Fond farewell to Britain’s longest serving steam engine driver

Ben Fox
Ben Fox

A man believed to be the longest serving steam engine driver in Britain was taken on one final trip down his favourite train line – in his coffin.

Dave Knowling, who died just before Christmas at the age of 78, first joined British Railways in the summer of 1954 and was still driving trains until last year.

South Devon Railway, where he was employed as an engine driver for decades long after they were taken off main lines, laid on a special train which took his coffin along his beloved line from Buckfastleigh to Totnes, alongside the River Dart.

And there was standing room only as dozens turned out to join Dave on his final trip.
Locomotives on the South Devon Railway had already carried wreaths in his memory as colleagues paid tribute to a man they described as a master of his craft. Dave, who lived on Dartmoor, was made redundant from British Railways in July 1966 and started work at English China Clays at Marsh Mills, but also started volunteering on the fledgling Dart Valley Railway at Buckfastleigh.

He was taken on to the full time staff in 1968 and fired the first public train when the line reopened at Easter 1969.
He worked for the Dart Valley and then the South Devon Railway Trust after it took over the Buckfastleigh line in 1991. He retired in 2004, but continued to drive one day a week until October last year.

Dick Wood spokesman for the railway said: “2018 would have been his 50th year here. He leaves a huge gap in the ranks of South Devon Railway volunteers, and will be very greatly missed.”

When Dave married his wife Sue in 1970, the couple had their wedding reception on a Dart Valley train with The Wedding Belle as a headboard, which is still in the SDR’s museum. After the train journey a service was held at Holy Trinity, Buckfastleigh followed by burial in the cemetery there.

Donations are being invited for Rowcroft Hospice.