A story in this week’s Western Gazette recalled a conversation with my mother. Public and political support is being canvassed for the re-opening of the railway station at the small town of Langport, a town that has been home to our family for generations. The station would be on the main line between the West Country and London and would probably have a good passenger base, it being located in the middle of an area that has grown rapidly in recent decades.
Fifty years ago, the station would not have been known as “Langport”, but as “Langport East”, our small town had two railway stations. Langport East was where it will be if it re-opens; Langport West, logically, was at the far end of the town and was on the branch line between Taunton and Yeovil.
It was the journey between the two stations that was the cause of our conversation. One of the stories with which I grew up was that a locomotive had once travelled from East to West via the street. It had always seemed an exciting story, the vision of a steam locomotive puffing its way down the street of our small town. However, the vision was clouded a couple of years ago by a railway enthusiast friend who questioned how such a thing might have taken place.
The initial question was “why?” Why would anyone wish to take a steam locomotive by road when all it needed to have done was to travel out to the junction where the branch line met the mainline and travel back into town on the branch line? Why embark upon an exercise that would have taken hours when it could have been completed in minutes on the tracks?
The second, and deeper question, was “how?” Trains did not run on roads, they sink into soft surfaces and come to an undignified halt. How would anyone have driven a locomotive through a small town? Thinking about the particular circumstances of Langport, the story became more and more unlikely. How would a locomotive have been removed from the tracks at a mainline station and then been driven down the sharp incline that approaches Langport East? How would it have negotiated the narrow streets? How would it have got around the ninety degree bend at the post office? And, had it found its way to the far end of the town, how would it have been put back onto the tracks? Anyone who has seen pictures of railway derailments will know how difficult it is to get a locomotive back onto the line.
Discussing the story with my mother last month, she said that if there had been no truth in the story, how did it begin? Why for so many years had we been told about the Langport locomotive? Presumably, there is some logical source for such an unlikely tale?