Footplate Memories of the 1960s by Brian Murphy
In my relatively short time on BR during the transitional period (62/68) I kept brief diary notes of my duties, mates, loco's etc (more to keep track of hours & pay than out of foresight!) & recorded also those little things that helped to make the job (even) more enjoyable. My time was spent at Saltley MPD (21A/2E) in Birmingham, West Midlands, we had none of the 'glory work' & because of our location, rarely made it to the seaside but the work was very varied and promotion was rapid. The route knowledge was considerable & enhanced by men transferring from all over the country & bringing that knowledge with them and often were happily allowed to refresh & retain it on their 'route cards'! This fact was later enshrined by the term 'Saltley Seagulls' ('Go Anywhere & Sh#t On Everyone') for which a Facebook Group exists to remember a great Depot & all who ever had the good fortune to have been a part of it. There will be no further preamble, I will just post as & when able each 'short story' in the hope that whether you are an experienced Locoman or a passionate enthusiast, it will remind you of those distant days OR show what you missed!!
Shunting, Signalling & Saving the Day!
At Saltley we operated two carriage siding shunt locos, the nearest being located adjacent to Saltley Station on the up side which supplied coaching stock predominantly for trains heading south west of Birmingham & local services to Redditch & Worcester and Kings Norton mainly for stock heading into New St for north east trains and locals for Leicester & Nottingham. The Saltley shunt more often than not was worked by a Fowler 2-6-4 4MT Tank, two of which I recall were 42400 & 42421 or one of our Ivatt 2MT's including 46421,46443 (SVR now), 46448,46454, 46505 and 46526 and the latter were also to be found at Kings Norton on what was our 57 Trip although a 'Black 5' was not unknown to appear.
Personally I found the Saltley CS Shunt quite boring as there were often long periods between moves and a lot of time sitting around on loco or in the Shunters cabin during which time we always popped one of the cleaning hoses into the tank to keep it topped up & maybe save a trip out to fill up. I think I spent more time at Kings Norton and got to know the Shunters quite well not to mention a couple of the Signalmen, Sid & Edgar. During down time & when on break I used to spend my time in the Box with Edgar who was more than happy to let me run up & down pulling levers for him and gaining an insight into his side of the job. It was a very busy box dealing with freight off the Camp Hill line, two main lines to/from New St and traffic crossing them off the up goods line to the Camp Hill together with ECS in & out of the carriage sidings or small goods shed not to mention 'Car-Flats' which operated from there at one stage so altogether a more involved operation & plenty to occupy my time..... Sometimes I just sat in the cabin & drank tea though!
I cannot remember every detail of the layout but there was a long headshunt adjacent to the down goods line (almost to Northfield) and our main job was making up rakes of coaching stock then dragging them out at the required time for the train engine to attach at the other end & await release to the main line. In winter we would pre-heat the coaches which could be pretty iced up as they did not all fit in the carriage sheds. Empty stock coming in also used the headshunt and was then reversed into siding by the train engine so it could be released for return to shed via the Camp Hill line, any splitting or repositioning would be latter done by us. Added interest & work during one period was when Austin cars at nearby Longbridge decided to move car loading from the factory's West Works to Kings Norton. We would position car flat wagons onto the ramps then watch in anticipation as the loaders drove at speed along the line, bouncing over the drop ends over buffers, the anticipation was that one of them might take off & land upside down on the track but it never happened as far as I'm aware. The cars loaded were... A40s, 1100s, 1800s, Mini's & even Mini Moke's which were already no doubt quietly rusting away as they then travelled usually to Bathgate near Livingstone in Scotland & maybe other destinations I cannot recall. No doubt the introduction of more DMU's on local services & some cross country routes led to a reduction in the need for loco hauled stock & so the need for shunting them diminished too. At some stage I believe the 08 350 HP Shunters were used there with AEI Type 2s (25s) as & when required & for steam heating.
The great attraction to many of us was that no two days were the same and despite knowing what you should be doing, anything can and did happen when you least expected it as on Monday 12th July 1965...... At sometime during the morning shift, I had been doing the driving and all was going to plan when we were 'invited' to go to the assistance of a failed express on the up at Barnt Green station about four mile to the west. Suddenly, I was no longer the 'Driver' of our diminutive 2MT 46454 because my Mate knew that a spell of work was about to begin and he would much prefer me to be doing it. Leaving the yard, I began to get my 'shunting fire' up to an 'express fire' which is not too onerous on a 'Micky Mouse' with a small firebox but it still needed to burn through & be hot before we became the source of power at the head of 1E10 a Bristol - Sheffield service together with a very poorly D55 'Royal Signals' (45144) which had suffered a fractured oil pipe & had to be shut down. Although not the most suitable loco for the job, we were the nearest available and so the delay was minimal, having crossed over & backed onto D55 we were very quickly away and although never going to maintain 1E10's timings we gave it our best shot and as we passed Kings Norton the whistle got some wear as all the staff came out to wave us by. Although predominantly level or downhill our little Ivatt still had to work hard with 10 or 11 on plus a dead Crompton Sulzer (equal to another four coaches) until reaching Church Road and the downhill coast through the tunnels into New Street where a fresh engine now awaited. I have no note of the fact but I believe D55 stayed 'in train' to come off at Derby and we returned to Kings Norton via Camp Hill route to return to our mundane duties until relief by the afternoon crew with whom we had a 'tale to tell'!! No trains were cancelled and no replacement buses were used in the telling of this story, just nifty decisions by Control and the willingness of us all to keep things moving by whatever means available...... In a different lifetime!!
Although 'Main Line' work was seen as very important in terms of shifting Passengers & Freight and was the revenue side of railway operations, without the behind the scenes shed work nothing would move..... literally!! Most readers will be somewhat aware of what was involved in preparing a steam loco for work and disposing of them on completion so don't expect a 'step by step' guide to the procedure but more a general impression of this unglamorous but absolutely essential work combined with my own perspective of actually doing it......
Being a large Motive Power Depot (MPD) located on the Midland Lines in Birmingham the work was quite varied as were the locomotives that required servicing. This was a constant 24/7 operation in the main but Sunday's were a little calmer when apart from scheduled passenger trains & engineering trains (generically called Ballasts), most loco's had a day off however the other six days were a totally different matter. Although an actual 'Shed Link' existed & covered the bulk of the work, everyone got their fair share of duties which may be scheduled into other links or given on spare days to cover vacant slots etc. They were essentially eight hour shifts with overlapping start/finish times to ensure Crews were always available to meet an ever changing demand. The main attraction to some men was that it also worked on a 'Quota System' known as 'Six & Away'!! This meant that if you were lucky & met that quota you could be on your way home in considerably less than eight hours but paid full shift which was quite satisfying to say the least. If you were unable to meet that quota, the time you finished was determined by your relationship with the 'Outside Foreman' and the number of men still at his disposal...... So, let's start with 'disposal'!!
