Monday 26th of June, and on a glorious summer morning, I looked down the river Severn at Stourport, noting some rather large boats on the pontoon as my bright scarlet car swept over the bridge bound for Kidderminster. I'm sure there are better ways to start a week of guarding, but surely there can't be many. Signing on at 09.15 (After a hearty breakfast at A.J.'s Cafe) I found that for most of the week, I had the maroon Mk1 set, 8 coaches turning the scales at 279 tons. We would swap to the LNER set on friday but we had the whole week to go yet. The driver was my regular driver for the week, John Price, a professional railwayman now in his early 70s, who I have known for a good many years, while firing duties, as per previous years, were in the capable hands of Tom Clarke, although as both Tom and I are on the driving course, he was to, on occasions, be handing the shovel to young Lawrence Mortimer, in order to allow Tom some driving practice. The guard on the other Kidderminster based train all week was to be another old mate, in the form of David Brattan, and over the week we were to exchange many laughs at each others expense. I have often said to a driver, "Leave here right time this morning, get home right time on Frinday and we'll sort the rest as it happens" and we got the first part of that done with a prompt 10.15 departure, if only we knew what was to unfold! The first hint that we might have a day to write about came shortly before we arrived at Hampton Loade. My two TTI's today were Matt Davis and Brian Southam, and both had been busy checking tickets, and just as importantly, ensuring passengers were in the right part of the train. Many of our platforms are shorter than the trains that serve them, however, one group of passengers, on asking where they were getting off, had informed Matt that they didn't know however they were "Quite capable of looking after themselves," however having passed through Country park halt, as we ambled through Alveley woods, Matt ushered a the same group of passengers past me, clearly none to thrilled that their coach had not been platformed at Highley, exactly the reason they had been asked their intended destination in the first place. As we arrived at Hampton Loade, this is where the day started to unravel as it quickly became obvious that rather than passing the first train from Bridgnorth, there was no up train in sight and we had Green's all the way. "Where's the up Bobby?" I asked the signalman. "No guard mate," he replied, "They are having a ring around, but you'll pass him at Bridgnorth instead." We speculated amongst ourselves what the next move would be, one option, of course, would be to move the Bridgnorth train out of the way and send us straight back, another was to get me to prep the train while another guard was found, or even send me on it and worry about getting me home later, but as it transpired, one of the lads from Bewdley, had, in the time since we left there, been scrambled to get to Bridgnorth ahead of me and work the train, so it was with some relief that I arrived to find I had just to sit tight with my own train. I phoned the duty officer to find his plans and was told that we would be leaving 20 minutes late, as the train ahead of me was over an hour late. John was complaining of a blowing superheater on 2857, and discussion was of a change of engines, but it was decided to leave her on the train and send two of the paid staff up with us later on to Bring her back to Bridgnorth for repair. In the mean time we were to soldier on with the 28xx. A combination of TSRs at Waterworks and Kinlet which would dog our time keeping all week, along with a poorly engine and the summer's heat and it's effects on the crew meant that we were still 12 minutes late leaving Kidderminster on our second trip, but I had faith in not only John and Tom's abilities to make it up, but also those of the other crews, after all, none of us want to be late. We arrived at Bewdley and had to wait for the up train, which was still slightly later than we were, and it was in this time that I noticed a back pack and a tent (or so it seemed) abandoned on the platform. I got the lady from the booking office to put an announcement out for the owner to return and pick it up. Several announcements later, and having satisfied ourselves that is was just lost property, Matt carried it into the booking office for safe keeping, much to the dismay of the photographer on the bridge who, it seems, decided that we coudn't possibly mean HIS backpack! Although I was only to discover this later, as by that time I had headed north, leaving the station staff to deal with it. The slack at Kinlet meant we were still about a quarter hour late into Hampton Loade, however, to my dismay, it turned out someone had decided that the late running Bridgnorth train should be slotted back into its booked path, meaning we would now leave Hampton Loade 41 minutes late. I was not a happy bunny! The problem with running so late is that on the way back, we arrived at Highley on our return, at about the time there should have been a Bridgnorth bound train, despite the best efforts of the station staff, the inevitable happened, and Matt had to rush some passengers round to the other train on our arrival at Arley, as they had got on the wrong train. Arriving back at Kidderminster, I stowed my gear away, and knowing that Dave was known for a short fuse, especially as, in his new roll of senior duty officer, he