Can we cab it, Mister?

 The first page of my 1971 “combined volume” must be typical of many with neatly underlined “Peaks” D1-77 (underlining meant spotted), plus a few “H” (haulage) and C (cabbed) entries against some of these fine engines.

“Cabbing” was a tradition prevalent amongst mainly young enthusiasts which lasted from the steam age until the early 80’s. At bigger stations back then like, for example Bristol Temple Meads,  Birmingham New St or Crewe there were often 50-100 young enthusiasts camped out on mail trolleys all day long, simply recording the non stop loco movements.

When a Peak like D19 rumbled into New St we knew there would always be a few minutes standing time as hordes of passengers bailed or joined the inter regional train before the Peak “got the road”. In a scene repeated all across the country’s larger stations the loco’s driver would get a request from the boldest of a group of 15 or so youngsters of “can we cab it please, mister”. Driver’s responses varied from “sorry lads, no” to “bugger off” or most often a resigned sigh “come on then”. Then a whole gang of 15 -20 enthusiasts would pile aboard, some getting no further than the cab grab rails due to the crush!.

Sounds corny in 2022 i suppose, but the loco cab in 1972 was a sort of hallowed ground, the driver/secondman would sometimes ask us “what we’d seen”, “what else we’d cabbed today” or especially in Scotland a “where ye frae”.  Each loco type obviously had very different cab’s, they all had an atmosphere of their own. After a few minutes taking in the cab scene and chatting to the driver, the signal would change and we’d be asked to leave and a mass bail followed!  A “C” entry was recorded in your notebook and in your “combine” once you were home.

Locally the likes of Luton or Bletchley the locos tended to be off the platforms (and we tended to be in the station carparks anyway) restricting cabbing potential but at Aylesbury’s the freight traffic drivers were really good bets for cabbing.

Depot or Works open days also offered great “cabbing” potential with proper wooden steps to officially access the loco from ballast level. However “Open days” display locos cab’s were often silent and cold so lacked atmosphere. At one Derby Works “open day” we cheated in cabbing at speed the spare cabs of various 24/25’s (no locos just the cabs!) tucked round the back of the shops!

Thanks to RM web for this image of the spare cab of 25006 which no doubt a few claimed as “cabbed”

Old Oak Common Open day on Saturday September 2nd 1972 saw plenty of locos cabbed as per my log book image. But with steps up to the loco cabs  Open day cabbing wasnt quite the same as say New St when the engines were ticking over not silent and immaculate even if Old Oak Common Open Day saw 820, 1071, 1654, 3965, 5655, 6997, 7011, 7677, 83010 and E6104 all cabbed…!

John Williams was also at Old Oak Common open day on September 2nd and took this classic image of spotters and others piling aboard to cab 820 “Grenville”

At Laira depot in August 1973 we walked in grim silence past a line of recently withdrawn “Westerns”. 1004, 1017, 1060, 1003, 1020 and 1032. Another one had been stripped of number and nameplates so couldnt be identified so  we climbed into the cab, obviously silent and cold, to record D1042 from the internal cab display. We never saw D1042 “Western Princess” again,  yet i can still remember that particular cab visit ………………….

Barry Scrapyard in the 70’s allowed vast numbers of silent kettles to be cabbed but there were 2 historic long lost diesels (601/6122) there too which had to be cabbed.

 6122 is duly cabbed at Barry Scrapyard on 300177

 A top logs contributor cabbing class 46 “Ixion” at Bedford Open day on 280588

“Cabbing” quickly died out on the big railway in the 80’s as the railway changed in all manner of ways,  increasing officialdom and HSE overkill making it virtually impossible for drivers to allow anybody aboard. Plus the locos themselves were largely replaced by DMU’s/EMU’s which had zero “cabbing” interest!

On the sanitised privatised railway of today the driver on allowing an unauthorised cab visit at Stations with CCTV,  jobsworths and worse could be in serious trouble but in 2004 i did smile on seeing a jubilant youngster leaping from the cab of 57301 on thunderbird blockade standby at Milton Keynes having “cabbed it”. That “Ronnie’s” driver was a top man keeping a railway tradition going.

“Cabbing” remains prevelant on many preserved lines till the HSE “neds” find out. Its good as an adult to cab a “peak” on a preserved line or whatever.. But also you will have “normals” invited into the cab with you,  plus excited siblings who thinks a “Clayton” is “Thomas the tank!”.

I could just imagine the reaction of most of today’s “professional” drivers if say at Leighton station  you’d ask him to cab 350257!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

“Cabbing” virtually gone but not forgotten….


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