The said Foreman operated from the 'Checkers Hut' which in our case resembled an Air Traffic Control Tower (at ground level) attached to the corner of our amenities block & giving probably a 320 degree view of the movement area of the MPD. He knew all 'His' men and utilised us to good effect based on the time you started duty. We would sit in the Mess Room (Cabin to us) generally lazing around & drinking tea until we were given a job. In order to achieve that early finish, a regular crew or at least any crew where the Driver trusted his Fireman the work would be split if very busy or done together if not much going on. Either way, speed was of the essence and the effort involved was determined by the class of loco and the nature of it's job and the state of the fire/ ashpan/ smokebox etc. Basically, it was a good 'un' or a bad un and was the luck of the draw but the process was the same. There were two arrival roads & the incoming crew could select either subject to how many loco's were in the queue. First job for us would be to fill the water tank then position under the coal hopper, position the chute (this may be a 'top up' or a total fill) & control the flow with the lever on the electric control box.... No pushing coal bins around for us! Move down (or wait your turn) onto the ash pit to deal with the fire having been instructed to 'leave a bit in' or 'all out' (maybe for a washout). Using a combination of long handled rake, dart or paddle shovel the fire would be cleaned, a light fire/ash could often be raked through firebars into the pan but heavily clinkered stuff would require the lifting of a few bars & dragging them out of firebox with some giant tongs, not always a total success as it was easy to lose grip & drop them through to be recovered later. Fire done accordingly, it was down under into the ash pit with dampers open to rake all that ash & fire out preferably through a grill into the tippler bucket but in reality wherever it dropped (there were others employed to clean up our mess!!). Finally, up on the framing and open the smokebox with the centre locking bar & handle and shovel all the char over the side (some locos required a spanner to release eight lugs e.g. Hughes 'Crab' & Fowler 2400 Tanks). Sometimes it could be a Disposal & Preparation & put on the departure road/s but this one is for either of the three roundhouses we possessed at Saltley so with steam pressure falling we cautiously move off the pit towards the 'dead end' pushing through all trailing points. This required a damn good lookout (especially if solo on footplate) as there were loco's everywhere but we all understood the rules of priority & gave way accordingly. The Fireman would then walk ahead 'setting the road' in the direction of number two or three shed (or a siding) as strangely, number one shed had no entrance but was accessed via either turntable of 2 or 3 shed. Calling the Driver on as he progressed into shed & onto the turntable having ensured it was free & no one was about to leave. (No 3 housed the bigger stuff, 5MT, 8F & 9Fs, No 2 & 1 the smaller 4F, 2MT & Fowler Tanks etc). By now the steam brake was pretty poor so very gentle setting on the table was required, enough photo evidence exists to illustrate the consequences of running into walls or pushing another loco through which was usually due to lack of brake & misjudgment. Although the tables were vacuum operated it was actually faster in this situation if two handed to do it by hand, the locking bar doubling as a push bar . Reversing (always) off onto a suitable vacant pit without running over the end stops, the loco was secured on handbrake & left for the dedicated 'Steam Raisers' to look after until prepared for next job unless left for 'dead'!! The correct practice of collecting tools, detonators, lamps etc and taking them to stores had now almost sunk into oblivion as will be seen during 'Preparation Stage' later.
Rewind about thirteen lines to 'dead end' and I will explain how NOT to do it! Not sure if any of my former colleagues will admit to this blatant disregard of procedure but I feel sure I was not alone in this practice..... just a little unlucky.
While working 'solo' on the last loco of our shift (my mate still on previous one) & looking forward to that early finish around lunchtime I took a 'Black 5' engine first off the pit to the dead end which could accommodate two loco's. With nothing else moving in sight I took an 'executive decision' to 'walk the dog'......... Going right up to the stop block I then reversed the gear, gave her a breathe of steam which set her off at walking pace & shut off, jumping off myself in order to pull the points in sequence towards number three shed while the 5MT gently followed tender first about 50' behind. It was all going quite well until the penultimate pair of points jammed midway... yikes!! Talk about a rapid thought process. Option 1, try to find obstruction, hope to remove it & risk getting flattened or option 2 my preferred choice.... I ran to meet the loco, re-boarded, hurled myself across the footplate and flung on the brake, back across footplate to screw on the handbrake and just as my heart stopped pounding and I thought my worst fears were over, with a grinding thud at literally a snails pace the leading tender wheels detected a distinct lack of rail and produced what Locomen later would call an 'earth fault' (A seaman would have ran aground). In some circumstances there are people who would walk away from such a misdemeanour and say nothing but I decided that concealment of a Black 5 on the deck was not going to go unnoticed for very long so took the 'walk of shame' to the Checkers Hut and made my so far unnoticed predicament known to the Foreman.
Obviously he was not highly amused at the fact that three shed was now completely blocked with no way in or out. Within minutes the Fitters had been informed & those who formed the 'Breakdown Gang' where very quickly gathering tools, acks & blocks from the tool van (The Breakdown Crane was stabled very near) and setting to the task of re-railing that offending pair of wheels with me looking on, well I could hardly claim my early finish now. Fortunately the points were not badly damaged, as I recall, a bent tie bar & a couple of broken rail chairs very soon put right and the job was completed in about 30 minutes much to mine & the Foreman's relief. I was severely admonished with a 'Just be more bloody careful in future' and was the butt of a few jokes in the cabin but all soon forgotten ... The Job looked after it's own & no doubt that Foreman was rewarded tenfold by my willingness to make amends in future.....
Preparation..... A completely different procedure and of course the complete opposite to disposal but equally ongoing 24/7 with varying demands. A lot of engines were prepared by the Crew if the job & time permitted it and would dedicate their efforts to just their own loco. We are looking here at the Shed Men who were doing pretty much the same thing but maybe five or six times in a shift with the same quota system in play, so again, it was all a bit fast paced once you got started. The Foreman would give each Crew the Duties that they would be prepping for in order of time off shed. We then had to keep checking the loco allocation board to see what was marked up once agreed with Control. The time allowed for each loco was based on class/size, I think the minimum was 45 minutes & 60 maximum most of which was 'oiling time' by the Driver as the Fireman's duties were much the same irrespective. First job was to stir the fire from it's gentle smoulder & check that water level was OK, leaving it to raise pressure the scavenging of equipment began. If you were really lucky (rarely) it was still on loco but usually you had to trek around all the sheds or catch something coming in off disposal to make up all the kit required. It became a highly competitive 'game' between Firemen and we behaved like Squirrels creating our own hiding places for any surplus ready for the next one. No doubt it did happen but it was considered an absolute no no to raid an already prepared engine out on the departure roads which would leave it's Crew the task of replacing it before they could sign off shed. OK, we now have what we need, have filled & trimmed & lit lamps (if required), pressure is raised enough to get the turntable & move outside making sure we are facing the right direction for the job. No way would our mates want to work an express to Bristol or Sheffield . Tender first!! Making sure the tank was full, give the footplate a hose down & secure it on the given one of two departure roads and back for the next one.
For the Layperson reading this it might all seem very complex, for those who did experienced this work it may seem rather simplified although I trust they will concur with the fact that the work suited some more than others. The hard work was traded off for a possible early finish & if not, plenty of time to chat, drink tea or catch a nap. Given the choice, I personally accepted my share of shed work but was much happier when I passed the shed entrance & joined the 'open road' in whichever direction. A decent Mate, a good engine, a can of tea on the 'drip tray' ....... sheer heaven!!
What a performance!
On this day back in 66' (Monday 21st November) I made my debut into Saltley's Freight Link 3 with a new mate Frank Smith (206). At the time I had no idea this would lead to a great working relationship until the following April as our first day together did not get off to the most auspicious start.
We are now well into the 'transitional period' & while steam was still in evidence at Saltley it was now very much reduced & the majority of our workings were now dominated by (I will use the later TOP's classifications) Class 45/46/47 & 25/31's & their variations and bearing the 'D' prefix so we could differentiate them from steam loco's (most of us managed to). The Drivers had pretty much adapted to & been trained on each traction & us Second Men (Firemen) had to be trained on the train heating equipment hereinafter referred to as the 'Boiler'!! There were three variations to my knowledge, Stones, Spanner & Clayton and I don't intend this to become a technical guide to operating them as I would need to refer to the manuals (which I still have) but it's sufficient to say they could be a 'right pain in the ar#e' sometimes and you felt lucky to complete a journey without having to 'nursemaid' them or have them fail completely. The option then was to either acquire the services of a Fitter (subject to location), request a fresh loco OR let the passengers enjoy a chilly ride & call you names further down the line.......
