A Conversation for British Trains

British trains.

Post 1


The date of nationalisation seems to throw my memory a bit of course, but I do know that the rail cuts and the deterioration of our railways from the perfection of a wartime system to the mass destruction of it, began with the closure of the Rochdale-Bacup Branch in 1947.

The myths of the rundown bankrupt railways persist, but it is a fact that our railways were the richest land and property owners in the land,until the assett strippers moved in and took everything possible, including the annual massive subsidies.

How many of us today know, or even care, that those engine men of the steam age ran to time generally, even as the bombs of Nazi Germany were aimed at their trains,and that the main lines stations were actually burning as they waited for the exact time to leave. They waited even as the bombs fell round them, so that returning service men would get home on leave that night.

Occasionally the crewe of the engine were an old man in his sixties and a mere sixteen year old youth.

Rewarded for bravery and dedication to duty?

I am afraid not, the war ended in 1945 and within two years they were isued with redunancy notices.

British trains.

Post 2


Dialect-ion of Duty.

Edwin was a fully dedicated, world- war two, steam engineman, six feet tall, thin as a lath and topped with blazing Red hair. At about seventeen years of age his habit of lapsing into the thickest of Lancashire accents, was an act that allowed him to come out on top in any arrangements involving food, overtime or money. The city youths were to find themselves completely outclassed when they tried to pit their wits against this apparent country bumpkin, because when it came to grabbing a bit of overtime, Edwin was a passed master.

Food was his main concern in life next to money, and it was said that Edwin could eat a potato more than a pig. This was found to be correct, when for a small bet he ate a potato pie baked by his mother in a washing up bowl. It measured more than twelve inches across and it was about five inches deep. It took Edwin a full hour to eat it, but he did, every scrap. The pie crust alone was enough to feed the average man, but Edwin was far from average, the country yokel appearance masked a razor sharp mind, and a great deal of natural ability.

One morning George Stanley the Boiler Smith verified that fact the hard way. Edwin was in the workshop and George said to him, “Edwin, will you go over to Mrs Yarwood’s shop and get me a cake and you can get one for yourself.” “Great,” said Edwin and he was off like a shot. On his very speedy return Edwin pressed the change into George’s hand and he said, “Thid nobbut won’n I adit.” Translated, this meant, “ they had only one and I have eaten it.” George could only laugh, and it gave him and many others entertainment for years to come.

With his usual immaculate planning, Fred Wilson the Shed Manager, had decided to put vast stocks of coal into store for the Winter of 1947, and this proved to be a very wise move indeed. The circumstances of stacking the coal in the good weather, prior to the approaching very severe Winter produced more than a little fun, and at the start Fred had craftily detailed his lads into pairs. Then he suggested that Edwin and his mate could beat any other team at emptying a ten-ton rail wagon onto the coal stack. To secure even more interest, he then offered two shillings to the team who emptied their wagon first.

Edwin did not win and, and the following morning Fred went round to the stack to see how many wagons had been emptied. Just the one, all the others were still half full or half empty if you wish, but to Fred it just did not matter, he wanted them all emptying. When the shed lads came on duty at four p.m. Fred was waiting, “Empty one wagon between two of you and you can go home.” “What about the two bob,” from Edwin? “Alright,” he said, and away he went, Fred was finishing at five p.m. and he knew quite well that everyone would work very hard to go home early.

The lads had only been on duty for three and a half hours, and by about seven thirty the job was finished and tidy. “How about going to the pictures, there’s a good one on at the Regal?” said one of the coal-dusted figures with just two white eyes showing, it is difficult to recall who that was with the heavy disguise of coal dust. Off to the second house of the pictures trooped half a dozen partly washed, but still filthy teenagers, resplendent in their railway issued overalls and enginemen’s highly polished peak caps. No one said a word as they wended their way to the cheaper seats. But! Lo and behold, just as they were going in through the door, He! was coming out, Fred was just leaving with one of his friends; he studiously ignored his young workforce by turning to his friend as they went by, then he glanced at the watch on his massive wrist before moving off down the street, without even a glance in their direction.

