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Guard at War

Discussion in 'Bullhead Memories' started by olly5764, Jul 5, 2016.

  1. olly5764

    olly5764 Well-Known Member

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    Heritage Railway Volunteer:
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    I nearly didn't do my regular week between the SVR's 1940's weekends this year, but for some persuasive talking from Tom, the fireman, the reason being that the owing to a tweak to the timetable, the train with the schools on, which I normally work, had been switched to the Bridgnorth turn, and I prefer doing this to the quieter turns, but had no intention of driving to Bridgnorth every day, when to reach Kidderminster, I don't need to do much more than fall out of bed.
    I had missed out on the schools train last year too, owing to an administrative mix up, and the week was so quiet I hadn't really got a tale to tell, so it is Two years since we last caught up with Tom, and his driver John. The Monday of my previous tale began with Tom and his girlfriend Dawn (Who I promised a mention, so Hello Dawn!) telling me they were expecting a child, they are now of course parents of a little boy who is definitely like his dad!
    So, Monday morning, and after a breakfast round the corner at AJ's diner, I signed on at Kidder at 09.15, and drew out set of detonators KR2, my lucky tin of bangers. This started as a joke, when a colleague noticed that for some reason (Maybe because they were in a bigger tin than the others so more easily grabbed) 90% of the time I took the same set of dets out of the cupboard, a tradition that I have perpetuated in the 13 years that have followed!
    A friend of mine who used to work on the Bodmin and Wenford had commented the previous day, that the longest train she had ever guarded had been 7 coaches, so I wondered what she would have made of this morning's 9 car rake, made up of 8 LM coaches and GW engineers saloon 80972 turning the scales at 272 tons all up (Showing how much lighter an LM is compared to a BR standard), although unlike the GW coaches (Which are similar in weight to the LM ones) they are also considerably shorter than a BR standard, meaning that we only had equivalent of 7 coaches worth of seating, but still more than enough.
    I had just finished checking the train over, when the loco appeared, 7812, Erlstoke Manor, complete with "The Cornishman" headboard. Almost as soon as the loco had stopped, one of the cleaners who John had brought out for a footplate ride, was dispatched to fetch the loco crew's breakfast.
    Our first trip of the day ensured I had a story to tell irrespective of the rest of the week!
    I returned to the van, stowed my gear, sat Idris (My toy cuddly dragon) on the desk, and made myself comfortable, or at least as comfortable as anyone can be in an LM brake van, give me a BR standard any day! The LM vans are what would be described these days as "Open plan" with two sets of parcels doors, one of which leads directly into the guard's area, which is separated from the parcels compartment by a cage and nothing more. These days, on 26880, the van also doubles as the wheel chair accommodation, with a seat at the far end of it, which often gets frequented by passengers, disabled or otherwise, meaning that the guard is a lot more public facing than usual, and really has to mind his P's and Q's (Or more crucially his F's and B's) whilst holding conversations with his TTI's etc.
    I was greeted by Bill Griffiths, one of our office staff, and a long suffering friend of mine, who wanted to ask my opinion in a few things, and also to inform me that the office staff were going to take over one coach, as they were on a team building exercise, with the intention that the more experienced and railway biased staff would teach the less experienced and less railway biased ones a bit about the railway so that they can do their jobs in a better and more informed manner, weather this was a success or not I don't know, but the gaffer did have some very interesting conversations with a number of people, myself included (Well I thought it was interesting) so it seems at least to have been a constructive exercise.
    Departure time came and went, and the board remained against us, the signalman, it seems, had misread the time table, and was expecting a loco to be offered from Bewdley South, which, when the engine for AS2 (Second south end train on the A time table) is shedded at Bewdley, it is booked as 10.10 ex-Bewdley, 10.20 into Kidder, unfortunately for the signalman, the loco for AS2 was off Bridgnorth this week, and was due to cross us at Bewdley at 10.41, a mistake he must have realised, as at 10.35, we were away, start the week 5 down, not a good sign!
    It is always the way when you are late that someone wants to stop the train at one of the halts, and sure enough, we had to pick someone up at Northwood, however, we were on time into Hampton Loade, without John having to Tax his fireman too much, as really, on a line like ours, time is most easily made up by quick station stops rather than hitting the engine too hard.
    We would loose a couple of minutes to Bridgnorth, as the Water works straight now has a lengthy P-Way slack on it owing to a mix of worn out rail and bad drainage giving the straight a distinct "Wiggle" these days, but the real delay occurred as we approached the northern terminus.
    All looked well as we ran down Erdington bank and through Knowlesands tunnel, with the home signal showing green, we rolled round the 'S' bend towards the station, when suddenly the brake went in, and we came to a stand with the inner home signal showing green....
    ..... for platform 2!
    Bridgnorth's platforms are not both the same length, Platform 2 will accommodate 5 coaches, and while we would have been able to run round, the occupants of the saloon, which is non-corridor, would be un-able to alight, where as platform 1 will accommodate, at a push, ten coaches, clearly, the wrong signal had been cleared for our 9 coach train. I can only imagine the language on the footplate might have turned the air blue.
