If you wish to discuss the contents of this page Fred's email address is at the bottom of the page.
The success of Fred Wagstaff's first venture on the Internet (see 'BR Steam Footplate Memories') merits a second instalment of reminiscences from the 72 year-old retired railwayman. His stories of North Blyth shed received a lot of feedback from readers, including this one from Carol, who wrote via the Guest Book page: 'When is the next instalment of the Fred Wagstaff Saga? A great story and what a laugh! I thoroughly enjoyed it and found myself trying to put names to some of the characters. I remember Fred and can relate to his stories, he is a great character…'
Ed Orwin also dropped a line - 'I accidentally found the photos and stories of Fred Wagstaff on your photo site. Fred worked at the same sheds (North Blyth and Cambois) as my Father who was a C+W repairer. They may just have known each other, so I'd be very interested to get in touch with him. I do have some photos that he may be interested in too…'
Rail Cameraman, John Stoddart, adds - 'Spent hours today on the Fireman Fred's page. You've got a real gem there, but I'm sure you already know that. Both text and photos are very evocative. First-hand, well-written accounts from men who actually drove and fired the locos are so rare. I have a book called 'Men of the Footplate' which I treasure, but Fred's is much saltier and I suspect more accurate. Fred's writing or ghosted by you? Either way, you both should be proud of the finished product.'
Joyce also contacted the Guest Book page - 'Have just finished some great reading of Freddie Wagstaff's memories of North Blyth and Cambois depots, and had a good few laughs along the way. I remember Freddy when we lived at North Blyth (Les and Peggy Taylor, son Chris and me, Joyce). I also remember Carol, who left a Guest Book message. Was it Keenlyside? If it is, then I remember her Gran's Ferry shop - that's giving my age away. Look forward to the next instalment. Regards Joyce…'
Philip Hodgetts also wrote - 'I've enjoyed reading about Blyth in Northumberland. I was born 1968 in Ashington and brought up in Blyth till my dad got a job transfer to Skipton in 1981. The power station and pit were the predominant things we could see from the bedroom window at the back of the house. We were fortunate to have lots of open fields to play in and the river too. I always enjoyed watching the 08s creeping out onto the Cambois Staithes with the loaded wagons of coal. Ashington was where my mum liked to do her monthly supermarket shop, so whilst she was in the store I and my sister would climb up onto the fence and watch the coal trains hauled by NCB class 14s, one of which is now at YDR Embsay. One day we were invited into the cab of a 14 for a short ride. So over the fence we went and climbed up into the cab. I remember it being very hot and smelly, warm oil and diesel mixed together. Fred's pages bring back many fond memories of Blyth. Regards, Philip.
'Typical of the camaraderie that exists between ex-BR railmen from bygone years, Geordie Wilson from Gateshead shed found Fred's story on the web and now regularly keeps in contact. I've added some of Geordie's emails under the heading: 'GEORDIE'S ONE-MINUTE CHATS' down the page. In Geordie's first email, he wrote… 'I was looking at your website on the North Eastern Region and saw the name Fred Wagstaff, and thought - no, it can't be! But it is. I went to Gateshead shed from Pelton Level, and went into spare link. Some drivers came in from Blyth, including Fred. I had the pleasure of working with him on the London Link. Fred is a character - larger than life - and always good for a laugh. It's nice to see Fred is still around. Looking forward to his next posting…'
Well here it is...Freddy takes up the story...
I enjoyed writing about my old steam days at North Blyth in Part One. In this second instalment, I'll deal with my move to Cambois and a scary experience when an English Electric Type 3 caught fire; I'll recall the camraderie amongst the men, boiling crabs in the tea boiler and a general decline in everybody's appetite for the job after the company pinched our bonus scheme with a miserly buy out of fifteen quid per man. I'll end the page at Gateshead Depot when the Railway Medical Officer told me that he was relieving me of my duties as a driver because I was going deaf. As a result, I was left for eighteen months using all my savings because the company would not pay me off and kept my NI cards. At the same time, the Union didn't want to know and I was cut adrift and left to wait and wonder. Today I have a stock of memories, both good and bad, starting with the move from North Blyth to Cambois Diesel Depot...
TRANSITION FROM STEAM - THE END OF AN ERA
(Above) The transition from steam at Newcastle. When Gateshead shed (52A) became the principal diesel depot on Tyneside, the remaining steam workings were confined to Heaton, although England's last A4 No 60001 Sir Ronald Mathews (a Gateshead engine all its life) remained at 52A up to its withdrawal in October 1964, together with eight Class A3s and a few V2s held as reserves in case of diesel failures. Gateshead's two roundhouse turntables were removed to make way for a straight diesel shed and a diesel maintenance depot extension.
(Left) Two of the most successful locomotive classes to be seen on Britain's railways was the EE Co Type 3 and Gresley A4. The A4 was one of Doncaster Plant's finest products. The third member of the class, No 2511 Silver King, rolled off the assembly line in November 1935. It was one of four A4s Nos 2509-12 named with a silver theme and sporting a silver-grey livery to match the stock of the famous London-Newcastle 'Silver Jubilee' train. Later renumbered 60016 in BR days, Silver King is seen here arriving at Newcastle Central with an excursion from Leeds on 14th April 1963. A Gateshead engine from new, No 60016 was transferred to Aberdeen Ferryhill in 1963. Withdrawn in 1965, the engine was cut up by the Motherwell Machinery & Scrap Company in May 1965.
(Below) EE Co Type 3, now TOPS Class 37, No 37068 and sister members await a turn of duty at the short end of Gateshead MPD. The building on the right is the BRSA (Tappers) Club, where many a pint was consigned to the River Tyne after being filtered through one's kidneys of course. The high building behind the locos was the Diesel School. Just around the bend is the High Level Bridge, and the platform ends of Gateshead West can just be seen. A little way down the bank is the Station Bar - motto: 'We only close when everybody has gone home!' Both shots are cracking examples of the quality that can be found on Yahoo's online photo management and photo sharing facility called 'Flickr'. You can visit Keith's 'Rail Cameraman' page 60, which has links to his 'Cabsaab' Flickr photostream. Click here to visit 'John's Flickr photostream. Both sites are highly recommended.
FROM NORTH BLYTH SHED TO CAMBOIS DIESEL DEPOT
When North Blyth shed closed in 1967, everybody at 52F moved to Cambois Depot about a mile and a half up the road. The one good thing about moving to Cambois was that I kept my old mate, and we could sing and yodel as much as we wanted, so long as the windows were shut. I'm sure the racket we made is what damaged my hearing.
With steam on its way out, the senior firemen were required to attend the Motive Power School at Gosforth Car sheds to learn about Otto Diesel's invention, including Electricity and Magnetism and how electric motors worked - or sometimes didn't, as the case might be. But it suited me fine - I had been interested in electronics and Radio since I was about ten years old. After the principles had been learned we moved on to the practical, where we came up against one of the most brilliantly practical men it has been my privilege to meet. Billy Welch would ask a question and if the answer was incorrect he would take us out to the loco and challenge us, one by one, to explain what he wanted to know. The man was a genius; he had a way of explaining things in such a lucid way, that the workings of the Westinghouse and Davies and Metcalfe brake systems are still engraved in my skull even to this day.
And so, for better or worse, after passing the exam I eventually became a Relief Driver.
(Below) During my time at North Blyth, I swotted up on the rules and regulations, learned everything I could about steam action and valve gear in anticipation of passing the Drivers exam, and becoming a Passed Fireman, passed to drive on steam. This was all done in my own time, albeit with the welcome help of the Mutual Improvement Classes - or should that be Glasses? Our meetings were held over a few pints in the BRSA Club! Anyway it was all for nothing, because the DIESELS were coming, and all the steam sheds were going to close, including North Blyth in 1967. As a result, everybody at 52F moved to the new diesel depot at Cambois (pronounced 'Cammus') about a mile and a half up the road. This photo of the glee club with the guitar player (above) is the North Blyth Mutual Improvement Class Quiz Team in the Sixties. From left to right: Dennis Fulbeck; Butch Carr; Jakey Jordan; Ray Martino on guitar; me; don't know; Tommy Wood and 'Sticky' Stan Parker is sitting on Ronnie Flynn's knee.
I remember very little about the closure of North Blyth, because I was on holiday in Devon at that time, but before leaving 52F I was prudent enough to clear out my locker and take a few 'treasures' home. These consisted of a gauge lamp, handlamp, paraffin of course, my firing shovel, torch lamp - and last but not least, a beautiful old LMS headlamp I'd acquired off a Tamping Machine at Tyne Yard. I remembered the box-like construction from my Bourneville days, and when I saw the LMS mark on the side, I said - 'You are coming with me, my beauty,' and took immediate possession in case somebody else pinched it - well, you can't trust anyone nowadays can you?
Anyway, after returning from holiday, I took a stroll to the shed and found the devastation unbelievable; it looked as if the SAS had used the place for a practice session - the office had been gutted by fire and there wasn't a single pane off glass left unbroken. An air of total desolation hung over the place, and so I turned around and headed for the BRSA Club intending to have a couple of pints, but felt so emotional I couldn't bring myself to go in. Instead I went and sat on the beach for the best part of an hour, mulling over the fact that it was all over for the Iron Horse and getting quite upset about it. But then, I decided that life must go on, and finally caving into temptation I went and got ratassed!
(Above-Right) Class 37s await their next turn of duty at the back of Cambois Shed. Note the LMR Brake van, of which there were quite a few on the Blyth and Tyne. Click on link to visit Ernies excellent Northumbrian Railway Archive. For devotees of the Blyth and Tyne this site is by far the best on the web - and, for the purposes of this page, both Cambios and Gateshead Depots are well documented. (Left) Ian S Carr's shot of Type 4 No D1768 heading the 14.00 Edinburgh-Kings Cross past the closed colliery at Pegswood, is a scene long since gone. Photo taken on 11th August 1969.
I remember my first day at Cambois as if it was yesterday. Wouldn't you know it! The rain came down in bucketfuls at half-past four in the morning, and as the wind whipped in from the North Sea it was like some harbinger of bad times blowing my way. After a fortnight's holiday in Devon, this routine was a whole new experience. Instead of a quick dash across the road to North Blyth, it was now a mile and a quarter walk to sign in for work. Still I arrived in twenty minutes sharp, entered a doorway and found myself confronted by a gangling 18 year-old youth, who stuttered - 'Can I help you? You're not supposed to be in here. This is the TTTT…OPS.'
I asked him where the sign-on point was, and he pointed outside to another building. So, out in the rain I went again and headed for the main block, pushed open the swing doors and stepped inside. Compared to North Blyth this was a five star hotel - well lit and warm, with two large notice cases containing all the dockets. Beyond that was a pair of sliding glass office windows, and I could make out the figure of a man in a 'recumbent posture' in the corner, so I guessed that this was the running foreman's office. However, not wishing to disturb him, I decided to do a little exploring around the rest of the building, found the locker room with rows of steel cubicles and the mess room with enough seating to accommodate the Royal Artillery. The kitchen was well equipped with two four-ring cookers, ovens and grills, three massive boilers quietly simmering away, and an assortment of pots and pans. This was luxury on a scale I'd never seen before, and it struck me that if the wife really did boot me out, I'd be able to hold out here indefinitely. All I had to do was find the bathroom - but alas, there was no bathroom, though I did find the toilet, so I could always settle for that.
I went back to the main entrance and examined the daily docket sheet, but I couldn't find my name on any of the turns, never mind my own job, which had someone else's name marked with my mate. I scoured the road links, and sure enough I had turned in for the right job. I suddenly felt like the invisible man, and decided to wake up the foreman, who sat bolt upright, coughing and spluttering. Then stretching himself, he lit a fag, slid open the window and enquired - 'What can I do for you, bonny lad?'
When I told him my name and job number, he pulled the daily docket ledger along the bench, opened it with a puzzled expression - 'No,' he said after a minutes perusal, 'You aren't marked on that job. But wait a minute…you're on holiday, you daft bugger! Fancy coming in to work on your holidays.'
Now I'm not predisposed to taking liberties in the normal way, but when he said I was on holiday I didn't have the heart to tell him that I had just come back from a fortnight's break in Torbay - 'Well, I must say that is really stupid of me,' I chuckled, 'I've never done that before. Don't know what the wife will say. I'll get away then,' I added half heartedly.
'Yeah, see you back here in a couple of weeks…'
I couldn't believe it! I hesitated momentarily, thinking out what to do next, then pushed open the door and stepped gingerly out into the rain, fully expecting a 'Candid Camera' crew to be waiting, but all I could hear was the foreman's mocking laughter ringing in my ears. Then as I passed the bike shed, my mate came through the gates in his car and shouted - 'Fred didja have a good holiday?'
When I told him what had happened, his jaw dropped wide open - 'You know, what it is lad, if you fell in a pool of liquid s- -t, you'd come out with a pocket full of diamonds!' And we both started laughing, fit to bust! As it turned out, when I returned to work two weeks later, no one in the corridors of power ever mentioned my extra holiday, and so I came to the conclusion that there was either a cover up, or else they were too dopey to know. Either way I enjoyed the extra fortnight off and hoped it would become a regular occurrence.
(Right and Below) An excellent product from the English Electric Company - the Type 3 Co-Co, or TOPS Class 37 Diesel Electric Locomotive, the best general-purpose machine ever manufactured by anybody anywhere. It was a proper 'drive it yourself' machine; one that a driver had some control of. Then they started to take it away... I'm going to cry in a minute! EE Co Type 3 Co-Co No D6739 rolled off the Vulcan Foundry's production line in May 1962, and was allocated to Hull Dairycoates (53A). No D6739, later TOPS Class 37 37039, is seen here 'fresh out of the box' at Hull Dairycoates (53A) on 9th June 1962. It worked the 17.17 Hull-Kings Cross as far as Doncaster later that day, probably its first revenue-earning outing. (Below) Derailed No D6739 awaits attention at Dairycoates circa January 1967. Click on photo to visit John Grey Turner's Flickr photostream.
(Above-Left) EE Co Type 3 D6938 awaits its next turn of duty at Worcester on 2nd April 1965. Click on link to Bill Wright's 'Rail Cameraman' page, which has links to his excellent Flickr site. (Below) EE Co Type 3 No D6795 acts as standby locomotive on the site of Durham shed during the Miners' Gala workings on 20th July 1962.