Anyway.... Booking on at 06.59 (255 Turn) precisely (because that's how we rolled), we had 10 minutes for reading notices etc & a further 10 minutes to walk from the MPD to Vauxhall & Duddeston station to travel passenger on the 07.19 one stop into Birmingham New Street. On arrival we relieved Bristol Men on 1N05 for the 07.40 departure for Newcastle and it was pretty obvious that there was a distinct absence of steam leaking from between the coaches. Yes, the boiler had failed on D34 (Stones Vapour type) and a fresh engine had already been requested. The Guys in Control were pretty slick back then & had notified Saltley to prepare a fresh loco in order to do a straight change over at Duddeston Road Junction outside the MPD with minimal delay...... So far so good!
We departed New Street on time and within minutes after barely two miles we arrived, I uncoupled & leaving the train on the main line we proceeded onto the shed & picked up D159 which a shed Crew had prepared & started up in readiness...... Sadly no one had attempted to fire up the boiler. I asked the Shed fireman to start it up for me while we made our way back onto train & I coupled up. He reported during this move that it would not fire up at all (later established that ignition contacts burnt out) so with much hand signalling to the 'Bobby's at Duddeston Road & to guys on shed three tracks away from us we were given the road back onto the shed. By this time all those poor cold passengers had every window open to get a better view and were becoming bemused (or not) by proceedings. We were now given an 'upgrade' to Class 47 D1667 (Clayton Type) which Frank refused to move until we were sure it could provide heat. A wise decision as it happened, we had yet another failure (Water level electrodes u/s) and with the level of frustration rising all round and a distinct possibility that a nearby 'Black 5' would be getting a trip out.... A Fitter wandered over & calmly informed the assembled group that D34 was now fixed if we wanted it..... Duh!!!
By now I had almost forgotten where my bag & tea can was but quickly retrieving our gear from the 47 we re- boarded D34 & returned to our awaiting train which had been sitting on the Up Main for 30 minutes. On coupling up & opening the cocks on steam pipes I was re-assured by the hissing steam flowing through into the first coach as was the guy hanging out the first vestibule window telling me what he thought of BR... etc...etc.... etc!! We departed 34 minutes late (all on record in my diary!) & with stops at Tamworth & Burton On Trent we recovered 8 minutes to arrive at Derby 26 down where we handed over to another Crew (not identified). We decided it was judicious to not walk down the platform alongside the stationary coaches but to let it depart in order to reduce the impact of potential abuse...... There was none!!
Our return working involved a walk to Derby Loco & a fresh engine D1630 to run LE to Branston Sidings at Burton (Now Central Rivers TMD) & work the 10.15 8V54 with relief at Saltley for Bristol. On arrival this working was cancelled so we had to put our feet up for a while & work 8G18 the 12:25pm to Washwood Heath. The rest of the day was uneventful & dropping D1630 on shed it seems we booked off after 9 hours 53 minutes & thus ended my first day with my new Mate Frank. I'm on at 06.30 tomorrow (well if it was 1966) for a completely different day...... Steam in the shape of 'Black 5' 44678 (8F) We had to go LE to Exchange Sidings which is at least a mile from Saltley Loco & spend the whole shift on a Ballast working moving a few yards at a time as required. No wonder my mate Tony Shelley (617) let me drive that loco all day. I still see him & will have to remind him of the fact one day. As you can see, no two days were the same...... Goodnight!
The 'Missing' Night Mail!!
Following the notorious events of 8th August 1963 at Cheddington, understandably anything untoward appertaining to mail trains created a few nervous twitches amongst Railwaymen & no doubt the BR board, the Post Office & the Police...... On this particular night it was just ME who had to be prepared to take on a bunch of armed robbers in the middle of nowhere on a dark night in the autumn of 1963 even if it never made the headlines!! Sadly, I am missing my diary for 1963 so cannot give precise facts in regard to the actual duty, loco, Driver etc but if any of the characters mentioned in these events read this, maybe they will remember the night in question.......... as well as I do!!
Booking on in the early evening at Saltley, we were informed that our outward freight working to Leicester was cancelled but we were required to travel as passenger for our return working which was a Whitemoor (March) to Washwood Heath (Birmingham) freight. We were also informed that due to engineering work on our normal route via Wigston & Nuneaton, we would be diverted via Sheet Stores Junction (Trent), Stenson Junction & Tamworth. This was no problem for my Driver as he signed the route as we had Nottingham jobs via Leicester as well as via Chellaston. As our train would now not travel from Syston to Leicester, on arrival we had to liaise with Control for a 'lift' to Syston North Junction (Syston being a 'triangle' with South, East & North Junctions). We duly arrived & after a short wait in the Box we relieved March men on an 8F & departed northbound on the ' Slow' to uneventfully pass Barrow On Soar & Loughborough only to be brought to a stand at Hathern. Pulling off the home signal the 'Bobby' was holding out a red lamp & nervously informed us that the 'Up Mail' was 'Missing'!!
Apparently it had passed Kegworth but not appeared at Hathern...... The light hearted banter about the events of a few months back did nothing to allay our concerns but we all agreed that their would be better spots to rob the mail than in this section....... hopefully! Our instructions were to proceed at caution & investigate (it could of course have derailed etc). We drew forward slowly so our Guard could also be made aware & then continued cautiously amid all kinds of speculation until ...
On a gentle right hand (to us) curve in mid section, the elusive mail train appeared sitting stationary on the fast line (to our left) with all the PO van side lamps aglow along with the cab lights of the Type 4 Sulzer at the helm & absolutely no sign of any activity. My mate pulled our train up about 50' short & suggested that I go & take a look while HE 'minded' our engine!! Well, the Driver is in charge so this 17 year old had little choice. Not being totally stupid, I had the presence of mind to opt for the coal pick as my 'weapon of choice' and so made my way with some trepidation towards the cab of this apparently abandoned loco.
Awkwardly, with my coal pick, I climbed the lower steps until I could reach the handle, opening the door..... very gingerly, I propped the pick against the Drivers seat as I mounted the final step, at the same time, the engine room door flew open. Before my imagination had time to run amok, I realised that the person who appeared was indeed 'one of us' so restrained my instinct to wallop him with my deadly weapon. Yes, it was the Driver who was considerably more shaken than me & with good reason. I cannot recall the exact nature of the problem but he had been in the engine room trying to sort out which fuse to change with the aid of his 'manual' (This was not uncommon as older steam men adapted to all the teething problems of our new 'technology'...... A bit like giving your Granny an iPhone). He re-started the loco & all appeared OK, a quick 'toot' to recall his 2nd Man who had gone back to advise Guard (with a view to rear protection & maybe a long walk to Kegworth box?). I wished him a trouble free run to London and returned to my 8F, we got under way and as we slowly passed the cab of the Sulzer, the now returned 2nd Man handed me the coal pick saying, 'You need that more than me'...... Ooop's!! Approaching Kegworth with a clear road, we guessed the mail Driver had stopped at Hathern to advise of his problem as the Bobby gave us a green light & a big thumbs up & got a few whistle pops & two friendly waves in response. A sigh of relief all round & no 'headline's' or drama as we continued uneventfully home in the early hours under a dark moonless sky knowing that the mail did get through........ eventually!!
