Other vehicles

In previous submissions, we discussed the LMLR locomotives Thunderbox, Sir Mathew Pilgrim and Hotspur. There were others during my time (1995-2001) at Little Melton, as well as other items of rolling stock.

Ben, cab first, approaches Melton Wood Junction.

Ben was a big yellow locomotive. I think the transmission was hydraulic, and I assume it drove both two axle bogies. The superstructure was built on some substantial girders, and Ben looked a very impressive machine, but seemed a little out of place when running backwards, as it had to when replacing Thunderbox on the Piggeries train. I can’t tell you how Ben drove as I didn’t have the chance to drive it.

(23rd November 2016 – we can’t say too much about this at the moment, but we’ve had evidence that Ben still exists. 25th January 2017, see the comment.)

Ben, cab rearmost, approaches the tunnel.

The General was a smaller petrol electric locomotive, like all of the internal combustion LMLR locos, carried on two two-axle bogies. It might have just been driven on one bogie, but don’t quote me.

The General, wearing a cap. Note the bell between the windows.

The General worked both routes, but usually, perhaps exclusively, with the two car set. It was easier to run in reverse, as The General’s controls didn’t require much effort,  as it was a simple six position switch, controlling the current from the battery and the (I assume) generator, power went to  a motor which drove gears and chains to the bogie. Running backwards still required a degree of suppleness, turning your head to look while manipulating controls unseen, but there were better rear windows than on other machines.

You can read more about The General, and see it’s new home at Ashmanhaugh, by clicking HERE.

In the background, the rear part of the Bug and the Bug ride collection tin. Thunderbox’s coaches pass by.


The Bug was a pump trolley. You sat on it, and with a little help to start moving, moved the handle backwards and forward to turn the gears to provide movement. The Bug was 20p a go, and had its own short track parallel to the close of the Piggeries route.

The Bug run. Thunderbox departs.

The Bug was aimed at children, but was also quite useful for tracking shots of Thunderbox arriving and departing. Memory says that one day, with no other trains running, Alex took The Bug on an entire circuit of the LMLR.

The General’s rake.

During my time, we had four sets of coaches. The first three sets were metal chassis with wooden (what else?) bodies and seats, splendidly varnished, and in places articulated.

Sir Mathew Pilgrim’s rake.

They were all uncovered: we had plenty of brollies and cloths to wipe the seats, as the varnish was so good, you could wipe away the rain. We had one two car set and two three car sets, all on articulated bogies (as in the wheel sets not next to the loco or at the rear were shared between carriages). The idea was that the coaches could be used to move wood to and from storage in the tunnel. Later Hotspur acquired another two car set for The Paddock line. These were also wood, but painted maroon. If I recall correctly, I think the bogie frames were slightly lower that the existing vehicles, which meant occasional problems with clearances.

Reg as guard on Hotspur’s train. This is before Hotspur acquired it’s own set of coaches.

The guard sat at the rear of the train(normally – sometimes it didn’t happen, sometimes a guard (me) ignored the rules and followed the train around because a family needed the rear seat), and a Piggeries train arriving required the guard to move the paraphernalia (seat reserved for the guard notice, flags, cushion) from the rear to the front at the disembarkation point just before the station: letting people dismount away from the station was sensible because of the numbers carried, usually on warm, sunny, summer-like days between 3pm and 4pm – a pity because the tea run came around at about 3.30pm, and there were many times Bob and guard (me) would bolt a cake and a cup of tea before departure.

Disembarking on the Old Piggeries line. Bug route on the right, guard is bottom right.

Oh yes, I was a stickler for this: the end coaches of the sets had a bracket for a cycle lamp with a red lens. Not everyone remembered to move the tail lamp, but I don’t think anyone was ever stopped by the bobby for no tail light. Ultimately it wasn’t necessary, as with an articulated set, I trust that the train crew would have noticed any ‘breakaway’.

An early LMLR wooden wagon and wooden track.

Next to Melton Wood Junction was a reminder of the first idea of the LMLR: a wooden truck and some wooden rails. The railway was to be entirely wooden.

And then there was the old motor car. Sorry, I can remember very little, and I have no photographs. Can anyone advise?

There was another locomotive in the early days of the LMLR, and this is mentioned in the history, but this was before my time. Can anyone complete this part of the story?


Hotspur and the Paddock Line


Norman Duffield and Hotspur at Melton Wood Junction

One of the later additions to the LMLR stud of motive power was Hotspur. Hotspur was a Romulus type. Hotspur was a steam locomotive. Hotspur, as discussed earlier, was named after a Britannia from 32A (Norwich).  The ‘Brit’ was Norman’s father-in-law’s loco: the Romulus was Norman’s. There might have been visiting steam locos before, but that was before my time at Little Melton.

The cab – the regulator is a screw thread type rather than a lever – the ‘infamous’ gauge glasses are above the firebox door.

Hotspur had a tender, which carried water and coal, and provided a seat for the driver. Hotspur emitted a satisfying “choff choff” sound, and a whistle in proportion to Hotspur’s size. Later on, Hotspur had its own set of maroon liveried coaches (which, if memory serves, at first had a slight clearance problem with their bogies), but it had its own route:  the Paddock Line.