The following day at four p.m. once again, into the mess- room came Fred, he had obviously done some more calculations, and he had decided to double the workload. “Right lads, empty one wagon each and you can go home again, I will leave two bob with the foreman for the first wagon emptied. Five o clock on the dot and away went Fred, big and heavy though he was, he just padded silently on his feet like a giant cat.

They all watched him go and then off to his locker went Edwin, quickly returning with a pack of playing cards. “Adjourn to the Sander, we will all empty one wagon for the two bob, then we will play pontoon for it.” The Sander was a very warm, comfortable little building with an enormous fire for drying the sand used by the engines to prevent the wheels slipping. A small amount of coal was thrown out of five of the wagons, but only one was emptied completely. About midnight the end of the shift, everyone went home leaving everything tidy, but almost as it was at the beginning. This saga was obviously going to reach a conclusion the following day and it was a well-known fact, ”you don’t mess about with Fred. But he also knew the quality of brainpower beneath the thatch of Red hair under Edwin’s polished cap, and fortunately he had already conceded defeat.

Once again Fred’s presence loomed in the open doorway of the mess room, and everyone was beginning to have doubts, had it really been wise to tweak the lion’s tail, were they all due for a formal, nine am invitation to a Red carpet confrontation and the issuing of a Form One each? In other words the most feared, official please explain your conduct satisfactorily, or else form.

There he stood, his giant frame filling the large doorway, with the “I am in charge” expression on his face, and his fully attentive audience literally shaking in their boots. Yet all was well, as the expression on Fred’s face changed, accompanied with a burst of laughter that almost shook the room, right down to its enormous well -scrubbed pine table and stone flagged floor. Looking straight at Edwin he said, “Right lads, one wagon between two men, no two bob for card playing but you can all go home as soon a you have finished.” The crafty devil had silently observed every move that they made and rather than disturb them, he had left them to carry on thinking that they were fooling him, this was man management at its very best, and I firmly believe that we all improved our own education at the same time.

To illustrate the story further we have to reset the year to nineteen forty five, the war was only just over and already the minds of persons in high authority, were set on taking possession of the enormous assets of railway property, including vast tracts of land, stations, docks, ships, hotels, hostels and private houses. The plans now being secretly formed also included the deliberate destruction of a unique transport system that had most certainly saved the country from defeat in the war, by efficiently transporting the essential armed forces and equipment required.

Soon the mature, middle aged and elderly locomotive staff were devastated as they were discarded, together with the most promising youth of the day. While they were all extremely efficient in their own field of expertise, very few of them could cope with the few alternatives on offer. The train services were withdrawn and two mature engine drivers, purchased motorcycles in a determined attempt to reach the nearest working depot, one was killed outright on a frosty road the other one was badly injured. Even the ever-resourceful Edwin was overmatched, he also fell victim to the tragic series of events inflicted upon him by a greedy, ungrateful government and Edwin died, accidentally killed even before his expected maturity.

Looking back all those years, in the mind’s eye I see him as he was in 1945 as the war ended. Just like many teenagers at the Locomotive Shed, Edwin had also fired passenger trains into and out of Manchester Victoria Station as the bombs were falling on the city. Perhaps it should have been realised that these very young railwaymen had already done their bit for their King and Country, and they should have been left in peace to get on with the rest of their lives.

In Edwin’s case that precious time was to be very limited indeed, and two years of his very short life would be taken away from him immediately. Just like many of the teenagers who had worked on the footplate for the last two years of the war, Edwin had now become eighteen years of age, and he received instructions to go into Manchester once again. This time university trained graduates including a doctor, interviewed him. They had only one thing on their minds, and that was to make Edwin into a fully trained soldier within the two years of National Service allocated to that task.

They must surely have received a course of further education themselves as they interviewed this apparent country bumpkin. Immediately Edwin arrived, he went into his long practised act and assumed the broadest Lancashire accent possible; the interrogators could not understand a single word that he said, although the occasional word did seem to be English. Little did they know, that if they had asked him a sensible, practical question like,” do you know anything at all about the classics, or music,” they would have received quite a surprise, because he would have dropped the act immediately. Edwin was very well educated himself when his favourite subjects music, and musical instruments were being discussed.