Explosive Interlude & Easy Money
Saturday 8th January 1966 & my day started quietly at 6am. I had booked on for 1002 turn with my then booked mate in Freight Link 5 Harry (Taffy) Rees. This was a Shed Duty marshalling diesel loco's & involved fuelling, filling boiler tanks (if required) & parking them as instructed. Also, preparing loco's in the correct order & lining them up for departure at their given duty times. The 'Outside Foreman' would give Driver a list of said loco's & the running order for departures and as loco's came on shed he would come into the mess room & call for us to deal with them as required. We always made sure we drank plenty of tea & had plenty of breaks so just as with preparing & disposing steam... We shared the work to speed up the process and so having rushed about, by 8am we were taking a break & thinking about how early we might get finished as once everything was sorted, a kindly Foreman would let you get off home a little before the end of shift. It was never difficult to find someone to move a diesel in our absence........ Anyway, our break went on a bit longer than we anticipated and our Saturday morning enlivened somewhat when someone came into the mess room & calmly announced.... 'Have you seen the fire over the Gas Works?'
The Gas works in question was at Nechells almost opposite Saltley MPD with sidings accessed from Saltley Junction a little nearer to Saltley Station on the 'Up Side' . Not one of us had seen a gas works on fire & so a mass exodus headed for the shed exit at Duddeston Road Junction for a better view. It soon became apparent that it was in fact in the sidings so despite the fact we were told that both boxes had been evacuated & all passing trains stopped, we needed a better view!! Several of us wandered down the ash path alongside the 'Down Camp Hill Goods Line' to a vantage point opposite & with six running lines separating us from three 'Mobil' rail tankers that were flaming nicely around the chassis (reason unknown). The Fire Brigade were in attendance but still running out hoses from appliances that were out of our sight but we heard a continuous clanking of bells (pre Siren days!) as more were arriving in Devon Street behind the gas works. (Note: We later learnt that 25 Appliances & 125 Firemen attended & two were injured).
As Locomotive Firemen, we loved watching a fire burn & continued to watch events as they unfolded until....... We became aware of a low pitched 'whistling' noise which was increasing in volume, we observed Firemen throwing themselves on the ground or running like hell just before a loud bang as one of the lids was blown off .. We hit the deck too and heard a clattering sound as said lid landed on rails somewhere nearby. By the time the second tank began to 'whistle' we were over 100 yards away back with the remaining spectators on the bridge walkway outside the shed. How were we to know they contained Butane Gas which naturally was heating up & expanding until it found the weakest point which was the lid acting like a 'safety valve' thankfully!!
The fire started at 7:55am & was not declared under control until 9:45am so having got bored with events we had returned to the mess room & with no movements on or off shed had consumed copious amounts of tea until normal service resumed. With a late exodus of loco's off shed and many delayed loco's arriving, our hopes of an early finish were somewhat diminished as we had to do a few quick turnarounds but the lads on steam had the roughest deal that morning. I was in no hurry to get home as I was not back in until 1pm on Sunday for a nice little earner although I did not know it beforehand!!
A nice Sunday lie in then after booking on I was sent by Bus to Aston MPD on loan (not an infrequent occurrence at the time). Paired up with Driver Harry De La Rue (113) we walked the track towards Vauxhall & Duddeston station to relieve the crew of 45191 (5D) which was in charge of the Stoke On Trent Breakdown Crane/Vans & employed lifting & dropping in the vertical supports for overhead lines. We spent most of our shift moving very short distances very slowly & when I thought the job was coming to an end a 'Runner' came the half mile from Aston Shed to ask if we would work the crane back to Stoke MPD & return as passenger? My Mate was only too happy to do it on a Sunday & as there was money to be made (and I was Rest Day Monday) how could I refuse. Another trip over unfamiliar ground for me but no problem as Harry was driving 45191 so slowly in order to make it worthwhile & on a Sunday evening we were in no ones way & subsequently arrived at Stoke about midnight. Handed the lot over to be marshalled etc & after washing up we walked to station for our ride home 'On The Cushions'! (Well in a Parcels Brake Van). At Birmingham New Street we jumped a ride with some empty coaching stock for Vauxhall where I walked the short distance to Saltley & my mate stayed with the Light Engine to Aston. I booked off after 14 hours & 15 minutes which accrued to 26 hours & 22 minutes actual pay, all in all, an interesting & rewarding weekend which would not have been the case had that cast iron lid landed on my head!!
My DMU Debute
When steam was rapidly vanishing us young Firemen quickly adapted to the title of Second Man & the comparatively much easier job that the 'new technology' had to offer. Many of the Drivers also realised that life in the right hand seat was quite relaxing & were more than willing to let us take control of these quite powerful machines because they too enjoyed the easy life & we were only too happy to be trusted because it was experience gained for the future & we were as competent with the route knowledge as the Driver so had no qualms about doing it. Many Drivers & Firemen had 'arrangements' about sharing the work & the more energetic types were happy to have a go on the shovel but we could be a little nervous about working the loco too hard because they might quit & get back on the regulator thus putting us back on the shovel, a different story altogether with the advent of power handles & maybe 2,500hp at your fingertips with no physical effort whatsoever....... Anyway, having gained experience with what are now class 08/25/31/33/45/46 & 47s, we then found ourselves in totally unknown territory..... The DMU!! These were invariably single manned & had now been around a while however, some turns had loco hauled return workings which required Second Manning & thus we found ourselves technically riding in the cab as a passenger on the DMU section.
On taking over the Unit (A Derby 108 -3 car set I believe) in New St, I stowed my bag & sat in the crew seat looking forward to the ride all stations to Worcester via the Lickey Incline when George said Do you want to have a go? Taken slightly aback I told him I had never driven one before but he was undeterred & proceeded to spend five minutes showing me how 'easy' it was while I sat in his seat feeling just a little apprehensive......
The bloody thing had a 'gear lever' but no clutch pedal OR 'Deadmans' pedal. George explained that this was incorporated into the throttle lever on the left which had to be kept pressed down..... Right, got that (I think). Suddenly having got the road for the West we got the buzzer from the Guard & were right away. 1st gear, open throttle, watch revs climb into the green, shut throttle into 2nd gear...... repeat (George was talking me through it initially) this is a piece of cake thinks me as we entered Suffolk Street tunnel on a rising gradient when suddenly George yelled 'DEADMANS'.... I quickly realised that after the 3rd gear change I had opened the throttle but allowed it to raise up. Like the big stuff, you then had 7 seconds to re-activate or face a sudden brake application. You had to shut it first then push down & re-open which saw the revs fall away so it needed a quick down change to recover which thankfully I managed to do and we kept going. George declined my offer to hand it back at our first stop at Selly Oak & so once out of the tunnel & running past Church Road (Junction for Central Goods) I was gaining confidence & settling into the routine of continually using both hands, just had to decide the best way of stopping it!! The same principle as any other 'Stopper' with a vacuum brake . wack it on, then knock it off at a given point, bring speed down rapidly & with 21'' back on the gauge, gently brake into platform & stop where you liked (never mind those 2/3/4 car stop signs that did not exist). Back into neutral, brakes off, buzzer from Guard, 1st gear, throttle & here we go again. I was now enjoying myself with this new experience & had no further issues with that Deadman's. We terminated at Foregate St and took the ECS a little further into Henwick sidings and left it for someone else. Walked back to station & caught an ex Hereford service to Worcester Shrub Hill for our break before relieving our return freight back to Birmingham (Lawley Street yard I think). I had survived my DMU baptism, learnt my lesson & went on to drive a few more over the Redditch Branch, Leicester & Derby. What a way to earn a living eh!
