The Kettle Caper
The shunters (switchmen) at Reading were responsible for performing all coupling and uncoupling aswell as switching moves within the station. In one corner of their cabin; - stood an evil looking stove upon which boiled continuously an equally sinister black, fire ravaged, five gallon kettle. Everybody used the kettle for making tea, the only stipulation being that it should be replenished with fresh water ready for the next user. Over the years, a. thick sediment at least an inch thick, had built up from the hard water.
One day the Yard Foreman asked for a new Kettle. I filled in all the requisite forms but such items don't carry a very high priority and some six weeks later - still kettleless - one of the trains was delayed waiting a shunter. It turned out the man had been set to work descaling the kettle. Worse still, there was no hot water during this operation with the result that everybody was forced to the Station Buffet, causing even greater delays.
It was quite evident that the entire station would come to a standstill unless something were done quickly. Two hours of solid phoning produced a a new kettle and everybody was happy.
How did we get rid of the old kettle? It was thrown into a passing gondola. As we watched the train, and our kettle, disappear into the distance the Yard Foreman said,
"Somehow our tea doesn't taste quite the same out of the new kettle. We'll have to wait until it furs up, a bit."
The Newspaper Wars
One of the first things that struck me while working as a fireman was the number of free papers that were quickly made available. It turned out that the crew of the first morning train to return from London would bring back a load of papers that had been collected by the cleaners from the commuter trains. The Shedmaster and the Chief Clerk both had their regular orders, but for everybody else it was a case first come first served. A lad was dispatched to the Carriage Yard with whatever was left. We had to content ourselves with The Times and The Telegraph as the tabloids had all long since gone. The sight of a row of a men in dirty overalls sitting in a dirty cabin, walls covered in centrefolds, all reading high class papers was well worth the effort.
A month or so later I was working a morning commuter train and was watching the commuters streaming past our engine towards the ticket barrier when my engineer said pensively,
"You know it doesn't do to get 'em in too early. If you do, they have time to fold up their papers and take 'em with 'em. No it's better to get in a little late because that way they are in such a hurry they forget their papers and leave more for us.'
I can't fault his logic.
Bytown Railway Society, Branchline, February 1983.