Getting all steamed up about trains

All aboard for a ride down memory lane. Train owner Bill Richardson, of Richardson's Coaches, is pictured in the black trilby hat. The man driving the train is his old friend Bill Rainment.
All aboard for a ride down memory lane. Train owner Bill Richardson, of Richardson's Coaches, is pictured in the black trilby hat. The man driving the train is his old friend Bill Rainment.

A mystery photo featuring an old train helped set a Hartlepool man on track to remembering a tale from his family’s history.

The 1950s picture of the miniature steam engine was published in Memory Lane last week - prompting retired sweetshop owner Keith Rogers to get in touch.

“It was my uncle’s train,” he recalls. “He was Bill Richardson, of Richardson’s Coaches, and is the man in the trilby. The train driver is Bill Rainment.

“My uncle used to transport the train to the Park Shows when they were held at Ward Jackson Park in the 1950s, and he may have also taken it to Grayfields.”

Bill found success after joining forces with his brothers, Tot and Arthur, to launch a transport firm in 1920 - just two years after the end of World War One.

Their grandfather, John, fitted a body on the back of the first lorry bought by the brothers - turning it into a charabanc. Bus trip business soon boomed.

“The family story is that Bill was all set to marry my father’s sister, Gertie Rogers, but she postponed the wedding after her mother became ill,” said Keith.

“So he used the wedding money to buy a coach instead and, by the time they finally married in 1927, he had a whole fleet - as her mother took ill 25 times!”

Each of the brothers took on different roles in the Oxford Road-based business, with Arthur a driver, Tot an engineer and Bill organising bus trip destinations.

Even World War Two failed to stop business booming, as the Richardson vehicles were tasked with ferrying staff to ICI and local munition factories each day.

Further expansion followed in 1949, when new premises on Oxford Road were purchased, and today the firm is still thriving - hiring out everything from people carriers to coaches.

“Uncle Bill became quite a wealthy man and, at some point, bought the miniature train. He used to travel to lots of local shows, towing it along,” said Keith.

“The track was portable and, after setting everything up, he used to put a fence next to the track - which spectators had to stand behind for their own safety.

“There were no carriages as such. Instead you sat astride a plank, and put your feet on two running boards. It was amazing how many kids that little engine could pull along. It really was tiny - you had to feed the coal into the furnace using a spoon.”

Sadly Keith was never to enjoy a ride on the little train as, by the time the engine was up and running, he had grown to 6ft 2ins - far too tall to take a trip.

“I haven’t really thought about the miniature train in more than 50 years. Seeing the photo in the Mail brought back some good memories,” he said.

“Bill always enjoyed entertaining kids, and that train was his way of doing it. It was always a popular part of the Park Shows - and free as well.

“I have no idea what eventually happened to the train - perhaps it is still chugging away somewhere. Maybe a reader might know?”