A night out in Leeds
Following a week on the 13.10 Washwood Heath Yard Banbury with an assortment of loco's (45006,48629,45631,48201 & an Hall 6911) I saw that on the following Tuesday 9th June 1964 I was booked on my very first Leeds lodging turn with Bert Coleman (271) whom I had never fired for or even met. With a mixture of excitement & trepidation the fact was mentioned during the usual banter in the cabin where I was duly cautioned by several Fireman as to Bert's character etc.
It seemed that Bert was quite a religious man who (unlike almost everyone else in the depot) frowned on profane language & obscenity..... Forewarned is forearmed! Following a day Marshalling on shed on Monday I booked on on Tuesday at 15.47 & introduced myself to Bert in the Lobby & off we went to find our prepared engine 45059 a 16F Black 5 simmering away on the departure road. Not much time to chat as we got sorted for the off Light Engine to Water Orton but as we sat on our train awaiting our 17.10 departure I confessed to Bert that after Derby I would require a little 'coaching' as to his requirements & demands for steam. Although I'd been to Sheffield a few times it was on 'Peaks' in the feet up seat so had not concerned myself with gradients as such. Anyway, the quiet & unassuming Bert assured me that all would be fine (I liked his confidence). Well, we left Water Orton & with a good run through Tamworth & Burton On Trent Derby came & went without any concerns. 45059 was steaming well & Bert was not only a Gentleman but a very 'gentle' Driver which allowed me to fire in my very light style which continued to beyond Chesterfield where at Tapton Junction I then entered the unknown as we passed places I had never heard of via Barrow Hill, Killamarsh etc until our water stop at Rotherham (Masboro) . Continuing on through Normanton we arrived at Stourton sidings & detached the train. With the Guard riding the footplate behind Bert, I had to throw six round the box as we were now running on a very thin layer of hot ashes. I saw the Guard give Bert a nudge & glance at me firing on our way to shed (Was it Holbeck or Hunslett or Stourton? Mind a blank & diaries not that comprehensive). Bert says no need to fire her mate, soon be on shed to which I replied will that be before the fire goes out .... Anyway, 45059 was dropped off for those Leeds Men to dispose of & we retired to the Lodge for the night..... Another experience all together!!
As any Lodging/Double Home Men will confirm, these were the most basic forms of accommodation but all you needed was somewhere to wash, sleep & maybe a bite to eat if the timing was right. We visited the local Chippy for our evening meal but enjoyed a fry up before leaving next morning. Upon booking on duty, we were told by the Roster Clerk that the Shed Foreman wanted a word before we left...... He was summoned & we waited & speculated as to why? We relaxed when he turned up with a smile on his face & told us that the Shed Men could not believe that 59' had come off the Birmingham (or Brum, his actual word) as there was barely any fire in the box & they wanted him to thank us for such a nice easy disposal. With a big grin on my face & a smiling Mate alongside we crossed the tracks to relieve our Sulzer Type 2 D5233 x Carlisle to Washwood Heath (again a Class 4 fully fitted)
As most of our outward run was in darkness it was nice to see those places I had missed in daylight while sitting in comfort as we headed home until back on familiar ground at Tapton Junction. Down the goods line at Derby & to a stand at London Road Junction, Bert climbed out of his seat & said come on then Brian, you know your way from here...... Certainly do Bert so was in there like a shot & we headed home & I could add another 'notch' on my shovel (metaphorically speaking of course). Over the coming days a couple of Firemen asked how the job had gone & how had I got on with Bert. To their surprise I told them it had been a great trip & I had a drive back from Derby, I'm guessing that was my 'reward' for not uttering a single swear word!! I never worked with Bert again but have enduring memories of his kind & considerate good nature..... He, like so many more of his kind were an absolute pleasure to work with. Saltley like most Depots had a few Drivers who could & did make life a misery for us young Firemen but thankfully they were in the minority........ But more of that another time!!
The Flying 4F
It was my pleasure to fire for Harry knight on numerous occasions from 1962 & in August 64' we were booked together for three days on the 4/40 (how PM was shown back then before 24 hour clock was introduced) Gloster (how Gloucester was shown not because we could not spell!) slow (Class 2). Booking on at 3/37 with engine prepared it was off to SCS (Saltley Carriage Sidings) for the ECS of usually 4/5 Mk1s & off to New St for our 4/40 departure for most stations via Worcester........ On Wednesday (5th) the Loco was Black 5- 44847 (one of our's 2E by then). After our break at Gloster Eastgate the return working was the 6/25 x Bristol to Birmingham & known as the 'Little Mail' (It followed the Bristol- Newcastle 'Big Mail') which was also a Class 2 'Stopper' with mails for Worcester & we took over D132 (14A) which I drove home (all in my diary & boy did I love those Crompton Sulzers). On Thursday, we had BR Standard 5 73031 down (lovely loco's) and again after our break were standing on the platform awaiting our 'Sulzer' when at the due time an ominous 'clank, clank' was heard just before a Fowler 0-6-0 4F 44466 (82E Barrow Road) coasted around the curve with one lamp on the top AND coaches behind....... Well, I don't think Harry was as startled as I was after all he'd been on them since 1943...
Anyway, after relieving the Bristol Crew & overcoming my initial surprise, off we went & this Bristol 4F was in better shape than most of ours so Harry decided to give it a go (it was obvious I would not be driving this 'Type 4' back tonight). A lovely sunny summer evening & we were 'rockin & rollin with stops at Cheltenham, Worcester & Bromsgrove before terminating at New St, stock to SCS & back to shed. We did not break any records but acquitted ourselves well on what was my fastest trip on a 4F which at that time were more used to a sedate plod with a string of mineral wagons behind so I was glad to have been able to add it to that list of 'experiences'!! On Friday (7th) we had BR Standard 4 76048 down & returned with D123 and Harry was now happy again to sit with his feet up while I did ALL the work. Well, 51 years on it was great to catch up with Harry & recall the above trip (and a few others) when he was 45 & I was 18. Although He retired in 1984 his passion for the job has not diminished at all, I later moved on & had an interesting working life, 44466 sadly only survived until 1965 but D123 lives on at the Great Central Railway in preservation & I hope that one day I may be 're-united' with her too..........
Footnote: Not really relevant but My Mother & young Sister had a day out in Worcester & I told them to catch our train back to Birmingham. They were equally surprised to see me getting my hands dirty as I was just swapping the headlamp for a lit one when they came up to the loco. Harry kindly allowed me to share our tea with them so I 'obtained' two BR cups from a window ledge, scoured them with the slacking pipe then passed to cups of best stewed brew through their compartment window (we had a longer than usual stop for mails to be shipped) Apparently, as we departed a male passenger joined them and said he had no idea this train had a buffet car and was quite taken aback when she explained that the Driver & Fireman where providing a light refreshment service & She & my Sister had already eaten the sandwiches.......
Down the Nick
No, I've not been arrested!! In railway terminology this was the common expression for being short of steam, water or both and something that Fireman desperately tried to avoid & Drivers did not take kindly to..... Obviously the consequences of this could be quite severe but depended upon the location, type of train & the Crews ability to restore order before that most heinous 'crime' of 'Dropping A Plug' occurred. For the unaware, this was a fusible lead plug in the firebox crown which if uncovered by lack of water in the boiler would melt & allow the steam to escape (violently) into the firebox which I imagine could be quite unpleasant but preferable to having the boiler explode. If this happened you were an instant failure & the first priority would be bale out the fire by means of the long rake & shovel over the cab side onto the ballast whilst ensuring train was safely protected if necessary. Whilst I have no statistics, I feel it safe to say that this was a quite uncommon event because the Crew would know they were in difficulty well beforehand if they were struggling and take action to either 'bring her round' (recover) or reach a safe stopping place under the protection of signals/station/loop etc if things got that bad they could not be resolved on the move.
