SIR Tim Peake’s spacecraft having flown, matters at the National Railway Museum in Shildon have gravitated earthwards.

Phil Chinery, a tour guide, was asked about the longest locomotive name – and has gone to considerable lengths to find out.

The two leading contenders, known to a generation of smut-faced schoolboys, were both class V2s – 184 of which were built at Darlington and Doncaster between 1936-44.

Only Green Arrow, the first of the class, survives. Having conked out on the North Yorkshire Moors Railway, it’s now going nowhere, not even nowhere fast, at Shildon.

Second among the verbose V2s was 60809, named The Snapper – the East Yorkshire Regiment, the Duke of York’s Own – 52 characters including the apostrophe. The Snapper had been the Beverley-based regiment’s nickname since the American War of Independence.

Named to commemorate the coronation of King George VI, the engine was said – like the regiment – to be “a symbol of efficiency and mobility”, if not necessarily of economy.

The East Yorkshires were outmanoeuvred, however, by Yorkshire comrades-in-arms. V2 number 60835 was named The Green Howards, Alexandra, Princess of Wales’ Own Yorkshire Regiment – 59 characters.

Perhaps because those two had used up all the wartime brass, only six other V2s carried names – including Durham School, Durham Light Infantry and St Peter’s School, York AD 627.

The most economical engine, a B1, was named Gnu.

But then Phil throws a spanner into the locomotive works. Diesel power car 43140 is named Landore Diesel Depot 1963-2013 Celebrating 50 Years – which may not quite be as breathless as the Green Howards, but is then translated into Welsh.

Does it count? As possibly may have been said of 60835, this one could run and run.

IT’S wholly coincidental that David Walsh, a regular correspondent, should copy the column in on an email – initially to Chris Lloyd – with a link to a film, made by Tyne Tees Television in 1959, about steam railways in the Darlington area.

It’s played out to musical accompaniment by Ewan MacColl. David loves the film, thinks little of the songs – “he’s better in tractor production in Omsk”.

The column’s copied, he says, partly because he suspects I may have been a gricer – no doubt about it – and partly because there’s brief footage of a mixed doubles 5s and 3s match, probably in the Railway Institute.

Times change. The Darlington and Distrust 5s and 3s League is strictly men only now.

MORE railway lines, the column two weeks ago noted that Teesside Airport was down to second place in the list of Britain’s least used stations. British Steel Redcar, we now learn, is fourth with just 50 passengers annually using its one train a day in each direction. None at weekends.

The problem with closing stations is the costly number of parliamentary hoops through which railway companies must jump.

Nothing may be more bizarre, however, than the situation at Newhaven Marine station. Effectively closed “for safety reasons” in 2006, the station continued to have a daily “ghost train” which none was allowed to board. Since last April, however, the ghost train has been listed as “cancelled.”

Our informant is himself a railways employee. “You couldn’t make it up,” he says.

LAST week’s Burns Night column may have been wrong to suppose that Rabbie wrote Auld Laud Syne. Invigorated by an “excellent” Burns supper at the Jet Miners in Great Broughton, Eric Smallwood insists that the song was already well known in Scotland and that Burns was simply the first to write down and publish it.

Alas, adds Eric, the Jet Miners made the same mistake.

We may also have been mistaken that the one about the Burns Unit – you know – was the only known joke about the great Scots poet and philanderer. Don Cowan in Guisborough reports that he received an invitation to the Lotus Blossom restaurant’s Chinese Burns Night. “I didn’t want to go, but they twisted my arm,” he says.

PERHAPS because it’s the longest, The Times reports that the A1 has the worst record for what’s now termed road kill of any major route in the country.

“At least” 112 deaths were recorded last year – among them 32 deer, 31 foxes and a swan. On the A174 in North Yorkshire, someone pranged a peacock. The figures appeared not to include rabbits.

A few days later, after an accident on the A1 near Darlington in which a driver had himself tried to avoid a kamikaze rabbit, the Echo reported a Durham police spokeswoman urging motorists not to swerve for anything “smaller than a dog.”

Then, suitably squashed onto the bottom right-hand corner of the letters page, The Times carried a follow-up from Sylvia Crooks, a regular correspondent in Bainbridge, Wensleydale.

On the five-mile road between Wensleydale and Swaledale, she wrote, her “rather morbid” grandchildren had on one day last summer counted 38 dead bunnies.

“They hope to beat the record this summer,” she added. Run rabbit.

AND finally... 

Martin Birtle in Billingham spots a “full size” Tesco van on the back of which is the advice: “No baguettes are kept in this vehicle overnight". No bread and butter robberies there, then.

An 80-year love affair

The Northern Echo: Diamond wedding couple Lez Rawe and wife Betty Rawe of Spennymoor - D11/03/03AL

Diamond wedding couple Lez Rawe and wife Betty Rawe of Spennymoor

BETTY RAWE died last Thursday, two days before her 98th birthday and six weeks before what would have been her 75th wedding anniversary.

She and Lez had met when they were grammar school pupils in Bishop Auckland, though boys and girls were separated by the length of the playing fields and the width of pre-war morality.

Into old age, they could still be seen walking hand-in-hand to Bishop Auckland Methodist church, close to their home

She was from Evenwood, a fortnight older than her boyfriend from Toft Hill. They paid 17/6d for a ring, became secretly engaged at 17, married six years later when Lez was given embarkation leave from the RAF.

Wherever war service sent him, Betty’s photograph remained in his wallet. Betty, said friends at the church, would suggest in later life that for two weeks a year she had a toy boy.

Seventy-five years isn’t a record. That’s held by a Bradford couple of Asian origin who were married for 90 years and 291 days (and, presumably, started very young.)

We’d reported Lez and Betty’s diamond wedding in 2003, a lovely and a very happy couple. He’d become a Methodist local preacher in 1953 and was active for more than 50 years, played Northern League football, village cricket and tennis until well into his 80s. He was appointed MBE in 2005 for services to the south Durham community.

Church colleague Keith Dinning said that Betty and Lez had remained like a courting couple. “They just lived for each other, supported one another in every way. It’s the end of a wonderful love affair.”

A funeral and memorial service are expected to be held on February 14.