The International Steam Pages


Many might-have-beens – France 1966

Robert Hall writes of a spell in France in 1966. He has also produced a piece on a 1967 visit to north-west France – “Two minutes to midnight at Carhaix” which is referred to from time to time below as “see TMTM”. 


Like not a few Britons, I have a great fondness for France. Some of my compatriots would, rather naughtily, qualify that affection with “nice country – shame about the inhabitants”. Not I – have had some problems with French folk, but that has been an ongoing story for the two countries, over many centuries; and numerous denizens of “over there”, I have found delightful. Among other things France was -- as for very many Brits of my generation – where I first encountered foreign steam traction.

As things worked out, not until frustratingly late in the day. It might have happened for me considerably earlier, except for a highly mundane factor. In summer 1955 my father, his brother-in-law, and my two cousins, went on holiday, car-borne, from Britain to the South of France. I, then rising seven, would have been of the party; except that as a child, I suffered from acute and extreme car-sickness (like to feel this as proper expression by a railfan, of dislike and disdain for the competing and usurping means of transport). My taking part was thus reckoned not practicable; and to my great disappointment, I was left back home with Mum. (For whatever reason, same applied to my aunt, mother of abovementioned cousins.)

I did not experience France first-hand, for another decade. My first visit ever to foreign parts, proved to be a 1963 summer-holiday school trip (destination beyond my control) to the Netherlands. Delightful place in its own right; but out of all the imaginable “dud” countries on the European continent as at that date, for a railway enthusiast (other than one with a passion for frequent electric-multiple-unit services), the Netherlands had to take the booby prize.

I spent February to June 1966 in Paris, on a pre-university course in the language and literature of France; and most unfortunately from the point of view of the general topic of these Tales, at that time I was to the highest degree ever in my life, in a rare condition for me: having markedly higher priorities than railway enthusiasm. Apologies, thus, if this piece is experienced as long on self-indulgent musing, and short on actual railwaying.

I strongly wished, in principle, to get a handle on this foreign-parts-and- culture racket – Paris, location of my two terms’ studies, being in many people’s estimation the “culture capital” of Europe, if not the world. In retrospect, my heart was never truly in any of these worthy enterprises; and over time, my university career turned into a disaster, and ultimately “crashed and burned”. Hindsight’s 20 / 20 vision informs that I should have done the minimum to get by with my assignments in the Paris course, meanwhile coming to the conclusion that whatever future path I took, it should not be a degree course in modern languages; and while in France, ought to have made the very most of the gricing opportunities available – damn it, I was amply funded for my French sojourn, and could quite easily have afforded the extra-curricular activities. Re which, the time factor would have been no problem. From what I recall, weekends were basically our own; and longer-distance bashes could have been undertaken context vacations / public holidays / after the end of the course.

As things in fact went: I could not manage totally to renounce “the love that dare not speak its name”, for the duration of a stay in a country with plentiful steam; but engaged in it rather little, and shamefacedly – seeing it as a childish and flippant addiction, at odds with my true mission in the City of Light and Culture. I now experience acute anger at my priggish and clueless seventeen-year-old self of all those decades ago; but at least I’m not the only one in the railway fraternity, with regrets about wonderful possibilities wilfully spurned in extreme youth. It is just particularly galling, that – with France not having been in quite such a headlong rush as Great Britain, to get rid of steam – in some people’s view, 1966 in France equated to 1962 on the other side of the Channel. Namely, the last year of steam in true abundance; subsequently, steam was still around for some years to come, but had – more and more with each passing year – to be gone in quest of, in its ever-dwindling refuges.

My worst French folly in ’66 involved (see TMTM) toying with the idea of taking a trip to Brittany to explore the wondrous, extensive, and still partly steam-worked metre-gauge Réseau Breton – and such a trip would have been affordable with little trouble. In the end, I couldn’t be bothered – what with strong non-railway preoccupations; and, of all idiotic notions in the mid-1960s, reckoning that the RB would probably still be there in future years. Mental kicking of self has been performed regularly over this piece of stupidity, throughout the past 44 years as at the time of writing...

