Looking back to 1968 and the glory days of steam trains

Jim Walker from Carnforth was the fireman responsible for firing the last steam train from Burnley Rose Grove Station in 1968.Robert Swain tells his story.

Thursday, 26th July 2018, 2:56 pm
Updated Thursday, 26th July 2018, 3:57 pm
Jim Walker under the clock at Carnforth Station.

As a boy, Jim Walker regularly trainspotted on Sundays at Rose Grove, Burnley.

He decided early on that he wanted to be an engine driver.

As a result, on leaving school, he went to work there and graduated to being a fireman.

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Jim Walker under the clock at Carnforth Station.

During that time, he was sometimes rostered on trains to Carlisle, so passed through Carnforth on his way there.

In 1968, Jim booked his annual holiday for two weeks starting on a Monday, but was going away the day before as nobody who was going on holiday was ever rostered for Sunday duty.

Shortly before his holiday, Jim arrived at work to be told by a colleague that he was rostered for firing the last steam train from Blackburn to Carnforth on the Sunday.

Jim could not believe this, but another colleague told him the same thing.

Jim went to look at the roster and, sure enough, he was rostered for the Sunday working, even though he was at the back of the Sunday list.

To Jim, firing the last steam train engine ever from Rose Grove shed was a great accolade.

Unfortunately, wife Betty did not appreciate it when he went home and told her he would not be going on holiday on the Sunday.

He said he would follow on and join the family on the Monday.

Mother-in-law was called in “to fire a few volleys”, but Jim stuck to his guns.

He would go on holiday a day later than planned and join the family in Ambleside on the Monday.

The last week of steam was an emotional time for Jim.

Sunday, August 4 arrived and locomotive 48773, a class 8F, was fired up and ready for duty.

Jim had drawn new headlamps from the store and prepared a new headboard and the train number, IZ74.

The Locomotive Club of Great Britain special from St. Pancras to Carnforth arrived at Blackburn from Manchester, headed by 70013 ‘Oliver Cromwell’ and ‘Black 5’ 44781 from Manchester.

Oliver Cromwell was unhooked and 48773 hooked on as the lead engine.

Jim fired his locomotive all the way to Carnforth, where the train drew in at what is now platform one, passing close to the famous clock.

The two engines were unhooked from the front of the train and ran to the shed while another two hooked on at the back to take it back to Manchester.

At the shed, the two engines that had brought the train were separated and Jim’s 48773 took on water for the return journey light engine to Rose Grove, Carnforth being the shed for 44781.

They had a brief stop at Preston on the way to let off a crew to whom they were giving a lift.

Nobody remembers today who those two were.

Once back at his home depot, Jim let down the fire for the last time.

Somebody called out to blow the whistle of 48773, so Jim blew it and so ended his steam days and steam at Burnley Rose Grove.

Jim still has the shovel he used that day.

Jim then worked on diesels and stayed on at Rose Grove for about another ten years before leaving to work for the Central Electricity Board at Padiham and later at Heysham.

He and Betty then looked for a house and found one in Carnforth and have lived there ever since.

Following on from the restoration of Carnforth station, Peter Yates, the then chairman of Carnforth Station and Railway Preservation Trust, wanted somebody local to the station to regularly wind up the clock.

There was nobody better placed for the task than Jim.

He often had his picture taken when visitors saw him attending to the task.

Jim felt that being the clock winder was a link with his steam days and that final day of steam when he fired 48773 to Carnforth.

Unfortunately, Jim is no longer the winder of the clock following a dispute with the Trust Board, something which hit many of the national papers and magazines as well as the local papers.