Serendipity

Posted by George Hamlin
on Thursday, March 01, 2018

“Sure, you’ll not be going before the other one comes, will you?”  In fact, I had been about to depart, after concluding that an unexpected encounter with one live steam locomotive in an out-of-the-way location in Ireland was quite fortuitous.  However, in light of the newly-proffered information, I certainly wasn’t going to leave before doubling my good luck.

The afternoon’s ‘official’ activity was a drive through Counties Limerick and Tipperary, on September 28, 1974.  Still, how could a railfan tourist resist at least taking a look at a place named “Limerick Junction”?  After all, the map showed an intersection of two thin black lines in addition to the red one for the road; the combination begged for at least a quick inspection.  As we pulled into the car park, I assured my wife that it would be a brief stop.

The station, at the junction of CIE’s Dublin-Cork north-south main line and the east-west line from Rosslare and Waterford to Limerick, had a nice railroad feel to it, plus the added touch of flowers along the platform, in what appeared to be recycled corrugated cans.  Idling away opposite the platform was one of the EMD re-engined “MetroVick” Class 55 diesels, the only equipment in sight.

Up the tracks to the north there was some activity which was producing a cloud of smoke or steam, although it didn’t seem likely that the source was a locomotive.  And with regard to the white-colored output of heating water for providing propulsion, it was extremely unlikely that what I saw was being produced by a steam locomotive, since railways in the Irish Republic had been dieselized since 1963.  Shortly, however, the unlikely became a sure thing, as 2-6-4T number 4 rolled by the platform, quite obviously under steam.

With an “Ulster Transport” emblem on the tank, it was apparent that this engine was not a local resident.  It turned out that the Railway Preservation Society of Ireland, which is located in Ulster (part of the UK), operated trips with its equipment throughout the Emerald Isle, and that number 4 would be taking over here for another locomotive now on the way from the town of Tipperary, and then taking the excursion consist to Limerick City for an overnight stop.

The “other one” turned out to be even more of a surprise to this North American.  GS&WR number 186 was an 0-6-0, specifically a Class J15, built in 1879!  To put this in perspective, imagine, if you will, the Clinchfield’s one-spot 4-6-0 being let loose on a jaunt sans both pony truck and diesel helpers; these people were using what, by U.S. practice, obviously was a geriatric terminal switcher for a cross-country run with a passenger train!

All in all, a great piece of luck.  How many times do we go out in search of something specific, only to have events conspire against us?  In this instance, my timing couldn’t have been any better; sometimes chance trumps planning.  Returning to the car I was quite pleased, even though there was still the small matter of explaining what a “brief” stop was to my wife…

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