Needless to say, the next time I attended Cambois Depot I fully expected to be called to the Area Manager's office to explain my absence from duty, but not a word was said! In fact, the duty clerk gave me two wage packets with a flat weeks wages in each one, and I must admit to feeling guilty for a full twenty minutes afterwards, but I soon resolved to live with it. After all, it wasn't my fault, I kept telling myself.
Anyway, having turned up for my shift, I ascertained which locomotive my mate and I had been entrusted with from the running foreman, and went over to No 2 road where it was stabled. This was a totally new procedure now, because after the train crew had finished their shift, they left the loco either in the Daily Maintenance shed or outside on the fuelling road. It was the fitters remit to fuel and fill the header tank with coolant for the radiators and check the repair book, and then he would phone the running foreman and inform him that the loco was ready to be moved. The foreman then had to decide where the loco was to be stabled - either in one or two road, and whether it should be left running or shut down. He then rang the mess room to inform the relief men of his plan of action, and they would carry out his instructions to the letter, before returning to the mess room for another well-earned rest and a hot brew. What a way to earn a living!
My mate eventually turned in, and found me ferreting about the loco, trying to make sense of what I was looking at. After a bit of banter about extended holidays and getting fat and idle, he began to show me around, but to my dismay started talking in a new language called 'Abbreviations'. Instead of saying the full word he just used the first letter, which was a bit confusing at first until I eventually got the hang of it, and was able to compose letters to the management using nothing but abbreviations. On one occasion the duty clerk came to me waving a letter I had written complaining that I may just as well have written it in Mandarin to which I replied - 'I'm sorry, but I didn't have any orange ink, just blue...'
Of course, we can't stand in the way of progress, so long as it's forward progress, but when it's backward progress then that's barmy. Suddenly, Signal Boxes became I.E.C.C.s and we had A.W.S. and OPS1 and OPS2 and B.I.S. and instead of switching things off, you isolated them and instead of switching things on you de-isolated them. This was completely new to me, and I was amazed at how quickly all my mates had suddenly become on a par with nuclear scientists, and I was beginning to regret having an extra fortnights holiday…I had so much catching up to do!
(Right) Type Three 37102 arrives at North Blyth Alcan Terminal with mixed load of empties. The chimneys just visible in the distance (right) are the Alcan Smelter flues and the Alcan Power Station at Lynemouth where they produce all their own power. A lucrative sideline at the Power Station is a Fishing Bait Farm, which is fed by the cooling seawater from the Heat Exchangers to produce rag worms for sea anglers at an astounding rate - a truly innovative venture. Photo courtesy John Turner. Click here to visit John's Flickr collection of railway photographs.
(Above) 37102 runs around the train to propel it into the loader. Just down the bank behind the loader is another refuge from reality - the 'Seven Stars' public house - a favourite watering hole for the locals. The pub was lit by paraffin lamps and sold proper beer, fermented in the cask, dry hopped so you could tell what was in your glass before you picked it up. Those were the days!
(Left-Below) Aerial views looking south over Blyth Harbour with the rail link to the Alcan Terminal visible on the left. In the opposite direction, this aerial shot (below) shows the nine wind turbines constructed along the harbour's East Pier in 1992. The Blyth Harbour Wind Farm was followed eight years later by Britain's first offshore wind farm, consisting of two turbines, located half a mile off the Northumberland coastline in 2000.
(Below) 37083 departing West Blyth for one of the local collieries with empty hoppers. This is West Blyth Empty Line departures. The pile of bits of wood and rubbish lower right is all that is left of the water road where the Q6 I was driving (see 'Sinking like the Titanic' on the first page) took a running jump into the ballast all those years ago. Click here to visit Ernies Northumbrian Railway Archive - a superb site packed full of information on Northumberland's past and present rail network.
(Above) Permanent Way work at Thornaby in the 1980s. On Sundays, there was nearly always PW work to be done across the network, such as reballasting track or replacing sections of worn rail. One particular Sunday, a Cambois locomotive was involved in ballasting at West Sleekburn; it was a pitfall site that required pouring the ballast onto the road, then lifting the track with jacks and packing the stone under the sleepers. At break time, a platelayer told the engine crew that he was going to the shop at Bedlington and did they want anything bringing back.
The driver asked if he'd get him twenty Woodbines.
The platelayer enquired - 'And if they have no Woodbines what do you prefer?'
'Just fetch anything,' he replied.
The 'platy' disappeared into the distance, returning forty minutes later, climbed up to the cab and gave the driver a warm paper bag containing two hot pasties - 'There you go mate.'
The driver looked disbelievingly at him - 'what the hell is this? I asked for Woodbines…
'They had no Woodbines,' replied the Platey - 'So I fetched you two pasties.'
This is the same platelayer, who returned from a fishing holiday in Eire and was asked if there had been much rain? To which he replied that it only rained twice, once for four days and then for three...
After a few weeks reading the 'Diesel Locomotivemans' Handbook' and working on the English Electric Type Three, I began to appreciate the design of this machine with its brilliant twelve-barrel, V-formation engine, fork and blade big ends (it always sounded rude to me somehow) along with the huge Dynamo hung on the crankshaft end. The handbook called it a generator but I always understood that a machine producing direct current energy was a Dynamo, and so it remained as far as I was concerned. The Power control circuits were also impressive with the motor contactors, equipped with their blowout coils to draw the arc away, and therefore cool the arc, before the contactors actually closed and the 'toe and heel' action of the actual contacts, so that it was the toe that closed first, to take the initial surge of power, before the heel closed to form a low resistance connection to carry the eight hundred or so Amperes of traction current.
The thing I could never understand was how the loco was able to go faster and faster. I knew about reluctance and impedance from my Ham Radio studies, and figured that there must be a self induced current in the motor windings as the motor rotated which would oppose the applied current, until eventually the motor was unable to take any more current and saturation took place, resulting in loss of power.
The answer was quite simple and absolutely brilliant. To prevent the motor field windings generating an opposing voltage, the field is weakened by connecting resistors across the winding. This reduces its capability of doing so, but enables the motor to take more current, and therefore its ability to rotate faster. These resistors were known as Field Diverts, and actually did the same sort of job as reducing the valve cut-off on a steam loco. The main difference being that it was done automatically, by an ingenious little circuit that monitored the voltage developed by the speedometer and compared that with a preset voltage, and when both voltages matched, another circuit was activated to switch the field diverts.
This occurred three times on the Type 3, enabling the loco to reach ninety miles per hour. And so my learning curve, instead of abating, looked like it would continue for a good while longer. Learning to drive these grand machines was an absolute pleasure, but it got very boring when riding as secondman, and on the early turns and the night turns it was a constant battle to stay awake. It never seemed to matter how much sleep you got through the day, at night all my systems wanted to do was close down and sleep, but as soon as the sun came over the eastern hill, I'd be wide awake, and raring to go.
(Above) Another infamous 'lunatic driver' mishap, this one at Morpeth ground frame. The trap points can be seen to the rear of the loco, which, considering how far away from the loco they are, gives some idea of the speed he was travelling when the trap derailed him. The loco is just hanging on by the tyre rims, or else he would have rolled completely over into the field and spilled his tea. That would have taught him not to fly around the place like a fighter pilot. Thanks to Ernies site for the photo. There's some great shots of 37s at Cambois. Click here for a link to Ernies Northumbrian Railways page.
SNOW: THE LOSING BATTLE - FOUGHT AND WON!
One dark winters morning, I climbed out of bed and peered through the bedroom curtains, saw the snow piled up against the houses across the street, and a thick layer dumped waist-high as far as the eye could see. There were snowdrifts in every direction and I was tempted to dive back under the bedcovers again, but I had to sign on for work at 06.45hrs and the thought of losing ten hours wages quickly changed my mind.
I went downstairs and put the kettle on, poked the fire to life, then had a bowl of porridge and took our lass her morning cuppa. I gave her peck on the cheek and said in my best Alpha-male voice, rather after the style of Captain Oates wandering off into the icy Antarctic wilderness - 'I may be gone for quite some time, my dear.'
'Daft bugger!' she said.
I set off for Cambios Depot along the beach, since most of the snow had been cleared by an ebb tide, and so I made it to the Depot in good time. On arrival I pretended to be on the point of exhaustion, having battled my way through waist-high drifts - and, in case no one believed me, I pushed a few handfuls of snow into the pockets of my oilskin coat, and I would've got away with it but Alfie spotted the sand on my boots. Following the heavy overnight snow, most rail traffic in the Northeast had ground to a halt - the mainline was stopped as far south as Darlington and nothing moving as far as Edinburgh. It looked as if the shift was going to be a doddle, so I went into the mess room for a quick brew and found nine men sitting there; most of whom had long since finished their shift and were waiting for the dawn to break before trying to get home. I thought I'd cheer them up by telling them that all air-sea rescue helicopters had been put on standby - 'They're planning to rescue us at first light,' I said in jest, 'But because the forecast is so bad there's little hope of the choppers getting off the ground - even the seagulls are walking!'
Needless to say, I got chased out and sought refuge with the running foreman, who asked me to start the locos on the depot and leave them running for a while, just to warm them through and keep the batteries in good nick. An hour later, the locos were throbbing away and I returned to the office where the Area Manager's assistant was giving a grandstanding speech on how he was going to keep our stretch of the railway open to traffic. It was imperative, he said, and as the sole person in charge, he proposed to run the snowplough between Berwick and Benton.'
When it was pointed out to him that there wasn't a snowplough at Cambois, he replied - 'All the locos on the depot are fitted with beam ploughs. We will use one of them.'
At this point, I started to get worried...and rightly so, the snow-clearing job he had in mind was to be double manned, and he had selected John R as the Driver and me as the secondman. John was not best pleased and insisted on taking two locos in multiple, just in case.
The Running Foreman chipped in sarcastically - 'Why not take three?'
John stood defiantly to his feet; in the normal way he enjoyed a bit of banter, but clearing snow in a blizzard is no joking matter - and John, forever the diplomat, told him bluntly - 'You can go bollocks! I'll take six if I have to!'
So John and I collected our gear and tied the two Type 3s together at the standage point. We saddled up, checked the locos, tested the brake, powered up at both ends, full tanks, and waited for the 'Tallyho!'
Then we waited and waited, and waited…until, ten minutes later, John got so fed up he climbed down, muttering profanities, then headed off through the snow in the direction of the office block. He returned ten minutes later and shouted - 'Howay Waggy lad, back to the block.'
I thought the manager might have had a change of heart, but no - he had arranged for a gang of platelayers to join us to clean the points and dig the signalling gear out. Both John and I thought the manager's optimism was very commendable, but we weren't sure how he was going to persuade any sane-minded platelayer to work in these conditions? Amazingly, he did. And so with the three plucky platelayers in the back cab and the manager joining us at the front, we set off at 11.00hrs and crawled the seven miles to Morpeth at a snail's pace, arriving there at 13.30hrs - a whole 2½ hours later!
I was of the opinion that our journey had to be something of a record; that we should get some sort of recognition for our efforts. 'If Mallard is the fastest,' I said, 'Then we are surely the slowest!'
I just got told to shut my trap.
On arrival at Morpeth, we were expecting to pick up a fourth platelayer called Mick Murphy, but he'd informed Control that he was snowed in and couldn't get out of the house. He was truly scuppered, he said, but he didn't want anyone to worry about him because he had three crates of Brown Ale and the freezer was choc-a-bloc with grub, which probably made a lot of sense…to him, selfish ba-rd!
Anyway, after getting into the platform, the manager jumped down into the snow, wearing just his normal everyday suit and highly polished shoes, and made a start on supervising all the point clearing. Then after the task was completed he climbed back into the cab - 'Right chaps,' he announced in a triumphant fashion, 'We are right away for Berwick.'
John looked at him questionably, 'Shouldn't we wait for the signal first?'
'Why yes, of course,' he said in afterthought - 'I'll inform the signalman on the phone at once.'
He jumped down and was about to pick up the signal phone, when the signalman gave a green flag from the box.
John immediately acknowledged with a 'hoot' on the horn, which, in all fairness to John, was probably just a lapse on his part, but blasting a diesel locomotive horn when the manager was standing in such close proximity was not a good idea!
Sure enough, the shocked manager jumped out of his skin! I saw his legs buckle under him and he disappeared beneath a mound of snow shovelled there by the platelayers. He got back to his feet and brushed himself down, then climbed nonchalantly back into the cab, poking more snow out of his lugholes.
As we set off, I had a chat with the platelayers in the rear cab, then returned to the front, where a raging argument was going on between John and the manager; as soon as I entered the cab, the atmosphere in there was as ice cold as the snow outside the window, which, by now was piling up on the nose end. The manager hadn't a clue of our whereabouts - 'There is two foot of snow obscuring my view,' he said prissily, and ordered John to slow down.
John steadfastly refused, arguing that if he did slow down - and we hit a drift - then we might not get out, which was fair enough. I knew for a fact that when the Rothbury goods was steam-hauled, John had been marooned up the Wannie line for more than twelve hours, so I could understand his point of view. But the manager kept going on and on about how he didn't know where he was, until John's patience finally snapped - 'Look, it doesn't friggin' matter if you know where we are or not! I'm the driver, and its me that's to know where we are...not you!'
The manager shook his head stubbornly - 'But can you not open the window and look out?'
'No, you can't!' John shot back, 'If you shove your head out the window, you'll snap your friggin neck!'
To my horror, the manager began to pull the side window down, but before he could stick his head out I grabbed his arm and held him back, and just in the nick of time, as it happens - a dollop of snow about the size of a wheelbarrow hit the window frame and burst all over the cab.
'Shut that friggin' window, you dopey sod!' John hollered at him.
The stunned manager gaped in disbelief. I don't suppose anyone had ever spoken to him like that before, but it certainly did the trick; he pouted his lips in a sulky silence and slumped in the chair.
'Wanna cuppertee?' I asked.
'No thank you,' he replied moodily, but I made him one in any case - and he took it; the poor bugger was shivering with the cold, his suit was soaking wet up to his crutch; he looked so forlorn that I gave him my oilskin to put on.
Meanwhile John settled down to concentrate on the job at hand. Driving mainly on the Auto Warning System and the curvature of the road, we were snorting along at about 30mph and approaching Lucker when the grey sky suddenly closed in around us followed by a flurry of snowflakes, and then it began to blow a blizzard. It seemed as if a giant hand was holding us back. John began cussing, then opened the controller till we were at maximum revs, but our speed was still falling rapidly.