Anyhow – enough wallowing in introspection; on to an attempt to recall what little I DID do on the French rail scene in the first half of ’66. A big advantage handed to me on a plate, was that one of SNCF’s then finest steam strongholds involved the 170-odd-km Calais – Boulogne – Amiens leg of the chief and most favoured route between London and Paris. (Amiens – Paris was electric). In early 1966, steam work on this line was shared between Pacifics of three types; and class 141R mixed-traffic 2-8-2s, built in North America shortly post-World War II, to offset war damage to the French railways. Broadly speaking, the Pacifics were allocated to Calais locoshed and the 141R to Boulogne ditto; and 4-6-2s handled the more up-market passenger workings, while 2-8-2s looked after lesser passenger duties, and freight. Also, some of the “below the salt” passenger on the main line, was railcar-operated. Both Calais and Boulogne sheds had, in addition, a number of intriguing 0-10-0Ts of more than one class, for shunting / piloting jobs.

The area’s Pacific scene was an impressive one. The ageing engines, built well-pre-WWII, were well-tended, in good external and internal condition. Each Pacific had its own designated and, one gathers, loving, driver and fireman. In cases of emergency need for Pacific x on what should have been a day off for it and its crew – the day off went by the board, for all concerned. From a 2010 perspective, sounds like a fairy tale; but things were said to be thus. (The 141Rs were despised common-user rubbish.)

Like very many French steam locos, the Pacifics were compound-expansion machines. Those of class 231E were reckoned at the top of the pecking order, and tended to work the top-flight expresses; built for the Nord railway, owner of the lines on which they ran, a few years before the 1938 nationalisation of the French railways. The other two classes, 231G and 231K, were “immigrants” – originating on the old PLM railway south-east from Paris, ousted from their former home by the introduction of modern traction. It so happened that a mere year later than my 1966 travels, the aristocratic 231E’s were gone; it was the ex-PLM interlopers which carried on for another year or two. After that, it was just the 141R “ugly Americans” – and very soon subsequently, steam was at an end on the Région Nord.

In the mid-1960s, as well as Calais – Boulogne – Amiens, the route south-east from Calais was steam over its first 60-odd km to Hazebrouck, where electric lines were joined. I recall from my first journey in France, en route to Paris for the first time at the end of January; travelling Pacific-hauled out of Calais into the countryside, and observing with fascination, far off to the east, a more or less simultaneous departure heading along the other line for Hazebrouck, also behind steam – most probably another 4-6-2.

I had three Pacific runs in 1966 between Calais and Amiens, involving journeys between home and Paris, for two terms with an intervening Easter holiday spell. (Homeward voyage for Easter was different – as narrated just below.) I presumably took in and recorded at the time, which Pacific types hauled me; but that info is long gone, save for recalling for certain, and with pleasure, that at least one journey was with a 231E – I suspect, my final return home at the end of June.

We on the course could if we wished, return to our own countries for the “Easter vac”. I did so; and for the journey Paris – G.B., contrived my best and most whole-hearted bit of gricing, of my entire Paris-based spell . Back home by an imaginative route, including what turned out to be my only experience in ’66, of action on the French metre gauge. Very early morning departure from Paris (Nord), electric to Amiens. Keeping up culture-vulture mode, quick look round the cathedral at Amiens. Then, departure in a railmotor rake, on the non-electric main line heading first north-west, then due north, to the Strait of Dover. Disembarking at Noyelles – junction for the country’s then last-surviving public narrow-gauge railway of, in bureaucracy-besotted France’s terminology, “Intérêt Local”. The various other narrow (in all cases, metre-) gauge sections which then remained up and down the land – whether, like this Noyelles one, administratively hooked-up with the SNCF via arrangements of the general “leasehold” kind, or truly independent -- were rather bigger and further-ranging outfits, with the more impressive “Intérêt Général” designation.

