His love of trains began aged two-and-half when John Scholes sneaked out of his grandfather’s home in Durham and wandered for miles along a colliery branch line before being spotted and returned home by local miners.
Fast forward nearly seven decades and the retired funeral director, who lives in Rippingale’s old railway station, is preparing to sell his historic home – complete with 120 yards of track and a 1924 Avonside Engine Company steam engine.
John and wife Sheila, 66, bought the house in 1991 after selling their family business, RJ Scholes Funeral Services, which had branches in Stamford, Bourne and Deeping St James, to the Co-op.
It was a dream come true for John, a founder of the Rutland Railway Museum in Cottesmore.
Not long before, he and Sheila, who were living in Uffington at the time, had visited Norfolk and fallen in love with a former station which had been converted into a house.
John said: “I saw the station advertised for sale in the Mercury and knew we had to have it.
“We had a 2ft gauge mini-railway in our garden in Uffington, which was great, but this was a chance to own the real thing.”
The Great Northern Railway station, which was built in 1872, was closed to passengers in 1930 – but the line remained open to freight trains until 1964.
After that it was used by a local farmer as an office and so was in relatively good condition when the couple bought it.
Sheila, who has been clerk to Rippingale Parish Council for 16 years, said: “We were lucky the building had been kept in use and not neglected.
“A lot of the original features were still present but there was still plenty of work to do so we also bought the old crossing keeper’s cottage over the road and lived in that for three years while we renovated the property.”
A lot of time and money was spent underpinning floors, damp proofing, replastering and building an extension.
Part of the building previously used for storing milk and produce became the kitchen; the station master’s rooms became a lounge and sitting room; and the platform entrance area became a study.
When John and Sheila bought the station, its track had long since been taken away. But John, with his many contacts in the rail world, found out about some old track which was being removed at the site of Peterborough’s sugar beet factory which was closing down.
He bought it and had it transported the 23 miles to the station.
Most of the track and sleepers John laid himself using a JCB and a forklift truck – and he was later assisted by a group of about 30 friends who attended a house-warming party.
The couple, who have two grown-up children and two grandchildren, have decided the time has come to downsize and are planning to move temporarily to another property they own in Bourne.
After that, their long-term plan is to find a new house in the north east of England, where John’s love of trains began and where he still has family.
John said: “The north east is rich in railway history and for someone like me who is passionate about it that is the place to be.
“It’ll be sad to leave Rippingale but I’m still going to be involved with trains.
“Our current home is really special. Very often we have passersby stop and ask if they can have a look at the train and platform and take some photos. We’ll miss it.”
John’s 1924 Avonside steam engine Elizabeth is being sold with the house. In its earlier life, the engine was in use at a gas works in London.
Elizabeth is not currently in working order and repairs – including a new firebox – would cost an estimated £50,000 to £60,000, but there’s no reason why she couldn’t be returned to service given the right care and attention.
John, who has been a volunteer driver at Peterborough’s Nene Valley Railway for 15 years, also owns two other steam engines which are in various states of disassembly in the engine shed – which is one of a number of outbuildings on the 1.2-acre site – and a 1946 diesel engine currently in use in Crewe as a shunter.
Despite the imminent house move, John intends to take one of his steam engines – a 1927 Avonside which used to work at a power station in Manchester – with him.
He said: “It’s in bits at the moment but I’ll have it back in working order one day.
“I hope to take it up north and house it at a heritage railway site somewhere so I can carry on working on it and hopefully see it in action again. It could be a very useful engine when finished.”
The couple hope that whoever buys their home in Rippingale will love it as much as they have and leave it untouched – but they recognise someone may want to develop the outbuildings for other uses.
The three-bedroom house is on the market with Hurfords with an asking price of £600,000.