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The following article first appeared in the Autumn 1989 issue of Steaming, the magazine of the National Traction Engine Trust.
A Total Wreck…
…well, nearly. Tam McTaggart relates the background to an extraordinary rescue.
‘Steam Waggon Plunges into Ravine. Glenridding men jump for their lives. Two Glenridding men had a narrow escape from serious injury if not death on Thursday 2nd June . A steam waggon belonging to the Penrith & District Road Carrying Co had just left the lead mines with six tons of chippings when something went wrong with the steering gear. The road is very narrow at the place and the driver John B. Graham realising that an accident was inevitable, jumped out and called on his assistant John Edward Poole to do the same. Poole’s braces however caught on the cab handle and he was in great danger of being hurled to death on the ponderous vehicle now out of control. He managed to release himself and he jumped clear. A minute or two later the waggon went on the grass verge, hit a rock, somersaulted over the bank; it fell twenty or so feet and eventually came to rest in a ravine where it now lies a total wreck. Neither man was injured but Poole suffered somewhat from shock.’ (A contemporary report from the Cumberland & Westmorland Herald.)
It was a few years ago I first heard of this unfortunate Sentinel, which surprisingly was still lying in the gully, whilst Hubert Nixon and I sat in his kitchen sampling a bottle of malt whisky. Hubert told me it was next to a lead mine at Glen Ridden and my mind immediately went to near the Kyles of Bute – but there were no lead mines there! Brought back to England and Glenridding, on the west shores of Ullswater in the Lake District, I better appreciated the whereabouts of the wreck, but probably thought no more of it until I met Richard Straughan of Ap
The top picture shows Sentinel 5676 as it ended up among the rock strewn ravine at Glenridding in 1932. Compare the surroundings with, bottom, a present day view of the falls and pool to where most of the remains of the waggon gravitated over the years. Part of the front portion of the waggon appears above the water level on the left (collection R. Straughan)
The Sentinel lying upside down in the position it was swept to in 1954/55 when a dam half a mile upstream burst after snow, rain and a quick thaw. Note the rear wheels, voide of rubber tyres, taken by the miners. (courtesy Derek Stoyel)
Appleby at a tractor show in Cumbria. He explained he had had an expedition to Glenridding to rescue the remains, and the story further unfolded, with amazing photographs to be studied at another meeting with him at Bishops Castle rally.
It was Richard Straughan’s friend Eddie Poole – son of one of the crew at the time of the accident – who had first told him of the Sentinel. They went to look over the remains even though Eddie said there was very little left to see – an odd bit of chassis and a wheel or two. Their car had to be left a couple of hundred yards away and the remaining distance, over rough road, was covered on foot. Eddie was right, little remained. What there was was buried in small rocks and sand, and on two different levels of the tumbling stream. The wreck had originally landed above some falls and had laid there for thirty years until floods in 1954 or 1955 washed it over the top, down into a deep pool. Scrap men arriving later burned off the engine and a few other bits, but fortunately they realised they wouldn’t get the heavier stuff up the ravine and so gave up their quest.
The required crane appeared the following day. The boiler and front part of the chassis resisted removal; the crane heeled over and the danger bells rang with the driver visualising himself joining the old wreck. Then, with a surge, the lift swung upward - the upside down cab roof, full of stones and held down by that weight had broken free. Richard was at the upper level instructing the crane driver who was working blind. Once the lift was landed all were amazed to see the Sentinel makers plate still in place on the cabside and as a bonus the registration number EC5927. Not bad after 56 years. With the heaviest portion of the remains lifted from the ravine the rest of the recovery went without a hitch and the old Sentinel was soon loaded up on the waiting lorry.
The retrieval of the Sentinel’s remains was the work of Richard Straughan, his brother Andrew and Eddie Poole. Given the OK by the lead mine proprietors to take the pieces the team arrived in June 1988 with lorry, tractor and various ropes, picks, shovels and crowbars - and wearing Wellington boots. Stones and boulders around the various visible parts were moved aside but despite much work the first attempt to haul the remains clear of their resting place by cable attached to the tractor resulted in the wire fouling overhanging rocks - just as the earlier scrapmen had found. It was decided to try again with a mobile crane, so the rest of the day involved furious digging - a task rewards with the discovery that the boiler was still in situ and finding the injector, water pump, water gauge, safety valve, cab front
cab front window frames and the steering gear. The rear of the chassis was winched to another level to get the water level down in the main pool, and with that accomplished there appeared the front part of the chassis, cut behind the cab. The two front wheels were also present - cut off at the axle ends and presumably saved from scrap only by their weight defeating the scrapmen’s efforts.
Other bits located were the remains of the tipping ram (it had been broken to remove the brass piston) and one rear wheel with sprocket. It is said the solid tyre had been cut off by the miners to sole their clogs. The fate of the missing rear axle was known - Eddie had removed it when he worked with the mining company in the 1950s, machining it down to be used as a lineshaft at the mine.
Parts of the waggon scattered around awaiting removal.
The retrieval of the boiler and forward part of the chassis.
Despite the finding of much more of the old steam waggon than had originally been envisaged, a fair amount was missing – the engine had gone for scrap as had the rear springs, drive chains, mechanical lubricator and one rear wheel. The crankshaft had been taken a few years before for another rebuild. However, two months later the water tank, in a very battered condition, was found about a mile downstream!
Richard Straughan guiding part of the chassis onto the waiting transport.
The front part of the chassis, safely aboard the transport. Oil is dripping from the steering box.
In conclusion, further details of the Sentinel from Alan Duke’s records will be of interest. The waggon was number 5676, new in 1924 and registered EC5927, probably in December 1924 or January 1925. It was purchased by the Penrith & District Road Carrying Co and used for work by an associated company, the Greenside Lead Mining Co, transporting lead ore and stone to Troutbeck Station, about eight miles north of Greenside and Glenridding. Other wagons owned by the company were Foden 1879 of 1909 which was sold south to Staines, near London in 1914, and in earlier days two Straker wagons.
The rescue team with Sentinel 5676 successfully extricated from its watery grave.