After the eye test and the swift physical examination, one of the doctors asked him several questions that included, “ Have you had many illnesses?” “Wee’ll av ad all thwarks.” “What do you mean?” said the doctor. “ We’ll av ad thed wark, back wark, n belly wark.” That was the end of the interview, and he was drafted into the army for his two years National Service. This time Edwin had lost the game, and for those not quite as educated as he was in the dialect, wark means ache.

In conclusion, it may be said to the people of the Rossendale Valley, and perhaps the whole of our Nation, as the last British Rail, main line steam engine whistle, made its final wail, “Ask not for whom that mournful whistle blows, because it blows for you.”


British trains.

Post 3


Brown Boots and Kid Gloves.

Gentleman Bill, that was the name given to Billy Pilling by the lads of the shed. The reason being that he spoke quietly, and slowly, with his own affected version of BBC type English, until it slipped of course which was quite often, especially early in the mornings. This was the time when he was most likely to revert back to his common, or garden English as spoken railway fashion. I had yet to be given the privilege of firing for Billy, but I already knew that he was the master.

It was common knowledge that he could drive a steam engine with a feather light touch, unknown to the common man normally in charge of the steel, brass and copper monsters. Off he would go, conveying his passengers with an efficiency and safety that lesser mortals could only dream of. Time and time again he would return to the shed and back his engine up to the coal stage, and when the staff saw Billy they knew that this engine would only need half as much coal as the others.

The pride of unique workmanship and respect for his employers (The Company) still remained firmly implanted in this man, despite Nationalisation and all of its problems.
As a result it was heaven help the fireman who wasted materials, or coal and water in his presence. Even the locomotives themselves seemed to understand that they were in the control of the ultimate, the perfect driver who was able to get the best out of them at all times.

Like most perfectionists, Billy was also a Prima Donna in every way, yet despite this failing every youth wanted to fire for him, but there was one snag, seldom would he take an unproven youth on a passenger train, especially an express. Billy had none of the endearing, patient qualities of Harry Smith and a few of the other drivers. If his fireman was ill, or late for early morning shift, Bill’s English would deteriorate as he discarded firemen one after another.

The passed cleaners would prove difficult to find under these circumstances, and the toilets would be unusually engaged by the few who did not know about the secret compartment under the bunker of the l90’s. To be perfectly fair, everyone really wanted to go with him, but no one wanted to suffer the indignity of a refusal from the Master himself.

One early morning it happened, about five am the foreman Ernest Yarwood came to me and he said, “ A nice little job for you this morning and a bit of overtime in it, passenger train to Rochdale and then work an express passenger train to Southport and return. ” There was no mention of the driver at all, and the grape vine was not yet buzzing.

I should have been a little more suspicious, but having risen from my bed about two am for a three am start I was not quite at my best. My only information at this time was the engine number 199, and the number of the shed road where she had been stabled overnight. Gathering my working materials, one bottle of cold tea for warming on the hot plate, a fibre food box containing sandwiches, and a handy looking firing shovel provided by the foreman, I set off to find my engine.

There was no doubt at all, Ernie was desperately trying to make me look professional as only the more experienced men actually had their very own firing shovel. I was on winged feet and cloud nine, until climbing up onto the footplate I saw him!
Billy was just sitting there on the driver’s seat waiting to leave on time, and impatiently tapping his feet on the wooden floor. The engine footplate was as clean as a new pin and so too was the driver; he was wearing very highly polished Brown boots and Brown kid gloves. Never before had I seen such finery on a driver.

His first words of greeting gave me very little confidence, “ Have you ever fired a passenger train before? ” “ A few times, ” was my not very confident reply. “ Ever fired an express.” “ No I! ” “ Well you aren’t going to do today neither,” as his English slipped a bit. He was off the footplate even quicker than I was at getting on, and away he went to see the foreman. The usual language flowed from Billy, and finally I heard Ernest say to him, “ He is the best we can find at this time of the morning, take him or the job is cancelled.”

Now this hit Billy where it really hurt, and he came back to the footplate where I had remained firmly attached to the fireman’s seat. “ No disrespect to you but an express needs experience, I am the driver, I drive; I do not, repeat do not shovel coal or make the steam, I just use it. If there is any lack of steam pressure at all I shall demand that you are replaced en- route.”

