This multi-part serial captures the true adventures of a lad on the steam railway in the 1950s.
This was to be the most exciting /nerve wracking day of my life. I had left home around about seven A.M on a Cumberland bus, and was impatiently waiting for the next leg of my trip. Having asked no less than half a dozen porters where I would get the train to Glasgow I was still apprehensive, had I been sent to the right platform, or were each of them having a laugh at a young boy obviously a first time traveller? The cold bit through my clothes but I didn’t really feel it. A porter kept popping out of a door marked STAFF ONLY and repeatedly took out his watch looked at the dial and returned it to his waistcoat pocket, before looking across at me gently shaking his head before returning to the warmth of his office making sure the door was closed against the cold. Maybe the train wasn’t coming?
Then it all happened as if by magic, a loud speaker burst in on my thoughts, the garbled voice boomed over the platform, anyone who couldn’t interpret the message would at least have heard the name Glasgow Central. The man who announced the train must have had special training to garble such an important statement. To be honest in all the time I served on the railway I never-ever understood any tannoy message, except the final couple of words such as I had just listened to.
The giant Locomotive hissing steam and smoke pulling masses of carriages clattered along the platform, two men leaning from the cab smiled through the coal dust as the drew up, their white teeth showing through the grime. I remember vividly the heat, the smell of hot oil as this colossus ground to a halt. It seemed to me that everyone on the station was aware that this was my first trip on a train.
Not realising that the train would be here for a t least a few minutes I scrabbled at the door handle nearest me just as it opened almost breaking my fingers in the process. A man wearing a long coat and a trilby hat gave me a withering look; being me I withered him back and squeezed past him in case the train left without me. I heard a sniffle and a snort, something about ‘kids’. But the train would not leave without me; I was on board and looking for a seat.
This journey had begun some weeks earlier while still at school, I must have been eavesdropping on a conversation at Tom Fishers, our local barber. Both these men must have worked on the railway as something or another and suddenly I could see myself as a driver on a great steam engine. I was due to leave school in a few weeks and all of a sudden I knew what I was going to do.
My mother thought I was mad when I informed her of the news. “Don’t be so daft, your too scrawny for that job, big strong lads are what they are looking for.” That was the wrong thing for Mam to say. She followed it up with “We will see what your Dad says when he gets home, where on earth did you get that idea?”
That was just what it took! I was now absolutely convinced that this was exactly what I wanted.
The train whistle blew a sudden screech of steel on steel as the giant wheels bit into the steel rails, steam and smoke roared form the engine as it sought for traction. The couplings clattered and the great buffers groaned as the engine began to move the train away from the platform. My stomach lurched along with the buffers. “This is it” I thought “no going back”.
Did I do the right thing? I thought back to the day I had the audacity to knock on the Shed master’s office door… For a moment there had been silence, then more of a bark than anything I could remember as a voice. “Come in.” That was all. So, I did. I eased the large door open and peered around the edge. “Yes” The word came from the mouth of a slim bony faced person who sat behind a rather large desk. “Come in and close the door, what is it you want? can’t you see I am busy?” He did not look up from what he was doing. ”What?”
“ I have come to see if I can have a job?” I managed to mutter.
“I beg your pardon?” This was Mr. Darcy, this it turned out, was him in a good mood!
“Well I would like to be an engine driver “I squeaked.
”Who in god’s name told you, you could wander in here just as you please?” was his next comment.
“I just thought as you were the boss you are the person I should see and as I was told go and see the Shed Master that is what I am doing.” Oh the innocence of youth.
I thought he was about to burst, his lips moved but for a moment nothing came out. I think he decided on a different tack and reached for the telephone that resided on one side of the desk. He barked once again to whoever it was on the other end of the line. “Get in here now.”
A boy not much older than me came hurtling through the door. “Yes Sir.”
“Who told this boy to come and see me? was it you?”
“Absolutely not sir.”
“Well take him up to the office and tell the manager to deal with it.”
I was taken by the arm and ushered out of the room double quick. “How did you manage to get in there?” he questioned me as we got outside the building.
“I want a job and I was told to see the Shed master so that is what I did.” I replied.
“Well, you are supposed to see the clerk first, then the manager, all very official here, you should know that before there are any more problems.” The rest of what he said was lost to me as he was talking fast and more to himself than to me.
“You want to be an engine driver then?” The office manager enquired, “there are, however, a few formalities we have to go through first, so we will begin with your name, age and address?”
All the formalities over, all the forms filled in and I was informed that they whoever they were, would be in touch.
I thought that was that and duly caught the bus home, Where I faced another barrage of questions, first from my mother, and later from dad. He was more understanding about these things and said not to worry he would talk to my mum, when she was in the proper mood.
About a year later, at least that is what it seemed, but was probably no more than a week or so. A brown envelope arrived. It contained a short letter of instructions and a return ticket. Carlisle to Glasgow return it read. The instructions were as follows; You are to present yourself to Dr. Whoever at number whatever St George Square, Glasgow at 1 pm on whatever day etc.etc. For the purpose of a medical examination and eye test . Please present this letter to the Doctor on your arrival.
Signed. Office Manager, Kingmoor Motive Power Depot.
Smoke filled the fields as the train roared through the countryside, the carriages lurched from side to side and the wheels kept up a constant tiddle e dum, tiddle e dum. The rhythm changing only as we crossed over points. Or as we hurtled through a station. Tiddle e Dum, tiddle e Dum. Onwards to Glasgow, the next part of my journey.
To be continued…