Event puts Oban railway history on the line

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The Heritage Lottery-funded Journeys to the Little Bay project at the Rockfield Centre will draw to a close over the next few weeks with a series of events.

Up next is The Oban Line: A Railway Celebration, an exhibition of the town’s train station and rail links.

Talking to locals of a certain vintage, it quickly becomes clear just how much a way of life the railway in and around Oban was in its heyday. The injustice of the Beeching cuts in the 1960s and insensitivity to the people impacted by them through job losses and removal of that physical and emotional connection remains fresh for many today.

The branch line system was savagely cut, generations of families steeped in railway tradition left to mourn a life they loved. The line through Argyll to Oban, over Connel Bridge to Ballachulish, through Benderloch, Appin and other stops en route, each with their own wee communities built around them, was ripped out. Stations and signal boxes were left to crumble.

When the beautiful Victorian station at Oban – a listed building – was torn down in 1986, it represented the final act of a golden era. The resonance that must have reverberated around that antique structure was wiped out in the name of ‘progress’.

At the Rockfield Centre, we hope to recapture a little of the magic of those glory days, starting with our monthly Blether tomorrow (Friday January 19, 2pm at the Rockfield). Come and share your railway recollections over a cuppa; memories of family and friends, mishaps and pranks.

It is another world but one we hope we can bring to life through storytelling, sharing of pictures and cuttings. Have a root around and bring anything you have.

This weekend, we will be hosting an exhibition of all the artefacts we have collected.

For the railway connoisseur, heritage volunteer Sandy Smart has assembled a mouthwatering array of memorabilia and detail about the line in liaison with some of Oban railway’s finest.

The characters we have learned so much about through the recordings we have made will be celebrated and the exhibition dedicated to the memory of all the men and women who worked so hard to make the railway very much the heartbeat of the area.

We are particularly keen to welcome as many current and former Oban line railway staff and families of those no longer with us … they are railway royalty – every one of them

In October, I had the great fortune to take a call from a gentleman by the name of Hector MacColl. Hector came from thoroughbred railway stock on the Ballachulish branch and worked as a clerk at Benderloch and Oban in the 1950s.

Sandy and I interviewed him at Halloween last year and were heartbroken to discover recently that he had died and would never have the chance to listen to the captivating 45-minute recording he so enthusiastically provided. His recall was magnificent and he spoke so fondly of his railway days.

It was a pleasure to sit and listen to him and has been an honour to share this remarkable piece of oral history with his family and friends. He would have been a star at the Oban Line events and we will commemorate him accordingly.

As part of the exhibition, we will also be providing a visitors’ book to record as many names as we can of folk who worked on the railway or at any of the stations around about the Oban area in any capacity. There is also to be a hall of fame archive to ensure all of these remarkable people are never forgotten.

Entry to all events is free of charge. A collection for Argyll Beats Cardiovascular Disease (www.abcd-oban.co.uk) will be taken in fond memory of our dear friend Hector MacColl.

The Oban Line – A Railway Celebration, Friday to Sunday, January 19 to 21, the Rockfield Centre, Stevenson Street, Oban