I was about to ask him what the problem was, when we plunged into a mountainous snowdrift and within a few yards we'd lost all daylight in the cab, snow began sweeping above the doors and windows; the loco was straining to keep going - 'Flamin Nora,' I said to John - 'It'll be over the roof at this rate, ja think we can get throo?'
John folded his arms, sat back and shot the manager a 'told-you-so' look - 'It's up to the engines now; if we get stuck in this lot, it's four miles to the nearest village.'
Then the AWS horn sounded, indicating that we were on a preliminary caution and could expect the next but one signal to be on - 'That's all we need!' John moaned, and we both watched the speedometer dropping to 15mph. But even at a crawl, we still managed to punch a big hole through the drift. Then magically, the bell rang on the AWS, which signalled a clear road and we burst out of the drift into daylight and began accelerating like the clappers towards Belford Cabin, where the snow was a little over two feet deep.
A couple of months later, the Belford signalman told me that it was like watching a scene from a James Bond movie. He could see our exhausts blasting above the wall of snow, black and roaring, getting closer and closer, then we burst into view, with the snow falling off the roofs of both locos. He said he wished he'd had his camera, I told him I'd have settled for a mug of Bovril!
(Left) This is the proper tool for the job, the only drawback being that it deposits half the cleared snow on the facing road - all part of the fun and frolics of ploughing! There is a tale of a young station porter clearing a 120 yd-long platform of snow, and at the very last shovelful the plough came along and buried him and the platform…not a very happy lad! Looking like something out of a sci-fi film, a snowplough team tackles the deep snow on the Rothbur branch in 1963.
After Belford, the drifting snow had blown off the track into the fields and so we made better time to Berwick and crept into the platform at 17.10hrs. The manager promptly jumped down and began dishing out orders to the platelayers, telling them which points to clean out (as if they needed telling) while I went in search of the Station Master for some fish 'n' chip money.
'How much do you think you'll need' he asked.
'About twenty quid' I replied.
'TWENTY QUID!' he bawled, 'What you going to get with twenty quid?'
'Fish and chips for the nine of us,' I said innocently.
He coughed up the twenty and, with the dusk closing in, I trudged up the hill to the chippy and bought lovely haddock and chips six times, shoved the change in my pocket (figuring that it would buy John and me a pint or two at the BRSA Club later on) and then arrived back at the station just in time to hear the manager declaring that we were ready for the return trip. I handed out the plateys' grub in the rear cab and then jumped in the front, gave John his rations and placed the manager's on the secondman's seat. John would have me drive going back, so I sat in the driving seat and got stuck into my haddock.
Seconds later, a jubilant manager leaped into the cab, doing a fair impression of a swashbuckling Errol Flynn and plonked himself into the secondman's seat - 'Oooh, haddock and chips,' he shrilled, 'What a lovely smell!'
'Yup!' I replied, 'But you've just sat on yours; so it looks like you'll be eating flatfish!'
As John started laughing, I swear even the Manager let slip a telltale grin…
After finishing our bite to eat, the night quickly closed in and it became markedly colder; the crystallized snow was a sure sign that the temperature had fallen to below freezing. I set off across the the Border Bridge very slowly as I didn't want to dump a pile of frozen snow on anybody walking their dog below. The ploughs were scraping it up with a clattering sound and shoving it inside the parapet of the bridge, but as soon as we cleared the opposite bank I opened him up a bit and the snow was flying away from the ploughs in fine style. Soon we were approaching the crossing keeper's house at Spittle, which stood right next to the line, so I slowed to a pedestrian pace to avoid breaking any windows, and then we were away again. It was a lovely clear night, without a cloud in the sky and in all directions the countryside looked like a Christmas card beneath the glow of the big moon. The cab heaters were quite good at this end, and the interior was nice and warm, its cosy ambience having already lulled the manager into the land of nod in the secondman's seat. Every now and then a big slab of frozen snow went clattering over the cab roof, and he'd wake up with a grunt before dropping off to sleep again.
However, the icy conditions outside looked dire, but the screen remained clear, and I could see a long way ahead, with the greens shining like emeralds in the silvery surroundings. But as we passed Smeafield, the snow became much deeper and the wipers were having a job clearing the screen, and it was at this point that John and I began to discuss the best way of tackling the big drift between Belford and Lucker. In John's view, the only way to get through was to ram it as we did before - 'When you get on the straight past Crag Mill, just get him up to around fifty. We've already made a hole in that pile, so we should get through okay.' I felt uneasy about this, but at the same time John knew what he was at… and so, on passing Crag Mill I gradually increased the speed until we were at forty, then forty-five. Then, as we passed the box at Belford I notched the throttle up to fifty. Ahead, the snowdrift looked suspiciously larger than I remembered it, or it could have been my eyes playing tricks in the moonlight. It definitely looked bulkier, though, and with the temperature now well below freezing, it'd be like running into a solid wall of ice! But it didn't matter what conclusion I came to, it was too late to turn back now. We were charging straight into it at 50mph and, just as we were about to hit, I pulled the controller wide open and plunged headlong into the snowdrift at 50mph.
It was a terrifying experience; there was a loud crumpling sound; the floor lurched, the manager woke with a start and leaped out of the seat, gaping wide-eyed at me, then at the snow piling up on the nose - 'Bloody 'ell, what're you doing?' he yelled.
By now the Type 3s were rocking and rolling, chomping away at the snow, battering their way through, slowing all the time, yet winning. The manager clung to the driver's desk, shouting - 'Slow down, you fool!'
'We is slowing, boss!' I yelled back, and we were…the speedometer was down to twenty-eight mph, but we kept on grinding away chunk by chunk, until the last stubborn section of snow finally gave way and we were through.
That, for me, had to be the worst part of the whole day, yet there was a wonderful sense of triumph at getting the job done. On arrival at Morpeth, though, another big argument ensued - the manager wanted us to go down to Benton Quarry, whereas John and I were determined to call it a day. We won the argument, went back to the depot, and signed off at nine thirty pm…some thirteen hours after starting the shift.
It had been a long day and I felt knackered and - unusually for me - decided against a pint at the BRSA Club, and headed straight home to North Blyth, went in the porch and heard my lovely lady shouting from inside - 'What time do you call this?' she complained.
'It's ten o'clock, my little Piranha.'
'So where've you been till this time?' she said accusingly - 'I bet you've been drinking at that BRSA Club, haven't you? Well, don't think you're coming in here stinking drunk!'
'No, no, no!' I reasoned with her - 'Not a single drop of the demon drink has passed my lips.'
With that, she let me in - 'What have you had to eat then? she asked.
'Fish and chips at Berwick,' I replied
'Oh, I see,' she said huffily, 'And you never thought to fetch your wife any back, did you? That's just typical of you…'
I was beginning to wish I'd gone to the club after all!
(Above-Below) During the final year of BR steam operation in 1968, no less than 151 Stanier 'Black 5s' and 150 Class 8Fs survived in traffic, albeit in a deplorable state. With less than 4 months to go before the cessation of steam in its entirety in August 1968, EE Co Type 3 No D6739 is photographed yet again, this time hauling condemned steam locos Nos 48307, 48700, 45294 and 48740 through Wakefield Kirkgate enroute to Drapers Scrap Yard, Hull on 17th May 1968. (Below) Roy Lambeth's panning shot of Class 37 No D6783 gives the illusion of a nifty turn of speed heading south on the ECML at Black Bridge between Turnsdale Junction and Ferryhill. The loco is attached to a diesel brake tender to provide additional brake power for non-fitted and partially fitted goods trains, as described below...
'FFF..FIRE IN'T ENGINE ROOM!
One of the annoying habits of the EE Co Type Three was their tendency to get very hot in the engine room when working hard in warm weather; as a consequence it activated the Fire Alarm, which started clanging away just behind your starboard ear'ole. This isn't as bad as it sounds unless the driver happened to be of a nervous disposition. First the power would shut off suddenly, along with a tremendous bang and flash from the contactor cubicle, then eight hundred amps suddenly dropped to no amps at all… and the ears would be going tinglewingle!
This happened one glorious summer morning while working the Shillbottle Colliery to the Blue Circle Cement Factory at Dunbar. The trip entailed propelling the train of twenty two hoppers and the guards van out of the colliery on to the main, and then away, like the Devil was chasing us, to get a good start up Longhoughton Bank, roaring through Alnmouth platform and over the River Aln and on to the bank proper.
In the days of the steam loco it would have been big valve and full gear, a bent back, and the best part of a ton of coal into his belly, but this was Child's play by comparison. With the Type Three's deep roar echoing around the countryside, it was just effortless on the second man's part and I began to feel totally redundant, carrying out only the most mundane of tasks like switching on the cooker to make a cup of tea...
The driver that morning was an ex-Alnmouth man nicknamed 'Cappy', who was the most laid back driver I've ever met; absolutely nothing got him excited, and he seemed to find it mildly amusing if anyone lost their temper or got het up over anything. He had a very keen sense of humour, but you very rarely heard him laugh, just a big broad grin that said it all.
Anyway, we were enjoying our brew when the fire bell started to clamour away, and though instinct told us that it wasn't a fire, we both knew I had to go in the engine room to check it out - which I did, and found nothing. However, being at Number One end, this meant squeezing through the passage between the air intakes and the radiator, opening the door into the engine room, and squeezing alongside the roaring leviathan and opening the door into the clean air compartment where the Dynamo was making lots of Amperes for hungry traction motors, and then making my way back to the driving end again.
As we approached the run down Christon Bank, Cappy eased the controller, and the fire bell decided to stop ringing. Cappy had to brake a little to keep us inside the unofficial train speed of forty miles an hour as we coasted down as far as Chathill, and then put power on to lift us along to Crag Mill, where another coast downhill waited.
I was in the middle of rolling a cigarette when the fire bell started up again, but I was convinced it was another false alarm. Cappy drawled - 'Well, are ye gann in tae see if that fires gettin a good hold yet, Wag?' I replied that I best had…
'Then ye'll not want your ciggy with ye,' Cappy said - 'So just leave it here...'
I put my fag down on the top of the instrument panel and stepped through the radiator door, thinking all along that it was a wild goose chase, but as I opened the door into the engine room there was a huge explosion and a fireball shot along the top of the engine and swirled around at head height, singeing my moustache. I dropped to the floor, struggling to crawl out backwards on all fours, and then slammed the engine room door shut behind me. I fell into the cab in a state of shock - 'It's full of flames in there, Cap!' I jabbered, 'It nearly burnt my tash off! It's got a good hold! Shut him down. I'll pull the extinguishers…'
But Cappy remained perfectly calm - 'It looks like we're going inside at Belford. The last signal was two yellows, so we'll see how we go. If we do get inside, then all well and good. But if we get the main, we can stop clear of the loop. The signaller can then use it for getting stuff past us…'
No sooner had Cappy spoke, and the engine faltered, then stopped - and we were now rolling along with hardly a sound. However, as Lady Luck would have it the signalman at Belford did have us routed for the loop and now it depended on how long the brake would hold off - without power the vacuum exhausters had stopped. Yet Cappy seemed pretty confident that we would still clear the main, and as we rolled past Belford signalbox at fifteen miles per hour, I saw the signalman's quizzical looks from the open window.
'We are a failure!' I hollered at him - 'Fire in the engine room!'
He gave a thumbs up signal and disappeared inside the cabin.
Slowly, as our speed dropped further, Cappy said quietly - 'I don't think we're going to clear the main Wag, the vacuum's going.'
Sure enough, the brake started grinding on and we slowly came to a stand. I jumped off, ran back to see if we were foul of the main. We had cleared it by a whisker, but as we were still on the track circuit the signalman couldn't clear his signals. I spoke with the guard and acquainted him with our predicament. He told me that he had seen white smoke from the loco suddenly turning black, and then white again… I replied that it was most likely when my tash caught fire…
I headed for the signal box to see what the next move would be, and the signalman told me there was a light engine from Tyne Yard coming behind us and he would push us clear. The signalman had also alerted the Fire Brigade and they would be along directly. Returning to the loco I found Cappy sitting nonchalantly on the fence. He said that the assisting loco would have to skid us forward as the brake was hard on, and since he had already shot the fire bottles off in the engine room, we couldn't access the vacuum release valves in there because the engine room was now choc-a-bloc with CO2 and it was out of bounds to us - according the manual.
Eventually, a Class 40 came up behind us and pushed the train clear of the main, but instead of taking the train on, the crew just beggered off to Haymarket and left us sitting on the fence like a couple of gormless garden gnomes.
While waiting for the Fire Brigade, I wanted to get back into the cab and get my fag and sandwiches.
Cappy shrugged, then replied in that Northumbrian drawl of his - 'Ye can gan up noo and get yer sarnies but yell be wastin' yer time lyukin fer yer fag…'
'Why d'ya say that?' I asked.
'Cos ah smoked it for ye...'
'What y'do that for?'
'Cos I thought ye woulden wanna risk settin' yah tash afire agen...' And he never cracked a grin.
(Above-Below) The towering chimneys of Blyth Power Stations dominate this view of 37083 and sister 37 reposing at Cambios Depot in the 1980s. Click on photo to visit John Turner's excellent Flickr photostream, containg more than 50 sets of railway photos in the collection. The link takes you to a set of Class 37 shots... more links to John's Flickr site down the page. (Below) EE Co's pilot scheme Type 1 No 8018 is paired with the first production Type 1 D8020 on a coal train at Morpeth on July 17th 1970. The Type 1s are working a coal train from the north for the Blyth and Tyne line, which will necessitate reversal.
Some memories I have of Cambois are shrouded in the mists of time, yet one or two incidents still make me chuckle today; perhaps one of the funniest was the 'crabs in the tea urn incident'.
On my days off I became a spare hand on a mate's fishing boat, with a view to going full time. After a while I became more proficient at the job and began to fill in for the lads' days off. Anyway, it was the month of March, which was the crab season, and I was standing in for 'Grizzly' in the boat, hauling upwards of four hundred crab-pots in a morning's work. One of the Cambois drivers found out I was going to sea, and as we were working the same shed turn at sixteen hundred later that day, he asked if I could bring him some crabs, to which I asked - 'Sure, how many do you want?'
