September 1963

In which I return from the United States and start work as a Management Trainee on British Railways.

Sunday 1 September

We got up quite early and left Houston around 09.30.  We motored all the day through Beaumont, Lake Charles, Kinder, Oppelousas and crossed the Mississippiat Baton Rouge, Hammond and camped at Fontainbleau, one of Louisiana's State Parks.  the drive today took us right into the deep south which was very noticeable  -  e.g. cinemas with two entrances.  The weather is still very hot and damp while the mosquitoes are very persistent.

Monday 2 September

We woke up early and crossed the causeway into New Orleans (cost $1).  This is reputedly the longest bridge in the world (17 miles?).  Saw a drunken black a about 08.00 in the morning. He was really drunk.  We had breakfast in New Orleans and then tried to find the French Quarter.  We eventually found it, having driven through some very lousy black parts.  I saw a streetcar - the last in operation in the USA.  The French Quarter is very picturesque but also very sleezy.  We had coffee in a french-type cafe.   The climate was very unpleasant here so we made our way along the coast eastwards through Gulfport, Biloxi, Mobile (Alabama) and to Pensacola in Florida.  Some of the beaches are very pleasant but in some areas there is much dirt and filth (especially in the black area around Mobile).  We spent the night at Fort Pickens State Park in Florida.

Tuesday 3 September

There were several skunks around the camp last night - we could smell them clearly.  We had breakfast in Pensacola and headed north through Montgomery and Tuskeegee, Alabama.  There were race riots yesterday but it was quiet today.  The climate is now drier and much more pleasant.  There were many cotton fields which were being picked by hand.  The countryside is very pleasant, well wooded with many colonial type houses.  We camped in Roosevelt State Park near Pine Mountain, Georgia.  Very pleasant to notice the lack of mosquitoes.

Wednesday 4 September

We left the State Park and went to Atlanta via Greenville and Newman.  Had a quick look at Atlanta where we encountered the tail end of a race riot. There were many surly blacks around with a large police force standing by.  They were all watching someone hosing blood off the pavement.  We were scared stiff and got out quickly.  We stayed the night in the home of one of John's friends in Athens.  We had a look around the town and finished up climbing a fire tower.  While we were up this lookout tower in the middle of the forest we heard a harmonica.  Somebody was obviously prowling around but we didn't see anyone.

Thursday 5 September

John wanted to go to Savannah but everybody else wanted to go to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park so we have got rid of John.  We left Athens and headed north to camp at Deep Creek camp ground near Bryson City.  This is a good camp.  It is free and has excellent facilities.  We met a very pleasant chap from Cleveland, Ohio.

Friday 6 September

Emil (from Cleveland) invited us to breakfast this morning and then gave us a $20 bill.  We were flabbergasted.  We have only covered about 20 miles today.  We went through Cherokee Reservation and into the Smokies at Newfound Gap.  We had a vapour lock on the climb up and had to let the car cool off.  From there we walked along the trail to Charlie's Bunion - 8 miles round trip.  The walk was very pleasant through well wooded country.  We were above 5,000 feet and it was quite misty in places although some parts were bathed in sunshine.  We then went on to Gatlinburg where we had a meal.  From there we drove the short distance to the camp ground at Elkmont.  We collected some wood and cooked a can of baked beans. Cans of cheese soup were also cheap and nourishing).

Saturday 7 September

We had breakfast at Gatlinburg, having been refused service at the first cafe, and left the town quite late.  We crossed back to Cherokee and from there we took the Blue Ridge Parkway for a while. We found this was punishing the car a bit so we left the parkway and carried on through Waynesville to Asheville.  This is an industrial town, not very pleasant.  We drove on to Windsor-Salem, having two flats on the way, and eventually bought another second hand tyre. From Asheville the countryside became much more pleasant - very green with a fair amount of wood.  We tried to camp at the State Park called Overhanging Rock but it was closed.  We camped almost at the entrance by the side of the road.

Sunday 8 September

We crossed quickly into Virginia and had breakfast at Gretna.  Southern Virginia is important for tobacco. There were many fields of plants and several buildings specially built for drying the leaves.  We motored northwards through Lynchburg and Charlotteville and turned off into Shenandoah National Park to camp at Big Meadow Campground.  This is quite a good site but there is nothing to do at night.

