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The Dream of Claude Jeremiah Greengrass

Nicholas Rhea in the Stationmaster's Garden

When Claude Jeremiah Greengrass was a young lad growing up in Aidensfield, a village deep inside the North York Moors, his greatest ambition was to see, or even ride in, the magnificent Flying Scotsman. It was the most famous of railway engines and he collected every picture and photograph he could find. He stored them in a special album he'd been given for his birthday and looked at them every day.

He knew the engine's number - 4472; its livery - apple green; its wheel configuration - 4-6-2 and that its top speed was 100 mph. He had discovered it belonged to the LNER (London and North-Eastern Railway) and that it had been built at Doncaster in 1923. He had also learned that its original number was 1472 but that had changed in 1924-5 when it was given its current name and number. In other words, young Claude knew a lot about the Flying Scotsman. At Christmas one year, his Uncle Ignatius had bought him a model of the Flying Scotsman complete with carriages, but he was so proud that he daren't play with it. He kept it hidden in his bedroom so other lads wouldn't get their hands on it.

But in spite of his enthusiasm he had never seen the real Flying Scotsman. Ever since he had first become aware of the engine, he had sneaked into the railway station at Aidensfield, hoping one day to watch his dream train steaming through. Other splendid engines regularly puffed and whistled through the station and although sometimes he was chased away by the Station Master or the porter, generally with a clip on his ear or a kick on the backside, Claude always returned.

He hid among the carriages and wagons that were kept in the sidings, because that gave him a good view of the station and tracks. He would creep from his home at all hours knowing that express trains worked at night as well as during the daytime. Surely the Flying Scotsman would one day steam through Aidensfield?

Then one evening when he was hiding under a coal wagon, the porter crept up behind and seized Claude by the collar. He frog-marched him into the Station Master's office.

"Mr Higgingson," said the porter, "I've caught that Greengrass lad again, hiding under the coal wagons. He was up to no good, that's for sure."

"Look lad," Mr Higgingson always looked fierce. "I don't know what your game is, but this is private property and I don't want you hanging about, damaging and stealing stuff."

"I'm not damaging things or stealing stuff!" retorted Claude. "I've never nicked anything in my life."

"So what's your game then? Why do you keep coming here and hiding from us?"

"I'm trying to see the Flying Scotsman," whispered the young Claude. "That's all. I just want to see it. I thought it would come through Aidensfield one of these days."

"Well you've come to the wrong place," snapped Higgingson. "It never comes through this station. It's a main-line express running between London and Edinburgh so that's where you'll see it. You'll have to go to Northallerton, Thirsk or York or somewhere else on the main line, and you'll have to find out what time it steams through those stations."

"I don't know where York is, or Northallerton or Thirsk," admitted Claude. "My dad hasn't a car, so we never go far from home."

"Well young man, if you want to set eyes on the Flying Scotsman, that's what you'll have to do. It's waste of time hanging about here hoping to see it." Then Mr Higgingson softened a little and added, "Look, Claude, I'm sorry. I know you mean no harm but we can't have lads hanging about our goods yard and sidings, it could be dangerous. So there we are - you need to get to a main line station."

"Thank you for telling me. I never knew all this," and so Claude went home with tears in his eyes, knowing he would never see his dream train. Unless, of course, he worked very hard and made enough money to buy a van or even a lorry. Then he could drive himself to a main-line station.

Sadly, by the time Claude had become a man and made enough money to buy himself a lorry to replace his horse-and-cart, the Flying Scotsman had been retired and taken out of service. He had no idea where it had gone and realised, yet again, that he would never actually see or touch his dream engine. He was left with nothing except his album full of old photographs, pictures and newspaper cuttings - and the model that Uncle Ignatius had given him. He did wonder whether he might find the real retired Flying Scotsman and buy it as scrap. It must be stored somewhere but he didn't think there was enough space to keep it in his own scrapyard. But he would never ever scrap it - he would keep it looking like new.

