The following story, “A Dream Come True” was first published in 1926 as an ‘advertorial’ piece by W.J. Bassett-Lowke. The content clearly encourages readers to buy a model railway for their children for Christmas. It was accompanied by information on how a reader could get the Bassett-Lowke company Christmas catalogue.
Uncle Wynne’s Christmas Story – By W. J. Bassett-Lowke
C H-WHEEE! – The struggling safety valves of the magnificent 4 4 0 express engine could no longer stand the rising pressure of steam getting up. A double cloud of white, super-heated vapour rose to the roof, and so shrill was the whistle of its escape that people standing nearby on the platform put fingers to their ears to shut out that piercing sound. That is, all except Dick Ridgway.
He stood just by the huge, panting locomotive that was soon to pull its heavy load of passengers bound for London and the Christmas holidays, eagerly eyeing Jim, the fireman who, with cotton waste in hand, was going round with his oil-can giving her the final look-over.
Presently Jim climbed back on to the footplate. Wiping his sooty face with a clean corner of the cotton-waste, he glanced at the signals still set at danger, and then down at Dick, who stood, school cap perched on the back of his head, eagerly taking in all the details of the iron monster.
“Well, young feller-me-lad,” he grinned, “off home for your Christmas pudding, I suppose.”
“You bet! “Answered Dick shortly.
He was absorbed in all the “gadgets” in the cab, the water and pressure gauges, valves of all descriptions, and the throttle lever, which seemed to have a special fascination.
“Wish I could come up there and look,” he shouted above the din. “Spect you do, son,” answered the fireman, with a twinkle in his eye, “but Company’s regulations, you know:–nobody allowed in the cab without a special permit.
“Yes. I know,” Dick sighed, then puffing out his chest, “but I’m going to be an engine driver myself one day, and then I’ll show all the chaps who are keen on engines how to drive.”
Jim smiled at such enthusiasm as he flung open the furnace door and proceeded to shovel coal into the leaping flames, for he was thinking how much more like hard work than fun a driver’s or a fireman’s job was.
“Take your seats, please,” came the guard’s shout, and Dick had reluctantly to leave his newly-found friend to board the train.
Determined to miss nothing he had got into the carriage nearest the engine, and as he leaned out he could see the red lights change to green as the signals f e 11 with a thud. The guard’s whistle blew once more, and then the first deep-throated chug of the exhaust was heard – she began to move.
Amid a shower of sparks the long train drew out of Peterborough – “London first stop.”
Dick, settled in his corner, watched the whiteclad landscape flying by in the darkness, and the flurry of snow against the window. How glorious 1t would be, he thought, to have a real engine to drive, able to stop her or make her do sixty miles an hour just by your own skill.
Musing thus, his head began to droop, and soon he was fast asleep–to dream of his great ambition.
He seemed to hear the roaring of a mighty wind that, strangely puzzling at first, presently resolved itself into the rushing of the freezing, snow-laden air past the protecting roof of the locomotive cab.
Here, too, beside him, stood the grizzled driver, his cap pulled well down over his eyes fixed intently on the green lights of “distant” signals beckoning him on with their welcome message that the line was all clear. Jim, the fireman, clanging open the fire-·hole door, fed coal, shovel after shovelful, into the ever-hungry white-hot heart of the monster.
“Think you could do it?” presently asked Jim, “you watch.”
Then Dick saw, for the first time, the amount of care necessary to keep the fire burning properly. Firing did not consist, as he had thought, in just opening the fire-hole door and throwing in shovelfuls of coal now and again, just anyhow.
The locomotive boiler has to produce steam at a quicker rate than any other type of boiler that you could mention, of equal size; and the firing has, therefore, to be carried out scientifically if the engine is to do her work properly.
This means placing the coal in just the right positions on the fire-grate, whilst the engine rocks like a mad thing round curves, over points, ever and always hurtling on.
“Splendid!” cried Dick, after one of these firing jobs, admiration gleaming in his eye. Jim laughed-it was his job, and he took pride in doing it well.
“Do you ever have to watch the pressure and water gauges, too?” asked the ever inquisitive Dick.
“Surely, son- “answered Jim, “or I shouldn’t know just when to fire her up.”
Dick now turned his attention to that magical throttle lever which the driver kept so continually under his hand.
