Locomotive Fireman - Shoeburyness
The summer of 1961 was, for me, pretty close to living in paradise. As a first year student at Reading University, I had come to appreciate the fine Western Region 'Kings' and 'Castles' along with the other varieties of locomotives that sported copper chimney caps and brass safety valve covers. For a change of pace there was the main line at Basingstoke with the Bulleid Pacifies and other Southern locomotives.
Imagine my elation when I saw a notice entitled: 'Be a fireman this summer'. I immediately contacted British Railways and skipped a couple of lectures to attend an interview in London. The electrification of the London, Tilbury and Southend (LT&S) section had been delayed and BR had decided to hire some students to tide over a shortage of firemen until the electrics could be introduced. This avoided the need to hire full time firemen and have relocation prob-lems after a short time. I passed both interview and medical and was given joining instructions. I was nineteen and would actually be paid to work on a steam locomotive. Life was sweet!.
The locomotive that hauled my train down to Shoeburyness provided a rude awakening. It was the dirtiest I have ever seen - and so was the fireman for that matter. The niceties of locomotive cleaning had long since been discarded with the rigours of keeping the engines mechanically sound and finding two men for each one. The only reasonably clean engine on shed was No 42509, Sam
Brown's regular engine. It was used to haul the occasional Tilbury boat train and there had been a half-hearted attempt to keep it clean. I went out with Sam and 42509 one day and made quite an impression on him when, during a half hour respite at Fenchurch Street, I tried to clean off some of the accumulated grime which was obscuring the BR emblem. What I did not tell him was that his engine was so hot that I was only too happy to spend a little time out of the cab on the platform.
A place was found for me to stay. It was cheap and that was all that could be said about it. People were coming and going at all times of the day and night. The floors were bare linoleum and everywhere there was a fine cover of grit from dirty boots that crunched whenever anybody walked around. Though the food was solid and plentiful I soon found a better place to live, along with two other students.
The engines on the LT&S section were 2-6-4Ts of three types (BR Standard two-cylinder and LMS designs of both two and three cylinder). These were not nearly as attractive as the GWR types I had grown to appreciate at Reading, but they were good for the intensive suburban service into Fenchurch Street. The three-cylinder engines were hot to work on and of the three types I preferred the LMS two-cylinder ones. The Standards had some labour-saving devices, such as self-cleaning smokeboxes and rocking grates, but they did not pull as well as the LMS engines and they did have one serious defect. There was an un-insulated steam pipe into the smokebox on the fireman's side that looked to be an extension of the side handrail. I saw many palms badly burnt while taking water as a result of this poor piece of design.
The Shoeburyness shed had four roads, two of them being for repairs and washouts. Most of the engines were kept outside in the yard which was flanked by a row of condemned coaches placed there to keep some of the smoke away from the adjacent houses. There was a perpetual sulphurous haze lying over the yard, at the further end of which there was a turntable and coal stage.
Conditions in the shed were not of the best. The building was living on borrowed time and was demolished, or perhaps fell down, shortly after the conversion to electric traction. The mess room was dirty and dark. One bare light bulb valiantly tried to pierce the gloom, the windows long since having ceased to be transparent. In one corner was the inevitable coal stove with its enormous kettle which was kept perpetually on the boil. There was a thick layer of lime buildup on the inside of the kettle and this imparted a distinct flavour to the tea. The mess room floor had disappeared under a thick deposit of coal dust and oil. We took a coal pick to it one evening when we had nothing else to do and found the grime to be at least an inch thick. So this was to be home for the summer - quite a change from the clean, academic quiet of the university Junior Common Room.
The first few days were spent learning operating rules and the fundamentals of steam locomotive firing. We also practised coupling and uncoupling on the row of condemned coaches. This was worthwhile as the vacuum pipes were stiff and we quickly found out what to do when one became jammed.