Map, as before – Paddock Line in green.

The Paddock Line was a figure of eight, with a diamond crossing, with a shorter descent than the mainline, but with two noticeable climbs. At two points, the line ran parallel to the mainline, where locos could exchange ‘toots’, but with a grass verge or fence between tracks. There were no signals, as it was a one engine in steam route.

Norman adds water to the tender. You can see the top of the water butt in the next picture. The device on the chimney is an electric blower to encourage draught though the fire.

Firstly, Hotspur needed to raise steam. Norman walked Hotspur from the shed to the right-hand platform road at Melton Wood Junction, ‘clamped’ the spring points (okay, used a rod to counter-act the spring) and pushed the loco into the exit of the Paddock Line. Norman would light the fire, fill the tender with rainwater, and use the blower to encourage the fire. In the meantime, The General would take a set of coaches around the mainline.

The view from The General, parked up, while Hotspur runs on the Paddock Line

Before Hotspur had its own rake of coaches, when ready, Hotspur replaced The General on the two vehicle set, but would operate on the Paddock Line. There were no special tickets, the pink ones issued at the ticket office allowed a ride on either the Melton Wood Junction or the Paddock Line.

Cab ride – the first right hander underneath the route sign.

The train left the right-hand platform of Melton Wood Junction, took the right hand road from the turnout just beyond the platform, and after passing underneath ‘The Paddock Line’ board, the route started the first descent. Then it curved right, with the ‘Moinde Yaar Hid’ tunnel to the left. After a section of straight track, the line curved right and started to climb, passing over the diamond crossing, before commencing a left hand oval, with the section parallel to the mainline.

Hotspur blasting towards the diamond crossing for the second time.

The line rattled over the diamond crossing again, continued to the left, then climbed towards Melton Wood Junction, through a section called ‘Noyers de Normandie’. By now Hotspur sounded a little breathless, and Hotspur could slip on occasion, which was no surprise considering loads, weather and rail head conditions. The line turned right, Hotspur regained grip, and chuffed satisfyingly again into the right-hand road of Melton Wood Junction.

The approach to Melton Wood Junction from the Paddock Line.

At close of play, Hotspur might do a full circuit of the mainline, and with less of a fire, in light steam, worked back tender first to the shed and, once cooler, covered.

Hotspur on the mainline. The Paddock Line is to the right.

I drove Hotspur at close of play. Only once, mind: I wasn’t much good at it. You need real skill and experience to drive a steam locomotive on a line with gradients, as it’s a bit of a shock to see how quickly a gauge glass fills, and then empties: you’re either wrecking the cylinders or heating an empty boiler, and both are bad (except it wasn’t quite that simple). I reiterate my view of a few blogs ago, of my doffing of the cap to practical people. I haven’t attempted to drive a steam loco of any size since.

A trip behind Hotspur at Ashmanhaugh a few years ago.

After closure, Hotspur found a new home at Ashmanhaugh. You can see more about that HERE. Another ALR based site has earlier photos, so try HERE too. Meanwhile, here are some more of our views of Hotspur in action at both railways.

Arriving at Melton Wood Junction. Norman in charge, Reg as guard.
On the map, this is the far left hand top part of the loop, near Point Cottage.
At close of play, Mike ensures the spring point is set so Norman can reverse Hotspur back to the shed.
Hotspur in action at Ashmanhaugh a few years ago. Notice the number and new ownership.
Hotspur at speed.
The first climb, a warm dry day as there’s little steam from Hotspur.
By contrast, Hotspur starts the climb on a damper, cooler day.
Ben’s just left the tunnel. Hotspur is about to turn to climb for the first time. Whistles and toots exchanged.


It is very wet – Norman makes a few adjustments before departure.
Departure: notice the brollies. Notice the platform and how effective the roof was.

Postscript: Hotspur didn’t work Santa Specials: there were too many people to carry, it was the steep Vine Cottage route and the rail conditions were foul at times. Perhaps this was for the best, as it would ask too much of such a splendid loco.

Hotspur asleep.

Yes, I remember Thunderbox …



Bob and Thunderbox … please overlook Thunderbox’s impression of an extended range fuel tank loco .

Most, if not all, of the LMLR memorabilia featured a certain locomotive: Thunderbox.


You remember Thunderbox, don’t you? How could you forget?! It looked like a hut with a kennel attached, it had a balustrade on the cab roof (where it was easy to forget you’d left the fuel can, or your cap), and a motor car horn of some vintage. If you don’t remember that, you will remember hearing Thunderbox before seeing it: the engine roared, the bell clanged and the horn parp-parped before departure and at crossings and stations.

tbox for Santa

Thunderbox ready for Santa Specials.

You would remember Thunderbox.

Thunderbox was wooden bodied, metal chassised, and had a petrol engine with a mechanical transmission. The loco was carried by one powered two axle bogie underneath the bonnet, and one unpowered two-axle trailer bogie, underneath the cab. These seemed to hold the track quite well. If you want the technical details, you can visit the site of Thunderbox’s current home, the Ashmanhaugh Light Railway and read about the engine, the transmission and the builder.

