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The GWR: back on track – Big time!!!

A Black 5 passes through Bishops Cleeve on The Honeybourne Line in 1965

I joined the Steam Dept at Toddington on the GWR about 5 years ago as a bit of a newbie. I’d been a GWR and steam enthusiast for as long as I can remember but it was only then that I started to really get to grips with what it is all about.

The trouble with being an armchair enthusiast is that you really have no idea how much work it all is, getting locos restored and then maintaining them on a daily basis. As an enthusiast, you make the odd financial contribution and then, at some point in the near or distant future, the engine appears as if by magic and out comes the camera.

That is why the GWR’s Big 4 gala is such a magnificent achievement – to make something seem like magic is not achieved by waving a wand and I now have an inkling of how much work has gone into it.  It is not just that the volunteer team made sure that it all worked out logistically, to the delight of visitors:  what is so impressive is that they ensured that it was an efficiently planned and profitable event that actually made money for our railway, as well as enhancing or reputation.  Everyone in the organising team has a family, job and many other commitments and all worked, over and above the call of duty, for no pay for over 11 months in their spare time to get it organised on time.

They were rewarded with the enjoyment of a job well done and driving and firing the iconic engines they had hired in for the event such as the Schools and B12 but they, and lots of other people in the department, have been seen all year turning up at odd times to do the many other, very unglamorous jobs, like painting the front gate, banging in fence posts, picking up litter and bits of junk lying around that create the atmosphere we wanted to achieve.  There is a peculiarly good feeling to be had from just looking down the smart, clean yard at Toddington and knowing that you and your mates did your own little bit to make it look like that.

And, yes, the GWR is BACK!  We have been through a very tough time, with the landslips, both in terms of morale and money.  The cash we had to divert (and raise) for those slips might instead have moved us closer to Broadway than we are now, it might have given us a vitally needed carriage shed or a proper concrete floor for the steam shed.

But now, the corner has been well and truly turned and it is as if the GWR has done a bit of growing up in the process.  Confidence has been given a huge boost by the gala and the whole heritage community can see that we are back on track, towards Broadway and Honeybourne and that BR connection.  We are a lot more professional, clearer about our priorities, about the importance of boring things like drainage, and, paradoxically, we are also starting to attract the ‘nice-to’haves’, as some people call them.

Not only is the 44901 Kingmoor Ivatt Black 5 project back on track after various set backs, but we will also be home to another long term restoration project in Barry wreck 2-8-0 No. 2874.  In addition we will have a Manor to look after in the form of 7820 Dinmore Manor; 2-8-0T No 4270 is ready to take up the reins when 7903 Foremarke Hall bows out for its 10 year overhaul this autumn and, finally, we shall have that huge Bulleid beast, 35006, P & O line steaming next year.   That will really put the icing on the cake!

Oh, and I almost forgot:  the NRM’s 4F  is coming together pretty quickly now and might steam in 2014 – it’s a good job we have lots of goods wagons for all those freight charters!

It really is an exciting time but it is not just magic: it’s weekly work, over many years, by lots of people who do not demand that their names are seen in lights.  That, in my opinion, is the immense strength and magic of a volunteer run railway – people are more generous with their time than when they get paid.

If you would like to join us, on any basis you like, the GWR, with its growing reputation for high standards of care for the locomotives in its care and friendly welcoming atmosphere to all will be very pleased indeed to see you.

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