A Californian in Manchester (or a Mancunian in California)

Manchester “Californian” type tram 765: August 1981

Manchester “Californian” type tram 765: August 1981

I took the photo above in August 1981, showing a “Californian” in Manchester, England. It’s not really Californian—of course—it’s just a “California style” tram that used to be operated by Manchester Corporation Tramways. Manchester abandoned its electric tramway system even earlier than most British cities, and this preserved car is the only surviving Manchester electric tram.

At the time of my photograph, the restoration of Car 765 had recently been completed, and it was giving rides to the public on a special track in Heaton Park. When riding that ancient tram, during a long-ago summer Sunday, I never even guessed that, within 10 years, I’d be riding modern trams (albeit called trollies) in the real California!

I described in a previous post how I accepted an offer of an apprenticeship in Electronic Engineering from Ferranti, in Manchester, and so moved there to start working for them in July 1981.

For all its (deserved) reputation as a grim Northern industrial city, Manchester nonetheless has a fascinating history, having been the cradle of an Industrial Revolution that massively changed the world. The city not only features many world-famous industrial landmarks, but was also the source of early reactions to the industrialization of society. For example, the German philosopher Friedrich Engels wrote his master work, The Condition of the Working Class in England, in the city in 1842-44. Engels met Karl Marx a few years later, and together they went on to promote Communism, which of course has had a substantial effect on the subsequent course of world history.

One among many “world’s firsts” located in Manchester is the oldest surviving purpose-built railway station; Liverpool Road Station, built in 1830 for the Liverpool & Manchester Railway, and shown below in my 1983 photo.

Liverpool Road Station, Manchester

Liverpool Road Station, Manchester

Things to Come

In those days, Manchester was still in the process of shedding its industrial past (as fabulized later in the TV series Life on Mars). Despite the fascination of its history, Manchester for me couldn’t compare with the opportunity to live in London (to where I moved when I began my studies at Imperial College that Autumn). I lived and worked in Manchester for three summers, and I look back on those days now as a boldly-taken but rather shaky stepping-stone on the way to everything that has happened to me since.

I admit that the title of this post is stretching the truth a little, because I’m not really “Mancunian” (someone from Manchester), but I did live there for a while, during an interesting part of my life!

Manchester “Californian” type tram 765: August 1981

Manchester “Californian” type tram 765: August 1981

Happy Bastille Day 2018

Chemins de fer du Midi, Bordeaux

Chemins de fer du Midi, Bordeaux

Happy Bastille Day! This year, trying to avoid predictable views of Paris, I decided to post the photo above, which shows a fascinating map that still exists in the Great Hall of the main railway station in Bordeaux (Saint Jean). This huge wall plan was created by the Compagnie des Chemins de fer du Midi, presumably at the time of the station’s construction.

I took the photograph when Mary and I were passing through Bordeaux station in 2014, on our way from Paris to Saint Cyprien. We had just arrived from Paris via TGV, and we were changing trains for the TER service to our final destination.

The photo above doesn’t reveal that that afternoon was extremely hot, and only small parts of Bordeaux Station are air-conditioned (ironically, the area near the McDonalds restaurant)! Mary and I thus spent most of our time there trying to find places to keep cool, but even in those circumstances we didn’t consider the idea of eating at McDonalds.

Back to Paris

The photo below shows me in Paris Montparnasse Station, in front of the TGV that had just brought us back from Bordeaux on the return leg of our journey.

TGV and Me, Paris Montparnasse, 2014

TGV and Me, Paris Montparnasse, 2014

In fact, the train route between Paris and Bordeaux has changed since we made our journey, because the LGV Sud Europe Atlantique high-speed line has been opened all the way through (as shown here). When we made our trip in 2014, we could only use the high-speed line from Paris to Tours, and then the train used the existing route to Bordeaux.

Historic Rail Maps Survive

The rail map in Bordeaux station immediately reminded me of the tile maps that England’s North Eastern Railway placed at most major stations on its network, the surviving examples of which were a regular sight when I was traveling in Yorkshire as a child.

The photo below shows the map at York Station, and was taken while I was changing trains there a few years ago.

North Eastern Railway tile map, York

North Eastern Railway tile map, York

There’s an additional modern notice at the right-hand side of the map, warning potential passengers that they can’t necessarily take a train to all the locations shown on the map!

In fact, there are a few locations on the NER map that you could never get to by rail, because the lines shown were never built. On the whole, though, the maps provide an impressive record of just how extensive the European rail network was at the end of the nineteenth century.

