If the LMLR cap fits …

Local lad (sorry) as guard – he also supervised ‘The Bug’ at times. Look at the loading and the coats!!!

This is a relatively difficult blog to write, because I must confess my note-making about the volunteers at the LMLR is pitiful: I focused much more on the trains and the running of trains to make notes or even remember the names of everybody who helped. There were plenty! We had Little Melton residents, the spouses and partners and relatives of the drivers, and the few youngsters and parents who’d be there.

I never ever thought I’d be in agreement with the late film director Michael Winner, but in his Radio 4 account of his youthful trip to America in ‘My Teenage Diary’, he said, if I recall correctly, that there was regret that he didn’t photograph his companions as much: he’d photograph a bridge or some other object rather than those with whom he shared the journey. As for my time at the LMLR, I think I understand Mr Winner’s sentiments and wish I’d taken better pictures and more video, but then I had no plans to publish these memories. Thank heavens I took as much video as I did.

However, it’s with gratitude that the ‘recreational railways’ team acknowledge the work of the Ashmanhaugh Light Railway, both in providing home for LMLR rolling stock, but in this case for their blog. Last year, they published a blog entry summarising the LMLR History: we have referred to this original document in earlier blog entries and yes, that we lost our copies (we had two over the years: an early and then a revised copy). You can read their summary by clicking HERE, or use a search engine for ‘Ashmanhaugh Light Railway’ and finding the blog entry for “16th September 2015”. ‘Recreational railways’ wishes to emphasise that in the following paragraphs where needed to refer to the ALR blog entry for a correct name, we make the comment “thanks ALR”, and we mean that. We remain embarrassed about our memory and also lack of making notes. But, importantly, “thanks, ALR”.

Again, if you can help rectify many other oversights, please contact us using the ‘Contacts’ tab above, scroll to the top and look top right.

Bob as guard

The LMLR was on Bob Brett’s land. Here’s Bob. We met Bob earlier, and I’m sure would want to share the limelight with all of his LMLR volunteers.

Reg and Norman performing the change over between petrol and steam power.

Norman Duffield and Reg Ives were friends, whose two locos were ‘The General’ and ‘Hotspur’. Above is Norman driving ‘Hotspur’ – named after his father-in-law’s regular loco from Norwich shed (70011 Hotspur), and then there’s Reg, in the background having shunted ‘The General’ so that ‘Hotspur’ could perform haulage over the Paddock line.

Edwin watches Norman help Hotspur to raise steam using the forced draught technique. Blower on Hotspur’s chimney

Edwin Peck built ‘Sir Mathew’, the gazebo and plenty of other wooden structures.


Close of play – Norman counts the takings, Christine and Mrs Duffield (Margaret – thanks ALR) advise

Norman’s and Reg’s and Edwin’s wives all helped out too. They would guard, – and if my memory is correct, I spoke to Norman’s wife Margaret (thanks ALR) when she was guard on the Old Piggeries line back in September 1995 when I first visited the railway – they would run the ticket office and I dare say helped run all the additional things that enhanced the visit, because, as my late dad (who I think was slightly jealous in the few months he saw me at the LMLR and whose cap I used) would say, people always like a cup of tea. Too right, particularly at close of play in the darker months.

Memory jogger – I think Mrs Peck was Christine – can anyone confirm?

‘Mrs Sid’ (sorry again) watches Norman.

I am so sorry that I didn’t collect or remember names -please forgive me.

There was a rumour that it wasn’t Santa, but Peter, but why wouldn’t the real Santa drop by to play trains?

Peter, again if my memory is correct, was usually Edwin’s guard. His wife too visited the railway, as I remember her at close of play in the tearoom when everybody gathered for a brew and a chat, and maybe a warm-up and dry-up after particularly poor weather. She also helped out in the grotto at Christmas, as there was a rumour that the real Santa was unavailable, and that Peter would substitute, although I wouldn’t put it past the real Santa to turn up and play trains … (he smiled).

Sid relaxes in the tea rooms at close of play, with relatives of staff, locals or those with the nominated charity.

Sid ran the model railway. His wife (sorry again) ran the souvenir stall on Melton Wood Junction.

Mike keeps the traffic moving.

Mike was our electronics wizard and ‘the bobby’ (signalman). Sometimes he came out to play as a guard, but mainly Mike ensured the correct train went into the correct route or platform, and that all of the signals worked – yes, we were track circuited and had colour light signals.

Bob thanks those who ran the tea room on this running day.

Again I apologise for the lack of names or surnames: this is entirely my youthful ignorance, my jackdaw-like selective re-call and my now middle-aged memory. If you can help with names, please contact us.

On one occasional I was driver – I can’t remember if it was Thunderbox or The General. My very efficient young guard should have been fire cadetting that day, but instead helped us out. I’ve forgotten her name. Again I’ve forgotten the name of the local lad who ran the bug and also appears as Bob’s guard on occasion: you can see him on duty in the picture at the top of this blog entry.

But I remember James, and I remember Alex. Both regular attenders and volunteers. Like me, both railway mad. Like me, both learning how to run a railway.

Alex came from Hethersett, I think, and I am pretty sure it was his dad Malcolm (thanks ALR) who built ‘Ben’. I was away from the railway for much of 1997 until revisiting in the summer of 1999, when Bob told me the sad news about Alex, which I won’t discuss here. Alex was unfailingly enthusiastic about the railway, and in the picture of Ben below, it’s Alex at the controls for the Saturday morning maintenance routine. Alex may also have been one of Santa’s elves.

Alex and Ben.

Here is Malcolm (thanks ALR) in charge of Ben.

Alex’s dad Malcolm, with Ben, awaiting the ‘right away’.

James was local, but too young to be a full volunteer. After the last passenger train, James at times would, under supervision, drive ‘The General’ back to the shed. When Anglia Railways (remember them?!) sold some of their turquoise hats, or gave them to preservationists to sell on, I bought myself an Inter City conductor’s hat, and a spare Anglia one which I gave to James.

Norman and James discuss a point – a normally trailing, but now facing point, that is – when putting away Hotspur.

It is important to look as if you belong, and there’s something much more authoritative about a cap than a fluorescent bib. James’s mum would bring him to the railway and stay, and I hope note the pleasure he derived and, let’s not forget this, gain early experience of team-work.

Hello James, here’s the proof that you drove: after close of play, James is at the controls, asking if The General reverses the stock up to the running shed.

There were also those from charities who came along with stalls and entertainment.


Please don’t be too critical of my lack of recall or memory of names. I hope that over the years you the reader can help with completing the blanks to create the account of the Little Melton Light Railway and the people who made it happen.


Oh yes. There was one other, a part-timer. Me. I still have the cap, the badge (a blue Hymek) and the fluorescent jacket; I may even still have the shirt. The fluorescent jacket is serviceable and utilised, as I wear it when I use a bicycle. It didn’t have LMLR on it; perhaps I should have rescued one? I still have the LMS Greatcoat worn on occasions, somewhere in a wardrobe.

Hello to any former LMLR volunteers reading this. I hope this tribute website is doing justice to the railway: please help me complete the names?

(And once again, thanks ALR for the summary of the history which has helped with some of the details in this blog entry.)


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… .