Noyelles’s gem, and my target, was a two-branch metre-gauge system to (southern fork) Cayeux, and (northern fork) Le Crotoy, both on the Channel coast some dozen kilometres away. I had worked timings out, so as to travel to Cayeux and return, on the once-daily mixed train (all other workings, fairly frequent by French minor-line standards, were railcar). By the date of my visit, the system had been all-diesel for some years; but to me, still of great interest. Mission duly accomplished, behind a centre-cab 0-6-0 diesel loco in red-and-cream livery, hauling one or two bogie coaches in same livery, plus a few goods wagons (the latter metre-gauge – this system, and IIRC France as a whole, did not “do” transporters). Delightful journey there and back, including sight en route at Lanchères, of the rusting remains of some half-dozen steam locos – depending on which source accepted, ex-the public railway, and / or World War II projects, and / or the sugar factory at the site concerned.

This system finished in genuine commercial service in 1972; but was saved under a preservation regime, and operates thus – mostly with steam – to this day. Have visited it, in early 1980s, including travelling – steam-hauled -- to Cayeux, and over the shorter Le Crotoy branch, which I had to miss in 1966. Good enough fun , save for (it was a weekend organised tour) a witnessed furious quarrel between rival photters, over “shot-invading” : I thought briefly, that blood was going to flow in the gutters of St. Valéry-sur-Somme -- but, call me a miserable wretch – I’d readily cancel the preservation experience, in favour of a brief time-machine episode involving ’66 once again...

Back at Noyelles, embarked on northbound all-stations working to Calais behind a 141R – journey duly valued-to-the-max. My master-plan revolved around an interesting and unusual route back to “Blighty”, allowing the taking-in a couple of new scenes, without the bother and expense of overnight lodgings en route. Leaving my train at Calais (Ville) station, I proceeded in the last hour or so of daylight, to Dunkerque; where I would catch the “Night Ferry” (train-ferry service, also accommodating foot passengers), reaching Dover the following morning.

Planning for the Calais – Dunkerque stage had introduced me to a thing often found in many Continental countries, but extremely rare in 1960s Britain: lesser rail routes with a very meagre passenger service. The 46 km branch between Calais and Dunkerque proved to have a mere one passenger working (railcar) in each direction daily, running at totally the wrong time for my journey – this stretch of which had therefore to be covered by bus. Somewhat amazingly, the latest Thomas Cook “Rail Map Europe” shows this line as still in passenger service today. In a passenger context, lesser lines in France have been butchered wholesale, between the mid-1960s and now. However, any that survive are, I gather, fairly amply served: in France, the days of branches with one or two daily passenger workings, are gone. I would imagine that Calais – Dunkerque now hosts a decent number of passenger runs per day: attempts to confirm this impression by the use of Google, unfortunately got me nowhere. At all events – in 1966 it was a bus ride in the fading light, through decidedly dreary country; but for all that, a novel fragment of France, to be observed with due interest.

A good many hours to kill at Dunkerque, reached more or less as darkness fell. Boarded the “Night Ferry” train on its eventual electric-hauled arrival from Paris, at Dunkerque (Ville) station. The couple of kilometres thence to Dunkerque (Maritime) were at that time, non-electric; and to my surprise and pleasure, our power over this short section was an elderly 4-6-0. Subsequent research indicates that this must have been an ex-Nord railway Du Bousquet compound type 230D loco – class built shortly before World War I, and pre-Pacific stars of the Calais – Paris express show. This class had lasted very long subsequently, demoted to lesser duties, but were as at 1966, at their very last gasp. I seem to recall seeing one in ‘66, in steam at the Gare du Nord in Paris; but, heaven help me, had lacked sufficient brain-cells and interest, to investigate further. If there is a Purgatory for perpetrators of such offences...

