ERS 184 - Icebreaking Engines

ERS 184 - Icebreaking Engines - MRHloco

 If the title of this one seems a bit odd in comparison to the finished prose, it was, originally, my intention to draw on the fact that electric locomotives have been referred to in areas of the railway press as 'icebreakers'. That idea proved harder to pull off than I had experience to support it so I quickly changed my focus to the rest of the cast. However, when I started writing, as early as December 2011, I was greatly enthused to do a winter-based volume, partly prompted by the BBC's Frozen Planet and the fact that the recent snow had reached its highest intensity in December 2010. In fact, I intended to lead on from Diesels Of Winter to see how the steam engines would cope. This I did from a Heritage Railway Magazine article concerning snow business in the Esk Valley in February 1963 (recounted by former NELPG chairman and railway photographer Maurice Burns). A poster in a July 1990 edition of STEAM RAILWAY briefly tempted me to add a certain ice-skating engine named Rurik – as it is, I'm glad I went with the following!

It's November 2010 and snow has come early, as has ice. With points frozen at stations on the Ffarquhar branch, Thomas and Percy wind up top-and-tailing the passenger trains and are also hampered by water tower supply pipes freezing, all of which was similarly found on the Tanfield and Keighley & Worth Valley Railways during the same winter.


Meanwhile the main line engines are uncertain of the ability of the railway to remain open, despite a recent success on the Skarloey Railway. Sodor Castle isn't in denial either when held up outside Crovan's Gate by low-lying snow but a flamethrower helps set him free, as one did at Welshpool in December 2010. The Harz Railway in Germany inspired the rest.


Right at the end of the previous story, Robert is snow-bound on Gordon's Hill with a goods and within hours a rescue is planned. Two NER snowploughs are pressed into service with Tearlach and Tavish, despite being planned for the VRM, but complications quickly settle in when James and Henry's first ploughing attempt results in James' tender derailing in a bad place! That largely came from the aforementioned Esk Valley struggles.


The situation tenses up as Henry's driving wheels mount ice on the rails and coal runs out for Gordon and Sodor Castle. Stuck at the foot of the hill overnight, James and Henry find unlikely interest in the men at work. The whole story itself is largely modelled on 'Snow Drift At Bleath Gill', a famous 1955 British Transport film – 'fruit cake' was about as close as I could get to 'landlady's cake' as describes the digging process in the film.


A play on words with the wartime phrase 'Dig For Victory', this story follows the engines as they reach the summit, rescue Robert and return home to high praise from the Hatts. As at Bleath Gill, oil soaked rags are set alight on Robert's motion to thaw him and, out of trivia, I was influenced by the film's soundtrack to choreograph the team heave that frees him.