British Steam Notes

Some time ago I told in the Branchline how you could cook a meal on a locomotive, I got to thinking the other day about other things you can do on a steam engine - apart from ride on it.

The first time I went out on a steam engine I was travelling "Third Hand" to learn the art of wielding a scoop. The engineer had worked the train up to around 60 mph when he suddenly got up, rushed across to the fireman and said:

"Can I have the next dance please?"

The two of them then commenced to waltz around the cab while the engine hurled along to what I thought would be certain doom.

I learned a lot from those two, including the foxtrot and how to innocently kick off the injector water control with one's foot so as to blow steam up the skirt of any unsuspecting young lady who happened to be standing too close to the platform edge.

I did, however, put my charge to more useful purposes while working on ex-Great Western locomotives. Every British steam engine used to carry a metal bucket. It took me a long time to figure out why until an engineer told me one day that it was to do my laundry, I was on the Reading Coal Yard turn at the time, a turn which gave us a break of quite some time for breakfast. Next day I brought a washboard, a scrubbing brush and a bar of soap to work.

As soon as we had stopped for breakfast, I got down, hung the bucket over the injector overflow and put cold water into it through the water valve. By opening the injector steam valve I had a supply of live steam which I bubbled through the water to get it hot. This produces cleaner water than by taking it from the boiler. A couple of changes of water soon removed the grease from my overalls and a quick scrub got them quite clean. Two injector rinses, ring them out and I would drape my pristine overalls across the backhead to dry. By the time I had had breakfast and admired the latest centrefolds in the Shunters cabin, my overalls were dry enough to put on again.

I know this wouldn't work too well in cold weather, but it often occurred to me that when they changed to diesel, the railways missed a golden opportunity to go into competition with the Chinese laundries.

Bytown Railway Society, Branchline, September, 1977.

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