Back to the capital: in ’66, Paris boasted (see TMTM) push-and-pull suburban trains from three termini – worked by 2-8-2Ts, a different class of same for each terminus. In my 1966 sojourn, I gave a tiny amount of time and attention, to all three.

The biggest such scene of the trio, was that operating out of the Gare du Nord. As at 1966, a considerable web of routes fanning out into the capital’s northern suburbs were push-and-pull-served, by long rakes of coaches in the charge of class 141TC 2-8-2Ts, based at Paris (Joncherolles) depot. Rather impressive, powerful-looking engines, with smoke deflectors; and featuring what the technical scholars informed to be the unusual Cossart valve gear – involving an appliance with Meccano-ish looks, adjacent to the cylinder on each side. The locos faced from Paris, smokebox-first – pulling outbound, pushing inbound. I gave part of one afternoon, to Nord’s push-and-pull scene; from what I remember, a fairly long run out and back, same route – destination of same, totally gone from memory 44 years later.

These services with 141TC from Nord, were the most stubbornly lasting of Paris’s steam suburban workings. Though subject to progressive gradual reduction through electrification of the lines, they continued in fair strength throughout the 1960s, and became one of SNCF’s last notable enthusiast-magnets. With Paris located where it is, these doings were quite easy of access from Britain; and fine and exhilarating in their own right, plus being one of France’s last steam scenes of any magnitude, to feature something other than class 141R. The end came at last in December 1970, with electrification of the final line, via Ermont-Eaubonne to Valmondois.

Gare St. Lazare used 141TD -- on long trains, as at Nord -- on outer-suburban workings to Mantes, some 60 km west along the line to Rouen (more-inner-suburban doings, were electric). These operations went by two separate routes, one on each side of the river Seine – “via Poissy”, and “via Conflans”. My afternoon’s bash from St. Lazare involved travelling some distance out on the south-of-the-river route; a walk through some kilometres of fairly drab outer-suburbia, including crossing the Seine; and reaching the north-of-the-river route, likely (memory, as above, having to serve for stuff not far off half a century ago, and sometimes failing) at the above-mentioned Conflans. I recall that I travelled out on the “south line” – to Achères? – in a DMU set. Don’t remember why I did not let this one go by, and await the next steam working – various rationales come to mind... at all events, my return working on the “north line” was 141TD. As at Paris (Nord), on these services the loco – smokebox-first – was always at the Paris end of the train; so for this one experience of 141TD haulage, I was “pulled” , not the contrary. I liked the 141TDs – graceful-looking smoke-deflectored machines – and was sad to find on revisiting Paris a little over a year later, that they were no more, with the Mantes outer-suburban routes having been electrified.

Paris’s third and oddest 2-8-2T push-and-pull suburban operation – a small-time undertaking in comparison with St. Lazare and Nord -- ran from the SNCF Région Est’s little Bastille terminus in the south-eastern part of the city centre. In 1966, this one-route operation ran for perhaps 20 km south-eastward to Boissy St. Léger. Came to an end – supplanted by electrification and integration into the capital’s Réseau Express Régional” network – in late 1969; about a year before the Gare du Nord push-and-pull scene. In steam days the line continued past Boissy, freight-only, for another maybe 25 km “max”, to Verneuil l’Étang on the main line from Paris (Est) to Chaumont and ultimately Basle. The locos were 141TB – pleasantly elderly-looking machines handling rakes of only a few coaches; and unlike with the push-and-pulls from the other two termini, the arrangement was loco bunker-first (or last), smokebox against the coaches. As usual, the loco was at the Paris end of the train.

