Lakeshore Railroad: A Short History..
The origins of the present railway date from the period 1968-71, when Jack Wakefield of Hetton-le-Hole, the well known traction engine owner, and Don Proudlock of Wingate, Co. Durham operated a portable miniature railway at traction engine rallies and country fairs using the locomotive 'Mountaineer' which they had acquired partially built from W.L.Jennings of Templecombe and had completed.
During this era, venues ranged from Hamilton, near Glasgow to Dorking, between London and Brighton. The amount of travelling involved caused thoughts to turn to a permanent site and South Shields, Seaton Carew and Crimdon Dene were all investigated. Unfortunately, at the time, all proved impractical. However, in 1971 the then Entertainments Manager for South Shields, Mr. Wilcox (?) approached the partners with a view to establishing a railway on the site it now occupies. Negotiations with the council ensued and construction commenced in September 1971 at the close of the rally season.
Work continued throughout the autumn and winter regardless of weather conditions, daylight labours in the park - no lighting then! - being followed by a return to Jack Wakefield's workshop where the rail and sleepers were prepared for tracklaying. All the work was done by Jack, Don Proudlock and Mike Henderson, the latter having helped in the operation of the portable track. Several nights every week it was after midnight before this happy band dispersed.
By Easter of 1972 about a third of the track had been laid and the railway opened over the holiday weekend running out-and-back from a temporary halt at the north edge of the grass area to behind the boathouse. Following this, the arrival of the lighter evenings permitted construction to advance more rapidly on the already prepared track bed and the circuit was completed in June 1972. Running commenced and shortly afterwards, once proven satisfactory, the line was formally opened by the then Mayor (Coun. Scrimger??).
By late 1975 Jack Wakefield had decided he wished to retire. Mike Henderson took over his share in the railway from January 1976. In October 1975, Mike and Don started work on a new locomotive, No. 27, eventually to be called 'Adiela'. The starting point for this was a collection of parts (a literal 'box of bits') which had also come from W.L.Jennings. This engine had been built by Vere Burgoyne of Crowthorne Farm in Berkshire in 1941 and had been somewhat altered before running at Danson Park, Bexley, Kent. There, it suffered from boiler problems and became very much the spare loco. By 1975 all that remained was a very worn chassis with no boiler, tender or platework. Construction proceeded apace and the 'new' loco entered service in August 1976. Initial experience showed that the overhauled chassis was not really sufficiently robust for the line at South Shields and the engine has now been so rebuilt that little of the original remains!
Possession of two engines created additional demand for storage space and extra track and pointwork were laid into a second shed. This was followed over the ensuing years by the construction of further coaches, which, together with the earlier completion of the passing loop at the station area, facilitated a two train service on the busiest days.
The availability of a second engine enabled another long term aim to be achieved. As begun by Jennings, the original engine No. 3440, 'Mountaineer' had been built as an 'Atlantic' (4-4-2) type, despite the fact that the prototype on which it was based was a 'Pacific' (4-6-2). This was corrected during the winter of 1976-7 when the extra wheels were cast, the frames cut and lengthened by 14 1/2 inches and other parts for the conversion made and fitted. The loco emerged in its new form for Easter 1977 and immediately proved a success although the increased length meant that some of the curves on the track required easing before the engine could negotiate them!
The next moment of importance in the history of the railway came in 1980. The company by whom both the railway owners were employed ceased trading due to the economic conditions of the day. This caused a major dilemma. Up to this time, the railway had been very much a pastime, operating at weekends from Easter to October and daily from mid-July to the end of the school holidays at the beginning of September. It was thought unlikely that any new employer would be prepared to allow time off during the summer to operate the railway and the owners were confronted with a decision whether to continue or dispose of the line to another. Since employment was difficult to find in this period, the decision was taken to continue with the railway and to endeavour to increase the season. This took some years to achieve and it was fortunate during the early 1980's that both the partners had wives who worked!
The late 1980's were a period of retrenchment. Opportunity was taken to re-lay most of the track with new materials. The track complex at the engine sheds was completely altered, eliminating the turntable, over which the mainline passed. This eliminated the need to uncouple engine, tender and coaches every night, before being pushed into the shed individually. A programme was also started to alter the coach wheels and bearings to achieve both longer service life and improve braking performance.
Towards the end of this period, thoughts turned to the provision of some form of station building. This had been in mind in the early days and the chance was now taken to develop the idea. Since free access for passengers was an essential and there was no requirement for secure offices or waiting rooms, it was decided to build the station as an open canopy. This now provides shelter for train, operators and public alike in inclement weather and forms a focal point when the railway is in operation. The design was enhanced with a clerestory and ornamental fascia boards and the station area was further embellished with working signals and a watertower.
In addition to the regular maintenance carried out every winter, the 1990’s saw progress on the construction of a third engine. This was to be a 'Hudson' (4-6-4) once again following an American prototype. The choice of American locomotives is partly a reflection of the builders' tastes but more importantly leads to a larger model, more comfortable for the driver and more able to fulfil its purpose. By 1997 this engine was approximately half built.
Towards the end of the 90’s, Don Proudlock indicated a desire to retire. This once more brought the future of the railway into question but fortunately an acceptable partner appeared and from January 2000 the railway was operated by Mike Henderson and Alan Borthwick. One sad consequence of this was the non completion of the new locomotive. On entering the business Mr Borthwick had indicated that he lacked the desire or the time to devote to continuing the new build and the part built loco passed into other hands.
Unfortunately, Alan found the running of the railway alongside his other business too burdensome and by 2006 indicated a wish to withdraw. A prolonged period of negotiation followed resulting in Mike Henderson becoming sole owner at the end of 2008. That year was further marked by the park becoming the recipient of a Heritage Lottery Fund refurbishment. The immediate result of this was that the park became a building site for the best part of 18 months, for most of which the railway had to operate on a shuttle service over only part of the line. A lesser side effect was that the construction of a much-needed toilet block involved relaying some 70 metres of track on a new alignment, giving a slightly longer run.
The period following Alan Borthwick’s departure saw a resumption of new construction. A number of non-coaching vehicles have emerged, primarily for civil engineering and maintenance use, together with the building of the lines’ first internal combustion loco. This is a 4-wheel petrol hydraulic, in the style of a Lister AutoTruck. Intended for instant-start maintenance and shunting purposes, 'Rockclimber' takes its turn on occasional passenger services to cover mechanical failures and some low season days.
In turn, the construction of new rolling stock demanded extra storage and the track in the shed area received further attention. A new trailing connection was established and two more roads laid into the middle shed. Although further new building is in prospect, it is difficult to see how more storage can be created and a situation may arise where not all stock can be present simultaneously.
With 9 1/2" being a comparatively rare gauge among the miniature railways of today, as compared to the lines of the early 20th century, the possibilities for engines to visit other lines are very thin on the ground. However, in April 2017, 'Rockclimber' made history by becoming the first of our engines to visit another railway, arriving on Saturday 29th April with the end tipper, flat bed, portable turntable and two of "new build" Sapphires wheelsets at the Downs Light Railway to celebrate their 90th Anniversary; an unprecedented event that saw the largest gathering of 9 1/2" gauge operators, owners, preservers, rolling stock and, of course, locomotives ever recorded.