TORNADO, the Darlington dreadnought, has been enjoying life on the fast line. Tornado Telegraph tells of the 21st century steam engine galloping from Leicester to Holyhead, from North Road to Chester on a circuitous route via 49 junctions and of blasting at 62mph over the formidable Shap Summit in Cumbria, a heritage steam speed record.

The wonderful Wensleydale Railway, on which 60163 has just finished a three-week shift, is perhaps a little more pastoral. The speed limit’s 25mph, the 15-mile journey from Leeming Bar to Redmire includes 45 minutes at Leyburn so that the locomotive can get its pipe (and the passengers their carrot cake.)

Doesn’t it seem a bit of a come-down, a bit – if the phrase may be permitted – like going to bed with your boots on? “Like a thoroughbred pulling a coal cart,” adds the lady of the house.

“Well the line’s better suited to smaller engines and I’d love to open the regulator a bit, but it’s still lovely at 25mph,” says Terry Newman, the driver, a former gas board worker who answers to Thunderclap.

Remember Thunderclap Newman – No 1 in the charts 50 years ago this very week with a curious song called Something in the Air which talked of calling out the instigators and of armed revolution?

“One-hit wonders,” says Terry, and so they were.

We join at Leeming, Tornado whistling constantly and cheerfully, like a porter on pay day. Perhaps dales’ folks’ only regret is that, unlike some of the diesel multiples, no one’s taught her to play Ilkley Moor.

Thunderclap’s just back from America. “When I told people I drove Tornado, it was like telling them I was Santa Claus,” he says, memorably.

Tornado seems not to be straining herself. “You can’t make too much noise,” says Terry, perhaps a little ruefully. Can you have a force 3 Tornado?

At Redmire, the western terminus, he offers the fireman’s seat as Tornado runs around her train ahead of the return. It’s a glorious and timeless, a Cheshire cat experience. As the one-hit wonders might never have supposed, the revolution’s gone full circle.

BACK at Leeming Bar, we head for a lunchtime livener at the Bay Horse in Tunstall, near Catterick, and are somewhat taken aback when another steam engine pulls up outside.

The Bay Horse is one of those happy Sam Smith’s houses where a pint of good ale’s just £2 and where television, music and mobiles are all strictly forbidden. Since it’s June in North-East England, a log fire burns brightly in the hearth.

The steam engine’s a little road model, licensed at Lloyd’s and splendidly simmering. The boiler-suited driver comes in and asks if he might borrow a log, not for the boiler – that’s coal-fired – but to stop the little beauty rolling down the slope of the car park.

He has his pint and goes chuffing cheerfully back to Catterick, England.

THE piece a couple of weeks back on worries over a possibly permanent road bridge closure at Witton Park – “A bridge too far?” – prompts Weardale Railway archivist John Askwith to send this wonderful image of one of their heritage diesels crossing the bridge.

A public meeting last Friday, incidentally, expressed a preference for a restored road bridge with a weight limit – costing £2.5m. Another public meeting will follow.

It’s also a reminder that the Weardale now runs three times daily at weekends – and some weekdays in high summer – for the full length of the line between Bishop Auckland and Stanhope.

Timetable and fares at

NO 2 Railway Cottages, Escomb, was presumably alongside the line which ran from Bishop up the dale. From there exactly 100 years ago, Jas Egglestone wrote to the US government on behalf of the Bishop Auckland Council of the National Union of Railwaymen protesting at the imprisonment without trial of members of International Workers of the World (known, apparently, as the Wobblies.) Many, added Mr Egglestone, were “Britishers.”

Spotted by reader Peter Chapman, the letter – reproduced in the Friends of the National Archives magazine – claims to represent “5,000 organised railwaymen.”

Could it really have been true, asks Peter? If it were, how many of them toiled at Shildon Works?

WITH a crucial question in mind, the column headed last Friday to Locomotion, the National Railway Museum in Shildon, for the launch of George Turner Smith’s book A Railway History of New Shildon.

Pen and Sword, the polymathic publisher, had wanted to call it The World’s First Railway Town; George demurred. They wanted George Stephenson in the title; George Smith demurred.

They wanted to call it The Railway History of New Shildon. There might be others, said George.

It was a rare, perhaps unique, example of author’s pen being mightier than publisher’s sword.

He was a Hartlepool lad, train spotter and photographer, wanted to be a journalist but became a chemical engineer instead. Shildon’s his sixth book, the others almost inevitably including one on the railways of Hartlepool.

Titular twiddling notwithstanding, he has no doubt that it was the world’s first railway town, wheels set moving on that epochal day in September 1825 when Locomotion steamed off uncertainly towards Stockton.

“What came before was experimentation and what came after merely refinements,” he writes – though, it’s conceded, some pretty impressive refinements.

Shildon’s mayor, the MP, the indefatigable Jane Hackworth Young – Timothy Hackworth’s great great granddaughter – were all there. So was 27-year-old Katie Corrigan, Durham County Council’s new chairman and Durham City’s youngest mayor.

Did she prefer to be addressed as chairman, chairwoman, chairperson or (great heaven forfend) chair? Chairman, said Katie firmly – “it’s about the office, not me.”

The really crucial question, however, and one debated for the best part of 200 years, is where’s the boundary between Old Shildon (to which some of us owe an almost filial allegiance) and New Shildon.

“Don’t ask me, I’m from Sunderland,” said Peter Quinn, the mayor.

“There’s Old Shildon, New Shildon and the estate, all separate,” said Shirley Quinn, mayoress and county councillor.

“I just assume that New Shildon’s the bit that grew up around the railway,” said George. “In 1827 there were just four houses.”

The argument could run for another 200 years, but there we must draw the line.

  • Railway History of New Shildon is published by Pen and Sword (£25) and available from Locomotion.

…and finally in a railway-signalled column, it’s ten years since Joe Coates – Shildon lad, long in Scarborough – produced the first of a successful series of North Bay Railway children’s books. “You came down to interview me,” he recalls (and that would doubtless have been on the train, an’ all.)

He’ll be at the railway for “meet the author” days on July 6 and 7 and again for the Family Fun day on July 21.

For Joe and his wife Margaret, a yet more significant anniversary is imminent: married for fift50y years later this month. Congratulations.