Fireworks from the Wine Train

Wine Train Dining Car with Mary

Wine Train Dining Car with Mary

For the Fourth of July this year, Mary and I decided to have dinner on the Napa Valley Wine Train once again. The photo above shows Mary in one of the train’s dining cars, just as it was getting dark and we were preparing to watch the firework display from the train.

The “Wine Train” is a tourist meal excursion that, since 1989, has operated from Napa to St. Helena and back on the tracks of the old Napa Valley Railroad. The line originally ran from Napa Junction to Calistoga, but had been cut back to St. Helena in 1960. In 1987, when the Southern Pacific Railroad decided to abandon the remaining tracks, a local business group stepped up to buy the line and operate it as a tourist railroad.

The Yountville Stop

Generally, the dinner trains run nightly up and down the line, but it’s simply a round trip with dinner, because you usually can’t disembark in St. Helena. Once a year, however, on the Fourth of July, the train makes an extra stop outside the Yountville Veterans’ Home, which provides a public firework show. Passengers can watch the fireworks from the comfort of the train, and it is perhaps a unique way to enjoy the display without the inconveniencies of sitting outdoors at night.

The photo below shows the Yountville Veterans’ Home before dark, taken from the northbound train.

Yountville Veterans' Home from the Wine Train

Yountville Veterans’ Home from the Wine Train

The photo below shows a typical vineyard view from the train. This is the V Sattui Winery. The roses at the end of each row of vines are intended to keep aphids off the grapes.

V Sattui Winery from the Wine Train

V Sattui Winery from the Wine Train

Turnaround in St. Helena

When the train reaches St. Helena, the locomotive must run around for the return journey. This year, for the first time since we’ve been taking trips on the Wine Train, our motive power was not a pair of Alco FPA-4s, but instead GP20 #48, on lease from the Sierra Railroad. Currently, the owners of the Wine Train are refurbishing much of the rolling stock, which has necessitated leasing stock from elsewhere.

Locomotive #48 is shown below as it ran past our carriage.

Sierra Railroad #48 at St. Helena

Sierra Railroad #48 at St. Helena

The photo below, taken at St. Helena during our 2016 visit, shows one of the FPA-4s more traditionally associated with the Wine Train.

Alco FPA-4 at St. Helena

Alco FPA-4 at St. Helena

Eventually we arrived back at Yountville after dark, the train halted, and we settled in to enjoy the fireworks. The photo below shows a typical scene, shot from inside the train.

Fireworks at Yountville, 2018

Fireworks at Yountville, 2018

I’d just bought a new Nikon camera, which features a “fireworks mode”, so this was an excellent opportunity to try that out. I was very pleased with the results.

An Excellent Dinner

I should add that our dinners on the train were excellent. In “special dining” situations such as this, the quality of food and service sometimes leaves something to be desired. In the early days of the Wine Train (during the 1990s), the food was not always outstanding, but our recent dinners on the trains have been perfect.

Learning the Virtue of Patience

1:72 Model of Hawker Harrier T.2 Demonstrator G-VTOL

1:72 Model of Hawker Harrier T.2 Demonstrator G-VTOL

The photo above is all that survives of a 1:72 scale model of the Hawker Siddeley Harrier T.2 demonstrator aircraft, which I made in 1976, while still a teenager. In those days, making model kits (usually of aircraft) was regarded as something of a “rite of passage” for young boys. My initial efforts were extremely clumsy, but, by the time I made the model above, I had become quite comfortable with the techniques required. I was able to adapt off-the-shelf kits to my own requirements (as here where I’d converted a single-seat Matchbox Harrier kit to the two-seat version), and even make my own decals.

When I first bought those plastic kits, however, I was too young and unskilled to construct them myself, so my parents helped out by making them for me. In retrospect, their responses to those tasks seem quite odd. I mentioned in a previous post that, like so many other children, I inadvertently learned dysfunctional attitudes from my parents, and this seems to have been another of those cases.

A Fiendish Plot to Infuriate Parents?

In Britain at that time, the two major manufacturers of plastic kits were Airfix and FROG. The strange name of the latter company, which had been the first in the world to make such kits, was actually an acronym, as I’ll explain below.

The first plastic model kit that I remember buying, when I was about 7 years old, was of a Supermarine S6B floatplane, made by FROG. Rather naively, I was planning to build it myself, but it quickly became apparent that I did not have the dexterity

Strangely, my mother agreed that she would build it for me, although she certainly had no interest in aircraft, and I assume that she had never attempted anything like that before.

Things started out quite well, but the struts holding the floats to the plane’s fuselage really were quite tricky to position and fix correctly. Attempts to complete the task threw my mother into a rage, and apparently it was my fault. She shouted at me: “You said this was easy!” I don’t think that I had actually said that, but how would a seven-year-old know anyway?

