Railways were always part of our family's life. If it was too far to walk it was how we got around, how we went on holiday. And for Dad, it was more than just a means of transport. Like so many, Dad loved the magnificent steam engines. It must have been a very sad day when steam stopped running.
Living in Leatherhead in the 1960's, Dad took me along to the railway station the day the last steam train passed through, on its final journey, stopping at Leatherhead. Memories are still clear of being helped through the cloud of steam surrounding the engine doorway and once inside the driver's compartment, witnessing the blazing hot firebox that kept it all going. All huge and awe-inspiring to a young 10 year old girl and leaving a lasting impression.
While we were growing up, Dad (when he had time between shifts in his work as a policeman in the Surrey Constabulary, and being a dad), could be found in his shed with his model railway, built lovingly by him - track, models and electrics - the layout intricately replicating real local railway lines and stations. Sometimes as children, in the '60's, my sister and I would stand on an old chair in the shed so that we could reach, and under guidance be allowed to work some of the electric controls - clicking a switch, turning a dial or gently pushing a lever, changing the points to watch a train take a different route round the track.
After moving house, during the early 1970's Dad's railway was stored for a while in the garage roof, until we moved house again and Dad rebuilt his beloved railway in a purpose-built brick shed. He would spend time here, and in the evenings would often sit at a table in the living room, working with the aid of a lamp and magnifying glass, making models for his railway - some from scratch using flat sheets of plastic and intricate diagrams. He shared his interest with long-standing friends, and also with many good friends at the Epsom and Ewell Model Railway Club, where he was a member for many, many years.
From its earlier days and for as long as I can remember, Dad was a member of the Bluebell Railway, while the Bluebell Line was steadily tracking its long and fascinating journey to restoration. He retired from the Police in 1980 and together with his new business as a driving instructor, he found time to work regularly as a volunteer there. Although I know only a small part of all that he contributed to the Bluebell Railway, I know that he happily volunteered his skills to help where he could, regularly going down to Sussex in old clothes for working, and sporting a bright yellow bobble hat!
Throughout the 1980's he helped down at the "Blue", as he called it, with the restoration work at Horsted Keynes. Employing the very precise woodworking skills that he had learnt as a carpenter while in his twenties, he worked together with others on restoring some of the wagons and vans to their former glory - renovating or replacing the woodwork, the floors, internal seating, doors and metal work and paint - including restoration work in the late 1980's on the SECR "Dance Hall" Brake Van 11916, as seen in this photo taken in 1989/90. (So called because the guard's accommodation is large enough to hold a dance in it!). Another example of Dad's dedication was to be found, at that time, in the construction of the white main gates at Horsted Keynes Station, which he built from scratch.
During the 1990's while the Bluebell Line was being extended through to Kingscote, Dad was there, contributing and 'doing his bit' to help recreate something precious that would now last into the future and give thousands of people, young and old, an insight into our wonderful steam railways of the past. In the photo on the right he's the one in the yellow bobble hat! He took a series of photographs, forming a large collection, documenting much of the Kingscote restoration work, spanning from 1989-1994.
Dad loved the Bluebell Railway and was a member, with his wife Daphne, for several decades until they both passed away in the early months of 2018, at the ages of 91 and 89. One of their last trips to the 'Blue', and journeys up the line, was made together with family in 2014 (and seen on the left, taking an interest in a detail of the S15 on that visit). The Bluebell Line, by this time, had reached East Grinstead, and had joined up with the National Network to London. On the occasion of this journey, from Sheffield Park and through Horsted Keynes, upon reaching Kingscote Station, Dad alighted from the train and walked contentedly along the platform, absorbing the bustling atmosphere, very happy to be back there again.
Dennis and Daphne will be missed by so many, but Dad has passed his love of steam railways on to us, and our family now continue his membership of the Bluebell into the future.
Dad donated his wonderful model railway to the Bluebell.
Debbie Valenti (daughter) 2018