LAST Saturday's match didn't seem that bad, but the talk had shifted to railways. Briefly appearing on the line from Leeming Bar to Northallerton, they reckoned, was the English equivalent of the Japanese "Bullet" train.

Folk even proudly claimed to have heard it, as if having caught wind of the Bright Elusive Butterfly or of the Harbinger of Spring.

There's not been a passenger service on that line for 51 years, not since engine 65038 shuffled sadly out of Northallerton with a wreath on its top lamp bracket and, too late, a full train.

Now - now until tomorrow, anyway - it costs just £1 each way again to ride that six mile section, to revisit old haunts and perhaps to see some ghosts.

Comparison with the Bullet may be fanciful, not least because the prototype railcar - gas-fuelled, flywheel driven - has a maximum speed of 30mph, just 20 bus-type seats and a claimed capacity of 50 but only when replicating the Piccadilly line at rush hour.

Liquid petroleum gas it may be, high speed gas it aint.

"If I wanted to travel at the speed of a milk float, I'd have become a milkman," said someone unkindly, but No. 999900 may represent the future, nonetheless.

(No. 999900, it occurred, was a pretty strange number for a prototype. Locomotion was Number One. It was like those frequent occasions in the Arngrove Northern League second division where about 50 attend and the meat draw ticket loses by fifteen thousand.)

The railcar, which we shall call Wendy - unless Mr Awdry got there first - has been operated since September 15 by the Wensleydale Railway which two years ago re-opened the line westwards from Leeming Bar, has now reached Redmire and may soon attain Aysgarth.

Garsdale, on the Settle and Carlisle line, is viewed with strong binoculars, considerable optimism and unshakeable faith.

The railcar's owned by Parry People Movers, a Black Country company which pioneers such environmentally friendly operations and talks of "downsizing", "lightweighting" and "community light rail vision". The whole world, says a company newsletter, is watching that six mile single track.

"Success at Wensleydale could transform the way that many rural lines are operated in Britain and abroad."

Though the line from Leeming to Northallerton is still intact, used until recently for tank transport by the military, passenger trains can't run into the town because the platform bay once used by the branch line is now a car park.

Wendy waits instead at a specially built little platform at Springwell Lane, in nearby Romanby, the East Coast Main Line 100 yards and a million miles away.

So near? "We are talking to various bodies, organisations and government departments but I think reaching the centre of Northallerton is still a good way distant," says Amanda Pearson, Wensleydale Railway's ticket and catering manager.

It runs eastwards past Ham Hall crossing, through Scruton station - once bedecked with "Best wayside station" awards and now being restored by enthusiastic villagers - onto Ainderby where the little station had coal drops, cattle docks, a goods yard and a signal box which recently was rebuilt at Alston.

The station buildings, say one of the guide books, were of "dignified, classical appearance"; the station master had serious social standing, as befitted a man with so much gold braid on his peak.

We caught the first train out of Leeming Bar, 9.40am, a glorious September morning. "It'll be a bit of a rough ride," warned John Plowman, the driver, travelling on four wheels and a short base.

The only other passenger was a lady who'd just picked up a courtesy car from the garage, found the tank discourteously empty and thought she might as well catch the train.

Between Ham Hall and Scruton Wendy had to slow while four deer wandered off the line, a bit further she'd to wait for some hens.

If the question is "Why did the chicken cross the railway line", the answer is probably that it had been doing it, more or less unmolested, for the previous 51 years.

The previous day there'd been a cat, said Dave Mortimer, the guard. "It just ambled along in front of the train as if we were invading its territory. In a way, I suppose we were."

Harvesters combined, sheep grazed, locals gazed. They'd probably done much the same thing when the Rocket first flamed past, the man with the red flag alone conspicuous in absence.

John the driver had a little question, too. "How come they call it Ainderby Steeple when the church has a tower?" No-one knew; someone may.

The connecting bus from Springwell Lane to Northallerton town centre had gone before the train arrived, which didn't say much for co-ordinated transport. Two others joined for the return.

"It's wonderful, the most obscure stretch of passenger line I've ever been on," said a camera carrying enthusiast from Kirkbymoorside.

Back at Leeming, the air filled with the aroma of frying bacon from the nearby Vale of Mowbray factory - "It's not so nice when they're cooking liver," said one of the volunteers - Amanda reckoned the experiment a success.

One day, she said, there'd been 84 passengers. "We'll see what the demand is, but I think that a very good case has been made for a permanent commuter link.

"It's very environmentally friendly and I would assume relatively cheap. It's up to the directors, but I think everyone's been impressed."

For the moment, however, there are just today and tomorrow - trains from Leeming Bar at 20 to the hour, from Springwell Lane at ten past - to take a journey into the future. With the possible exception of the Northallerton FC meat draw, there may be no better quid's worth this autumn.

JACK Amos, who was no relation but frequently was assumed to be, has died, aged 78.

Nor should he be confused with the other Jack Amos, long serving former secretary of Durham County CIU, though (of course) he often was.

It became so problematical that in 1998 we devoted most of a cheery column to the Amos odyssey.

The late Jack was a Willington lad, latterly in Crook. He was a former miner and committee member at Billy Row WMC, amateur photographer, boxing enthusiast and wide ranging Hear All Sides correspondent.

He'd first met CIU Jack in the Earl Derby on Stanley Hill Top 40 years ago, an evening which ended with CIU Jack fully clothed in the bath, as immersed as a newt.

Willington Jack was thoroughly nice, palpably honest and good company. His funeral is at St Catherine's church, Crook at 12.15pm tomorrow.

THE other Jack Amos, self-styled King of Clubs, is 73, alive and well enough despite what the column once described as a medical history about which Simon Schama could make a three part series.

"I'm just a bit chesty, but there's a lot of that going around. I can guarantee I'm still alive," says Jack, who lives in Consett.

For more than 30 years he was a Newcastle based journalist and "command performance" organiser, with a nice line in stories about Princess Margaret. At 50 he became secretary of the County CIU branch, remaining for 20 years.

He's diabetic, has had a heart attack and cancer, has a hyperactive thyroid, had pancreatitis and suffered extensive injuries in a car crash 20 years ago.

These days he still does a bit between out-patient appointments. "Believe me," says Jack, "I'm just very glad to be alive."

...and finally, we are delighted to report that the Very Rev Michael Sadgrove, Dean of Durham, can at last step out in style. We noted last November the dean's fruitless sole searching for a pair of blue suede shoes, size 11 or 12. It wasn't that he was a particular Elvis aficionado, simply that it was a change from clerical black. Almost on his uppers, he has at last tracked a pair in Bournemouth. "They're very smart," says the dean. "I thought your readers would like to know."