Thankfully for everyone, that was the last time that my mother ever attempted to construct one of those kits! Thereafter, my father took on the task, until I was old enough to do it myself. Nonetheless, I discovered that he also suffered from a less acute form of the same paranoid attitude towards kit manufacturers, in that he would become annoyed when some aspect of the construction was difficult, and even accuse the manufacturers of having deliberately made it so.

For example, on one occasion he was assembling the Airfix model of the AEC Matador truck (which interested him because he had learned to drive on real RAF Matador trucks during the Second World War). The Airfix kit had the rear body divided into pieces so that it could be built open or closed, but my father was sure this was a deliberate plot to frustrate him! “There’s no need to have so many pieces,” he said in disgust.

Unfortunately, I think that the lesson I learned from my parents’ responses was that the appropriate response to a lack of skill in intricate tasks was frustration and rage! It has taken me a long time to “unlearn” that unhelpful response, and even now I sometimes find myself slipping back into it.

Learning Patience

I did eventually improve my model-making skills, bought better tools, and learned the patience to persevere when tasks were intricate or unclear. As a result, I actually spent a lot of time not only building the kits, but improving them, as with the Matchbox Harrier model shown above. Most of the models are now long lost, but I did happen to take a couple of photos that have survived.

The first kit sold by Matchbox, when that company expanded away from its famous line of metal model cars in 1972, was of the RAF Hawker Fury biplane. That was another kit that I built and improved, as shown in the surviving photo below. I made my own decals for Number 1 Squadron, replaced some of the kit’s more overscale parts, and added rigging.

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1:72 Model of Hawker Fury, based on Matchbox Kit

Unfortunately, when taking those photos, I didn’t give much thought to the selection of a suitable background, and simply posed the models on our dining room table!

FROG Models

As I mentioned above, the first manufacturer in the world to create plastic model aircraft kits, during the 1930s, had been FROG. The name was an acronym for “Flies Right Off the Ground”, and actually referred to the company’s flying model aircraft. The non-flying plastic models were originally known as “FROG Penguins” because of their flightless state! (The original plastic used was cellulose acetate, rather than polystyrene.)

The image below shows an advertisement for FROG’s models, from the January 1939 issue of Meccano Magazine. It’s interesting to realize that those “non-flying scale models” shown on the right below were not museum pieces, but were all contemporary aircraft, which were in military or civil service at that time.

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1939 Advertisement for FROG Models

A Dying Art?

In these days of innumerable TV channels, on-demand internet entertainment, and interactive games, it seems that ever fewer young people have the patience to bother building those model kits. The manufacturers and sellers of the kits have certainly noticed the change, and have tried various ways to win back their traditional buyers.

Another factor contributing to the demise of the plastic kit industry must be the advances that have been made in the detailing of ready-made models. Manufacturers such as Oxford Diecast have come onto the scene, offering fully assembled and painted models of the same subjects. Why take all that time and trouble to create your own model, when you can probably buy something similar (or even better) ready-made?

I suspect that, just as with so many other cultural developments, the days when boys spent hours making plastic models are never likely to return. I wonder whether that will have a negative effect on personal levels of patience and skill, or whether instead those virtues will be redirected to other purposes.

A Liberator visits Santa Rosa

B-24 Liberator at Sonoma County Airport

B-24 Liberator at Sonoma County Airport

My photo above shows the last flying Consolidated B-24 “Liberator” bomber, which I’d hoped to be flying in earlier this week. Unfortunately, the flight had to be canceled, due to an engine problem, but nonetheless I had a rare opportunity to examine the aircraft in detail. Alongside several other vintage aircraft, the B-24 was visiting Sonoma County Airport, as part of the annual Wings of Freedom Tour, organized by the Collings Foundation.

My interest in this particular type of aircraft stems from the fact that my father flew in them, as a Wireless Operator (W/O) for the RAF, during World War II. I mentioned in a previous article that he volunteered for the RAF on the outbreak of the war, because somebody had given him a “hot tip” that, by not waiting to be conscripted, he’d be able to choose which service he joined, and where he would serve. Unfortunately, that advice turned out to be only half-right, because he definitely did not want to serve in Aden, which was where he actually spent most of the war.

The Worst Place in the World

As reported in the book Wings of Empire, RAF personnel who served in Aden during the 1920s and 1930s described it as the “most repulsive place in the world”. It was from RAF Khormaksar air base that my father flew offensive missions against Italian forces, and also operated many ferry flights of aircraft being transferred from Britain to the Far East. Most of the ferry missions involved his flying between Aden and Malta.