As Claude's dream of seeing the Flying Scotsman faded with his advancing years, he made a reasonable success by buying-and-selling, frequently finding scrap metal and other unwanted items that could be turned into cash. Catching pheasants on Lord Ashfordly's estate and elsewhere was also a good money-spinner and he managed to make a reasonable living.

Then one night in autumn with the Hunter's Moon shining over the countryside, Claude had been poaching with his dog Alfred. It was two or three o'clock in the morning and he was making his way home with two brace of illicit pheasants. He always took a short cut through the railway station and the Station Master's garden at Aidensfield, keeping away from the roads in case the constable saw him, but that night he noticed, in the light of the moon, a dark van parked in the goods yard. Its lights were switched off but the rear doors stood wide open and there was no-one with it. He hung his pheasants on the Station Master's garden fence - he had no wish to be caught with them in his possession. Then using all his poacher's skill, he crept nearer in total silence, wondering why it was parked there. And then he heard noises from the sidings.

Alfred growled softly and the hair on his back bristled. "Hush, Alfred," whispered Claude.

There were sounds of metal objects being moved... feet scraping on the ashes between the rails... soft voices... and men panting as they carried heavy pieces of iron from a pipe wagon. It was stuff used in line maintenance - and they were loading the van! He watched for a moment or two, the moonlight not being good enough to identify the thieves. Or were they railwaymen maintenance men working a night shift? There was one way to find out.

"Hey you!" shouted Claude, switching on his torch and running towards them as Alfred barked and snarled. Alfred's angry noises were enough to scare anyone.

"Hey you, stop!" repeated Claude as the growling Alfred ran towards the men. But they were quick. In a flash, they threw the last of the metal pieces into the van, slammed the doors and raced to the front. In seconds they were driving off with no lights. But the moonlight was not good enough for Claude to read the registration plate and so, with Alfred barking in hot pursuit, they chased the van into the night as lights came on in the Station Master's house. This was followed by all the lights on the platforms, goods yard and sidings also being switched on; suddenly, the entire station was bathed in light.

"Come on Alfred, we've got to make ourselves scarce," breathed Claude. "That new Station Master will think I've nicked the stuff..."

And he hurried into the shadows to hide in the Station Master's garden - but then he heard a whistle. An engine whistle. At this time of morning? As he ducked behind a fence, he saw the new Station Master, Geoffrey Patterson. He emerged from his house to stand on the platform. He was carrying a lantern showing green. The sounds grew nearer; puffing sounds... a steam train... a goods train perhaps. But there was no noisy clanking of buffers like some goods trains often made, so was it an engine on its own? Claude waited in the shadows of the garden with Alfred crouched at his side as the noise of the approaching engine grew louder and louder.

"Keep down, Alfred!" he hissed. "They can't see us in here..."

And then the engine passed through Aidensfield and in the patches of light from the station illuminations, Claude saw its apple green livery and its number, 4472...

"I can't believe it... it's the Flying Scotsman!" he grabbed Alfred and clung tightly to him. "Look, it's the engine on its own - no carriages. Just look at that - but what's it doing here? I can't believe this, I really can't..." He could barely contain his excitement.

Then with a brief low hoot to Mr Patterson, the engine passed on its way to Newton Dale and onwards to Pickering and York. The Station Master returned to his house and locked the doors, then rang York Station to report that 4472 had passed through Aidensfield safely on its highly secret test run during its major refurbishment. Then he switched off all the lights and went to bed.

Claude and Alfred were left alone in the silence of the shadowy garden while the sound of the Flying Scotsman faded into the night as the engine steamed into the darkness.

"Come on, Alfred, it's time for home," he patted his faithful dog on his head. "Nobody's going to believe this, are they? And if I say I was here, they'll think I nicked that metal..."

And next morning, Claude wondered whether he had actually seen the Flying Scotsman in Aidensfield, or had it been a dream? And then he remembered that, in the middle of all the excitement, he'd left his pheasants in the Station Master's garden.

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The Dream of Claude Jeremiah Greengrass © 2011 Nicholas Rhea: used with permission.
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