would have to look into the delay, I decided it would be worth while waiting for him with a pint when he arrived at home. Tuesday, and I had to keep half an eye open for Dave's TTI's as he had informed me that he would be in a meeting prior to his departure, so would be at Kidder early to check his train, so having checked that he had signed on, I did the same and went to have a walk round my stock, looking out for his ticket inspectors to tell them not to panic and phone the D.O. if Dave didn't appear on time. One of the platform staff approached me. "Ian," he said, "Have you got a Lemon?" Reasons for this are explained in another story, but for further explanation dear reader, may I direct you to the wonderful Radio 4 comedy series, "Cabin Pressure" "Sorry Tom," I replied, "I've not had chance to get one, you could always nip to Tesco if you fancy getting a rally going." "I might do that," he replied. While he headed off to source some citrus fruit, I headed off with the train, to find that all was not well up the line. Today, owing to the 28 not being well, we had 7802, Bradley Manor, one of my favourite locos in the fleet, and the one I passed for firing on. We lost time again on the 10 mph speed restriction at Kinlet, where the hillside is undergoing stabilisation work, including soil nailing, a process where you use a mix of concrete and steel to nail the soil to the bed rock, a process which sounds to me much like nailing Jelly to the wall, but it seems to work. At Highley, we were checked into the station, which had me wondering what was going on. John came walking back to me to inform me that we had a signalling problem and the signalman, who was out of my sight, was standing at the foot of the signal giving us a yellow flag to leave. This all added time to our delays for the day, and ate into our lunch break, but its all in the job. Any time recovered at Hampton Loade was immediately lost again on another slack at Waterworks. once on our up trip, some speedy platform work saw the delay evaporate despite the two p-way slacks, but upon arrival at Bewdley we were to pick up an unusual cargo, a Beer shelf for delivery to the C&W for fitting to buffet car number 643. The afternoon was to pass almost without incident, however on the run home I got chatting to a chap from the Bluebell railway who had, back in the 60's known an old driver friend of mine, who had been at the time, a Guard out of Kings Cross. Wednesday was interesting. I arrived to be informed that there was a problem, the Diesel depot was due to have four jacks delivered that day,and they had made it as far as Kidderminster car park, how ever, they didn't fit under the bridge. Unfortunately this was going on on the line ahead of my train. Eventually I got a locomotive, once again, 7802, Bradley Manor, but not before I had been handed a Lemon, which I instructed one of the lads to hide on Dave's train. Before we left, the station staff loaded several paintings into the van, for transportation to Highley for safe storage prior to being hung in the new waiting room at Bridgnorth. After they had finished loading but still with the doors open, a passenger happened to look into the van. "I say guard," she said, "You've not got much mail in there." "Aye," I replied, "But I have a coupe of grand's worth of art work in there!" We set off, despite the odds, exactly on time, however at Arley, on of our passengers delivered a toe curling moment. Arley platform will accommodate 6 Mk1 coaches or 7 LMS ones, so as we had an 8 coach train, we didn't quite fit the platform, as a result, the TTI's regularly remind passengers that they need to be in the right part of the train in order to alight, on top of which, there are notices at the booking offices and the terminal stations regularly announce where people should be in the train, however, for what ever reason, there is often at least one person who either doesn't receive this message, or doesn't understand it. Sure enough at Arley, a door, half a coach from the platform, suddenly opens, with the potential for a passenger to have an uncomfortable landing. "Don't get off there!" I shouted, at which point the passenger looked at the ground a few ankle breaking feet below him, and elected to shut the door and walk along the train, grumbling to me as he passed that I should have platformed his coach. I was proud of myself for holding my tongue and not asking him how he proposed to platform all 8 coaches in a 6 coach platform, a task which is not always easy. We were re-united with 2857 at Bridgnorth, with the repairs carried out, we now lost the Manor to go and have a new set of brake blocks. On arrival at Kidderminster, I was informed that the Lemon was in play and had been hidden on Dave's train. This really provided the highlight of Wednesday afternoon, and at Bridgnorth, I returned to my train, having said hello to Dave, to find a Lemon lurking in my brake van, I would however, get my own back. Thursday, and the wind ups continued, as I arrived bright and early at Kidderminster, holding a nice yellow Lemon. Dave had got there before me, and was off for a coffee with one of the office girls, having already checked his train. I cursed, I had planned to hide the lemon in his tail lamp, but this was now already on the far side lamp Iron. I didn't feel like jumping down, and being on the off side, it wouldn't be plainly in his sight, so not within the rues of the game. Not to be beaten, I simply gaffer taped