I was given a few days on the Shoeburyness Carriage Pilot with No 42520. As soon as he saw me, the regular fireman disappeared and I was left to fend for myself. It was an easy job shunting coaches around the yard and pushing them through the washer and it gave me a chance to learn how to wield a shovel. The driver was close to retirement and was banned from main line work for medical reasons. He was continually drinking from a rum bottle concealed behind one of the steam pipes on the backhead. It took several days before I learned that the beverage was cold tea - a favourite drink of the Shoeburyness drivers. From his antics I was sure that it was rum.
We would have a mid-morning break and adjourn to the shunters' cabin to read the papers. The crew of the first morning train to return from Fenchurch Street brought a load of papers that had been collected by the London cleaners out of the commuter trains. The Shedmaster and the Chief Clerk both had their regular orders but everyone else took pot luck. 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 Daily Mirrors and Expresses had long since been taken. The sight of a row of men in overalls, sitting in a dirty cabin whose walls were covered in centrefolds, all reading their Times and Telegraphs was like a scene from a comedy movie. A month or so later I was watching the morning passengers stream past our engine towards the ticket barrier at Fenchurch Street when my driver said pensively:
'You know it doesn't pay to get 'em 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 they are in such a hurry they forget their papers and leave more for us.'
After a couple of days on the Carriage Pilot I was sent out third hand to learn the road and to fire. This was my first trip on a locomotive and it was here that I first experienced the sights and sounds of a steam engine that were to become so familiar. The muffled sound of the exhaust heard through the firehole, the churning motion, the smell of hot brake blocks whenever the brakes were applied and, above all, the incessant din which caused all engine crews to become good lip readers. It was here that I first experienced the thrill of running at high speed and it was here that I realized that the steam engine was alive. We would drift up to a red signal with regulator closed. The signal would change to green and the machine would surge forward, an animal unleashed, like a racehorse leaving a starting gate.
My first trip was on No 42681 with the 'Spiv Special' and a very friendly crew. Soon after Pitsea the driver got up from the flap of wood that passed for a seat and asked the fireman:
'Can I have the next dance, please? '
The reply was affirmative and the two started to cavort around the cab. All the while we were hurtling along to, what I could only surmise would be, our certain deaths!
Firing the 'Spiv' (the 9.05am from Southend) was fun because it was nonstop from Westcliff and we could occasionally see two trains ahead of us - all running flat out for London. The driver was an expert at running at top speed under double yellows and we would frequently catch up the train ahead of us. There would then be rude signs to the crew of the preceding train as we drew alongside it in Fenchurch Street - together with some explicit instructions as to what they could do with their locomotive!
The 'Spiv' was easy to fire because the engine required a relatively constant rate of steaming rather than the uneven rates that were demanded by the more usual type of start and stop operation.
The crew taught me how to use a shovel and coal pick and how to set an injector. They also showed me other useful things such as the fundamentals of dancing and how to get an injector to 'accidentally' kick off. The normal procedure when turning off an injector is first to shut off the steam valve and then the water valve. If the water valve is turned off first, the steam will gush out of the overflow behind the steps under the cab door. If this is done when running into a station, people close to the platform edge are engulfed in steam. We would watch for an inspector then kick off the water valve with the foot, all the while maintaining an innocent facial expression.
One day, towards the end of this short period working third hand, I had my first fright on a steam locomotive. No 42227 was in poor condition and we had lost 15min on the run to Fenchurch Street. Pedro, the fireman, was paying more attention to stories about his merchant navy days than he was to his fire and had let the steam get down too low as we approached London. The brakes picked up as we ran into Stepney. They would go on but there was not sufficient steam for the ejector to blow them off quickly, so the train wheels locked and we slid along out of control. Things were worse as we approached Fenchurch Street terminal with its dead-end platforms. We crept along the platform very, very slowly and with the cab doors open so that we could jump out in a hurry. The wheels did pick up and the driver had to stop the train by reversing the engine and opening the regulator. We were running bunker first at the time so we didn't even have the protection of the boiler. It took a cup of tea to calm us down after that episode.
