Steve’s boyhood ambition on track with railway role

Scarborough lad Steve Johnson is the epitome of the  boy who wanted to be a train driver when he grew up.

By Sue Wilkinson
Thursday, 14th March 2019, 1:16 pm
Updated Thursday, 14th March 2019, 2:08 pm
Manager of North Bay Railway Steve Johnson
Manager of North Bay Railway Steve Johnson

The 29-year-old not only drives locomotives, he is the general manager of North Bay Railway in Scarborough.

“When I was at school we had to write a letter to our older selves and I am almost certain in mine I wrote ‘I hope you are enjoying driving trains’,” he said.

His dad Mike is chairman of Scarborough and District Railway Modellers’ Club. He introduced Steve to the North Bay Railway when he was a boy.

Sign up to our daily The Scarborough News Today newsletter

IN PICTURES: The boy who grew up to a train driver here

As soon as he was old enough to go off on his own Steve would follow the train on his bike on its journey from its station in Northstead Manor Gardens to Scalby Mills.

“I would have been 11 or so and got to know all the staff. They would invite me on to the trains and I would wipe down the seats etc,” said Steve.

“I did not stand a chance. I was always going to be into railways.”

When he left school in 2007 he wrote to David Humphreys, who leases the railway from Scarborough Council, asking for a job.

There were no vacancies but Steve was invited to become a volunteer. A year later, having proved how keen he was, he was given an apprenticeship.

Steve went to Gladstone Road and Graham schools and to Scarborough Sixth Form “because my mates did. I had no intention of going to university”.

He worked in a solicitor’s office for a short while before starting work as a volunteer at the railway.

Driving the trains is the ‘glamorous’ part of the job. From January to Easter is when the graft is put in – relaying track, repairing, repainting and improving engines.

The sheds vibrate with noise from machinery such as grinders, there is oil, dust, grease, spanners and every other engineering tool you can think of.

“A lot of people see you in the summer enjoying yourself driving the train but you do work for it.

“This time of year is when you put in the graft that nobody sees. You can spend weeks and weeks and weeks doing a part of the track that people travel over in seconds and do not realise the work that has gone into it,” he said. It has taken 12 years to re-lay the track inherited when Mr Humphreys took over the running of the railway.

Steve lives with his partner Charlotte, a teacher, in Eastfield. His model railway is in the attic – after all, he has a real railway to ‘play’ with.

He is also a drummer in The Flux, a band which plays “any song you can hold up a pint in the air and sing-along to”.

“On days when I get to drive a train during the day and then be a rock star on a night, I have to pinch myself,” said Steve. “I have cracked it.”

Steve and engineer Graham Duncan, who worked at Wards for 25 years, are the only full-time employees. The rest of the workforce are volunteers.

They include Paul ‘Stubby’ Stubbins who drives a 100-mile round trip from Hull to be part of the North Bay Railway.

He is an electrician in a factory that makes concrete roof tiles. Like Steve, his dad Gordon is a train enthusiast, introduced his son to locomotives and brought him to North Bay Railway when he was a child.

“Now when I see the little ‘Steves’ and ‘Pauls’ looking at the trains, I let them in and take pictures,” said Paul.

“It is nice being a part of keeping the railway going. There is always something to do, repainting, repairing, improving it and cleaning.”

The sheds are home to diesel engines Neptune, Poseidon, Robin Hood and Triton.

The staff built the steam engine Georgina in 2015 and she also earns her keep pulling the carriages the mile between the station and Scalby Mills and back again.

Each of the volunteers has a favourite – Steve and Paul share a love of Neptune.

The engines and the carriages chugging along North Bay at a top speed of 10 miles per hour are as familiar to visitors and residents as deckchairs and donkeys.

The railway is part of the town’s DNA and is kept going through graft, certainly, but also love.

“We could not keep the railway going without the volunteers,” said Steve. “I do get paid but I don’t do it for the money. I do it because I love it.

“For me, this beats working in an office.”