It controlled the steam from the boiler down to the cylinders, that much be knew. But adjusting the working of the engine by the reversing gear and the “cut-off,” and manipulating the regulator and “cut-off” to meet every change of gradient load and booked speed were quite beyond his idea of what an engine driver had to do.
When, therefore, the silent figure, watching the track ahead so closely, beckoned him to put a hand on the throttle lever and feel how she answered its slightest movement, he felt as though no more wonderful experience could ever happen to him.
Colder and. colder it grew as the miles sped by. Over long bridges she roared and swayed through blinding tunnels where the suction of the cab drew all the soot and cinders in on to the toilers in the cab.
Presently Dick began to feel so numb that not even the opening of the fire-hole releasing a shaft of warmth seemed to make the numbness less acute.
The sudden grinding of brakes brought him back to reality with a start. Gone were the gleaming gauges and levers of the locomotive cab.
Instead, the icicle encrusted window met Dick’s eyes, still heavy with sleep. Hastily he rubbed them. Alas! It was all a dream after all. And now he noticed the gentle motion of the train, and the arc lamps that gleamed fitfully through the coating of mingled snow and ice that covered the window. London they would arrive at King’s Cross in a few minutes. What a short journey it had seemed. Had he really dreamed all that about driving the wonderful express, it was so real, it must have been true. Suddenly he had a bright idea-he’d ask Jim, the fireman, he’d know for sure then.
Slowly the long train slid over the points; up the platform; and then stopped.
Out jumped Dick to fling himself upon dear old Mums and the Pater, waiting for him on the platform, just opposite his carriage.
“Hullo, Mums! Hullo, Pater! I’ve had a ripping journey, but I’ve got a most important question to ask the engine driver.”
Mr. Ridgway smiled down upon his son and was promptly hauled over to where Jim and the driver, their job done for the moment, lolled on the rail of the cab.
“Jim, do you really have to shovel a ton of coal an hour?” he asked eagerly. “Yes,” answered the fireman slowly, ” it would be about that.” “And did I really ride on the footplate?”
“In your dreams, sonny, I guess,” came the answer, with a wide grin. Dick turned away with a nodded good-bye. How strange that Jim should have said just that. There must have been something in it after all.
However the business of loading luggage on to a taxi soon brought him back to reality, as also did his Pater’s next remark.
“Dick old son “he said,” Mums and I have decided to give you a model of some sort for Christmas, as you are so aw fully keen on them. So we are going to take you to a very good shop in High Holborn to choose what you would like!
Dick caught his breath. Would it be the shop, where they had such wonderful locos, he wondered.
Yes there were the magic initials “B-L,” symbol of really ‘good models, made as well as they possibly could be just for the joy of it.
But the best was yet to come.
For there, standing out from all the splendid Pacifies, Atlantics, and Precursors, was, in miniature, the very train he had so lately longed to drive-had driven, in fact, as Jim had said, ” in his dreams.”
There it was a regular 4-4-0 Express of the Great Northern Section of the London and North Eastern Railway with four-coupled driving wheels, two bogie corridor coaches, one first and the other third class, all painted the correct colours and exact in every detail. A bogie passenger brake van completed the train as pretty a model as you could hope to find.
To add the finishing touch, its powerful clockwork motor could be reversed from cab or rail, and even be started automatically from the track by means of a special device.
Dick fell a victim to its charm immediately.
This and no other was what he had dreamed of and wanted for so long.
“This one, please, Pater,” he cried, “and let’s take it home now!”
“A whole year’s pocket money gone west,” laughingly chaffed his father. But £5O could not have brought Dick such joy as this modest fifty shillings –all the set actually cost- did.
“A special ‘Christmas Box, “said the man in the shop, who, of course, always knows.
And so that evening Dick, in the seventh heaven of delight, took his first lesson as a model engine driver and fireman – to say nothing of traffic superintendent – all rolled into one.
As the Pater remarked quietly to Mums:” There is not a doubt that the Bassett-Lowke people have hit on just the very thing for young people who are setting up as model loco engineers, and, of course, it is the very best way of beginning a new railway set. For Dick, it is his dream come true!”
Published originally in December 1926.
Re-published in December 2005 in The Friends of 78 Derngate Newsletter Issue 39.
Author: W. J. Bassett-Lowke
Transcribed 2018: Barbara Floyer