All these years later, I rage at myself for my lack of enterprise and wrong priorities, concerning this one. A complete return run, Bastille – Boissy St. Léger, would have occupied so little time; but I could not even bestir myself to do that much. At that time I felt in my half-baked way, less bad about the gricing bug if I could combine indulging it, with something cultural. Five stops out of Bastille if I remember rightly, the steam line served Vincennes – which has a château reckoned “ ’ighly ‘istorical” and worth a visit. Two different-species birds with one stone; I duly travelled on the push-and-pull from Bastille to Vincennes and back – “doing”, in between, the château; about which in itself I now remember nothing whatsoever, though think that I was properly impressed by it at the time.

A matter associated with my trip on the Bastille line, which arouses a bit of embarrassment even today. Though well aware of the contempt with which many people regard “trainspotting” and those who engage in it, I have never been very good at staying rigorously “in the closet” about it, among non-railfans. I just have too much of an urge to talk about my gricing doings, even to those who find them highly silly, and even in the knowledge that I’m likely to regret acting on the urge; and in Paris, I encountered no fellow-railfan with whom I could have teamed up, and shared the affliction. Shortly after my 141TB / noble-pile excursion, I mentioned the same in casual conversation with an acquaintance on the language-and-literature course; including my attaining the target by means of the steam train from Bastille station. The other fellow was a super-stolid Yorkshire lad, not overburdened with imagination; his reaction was bemusement bordering on incredulity, and made me feel very foolish. “What on earth did you want to do that for? You can get to Vincennes on the Métro.” Definitely not a candidate for avid following of the Jubilees’ last workings out of Leeds the following year...

To the best of my knowledge -- the only remaining regular steam long-distance workings serving a Paris city terminus in 1966, were on SNCF’s Région Ouest, between Paris (Montparnasse), and Granville on the Channel coast a little over 300 km due west. Through passenger on this route, was in the hands of the – to my mind lovely – compound 2-8-2s of class 141P, introduced in 1943 (relatively “little sisters” of the magnificent 241P 4-8-2s). The trains ran steam-hauled “under the wires” for the 22 km between Montparnasse and St. Cyr-l’École, where the Granville line diverged from the main trunk to Le Mans and Brittany. I found out, myself, about the existence of this situation – and then did wretchedly little about it; whereas much comes to mind, which it would have been practicable for me to do. Part of the same old thing, as regards my general attitude in this French sojourn – and retrospectively, bitterly regretted from the following year, and thereon lifelong.

I did investigate train times, and go out to a station a little way down the line from Montparnasse, to photograph a 141P passing through on a Granville train. (The picture long gone into oblivion in my life’s vicissitudes.) Who-knows-why, the date of this being done, stays in mind – June 4th: a day of the year notable in several contexts. All I needed was, as a companion, a Chinese Old Etonian with the gift of prophecy... Time was running out for the 141Ps on the Granville run; these workings had gone diesel by late summer the following year (see TMTM).

Some of my ordinary comings and goings, non-gricing-related, brought me into chance contact with steam (thus my discovery of the obtaining of Mikados-to-Granville). My lodgings in the earlier part of Paris spell , were north-westward from the city centre, close to the Batignolles locoshed a little way out of the Gare St. Lazare. Walking-around took me to the road bridge overlooking that shed – from which I looked down onto its contents, and marvelled. Little registered in detail at the time, whence great regret in retrospect; and I had neither the interest, nor the “bottle”, to try an on-the-spot request for a shed visit – which might have yielded a summary kicking-out, but more likely, it’s felt, “Mais oui, jeune homme – tout est permis en France”. Retrospective regrets – enough. Wonderful contents at Batignolles, detail little recalled, but involving many machines in steam, including a couple of very elderly-looking tank locos.

A day-trip was done, by rail from Montparnasse, in the company of a coursemate (not “Mr. Yorkshire”) to Chartres, to visit that town’s famous cathedral. Early en route, my mind was boggled by the motive power depot at Trappes – on the Paris – Chartres – Le Mans – Brittany electric main line, a little way beyond divergence-point of the steam-worked Granville route. Trappes shed seemed totally heaving with steam locos (presumably, mostly for service on the Granville line) – including a prehistorically-ancient-looking, but in steam and seming ready to go, 0-6-0. I was, “no word of a lie”, truly impressed by Chartres Cathedral and its contents – but being equally honest, more so by Trappes m.p.d. and its ditto.