Those who had the 'satisfaction' of working on Steam Locomotives during the transitional period know all too well that any day or every day could indeed be a constant battle. Although I assume that most of the 'Top Link' express loco's were in better condition, those lower down the scale were now deteriorating at a faster rate than BR were willing to spend money on or indeed the Loco Fitters could keep up with but all credit to them for the way they tried against all the odds. Unless considered unsafe, lesser problems had to be 'tolerated' because if Drivers failed a loco for not being 'perfect' .. nothing would have gone off shed. However, back to 'steam & water'!! Although I had my share of doing battle with 'steam shy' loco's in previous years, Thursday the 29th September 1966 was the day the loco won & I had to suffer the indignity of stopping for a 'blow up'!!
At Saltley we had regular loose coupled (class 7/8) freight workings from Washwood Heath Yard (Birmingham) to Banbury on the GWR main line most of which were late night or early hours starts..... after midnight was laughingly a 'day shift' but few of us were laughing booking on for 631 Turn at 1am. The 'Loco Board' showed that we had an unfamiliar 8F 48414 then allocated to 16B Colwick and it was obviously being 'borrowed' for our turn (which was booked to return LE from Banbury) before been found a working home later in the day. While my booked mate Cyril Tyson set about oiling I got the fire into shape so that pressure would rise while I collected a bucket of tools/detonators etc from stores then scavenged around the shed as usual for elusive loco & gauge lamps before turning her out of No 2 shed. At around 2am we booked off shed & ran tender first on the 'Up Camp Hill goods' into Washwood Heath (West End) yard, a shout to the Shunters what we were working & we were put onto our train for our 2:30am departure, lamps put in position on smokebox and await the Guards arrival to give us the load then whistle up for the road. Drawing out of the yard & under the bridges (Aston Church Road & the old LNWR line from Aston to Stechford) we would give a shout to the Banker lads, used to be 'ger er hot' but by now Sulzer Type 2s (25s) were firmly in charge having replaced BR standard 4s and Fowler 4F's on this duty. I would now be making sure fire/water & pressure were good for the climb up to Bordesley Junction where the banker would leave us at the box as we dropped down onto the former GWR main line for a relatively easy run via Knowle &Dorridge, Hatton & Warwick to Leamington where a bit more effort would be required.
It was quickly obvious that 48414 was not responding too well even though Cyril was not making her work any harder than was required on an easy road but I was still keeping on top of things despite the fact that steam was now leaking from every joint & piston gland & we could see that several tubes were leaking. After what seemed an eternity we were on the decent of Hatton Bank so a chance while shut off to get things back in shape for the short climb from Warwick up into Leamington where we hoped to be held on the goods loop behind the station but no such luck.... middle road & a clear run, oh well, things did not look too bad as Cyril opened her up to tackle the drag up through Harbury Cutting, Southam & Fenny Compton. Looks can be deceptive & this 8F was not happy about her 'unfamiliar surroundings' as within a couple of miles the pressure was dropping along with the water level & the once hot fire was looking decidedly unhealthy & playing with dampers to adjust the airflow made no difference. Given the choice of Water in the boiler or steam the injector/s have to go on & further reduce steam pressure so a real 'catch 22' scenario while the regulator is open & very little if any cut off as we continued to climb this not steep but continuous bank. I decided that this loco was beating me & suggested to Cyril that we would not reach the summit, he weighed up the situation & agreed that we needed to bring her round before going over the top because if I could not raise the water level of course it would flow to front of boiler & uncover that damn plug & we would effectively shut down the Up Main....... And so, about eight miles from Leamington with all greens at Greaves Sidings we came to a stand outside the Signal Box & informed the somewhat surprised 'Bobby' of our predicament and asked if we could have 10 minutes for a blow up. Thankfully it was getting on for 5am & those Western Hydraulic Crews where not yet ready to thunder up to Paddington so not a problem. Between us we got the fire livened up with the fire irons, blower & dampers & were then able to run injector while miraculously raising steam......
This 8F seemed happy to be employed as a 'stationary boiler' and after about 15 minutes we were close to blowing off (something I doubted she was capable of) & had got over ¾ showing in the gauge glass so it was now or never. Telling the Bobby it was as good as it was going to get we bade him farewell with an assurance that we would not get stuck in the section.... fingers firmly crossed! Very gently Cyril got us underway, the last thing we needed now was to start slipping & so we continued on our way, wheezing, huffing & puffing & leaking that precious steam from every orifice until with about 160 psi on the clock & 1/3rd in the glass we began the downhill coast to Banbury & able to run the fire down & fill the boiler ready for the shed where we would normally turn & take water before returning Light Engine to Saltley. In the yard, Cyril began the lengthy job of filling in the repair card & we then delivered her into the hands of the Banbury shed Foreman telling him he could do whatever he wished with her but we were on the 8.20 passenger back to Snow Hill. This loco had broken my otherwise 'clean sheet' & the mood I was in that morning, I could have willingly fired her one more time............ To a Breakers Yard!! 48414 was in fact withdrawn within weeks during October 1964.
A long week then its 'off the rails'
Following on from my experience with 48414 to Banbury, the following morning we had 9F 92223 (2A Tyseley) & a much more relaxed trip altogether. For some reason I exchanged duties on the Saturday (1st October 66) thus booking on at midnight for Diesel Marshalling on the shed. Sunday was an afternoon booked turn in Link 4 (10:50 turn) & a nice cushy passenger job. On at 12:10pm to re-engine the 10am x Cardiff Sheffield in New Street (1E10) with Class 47 D1667 & leave at 1:08pm. After a break & run round the same stock we left at 4:05pm (1V42) for Cardiff again coming off in New St (due to reversal of train departing via Camp Hill) & back to shed. Time on duty was 7 hours & 25 minutes but at Sunday rate plus mileage payment this was an easy money day in readiness for a week of nights with a book on time only 3 hours 40 minutes different to last weeks early mornings!!
Monday night and booking on at 9:20pm for 539 turn I was informed my mate Cyril had gone sick & as no Driver was available the job was cancelled & so no trip to Wellingborough for me tonight but switched to a 10pm 'Bank Pilot' turn with D5202 & a very old hand Driver Bernard Washbrook. Tuesday & Cyril was still unwell so his turn was covered by Ted Fawdrey. The duty required us to travel passenger at 9:45pm from Saltley to Leicester swapping to the 11:13pm service to Wellingborough & relieve 8K55 from London (Brent) at 1:05am & working to Nuneaton where a train swap had us work 5G14 semi-fitted back to Washwood Heath to finish. Day (or rather Night) one with D5415 went OK & we booked 12 hours 25 minutes on duty.
