On the Stoppers

I met someone the other day who knew somebody living at East Horndon in Essex, 20 miles out of London on the line from Fenchurch Street Station (London) to Southend and Shoeburyness. This surprised me as I didn't think that anyone lived there. We used to run through East Horndon when I was firing the stopping passenger trains up to London. The station was in the country and you couldn't see a house from the railway. The stoppers were an hourly interval service of trains hauled by 2-6-4 tank engines. Not. all trains would stop there. We would be sweeping down from Laindon Summit and this would spoil our run through to Upminster where we would have the chance to race against the London underground electric trains on an adjacent track.

The stop at East Horndon was very much a token one. As we were running in, I would be on the platform side looking back for the guard's green flag. If there was nobody to pick up we would get the right away before we would actually stop and the engineer would kick off the vacuum brake and haul the throttle out to the roof to do the railway equivalent of a California Stop. The blast would start to tear holes in my fire and I would have to race to get the injector off and to close the firehole doors to keep the cold secondary air from getting into the firebox. The best way to make steam was to draw the air through the firebed from the dampers. When we had reached about twenty miles per hour the reverser would be wound back a few turns thus lessening the draught on my fire. I could then splash a few shovels of coal around the box. The first would be in front of the firehole to cool down that part of the fire. It was then four down the right hand side and four down the left hand side and slam the doors shut. (No air operated firehole doors here). The engines were draughted to take most of the air down the sides so we never fired with a straight shovel.

The 2-6-4 tanks would go like the wind. You had to make sixty in between stops to make time. 70 was common and 80 was possible. There were no speedometers so the engineers just went as fast a they dared. The four wheel truck under the cab gave a great ride, much better than in the train. With this sort of a pasting the engines would not steam against the injector and I would have to sacrifice the water. Upminster was only 5 miles from East Horndon and I would wait until the throttle was shut before putting on the injector. The engineers would lean one hand on the throttle and make as if to close it. There was a bit of psychology here. If I looked nonchalantly out of the window as if everything was alright and that we had plenty of water he would close the throttle a mile or so out and we would drift into Upminster. I could then put on the injector and we could sail in with plenty of water and steam. If I looked bothered he would either hold off on the throttle until the last moment or pretend to close it and watch me put on the injector too early. In either case it would create havoc with the water and steam.

Nightwork was different! The only light in the cab was from a small oil lamp that was hung by the water glass. The only other light was through the firehole door. I liked to keep the firedoors cracked a shade to reflect a little light off the back of the bunker so that I could see important things such as if there was any steam. The trouble with this was that it also reflected off the front window glass and blinded the engineer in his search for signals.

One night we set off from Shoeburyness on a train to London. Most of the evening trains did not stop at East Horndon but the schedule had been amended to give local residents a late evening connection to the metropolis. The timetable was a little confusing and it read something like:
Between July 6 and August 31 stops at East Horndon except Tuesdays and Thursdays and on Bank Holiday weekends when it will not stop on Wednesdays but will stop on the Thursday before and the Tuesday afterwards.
We had huddled with the Guard and decided, with the help of a calendar, that it was, indeed, our duty to put in a stop at East Horndon that night.

It quickly became evident that my engineer was not going to allow the doors to be opened a crack so that the cab was black. The night was also dark with an overcast sky and no stars. For most of the trip I couldn't even see the engineer on the other side. The light from the fire was blinding every time I had to put in some coal. I might have well been shovelling with my eyes closed for all I could see. Having finished a round of coal I would have to feel my way back to my side. Firing a steam locomotive by touch is not to be recommended as there are some hot bits, especially when the fireman didn't use gloves (the only ones who did were those who had girlfriends).

With no headlight it was pitch black outside and the only thing I could see were the signal lights which were reflected' in the rails. Two green lines stretching into a pitch black eternity. The sound from the stack told me that we were climbinff to Laindon Summit and my fire was takine a beating. As we crested the summit I was glad that I would have the chance to get the fire in shape and reclaim the water that I had mortgaged. We were travelling bunker first so the platforms were on my mate's side. My pitch black environment with just the green lights mesmerized me. I snapped out of my reverie as the throttle was closed. We were drifting along at about 80 and there were the lights of Upminster ahead. We made a smart stop at Upminster and surprised all the station staff who were normally waiting on the platform for us. The station stop at Upminster was longer than usual and we were evidently waiting for time. We made a smart, exit with both safety valves blowing off deafeningly.

At Fenchurch Street I cut off the engine and had just climbed back into the cab when the Guard walked forward.

"I thought we had decided that we should stop at East Horndon tonight?"

The .look on the engineer's face said "Omigod".

We decided not to say anything about it and luckily there were no complaints.

So this is why I was surprised to hear that people actually did live at East Horndon. I don't know how they got in and out of the place. We certainly didn't encourage them to use the train!

Bytown Railway Society, Branchline, May 1989.

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