As the war progressed, Britain took delivery of increasing numbers of American aircraft, under the Lend-Lease program. Thus, having started out flying British types such as the Blenheim and Vincent, he later found himself operating such American types as the Liberator and Hudson. (Incidentally, all the type names of the American aircraft were conferred by the RAF; in the US all the types were officially known only by numbers.)

Inside the B-24

My photo below shows the W/O’s position, behind the flight deck, as seen from the front of the bomb bay. This is where my father would have been sitting on those long flights.

B-24 Wireless Operator Station

B-24 Wireless Operator Station

The photo below, from a slightly different angle, shows the view through to the flight deck from the W/O station.

Looking towards the B-24 Flight Deck from the Bomb Bay

Looking towards the B-24 Flight Deck from the Bomb Bay

Warbirds Together

The B-24 wasn’t the only vintage aircraft visiting Santa Rosa. As shown below, a North American TF-51 trainer (2-seat version of the P-51 Mustang fighter) was just taxying in while I was inside the B-24.

TF-51 Taxying at Sonoma County Airport

TF-51 Taxying at Sonoma County Airport

Lined up alongside the B-24 was a North American B-25 Mitchell bomber, shown below in front of Sonoma Jet Center, who were hosting the visit.

B-25 Mitchell at Sonoma Jet Center

B-25 Mitchell at Sonoma Jet Center

Perhaps the most well-known of the visiting types was the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress, shown below.

B-17 Flying Fortress at Sonoma Jet Center

B-17 Flying Fortress at Sonoma Jet Center

Gun Crazy

The US has become notorious for having too many guns, too freely available, but fortunately the realistic-looking machine gun shown below is just a dummy! It’s the waist gunner’s position inside the B-24.

Guns at the Airport!

Guns at the Airport!

As I was leaving, work continued to repair the B-24’s engine, as shown below. The aircraft were scheduled to leave the following day, so they had to get the airplane flying again.

Working on the B-24's Engine

Working on the B-24’s Engine

He Never Went Back

As a postscript to the description of my father’s wartime experience, I should mention that he never went back to Aden again (nor anywhere near it) after his military service, and I don’t think he was sorry about that!

I’ve described in earlier posts how the lives of both my parents were blighted by war, and how fortunate I feel that mine has not (so far). I think it’s important to remind ourselves every so often of the ordeals that our ancestors endured in order to maintain our freedoms.

From Cloughton Station Gates to the World

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Pencil Drawing of Cloughton Station Gates, 1977

I produced the pencil drawing above in March 1977, as one of the regular weekly homework exercises for my Advanced-Level Art qualification.

The (now rather smudged) picture depicts a disused level crossing (grade crossing) gate that protected the tracks near the station at Cloughton. Cloughton was an intermediate stop on the Scarborough-Whitby line, which closed completely in 1965. The closure of that line set off a strange chain of events, which eventually led to worldwide fame for a similar station on a neighboring line.

My 1977 photo below shows a roadside view of the station building and goods shed at Cloughton, in a semi-derelict state.

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Cloughton Station, 1977

These days, although Cloughton Station building still exists at that location, the crossing gate is long gone (as shown in this Google Streetview). On the other hand, thankfully the surviving station premises have been substantially renovated, and are now tea rooms, presenting a much cheerier scene than they did when I took my photographs during the 1970s.

Not Quite What Was There

As I recall, the goal of that homework assignment was to draw an outdoor scene, but I felt that that was a bit too much trouble, so, instead, I based my drawing on my own photograph of that scene! (Unfortunately, I no longer have that photograph.)

However, as you might expect from my approach to such artwork, if you’ve read my earlier posts on the subject, my drawing does not accurately reflect the real scene, because I felt that the composition could be improved, relative to the reality of what was there.

For example, my drawing shows a grounded railway wagon body on the left, next to the crossing. There was no such object at that crossing, although I’d seen similar carcasses in many other railway locations.

Nonetheless, my depiction of the gate itself is accurate. The North Eastern Railway, whose design it was, adopted a rather unusual practice of using extremely wide single gates to span multiple tracks, unlike most other railways (which would have used multiple gates in these cases). For my Advanced-Level Art architectural study, I eventually created a dimensioned drawing of a smaller gate of the same design at another station on the same line, Fyling Hall, as shown below.