Monday 9 September

We left the Shenandoah National Park along the Skyline Parkway with splendid views of the Shenandoah river valley to our left.  At Front Royal we had breakfast and then went to look at the Confederate Museum.  It wasn't too bad but some bits were a little far fetched e.g. a piece of of wood from the tree under which Robert E. Lee was standing when the surrender was announced.  The curator was amusing: "You come from England.  Do you know Fred Jones?"  From here we drove to Washington DC and stopped to look at the Manassas Battlefield National Monument.  This is very well laid out indeed. There are a series of notices which lead you, step-by-step, across the battlefield, explaining how and when the moves were made.  At Church Falls we phoned the Salvatorian Fathers at Lanham, Maryland and they are putting us up for two days while we look around Washington DC.

Tuesday 10 September

We spent the day looking around Washington DC.  The journey in by car wasn't too bad. We parked near the centre and walked around from there. It is a pleasant town. We went tot he Capitol past the Supreme Court and fund out that bth Houses convene at 12.00.  W decided to have a look at the White House. It is quite "pretty" and surprisigly small.  On the way back to the capitol we went up the Washington Monument.  It was higher than we thought, the stairway consisting of 50 landings and 898 steps  Inserted into the interior walls are 90 carved stones presented by individuals, societies, states and nations.  These include stones from the ruins of ancient Carthage, Brazil. Japan, Greece and Turkey.  These are very intereseting and make a journey to the top even longer than the actual walk (which is long enough).  The view from the top was very good, especially so because the weather was so good.

We managed to get into both the Senate and the House of Representatives.  The Senate was very boring, there were only ten Senators in the chamber.  There was only one good speaker and this was on the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.  The House of Representatives was more lively but too much time was taken up calling the roll.  The House resolved itself into committee and debated Mental Health Expenditure.  We had dinner at the New senate offices Building which is reached through the subway (free).  I looked in at Union Station and spent most of the afternoon at the Smithsonian Institute where we met Johnny Marsh.  The most interesting exhibits at the Institute were the vanguard rocket and two space capsules.  We had a quick look at the Library of Congress before going back to Lanham.

Wednesday 11 September

We left Lanham reasonably early and made our way into New Jersey, by-passing Baltimore, and through Delaware to Blackwood.  Father Edward was busy so we left a messae and went on to Princeton to look at the university.  This is well laid out on a well kept campus,  We had great difficulty in finding a camping place and eventually camped near Washington Rocks State Park.  Johnny Marsh is coming with us to New York.  This area isn't so pleasant.  many more houses and the people are more unfriendly.

Thursday 12 September

We were checked by the state patrol last night.  We took the Garden State Parkway into New York State.  We went to Bear Mountain Harriman State Park. Eberything was closed down after Labor Day.  We weren't even allowed to swim.  The state park is very beautiful at this time of year with the leaves changing colour.  The peopleare very unfriendly. We spent a miserable evening  a storm is brewing.

Friday 13 September

There was quite a storm last night.  It was a good job I was in Johnny's tent which had a built in ground sheet.  We were pretty cold in the morning. It took over an hour to get the fire to light.  We left early and brought the car into New York and eventually to Newark, N.J.  We went to Jerry de Stella, who sold us the car, but he was not there. We managed to sell the car, HUX 964, for $35 - $7 each. This wasn't too bad considering we got 10,000 miles out of it.  We caught the Pennsylvania RR train into New York.  Johnny and Tony went to try and find a room but didn't look too hard.  Dave Barrett and I decided to take a room at the YMCA ($2.20 each).  Johnny and Tony are being very stupid and are trying to sleep in the Grand Central Station.  I wish them luck.  I had a walk up Broadway this evening.  Nothing special really, lots of lights etc., much like Leicester Square.

