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1934 – 11th Jan 2015

I am sad to inform members that Len Crane, who has done so much for us over the years, died on 11th January 2015 at the age of 81. After the funeral on 6th February a celebration of Len’s life was held at the Black Country Living Museum and was attended by somewhere in the region of 500 people.

I first met Len in April 1980 at one of our model railway exhibitions. I had brought a load of hired scaffolding poles etc. to the school to form barriers for protection of the layouts. During the exhibition I was told that we wouldn’t be charged for the hire of the scaffolding if we were to hold on to it for two weeks because the hire company was stocktaking over that period. I happened to mention this to Len and straight away he said “Leave it to me, I’ll take it all away, store it at my place and return it to them after the two weeks.” I hadn’t seen or spoken to him before that day, but it showed me exactly what sort of a person he was: kind, generous, thoughtful, helpful and totally ‘Action Packed’.

Les was interested in everything steam powered, but his primary interest was in traction engines. At some time he got a ‘Saturday Job’ at Reeves model engineers’ suppliers and went on to build a model traction engine, ‘Brigitte’, named after his daughter, with which he won the Duke of Edinburgh Trophy at the London Model Engineers exhibition. Later in life he often found himself on the other side of the fence as one of the judges.

Not being one to accept second best, following completion of his National Service in Egypt he competed over a 12 year period in motor cycle races to become British Motocross Scramble Champion in 1966 and 1967.

From bikes and models he moved on to bigger things. Not far from his home at Lanesfield, near Bilston, was a large factory, John Thompson Ltd., which made boilers. Len had witnessed their steam crane at work there and managed to purchase and restore it after they had made it redundant. Not content with doing this he became increasingly involved with the nearby Black Country Museum and organised their highly successful annual ‘Steam Gathering’ which demonstrated the huge variety of steam vehicles and how they were employed. Len’s wife, Jane, lost her voice for quite a long period and Len’s attempt at a solution was to buy her a steam roller, the idea being that it would shock her into saying something! It didn’t work straight away, but I’m sure it was a case of delayed reaction when it finally came back and she was able to drive ‘her’ roller. A showman’s engine, ‘Endurance’ was acquired in totally derelict condition sometime later. Len also restored that to pristine condition and then added a 48 keyless Chippa-Gaviola organ to complement it!

Probably Len’s greatest achievement was in restoring one of the two massive triple expansion steam pumping engines at ‘The Bratch’ water pumping station at Wombourne, near Wolverhampton. This engine, named ‘Victoria’ weighed at 404 tons and was 55 feet high.

Because of all the foregoing and because of Jane’s charity work they were both awarded Lifetime Achievement Awards by the Transport Trust. These were presented to them by prince Michael of Kent in 2011.

Among the ways in which Len helped us along the way was using his heavy low-loader to transport our cylinders to Tredegar and back for re-boring, bringing our brake van up from Cardiff, bringing our hopper wagon down from Stockport, taking our tender to Gloucester and back for its refurbishment and so on, as well as his talent for leading by example. I know Len was very proud to be part of our Society and the Severn Valley Railway and that he was very pleased to see 2857 performing so well.

I hope Jane and Brigitte will look upon our engine working on the SVR as another reminder of all Len had a hand in to further his enthusiasm for steam and the enjoyment of like-minded steam lovers.

Bob Kyte


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