After about eight days at work I was on the 'Spiv' one morning when an inspector climbed into the cab at Southend and instructed the regular fireman to ride back in the train. I was on my own! We had been building up a good fire and I left Southend in good shape. From there it was a question of firing little and often, breaking up the large lumps of coal, hosing down regularly and keeping a sharp look out. We reached Fenchurch Street without any problems for steam and after an examination in rules I became a Passed Cleaner - I could fire locomotives on my own!
It had been intended to give me a few days' more experience as third hand but they were short of firemen the next day, so I found myself with No 42226 and Jimmy Carter on the 7.08am Shoebury-ness and the 12noon back. I made it alright, albeit under the watchful eyes of my driver. There was a sequel to my first solo trip. There was a little old lady who lived by the line at Thorpe Bay who took down the numbers of the engines that were making smoke. I was duly reported on my first trip. There was no follow up so I assume that management was happy enough that I had the engine hot enough to make smoke! She must have been happy when the electrics came!
From then on I went on the main line quite often although there were many days spent on shed duties. Work around the shed was quite interesting as we had the occasional locomotive to turn or a fire to clean. One shed day nearly ended in disaster when we were delegated to move a locomotive over the turntable under the supervision of a Passed Fireman. The fireman was lining up the table while we were moving the engine. It was low in steam and did not respond when the regulator was cracked. The other student thereupon opened the regulator full and left it there! The engine took off and when we looked ahead we saw the turntable was not lined up. These locomotives have a steam brake - low steam means little or no braking power! The fireman shouted to put her into reverse and apply steam but I had her under control with the hand brake. We stopped about 6ft from the pit! That was the last bit of driving that two shaken cleaners did for a little while.
The railway found that the morning turns were the most difficult to cover and so most of my turns were morning ones. I would get up around 2.00am, wash and make my breakfast. It was a short walk in the dark to book on at 3.00am. I had to cross the loco yard which was dangerous. There was a thick pall of sulphurous smoke from the many banked fires which obscured the occasional light. One had to avoid the numerous piles of still glowing cinders and keep an ear open to give a wide berth to any locomotive that was being worked on. The sound of fire irons signalled that one was likely to receive a shovelful of hot coals right in the face. In the background there would be the sounds of a locomotive being moved with open cylinder cocks and a very watery exhaust while the occasional wheezing sound would indicate that a dead engine was being moved. To make it worse there were ash pits, signal wires and point rods to avoid.
Having booked on, there was normally a lull for a couple of hours waiting to see if a fireman was not going to show. Around 5.30am I might be allotted a locomotive and would start to prepare it. Some firemen would be sneaky and arrive as the engine was ready to leave - having let somebody else prepare it.
Engine preparation followed very much a standard routine. First check the water level and firebox. Crack the blower, throw over the fire which had been banked under the firedoors and build up the firebed. Check the coal and water supplies, lamps and other tools. These were in very short supply and I frequently had to steal items from other engines. Once obtained they would not leave my sight until the shed signal had been passed.
While I was raising steam and checking the smokebox and ashpan my mate would be oiling round and inspecting the motion. Every driver had a pocket bulging with corks that were used to plug the oil reservoirs. Most would ensure the injectors were working properly. .This was the fireman's responsibility but the driver would want to satisfy himself that this vital piece of equipment was functioning satisfactorily.
Having placed the tail lamp in position, we would proceed to the shed signal and let the signalman know who we were. It never failed to amaze me that, with the many train and light engine movements, the signalman always knew what moves we had to make. Many of the early morning turns started in the Shoeburyness Carriage Yard where a shunter coupled us on to our train. My fire would be burning through nicely by the time the shunter called us forward and we would go ecs to Southend. This part of the trip was easily timed and I would put a little coal under the doors and let the boiler down a little. They did not like the safety valves blowing in Southend so, by letting the water level drop, I could prevent this by filling the boiler with the injector while in the platform. This would use sufficient steam to keep boiler pressure below 2001b. At Southend I would put some coal all round in preparation for the more strenuous work ahead. It was also important to hose down the cab thoroughly to lay the dust.