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Crossing Gate at Fyling Hall Station

From Heartbeat to Harry Potter

The Scarborough-Whitby railway was one of many targeted for closure by the notorious Beeching Report. There were many local protests regarding the planned closure of this line, and, during the 1964 national election, Harold Wilson of the Labour Party ran on a platform of promising to halt the Beeching-inspired closures. Unfortunately, it turned out that Wilson was just another lying politician, and after winning the election, he actually accelerated the closure schedule, as described in this post by transport commentator Christian Wolmar.

Following the closure, which took place on 6th March 1965, a fundraising effort began to try to buy up and reopen at least part of the Scarborough-Whitby route. Unfortunately, it appeared that the cost of repairs to structures on the line would exceed any conceivable budget, so the plan came to nothing.

However, the preservation effort then focused instead on another nearby line, which had been closed to passengers on the same day. This was the Whitby-Pickering Railway, which in fact was even more historic (albeit somewhat less scenic) than the Scarborough-Whitby route. The W&PR had originally been engineered by George Stephenson in 1836, and had relied on horse-drawn locomotion until it was connected to the national network in 1845.

As a result of all this, the North Yorkshire Moors Railway was formed, and began running trains in the early 1970s. I first visited the NYMR in 1975, and returned many times after that. The photo below shows Goathland Station on the NYMR in 1976, many years before it became world-famous.

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Before the Days of Fame: Goathland Station in 1976

The preserved NYMR met with great success, and was eventually able to extend its route all the way from Grosmont (junction with BR) to Pickering. I took the photo below of an express hauled by A4 locomotive “Sir Nigel Gresley” in Pickering in 2006.

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A4 “Sir Nigel Gresley” at Pickering, NYMR, 2006

The NYMR hired out its location for filming work, and, as a result, Goathland Station began to achieve recognition far beyond Yorkshire. During the 1990s, Goathland became “Aidensfield” in the TV soap opera Heartbeat, which ran from 1992 to 2010, and was broadcast around the world. The railway station appeared in many episodes.

Then, in 2001, Goathland Station appeared all around the world in movies, as the fictitious Hogsmeade Station in the Harry Potter films.

When I reluctantly produced that pencil drawing over 40 years ago, I couldn’t possibly have imagined the worldwide fame that was to come to some of those disused and derelict Yorkshire railways!

The Japanese Garden, San Mateo

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Japanese Garden, Central Park, San Mateo

On Sunday morning, I took the photo above of the Japanese Garden in San Mateo’s Central Park. At first glance, it would be easy to think that this garden must be in Japan, but the reality is that we’re fortunate to have it right here in California.

It is perhaps not surprising that the garden looks so authentically Japanese, because it was designed by Nagao Sakurai, who, in his younger days, had been Chief Gardener at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo. Nonetheless, all gardens require constant maintenance, and the City of San Mateo has done an amazing job in tending to this one since its creation in 1965.

I didn’t notice until I was editing the picture above just how well the trees behind the lake disguise the huge apartment building that would otherwise dominate the view.

The garden also features Japanese-style pavilions, as shown below.

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Pavilion at the Japanese Garden

I suspect that one reason why the garden stays in such pristine condition is because it can only be accessed via locked gates, as shown below from the outside. The gates are opened to the public between 10am and 4pm each day (11am – 4pm at weekends).

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The Gates of the Japanese Garden

When we lived in San Mateo, Mary and I would visit the Japanese Garden whenever we could. The beauty of this garden, along with others that we saw in Japan, inspired us to try to recreate our own much more modest version in our current home.

A Walk in the Park

It was a beautiful morning for a stroll in the park; sunny and calm, but still cool. Outside the walled-off Japanese Garden, wisteria bushes were blooming, as shown below.

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San Mateo Central Park

I also visited the nursery of the San Mateo Arboretum Society, which was holding a plant sale. The photo below is a general view of the nursery.

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San Mateo Arboretum Society

The Annual Flight Crew Luncheon

The primary reason that Mary and I had traveled to the Peninsula was to attend the annual luncheon for United Airlines flight crew, which took place once again at the Westin Hotel (below) near San Francisco Airport.

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Westin Hotel, San Francisco Airport

While we were parking outside the hotel, the usual lineup of aircraft waiting for takeoff could be seen on the runways of SFO, just across the waters of the bay, as shown below. There are 2 United Airlines aircraft visible, plus an Air China Boeing 747 and a Virgin Airways Airbus.

Aircraft Queueing for Takeoff at SFO

Aircraft Queueing for Takeoff at SFO

Mary had once again volunteered to help organize the reunion luncheon, and she did a great job, which was much appreciated by all the attendees. For both of us, it was very pleasant to be able to meet up once again with old friends.

Thank you once again to all those who continue to make the annual reunion possible!