Saturday 14 September

Our last full day in New York.  Johnny and Tony were moved around quite a bit last night.  they didn't get much sleep and were a bit snappy so I went around town with the two Daves.  We first went up the Empire State Building. It was very expensive but I think well worth it,  The visibility was very good and the views were terrific.  The lift took quite a long time.  It was very windy at the top.  The thing that I didn't like was the inevitable commercial aspect - we were moved around like cattle.  From there we moved on to the United Nations building.  This is quite impressive but rather difficult to photograph.  The most moving part was the memorial to Dag Hammoskjelt. Had a quick look at Central Park.  It is much more pleasant than I thought it would be with ducks and geese on the pond.

Went back to the YMCA via the Rockafella Center. I had my first pizza.  We decided to see a show on Broadway this evening. After much humming and hawing we eventually saw the film "Lawrence of Arabia".  It was pretty good but I was rather surprised at the way they portrayed the way he went mad.

Sunday 15 September

Our last day here. We walked down through Greenwich Village which is nothing much more than a glorified slum.  Went over to the Statten Island Ferry to get a glimpse of the Statue of Liberty and then we passed close to Wall Street, I wasn't at all impressed.  We came back to the YMCA in the subway.  I walked towards Broadway but couldn't get very far because there was a Cuba demonstration and the police were out in force.  We went out to the airport by the subway and bus.  There was another demonstration at Idelewilde, this time it was for Mr. Gromyko, the Russian delegate to the United Nations.  We soon met the rest of the party and swapped experiences. I had just $5 in my pocket.  The Douglas DC-7C "Bering Sea" took off on time and our ten week trip to the USA had ended.  This has been a most unforgettable experience which was worth every minute of it, despite the hardships.

Monday 16 September

The trip back to London Airport was largely uneventful.  The food was very good and we were given free drinks this morning.  I had vodka.  The view of the Atlantic was obscured by clouds but these began to break up so that we could see the Irish coast, the River Shannon and the airport.  The trip across England was made more interesting by the fact that we saw Reading and passed over Caversham.

Monday 23 September

Signalbox Trainee
Today I started work on British Railways as a Management Trainee.  After a short introduction in Paddington I was taken to Oxford for my first part at Oxford passenger station.  David Ainsworth, the Station Manager, was on leave for the first week, so I had to be with Relief Station Master Ron Cox who, although he wasn't definitely hostile, wasn't really helpful.  I did most things on the station - with the Inspector on all three shifts, booking office, signal box, parcels office, delivery van, staff office, passenger shunters.

It was something of a rude shock, and in great contrast to what I had seen in the U.S.A., to see on my first day that morse code was still in use at Oxford. As Ron Cox didn't know what to do with me, I spent much of the first week in the Booking Office. This was great fun, especially after I had learned to issue a card ticket without getting my thumb in the date press. Many were the tickets handed through the glass that week by a hand with a blue, bruised thumb.

"A day return please,"
"Where to, Ma'am?"
"Why, back here of course."

The other most often used ploy was:
"What time's the next train?"
"Ten twenty, Sir"
"Give me a ticket for the one before that one please."

We had a number of American servicemen at Oxford who would ask for a round-trip ticket to down town London. They would look most suspicious when issued with a day return to Paddington.

I also spent some time in the Oxford Station South Signal Box. This had recently been the scene of some controversy when the Stationmaster had caught the signalmen breaking Block Regulation Four. A down train could not be accepted from Hinksey unless the line was clear right into the platform. In many cases the shunters would have a parcels van in the platform and the train would be accepted with the line set for the through road. In the ten minutes before the passenger train appeared the van would be removed leaving the platform road clear. The signalman would then change the road and pull off his signals without any delay to the passenger train. What he should have done was to have brought the train to a stand at the signal before changing the points. The Stationmaster pointed out the violation only to be challenged that the job could not be done according to the rule book. The challenge was taken up and one afternoon the Stationmaster worked the box strictly according to the rules. It happened to be one of those days when the shunters and platform staff were exceptionally tardy and every down passenger train was delayed. The subsequent howl from Paddington caused a blind eye to be turned to any further minor rulebook infractions.