    Tom got down and got on the phone, and soon enough, the road went back, the points were swung, and the correct signal came off, and we rolled into number 1, now 8 minutes adrift.
    As I walked the lamp round to the other end, I stopped at the box to ask the bobby what had happened, he smiled and replied, "I've read the traffic notice now, and you are right, you are nine coaches."
    "I know," I replied, "I counted 'em!"
    The second round trip was no less eventful, as we set off from Kidderminster on time, only to arrive at Arley and find no sight of the up train.
    "You are going to be a while," The Arley signalman informed me, "Sir Keith Park has failed at Hampton"
    Eventually, having informed all of the passengers, and told them not to wonder too far as we will be underway at the first opportunity, I was told to get em all back on, as we would be passing the failed train at Hampton rather than waiting for a diesel to drag it to Arley, or (As I transpired for it to be fixed) We were now ten minutes down.
    We couldn't make much up to Bridgnorth, despite all our best efforts, but we had a good go all the same, and with a quick run round at Bridgnorth, and with SKP's train having plenty of time at Kidder, we were in with a shout of being home on time.
    Tuesday, and we had lost the engineers saloon, making the train 31 tons lighter, and this time we were on a the Red Dragon with 7812 again. Very little happened other than me having to distribute tickets for the following weekend to all stations, however, the weather was appalling, and much as I love GW locos, I was glad to be in the van today.
    At Bridgnorth, I got a soaking, and having gone up to see John for something, eventually had to accept that I was wet, and asked if I could join them under the storm sheet to dry off a bit.
    Wednesday, and while I was waiting for Tom and John to turn up with the Manor, tis time sporting the "Pembroke Coast Express" headboard. While I waited, I stood in the van trying to locate the source of an odd "Ding-ding-ding" sound. My friend Sheena had traveled back from Bridgnorth with me the previous night and had noted an different, but equally difficult to explain noise, and I was starting to think the van was haunted. I had tracked the noise down to one corner.... mine! But there was no bell of any sort in that corner, nor any corner to produce the ringing sound. I stepped outside for a chat with Bill, who had come to hand me the daily post, which I was to distribute (Or more normally for me, forget until the second trip) when I looked around to the exterior of my corner of the van, and noted the rain water pouring off the roof, hitting the metal step on the corner, with a faint, barely audible "Ding-ding-ding" which was clearly being amplified by the coach body, giving a much louder bell sound inside, the fact the wind was blowing the rain onto / off of the step would certainly explain its intermittent nature! While I did feel a fool, I couldn't resist sharing the tale with Bill, who laughed and walked off.
    It was going to be one of those days, the up train (The Bridgnorth based set) delayed us at Arley again, and we were nearly ten minutes adrift into Bridgnorth, cutting short our breaks, more important for Tom and John as their job is physically much harder than mine. Being true professionals, we were away right time, and with few passengers on, whilst not our most profitable trip, we were not likely to drop any time on our own, despite the TSR at Waterworks, however, as we approached Arley, we were stopped at the Up home. The train the other way was 10 coaches with a pacific on the front, and had pulled up a tad short, so we were checked all the way in, then had to wait in the platform for him to depart before the signalman could pull off or give us the token, so once again, we were late!
    As we rounded the corner on approach to Northwood, all seemed well, I checked the crossing, then before I could check the platform, the brake went in hard, the loco stopped with it's tender on the crossing, and speculation went around about a near miss, rumours can get around the railway faster than the trains can! The road lights were still running, and the platform was clear, and I soon got an "All right" signal from John, and we were on our way once more. On talking to the S&T it transpired that the truth was odder than the rumours.
    John had reported that the lights for the railway had started, which I had seen, but had knocked off before we had reached them, which I had not seen as by the time the fault had shown up, they were out of my sight. The S&T informed me that the railway lights won't work if the power is off, but the road lights will, however I pointed out that the white light to the train had been flashing when both John and I had seen it, but Tom had seen it knock off, it seems that the power had gone off some time between us hitting the treddle, and reaching the crossing, the batteries keeping the road lights running, but the railway ones knocking off as they were supposed to, The power cut had a three second window in which to occur in order for me to think that all was well but for John and Tom to see a problem, but it certainly found it!
    On leaving Kidder for our second trip, my TTI, reported rain water pouring into one of the coaches. I went to investigate and could clearly see a large puddle on the floor but no sign of a leak. Eventually examining round the window revealed that the glass was wet on the inside and that the seals on the window had some how been overloaded with water, with a flash of inspiration, I opened the window and reached up above the door, running my fingers along the gutters, discovering moss, leaves, what looked like a bird's nest and heaven knows what else blocking the gutter, with this cleared, the leak solved it's self!
