Throughout the Clayliner years (1967-1982), clay was handled at two Stoke-on-Trent terminals. Longport was one, used throughout, while initially, Longton, along the Stoke-Derby line, was the second location used. The main clayliner trains mostly ran through to Longport, but would usually call at Stoke yard (Adjacent to the main railway station) to detach around half the wagons, these would then be tripped the last few miles, usually by a Class 24, a class once very common on all local duties in the Stoke area. A Class 24 would return to Longton each weekday evening to collect the empties taking them to Etruria, (around a mile north of Stoke) where they would be joined by the empties ex Longport, hauled by another Class 24 loco. The return Clayliner empties departed Etruria at around 0330 which goes a long way to explaining why there are not too many photos of the service anywhere the Midlands.
The handling of the clay traffic, and indeed all freight traffic at Longton ended (around 1973?), the second terminal used was now Shelton Wharf. Shelton Wharf sidings were access by a trailing connection from the spur serving the former Stoke sundries depot, by then known as National Carriers Ltd (NCL), just prior to the c1960 single track bridge that crosses the Trent & Mersey canal. Shelton Wharf sidings comprised six roads arranged in pairs with hard standing in between allowing transfer of clay to road vehicles for onward distribution. The loaded wagons for Shelton Wharf which usually came off 6M55, were then tripped from Stoke Yard by a Class 08, usually early morning. Shelton Wharf was mostly in operation SX, during daytime only, and could be observed from the footbridge across the line from the nearby Cockshute Sidings. Each evening, once the unloading operations were over for the day, the Class 08 would return to Shelton Wharf to sort the empty from the loaded wagons, which to the casual observer, always seemed to be unloaded in a random fashion.
A Class 24 would then arrive with the empties from Longport, propelling them up the spur from Stoke Yard, to one of the six through sidings in front of the NCL depot, at the far (Cliffe Vale) end of which there was a headshunt and connections into the NCL building itself. For awhile each evening both the 24 and 08 would be involved in the shunting of the clay traffic. Sometimes, surplus loaded clay wagons could be left in front one of the through roads in front of the NCL depot. Once shunting was complete, the Class 08 would depart, light engine, for Stoke Yard, followed by the Class 24, which would position the clay empties on the Stoke end of the spur, ready for collection in the early hours to form 6V53, as the NCL depot saw little other freight activity by the late 1970's, it having mostly gone fully over to road transport by then.
From August 1975, mass withdrawal of the Class 24's commenced and Crewe gained Class 25's as replacements, some of which came from western region depots including Plymouth Laira, so former Cornish clay motive power such as 25216 or 25217 could later be found at the other end of the operation, retrieving the Clay empties from Longport then shunting Shelton Wharf. Four Class 24's survive in preservation, 24032/054/061/081, all were former Crewe machines and most probably worked this duty at some time or another.
During 1982, 3 of the six roads in front of the NCL depot were lifted and a new Clay terminal began to take shape on the headshunt at the Cliffe Vale end of the NCL site. By the end of the summer of 1982, once the Cliffe Vale terminal was complete, Longport ceased handling the Clay traffic, as did Shelton Wharf, which only saw some limited use after that, to store wagons for a time before complete closure and subsequent redevelopment and the vacuum braked Clayliner service finally ended and the old wagon fleet withdrawn. A fleet of 35 new, French built Air Braked wagons in a distinctive new White & Blue livery formed the replacement service which was now diesel hauled throughout...
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