'Two'll do,' was the answer,' and the deal was done.
After putting in a hard shift on the boat, I had my dinner and set off for the Depot humping two bags of crabs for my mate. I went marching up to him in the mess room and placed both bags at his feet - 'There you are mate,' I announced, 'two stone of crabs alive-alive-oh! But watch yer fingers when yer untangle them, cuz they're all givin' each other a cuddle, an' they gerrannoyed when ya start messin aboot wiem…'
He looked mortified - 'But ay only wanted two, just a couple o' crabs wudduv bin plenty…'
'Well, you asked for two stone and two stone you bloody-well got!' says I - 'So you'll have to pay for 'em!' The situation reached stalemate, with him insisting that he only wanted two crabs and me insisting that he had ordered two stone. The day was partly rescued by one of the fitters, who'd heard us arguing the toss. Big George was his name, and he offered to take eight crabs, so long as they were cooked and ready for cleaning…trouble was, where could we cook the damn things?
George came up with the solution...we could boil them in one of the shiny new tea urns. Brilliant! We immediately set about emptying the boiling water out of an urn down the drain. The plan was to put the crabs in cold water and bring them gradually up to the boil. This way, the crabs would go unconscious as the water temperature increased and not shed their claws, which often happened when dropped into boiling water. And so while the ten crabs were placed inside the boiler, Big George went to get ready for home, my mate went up the receptions to put an engine away and I went over the beach to release the remaining crabs back into the sea.
Mission accomplished, I returned to the main building, where my mate came running towards me like a dithering characterture of a panicky Corporal Jones - 'The gaffer's brewed his tea out of the urn with the crabs in!' he jabbered, 'What'll we do? If he finds out we'll all get the bloody sack! And its all your fault. I wish I'd never asked for any now.'
'Then we'd best get them out of there chop-chop,' I said.
We both went in through the fire doors just as George appeared from the locker room, 'You'll never guess what?' he sniggered - 'That dopey bugger's just made his tea out the urn with the crabs in.'
'Never mind that now,' says I, 'Let's get them out before he cottons on!'
We quickly drained the boiler and put the crabs in the sink to cool a bit, and then we took the boiler outside to wash it out with the hose. Then, after putting George's eight crabs into his bag and two into my mate's, I wandered innocently up to the window of the boss's office, just in time to see the gaffer emptying his teapot into his cup - 'Having your tea, Boss?' I asked.
'Aye' he replied - 'Got two lovely cock crabs in the market this afternoon and they were smashing. They're in season now, you know…'
As soon as he spoke, I made out I'd dropped my cigarette lighter, then bent down to hide beneath the window sill, choking back an uncontrollable bout of laughter. I know this tale is hard to believe and belongs in a 'Carry On' film, but it is true.
(Above) Class 37 No 37140 (sporting Aluminium 100 nameplates) passes Freemans Crossing with a train of Alumina from Blyth to the Alcan Company's aluminium smelter at Fort William. These tank wagons were specially designed to carry bulk powder-type loads and were all fitted with the Westinghouse/Davies and Metcalfe continuous air brake system - a system now used on all trains throughout the network. This fail-safe system is activated in the event of a train becoming divided en route. When this happens the brake will automatically be applied, and at the same time power will be suspended on the loco due to the action of an air pressure control switch. Of course, the main advantage of this system is that when the driver initiates a brake application on the locomotive, every individual wagon brake is applied too, making for a very efficient system indeed - well, most of the time. I say that because during my time at Gateshead I recall two occasions when it didn't work! …but I'll get to that part in the Gateshead section below...
GEORDIE'S ONE-MINUTE CHAT: Hi Fred, I've been to the Gateshead reunion today; lots of old faces. I'm trying to remember who was there while it's in my mind. Kenny Stokell, Brian Johnson, Joe Hall, Arther Morris, Colin Foster, John Wildsmith, Derek Stafford, Alfie Gascoigne, Slack from South Dock, Alan the dockie clerk. John Garrat, Terry Hutton, Jimmy Keogan. I also met Jimmy Mitchison in the Metro Centre; he was asking after you. I told them all about your web site so some of them might follow it up. In all I reckon there was about 70 there, so it was a good do. My computer dropped its lead plug this week, I've had the boilersmiths in and it seems ok now. Best wishes, Geordie
(Left-Below) Link to Phil Hodgett's page on the history of Cowpen and Blyth including Cambois Depot. (Below) 37058 heads a loose-couple coal train off the viaduct at Morpeth and heads for the new South-East curve onto the single line for Hepscott, Choppington and Bedlington. It should be noted here that the differences in working a loose coupled train was very different from working a fully fitted air or vacuum braked train. It was generally a 'piece of cake' working fully fitted, whereas with a loose coupled train there were lots of things to be aware of, such as the gradient, whether the rail was wet or dry (a wet rail was generally slimy) whether there was sufficient sand left in the sand boxes to give a bit of adhesion, and even which way the wind is blowing… if a strong wind is blowing across the rail it can blow away the sand rendering the sand boxes useless. The main advantage was a thorough knowledge of the road and being very sure of what was just around the corner, however even this was not a sure-fire guarantee - one lapse in concentration or a simple mistake could result in a serious situation arising. The only help you could expect was from the guard's brake at the rear, and then only three or four wagonloads were taken off you.
(Above) Pending the arrival of fully-fitted freight workings, inadequate braking power was a major problem on loose-coupled freights, therefore the BTC ordered a fleet of diesel brake tenders which were coupled to the locomotive for use on non-fitted and partially fitted goods trains - the tenders provided a deadweight load equivalent to six brake vans. These tenders were used extensively throughout the network, and it always struck me as being a very welcome aid in hauling heavy coal trains, since they provided another eight braking wheels and a fair old increase in the braking efficiency of the combination. However, their usefulness as braking tenders was seriously compromised when BR increased train loads, and so we were back to square one. The tenders were built of low profile so as not to obstruct the driver's vision, however the only drawback I can think of is that after dark, while running round (or other shunting activity) some drivers, myself included, tended to forget which end it was at! This led to some pretty hefty bumps when closing up to hook on. On one occasion at Morpeth, the bump was so severe that the tender's buffers lifted the first wagon's buffers up so high that they went over the top of the tender buffers and resulted in both tender and wagon becoming locked. We were there for hours, waiting for a Carriage and Wagon fitter to attend. Click here for link to Bill Wright's BR Diesel photos on his Flickr site.
(Right) Type 3 No D6780 (with diesel brake tender at the rear) heads a Class 8 freight on the ECML in wintry conditions in January 1964. For me, the Type Three was a great locomotive to drive, but it had an unfortunate habit of freezing your feet off in the winter months. There was a short pelmet provided under the drivers desk which only went half way to the Drivers Safety Device pedal, hence the draught that came into the cab at the point where pipework was routed, just happened to be focused on the feet - and, as is common knowledge, once your feet are cold, you are too!
ACCIDENT AT MANORS
Some people might only remember the good times, whereas others - for one reason or another - only recall the bad. It's strange how coincidence works too, because when I cast my mind back to footplate days, both steam and diesel, it's disturbing to find that so many of my recollections involve a railway accident, as the following tale illustrates, unhappily…
I was rostered to work a turn with 'Cappy' for a mate, our orders being empty hoppers from Blyth Power station to Southside (Whittle) and a load of coal to Stella South Power station, followed by a load of empties to Ashington Colliery. The guard was a canny lad, Alan by name, whom I'd worked with many times before.
While preparing the Class 37 for the road, Cappy had a look around the outside of the loco, checking fuel and the general condition, and I went in the engine room to check the coolant in the header tank and the oil level in the gallery. I was looking in the repair book when Cappy climbed up and asked - 'Everything okay, Wag?'
I put the repair book back in its holder - 'The book says he was just blocked yesterday, but apart from that we're okay.' At this juncture I should explain that when a locomotive has new brake blocks fitted, it takes a while for the blocks to bed in, and back in the days before vacuum-fitted wagon loads, caution was the name of the game, particularly when hauling a heavy loose-fitted freight.
Anyway, we set off and made good time to Southside, making short work of losing the empties and tying the load on. Cappy stood well back from the signal, which was equipped with trap points to protect the main line, while I went to the signal post telephone and reported to the Alnmouth signalman that we were ready for the off to Stella. The bobby told me that there was a fast to come and then we would go. I returned to the engine, informed Cappy, then waited until the 'up' fast passed, the signal cleared to yellow, and we set off…but only as far as Amble Junction, where we were put inside on the passing loop to allow another 'up' express to pass.
Minutes later a 47 flew past - giving us an 'hallo toot' on his horn, then we were off again as far as Morpeth, but again found ourselves put inside on the loop to allow a stopping passenger to get by. Then we were off once more, roaring around the infamous Morpeth Curve, up the hill to Stannington, followed by a run down to Plessey, uphill again to Cramlington then down to Heaton South. 'Cappy' kept a tight brake on all the way from Cramlington, and never allowed the speed to rise above thirty, and so we reached the curve at Heaton with the speed down to twenty-five - and just as well, the signal at Heaton Station was showing two yellows.
Cappy made a full application of the brake, but it had little affect and we continued to roll along at twenty-five. The bad news was that we had a fairly steep run down over Byker Viaduct into Manors Station. We passed the two yellows at the end of Heaton Platform without any slackening of speed and I knew we were in serious trouble - 'I'd better go and give Alan a toot, Cappy, 'I said.
'Aye, good idea, Waggy...'
I dashed through the engine room and warned the guard with continuous short blasts on the horn. Afterwards, Alan told me that he was already aware of the situation and had his brake screwed on as far as he could. But our speed remained a constant 25mph. As we crossed Byker Viaduct, I yanked open the door and leaned out to see the next signal. It was still at one yellow and the one after that was showing red…but a lot worse lay beyond that…a little more than a hundred yards after the final red was the rear end of a passenger train. I knew in an instant that we were going to run into it.
It's hard to define how I felt when the realization dawned. A collision was imminent, of that I was certain. It was a terrifying moment and I've played it over and over in my mind many times ever since. In that split-second moment, adrenaline kicked in - and, I dare say, panic set in too. I don't care how a psycho-annalist might decribe it; all that pseudo-psycho mumbo jumbo means nothing to me. All I can say is that I felt a sense of urgency, but in a moment of crisis, no matter how quick-witted you are, vital seconds can elapse when the coordination between your brain and body is super-quick and yet the time it takes to do the most menial of tasks seems mind-numbingly slow. I was searching the cab at breakneck speed for a brake-stick (to pin down the brakes on the wagons) then remembered it was at the other end. I scrambled back through the engine room, grabbed the stick and shouted to Cappy that I'd get some wagon brakes down. Then I wrenched the door open, but we were too close to Red Barns Tunnel and it was impossible to jump down to track level. The tunnel seemed to take forever, but just as soon as we cleared it, I was off like a shot and began to drop the wagon brakes down but I hadn't a hope of ramming the pins in. I looked around, saw the loco was only four wagon lengths from the passenger train and yelled at Cappy, who was still in the cab - 'Capppaayyy, get off man...NOW!'
It was too late. We hit the rear of the train at twelve miles per hour. I'll never forget that moment for as long as I live. The third and fourth coaches rose up in the air as if in slow motion, wagon doors burst open and coal spilled out everywhere. I stood rooted to the spot surrounded by chaos, but as the dust began to settle, I knew I had vital seconds to get the track circuit clips from the cab. It was important to attach them to the facing road and prevent a train running into the wreckage from the opposite direction.
Trouble was, as I climbed up to the cab, the impact of the collision had twisted the door frame and I couldn't open it; the trailing end door was open on my side, but the opposite door was jammed. This meant I had to climb over the first wagon, drop down the other side and stamp the clips onto each rail - now the track circuit would indicate to the signalman that the road was fouled.Next I climbed back over the wagon and called Central Box from the signal phone and told them both main lines were blocked, which, by now they already knew, and all traffic had been brought to a stop, but then I suddenly realized I hadn't heard a peep out of Cappy...
Fearing the worst, I dashed back to the loco and found him sitting in the Drivers chair trying to roll a cigarette. I could tell he was in a state of shock; his moronic stare, his face drained of all colour; his hands trembling uncontrollably. I took his baccy tin and tried to roll a fag for him, but I too began shaking and spilled the entire contents on the floor.
He gazed dispiritedly at the pile of baccy between my feet, then gave me a sideways glance and let slip a wry smile, just in the corner of his mouth - 'Waggy, you're a clumsy bastard!' he said.
Seemingly Cappy had not lost his dry sense of humour and was well on his way to a full recovery, or, at least I thought so at the time, and so I went back through the engine room and climbed out of the rear cab to make a search of the crash scene. It was hard to believe that the two coaches could remain nearly vertical without toppling over.
Behind me, Alan was at the back of our train, then I saw a team of yellow-helmeted firemen swarming over the wall on the Tynemouth side, and this was only six minutes after the collision. I spoke briefly to the guard of the train, then looked inside the last coach and was very relieved to find it empty. Moving to the next coach, two firemen were clambering up the near vertical floor, shouting - 'Is anybody here?' There was no answer; the second coach was empty too.
I walked the length of the platform thinking how very lucky we were that it was an empty stock train and there were no casualties. Then I saw a member of the buffet team on the ground some distance away, his white coat splattered with blood. A team of Paramedics was attending to him. Then a familiar face got down from the 47 at the front and shouted - 'Bloody hell, Waggy was that you? Have you got your detonators and clips down?'
'Why aye man...'
'Who's yer mate?' he asked.
'Cappy,' I replied - and it was then I realised I had left him in the cab on his own - 'I'm away,' I said and headed back to the engine. Meanwhile, Cappy had somehow found his way out through the engine room and was standing groggily in the five foot, puffing for dear life on an unlit fag. From a distance, he looked like a pantomime figure (Freddie Frinton) muted in a trance, like he'd forgotten his next line of the script, but neither of us knew what to do next; even his cigarette was falling to bits between his fingers, he was clearly in a state of shock - 'Is anybody hurt Wag,' he asked.
'Just one bloke in the buffet. It's an empty train, Cap'.
He gave out a huge sigh of relief and said - 'Thank God for that..'
Below are copies of my statement and the answers I gave at an enquiry. However, this enquiry was not to establish what had happened, but to apportion blame and to deal out punishment. If the person involved thinks his punishment is too severe he has leave to appeal against it, however this was not a very good option... a person appealing against a decision might find himself with more s -- t on his shovel!