the lemon to the rear of the train, and went off to prep my own, fully expecting the fruit to be thrown at me as a result at some point. Getting to the more serious business of running trains, we once again had 2857, with her superheater repaired, although John was complaining that she seemed to have oval wheels, as on the trip home yesterday she had been riding roughly and he felt she had been buffeting the train. I commented that I hadn't felt anything, but he and Tom were not happy with her rough riding. I was told by my crew that, all being equal, Friday would be Tom's driving exam so John would only be doing the morning, then he would be going to the pub. Tom's other half, Dawn, had arranged a celebration on the platform should he pass (A fact which I believed to be a formality, I had seen his driving most of the week and felt passing was a certainty), so, with both of us at pretty well the same stage on the driving course, things were starting to get very real for both of us. Arriving at Hampton Loade, I was surprised to find that we had the road, as the up train had seemed a long was short of the signal. I saw the signalman talking to my crew, and decided to hang fire. "He's given me 147," said the signalman, walking back to his box, "so I pulled off for you, but with you running in, he decided it wasn't clear, I didn't have chance to put the board back so I've told your driver to check before he moves." "Ok mate," I replied. "C'mon," said Tom, who had now joined us, "Let's have a look." We didn't have to walk far, it was quite clear the guard had indeed been mistaken, but thankfully had acted fast to rectify this mistake, had he not have done so, there could have been a lot of paperwork." A driver stopping short is a bit of a nightmare, as he can't restart until the guard says it is safe to do so, if there is no sign of the other train, frequently I will get the doors closed, ok it with the Bobby and move the train forward, and if the driver is unsure, because he has a large or unfamiliar loco, I will often stand by the signal, when things are a bit tight, and call the loco towards me, rather than risk a SPAD, however, with us rolling round the corner when he arrived, drawing forwards is a no no, in case one or other driver over runs a red signal, so he was simply stuck. With us having arrived, there was nothing we could do other than wait until his tail end was clear. This put us 8 minutes late into Bridgnorth, On arrival at Bridgnorth, one of our passengers provided me with another smile, asking the TTI for help opening the door as it didn't appear to be working. It turned out she had mistaken the back plate of the lock mechanism for a modern style touch pad, and was pressing it and wondering why the door didn't just spring open. We crossed Dave's train at Bridgnorth again, and rather strangely, I didn't see him, although on the up side, he didn't throw the Lemon at me, he did however, hide it on my train, a situation I quickly sorted. On arrival at Kidderminster, some reservation labels were made out, reserving a seat for "Mr Lemon" and the Lemon posed in a window for a photograph, before the fruit was retrieved, although the labels had been forgotten, this would raise a smile later on. Before I left, I handed the Lemon to a member of platform staff. "When Dave puts his tail lamp on," I said, "Wait until he turns to walk away, and Jam it in the crook of the tail lamp handle." Again, the afternoon proved to be easier than the morning, although when he got into Bridgnorth, Dave claimed to have lost the Lemon, (More likely he couldn't find it), so I left plotting a different wind up, however before I did, Dave handed me some post, a letter addressed to Monsieur Citron. Lukily for him, Dave found the Lemon before he got back to Kidder, and handed it back to me. We knew we had to swap sets the next day, so I met him on the platform to swap our kit over from one van to the other, although oddly, the shunters were also on hand to shunt Daves set out of the platform to make room for the stock off a driving school, which was to return some time after us, with the unfortunate effect that the following morning, the stock for the first train would be in a siding with both platforms occupied. We decided that clearly better informed people than us knew what was going on, and headed for a pint, hiding the Leon in the fruit bowl of the 1940s house to see if the station staff noticed it. So Friday rolled round, the day of Tom's exam. John and Tom were there in good time, and were taking water when I walked past the loco to the signal box to get the radios to do a shunt. The shunters were moving one of the other sets, so having done a radio check, all we could do was sit there. With a set of stock to move out to the carriage sidings, the set in platform 1 to move to number 2 engine line, me sat in number 1 engine line to go to platform 2 and a footplate experience train approaching, the poor signalman got himself in a bit of a knot, and we ended up getting in the platform with the 10.15 train at 10.11. I was glad John was driving this morning as Tom wouldn't need the additional stress of this and trying to catch up time to add to his exam. We got away just a minute late, and as I commented to Dave as we left, it may have started badly, but in our usual style, we would have to ensure that the passengers didn't see the cracks. It wasn't until our first return trip back from Bridgnorth, that things got interesting. We