raising and a lot of luck,” said Mr Lawson – the group had raised sufficient money to rescue class J27 loco 65894 and class Q6 engine 63395.

In 1972 they were given K1 class 62005 and, ten years later, bought redundant class J72 tank engine 69032, now named Joem and resplendent in British Railways green.

The Q6 will be joined on the NYMR by 62005, now familiar at the head of Jacobite steam specials from Fort William to Mallaig, and by Joem.

The four locos have between them run 161,000 miles on the NYMR, though the J27 is undergoing its routine ten-year overhaul at NELPG’s main shed in Hopetown, Darlington, which will be open to the public from 10am to noon this Saturday.

For ten years, NELPG also had in its care A2 class locomotive 65032, named Blue Peter – restored to main line running – class Q7 63460 and “Black Five” class 44767 which was made ready for the Stock ton and Darlington Railway 150th anniversary celebrations in 1975. Those three engines have between them covered 122,000 miles on the NYMR.

Mr Lawson said that visitors and prospective new members would be equally welcome to the Darlington open morning or on the NYMR, where souvenirs will be available. Entirely volunteer run, the group is now a limited company and a registered charity.

“It’s been a great deal of hard work, then and now, but I don’t think anyone could have anticipated how far we’ve come. It’s an awfully long way from a first collection of five shillings and sixpence.”

  • A fully illustrated NELPG history has also been produced by Silver Link Publishing and will be launched at the weekend. Keeping North Eastern Steam Alice – the Story of 50 Years of the North Eastern Locomotive Preservation Group will be available from the group’s stand on the NYMR at Grosmont or, £20 including postage, from NELPG, 67 The Mount, York YO24 1AX. Email secretary@nelpg.org.uk