These enquiries were a veritable minefield; a series of questions that you had to field to the best of your ability. And like a Court of Law Court, I had to sit in a straight back chair with a young lady at my elbow taking down every word on a little machine, and then I was confronted by four men - one for signals, one for rules, one for traction, and one for permanent way - each a hot shot in their particular field, and all liable to fire questions at the drop of a hat...
You will notice from the above that old Bellwood never asked me if I had used my clips, which I thought most peculiar, since the first thing both the enginemen and guard are required to do in these circumstances is protect the facing road by attaching your track circuit operating clips as soon as possible…but my activities after the collision were never mooted! In fact there were three lots of track circuit clips attached on the down main, and there were five recordings of phone calls instructing the signalmen to stop the down main, two from Alan (our guard) one from me and one from the enginemen on the empty stock. An anonymous call was also recorded twenty minutes after the collision, in cultured tones, but for some reason this was swept under the proverbial carpet.
As for the outcome of the Enquiry? Cappy was suspended from duty without pay for three days, which was the standard punishment for passing a signal at danger. The Driver of the empty stock was severely criticised for standing at a signal with just the engine brake applied (had the train brake been applied, it is doubtful if the coaches would have steepled as they did). The duty signalman at Heaton carried the can for allowing a class nine train to encroach too close to a stationary train (in contravention of a local instruction that stated class nine trains - ie. loose coupled - should be detained in the vicinity of Heaton Station). I cannot say what the punishment was in his case, but I am sure he was removed from Heaton box and demoted with loss of pay. Freddy's final word on the accident: My old mate, 'Geordie' Wilson, has sent me an email with a story that I feel sure instigated the rule that all 'up' trains were to be detained in the Heaton area whenever trains were being held at Manors…
GEORDIE'S ONE MINUTE CHAT: Hi Freddy, celebrated our golden wedding this week. One of the guests was a signalman from Dawdon who said he bumped into Don Geldard, so he's still in the land of the living; yesterday I met Arnold Reah at the Metro Centre. I was at the 'Tappers' last Thursday, and told the lads about your website. I've read your story about the Manors incident. I had a similar one when a fireman at Tyne Yard. We were on the Morpeth pickup and went into Killingworth to pick up the landsale coal. We had a Clayton Type 1 and no one new the right load, so off we went and we were in trouble when we passed Benton. We put the brake full on, but we were still doing 20 at Red Barnes. There was a unit in front at Manors but he kept moving and the signals kept clearing, so we were lucky. We found out later that they had given us the load for a 37. Sadly Freddie Price died a few weeks ago; he was a nice bloke who wouldn't say boo to a goose. That's all the news for now. All the best, Geordie
(Below) The majority of the 900hp Clayton Type 1s (later TOPS Class 17) were based in Scotland, but a few were allocated to Thornaby and Gateshead for a short period. In this view of Newcastel Central, Clayton Type 1 D8599 is working 8P22 Trip and D8597 is working 8P52 Trip; both are passing on the crossing at the North end on 4th November 1967. The majority of drivers on the 900hp Claytons say that they couldn't pull the skin off a rice pudding, but who am I to talk? I was never on one, but most of the blokes who were, reckoned that they'd have been okay as mobile hencoops - or, at a push, ice cream vans, so long as you weren't carrying too much ice cream…
(Above-Below) This evocative IS Carr photograph of Haymarket Deltic No D9019 heading the 'up' 'Flying Scotsman' through Manors station shows the area where the collision occurred. The steepled coaches were approximately two coach lengths back from the end of the platform, followed by two coaches and then our Class 37 with a load of seven hundred tons of wagons and coal. (Below) This 900hp Clayton Type 1s (later TOPS Class 17) No D8600 is photographed from the 'down' platform passing Manors with an 'up' freight on 21st May 1969.
THE PERILS OF CAB CATERING
One gorgeous summer morning I signed on at 08.20 to work a mineral turn running shipment coal to the River Tyne at Whitehill Point. My mate for that day was an ex-Hexham man named Bob, a hard runner, but a bit of a mournful character. Still he was okay to work with, so long as you had a sizeable stock of tissues to wipe away the tears. His hard luck stories were legendary. I used to say to him - 'Never mind Bob lad, if your luck holds up, you'll get run over by a bus on your way home.' That always seemed to cheer him up.
Anyway, our orders were for three trips to Burradon Exchange sidings, and a load of shipment coal down to Whitehill point, with empties in between, all of which earned a good bonus. The loco was a Type 3 and the guard was a busy little chap with a huge grin called 'Tommo', always ready with a joke or two, but his fuse was a half-inch long. He lost his rag at the drop of a hat but it was all forgotten ten minutes later.
I did the driving for the first half, starting off by taking the booked empties out of the Power station sidings. As luck would have it, there were three shopper wagons to shunt out, so Bob dropped off to give Tommo a hand with the points, then as I reversed to attach the van, he climbed into the rear cab, then made his way through the engine room and parked himself sullenly in the second man's seat.
'You alright?' I asked but wished I hadn't. He shook his head despondently and launched into a depressing monologue about how his missus had deserted him to look after her elderly mother, who had broken her ankle in a fall. With his wife away for a few days, Bob was left to fend for himself - 'It's terrible,' he moaned, 'There's nothing to eat in the house; not even a slice of bread…'
'What about the shop next door?' I asked.
He hadn't thought about that. Unlike most blokes in the same predicament, rather than using his gumption and knocking something together out of whatever he might find in the kitchen cupboards, or popping down the 'chippie' for a takeaway, he peeled a banana for his Sunday dinner and then opened two bags of prawn-flavoured crisps for tea.
He droned on and on, until we got to Seaton Delaval, where we had to wait twenty minutes until another loco went into Seghill colliery to lift his set out, and then we crawled up the bank behind him as far as Earsdon, at which point we were to run around the train and go into the exchange sidings about a mile and three quarters away.
I got Tommo's stop hand signal and Bob dropped off to uncouple the train. Then I shut down and climbed out of the cab to change ends, but as I opened the cab door at the other end, a hot blast of smoke billowed out of the cab with such force, it scared the living daylights out of me; when the scorching heat hit my face, I lost my footing and fell awkwardly onto the ballast, badly twisting my ankle.
A shocked Bob gawped at the pall of smoke pouring out of the cab - 'Oh soddin' 'ell!' he moaned - 'It's me bloody soop!'
'What dooyermean - it's yer bloody soop? I said, struggling to get on my feet.
'I put me soop on at the Power before we left!'
'Didja put some holes in it?'
'Oooh no!' he groaned, 'I forgot.'
At that moment, Tommo arrived shouting - 'Wass happening? Wass all that bloody smoke? Issironfire or wot?'
'No, its Bob's tin of soop,' I replied.
'Bob's soop! Wojja meen Bob's soop?'
'It's blewed up!'
'Wojja mean blewed up? How the hell has it blewed up?'
'He never put no holes in…'
'The dozy bugger!' Tommo groaned, 'Let me have a look…'
I hobbled back to my feet, wincing at the pain in my ankle, yet managed to hop up the steps to take a look for myself. At first it was difficult to see anything in the dense smoke until Tommo opened the opposite door and began waving his arms frantically, wafting the pungent smoke out. As the cab cleared, we both stood there agog. The electric stove was full on, the element glowing cherry red, the control knob set at high - and on the deck was the mangled remnant of a family-sized tin of Heinz Vegetable Soup; it had exploded at the seams and splattered the entire contents all over the cab and ceiling; the seats were pebble dashed with diced carrots, turnip and peas, bits of tattie were sliding down the windows, and the charred leftovers on the stove had moulded itself into a solid black splodge cremated to a cinder.
At that moment, the signalman arrived, shouting - 'Wassermarrer? Are yez on fire, wass happened?'
'Will you tell him Tom, or shall I?' I asked.
'Aye okay,' said Tommo, who climbed down and described the chaotic scene inside the cab - 'We can't use this end to drive, that's for sure,' he added, glancing sourly at an anguished Bob.
The signalman hurried back to his cabin, informed control and awaited a decision. He must have been a very good storyteller because he was back in ten minutes with the Control's master plan - we would take the train to Heaton and get the cab cleaned by the carriage cleaners, and then carry on with the original orders.
And so off we went, with Bob's growling stomach becoming increasingly audible, even above the racket of 16-cylinders bellowing out of the engine room behind us. On arrival at Heaton we discovered the cleaners didn't start until 17.00 hours, and so our journey had been a complete waste of time - and by now my foot had swollen like a balloon. The pain was so bad I suspected it might be broken, and so I evolved a master plan of my own. I informed Control that we would turn the engine on the turntable and take the engine home, where I could get my foot seen to. It seemed a reasonable enough request to me, but Control countered with another option - why not turn the engine and take the train to Burradon, and then go home with the engine and change it for another one, and then get on with your orders?
'Because I've got a broken foot!' I shot back - 'It's either home light engine or calling an ambulance!'
Control finally relented, Bob and Tommo turned the engine while I nursed my foot, and we were on our way again. All was going well until Bob started moaning about the bonus we had lost, by which time Tommo had heard enough; he flew into one of his famous rages - 'If you hadn't been so bloody dopey, none of this would have happened. Freddy's got a broken foot because of you! Yerra bloody eedjit! Are you on this job tomorrow?'
Bob replied that he was, at which point Tommo pushed his face right into his - 'Well don't fetch soop cos if ya doo I'll ram it doon ya friggin' throat!'
THE FROG THAT DIED AT DAWN
One fine Spring morning I signed on for a single manned driving turn running coal from the local collieries into Blyth Power Station, with a canny lad for guard, named Derek. The orders consisted of three trips to Lynemouth with empty HAA Merry-Go-Round sets and coal back - an easy job with fully fitted trains and so I expected the shift to last about six hours. Everything went as smooth as silk on the first trip, and we arrived at the Power in good time.
Compared to the old loose-coupled freight days, running into the power station was now an absolute doddle; once we were in the arrival road and clear, the brake was fully applied, and while Derek pinned the wagon brakes down, I changed ends and by the time the brake came back up, Derek was up in the cab, ready to run around and tie onto the next set of empties. As soon as we had tied on I got the brake up and Derek walked to the rear of the train, examining each wagon as he went. When he reached the last wagon, I quickly locked the brake valve (so the air brake pipe was not being charged with air) and this enabled Derek to test the continuity of the brake pipe by opening the tap on the last wagon. As the air 'whooshed' out I watched the brake pressure gauge fall to zero, and then reopened the brake valve to recharge the train pipe with air.
Meanwhile Derek checked that the brake pads had gone on - and, after closing the tap, checked that they had released. This was standard practice with all air-braked trains, and it was the train crew's duty to complete this task every time a new load was picked up, or a wagon attached or detached as a matter of safety.
Derek climbed up into the cab - 'Brake test okay, Freddy?'
'Okay,' I replied.
He handed me the Load Slip - 'Right, there's thirty-two HAA for Lynemouth. I'll be in the back cab having a bite to eat,' he added, then climbed down and shouted from the back - 'Rightaway.'
I acknowledged with a wave, and then moved the train slowly out of the sidings towards the weighbridge on the departure lines. As the loco clumped over the weighbridge, I drew the load forward at the regulation five mph for weighing. Ahead I noticed that Freemans Cabin had us cleared for away; the signalman was standing in the doorway, enjoying the sunrise and having a smoke.
I was almost up to the 'Clear of Weighbridge' board when I felt the slightest tug; I dropped the window to look back, but I could see nothing untoward, but when I looked ahead I saw the Freemans signalman rushing down the cabin stairs frantically waving a red flag.
'Something weird is going on here,' I muttered to myself, shut the power off and pushed the brake valve to emergency. I climbed down from the cab and heard the signalman shouting - 'Did ye not see, did ye not see? How did ye not see?'
'Did I not see what?' I called back.
'The last two wagons!' he cried out.
I turned and looked - 'What's the matter with 'em? They look all right to me.'
'Noo, no, no… them's not the last two wagons, I saw them rolling over!'
'Whadjameen rollin' over? If they'd rolled over, I'd have seen 'em!'
'I'll show you,' he said.
So we both walked quickly to the rear of the train...I couldn't believe my eyes! The last but one wagon was lying on its side; it had obviously been dragged like that from the weighbridge, but I hadn't been able to see it due to the fact that the last wagon was upside down, holding the second but last wagon on its side out of my view. It said a lot for the strength of the Instanter Couplings, but how the brake pipes had not parted was beyond my comprehension. On closer inspection, the right side of the weighbridge had collapsed, and it looked as if the last two wagons had been catapulted out of the hole by the elasticity of the sixty drawbars in front of them.
Anyway, whilst we were walking back to the loco, I noticed the squashed corpse of a frog on the top of the rail between two wagons; its head and forelegs dangling pitifully over the forefoot side, its back legs hanging by a shred of flesh over the off side.
When we got back to the loco, I acquainted Derek of the problem on the weighbridge and the signalman went to inform the Brains Trust (nickname of the hierarchy at Control) of the situation, returning several minutes later with the news that the Area Manager's assistant was on his way to take charge of the situation. When the assistant arrived in the distance, I was relieved to see it was the same young chap who'd accompanied old John and myself on the snowplough trip. He took one critical look at the damaged weighbridge, then stormed towards me demanding to know what had happened…
Now, it's not in my nature to treat a railway accident in a flippant manner, but it was fairly obvious what had happened; moreover the assistant Area Manager was a nice enough young chap in an odd sort of way, but he was an infuriatingly opinionated individual who had some very strange ideas about man management, which inevitably grated on everyone's nerves. For instance, someone carelessly left a tap dripping in the Cambois washroom, or 'ablutions' as the young assistant preferred to call it, and this had angered him no end. Within minutes of finding out, he stuck a notice above every washbasin with detailed instructions on how to turn the taps off…
'Well!' he demanded - 'How did this lot happen?'
Perhaps I should have picked another time to wind him up; I told him that we had run over a frog...
He gawped at me in disbelief - 'A frog!'
'Aye, it's dead,' I said solemnly, then went on to explain that I was deeply distressed about it; that I could identify with the frog because it had come out on a lovely morning, jumped up on the rail to get a better view; sitting there minding its own business, planning the events of the day and without any warning, it gets flattened by a train.