    As we approached Country Park Halt, there were three people on the platform, two adults and a child, one adult was crouching down behind the child with her bac to the train, while the other was standing up, either giving a very indistinct signal, which I wasn't sure John could see, or holding a camera at arms length, taking a picture of his daughter and other half with the approaching train behind. He put his hand down, so I assumed it was option B. As I got closer, it transpired that I was wrong, it was a signal, however, I was right in thinking John hadn't seen it, and we were accelerating through it. I put the setter in, and brought the rear coach in the platform. My TTI came and asked how come we had nearly missed our three passengers, and I informed him of the very indistinct signal, which he then went to inform the passenger concerned of, in order that he wouldn't get left behind on the next occasion, you can imagine my surprise when later on the same passenger thrust a fiver into my hand to get the driver a drink, he went to add another pound to get Tom one too, when I pointed to t price list on the buffet and pointed out that a fiver would be enough, not that it would, as the buffet prices had no baring on the prices in the pub in town later, but I felt guilty taking too much off him just for stopping the train, I then had to claim to be T total in order to stop him giving me yet more money!
    Thursday, and John and Tom had decided that the £5 was to be invested in bacon sandwiches for the three of us, so when they arrived with the loco, now carrying the Merchant Venturer headboard and reporting code number 354, a cleaner was duely dispatched with the money, plus the shortfall made up out of John's own pocket, for all our breakfast.
    That was all that really happened Thursday, except we said goodbye to John, as he was off on a cruise of the Med, and planned to spend Friday relaxing in Southampton before his wife came down to join him in the evening, so on Friday, John became Ron, as 7812, this time baring the Mayflower headboard, arrived in the capable hands of Stephen "Ron Weasely" Chandler.
    As you can imagine, Ron is rather different to John being tall with what was once a good crop of, but is now receeding ginger hair.
    The day had given me a giggle before it had even begun, as I stood in the van cleaning and lighting the tail lamp.
    For the uninitiated, oil lamps leave a build up of carbon on the mouth of the burner and the end of the wick, this is perfectly normal, but shouldn't be allowed to build up as the lamp gets choked and becomes unreliable, build up like this is the most likely cause of a lamp "Blowing" out, but is easily remedied, as pinching the end of the wick will remove the build up from here, and a quick scrape with a pen knife blade will clear the burner.
    While I was carrying out this task, Dave Bratten, the guard off AS2 wondered over.
    "Can I borrow your lighter?" he asked.
    "Oh yeah?" I said, raising one eye brow, "Left half your kit behind have we?"
    "No," he replied, "Just forgot to go to the shop this morning for some matches."
    The SVR used to sell matches in our shops, but stopped a couple of years back, the number of times I forgot mine, I think I must have been their biggest customer. As a result, as back up, should I forget to top up my supply, any cigarette lighters I find, no matter how empty or girly, if they will give a flame, go in my guard's bag. I don't smoke myself so they are not something I naturally keep, but you'd be amazed how many people leave down the side of bus seats, in the pub etc, naughty I know, but they are so anonymous, I doubt you could reunite them with their real owner if you could motivate yourself to try, as a result, I am usually a good bet, when I am guarding, as a good place to scrounge a light.
    At Bridgnorth, I was asked by the station staff to have a quick look in my first class compartments, a s a passenger had reported leaving a camera in there, as there were only three to search and a camera is fairly big, I gladly did so, finding it the second I walked into the first compartment and re-uniting the happy punter with his property.
    On the way back, things started to happen again, as first, when we passed through Country Park Halt, there was a gentleman on the platform, who as the train approached felt the need to strip to the waist and do a little dance for us all, very odd! Then as we left Highley, my TTI informed me of an amusing incedent that he had just had with a slightly tipsy passenger, who had narrowly avoided tumbling off the train and onto the platform, but staggered forward a few paces before upending himself in the flower bed, as he was planning to head down the very steep, muddy hill to the Ship Public House, heaven knows what condition he arrived in.
    So that was it, appart from a little bit more lost property, a couple of late arriving passengers and more rain, that is the story of a week as an SVR guard on 1940's week.
    If you want to replicate mine, Tom's and John's tales, or even show us how to do it properly, why not contact the SVR's Volunteer Liason Office on 01299 401776 and ask for information on how to become a volunteer Guard, footplate crew, signalman, TTI, buffet staff to name but a few rolls, or failing that, if the SVR is a little to far to travel, it's fair to say that your local railway will be equally pleased to hear from you, for those that don't fancy volunteering but prefer to travel and relax, well, sit back and enjoy the ride.
    Olly
     
    david1984, Johnb, jtx and 3 others like this.
  2. jtx

    jtx Well-Known Member Friend

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    Great story, as ever, Ian. I was with you all the way.

    Regards,

    John
     
    olly5764 likes this.
  3. olly5764

    olly5764 Well-Known Member

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    Thanks jtx, hope it gave toy a bit of a laugh along the way
     

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