by Phil Marsh

The locomotive moving expert retires after 40 years and three million miles on the road

Published: 20th January 2014

John Antell calls it a day after 4 decades

The man and lorry that has moved just about every tank engine and small to medium size diesel locomotive has finally retired after 40 years on the road.

The 67 year old John Antell of PH Antell and sons comes from Shillingstone in Dorset will be spending more time with his 1909 7HP Fowler traction engine which he will be exhibiting on a more regular basis from now on. This is the reason why he went into the heavy haulage business when over 40 years ago he became annoyed on a regular basis when hauliers were late or failed to turn up to transport his Traction Engine, so did it himself.

He is one of the most knowledgeable people when it comes to knowing which engines have worked where and generally knew before the railway media found out. He is also an absolute expert on loading and unloading 50 tons of locomotive up and down ramps to and from his 26 wheeled rig. Another area of expertise he has is where there are low bridges or tight corners which prevented him using a direct route much of the time between preserved railways and a few main line linked locations.

Three million miles at 4MPG

Mr Antell sold his huge lorry at the end of 2013 to a Stoke on Trent haulier for what is thought to be a six-figure sum. The tyres under the cab cost over £400 each and the lorry averaged around four miles to the gallon when carrying a locomotive and had a 100 gallon tank plus a header tank carrying another two hundred gallons giving a huge range.

This helps to explain why he drove over three million miles in his career, in the UK and Europe with, he thought, his longest journey about 650 miles between Bodmin in Cornwall to the Strathspey Railway at Aviemore. This took 60 hours and then he became stuck in snow for three days!

He operated his last ‘V Reg’ rig from November 2005 for eight years spending 1760 nights sleeping in it and he could be away from home for weeks at a time. His work orders were faxed to him via the railways he was working for.

One accident

His worst accident was when he was run into from behind while carrying a LMS ‘Jinty’ 0-6-0T in 1998 while on the M1 which happened just after he left Barrow Hill near Chesterfield. When asked what he would not miss about the job, the instant reply came: “that I would not miss the rare times when a tyre blew out, usually in the rain and on a motorway!”

Last job and surprise presentation

John Antell’s final locomotive removal was on behalf of the Chinnor and Princes Risborough Railway on January 7 when he transported back to the South Devon Railway, their 0-6-0PT GWR Pannier Tank No. 1369 to Buckfastleigh. He had driven up through the floods on the A34 from the Mid Hants Railway where he had dropped of ‘Thomas The Tank Engine’ – which he had also transported to Europe on a number of occasions.

He was asked how many different locomotives he had moved, he said, “a hell of a lot but also that he had moved many of them several times”. He added that he would miss the people he had met over the years.” This was the perfect cue for the Chinnor and Princes Risborough Chairman Roger Fagg to make a well planned but to John Antell, a surprise presentation recognising his services to the preserved rail industry from pretty much its inception.

Mr Antell was presented with a painting of his rig painted by Wolverton Works’ artist John Kitchen appropriately depicting his rig at Wolverton Works loaded with one of their shunters, Class 08 No. 08629 about to be taken to Chinnor in October 2013.

Mr Antell was uncharacteristically quiet for a few moments being genuinely moved by the quality of the painting. He was then presented with honorary life membership of the Chinnor and Princes Risborough Railway and invited back to visit whenever he was in the area or maybe especially in August when the line celebrates its 20th anniversary when a number of special events will be taking place to mark the milestone.

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