He glared at me - 'Get on the friggin' engine!' he ordered, and stomped off back to the rear of the train at a fast pace.
'I can show you the frog, if you like?' I called after him.
I swear his stride never faltered, but I'm sure I heard him shout - 'FROG OFF!'
DISILLUSIONED WITH THE JOB!
Arriving at Cambois depot to sign on for duty, I went into the Foyer (formerly the sign on point before the new Assistant Area Manager arrived fresh from college and changed its name). In the background, I heard raised voices coming from the messroom - 'What's all that racket about?' I asked the duty clerk.
'Dunno,' he replied - 'I think it's summat to do with t'union.'
I headed for the messroom to catch up on what was going on. Apparently the BR management wanted to buy our bonus scheme for a paltry sum of £15 per man, and the union wanted the men to agree to it in exchange for further dialogue with BR on the single manning of running turns - the union was keen to negotiation a deal whereby all mileage passenger turns remained double manned.
However, as the discussion became more heated, mention was made of the introduction of a new Continental Shift system, together with a 37-hour week. But they didn't mean a 37-hour week; they actually meant a 72-hour fortnight. This then, was BR's new breed of sneaky management; it didn't matter if the men didn't like it...stuff the men's loyalty!
And so, a ballot was taken and strike action was decided upon, during which we were vilified in the press, with photos of picketing railmen splashed all over the front pages, almost as if we were public enemy number one on a par with Adolf Eichmann for crimes committed against humanity, whereas news stories about child murderers and rapists were relegated to half a column on the inside pages. Then as the strike went into its second week, the BR management threatened to sack us all, by which time the all-powerful TUC stepped in - only it wasn't to offer the men support. Instead, the instruction was - 'Okay lads, that's it, back to work tomorrow!'
Everybody was devastated. The feeling of abandonment by the union was everywhere. The same thing happened back in 1955, when the drivers were given sixpence (6d) a week rise in their wage packet (2½ pence in today's money) and the firemen got nothing.And so, for the miserly sum of fifteen pounds per man, an agreement was reached between BR and the union, and the bonus was prised from our grasp. To cap it all, a truly gormless Minister went on record saying that he knew people who would actually pay to be an engine driver. He had the romantic notion that driving a 700 tonne mineral train at all hours was a doddle; he never mentioned signing on in the tar-thick fog at two am in the morning…stupid sod!
(Left-Below) The agreement between BR and the union thoroughly sickened me and I resolved to turn my back on the Railway and try for a berth in one of the fishing boats working out of the port. Over the years, I had been doing part-time work for a couple of boats, so I knew most of the men in the fishing trade, many of whom were really good mates. I could make crab pots and hang salmon nets, and use a needle along with the best of them, and so my mind was made up. I was going into fishing, and from that day on, at every opportunity - in between working for the railway - I went off to sea in the 'Moonraker' or 'Amanda Jayne', learning still more, and discovering I had muscles in places that I didn't know about! The photo (above) shows a typical scene in Blyth harbour - the fishing boats in the picture are called cobles, which have distictive flat bottoms and high bows, and are commonly used by local fishermen along the Northeast coast of England. (Below) Another familiar scene is the fisherman repairing a net, no doubt teaching his son the tricks of the trade as his own father had done before him, and his grandfather before that...
In between working at Cambois Depot, I did part-time work for a couple of fishing boats, and I really felt at home on the water, even in atrocious weather - okay, perhaps there were times when we shouldn't have gone to sea, but I took a savage delight in defying the weather. And the pay was very good; I could earn as much in one day as I did working a whole month for the railway. But it didn't last long. Fishing quotas were introduced and the Salmon Season was shortened, and since the lads didn't want to take time off there were few places left for a part-timer like me.
But I wasn't going to be beaten. While the bigger boats were involved in the Salmon fishing, I started to use my own boat to fish a hundred or so pots around the rock edges, and for a while I did okay until a Northerly gale destroyed all my pots and put me out of the job. It was shortly after this catastrophe that I was given some good advice from an old fisherman friend, who said - 'Freddy, this job is going to the dogs! You'd be worse than mad to pack in your railway job. The Water Authority won't be happy till they get the Salmon License off us and the way this quota thing is going they'll have us burning our boats next…'
And how right he was! It was the same old story - 'The horse is running away, quick - shut the stable door!' So I decided to stay with the railway, but there was no enthusiasm left in me for the job, and instead of whistling on my way to work at Cambois, it felt like I was serving a long prison sentence and I began to hate the sight of the place...
THE CARROT THAT LURED SOME DONKEYS
One fine autumn morning I was cleaning the bilge pump filters on our boat at the mooring, when I heard a shout from the roadway. It was Sandy, one of my neighbours - 'Hey Freddy,' he called out - 'You're wanted at the Depot pronto!…'
'What for?' says I.
'Dunno!' he replied, 'But all the other passed men and secondmen are up there now.'
Wondering what was going on, I heaved the boat into the jetty and climbed the ladder,' And you've no idea what's 'appening, Sandy?'
'Not a clue mate, but something's up cos there's two blokes in suits from the town have arrived.'
I went home, washed and changed out of my dungarees, then jumped on my bike and pedalled up the road, wrestling the bike past the Ridley Arms pub. Arriving at the Depot, I signed on at the window, where the foreman was in deep discussion with two strangers. He caught sight of me - 'Where the 'ell 'ave you been?' he hollered in his best gangsta-style voice, perhaps thinking he ought to show his authority in front of the two smartly dressed gentlemen beside him - 'You should've been here an hour ago.'
'Why? What happened an hour ago like?' I enquired innocently - 'You do, of course, realize that this is my Rostered Off Day and right now I should be sitting in licensed premises, quaffing vast quantities of the Devils Brew!'
Sid was not amused. 'And another thing,' I went on - 'I must draw your attention to the fact that my union has an overtime ban on, and strictly speaking I shouldn't be here at all. How much are you going to pay me for coming?'
Sid dragged the Docket Book across the desk, studied at it for a moment, and then looked at me with a triumphant glint in his eye,' Well, since there's an overtime ban, we shan't be able to pay you anything, will we?'
'That's okay,' I replied, 'Just put me down for a Lieu Day.'
His face changed from bright pink to blood red, but before he could reply one of the suited gentlemen intervened - 'That's an excellent solution to the problem. I'm sure that can be arranged, don't you, Sidney?' Sid nodded in submission; I could've sworn I heard his teeth grinding.
The two suits ushered me into the messroom where we were met by a chorus of - 'Where the bloody 'ell have you been!' And I knew somebody had been spying.
After the uproar had died down, one of the suits introduced himself as the Area Train Crew Manager - and smiling amicably, added - 'Please, call me Reg.'
It was probably the worst thing he could have said! It made him sound such an amiable all-round guy, but I was immediately on my guard. The gist of his chat was that there was going to be a shortage of footplate staff at Gateshead, therefore he was offering an opportunity for the senior men to move up in the world and become the 'Fighter Pilots of the Railway system!' (his words, not mine). Several men tittered at that, and poor Reg looked a bit uncomfortable. The lure was a payment of £350, along with the promise of big money mileage pay - 'However, this offer is to be conducted on a seniority basis,' he added in a firm tone, 'And since there are men at Sunderland and Middlesboro waiting to snatch the opportunity, you'd be well advised to make up your minds quickly…'
And a lot of men did just that; they were falling over each other to take advantage of this magnificent offer. However, I found myself holding back; I couldn't trust his words as far as I could throw a grand piano: too much bon homi; too much I'm one of the lads attitude. Much later, my reservations were to be proved right. Out the twelve lads who moved from Cambois to Gateshead, all lost all their conditions, some got the sack, others moved onto the Metro when they started recruiting - and, sad to say, only one remained by the time I moved to Gateshead.
I found out later that Reg had been a 'hot shot' union man, and for many years he had been a thorn in the managements' side - and as is the way with many good union men, the management made him an offer that he couldn't refuse, and that's how he moved to the other side of the bed. In fact, Reg was instrumental in my decision to move when I wanted to - and when I did make my move, I resolved that I'd be well versed in the conditions of service...
THE MOVE FROM CAMBOIS TO GATESHEAD
As time wore on at Cambois, I spent more and more time at sea since it was more lucrative and definitely more exciting than sitting around the depot on the shed jobs. I'd regularly swap turns for the 1600hrs-shed turn so that I could spend all day in the boat, and things were going fine, particularly as I had a grand young bloke as a mate, who could be trusted with our boat when I was working for the day.
One afternoon I signed on for the 16.00hrs shed job, and the running foreman gave me an official-looking brown envelope - 'That'll be your notice,' he grinned.
'I couldn't give a monkeys.' I said, forcing a smile, spoiling his fun.
I slit open the envelope, parked my bum in the messroom and read through the two sheets of paper, which stated bluntly that I was surplus to requirements at my home depot and if I wished to remain employed by British Rail I should look for a vacancy elsewhere. If I decided not to apply for a vacancy, then a redundancy package would be agreed with the union, the contents of which would be announced at a future date, for me to take, if I was so minded.
So at 43 years of age, and twenty-eight years in the line of promotion, I was now declared surplus to requirements - the very thing I had been waiting for! That's because the Conditions of Service book stated quite clearly that a surplus man moving to an essential vacancy will be treated as a redundant man and therefore he qualified for several enhancements in the wages department; in other words he'd receive a mobility payment of £1,200 and a drivers rate of pay for the time spent travelling to and from Gateshead. This would either be paid as a petrol allowance, or bus fares depending on which package he chose. In view of my frequent perusals of the Conditions of Service book, I opted for the bus fares and the time spent travelling, since this option would be retained for a maximum of two years and actually made me the highest paid driver at Gateshead for the first two years I was there. Of course, every time the bus fares increased, I got a rise in wages and every time the wages increased I got a further rise in the time spent travelling, whereas if I had taken Reg's advice, or applied for a vacancy off my own bat, I would have been financially worse off!
For me, the surplus notification (redundancy notice) was all the impetus I needed to make my move. I hurried into the main office, copied the Gateshead telephone numbers down, then dashed back to the messroom and phoned the Gateshead Docket Clerk to enquire what my approximate position would be if I applied on the next vacancy list. The lad on the other end was non-committal, but he did say I would be in the vicinity of the spare link, depending on the number of vacancies and applicants. I thanked the lad, sat down and mulled it over, feeling a mixture of emotions. Part of me didn't want to go, but instinct told me that Gateshead would be a new start, and although feeling a lttle apprehensive I knew it was the best move to make; all I had to do was wait for the next vacancy list, continue to study the Conditions of Service and make sure I knew what I was doing. In fact, I studied the book so often I uncovered several anomalies that had occurred at Cambois, and all my mates began calling me Perry Mason after the famous District Attorney of Television fame.
During the next few weeks, I started making plans for the move up to Gateshead, deciding to motor bike into Newcastle, as it would be easier to get into the city during the rush hours than by car. One of the Supervisors at Cambois was involved with the North York Moors Railway so I gave him my treasured firing shovel, LMS headlamp and gauge lamp, on the understanding that they'd get used on one of the locomotives and not sold for money, to which he happily agreed.
Eventually, the Vacancy list was exhibited, revealing five vacancies for Gateshead - two of which would be taken by Cambois men with 1949 seniority. That left three vacancies for the rest of us to squabble over, which, as it turned out, went to two lads from Sunderland and myself - and so the next chapter of my footplate service was about to commence, but if I had known what lay ahead I'd have probably changed my mind!
(Below) This John Turner photo of No 47003, 37216 and 56126 lined up at Gateshead Depot is a belter! The three locos are waiting to pass through the Daily Sheds and Fuel points. My guess is the Class 37 and Class 56 are bound for the Main Shed for a big exam where filters will be changed, measurements taken and valves adjusted and pressures measured etc. The Class 47 will be standing down, for having been fuelled and watered, the Brush machine is awaiting allocation to its next turn.
After a few weeks, the five successful applicants for Gateshead received notification to report at the Central Station Traincrew Manager's office at 10.00hrs on the Monday - and lo and behold, there was Reggie waiting for us, only he was now called Mister Candy, not the affable Reg of old. A pep talk ensued that held us spellbound and, not for the first time, I realized that Reg was a master in the bullshit business. He went on and on for the best part of forty minutes, before finally asking - 'Any questions?'
I was seriously tempted to ask if he'd mind repeating it all, or ask him if he knew who had won the FA Cup in 1949 but thought better of it. Anyway, we were instructed to go over to the Depot and make ourselves known to the Running Foreman, who would show us the ins and outs of the place. The Foreman's name was Harry, though he was better known by his nickname -'Black Spot'- due to the fact that whenever he visited anyone in hospital, they died shortly after!
We were shown around by a young secondman, who seemed reluctant to impart any information at all, while everyone we met during our guided tour seemed unwilling to speak to us. This show of complete disregard was something I hadn't allowed for; unnerving, in fact - to find yourself being ignored by everyone so pointedly on your first day was odd behaviour and I felt distinctly uneasy. After being allocated lockers, the Sunderland lads decided to get away home, whereas I opted for a brew in the messroom, but as soon I walked in, a group of men in the room shifted uncomfortably in their seats before turning away. I heard one of them mutter - 'Friggin Hillbilly!' - then, pushing back their chairs, they stood together and walked out, giving me plenty more to think about.
Within a few days, this blatant show of hostility was making me really depressed, and I asked one of the men point blank what in hell's name was going on! But he totally ignored me. I asked the other lads from Sunderland, but even they were offhand and couldn't wait to get away from me; it was as if I had some contagious disease, and so I asked the two Jack's that had moved from Cambois with me, and found out that they too were being given the cold shoulder.
I wasn't happy at being treated in such a fashion, and decided to get to the bottom of it - starting at the top. An appointment was made to see old Reigate, the Traincrew Manager, but it was a waste of time…talking to him was like trying to catch a fart in a colander! He told me that if I had a problem with the men, then I should see the union - a typical 'pass the buck' manoeuvre!
And so I located the Shop Stewards' hangout in a small building, knocked at the door, walked in and addressed the three men, one sitting at a desk, two poring over a massive book in the corner, each of them scarcely bothering to look up - 'What do you want?' asked the man at the desk.
'I want to find out what the flaming June is going on with the men here,' I snapped - 'Not a bloody soul has spoken to me since I got here, and I want to know why!'