Reflecting on some of the aged machines which I saw, clearly still in service, in 1966 – some wondering prompted, about the well-known statistic re the depredations of World War II, that as at completion of liberation of France late in that war, only one in ten of SNCF’s loco fleet remained in working order (hence all those 141Rs a little later on). Gut feeling (probably about as reliable as such feelings usually are) is that either the 10% / 90% statistic is inaccurate; or, that a great deal of patching-up of disabled locomotives was done post-war – including, this treatment applied to aged relics which one would imagine SNCF being glad to be rid of. Concerning this matter, a quick Google (as with Calais – Dunkerque) proved not illuminating – probably “my fault rather than theirs”. (When watching the film “The Train” -- made, if I have things rightly, in 1963/64 on minor lines of SNCF’s Région Ouest south of Rouen – I tend to get upset over the railway-equipment “havoc and carnage” featured, and to feel that the 10%-remaining figure is probably right.)

Regrets about my 1966 French spell focus on – as well as lukewarm enthusiasm – poor and inept seeking / finding of railway “intel”; the one “minus”, no doubt with an influence on the other. I had in fact not many info-sources at my disposal for advance planning: the only railway journals / societies in Britain, of which I was then aware, were concerned almost exclusively with doings in the British Isles. And I largely botched things in respect of what little background material I had. Owned, and had read with interest, George Behrend’s “Railway Holiday in France”; but in my reading of same, most potentially useful information would seem to have failed to register with me. I did not even have the wit to bring the book to France with me...

Behrend’s book, though a beguiling account of his 1963 French tour, does not seek to be a comprehensive guide to the French rail scene at that time; it essentially covers the route of his near-circuit of France, north to south and back again – but those reaches of the country, only. And in the eyes of this reader, regrettably little steam haulage was partaken of, given SNCF ’s impressive potential for such in 1963. But fair enough, Behrend was a gricing all-rounder, rather than a tunnel-vision-beset steam nut. Regarding the geographical areas dealt with, the book could in fact have afforded me a good deal of useful information. “Si jeunesse savait...”, as they say in those parts.

My other potential French rail “bible”, Bryan Morgan’s “The End of the Line”, was -- though a veritable treasure-trove – of limited use in the mid-1960s, re what was to be found working in the narrow-gauge and light-railway sphere: book by then, some ten years out of date, and those intervening years had seen mass-slaughter of such lines. A line fascinating to me, mentioned by Morgan, was the metre-gauge one some eighty kilometres south-east of Paris, from Montereau to Égreville, run by the CFD undertaking in whose “empire” was also, at the time of the events of this piece, the renowned Vivarais system just west of the river Rhône. As at the mid-1950s, per Morgan, the Égreville line was all-diesel, and most enticingly ramshackle and eccentric. For some reason, I conceived the idea of writing to the stationmaster at Égreville to request permission to visit and photograph the line. The letter concerned was duly returned to my Paris lodgings, inscribed on the front by some kindly post-office employee: “There is no longer a station at Égreville, Département of Seine-et-Marne”. I subsequently learnt that the line had been abandoned in 1959. Well, with things going as they did, I was saved a fruitless trip to the venue.

A couple of small nuggets of rail interest came about on a trip by car in the company of a French family to whom I had been introduced, to the old walled town of Provins, not hugely far from “Montereau that wasn’t to be for me”. Provins itself, passenger-rail-served then and now; though nothing seen on this visit, of the branch line running through it. Said branch was an instance of what seems to me, one of the odder “kinks” of France’s way of arranging railway matters. It was among the various lines / systems whose working was contracted-out by the SNCF, to other rail-operating concerns – using, sometimes outdated, SNCF motive power and stock. (As a function of this mode of doing things: France’s very last regular public-railway steam operation, finishing in 1975, was on such an “outfit” – a group of lines a good way south-east of the abovementioned places.)

