Schoolboy memories

Recollections of Ian Thomas

Transcribed from a recorded interview made by Allan Guy (2001)

[AG] "Ian Thomas was just a schoolboy when the Dursley Donkey puffed up and down the line."

[IT] "I used to go down with friends on... during the summer holidays, run down from Kingshill across the fields, down to the Everlands to watch the afternoon freight coming up from Gloucester to Dursley. There used to be anything like 10 or 11 of us on the Gallows Bridge just to watch the train go by, and sometimes in the evening to see it come back down from Lister's at quarter to six in the evening and... it really was a great sight... which really is the only great memories I've got of the Dursley branch because I was only seven when the passenger service was withdrawn back in 1962."

"The line opened itself in the mid 19th century. What was happening in the Dursley and Cam valley... there was many cloth mills and local industries and by that time the Bristol and Gloucester Railway had opened its line up the flat of the Severn Vale but provided no passenger or freight facilities locally. The nearest station being Berkeley Road or Frocester and to those people then, that was a long way to take their goods, so through local initiative a consortium was formed and out of that come our own local railway company, as you might say, the Dursley and Midland Junction Railway Company... and, many meetings in the town hall in Dursley and meetings in Cam, and finally construction of the railway got underway in 1855 and it opened in 1856. 22nd of August it opened to freight and just a few weeks later the passenger service started on September the 18th 1856."

[AG] "In the 1940's and 50's, a series of Midland F1 0-6-0 tank engines serviced the line."

[IT] "The well-known ones were 17, 20, 27, 42 and 48. We've all seen pictures of them at Dursley station and different places and they were quite well loved because towards the end they were getting on a 100 years old... and the cab was open at the back and drivers or the crew had to put some sort of sheeting over there in bad weather, just to work the line. I mean you can picture them going up and down the line in the bitter winter of 1946/47 when the temperatures were so low. They were well endeared, and frankly one of them is in preservation. It's number 1708 which was rescued from the ironworks at Staveley, near Chesterfield in Derbyshire."

"The Western Region took over in 1958 or thereabouts... then we seen great changes. We had those ubiquitous Great Western pannier tanks... little 0-6-0 pannier tanks. Now the interesting thing, and this is something that was in the Dursley Gazette around 1961, was the whistle. It was like a two tone whistle, two different tones, one was the general whistle I believe, and one was the brake whistle. So obviously the brakeman on the train, when he heard that whistle, he'd know he'd have to apply his brakes. Of course, when sounded simultaneously, it sounded like a cuckoo... and the London Midland men, who were working this line, they absolutely loved it... so they were up and down the Cam valley playing with these whistles... it sounded like a cuckoo all year round, and hence, I think the Gazette titled 'The cuckoo comes to the Cam valley.'"

"Steam eventually bowed out Christmas week 1965, and the diesels took over just after the Christmas. Eventually the last Dursley Donkey ran, and it's 40 years ago, on September the 8th. So we look back 40 years ago to Saturday, September the 8th, 1962 and the very last Dursley Donkey, the Donk, left Coaley at twenty to eight, that evening for Dursley. It would have come back as an empty coaching stock train, having worked the last service but there was so many people on there, so many local people, hundreds had turned out. When it left Coaley, there was detonators exploding, people cheering as it made its way to Dursley, and all these people... most of them had come from all round so they had to get them back, so the train actually ran as a passenger train back from Dursley to Coaley Junction and finally on to Gloucester. Thereafter it was freight only, the steam finished as I said in 1965 and the diesels went on... but the branch met with what I should say, a bit of an ignominious end. Not many people can remember this but at the bottom of the gas-works pitch was the little Quag bridge, ten foot three inch clearance, I remember it to this day. Well on one day, it was the second week... sorry the first week of July, 1970, a cement lorry coming down the hill took the turning and got wedged solid, lifted the whole bridge, parapet, the lot, there was debris everywhere. I was at school that day, I was in the fourth form at Dursley Modern School then and we heard at school so I couldn't wait to get home and go down and see what had happened. There it was, all twisted, debris on the road all swept up, thankfully nobody hurt, but that sealed the fate of the line and the official closure then was the following Monday, July the 13th 1970, and that really was the end because the line was lifted thereafter."

"The last train ran into Dursley goods yard and the old station, Friday the 28th June 1968 of which there's photographs to cover that one and the line was cut back just to serve the long siding into the foundry to bring the pig-iron and the coke up and there it remained for those last two years until 1970 and, as I said, the sad fateful end on that fateful July day."