Published: 9th October 2015
When Prairie No. 4555 and ‘2251’ Class 0-6-0 No. 3205 pushed through the overgrown track between Totnes and Buckfastleigh, each with two auto coaches, on 2 October 1965 they were the first train movements over the Ashburton branch in the heritage era.
The 50th anniversary of these landmark moves was celebrated on 2 October 2015 when over 70 people from the SDR and local community gathered in the South Devon Railway Trust’s museum at Buckfastleigh. Those present included Bob Hill, Bryan Gibson and Richard Elliott, all of whom had been present half a century earlier. In addition to a small display to mark to anniversary a specially-made DVD produced by two local students was played.
After some remarks by the three ‘old boys’, SDRT Museum Curator John Brodribb invited Rowena Houghton and Susan Johnson to say a few words. Their fathers, Bob Saunders and John Evans, were founding directors of the Dart Valley Light Railway Company which set up the original enterprise to preserve the line between Totnes and Buckfastleigh. The ladies then cut a celebration cake and SDR’s first 50 years was toasted – the beverage of choice being tea, this is a railway, after all!
The guests then boarded a special train recreating that of 50 years earlier hauled by No. 3205. Various happenings of five decades previously were re-enacted, including Richard Elliott boarding the train, Bob Hill finding a way onto the locos footplate and Bryan Gibson also managing to get aboard for a ride.
Western Region of BR closed the Ashburton branch (Totnes to Ashburton via Buckfastleigh) to passenger traffic on 1 November 1958 and to goods in September 1962. Various preservation schemes in the locality were mooted, the one which successfully emerged being the Dart Valley Light Railway Company, formed by a group of local businessmen to acquire the line, locomotives and coaches.
A rail tour from London Paddington to Plymouth ran on 2 October 1965. This was hauled as far as Exeter St Davids by No. 4079 Pendennis Castle. The 4-6-0 came off the train to head for Exmouth Junction for servicing with Prairie No. 4555 and 0-6-0 No. 3205 (both already privately owned) then taking the tour on to Totnes.
These locos then took the auto coaches along the closed branch to Buckfastleigh where they were to be employed by the fledgling Dart Valley Railway. A number of enthusiasts from the special train siezed the chance of riding over the closed line (hence the earlier mentioned re-enactments!) using the first operation by No. 4555, only being able to return to Totnes because No. 3205 operated a second train of auto coaches.
The newly arrived coaches were stored in Buckfastleigh goods yard with the locomotives being locked in the goods shed, which now houses the museum and SDR’s Carriage & Wagon works.
Dart Valley Light Railway Ltd commenced passenger services between Buckfastleigh and Totnes (the Buckfastleigh – Ashburton section could not be secured since part of the trackbed was earmarked for A38 road enhancements) on 5 April 1969. DVLR leased the branch to what subsequently became the SDR Trust from 1 January 1991 with SDR purchasing the freehold from DVLR (for a nominal £1) on 8 February 2010.