Tuesday 24 April 2018


by Dave Roberts

Our somewhat enigmatic title probably won't mean a lot to non-railway fans, but those who take an interest in the history of our railways will probably know just what we are talking about.
As we explained here push-pull trains were really steam powered forerunners to the electric and diesel multiple unit trains of today and one of them, the renowned 'Dodger', worked on the Sandbach-Middlewich-Northwich line for forty-eight years from 1911 until the passenger service ended in the final days of 1959.
We're fortunate that we can date the two photographs in the diary entry exactly, and also attribute them to their original source, courtesy of railway author Alan Wilkinson who lived in Middlewich and has written extensively on the subject of railways, including the Middlewich line.
The information we have on these photographs comes from Alan's excellent 'Railways Across Mid-Cheshire' (Foxline [Publications] Ltd), published a few years ago.
Although the photographs we're featuring here were not included in Alan's book another one taken at the same time was, and so we feel safe in attributing these photographs as we have.
The occasion was a 'Pull and Push Farewell' railtour operated by the Locomotive Club of Great Britain (hence the LCGB headboard) on the 5th February 1966 and the engine is seen in the top picture  taking on water at Middlewich station.
To the left is Middlewich signal box and its coal bunker which survived into recent times as seen here.

In the second picture we can get a glimpse of the Crewe-bound platform and its waiting-room which was burned down, not too long after this picture was taken, by railway workers burning grass on the embankment behind the station.
Note the MIDDLEWICH signboard on the signal box. There were two, and one of them is in the safe keeping of the Middlewich Rail Link Campaign. Where the other one ended up remains a mystery, but it's highly unlikely that one sign would be saved and not the other.
The locomotive used for this railtour was, as can be seen, no 41286.
Her classmate, no 41229, was the regular engine on the 'Dodger' and continued to work on the  line until 1965, pulling a Crewe-Northwich parcels train each day.
She was finally withdrawn in 1966.

Update 24th April 2018:
When this diary entry was first published I  received a note from an old Crewe engine driver telling me that the Sandbach- Middlewich - Northwich motor trains were considered 'light duties' and were usually in the hands of drivers who were recovering from accidents or illness.

They even had their own local expression for someone thought to be 'swinging the lead' or 'not pulling his weight'. Such a person was said to be 'On The Dodger' - i.e. 'taking it easy'.

The push-pull apparatus, part of which can be seen at the side of the smoke-box of no 41286 in our main picture, is interesting.

 I keep finding reports that it was very often disconnected and the train controlled by 'a system of whistles', though quite how that would work I'm not sure.

I wonder if there was something in those old engine men which told them that their rightful place was on the footplate rather than in a passenger coach?

So it's possible that  these trains could have been worked by ordinary tank locos. 

Even so,  the locos based at Crewe were all fitted with the apparatus, even if it wasn't always used. 

MIDDLEWICH RAIL LINK CAMPAIGN (MRLC) The archived  Middlewich Rail Link Campaign website, including the story of the campaign from 1992 until it was relaunched in 2015 as the Mid-Cheshire Rail Link Campaign.


First published 24th April 2012
Re-formatted and re-published 24th April 2018

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