It was a love affair that started more than 40 years ago. For Sonia Mellor, there was just something so special about a rusty, out-of-use steam engine which sat in the sidings of a Welsh coal mine.
As a child, she used to climb and play on it, dreaming that one day she would see the redundant locomotive, named Richboro, return to past glories, once again chugging along a train track.
But in the early 1970s, when she was a young teenager, Gresford Colliery was shut and her beloved engine was later removed from the site, seemingly lost forever.
It was the last she ever saw or heard of her precious loco and she feared that it was destined for the scrapyard.
Until now! Thankfully for Sonia, now aged 54, the story has a happy ending and she is about to realise her childhood dream.
To her relief, and four decades on from the heartwrenching moment that the engine was taken away, Sonia has discovered that Richboro is safe and well.
The vintage machine, restored by Mick Fairnington at Wooler, is to be used at the Aln Valley Railway, in Alnwick. And after mum-of-two Sonia contacted volunteers of the heritage project to share her love for Richboro, she has been offered a complimentary train ride, pulled by her favourite locomotive, during the 2016 season.
“To see Richboro again and to see her in full steam will be the realisation of a dream,” said music teacher Sonia from Rotherham. “I am touched by the Aln Valley Railway’s offer.
“As a child, I played and climbed on Richboro when she was at Gresford Colliery. My dad was the last manager there, we lived across the road.
“Richboro sat in the sidings and she was rusting and falling apart and nobody seemed to care about her. I wanted my dad to buy it and put it in our back garden – needless to say, that wasn’t an option! When I was a teenager, I wanted to save her from the scrap man and I was devastated to see her taken away one day.
“I never knew what happened to her, until recently, when I was doing some research and I found out that she was at the Aln Valley Railway.
“I was so relieved to find out that she had not been scrapped and, on top of that, has been restored and will be put back to use again.
“I always thought about what it would be like to see her in operation, but I never believed that it would happen.”
Richboro was built in 1917 for the Port of London Authority, although was delivered to the director of Inland Waterways and Docks.
It was sold to W Craig & Sons, Ifton Colliery, Salop in 1926, and transferred to the National Coal Board in 1947. After its stint at Gresford Colliery it moved to Llangollen where it stood outside the Dapol factory.
It was sold to Mr Fairnington and restored before going to the Bo’Ness and Kinneil Railway in Scotland.
It is now part of the Aln Valley Railway and is undergoing boiler work. It is hoped that Richboro will be ready to pull trains for the railway’s Santa Special rides in December.