The bloke at the desk clasped both hands behind his head, reclined nonchalantly in his chair and regarded me derisively - 'Then you'll have to make an appointment with the secretary,' he said snidily - 'but he's off sick at the moment, so if you'll shut the door on your way out!'
I couldn't believe what I was hearing - Is this a bloody joke?'
'No joke, son,' he replied.
My hackles rising, I stormed out, slammed the door behind me and stood for a long moment, trying to control the frustration welling up. At that point in time, I hadn't an idea what to do next, but then I heard a friendly voice shout - 'Is that you, Freddy?'
Turning round, I spotted Casanova Jimmy, my old mate from South Blyth, swaggering along the path in his own inimitable way. I was so glad to see a friendly face I could have given him a kiss...well, nearly! When I explained my problem, Jim listened intently, and then pronounced that he would get to the bottom of it, and suggested we meet up in the messroom at Central Station the following day.
Next day I met Jimmy, hoping he had some answers. He had, but it wasn't what I expected!
'Well Freddy,' he announced - 'I've found out why you're as popular as cat sh.t! You're a frigging' blackleg!'
I gaped at him in a stunned silence for a long moment; then as it all started to fit together. All at once there was a mixture of relief and irritation; I knew that the two Jack's had worked the last strike along with several others at Cambois. But throughout the strike I had been out with the rest of the lads from the start. Obviously someone had got their lines crossed somewhere, and I was determined to get it sorted out once and for all. Jim agreed - 'Look, I've got to go to Sunderland, but I'll be back at 13.30 and I'll take you down the Midland Bar and introduce you to the Booze Brothers and the Landlady Bella, that should help get things sorted with the rest of the blokes, okay?
'That's great Jim, thanks for that.'
As soon as Jimmy had left, I grabbed the phone and rang the Local Departmental Committee (shop stewards) at Cambois and informed them that Gateshead had me down as a scab and told them to rectify this balls-up at their earliest possible convenience as I was fed up talking to myself! Of course the usual apologies came thick and fast, but that wasn't good enough…I wanted some action.
When Jimmy returned from Sunderland, we sauntered down the road to the Midland, pushed open the doors and stood there like John Wayne and Dean Martin in the 'Rio Bravas'. All heads turned our way, some of the men looked at me with utter contempt, while others turned their backs; the two footplatemen leaning on the bar shook their heads sadly, and one of them said - 'Jim, watcha doin' with him?'
Jimmy replied - 'I'm buying him a pint, because he's had the sh..ty-end of the stick since he came up from Cambois, and it's time it was put right. He's not a blackleg, do I make myself clear?'
Jimmy bought me the pint and we parked ourselves in the corner seats. The two footplatemen joined us after a while, and we finished up going home drunk as skunks and mates forever!
Sadly the same can't be said for the two Jack's; the cold-shoulder treatment continued for quite some time and I can't tell you how sorry I felt for them. They put up with it until eventually one went back to Cambois and the other died, unhappily.
Above-Left) Two 1960's shots from the Flickr stable stir a few memories: 'Deltic' class No D9016 Gordon Highlander waits its next turn of duty at Gateshead on 19th July 1965. The Class 55 locomotives were the racehorses of the East Coast Main Line, with a unique piece of engineering hidden in the engine room. Six banks of three cylinders in a delta formation, each cylinder having two opposed pistons, each piston driving a crankshaft located on each corner of the delta and each crankshaft coupled to a flywheel on the end of the engine, and the generator hung on the end - a brilliant idea, brilliantly executed. It was two-stroke, with turbochargers and intercoolers, and there was a duplicate arrangement at the opposite end of the loco, so if one power unit failed, the other one would get you out of trouble. You couldn't fail to be impressed by these EE Co thoroughbreds. For the record, D9016 was withdrawn from traffic on 30th December 1981 and found a new lease of life in preservation under the auspices of the Deltic 9000 Limited on the Nene Valley Railway. Not so lucky was No D9005 The Prince of Wales's Own Regiment of Yorkshire, seen here running light engine from Heaton to Newcastle Central to work a Kings Cross train on 4th November 1967. Allocated new to Gateshead on 25th May 1961, the locomotive was in front line duty on the ECML a couple of months short of twenty years. Withdrawn from traffic on 8th February 1981, the loco was cut up at Doncaster Works in February two years later. Photos copyright 'Barking Bill' and 'Cabsaab900'.
One of the first things I did on arrival at Gateshead was to send a letter to the Wages Clerks claiming all the allowances I was entitled to, but after eight days I didn't receive a reply so I despatched another copy of the same letter, but again I never heard a peep from anyone. I waited another three days, then decided to grace the Wages Office with my presence and deliver the claim by hand to the Chief Pay Clerk. I located the office and rang the bell on the counter. A young lady appeared - 'Yes!' she said haughtily.
I gave her my most charming smile - 'Can I possibly have a word with the Chief Clerk?
She turned away without speaking, disappeared into an office, returning several minutes later with the same bumptious look on her face - 'Mister Wright is extremely busy,' she said primly - 'He can't see anyone at the moment.
'That's all right, pet,' I replied, 'I'll wait. If you kindly inform Mister Wright that I shall be here for the next hour and if by that time he hasn't seen me, I shall approach the Shed Master for advice.'
She looked at me uncertainly for a long moment, then turned on her heels and headed back into the office. A few minutes later the door opened and the most unfortunate-looking man I have ever seen appeared. I can only describe him as being a six-foot tall copy of Gollum from JJR Tolkien's 'Lord of the Rings'. Now I am not in the habit of making derogatory remarks about a person's physical shortcomings in the normal way, but I'm telling you - this man was Gollum to a Tee...
'Yesss! What is it?' he said, rolling his eyes impatiently.
I began by explaining that I hadn't received a reply to the two letters I had sent him, so I was delivering the letter by hand in case the other ones had been lost or otherwise mislaid.
'I see,' he replied stiffly - 'As a matter of fact, I am in receipt of the letters, however I cannot believe you're seriously making these preposterous claims. Where did you get this information from?'
I told him that the claim had its basis in the Conditions of Service book, page seventy one, sub paragraph seven (I had read it so many times I knew it off by heart) and stated - 'A redundant man moving to an essential vacancy can avail himself of the following conditions…'
I was about to outline my list of requirements, but he stopped me with a limp-wristed wave of the hand, as if wafting away an irritating fly - 'But you are not a redundant man, are you? You moved for promotion to Driver.'
The bit was now between my teeth. I raised my voice a shade to press my point home - 'The fact of the matter is, I have in my possession a letter from the Area Manager at Cambios Depot stating that I was surplus to requirements and inviting me to either move or take a severance payment. Therefore my promotion to Driver is irrelevant in this case.'
He regarded me cynically, the scent of victory in his nostrils - 'Ridiculous! I really can't see any point in discussing it... as I said before, you-are-not-a-redundant man,' he added, emphasising each word by slapping the top of the counter with the palm of his hand.
I stood my ground, refusing to give way - 'Then why don't you check out page one nine seven of the Conditions of Service book, chapter eleven, sub paragraph nine? It clearly states that in all cases a surplus man moving to an essential vacancy, shall be treated in all respects as a redundant man.'
'Where does it say that?' he asked incredulously.
'Page one nine seven, chapter eleven, sub paragraph nine' I repeated, sensing a victory of my own.
'Just a minute,' he said huffily, and then hurried back into the office, reappearing several minutes later, his self-assured manner now replaced by soured resignation - 'Right, Driver Wagstaff, I will get someone to look into it for you and let you know. Have you got your claim letter with you? Unfortunately, your previous letters have been shredded somehow.'
I placed the letter on the desk - 'I'm sure we can reach a speedy conclusion to this misunderstanding, don't you, Mister Wright? Sorry to have taken up so much of your valuable time.'
With that I swept out the door feeling like the King of Siam. I did hear later that Mister Wright was never wrong - but in this case he was!
(Right) Brush Type 4 No D1577 occupies the 'down' sidings adjacent to Berwick-on-Tweed station in June 1964. Since electrification of the ECML, this scene of Berwick and the 28-arch Royal Border Bridge across the Tweed estuary is now consigned to history. The viaduct was designed by Robert Stephenson and opened by Queen Victoria in 1850. Berwick station was built on the site of the former Royal Castle and part of the outer walls can still be seen adjacent to the sidings. Berwick is the most northerly town in England, though the actual Anglo-Scots border is situated at Marshall Meadows, some three miles north of the town.
These photographs of the Royal Border Bridge and Berwick-on-Tweed reminds me of an incident that happened whilst working an Edinburgh-bound electrification train laden with all the paraphernalia required to install the overhead live wirr. This included great drums of copper wire about the thickness of your finger to carry the current, and wagons full of big beefy insulators, but the most wonderful piece of invention was the ultrasonic pile driver.
The supports for the posts were tubular, about thirty or so inches in diameter with four lugs placed equally around the circumference. These were drilled and tapped to take the bolts through the bottom of the posts to hold everything up. The length of the supports were about six feet, and they were carefully positioned before the ultrasonic pile driver was affixed to the support, and commenced to literally shake the support pipe into the ground. There was no noise at all, but the pipe slowly but surely sank into the ground, as if by magic. A brilliant bit of gear that saved loads of time and effort.
The train had started at Peterborough bound for Edinburgh to wire the Carstairs and Haymarket section and it was a lovely spring morning, with clear skies and brilliant sunshine - a real good to be alive day. Only a couple of weeks beforehand, the Management, in their wisdom, had seen fit to issue all Drivers with a wristwatch presumably so that there could be no excuses for late running, or signing on late. I was a little surprised that we did not get a day at the school to learn how to use it. The watches were of excellent quality, and looked very expensive - about the same that you'd find in a Christmas cracker nowadays.
Anyway, the locomotive was a much beat-up 31 that had seen better days, with the stuffing hanging out of the seats and a generally dilapidated appearance all round, plus the driver's side window had an annoying habit of suddenly dropping like a guillotine blade. I must have closed it more than twenty times on leaving Gateshead and I was getting brassed off with the hurrican-force draughts in the cab. Then it dropped again whilst crossing the Royal Border Bridge, only this time when I attempted to slide it back up again the metal bar catch caught the strap of my shiny new watch and sent it sailing out of the widow; it hit the low parapet of the bridge and plunged over the side into the River Tweed one hundred and ten feet below. However, the rest of the trip went without a hitch and I travelled back to Newcastle 'on the cushions'.
Arriving back at Gateshead, I called at the sign on point to put my Ticket in and asked the foreman for a Drivers' Report ticket.
'Watchya bin dooin now?' he said accusingly.
'Me-watch is in the River Tweed,' I replied.
'Oh arr, that'll cost ya ten quid,' grumbled the foreman; a tall ex-Saltley bloke, who looked like a cross between Rasputin and Ron Moody's Fagin - rumour has it that he stopped smoking because he once lit a fag and accidentally set fire to his beard and burnt his eyebrows off in the resulting conflagration! He gave the impression that he was only happy when he was utterly miserable, and probably grew the beard to hide his face in case anyone saw him smiling.
'You aint listening! ' I replied, feigning an exaggerated Brummie accent of my own - ' My bloody watch aint lost, I know exactly where it is; it's at the bottom of the bloody Tweed!'
There was a long pause, followed by solemn head shaking - 'Bur if you aint gorrit, it must be lost, so it'll costya ten quid.'
'Just give me a Report Ticket will you?' I said, resigned to the fact that he wasn't even going to play a draw with me.
Anyway, to cut a long story short, it took almost seven months of letter writing before the Management finally relented and issued me with another wristwatch, which I still have to this day, albeit by corrupt means! After I was paid off (more of that later) I received a letter from the Management demanding that I return my wristwatch, to which I replied -' It is my unfortunate duty to inform you that once again my watch is sleeping with the fishes in the bottom of the Tweed.'
And I never heard another squeak from them!
(Above) Working a spare turn was boring and hanging around the messroom at Newcastle Central was the closest I came to suspended animation; the monotony of it dulled the senses, the tedium caused fatigue - and fatigue can turn even the fittest man into a comatose state. You just sat there for six hours, twiddling your thumbs, wishing the telephone would ring. Even a job taking an empty train down to the carriage sidings came as a welcome release from the dreadful boredom. But the messroom was a great place for a bit of banter with your mates; even the most conscientious crewmen enjoyed exchanging waspish accounts to relieve the monotony. But as so often happened - with time to kill - a bit of tittle-tattle might be embellished by someone else's imagination until that first innocent remark materialised into a full-scale untruth that swept through the railway community like a shock wave. I once invented a story that the curve approaching York was going to be banked right up and the speed increased to 80mph, the only drawback being that if a train stopped on the curve, the camber was so steep that it'd fall off the track! It was an obvious wind-up...or so I thought! Imagine my surprise then, just six weeks later I was having a break in the messroom at Doncaster and heard two Donny fellers discussing BR's proposals to increase the speed on York curve to 100mph! Then a Cockney joined in and said he'd heard that it was going to be one hundred and ten! Enough is enough, I told myself, and spoke up - 'That's just a bloody wind-up!' I said - 'It was started by some daft bugger at our place. You really don't want to take any notice…it's tripe!' But the Cockney chap was quite indignant, saying that he'd been told by a very trustworthy source and believed it to be true. I tried to explain again, but then he got quite snotty, so I decided to keep quiet. After that I started having nightmares about drivers trying to get round that curve at two hundred mph and vowed never to joke about stuff like that ever again!
ROUTE LEARNING AT GATESHEAD
Route learning at Gateshead was a job and a half for me. During the time I was at Cambois, the furthest south I'd been was Tees Yard. We went north, of course, but only as far as Millerhill Yard, so there was quite a lot to take in and learn.
Now I think everybody will have read the lurid tales in newspapers, or seen TV news reports about trains that stand for hours because the driver didn't know the way! What the media reporters hadn't bothered to find out is that a driver is required to sign his route card, which states that not only is he familiar with the route, but he is very competent to drive over it. He must know the positions of every signal, including shunting signals, both main and slow lines, all speed restrictions, whether permanent or temporary, all stations and platform availability, and what's more, must be confident to navigate the road in all weather conditions. The fact is, signing the route card is a Board of Trade requirement, and should a driver cause a fatal accident because he did not know the road, then he would most likely be charged with manslaughter. It doesn't look so bloody funny now does it?