Not a very good start to our working day or our working relationship either, but we had one of our beloved 190’s and she was in lovely condition. Down to Bacup Station, quickly hooking onto the four coaches in the platform and we were away. It was a lovely summer’s morning and the heavy dew was still on the ground, as we made the first part of the journey, stopping at all stations to Rochdale, via Bury, Heywood and Castleton.

Going downhill to Bury was easy and scarcely any coal was used at all. There was plenty of time to just sit on my seat looking out for the signals on my side, and really enjoying the scenery as the dawn awakened the night sky. One could not fail to notice and appreciate, the smell of the countryside. A smell to linger forever, first the sweet new mown hay from George’s farm at Bacup, accompanied by a crow and a few toots on the whistle as an early morning greeting, and after that dash through the Glen Tunnel, the smell of newly baked bread, Seville’s Bakery of course.

Then the not so pleasant but just as important to a driver in the Blackout, the smell of gun cotton as we shot by the factory, followed by the gas works at Cloughfold. Even further on, was the horrible smell of formaldehyde just before Bury Bolton Street Station. All were very important landmarks for a driver picking his way through the night or a fog, especially during the war. So was our path strewn if not with roses, some of it was equally pleasant in many respects

Billy had carefully taken notice and assessed my ability to maintain a good head of steam as we travelled up Broadfield Bank and onto Rochdale. Only many years later would I realize, that had the steam pressure dropped even slightly, Billy would have part exchanged the borrowed shovel and me, for the proper fireman working Rochdale Passenger Pilot.

I was certainly most impressed with the way he handled the engine, and I had never seen anything like it. There was scarcely a whisper from the chimney top as we ran perfectly on time. All I had to do was fire her ever so lightly, little and often and that was the only advice given by Mr Pilling. We were now about forty minutes into our long journey and we were talking.
He asked a few questions, about work mostly, and he seemed to be almost human.
I had placed the express passenger headlamps on the front buffers at Rochdale, and now we were really off. This to a sixteen-year-old, absolute novice, was pure magic, to be teamed up with the perfect little engine and the perfect driver as well, perhaps only a dream.

We were booked all stations to Wigan and then there would be the express part of the journey, Southport next stop, with a fantastic run through the beautiful countryside, spoiled only by a few peculiar smells at Wigan. There was Croid the glue works, with a long line of railway wagons containing old bones waiting to be unloaded into the factory.

A sight to behold and never forgotten were the Amazons, giant women wielding enormous shovels that dwarfed my little firing shovel. They were filling enormous wheelbarrows with bones and maggots, and then wheeling them up steep ramps into the factory to make glue. I had seen, and smelled these wagons of bones before at close range, but until now I had never seen them being emptied, never would I have believed that women could possibly be doing that job.

Just a little further on was the linoleum works, making some very peculiar strong odours as well, but also on the wind was the most enjoyable smell of freshly baked cakes, and above all the most memorable, delightful air borne smell in the world, Uncle Joe’s Mint Balls.

As we shot through one little station just before Southport, Billy gave a crow followed by series of short blasts on the engine whistle. I looked out very carefully but I could see nothing untoward at all. At full express speed we hurtled through the little station and away, nothing to be seen as the station disappeared rapidly into the distance behind us.

Having topped up with coal and water at Southport we were very soon on our way back home, a stopping train to Manchester and then another one back to Bacup. First though I would learn the mystery, the reason for those short sharp blasts on the engine whistle as we passed at full speed through that little station. This was organization at its very best and an education for all of us.

Billy stopped his train in the platform of the same little station, exactly level with a little old lady, and she had a basket of beautiful cut flowers. “ You did say twelve bunches didn’t you Bill.” she said. “ That’s right, here is the twelve bob, ” said Billy. The lady had counted the exact number of times that Billy had whistled as we shot by the station, and she knew the exact time of his return. Yes, I know some one must be wondering what the heck has a crow got to do this story?

A crow is the reproduction of a cockerel crow on the engine whistle. It was used to draw the attention of a signalman to the fact that he was about to receive a message via the engine whistle. It was all coded so that he would know the way we wanted to go, all carefully calculated and easy to understand, the old lady also knew the system and she used it to everyone’s advantage. The remainder of the trip was uneventful but very pleasant, by now I would be more than a little tired and I would certainly sleep that afternoon.