Day two & with Cyril back on form the same duty with D55 (Sulzer Type 4.... or 45) and 11 hours 45 minutes to our credit. (A lot of the time being spent queuing with all the other overnight freight traffic on the down goods line from Water Orton to Washwood Heath). Day three and a totally unexpected turn of events was about to unfold........ Having arrived as usual at Wellingborough our return working turned up 50 minutes late with D106. After relieving the Cricklewood Crew we departed on the down goods line at 2am & very soon ran into quite dense but patchy fog (real fog not the mists of today...lol) which required maximum concentration from us both & a lot of hanging out the cab window looking for signals. Approaching Kettering Junction we found the distant on so with 61 loose coupled wagons behind it was a gentle crawl to find the home signal which was seen to be off as the fog thinned a little as was the distant for Kettering South not far ahead & it's platform lights were now visible. (NB: The goods lines now become the slow lines) Cyril began to stretch the couplings from about 10 mph, (a delicate procedure when the brake van is some 60' of fresh air as well as 61 wagons away from the loco) and as we got nearer the station we suffered an amp overload & as Cyril shut off we were brought almost to a stand & applying power again resulted in the same so we came to an abrupt halt just 50' short of the South box. At the same time unnoticed by us, all the signals on the up slow had been thrown on and around the curve of the platform a 'Peak' with a brake tender (thankfully) on a Toton-Brent with brakes hard on & sparks flying thundered by as I was heading up the steps of the box. The Bobby was standing at door holding his head with both hands & said You're off the road & we both stood there waiting for the inevitable bang & sound of tortured steel......... which did not occur as with much relief the other train had stopped short of whatever obstruction we had created. We were under protection & the Guard had protected the rear at the Junction box. We were informed that we had four wagons at the rear derailed but not the brake van & were fouling the up slow line. Just what Control wanted to hear at 2:30am on a Thursday morning but it was now their problem & for us to wait and see. At least no one was hurt and we could all recover from our shock with copious amounts of tea...... then some more tea!!
We understood the Wellingborough Breakdown Vans were being mobilised & our Guard had walked the rest of train & established all was OK but it was not until almost 5am that they authorised us to uncouple the offending wagons plus two & draw the remaining 55 forward & set back on a new brake van from a siding and set off to Nuneaton where upon detaching the train we were despatched LE to Saltley with another 11 hours 30 minutes done. We obviously were not traumatised enough to be offered Friday night off so returned for the same job returning with D5384 & an uneventful trip and Kettering showed no sign of the previous nights near terrible pile up (Someone may confirm but the Nuneaton WWH 5G14 was I think a loco change over with a 'Leccy' on a Willesden WWH?) but we actually did more hours... 12 hours 25 minutes and I had worked about 110 hours over eleven consecutive shifts and my diary says I had almost 48hrs of weekend to enjoy before having to get up at 5am on Monday assuming our six week old Daughter let me have a 'lie in'!!......... I may have slept for most of them.
Fun and fast running
A great week working with one of the best mates to be with, Cliff Fletcher who went on to become a much respected & well remembered Loco Inspector ..... On Monday 10th August 64 we were booked together for one of those very rare 'office hours' duties booking on at 09.10 then up to New St to relieve 1V33 'The Devonian' (Bradford/Paignton) for Bristol TM & departing at 10.01 with a much loved Sulzer Type 4.
NB For Info we had all Crompton's as follows:
The arrangement was that I drive to & from Gloucester & Cliff did the 'bottom end' which worked fine. We also decided not to mash the tea in New St but to fill the can with water (hot or cold subject to availability), boil it on the Belling stove & brew fresh en route. This also worked fine until..........
One day (no note of which), somewhere near Spetchley (on the direct line bypassing Worcester) Cliff decided to brew in the customary manner of vertically rotating the can to ensure a 'proper brew' while standing mid cab. A slight error of judgement & the can stopped in mid air upside down having contacted the cab roof or AWS box on the bulkhead & showering it's hot contents in all directions. I instinctively ducked down to my left while flailing my right arm to defend myself from a scalding while Cliff was also flailing about the cab & trying to recover from his surprise. You can imagine the scene (and the mess) I'm sure, anyway, with cloths & newspapers we managed between us to dry off & mop up the desk & floor & subsequently arrived at Cheltenham. Instead of the Station Inspector relaying the 'RA' from the Guard out of sight on the curved platform he made his way to the loco, stuck his head in the door and asked if we were OK? We were both smiling & quite composed by now (despite a 'dry run') & replied that we were fine thanks....why? He then informed us that Control required him to confirm the fact as the 'Bobby' at Abbots Wood Junction had reported us to be 'fighting' in the cab as we passed!!
Well, I hung out the window fit to bust while Cliff calmly suggested that he informs Control that the Bobby should be sent for an eye test & could we go now as we were being delayed. Neither of us could contain our laughter as we headed down the straight through Churchdown to Gloucester. That was the only 'exciting event' throughout our (cushy) week until Saturday 15th when while booking on he showed me the SO (Saturday Only) job card & said we were booked for steam on the return which was a relief on a Paignton/Bradford starting from Bristol at 2/15. Seems my easy week was about to become hot & sweaty for the finale........ Following our break we waited with our stock on platform 12 in the old 'train shed' to see what delights Barrow Road MPD had in store for us. Very soon, a very grubby & run down looking (probably Brunswick Green?) 45622 'Nyasaland' (16F) backed on & while the Fireman hooked up we took stock of our steed & were pleasantly surprised. A perfectly built up fire under the doors & burning well, three quarters in the glass & just off the mark AND she had been re-coaled. After thanking the Crew there was little to do before our departure which became delayed by 20 minutes due to transferring passengers to free up the through service & generally filling us up as much as possible.
I could see that cheeky glint in Cliff's eye as we departed & he put on a 'display' for the Barrow Road Lads as we passed the shed & began the climb up Lawrence Hill & onwards through those long gone stations at Fishponds & Mangotsfield, we were on a roll & with regular light firing she was steaming better than many a Jubilee at that time. Cliff tried to whistle 'Ilkley Moor Bah Tat' through Wickwar tunnel (as we had every day with our Peaks lol) but without success and by now it was getting more difficult to fire as the loco & tender were rarely aligned, she was a better steamer than rider for sure but Cliff was totally unperturbed as he kept squeezing a little bit more from her knowing that all was OK my side. On the approach to Standish Jct He beckoned me over & pointed at the speedometer and although notoriously unreliable it was bouncing around the 100 mph mark so we 'claimed' it as a ton & shut off soon after (No GWR's to race!) for Gloucester Eastgate by which time we had pulled a bit back. After Cheltenham the rest of the run was quite 'spirited' & sustained including that 'Hill' at Bromsgrove..... I reckon we could have lost the Bankers (ha ha) and we arrived at Church Road on the approach to Birmingham New St & eventually dropped down to the Starter (site of Five Ways Station now) & stopped dead & virtually on time had we gone straight into New St. Phoning the Bobby I was told that heavy congestion (well it was a holiday Saturday in August 64') meant we could be up to 20 minutes waiting. Cliff (being Cliff) had anticipated this & stopped spot on for the column so after filling the tank & washing down etc we waited our turn & eventually made platform 7 to be relieved by Sheffield Men who would start away in the same shape as I had from Bristol. I recall as we walked away that several passengers passed comment to Cliff in praise of 'His' efforts (I was just riding on the footplate obviously) 'Nyasaland' had done us proud & the old girl was withdrawn within weeks (September) and after storage at Derby was cut up in December at Cashmore's Great Bridge.......
Another 'Bostin Week' done...... back to plodding along with Westerleigh/Stoke Gifford minerals next week so will have to check those diaries again.
Dolly Birds & Bangers
The 'Swinging 60s' and after a mundane job in the first year of leaving school I joined BR as an Engine Cleaner in June 62' at Saltley MPD in East Birmingham. Due to a shortage of Firemen I was only cleaning for 5 weeks before becoming a 'Passed Cleaner' & getting regular firing turns, after so many (cannot remember the number) you became a 'Registered Fireman' & began the line of promotion through the 'Links'. After the usual 'spare duties' where you had no idea what you would do from day to day I was put in 'Trip Link A' & booked with Driver Ted Russell. The Trip or Target work of course was operating in the local area between Yards, Collieries, Power Stations & Private Sidings etc. Some of which were... Stewart & Lloyds (steel), Dunlop (tyres) Cadbury's (chocolate) and the largest of all being the Austin Works at Longbridge which lay alongside the Birmingham Bristol main line to the west & the focus of today's tale.......
