Saturday, May 27, 2006

Chapelon Pacifics

When I was a teenager I lived for a few years in the south of England and my first 'solo' trips abroad were to Paris. In those days you could buy an 'overnight' special cheap return travelling out by train via Bologne on the Friday night boat and travelling back to England on the Saturday night boat. Fare Crawley to Paris (Gare du Nord) return was 17/3 (87 pence, about $1.20!) This gave about ten glorious hours to lurk on smoky French station platforms and in the vicinity of engine sheds before you arrived back in Britain on Sunday morning exhausted and smelling of sulpher.

The highlight of such trips was arriving at Bologne (Maritime) on the boat around three in the morning to find one of these beauties simmering on the quayside ready to take the boat train down to Paris. Probably even this actual one on occasion - a Chapelon Pacific number 231K 8 - though here she is carrying the 'Golden Arrow' headboard. That was the premier service via Dover and Calais.

Andre Chapelon was probably the classiest of all steam locomotive designers and the French locomotive crews were real 'poseurs' too with leather 'flying helmets' and very Gallic goggles.

Fancy a ride? I can hear the roar of her exhaust now as she heads off in the dark across the misty fields of the Pas de Calais. A racehorse headed for the capital and breakfast ...


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