Even with a driver of Billy’s calibre I would have shovelled more than four tons of coal, as well as doing all the other jobs of a fireman, such as hooking on and off the various trains that we had worked and filling the ever-demanding boiler with water. Yes quite a full but most certainly enjoyable day’s work for a sixteen-year-old youth.

By far the most important thing to me, was that I had passed his judgment with flying colours, for on arriving back at the shed, just before alighting from the footplate with his enormous bunch of flowers he stopped, turned to me and he said. “ Sorry to have doubted your ability this morning, I will take you any time now.” Walking back into the mess-room with, Bill! I could see that all of the late turn passed cleaners were waiting to find out the result, and there I was accompanied by the Master himself, still chatting just as he would have done with his proper mate.

British trains.

Post 4


Yes I Believe in Miracles.

The bell of Big Ben was sounding, the year became 2004 as I first wrote that the age of miracles is not yet passed, they do still happen. At this very moment I was dramatically reminded of a miracle that did happen to a boy of about 12 years of age, in Manchester about 1960. There was a radio call to the mobile section of The British Transport Police, and all available units instantly attended. We were informed that an express passenger train had hit a young boy, and there were still other children on the lines in serious danger.

Having moved them to a safe place, and questioned the boys about the accident, it was revealed that the express had indeed struck one of them, but he had run away afterwards. There was a small amount of clothing recovered from the embankment, together with a pair of shoes obviously the worse for wear.

Having obtained the name and address of the boy, and fearing the very worst, one mobile team set off to break the terrible news to his family. Another team with a van set off to take the rest of the children home, and inform their parents about the accident. The two officers drew up outside the home of the boy, and prepared themselves to deliver the terrible news to the boy’s mother when she answered the knock on the door.

Even before the officers said a word she said, “ I know, he has just arrived home with scarcely any clothes on at all, and he says that he has been hit by a train on the railway.” The policemen had a good look at the boy, and there was scarcely a bruise on him. Having advised the lady to take her son down to Ancoats Hospital for a check up, the two officers went back to the office in wonderment, for a debate on the matter and to make the out the required reports.

The established facts were unbelievable, and the remainder of the story even more so, but this is probably what happened. He was standing right by the lines as the express passed Longsight Locomotive Shed en route to London Road, (Piccadilly Station.) The speed of the train sucked him into the side of the engine, tore off his shirt, pants, and shoes, and carried him along on a cushion of air, then as he reached the space between the locomotive and the first coach, the change in air pressure just threw him away from the train, and onto the grassy embankment with scarcely a bruise to show for it.

Experience taught us, that it is a common occurrence for an engine or a train to remove a person’s clothing, especially the shoes on impact, but never had it been known previously for anyone to walk, or run away from such an accident. Perhaps it was merely his light- weight, or lack of resistance to the force being inflicted upon him that gave him the assistance he needed, or perhaps, there was indeed yet another guardian angel on duty that day.

British trains.

Post 5

LL Waz

Great stories, I liked this one in particular.

Tagging them onto a relevant Edited Guide entry is an interesting idea.

British trains.

Post 6


Thank you for reading them, and for the kind remarks, the idea of tagging them onto the appropriate section of h2g2 is interesting but at the moment I am just fiddling around trying to work out the system, I had never used the internet until October of last year.

At the moment I am just testing the reaction of readers to my work which covers all systems of transport,police dog working and railway crime. I am a recognisd specialist on railway accidents and transport in general, matters that I believe should now be public knowledge.

In the 1980's many passengers fell out of train and were killed, yet I wonder how many people actually know how that could possibly have happened?

Re; a current prosecution pending, what actually happened last year when a loaded rail wagon ran away and killed several contractors. Why did it happen, and will the whole truth and nothing but the truth eventually be revealed??

smiley - biggrinsmiley - magic

Key: Complain about this post

Write an Entry

"The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is a wholly remarkable book. It has been compiled and recompiled many times and under many different editorships. It contains contributions from countless numbers of travellers and researchers."

Write an entry
Read more