had some passengers to drop off at Country park halt. As we approached, I could see people on the platform, they were stood well back and clearly watching not getting on, however as I rolled to a stop, I heard a voice say "It's my old mate Ian Hollis," I looked round to see an old school friend of mine from Wolverhampton and his family. At Highley, the train started falling apart! My TTI, Leigh Weston on this occasion, was having some trouble closing one of the doors. On closer inspection, it became apparent that the webbing strap that holds the door in place in the event that the hinge should become damaged, had come adrift at one and and was now stack between the door and it's frame. We tucked it inside, and I waved the train away, before going to fix the problem properly. The problem was, I couldn't get the screws back in, nor could I unscrew the other end. I tried to no avail to get the split pin and hinge pin out of the good end but had to give up. Once again, I had to turn to my roll of gaffer tape, and tape the strap back to the wall out of the way. As I arrived at Kidderminster, the station staff informed me that the Lemons had multiplied, and one had become a grapefruit. I found most of them, but on boarding the train was greeted by a confused passenger holding a grapefruit! I went to hand these to a member of station staff but the reply came back, "You'll see Dave Brattan later won't you? You know what to do." We set off for one last trip. John got off the loco at Bewdley, with Tom taking over the Driving and Lawrence Mortimer handling the firing duties, with the two of them being joined by inspector Bob Lane hopefully to pass Tom out. I wanted now to be on top form, and make sure that I did everything I could do to make sure Toms turn was as easy as I could. The Kinlet TSR made us 3 minutes late in an otherwise faultless run as far as Highley, but rapid station work saw us leave Hampton Loade on time, although the TSR at Waterworks would put another 2 minutes into us. At Bridgnorth, I retrieved the Grapefruit, then went to get the tail lamp, removing the Lemon that someone had jammed in it's handle, and headed for the other end of my train, pondering how I could get one over David. when Tom spotted me. Before I got chance to ask him how the exam was going, he commented, "There is something surreal about seeing you walking up the platform holding a tail lamp, a Lemon and a flipping great Grapefruit! Shall I have one of those on the loco." I handed him the Grapefruit. "I didn't want to muck around with the loco," I said, "I didn't want to risk your exam." "Oh I doubt Bob will even notice," he replied, "Have you got anything to fix it on with." "I don't" I replied, "Just put a hole in it and stick it on a lamp Iron." Lawrence's Pen Knife was duely used to make a hole, and the fruit jammed on the middle lamp iron. When Dave arrived, I went to leave the lemon on his train, and while he was distracted, I hid it in plain sight, right outside his guards van, before heading to Kidderminster, and hopefully to celebrate Tom's passing out. we were all holding our breath, and my phone was going mad with people asking if he had passed yet. Exactly on time, we made a steady, sure footed start from Bridgnorth. We lost time at Waterworks, but the Crew were well aware of what I was likely to do, and we were standing at Hampton Loade for about 30 seconds, getting us back on time, and ensuring all Tom needed to do was drive steadily (You can maintain time on the valley at 20 mph) and not worry about chasing time. We were right time at Highley, and soon the brakes were coming on for te slack at Kinlet. I had been giving a green flag to the crew all week to indicate that we were clear of the slack, and as I did so, I got a wave from Tom, and he accelerated the train smoothly away. At Arley, having lost a little time at Kinlet, we were again stationary for under a minute, and were away on time, dropping down the gentle bank towards Vicky Bridge one last time, before climbing up through Eyemore Wood. We rolled into Bewdley and for the first time we were able to take the full 11 minute booked station time. I'm not sure how helpful this was, if it was my exam it would have been agony, an anxious wait right at the end, but eventually and still dead on time, we were away, climbing up past Devils spittleful and into the tunnel. We crested the bank, and dropped down the other side, but as we swept under Stourport Road bridge our perfect run was threatened by a red signal, Kidderminster's outer home being against us. We rolled onto Fallingsands viaduct but the signal still refused to clear. Committed now to stopping, Tom gave a shrill blast on the whistle. Just as the wheels came to rest, the board came off. We chuffed up behind the houses at Kidderminster and rolled round the curve to run along side the main line into Kidderminster Town station. I went to the back of the train, and waited until the 28 was off the front before I took the tail lamp off and let the Jocko onto the rear of the train to remove the stock so Dave would have a platform to arrive in in half an hour's time. I then headed off for a pint, while Tom took the loco back to Bewdley to find out whether or not he had passed. If you want to replicate Mine, Tom's and John's capers, or fancy a front row seat as a TTI, signalman or one of the many other jobs the railway has to offer, why not ring the Volunteer Liaison office on 01299 401776 and come and join us?