The one thing that had always intrigued me about signal box work was how the signalman always knew who you were when working on the footplate and I was anxious to get into the box to find out more about this aspect of railway work. Let us have a closer look at Oxford Station South. The steps leading to the operating floor climb up past a pile of coal. The ground floor with the interlocking equipment is inhabited by small Signal Maintainers and large rats. The main feature of the brown linoleum operating floor is the lever frame with maybe sixty levers painted different colours according to their function (home and starting signals - red, distant signals - yellow, points - black, point locks - blue). Above the lever frame there is a shelf at shoulder height containing the Block Bells and Block Telegraph instruments giving the state of the section (Line Clear, Line Occupied and Train Entering Section). On the railway side, behind the levers there are large windows running the length of the box giving a good view of the trains. The rest of the room is quite simple - a smoky coal stove, an incredibly old wooden armchair, and a battered desk upon which rests the Train Register. The Notice Board on the wall contains instructions dating back to antiquity, all with a thick coating of dust and grime. A single, bare, light bulb is trying to penetrate the smoky gloom. The paintwork had once been cream but this had long since weathered to a cracked and dark brown.

Dennis, the signalman, is in his chair trying to coax some heat out of the stove in an attempt to ward off the cold autumn draughts that are coming through the poorly fitting windows. Every so often the wind rattles the windows in their fittings. One beat on the bell from Station North (Call Attention). Dennis gives one beat and Station North asks "Is Line Clear for an Express Passenger Train?" (Four Beats). Dennis checks his instruments and points, accepts the train by repeating the four beats and offers it forward to Hinksey North Box which accepts it straight away. He pulls off his signals. Two beats from Station North (Train Entering Section) and the London express accelerates out of the station. The driver is intent on his signals but the fireman pauses just long enough from his labours on the shovel to give us a friendly wave. It is getting dark but we can just discern a glint from the brightly polished copper band around the Castle's chimney. Dennis gives two beats to Hinksey North, checks that the train is complete and gives "Train Out of Section" (2-1) to Station North. The occurrence is booked in the Train Register and Dennis then settles into the armchair waiting for the next "Call Attention".
It was an interesting, if somewhat lonely existence which was enlivened by the shunters. Dick, the Head Shunter, had to make all the shunting moves in the station and his wishes sometimes conflicted with those of Dennis and the Rulebook. The two managed a fairly stable relationship which was brightened up from time to time by Dick placing a detonator in a little-used slot in the lever frame so that the lever, when moved, would set off the detonator. Dennis would counteract this move by dropping a detonator down the chimney of the Shunters' Cabin into the pot belly stove. After the resulting explosion the cabin would be evacuated by a band of nigger minstrels covered in soot.

This shunters cabin had gained a certain notoriety in the area as having the best display of girly centrefolds in the London Division. The new Divisional Manager made a tour of Oxford and resisted the efforts of the Stationmaster to steer him clear of the cabin. It was never determined what caused his hasty exit, the centerfolds or the large rat that ran out as he was walking in!

The Signalmen and Shunters lead a pretty easy going relationship although one day I nearly caused open warfare to break out. I was in the box working the bells and levers while Dennis was comfortably installed in his armchair smoking his pipe and doing the booking. About halfway through the shift, Dick wanted to make a move through a little-used crossover just under the box. The crossover had to be unlocked and the wire that operated the lock passed through a detector at a signal some three quarters of a mile away. The lever was connected to the lock by some one and a half miles of wire. Under Dennis's instructions, I gave it my full strength and the lever suddenly gave way nearly throwing me through the back wall. I had broken the wire. As we called the Signal Maintainer, I could hear Dick muttering something about what could happen to trainees who get in the way.

It was partly to get Dick out of the way and partly to help the Maintainer that Dennis suggested that Dick follow the wire to find out where it was broken. He moved the lever back and forth so that Dick could identify it. The signal wires run in a group just above ground level by the side of the line and Dick, who was a tall man, was bent double as he followed the wire with his fingers. He set off and was soon out of sight round the bend making for the signal.

We had become absorbed in passing trains on the main line and had forgotten about Dick until some thirty minutes later when he re-appeared still bent double, following the wire and looking for the break. It turned out that the break was at the opposite end and although the two ends were less than five feet apart, Dick had walked one and a half miles bent double.

Needless to say, tempers were a little strained and it only took a remark such as:
"Trust you to start from the wrong end!"
for open warfare to commence. It was a good thing that I left Oxford shortly after that and I hope that they quickly became friends again.

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