Michael L. Roach
In this series we will be recalling the second half of December 1962, the start of “The Big Freeze” and the end of the Western Region's Launceston Branch as recorded through the logs of my rail journeys and through the lens of my camera. The short and dull days meant that most photos were taken between 11.00am and around 3.30-3.40pm. The last photos of the day were often taken at a thirtieth of a second at f2.8 It was a time of great change on the railways of Britain as steam was replaced by diesel and electric haulage. The first diesels had arrived at Laira Shed in 1958 and after 4½ years there was stilll a selection of steam locos arriving at Plymouth each day and needing servicing before being dispatched on their return journey; but not for much longer. At the end of December the 34-mile branch to Tavistock and Launceston was due to close to passengers and it needed 7 locos Monday to Friday to operate the train service. 1963 would see far fewer steam locos arriving at Plymouth but they still kept coming to Plymouth and Laira Shed from Exeter, via Okehampton, up until the first weekend in September 1964. Even after that date they arrived twice a day from Okehampton for another four months but not needing servicing.
No history of this time would be complete without mentioning the weather which dominated the news for months on end. There was a short cold spell on 12-13 December and then on 22 December1962 the low temperatures returned and this time they stayed for week after week. We had no idea at the time that this was the start of “The Big Freeze,” a cold spell that would last 12 weeks. There was a frost, lying snow and treacherous ice almost every morning. The main roads were kept clear but as the Council cleared the footways more snow fell and the Council had to start all over again. The snow became frozen and dangerous with deep drifrts in places. It was the longest and worst cold spell for 250 to 300 years. It is worth looking at what Wikipedia has to say about The Big Freeze.
In this first part we feature some typical photos of the locations which will be seen over the coming days.
MLR / 02 December 2022.