Full steam ahead as footplate friends reunited

WHEN veteran railwayman Caleb Priestley, 91, stepped off the train at Grosmont station yesterday he was led to believe he was having nothing more than a day out on the North Yorkshire Moors Railway.

The retired driver joked: "It would really make my day now if my former fireman Bob Bullock was here today." Little did he know that around the next platform Bob was waiting in the cab of the Sir Nigel Gresley – ready for a joyful reunion after nearly 50 years.

When the shock wore off, they stood on the footplate together in a recreation of a moment captured in a photograph taken the day after Mr Bullock's 17th birthday when he was learning the ropes on the railways.

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Mr Priestley said: "This is a fantastic day – not only to be reacquainted with Bob after so many years but to simply experience the golden age of steam once more."

The sprightly pensioner chatted at length with Mr Bullock until the whistle blew at 12.30pm for the train that was to take Mr Priestley back to Pickering station.

But rather than cut short their chat, Mr Priestley was allowed to ride on the footplate so he could continue his catch-up with his old pal.

Mr Bullock said: "Our reunion has been long overdue and I am absolutely delighted to see him in such good health. Caleb even said: 'If you are short of a driver I will take her out'."

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The former fireman had been trying for months to meet up with his former driver. They had talked about meeting up in York and Harrogate over recent years.

So he was delighted to see Mr Priestley, who lives near York, once again and reminisce about days gone by. Mr Bullock was 17 the last time they were together.

Yesterday they stared at a picture showing them together in January 1964 at an engine shed in Kettering.

Mr Priestley comes from a background in steam engines, having driven trains throughout his life.

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During the Second World War he was firing and driving 8Fs – Britain's standard freight train. A number of the trains were used in different theatres of war.

Mr Priestley drove 8Fs in Iran during the fighting as well as driving trains in Italy after the war. His civilian railway career took him to Hellifield Shed, driving for Midland Compounds, as well as to York shed where he drove High Speed Trains.

His favourite locomotive, however, is the steam engine known as "the Black 5". The Black 5s were built from the mid-1930s onwards and were used for nearly 30 years on Britain's railways.

One such engine – 45428 Eric Treacy – has just returned to use on the North Yorkshire Moors Railway after an 11-year absence and a 600,000 restoration programme.

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To his friends and neighbours, Mr Priestley has often remarked on how, if he had a wish, it would be to see his former fireman one more time and for them to recreate a bit of history by being reunited on a Black 5

Although he left the railways in the early 1970s, Mr Bullock, now 63, works as a volunteer on the North Yorkshire Moors line.

Following the return of the Eric Treacy into service, it seemed to the just the opportune moment to bring all three together.

Marketing Manager Phil Bustard said: "From our point of view, this is yet another example of how the railway does help people's dreams come true.

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"The two of them were like peas in a pod once they were chatting together on the footplate, much to the delight of the footplate crew.

"They were as delighted as Bob to see an old railwayman have his day."

Mr Priestley's surprise was arranged under the guise of having a day out with friends. As it turned out Eric Treacy was in the sheds and a technical fault had scuppered Mr Priestley being reunited with a Black 5.

"So it was decided they should go out on the A4 Pacific Sir Nigel Gresley – which he was more than happy about," Mr Bustard added.

Workhorse of British railways

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Mr Priestley's passion for the golden age of steam is focused on the Black 5.

The Black 5 was designed as the workhorse of the railways in the 1930s

– a "go anywhere" loco.

The industry had tried building bigger engines before but some of them were too wide for many areas of track.

Although technically called Class 5 4-6-0, they became widely known as the Black Five.

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Models of this class of steam engine survived to the last day of steam

on British Railways in 1968 and 18 have been preserved by enthusiasts.

Black Fives began to be withdrawn in 1961, with the remainder

following between 1962 and 1968.