Published on 27th February 2012
Farewell to Ken West, the man who drove the last Main Line Steam Service on Isle of Wight, who has died at the age of 82.
Ken West, joined the Southern Railway at Newport in 1944, he drove the last BR steam train and the first electric train on the Isle of Wight, he died on February 11th 2012.
His pedigree was pretty much without equal as he drove the last steam train one from Cowes in 1966. Ken’s family has told rail.co.uk that on the return through Newport, he and his fireman were presented with a pint by the landlord of the nearby ‘Railway Medina’. This was his former’ watering hole’ and where he played darts before moving to a house in Ryde in 1964.
.He also was on the footplate on the Ventnor West and Brading branches which closed in the 1950s.
Ken started at Newport Shed in 1944 when the railway was controlled by the Southern Railway. When Newport shed closed in 1957, he transferred to Ryde where he stayed until steam ended in 1966.
This was followed by driving the first electric trains from March 1967 and the first one to call at Smallbrook Junction in 1991. Following retirement in September 1993 Ken took up more regular duties at Havenstreet on his former engine, No. 24 Calbourne.
He was accompanied on the engine for a ride by The Duke of Edinburgh in 2001 and a picture of this appeared in The Times.
Ken also drove the first steam train on the Island in the 21st century and perhaps more historically, the train from Newport to Havenstreet the base of the embryonic Isle of Wight Steam Railway in 1971. This train was pulled by the preserved Adams class 02 No. 24 Calbourne.which brought the first set of coaches to Havenstreet and preservation. The train was the last to run from Newport and this followed track testing by a powered former Ryde Pier tram chassis.
Ken was often to be seen at the award winning Isle of Wight Steam Railway driving trains, or passing on his experience and telling tales of life on the railways. He was also to be seen at the Islands August steam show at Havenstreet, often in the beer tent with railway colleagues of the steam age.
Ken took an active part at the Isle of Wight Steam Railway from the early 1980s when Margaret, his wife, started working in the Refreshment Room and his daughter, started doing her DofE Award at the Railway.
Ken authored a book about his life on the Island’s railways called ‘Once Upon a Time’ published around 20 years ago. He also recorded his memories on local radio.
rail.co.uk’s Phil Marsh purchased the Ventnor to Wroxall Token some years ago and took it with him to show Ken at Havenstreet. Ken was asked if it was a genuine one and he replied, “yes, but it is a new one.” When asked what he meant, he smiled and said that it was introduced in the 1950s so was therefore deemed to be new!
Ken always claimed the ‘Blue Riband’ for the fastest journey from Ventnor to Ryde; on an empty stock service which ran non-stop one evening. So the story goes, in the Winter when the two lines from Smallbrook to Ryde St John’s were worked as separate single lines, the train from Ventnor and the light engine from Newport, would race back to Ryde. The first crew back would order the drinks and the last pay for them in ‘The Terminus’, now closed.
Ken West's funeral is on February 27th at 13.00hrs Holy Trinity Church, Ryde. No flowers, but donations, have been requested to the Isle of Wight Steam Railway for the upkeep of Ken’s locomotive the Adams 02 class, No. 24 "Calbourne".
There will be a Wake at Havenstreet in the Calbourne Room and Ken’s engine, Calbourne will be stabled to be outside the gathering as a mark of respect.
There are three railway exhibitions in museums in the Isle of Wight. In addition to the one at Havenstreet Station, the Ventnor Heritage Museum has a large railway collection on display. The third location is at Brading Station which re-opens next month.