Book Review: David Cable – Hydraulics in the West

The early years of the diesel hydraulics in the west of England weren’t covered that well by photographers. With steam banished west of Exeter as early as 1962. most railway photographers spent the next six year chasing the remaining “kettles” in other parts of the country, leaving the early years of fully dieselised areas under-recorded. A pity, because this was a fascinating era, with much of the old steam-era railway surviving with little change other than the presence of diesel locomotives at the front of the trains. Which is why a book like this is very welcome indeed.

All the diesel-hydraulic classes feature quite extensively with the exception of the class 14s, with Warships and D6300s featuring particularly heavily. A few of the photos leave something to be desired on a purely technical level. With quite a few grainy photos, faded negatives and shadow-side shots this is not a book to blow many people away with stunning photography. But it more than makes up for this with the historical interest, which is surely why those less-than-perfect images were included. This isn’t to say all the pictures are poor; I love the atmospheric shot of a Warship on china clay coming round the curve from St.Blazey at Par. There are one or two howlers in the captions too; at one point, what’s described as a parcels train looks remarkably like a couple of breakdown train tool vans to me.

The vast majority of photos date from the 1960s, showing not just the express passenger workings on the West of England Main Line, but a lot of freight and branch-line workings that far too many photographers ignored. There are plenty of photos showing all or most of the train formation rather than the standard three-quarters views of the loco. This sort of thing is very useful for modellers; in the early 60s many second-string passenger workings used a real mix of pre-nationalisation coaching stock rather than uniform Mk1s. There’s even the odd pre-grouping vehicle in one photo of a SR Plymouth to Exeter working! There’s some real oddballs here too. How about a six-car “Silver Pullman” piloted over the south Devon banks with a Western? In the snow, as well. Or a rake of 1960s Metro-Cammell Pullmans in umber and cream at Truro behind a maroon Warship?

Some very interesting shots on the branches. Not only have we got D600s on china clay workings, but D6300s on the Kingsbridge and Helston branches during that brief period between the end of steam and complete closure. One that gets me is double-headed D6300s on the St Ives branch, looking for all the world as if it’s the West Highland line in Scotland until you look closely and realise the two North British locomotives aren’t class 21s but their diesel-hydraulic equivalents.

If you want a book filled entirely of technically stunning photos, you may well have reservations about this volume. But if you’re interested in a rather neglected period of British railway history, especially if you’re modelling that era, this book is for you.

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