And what about the outcry over 'Leaves on the line'? The media's sarcastic comments continue to get dragged out occasionally, but any footplateman will tell you that it is one of the worst conditions you can come up against. When trees shed their autumnal foliage on the track it makes the rail slimy and it becomes like ice. The passage of a train makes it worse, as the wheels compress the leaves into a slippery coating, resulting in a significant loss of friction and a serious lack of tractive force; wheels can spin uselessly and braking can become ineffective, and in some extreme cases the build up of leaf material can electrically insulate the wheels from the rail, resulting in signalling equipment failing to detect the presence of a train in a section. This is not only a nightmare for a driver; it incurs serious delays in the timetable for passengers. You only have to ask commuters using the Carlisle road along the Tyne Valley in the autumn! Failure to make the obligatory stop at station platforms was a regular occurrence in some of the heavily wooded areas. When the brake was applied and the train continued to slide through the platform it wasn't unknown for the driver to drop the window and inform the surprised passengers - 'I'll be back in a minute!' he'd shout out, before reversing back.
It's the same story with the 'wrong kind of snow'. Whoever invented that tale should be hung by the Katangas for giving that story out. The fact is, the snow is so fine (more like ice crystals than snow) that it gets into everything on the outside of the loco, especially the brake gear and the traction motor cooling blowers. It is really unnerving when the brake is applied and nothing happens! This is because the brake pads are just rubbing on ice. The upshot is, you might well find yourself driving a train that is running towards a stopping station at around two and a half miles minute!
The fact is, the job of Road Learning had to be done thoroughly; a driver had to readily respond to any eventuality or emergency that may arise. I shall never forget the first time I went to Kings Cross. I was supposed to be learning the York Yards, and hitched a lift in the cab of a southbound 1C125 at Newcastle Central. As I climbed into the cab, the two drivers were already sitting there waiting for the off. One was a strapping six foot-four and twenty stone; the other a pocket-sized five foot three, with a bone-dry humour and squeaky voice - 'Oooh! Look out Harry, its one of them hillbilly blacklegs!'
Harry began guffawing away - 'Tec no notice ov 'im marrer, he's gorra mooth bigga than Tynemooth. Are yez larning the road or runnin away?' he asked, and started roaring with laughter again.
'If you're learning,' the little one peeped up, 'I'm away in the train.'
'Aye gan on then,' mocked Harry, 'Ye'll be more bloody use in the train,' and began roaring with laughter again.
The little one grabbed his bag, jumped out of the cab and into the train.
'Is he in?' Harry asked.
I looked out of the window, saw Titch waving - ''Aye he's in'' I said, turning to find Harry now sitting in the secondman's chair.
'D'you want me to Drive?'
'You'll larn the road better if you do,' he replied.
So I jumped into the chair just as the starting buzzer gave us two for the off, I released the brake and put the power controller in the second notch, and heard the engine start to get enthusiastic behind my right shoulder, and then we started to glide out of the platform and onto the King Eddie Bridge; a fifteen mph limit, and careful not to accelerate too soon before the rear power car was clear of the platform. Then I accelerated to twenty five across the bridge, round the south curve until all the train was on the straight, and then opened him up, aiming for one hundred and fifteen mph passing Tyne Yard.
Harry shouted - 'Yer doin aareet up to noo kidda. Only anutha two hundred and ninety miles to gan an aal mek yez a cuppertee!' With that, he started roaring with laughter - 'What's yer name anyway?'
'Fred,' I answered, 'But my pals call me Waggy,' I added, more as an invitation than anything else.
'Okay Waggy,' he replied, making me feel a lot easier - 'How far do you know?'
'End of the King Eddy Bridge'' I replied, and away he went again, roaring with laughter.
By now we were through Chester-le-Street and climbing towards Durham, with Harry calling out the speed restrictions as we approached them. Down to thirty for Durham, a quick 'parp' on the horn for the platform and then over the viaduct and on to the steepest bank on the East Coast Mainline.
And so it went on, as far as York, where I was supposed to learn all the ins and outs of the Yards, but Harry was doing his best to get me to stop on board all the way to London, saying - 'Once you've done the trip, you'll find it easier next time. You can have a look round the yards tomorrow. What do you think?'
I agreed, and so when Titch returned to the loco at the York stop, we sent him back into the train, and carried on to the Capital, with big Harry explaining more than I could take in, but insisting that I'd have a better understanding of the road the next time I did it - and, of course, he was one hundred per cent right.
But there was a lot more to learn before I was booked to learn London officially. In all, I spent nearly nine months route learning, and made sure that I was fully conversant with the road before I signed for them, and of course you got to know the men, and I found that they weren't such bad b's at Gateshead after all!
(Above) The Harry I mention above was one of the drivers on the footplate of Flying Scotsman, who, along with Alan Pegler, the owner, was in the cab during the non-stop run from Kings Cross to Edinburgh in 1967. The story goes that during a crew exchange at Tollerton, just north of York, Harry and his mate went through the corridor into the cab and found seven people there - the run was being filmed by the BBC (no lightweight Camcorders in them days). It seems Harry upset most of them by shouting - 'Right, half of you lot can go away and the rest of you can 'eff' off!' I wish I'd been there to hear him! This photo by Roy Lambeth shows Flying Scotsman climbing south out of Durham with another steam special on 13th April 1969. Visit Roy's Rail Cameraman page of BR steam days at Durham on Page 61. Click on photo to see larger image.
(Below) This is a cab shot of an extremely good-looking driver at the controls of an HST power car (we still called them engines, but the management insisted that they were power cars). The photo was taken passing Thirsk Station at line speed - one hundred and twenty five mph. The small box with the circular dial (A) in the far left corner of the cab is the Automatic Warning System indicator, and as the dial is showing all black, it indicates that the last signal was showing a green aspect. If the signal had been at two yellows, or one yellow or, at danger, the disc inside the dial would show alternate yellow and black segments. This was a very helpful piece of instrumentation, which was controlled by Automatic Warning System Magnets, situated in the fourfoot (between the rails) exactly one hundred yards on the approach side of the signal. If the signal showed a green aspect, then the magnet would be energized and a strong magnetic field was set up around it. Underneath the loco - sorry, power car - there was a receiver magnet that reacted with the magnet in the fourfoot, and sent an electrical signal to the Indicator to change it to all black; it also caused a bell to ring in the cab, indicating to the driver that the signal was clear. Not much use when the sun was shining, but it was your best mate in the fog or snow. A man that knew the road really well could drive on the indications of the AWS with a bag on his head! Not that he would of course. On the other hand, if the signal was showing a caution aspect or even red, then the indicator would show the black and yellow segments, and a loud horn would sound in the cab. If the driver didn't cancel these indications (a large button was situated on the centre pillar and marked with (B) the brake would be automatically applied and the train would come to a stand before the driver could regain the brake pipe pressure. Of course, there was another little gadget that prevented acquisition of traction current until the brake pipe reached a preset pressure. So it would be very difficult for a driver to pass out or have a calamity without the train coming to a stand. There was also the Drivers Safety Device, which sounded what can only be described as a 'tweet-tweet-tweet-tweet' sound, and this continued until the driver lifted his foot off the pedal and reapplied it to the pedal. Failure to do this action within seven seconds resulted in the train being brought to a stand by an automatic brake application. The dial below the AWS indicator (C) shows the main air pressures in the reservoirs, while the dial (D) next to that indicates the brake cylinder pressures and the large gauge (E) shows the brake pipe pressures. The brake handle cannot be seen due to the fine physique of the driver, who, incidentally, is very good looking. The red button (F) on the left is the Emergency Brake application button and when this is struck with a firm blow, results in the brake pipe being vented, and a rapid brake application ensues. (continued below)
(Above) Continuing across the instrument panel, the next dial to the right (G) is the Speedometer, followed directly by the Traction current Ammeter (H) and then we come to the clock, (I) showing the time as 14.44. The telephone handset (J) on the hook is the on board phone, that allows the guard to communicate with the Driver, or vice versa, also the rear cab. The large black button to the left (K) and below the clock is the signalling buzzer mainly used to start the train by the guard giving two buzzes, or calling attention to the telephone by giving four plus four buzzes. The red and green buttons (M) next to the buzzer, is the Engines start and stop button's. Directly below them is the (N) Reversing Switch with the Master key sitting in the middle, this would be the equivalent of the ignition key in a car. The small red lever (O) to the right of the AWS button is the Horn, fore and aft gave the loud tone, and left and right for the soft tone, mainly used in depots to avoid fracturing peoples ear drums and making their eyes bleed, because the loud tone was poorly named and should have been called the very, very, very loud tone! To the left of the AWS button is the (P) power controller, which is really a switch that closes different relays to control the fuel racks, and therefore the speed of the engine, and ultimately the traction current applied to the traction motors. The two black oblongs (Q) beneath the speedometer are Fault lights which show a blue light when everything is in order, but change to red if a fault situation arises, for instance the rear loco - I mean, power car - should shut down for some reason, or the train supply current was interrupted or any one of several reasons. There were also two fault lights below the brake pipe pressure gauge on the driver's left, (R) as well as an array of seven buttons, which controlled various other systems that I'm not going to tell you about because I can't remember. Right at the very end was the headlight switch, and the searchlight switch and of course the taillight switch. Behind the broad, heavily muscled back of the extremely good-looking driver, you can just see the handset cord (S) of the 'ship to shore' radio-telephone which enabled you to summon help if you were in dire straits, or alternately for anyone at control who wanted to check up on you and make sure you weren't being naughty. Click on photo - dated 9th November 1990 - to enlarge...
I will never forget one afternoon whilst on a spare turn. I'd been ordered to work the 16.00 Kings Cross because the driver had failed to turn in. On arrival at London I got chatting to the crew of the 20.00 hours back working, who told me that the driver who should have worked the job had taken two lieu days to start his holidays early - 'He's probably well on his way to Thailand by now,' they said.
There had obviously been a mistake in the Rosters Clerks Department, and that's how I had fallen for the job. Anyway, on arrival at York with the return trip, the radio phone started squawking, and I answered - 'Come in Good Buddy, you got the River Rat here and you're loud and proud, go ahead…'
There was a pause and a man's voice said - 'What did you say?'
'I never said nothing yet!' I replied lamely - 'It sounds to me like some CB guy's larking around!'
There was even longer pause before he asked - 'Is that Driver Johnson?'
I wanted to be helpful, so replied - 'No.'
'Is Driver Johnson there, then?'
Again I replied - 'No.'
'Are you sure he's not there?'
'Just a minute,' I replied, 'I'll just put the light on and have a look. No, he's certainly not here. Have you tried ringing the back cab?'
I heard swearing before he blurted - 'Who am I talking to?'
I thought it best to tell him before he had a seizure - 'And who are you, like?' I enquired.
The phone went dead. It would appear that to get a job in the Control you had to be on a hair trigger or otherwise highly strung.
Anyway, on arrival at Newcastle, the backshift foreman - aptly nicknamed 'Crazy Horse' - started ranting on at me, saying that I had to fill a report in, that Control had been giving him a hard time. They'd been asking all sorts of questions about Driver Johnson and wanted to know who the bloody lunatic was working 1E34?
When he paused to draw breath, I said - 'You know, Eddie, we all have to pay the price that fame brings!'
His reply cannot be printed here.
(Left) A group of Japanese students were doing a 'Round the world trip' for charity to help the kids in Africa. They were taking photos of a teddy bear (that's the one on the right in case you're wondering) on every mode of transport they used and upon reaching a certain amount they stood to raise thousands of pounds. At the time I was working the Kings Cross link and on arrival at the capital, the Train Manager (formerly guard) came into the cab and asked if he could take a photo of the bear for them. I told him to let them through and they could take their own, whereupon four lovely girls and two young fellers invaded the cab, each armed with at least two cameras apiece. I made the dozy mistake of greeting them with 'Konichi wah,' which is the normal greeting in their Islands, and they immediately assumed I was fluent. They all started chattering together, and after taking their photos, the excited group showed me photos they had taken of 'Ted' on the bridge of a passenger liner, in the cockpit of a Boeing 747and in the cab of a Canadian Pacific loco…I was well impressed. Then, with shouts of ' Dozo, Dozo Freddy san', and me replying 'Arigato,' - they jumped into a taxi and disappeared into the teeming Metropolis. It was quite an experience.
(Above-Below) Newcastle Central Station, as viewed from the battlements of the Keep, showing the famous diamond crossing prior to rationalisation and Platforms 1-3 on the right used by local trains. (Below) Fast-forward to the present day, the wires are up, the junction has been simplified, Platforms 1-3 have been removed and the track lifted to make way for a car park. Click on photo below to visit the excellent Newcastle Photos Blogspot. Com. The site contains several galleries of photos of Newcastle upon Tyne, including shots of Central Station and Robert Stephenson's famous twin-level bridge.
(Above) Central station evolved from plans made by Robert Stephenson in 1843 with access from Gateshead and the south via Stephenson's famous twin-level bridge across the Tyne, the upper deck being used by trains and the lower by road vehicles. Click on photos for links to Freefoto.com, which contains several galleries of photos featuring Newcastle upon Tyne
GEORDIE'S ONE-MINUTE-CHAT: Hi Fred, First - best wishes to you and yours for a very Merry Xmas and a Happy New Year. Last Wednesday I was at the NERSWA Christmas Dinner at Gateshead. I was on the bus with Jimmy Keogan and Terry Hutton. I've told Terry about your web site and he says he enjoys it; he reckons the management man you mentioned was Reggie Charlton. Davie Sharpe was there on two sticks and his speech seems okay now because he did the bingo. Do you remember a fitter at Gateshead called Arthur Gill? He does oil paintings of steamers; he did a one for me of an HST going through Chester. If you are interested, he has a web site; he told me Kenny Brown was on a bus on the coast and the driver braked suddenly and Ken went base over apex along the bus. They took him away in an ambulance, but he's been to the Tappers since so it mustn't have been serious. All the best Geordie
It is now Christmas 2009, and Fireman Fred isn't finished yet...
HIS STORY CONTINUES ON THE NEXT PAGE
Freddy is joined by railwaymen and enthusiasts who reflect on steam days in the North East of England, including memories of the Blyth and Tyne, with contributions from Peter Trinder, Jim Pringle, Chris Boylan, Roy Lambeth and Ed Orwin. Click on next page below...
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