In Memory of Steam and Uncle Ernie

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In Memory of Steam and Uncle Ernie

by Nick Dawes

Through the courtesy of Heritage Auctions, we would like to present this interesting slice of steam-related, personal history…

 

As Vice President of Special Collections for Heritage Auctions, the world’s third largest auctioneer, something new and challenging is always coming up. Some challenges you want to take on, most you do not, but we do try to help everyone who asks for help. When I first walked into the Glenn Reid Museum in Auburn Hills, Michigan, last year, I knew this was a challenge I not only wanted to take on, but could not wait to get started. All I needed to see was the Aster model, Flying Scotsman.

Since then, and because of the late Glenn Reid, I have met some fascinating people including several members of the international live steam community who have found my desk through his extraordinary collection. Most of these gentlemen (sorry, but so far my contacts have all been male) spent more time in a boiler suit than the three piece suit I wear, are vastly more talented than I am mechanically, and tend to remember watching Mickey Mantle play while I know him only from baseball cards……..but I would like to share a few steam memories that I hope will resonate.

I was lucky enough to grow up in the English West Midlands at a time very different from our own. This was a pounds, shillings, and pence England, where old men wore flat caps and sat in the pubs of their grandfathers, drinking the same beer and eating the same pies. You could imagine looking up and seeing a Spitfire fly by. We could afford toys and sweets and football matches and went everywhere by bus, except of course those special journeys…on the train. I loved the train. I would walk into town on a Saturday morning just to stand on the Victorian railway bridge overlooking our station and bathe in the smell and swirl that enveloped me as the trains came and went. I can still smell it a half century later. Dr. Beeching was planning the cruel cuts that would change my country forever in what I have come to believe is only a bad way, but I knew nothing of this on my bridge. I am not sure if I have ever been happier.

Within a few years all had changed. The beautiful steam trains were gone, not retired gracefully or even gradually, but pulled from service and turned to scrap overnight in a gesture of grand governmental stupidity. It was as if a herd of beautiful animals were mercilessly and senselessly slaughtered. I never remember my father being angrier about anything than this. As if by omen, the whole dark episode began with the tragic death of my much admired uncle Ernie, who was driving the train on August 15, 1963 in what has become known as the Knowle and Dorridge Rail Crash. Ernie Morris and his wife, my aunty Dorothy who kept an ancient village Post Office and sweet shop also lost to history, were the poster people of an England built on steam. Ernie was a family hero as he had driven the famous Flying Scotsman. I can only imagine the thrill of such an adventure, and am confident the modern British railway employee is as unaware of such a thrill as he is of the importance of a pocket watch. His jovial manner, pipe and crisp white overalls are preserved in a rare promotional British Transport film, “Let’s Go to Birmingham,” in which he drives the new Blue Pullman train from London Paddington to Birmingham Snow Hill. If you watch it notice the steam trains Ernie passes and meets, all unaware of their impending doom, as Ernie himself was. Perhaps it is a good thing he did not live to see Dr. Beeching’s axe fall.

For all this, and many other reasons, I have long admired and supported those who preserve steam engines. I was there when the early Victorian single-cylinder condensing beam engines David and Sampson were carefully dismantled and reconstructed at a local museum. They had operated for over a century in a steel mill and blast furnace owned by my father’s employer, the Lilleshall Company, which also owned the local mines, brickworks, railways, rolling stock and the house we lived in. I was there when locomotives were restored at a pitiful, local shunting yard by ordinary men who labored for pay on weekdays and for steam on weekends. It is an honor to help Glenn Reid’s family find a new home for the models he preserved, and I hope and trust their new family will continue to keep them, and his legacy, alive in steam.

The Glenn Museum Reid Collection of Mechanical Models will be sold by Heritage Auctions in Dallas on May 28, 2014 beginning at noon Central time. Items may be previewed in Auburn Hills during public preview times or by appointment. All details are available at: www.ha.com/5181 or by contacting Nick Dawes at (212) 486-3512 or nick@ha.com

By | 2016-11-04T11:05:16+00:00 August 15th, 2014|history, steam engine nostalgia|Comments Off on In Memory of Steam and Uncle Ernie