A very rare civilised booking on time of 8am for 28 Trip which primarily loaded from Washwood Heath Yard to the Longbridge factory via the Camp Hill bank, Moseley, Kings Heath, Lifford, Kings Norton & Northfield & crossing into the works at Halesowen Jct & conveying all kinds of raw production materials. The length & weight of train varied daily accordingly but the climb from the Jct on a right hand curve could be a challenge with a heavy train & a greasy rail but if anyone stalled help was at hand in the form of the works own 0-6-0 Tank loco's. We would storm up through the East Works (on BR lines) & under the A38 road bridge, through the now redundant platforms to the West Works & stop as required by the Shunter, the wagons are now the responsibility of the Austin Loco's to shunt & deliver as needed within the factory and we would drop down to the East Box adjacent to the Shunter's Cabin for our lunch break.....
Well, as can be seen in old pictures, apart from the A38 road bridge there was an adjacent open footbridge linking one side of the East Works to the other including the main office building, now office buildings employ lot's of young Ladies & this was the age of the mini-skirt (as well as the home of the 'Mini') so this was a perfect 'vantage point' for this 16 year old (and a few more if they admit it) while eating his cheese sandwich on the Loco which on this day was an 0-6-0 4F.
Now my mate Ted who had no teeth & no dentures either but could chew anything usually enjoyed a shovel fry up on this job & today was no exception. Unusually, it was sausage, egg & mushrooms rather than traditional bacon & while Ted set to cleaning the shovel & laying out his ingredients I enjoyed sitting on my big box seat leaning over the cab side admiring the constant stream of 'talent' crossing the aforementioned bridge while on their lunch break too. One in particular attracted my interest & in order to attract her attention I reached blindly across the cab and........ yes, stupidly opened the blower (the chimney was adjacent to bridge & I thought it was a good idea at the time), I realised the implication straight away but not before Ted let out a wail like a screaming banshee as he stared forlornly at his now empty shovel while uttering a few curses in my direction. I cannot say as I blame him & I do recall looking into the firebox myself as if somehow his meal could be salvaged from the flames. Feeling so unimaginably guilty I offered to walk along the main road in the hope of finding a butchers to at least replace those 'bangers' but time did not allow so he survived the day by frying his bread in the little amount of remaining fat. Ted was a good old boy and we got on very well so once he had recovered from the shock of his loss we both saw the funny side, especially when I explained why I had done it and we speculated on the reaction of the young lady in question had two sausages gone through the tubes & up the chimney to land at her feet!!
Well, our train had been assembled in the siding by the Austin Loco so we dropped down the goods line, backed on & departed for an easy downhill run to Washwood Heath & thankfully Ted was still speaking to me and to his credit he did not share my indiscretion with anyone (as far as I know) and so I later made sure he was duly 'compensated' for his next fry up.... in fact enough for us both which would ensure I left the blower alone in future.....'Stupid Boy'!!!
End of the Line
I don't intend to delve into the history of this line too deeply as it's easily researched by those who desire to do so, this is simply a 'confession' regarding my small part in the destruction of 'The Birmingham and Gloucester Loop'! This Midland Railway alternative single line route between Ashchurch & Barnt Green ran to the East of the 'Lickey Route' & the West of the GWR route from Cheltenham to Birmingham via Stratford Upon Avon & by the early 60s was already being run down towards ultimate closure. Several stations had been closed to passenger trains for many years including Coughton to which my story relates.
I cannot find any record of the fact but am sure I only fired a freight train over this route once on diversion from the main line & have a recollection of working once to Alcester on a pick up goods via Redditch & Studley prior to total closure beyond Redditch in mid 1964. The following however is a matter of record & a few sad memories which began on Tuesday 15th December 1964. Booking on at 5.45 am, Driver Sid Watkins, BR Standard 5 73034 & myself made our way from Saltley to Redditch where we picked up a short train of PW Department Ballast/spoil wagons from the sidings. As the line beyond the tunnel south of the station, we had total occupancy so were able to propel our train along the single line to the current site of permanent way work which we knew to be beyond Coughton platform. With the Guard acting as our 'eyes' we made our way through Studley & Coughton to the site of work which was indicated by three detonators in advance to caution us & alert the permanent way gang. We did not take too much notice of their activities but a mobile tracked crane was lifting track sections behind us & once separated from sleepers, those & the old rail 'chairs'/wooden keys etc were loaded onto our wagons & we would move forward to repeat the process.
This procedure was repeated the next day with my then booked Driver Stan Massey (a real Character) and 'Black 5' 45272 (2E Saltley) & again the following day with a 41E 'Flying Pig' 43111 & by know work had progressed to just north of the former Coughton station which was now privately owned. Stan was a prolific tea drinker (if there was no Pub nearby) and suggested to me that maybe the station house occupants would happily provide us with hot water to mash a can of tea. Of course it was down to me to trek back along the now none existent railway while he kindly agreed to keep an eye on the fire & water while reading the paper!!
I was greeted at the door by a Lady wearing an apron & hands covered in flour who upon my request invited me into the kitchen & showed me the Kettle on the gas stove asking me to do it so she could continue with her baking. Her nine year old young Daughter was helping and together we had a conversation about what was happening to the line. Apparently, her husband was passionate about trains & when the station closed to passengers in 1952 he leapt at the opportunity to buy it from BR as a family home in the belief that trains would continue to run past for evermore even if they did not stop. Although it would change their lives they hoped to continue living there but it was becoming obvious that she was upset at the thought that we were the last train they would see but her husband was at his business & had missed this 'final event'! I made our tea as the first batch of 'mince pies' came from the oven and she asked if we would like some........ Oh yes please! I took it upon myself to suggest that as we would be leaving the site for the day in about an hour, if (baking permitting) they fancied walking the few hundred yards they could visit the Loco. She said she might & so expressing thanks for the water and six mince pies I made my way back to 43111 who was still where I left them & informing the permanent way lads to allow safe passage if they came by. Some 30 minutes later the lady & her daughter stood looking up at us & with a little help we got them onto the footplate, showed them how it all worked and answered their many questions until the Guard arrived to inform us that we were ready to depart for Redditch.
Apologising for not being able to drop them back at the platform & wishing them a very happy Christmas together with a small lump of coal from the last steam engine they would see. They stood waving on the bank as we pulled away with plenty of whistle blowing and I've no doubt with a tear in their eyes ...... Well, there were in mine I admit. This operation continued with other Crews & Stan & I had two days on the Birmingham New St standby loco ('West Pilot') with 45272 again then a week of nights on Gloucester freights with this assortment of loco's... 90133 (36C), 48351 (2E), 48426 (9D), 73014 (1E), 44861 (?), 90202 (41D) & 92059(?) which took me up to Christmas & a couple of days off. Strangely, my New Years Eve duty found me back on the 'removal train' with 48342 but the work had now progressed (if you can describe it as such) to not far beyond the tunnel at Redditch and this would be my last time through it. Redditch to Barnt Green of course was spared, improved & electrified to become part of the Cross City Line to Lichfield via Birmingham but nature & road building have obliterated the remainder just like so many more useful 'diversionary routes' lost forever.....