No website purporting at least in part to be about authorship could fail to have a webpage about David L. Smith, the chronicler of the wild railways of South West Scotland. He died in his home town, Ayr, on 25 February 1985 at the age of 86.
The late Michael Harris wrote a short appreciation in Railway World: this is reproduced as written, other than for a few changes in pronouns, etc: He stated that he "had the privilege of meeting David Smith last year , and it was truly an occasion to be savoured. It was a case of meeting a hero and finding that he was exactly what one had expected. It might at first sight seem to be overstating a case to say that he was one of the greatest writers on British railways. However, a careful reader of his Tales of the Glasgow and South Western Railway (pub Ian Allan Ltd) inevitably feels that only a unique craftsman, and an astute observer of his fellow human-beings could have so skil fully woven accurately documen ted history, reportage, human interest, pathos and humour into an absorbing account. It was a real talent, and one exercised with skill in the use of English. The clipped sentences, exclamation marks and italics were a fundamental part of David Smith's style and they were never wasted or overused. His manuscripts were immaculate, required minimal subbing and were a key to his meticulous nature. To say that such qualities are rare seems an unexceptional statement, but many lesser writers on railways seem quite prepared to let the editor and publisher burnish their image from unpromising original material.
David Smith was not only a superb raconteur but a historian, and apart from Tales of the G&SW and the more recent Legends of the G&SWR in LMS Days he was author of the Little Railways of South West Scotland and the Dalmellington Iron Company (both published, as is Legends, by David & Charles). He retained a lively interest in current railway activities to the end. One surprise for many of his admirers is that he was not a railwayman. There have been very few who, like him, could touch that nerve of devotion to the job, accompanied by camaraderie that was so well evoked in his writings. Not least, he was a real gentleman.
The Dalmellington Iron Company: its engines
and men. Newton Abbot: David & Charles, 1967.
Ottley 9452: reviewed by C.H. in Rly Wld. 1967, 28, 406.
The little railways of South West Scotland. Newton Abbot: David & Charles, 1969.
Ottley 9442: from the Portpatrick Railway to the WW2 Cairnryan Railway.
Locomotives of the Glasgow & South Western Railway. Newton Abbot: David & Charles, 1976.
Tales of the Glasgow and South Western Railway. London: Ian Allan
Previously published in The Railway Magazine and Trains Annual: in the latter the tales contributed to the "Christmas album" quality.
The Port Road (extracts) first published in Trains Annual 1951 pp. 5-7.
It was my privilege, in the years of his retirement, to make the acquaintance of Mr William McConchie, one-time General Manager of the Portpatrick & Wigtownshire Joint Railway. In several ways he was a remarkable man. Joining the Portpatrick railway service as boy clerk at Kirkcowan, he had risen to the highest railway eminence in his native province. In the course of th~hard work which accomplished this, he had found time to equip himself mentally by deep and carefully selected reading. His letters were a delight, so superbly penned, so delicately phrased, they were a true reflection of the oldworld courtesy and hospitality of his modest home. Have you ever thought of the task this grave little man undertook? The Portpatrick & Wigtownshire was owned jointly by four railways, the Caledonian, Glasgow & South Western, London & North Western, and Midland. It was operated by the two Scottish members - always at daggers drawn - with their own engines, but with rolling stock belonging to all four, and in addition to all this complication, ,the Joint Line owned four-fifths of the shares of the steamship company operating between Stranraer and Larne, the Belfast & Northern Counties Railway owning the remaining fifth.
It was not ever thus. When it opened its line from Castle Douglas to Portpatrick in 1861-2, the Portpatrick Railway was an independent unit, owning its own rolling stock and controlling its own destinies. The G.& S.W. sat placid and undisturbed to the east of Castle Douglas, content to let the wild west take care of itself. Then in 1863 came a bombshell. For the Caledonian entered Dumfries from the east. Trouble flared up. The Portpatrick Railway applied for and obtained running powers to Dumfries. The Caledonian offered successfully for the working of the Portpatrick Railway, and presto, before the G.& S.W. could realise what had hit them, the Caledonian was firmly established at Stranraer for a period of twenty-one years. There must have been some heart-burnings in Bridge Street that night!
I used to hear of these hazardous trips from my old relative, Will McGill. He was firing to John Shankland, that worthy man whom Smellie banished to Stranraer because he broke a side-rod on the Pullman coming down Neilston Bank and had the temerity to tell Smellie she was slipping with the steam shut off. Smellie wouldn't believe that, which shows he didn't know everything. Well this night Shankland and McGill were coming from Dumfries to Stranraer with the evening train. It was dark when they left Creetown - 'an' Jock says t' me, "Well, that's Newton Stewart noo".' . . But as they descended the long bank doubts assailed McGill. ' "Canny on, man Jock," says I. "Is there no' a station aboot here?" "Whitna station?" says he. "Dod," says I, "I think they ca' it Palnyowr or something" .. So we stoppit, an' gor, we were half-a-mile by it! So we backit up. There were nae signals, only a caun'le in the winda. Naebody gaed oot or got in, so we just gaed on tae Newton Stewart again.'
Another night they were sent down to Portpatrick, again without tuition. '"It's a' richt," says Jock. "A ye've got t' watch for is the gates bein' across at The Colfin! Here we came up, an' we near rin through them. "Hey," Jock cries t' the stationmaister, "whit wey hae ye no' that signal lichtit?" "Lichtit?" the stationmaister says. "Man, there hasna been gless in that signal this twenty year! "
Locomotive adventures written in the language of Robert Burns! And it should be noted that the tales came right up todate (well for the immediate post WW2 period) as this wee contribution ends with Austerity 2-8-0s and 2-10-0s running away on the steep down grades with trains of gas shells being conveyed to Cairn Ryan for dumping in the North Channel.