We at the LMLR tribute site wishes to tell you about what Thunderbox meant and what it was like to drive.

Thunderbox was Bob’s loco. You could consider that they were one and the same on running days, but, as Bob’s illness progressed, there were times when Bob took a break, or was guard. Nevertheless Bob and Thunderbox were inseparable: perhaps that’s an exaggeration, but most people will understand the sentiment.


Tbox Santa special

Thunderbox on one of the many Santa Specials

Thunderbox roared: perhaps that’s why Thunderbox was a doubly apt name. Maybe one day we’ll work out how to add audio to this tribute site, so you could appreciate the ‘thrash’ as Thunderbox lifted a fully laden train from the tunnel up to Point Cottage. Occasionally Thunderbox would struggle on that gradient, particularly in wet, leafy conditions on aluminium rail, and then the more athletic or enthusiastic guard would dismount and act as a banker. When you’re pushing a train uphill to keep time, possibly in the wet, the attraction of a loud engine struggling for grip loses its appeal, but revives with nostalgia with the passing of the years.

Thunderbox required strength to drive, or at least wrist stamina. To engage drive, the joystick needed to be pushed forward and held, or pulled backwards and held, and to apply power, the twist grip – like a motorcycle throttle – had to be twisted and held. There were two gears in each direction, as well as neutral. Engage, twist and hold was fine on the downhill stretch when the Old Piggeries line met the main circuit, but required endurance on lifting the train from the bend towards the long climb to and through the tunnel and beyond, and then again once clearing Point Cottage.


tbox backwards

Thunderbox in reverse, downhill – Bob in charge. Notice the leaves on the line.

On every second trip on the Old Piggeries route, Thunderbox hauled the train cab first: this meant backwards. There was a mirror, but this was mainly for checking the train behind during forward running, but for a reasonable look-out, you had to lean out and turn your neck, whilst engaging gear and keeping that throttle twisted. Furthermore, the long descent from the junction to the bend leading to the tunnel could be exciting as we had no continuous brake: Thunderbox had a handbrake and careful drivers. After the long coast down to the curve, Thunderbox would ‘open up’, and roar towards the tunnel, clanging, parping, and then roaring away up towards Point Cottage, maybe exchanging engine greetings with Hotspur in the later years, as the Romulus passed by in the opposite direction where the Paddock line came close to the main circuit.


Thunderbox lifts another Old Piggeries train from Point Cottage.

Point Cottage had the train operated points: Thunderbox took the ‘Lost Line’, which meant pushing the point lever forwards. A practiced or skilled driver could do this under motion, although this was a more awkward procedure in reverse, and the Lost Line curved to the right and continued to rise briefly. The Vine Cottage route required drawing the lever backwards, all fine if you had power to spare, as had Sir Mathew Pilgrim or Ben, although maybe those crews would wish to disagree.

Occasionally Thunderbox was sick. Sometimes the bigger locos were required for traffic levels. Sometimes Bob wasn’t there. Much as Ben, Sir Mathew, The General and Hotspur were all LMLR locos, as were the crews, Thunderbox was the LMLR’s talisman, the LMLR’s symbol.

Tbox tableau

Screen shot tableau – clockwise from to left: Thunderbox cab  first with a well loaded train on the Trestle Bridge, Thunderbox departs The Old Piggeries, Thunderbox passing the model railway shed heading back to The Old Piggeries, Thunderbox passing the colour llight protecting the junction just before Melton Wood Junction.

I drove Thunderbox on occasion, I think at least once – memory fades or becomes obscured with time. I can vouch for engaging the gear, and keeping the throttle twisted, and the fast descent, and the roar of the engine! Bob might have been my guard that day, and it was good for Bob and the public to meet when clipping tickets, as with Bob driving (and an efficient guard, or so we brag) there was little time during a busy running day to chat.

tbox ashman

Thunderbox resting at Ashmanhaugh. Notice the ALR number.

After closure, Thunderbox found a new home. Eventually we went to see it. We gave Thunderbox a big hug; it was just like seeing an old friend. We doubt that there are any gradients for some ‘thrash’, for some audio delight from the power unit, but perhaps that’s for the best – Thunderbox gave everything on those climbs, and maybe a relatively flat track would be a better place to enjoy Thunderbox as a machine, and prolong its chance to bring pleasure to rail fans of all ages.

To conclude this tribute to Thunderbox, there is just one last thing: one day Bob said to me, and you’ll have to imagine Bob’s gentle Norfolk accent here, “do you know why it’s called Thunderbox?” On saying no, Bob lifted the driver’s seat cushion to reveal a wooden seat with a hole in it. Underneath the hole, was a white, probably porcelain bowl, about the size of a soup plate, and the depth of a basin. “That’s why it’s Thunderbox” chuckled Bob, although we can’t remember if Bob called Thunderbox he, she or it.


Lest it be unclear, Thunderbox’s structure incorporated a commode. Or did it? Was this an impish sense of humour to include the pot or, although thankfully never used (we hope), perhaps it was unique: unlike most, maybe all, 7¼” railways, at least one of our trains had a toilet. If only we’d thought of an at seat trolley service… .