My final job on British Railways was
“What do you think of the new Area Manager then?”
“He’s not bad for an Englishman. Look you!”
Rare praise indeed.
At that time, the railway was controlled by a series of interlockings, known as signal boxes. They were connected by means of block telegraph and bells and each box had a lever frame placed behind a wide window to give a good view of the trains. Signal boxes could be lonely places at times and it required a special breed of man to work in them. They had to have an intimate knowledge of the Block Signalling Regulations and how to apply them – and it was my responsibility to supervise them.
I quickly learned not to question
requisitions for emery
cloth, dusters and floor polish. Signalmen
were very house proud and kept most of the boxes
condition. The steel lever handles were
cleaned every week with emery cloth and it was more than my life’s
pull a lever by grasping it with my hands as this would corrode the
metal. It was necessary to hold the lever
duster provided so as not to tarnish the brightwork.
The floors were polished to a high shine. Part of my duties was to visit each box regularly and sign the train register book. The first time I went to Clynderwen box the signalman saw me coming and was blocking the doorway. He was wearing slippers and carrying the train register book.
“No need to come into the box, Boss. Just sign the book here in the doorway.”
That way I would not bring dirt on to
his shiny floor. I knew this was how they
treated the train
crews who were not allowed inside because of the dirt.
However, I insisted on entering to inspect
the box. The signalman thereupon threw a
duster on the floor and made me shuffle about so as to maintain the
shine – but
at least I had gained entry!
I gradually came to be accepted and one day I was in a box on the Milford Haven branch discussing the single line electric train staff system then in use. Until just before I came they had used an old form of train staff which was essentially a metal rod about two feet long and an inch in diameter which weighed 3-1/2 pounds. These large staffs were occasionally difficult to catch on a moving engine and there were tales of firemen who had their ankles broken when the signalman threw one of these into the cab of a moving engine. The signalman then told me that two of these relics had not been returned when the system had been changed.
“They’re behind the train register desk in Tenby box, Boss.”
My next port of call was Tenby! As I entered the box I accidentally tripped on the duster and fell heavily against the desk. There was an ominous thump and two old train staffs fell out on to the floor. The signalman looked embarrassed at my discovery.
I merely said:
“I am going to take one of these and you will remove the other from this box today.”
The old train staff for use between
Templeton is in my den today and is one of my prized possessions.