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PostPosted: 01 Feb 2011, 09:14 
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Joined: 09 Jan 2011, 10:35
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Location: March, Cambridgeshire
Hi guys,

Being born literally overlooking our local depot and the Up departure roads of our Marshalling Yards, my father (a Permanent Way Inspector) working on the railway, I guess I was destined to become a railway enthusiast. This enthralling hobby has kept me going for 60-odd years but I have always been extremely disappointed that more hasn't been made of the Breakdown Cranes, the Breakdown Gangs and their equipment. This part of BR, in my opinion, has always been a refugee and has subsequently been dispatched to a 'back burner' and forgotten about. When I first heard about this site I was instantly interested.

I can well recall all four of our March (31B) machines. The steam examples would be standing in light steam, then on command the 'high hat' would be raised and a full head would be realised ... they would then depart their mooring and slowly and quietly disappear to another job just as a boat would on still water. (Oh yes, that would be after a 'full English', the kitchen area of the Mess Van would always have a well-stocked larder!). Following the sad demise of steam March then played host to the 75 Ton Cowans, Sheldon & Co diesel converted ex-King's Cross crane sporting its yellow livery.

I was extremely fortunate to spend many happy hours as a child on the footplate of the GER 20 Ton example with its Driver Mr Len Clenshaw and second man Mr Noah Steward. The Supervisor in charge was Mr George Robbins. Incidentally this machine, one of two built by the Great Eastern Railway with one at March and the other at Ipswich MPD, was way ahead of its time having hydraulic controls. The crew rarely let the crane travel on its own – it would be moved around the site with the accompanying engine – because in this mode she drank water at an alarming rate. After the 20 Ton machine was scrapped we played host to the 35 Ton example that was originally at Cambridge, this was a Ransomes & Rapier example. It did not reign long because we then received the 45 Ton Cowans, Sheldon & Co machine on the closure of New England shed in Peterborough. (She was particularly liked by the personnel and the whole outfit was supervised by Mr Frank Kidd his second man was Mr William Heslop. Frank always said she would keep pulling until something gave i.e. the jib bent or a hawser snapped!).

As for me, I am a retired Keyboard Journeyman in the Printing Industry so sadly I won't have any technical stuff to pass on. The only machinery I have ever been associated with were Linotype machines and the presses used in print.

My railway interests are pretty general preferring loco-hauled stock however I do own a seven-and-a-quarter gauge B/E locomotive so I do get my fix riding around on that!


Last edited by Colin J Rush on 04 Feb 2011, 17:48, edited 3 times in total.

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PostPosted: 02 Feb 2011, 21:22 
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Joined: 15 Dec 2010, 22:30
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Location: North Cambridgeshire, UK
A wonderful story, Colin, made even better with the information that you have managed to sneak in today about the three March cranes and their crews!

I have a list in front of me of the men who belonged to the March branch of the ASLE&F union from 1937-1963. It includes an E E Clenshaw, born 07/10/1904, entry to ASLE&F 01/01/1928, still a member 31/03/1963. Do you think he would be the Len Clenshaw that you wrote about?

Another member was N Steward, born 15/07/1923, Entry to ASLE&F 06/02/1949, still a member 30/06/1963. Perhaps he was your "Noah"?


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PostPosted: 03 Feb 2011, 09:09 
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David you have it! They are more than likely the men mentioned in my story. I can only assume that Len was a nick name.


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PostPosted: 06 Feb 2011, 00:02 
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I'm not sure, but ASLEF was for footplate crews only, the NUR was for all other grades including workshop staff who weren't in the engineering unions.

Crane drivers until the later years, when it was harder to find people willing to go on the vans, were always fitters assistants and Breakdown Train gangs would only have one fitter (to deal with anything that needed a fitter, ie examine a loco before allowing it to be hauled away) a boiler smith and the rest of the crew would be fitters assistants and labourers.


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PostPosted: 09 Feb 2011, 09:35 
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OK Bob, you are more than likely right! We are delving back 60-odd years and with me not being a railwayman I can only respect your views. Whatever, after all these years we're guessing and sadly the men in question have departed to that great MPD in the sky.


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PostPosted: 11 Feb 2011, 13:59 
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Colin, Your mention of Frank Kidd brought back a lot of memories. Frankie was a fitter at Thornaby when i was an apprentice there in the early 60's and he was the leading fitter on the toolvans until he got the supervisors job at March. Suffice to say i learnt a lot of fitting skills from Frankie. I've a photo somewhere of Frankie stood next to the 45T crane at Thornaby.


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PostPosted: 16 Feb 2011, 09:57 
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Location: March, Cambridgeshire
Hi Bob,

Ah memories of Frank. I knew that he originated from the North East but I was not sure from where. (Incidentally, his cover, a Mr William Heslop, also came from your neck of the woods!) I too have some photographs of him both with our 45 Ton steam crane (his baby!) and also with the 75 Ton diesel-converted machine we had at March. If I had your e-mail address I would certainly forward some copies for you. (Frank's 'full English' was something to get stuck into).


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PostPosted: 16 Feb 2011, 11:05 
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W P Robinson's book "From Steam to Stratford" includes mention of Frank Kidd. 'Robbo' says that on 20th October 1978, Frank went to Stratford to be passed out on their 75-ton diesel crane. He said that two of Frank's drivers had been certificated (he doesn't give their names) and "as soon as he was too, his new crane would be delivered".

Robbo and Frank discussed the so-called 'finer points' of the diesel crane he would be getting, including that the jib was perfectly balanced at 30 feet radius and could be safely slewed round 360 degrees free-on-rail with nothing on the hook. [I wonder if that applied to level track only?]

Frank got his certificate "...and was a happy man, looking forward to getting his big crane".


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