En route to Provins, we passed close by the station at Nangis, on the Paris – Basle main line. Running out of the station goods yard and crossing the adjacent road, then setting off tramway-fashion alongside a diverging lesser road, was a single line of narrow-gauge metals. Of great interest (though I kept silent about it to my hosts – they wouldn’t have “got it”), and inspiring in me, puzzled curiosity – Bryan Morgan had said nothing about such a line. The mystery was solved in subsequent years. This track at Nangis belonged to the last section to survive, of the one-time Seine-et-Marne metre-gauge network, of the SE undertaking, which -- like the CFD – had had assorted systems in numerous parts of France. This particular system had lost passenger service before World War II; but parts lasted longer for freight, especially for sugar-beet traffic. The last remaining stretch, for sugar beet only, was Nangis – Jouy-le-Châtel; which ran for the last time in the 1965 beet season – thus, when I saw it, abandoned but still in situ. Not mentioned by Morgan, because he chose to function in a purely passenger-lines context; he refrained from poking around on railways reduced to freight-only working, and in the main, did not write of such in his book.

Also noted on this outing – not far from Nangis, an eastbound diesel-hauled passenger train on the main line. On this route at this time – see TMTM -- long-distance workings were diesel Paris – Chaumont, steam east of the latter. Rail passenger workings in France were overall infrequent, compared to their British counterparts, and if travelling by road, a chance encounter with a passenger train required considerable luck.

It panned out that I did get to Brittany; but not to the Réseau Breton, or indeed on any rail-related mission. At the Whitsun long weekend that summer, I accompanied a friend made on the course, for a visit to folk cordially acquainted with him, at St. Malo. A memorable few days. “There and back again” accomplished by hitch-hiking, at which my friend was an expert – much peripherally interesting stuff witnessed throughout, including trolleybuses in Le Mans – learnt to my surprise, that the French for trolleybus is “trolleybus”. On the St. Malo – Paris return, a brief call-in made, via initial lift given by the St. Malo-ites, at the amazing island-monastery-citadel of Mont-St.-Michel. I was aware (thank you, Messrs. Behrend and Morgan) that there had at one time been a light railway (abandoned pre- WWII) to the Mont – had been a truly “light” line, no trace remaining in 1966. Thenceforth, back due-westward to Paris – a good deal of said route paralleling the Paris – Granville line. With the general meagreness of French rail services in those times, hopes of any encounter on this journey with 141Ps doing their stuff, were not fulfilled.

Once more, the celebrated wisdom of hindsight – if only I had taken advantage of that Whitsun long weekend, to go gricing by myself for a few days, and garner whatever delights. Didn’t do so. Whilst the trip actually made, was in itself pleasant and rich in things to remember; what with my then heavily-prevailing “crazes for head”, as they say in Africa, re railwaying being shameful foolery for silly schoolboys; and socialising-and-sociability being de rigueur, and engaging in activities on one’s own, branding one as a loser and a “Billy-no-mates”: what a loss, caused for me. Down to stuff taken to heart at the time, but recognised subsequently as bigotry and nonsense. Teenage angst, and all that it has to answer for... and it does not necessarily disappear on cue, when people’s teens come to an end. The “doing stuff solo = social failure” obsession continued to afflict me for many years, and landed me with a couple of fairly disastrous different gricing partners.

As per TMTM, I returned to France, this time “unashamed” (and better-informed) the following year; but after that, personal circumstances – most often, extreme shortage of money – knocked on the head my many subsequent plans and hopes for visits to the country while “real” steam still obtained there. To quote the splendid Mr. Morgan – “C’est malheureux; mais c’est comme ça.”


Rob Dickinson

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