South Devon Railwayman

Passenger Trains return to the line after a 14-month wait!

Whilst many people finally got their latest third lockdown period haircuts done, and increasingly hirsute men got their growing stubble and beards trimmed recently from 12 April onwards, one Devon railway-man at the heritage, steam-powered South Devon Railway (SDR) will still have to wait until mid-May before he can get his now fulsome, flowing white, 14-month old beard growth removed at last.

Last March, at the start of the first lockdown, he rather rashly promised that he would not shave his face again until the SDR’s steam passenger trains returned to the scenic, seven mile line thinking it might only be a few months before normality returned.

And, in the light of what has happened since then with three lockdowns, that now obviously hasty promise from SDR PR Manager and former General Manager of the line, Dick Wood, put him in an awkward spot to keep his promise!

It was made initially to help raise public awareness of the railway’s emergency ‘SOS’ appeal for donations in the absence of any revenue, and so he only expected it to last until the Summer.

Whoops, how wrong he was of course! The below before image shows the extent of the luxuriant growth clearly showing to the below after look.

SDR passenger trains finally re-started to run again on Monday 17 May with another easing of Covid lockdown restrictions – the longest period the ex- GWR line has been closed in its 52 year history since 1969 as a tourist attraction.

So, mid-morning on Tuesday 18 May in front of invited local media and onlooking train passengers, Dick Wood’s beard, and his hair, was ceremoniously shaved off on the platform of the SDR’s Buckfastleigh station, alongside a waiting steam train and to the musical accompaniment of a traditional ‘sea shanty’ called ‘Beardman’ using suitable lyrics sung by local Mid Devon community choir ‘Voiceworx’.

SDR - Dick WOOD Beard Shave - credit Anne Blackham 5 DATA..5.

SDR - Dick WOOD Beard Shave - credit Anne Blackham DATA 6

Dick Wood’s regular Turkish Barber, Sultan Burak, who owns the ‘Golden Scissor’ hairdressing salon in Bampton Street, Tiverton, is came down especially to carry out the full beard shave and hair trim, and Sultan has been looking forward to seeing his previously regular client again armed with some scissors!

Commenting about his imminent clean shaven, and perhaps maybe even bald headed look, Dick Wood said:

“After all of this time and the many nicknames I’ve been called by friends and even  complete strangers, but especially from surprised young children last Christmas, the day will have finally come for the big reveal!             

“The names I’ve heard have ranged from Santa Claus, Mr Tom, Uncle Albert and Ernest Hemingway to Poseidon, Neptune, Captain Birdseye, Ben Gun and the Wild Man of Borneo, so I’ll be glad to be rid of the beard for sure!

“Then, I’ll hopefully be able to eat normally again rather than wearing my food, and can also stop having to say ‘During the war’ on request etc.

“But I’ve taken all of the ribbing in good part in order to help raise awareness of the SDR’s funding plight and need for donations to help keep the railway afloat.

“So, I’m hoping that people will once again put their hands in their pockets and donate some more cash to our special appeal for the ‘Great Clean Shave Off.

“That said, there are some people whom I will be reporting to the nice white bearded man in red who lives at the North Pole, and so they won’t be getting any presents this year!”

Please see the appeal at: here!

and on the SDR website at:

Whilst the SDR’s SOS appeal and grants from local councils and the Government have raised an impressive £1,326,147 to date, the SDR has lost £2 million in revenue so far and is, therefore, still in desperate need of funds to keep the wheels rolling in the railway’s 149th year, and which celebrates its 150th birthday in 2022.

With the restricted capacity on SDR trains due to CV-19 restrictions and this year’s enforced shorter running season from May to October, even with the SDR’s planned December Polar Express™ (trains which it was announced today will go on sale on Monday 7 June), it will not bring in the usual income needed to pay all of the bills the railway incurs to stay on track. So, it’s going to be a tough season and the SDR really needs as many visitors as possible.

Singing the ‘Beardman’ sea shanty song was the idea of Dick’s wife Barbara Wood who is the Chair of Mid Devon Community Choir Voiceworx. Based on ‘Wellerman’, the top-selling ancient New Zealand sea-shanty written about the whalers, now made famous by Nathan Evans, Barbara has re-written this about the ‘Beardman’ and loco firemen who “fire up steam for trains to run.”

Her lyrics not only tell the story of the ‘Beardman’, and the impact of Covid on the steam railway, it’s closure, the firemen and train crew, but also the impact on all steam coal users, such as locos and traction engines, because of the impending closure of British coal mines next year.

“Maybe it will start a local trend for ‘Steam Shanty’ songs,” says Barbara who is currently planning some visits around Devon with the VoiceWorx singers performing sea and steam shanties,  and lots of popular songs when attending some popular Devon sites.

Voiceworx singers have recorded the song, arranged by Alan Boxer, Music Director, and created a wonderful video edited by Maria Thorne, Assistant Music Director and Wedding Celebrant.

A couple of then and now comparative j-peg pix of Dick Wood as ‘The Beardman’ and audio and video file links can be seen at the following links:

The video can be seen too at

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