Railway Wars – Part I

The Whistle War

A whistle is an indispensable part of every British Railwaymans’ equipment. How else can you get 200 people into a train without blowing your whistle at them? As Assistant Station Manager at Reading I soon became an avid whistle blower. Mind you, one had to be careful at whom you blew the whistle:
"But Sir, we never blow our whistles at the Newbury passengers.”
The Station Inspector has a "Train Ready to Start" plunger which is pressed to indicate to the CTC panel that he wants the road for the train. With his hands full, in many cases the only way to hit the plunger is with the whistle cupped in the palm of a free hand. Herein lies the problem.

British Railways, in its wisdom, had decided to replace the chrome, plated steel whistles with cheap and nasty brown plastic ones. The planners hadn’t reckoned with the plunger treatment. A couple of weeks service and the Inspector, with a flamboyant flourish at the "Train Ready to Start. Plunger" would finish up with a handful of small pieces of plastic whistle.

The Inspectors started to complain.

The war reached a head one day when the reason given to the dispatcher for delaying a train two minutes was "Inspector's plastic whistle, exploded!"

From, that day on, the plastic whistle was banned from Reading. One of my favourite reminders of those days is a chrome plated BR whistle with both bowls curiously bowed inwards!

Bytown Railway Society, Branchline, June/July 1981.

Railway Wars – Part II

The Great Chrysanthemum Crisis

As area Manager Cholsey I had four stations on the four track main line between Reading and Didcot.  In order from Reading these were:
Goring and Streatley
Cholsey and Moulsford.
The stopping passenger trains were all booked to call at the slow line platforms but occasionally trains became out of course and we had to use the fast line platforms.  It was essential to let the four stations know in advance of any changes so that passengers and express could be brought across to the correct platform. The CTC panel would inform Tilehurst for westbound trains and Cholsey for eastbounds.  The message, in theory, was passed from station to station by phone.  In practice it was never passed between Pangbourne and Goring.  I discovered the two stations weren’t on speaking terms!

In the station at Goring were proudly displayed certificates indicating first prize in the annual Station Gardens Competition.  These were set out in chronological order.  That is all except for one year - which was proudly displayed at Pangbourne!  A new agent at Pangbourne had challenged the gardeners at the next station.  As the day of the competition approached matters became very tense. Chrysanthemum sabotage was countered with dahlia destruction. When the prize was awarded diplomatic relations were severed and the cold war commenced.  Luckily the man at Pangbourne soon received a transfer and relative calm returned to my stations along the Thames valley.

Bytown Railway Society, Branchline, September 1981.

Railway Wars - Part III

The Wantage Tramway

The Great Western Railway was built in such a manner as to minimize the grades and curves. Much to the consternation of a number of towns and villages the new form of transport was built several miles away. One of these was Wantage, served by Wantage Road Station several miles to the north of the village which was between Didcot and Swindon. Local business interests built a roadside tramway to serve the village. This line closed in 1945 and luckily one of the locomotives, Shannon, has survived. This 15 ton monster was built in 1857 and purchased by the tramway in 1898. Shannon was placed under an awning on Wantage Road station until it closed 1961- and was then moved to the GWR Society's premises at Didcot and restored to working order.

In 1961 I went to Wantage Road to see Shannon, which was nicknamed Jane, while on the tramway. Over a pint in a nearby pub I was told the tale of the local blacksmith who built a "locomotive" powered by a donkey. The local bard wrote the following poem to celebrate the well remembered race.
A curious race has come to pass,
Between an engine and an ass,
The Wantage tram, all steam and smoke,
Was beat by Arthur Hiscock’s moke.

Bytown Railway Society, Branchline, June/July 1982.

Home   Articles