Leyland granddad who helped make British railway history dies aged 91

A Leyland granddad who helped to make railway history in Britain has died aged 91.

Monday, 10th February 2020, 11:45 am
Left to right are David Whitehead, Keith Holden, Billy Bamber, Vinny, Dave Peet, Andy Hall and Peter Whalen at one of the meetings for former railway workers and train enthusiasts.

Vincent (Vinnie) Commons died on Thursday, January 16th, after being hospitalised due to an infection.

Doctors suspected that Vinnie, who lived in Hargreaves Avenue, had secondary cancer after finding lesions on his liver.

His son Mark said: "Dad was always telling jokes, as well as stories about the railways. I was very proud of him."

Vinny (left) with ex-fireman, Paul Tuson, on the footplate, together again after 40 years.

Vinny was born in Chorley before moving to Leyland and starting work as a locomotive cleaner at Lostock Hall Station in his teens. He fell in love with the railways and worked his way up to become a "fireman" or stoker, who would tend the fire that powered a steam engine.

It was a rough job, says his friend and fellow train enthusiast Bob Gregson, but Vinny loved it.

His enthusiasm and commitment paid off, with two drivers taking him under their wings to show him the ropes. After passing a difficult test, he went on to secure his dream role as a driver, a position he flourished in and held until he retired in 1993.

Mark added: "One time he was driving with two inspectors on the train and after he'd finished, they said it was the smoothest drive they'd ever been on. He was really chuffed about it. He was really good at what he did, no doubt about it."

Locomotive 45305 on the morning of August 5th, 1968.

In fact, Vinny was so good at his job he was even stopped from joining the army during the war as authorities did not want to lose him from the railways. But he faced his fair share of danger, having to drive freight trains carrying bombs.

When steam finished in 1968, he transferred to Preston where he moved diesel trains from London to Glasgow. The West Coast was electrified in 1973 and brought in environmentally cleaner and faster vehicles that travelled at high speeds of 100mph, which Vinny finished his career on.

"Some drivers couldn't take it because they were used to 30mph at most, so it was very frightening for them. The electric trains used tremendous speeds. It was a shock to the system. But not for Vinny - he was an astute sort of man," said Bob.

"He was a tough guy and loved his life on the railway. He wouldn't have done anything else. He'd been passionate about being a driver ever since he was a schoolboy and he got there."

Mark says he has many happy memories of his father as a train driver.

"The Preston to London line ran behind our childhood home and my dad would let us know when he would be driving past and pip his horn. And he always did," he said.

Pals Bob Gregson and Barney Campbell met Vinny when they began hosting monthly reunions for former railway workers and long-term enthusiasts in 1993.

Bob said: "Vinny was always chirpy and making us laugh. He was a real character and was popular. He was the life and soul of our meetings and had a good sense of humour."

Bob remembers Vinny as a fascinating and insightful storyteller, who even helped him to write several books about the train industry.

He said: "Vinny was around in a day when the railway was something to talk about. The trains had a rather unforgettable character. Everything we loved about the railways has gone but Vinny went through it all. And the transition wasn't easy."

But he did not just witness history in the making - he took part in it too, by driving a train for British Railways during a special farewell tour on the last day of steam. His fireman that day - August 4th, 1968 - was Paul Tuson.

"He told me stories that I'll never forget. He was a great friend and a mine of information. I'm glad I met him," added Bob.

Vinny was also well-loved outside of work. He met his future wife Stella in Bolton and married her in 1955 after two or three years of courtship. They had two children together, Joy and Mark, and two grandchildren, Steven and Stuart.

His passions included playing snooker and football, and he also enjoyed walking his black Labradors.

"He was a fantastic dad. We couldn't have asked for a better upbringing," said Mark.

"He would play football with my nephews, even in his 80s. One time he went in the nets and someone kicked the ball, which hit his hand and broke his wrist. But I remember he said, 'I didn't let the ball in though.'

His daughter Joy remembers his love of music and that he had a radio in every room.

She added: "He was a loving dad, a real character, and did so much for us. His grandchildren loved him to bits. He was just an all-round lovely guy, who would talk to anyone."