If I were on the platform side I would give the 'Right Away ', having first ensured that the starting signal was off. The firedoors would have been left open so that the entry of cool secondary air would help keep the engine quiet while in the station. As soon as the regulator was opened I would close the firedoors and shut off the injector to give the driver the maximum steam pressure when he needed it most - when starting. After a few revolutions of the wheels the driver would start to notch back the reverser and the engine would begin its curious ambling movement. These engines generally gave a good ride because of the four wheels under the cab. When each exhaust beat was lost in the general din I would open the firedoors and put in a quick round of coal. Two under the doors first to cool off the area closest to me, four down each side and maybe one up front. The firehole ring could be used to bounce the coal up to the front but this only added to the noise. Slam the doors shut, check the water level and steam pressure, check the smoke from the chimney, sweep and that should be enough to take us to the next stop.
As the driver closed the regulator for the station stop I would keep well away from the firehole. The reduction in blast frequently caused flames to lick out into the cab and there was the ever-present possibility of a blowback. I would put on the injector to fill the boiler and keep the safety valves from lifting while we were in the station. I would try to be on the platform side while running into the station, partly to ensure that nobody was standing too close to the edge but mainly to look out for any pretty girls. Girl watching was an established part of the trip and we would both be on the sea side passing along the beach at Benfleet. The station stop would give me a chance to take a look at the fire using the shovel to deflect air over the firebed to clear it of flames and smoke. I would also listen for the juddering sound that indicated a hole in the firebed. A hole had to be found quickly and filled in, otherwise cold air would enter through the hole and cause a drop in steam pressure.
This procedure would be repeated for every station except that by Pitsea I would have built up a heavier fire. The climb to Laindon Summit would take more out of the boiler and the fire would demand careful attention although the stop at Laindon, together with the descent towards Upminster, would give the boiler a chance to recover. The line through Barking was almost level and we would give chase to any underground trains that may appear. At Stepney there was a very sharp curve with a very badly sighted signal and the driver might come over to my side to check it. By this time I would be running the fire down a little to keep the engine quiet while in Fenchurch Street.
As soon as we got to Fenchurch Street I would go in between, break the vacuum pipe and my mate would ease up with me still in there so that I could get the coupling off. We would then lean out of the cab leering at the office girls going to work. Most of them ignored us dirty creatures, not thinking that it was only by the dint of our labours that they had arrived.
The train would be pulled off and our engine would start to back up on its own. It had been left in reverse gear and the small amount of steam in the steam chest would be sufficient for it to start to follow its train. On occasion we would be down on the platform talking to the crew of the adjacent train and our engine would take off on its own without our noticing. It was a favourite trick at Fenchurch Street to see how long you could keep a crew talking and then watch them take off at a run down the platform to catch up with their engine.
There would then be a short break in a siding before coming back to the station to pick up our return train. The fire would not need much attention while in the station and we could catch a little relaxation waiting for time either in the first coach or chatting to passengers:
'Is this the quick train? '
'All depends how quick you want it, love!'.
I always preferred the down trips because I was going home and also because I was taking people for a day out by the sea at Southend. The platform at Barking would often be thronged with happy pensioners looking forward to what might be their only day out in the year. Many's the time I have received a standing ovation from a sea of party hats:
'Give us a good run mate!'
The sight of these people would gladden our hearts.
The most taxing part of the down trip was the couple of miles through the Laindon Hills to Laindon Summit. However, the steepest gradient was in fact the 1 in 94 between Chalkwell and Westcliff and this could catch an unwary fireman who was trying to run his fire down too quickly.
Sometimes the routine would be broken by having to remove a frisky horse from the right of way or putting a shovelful of coal out of the cab side in response to the ganger's chalked sign:
'FIREMAN, WE ARE OUT OF COAL'.
As a change we would leave a note at Leigh on the way up for one of the vendors to meet the return train with a shilling's worth of winkles.
By Southend I would be keeping a close watch on my fire. If it was too thick I would ask my mate to knock a bit out. He would do this by not notching up too quickly and blasting some of the fire out through the tubes. This produced lightning fast acceleration and a beautiful pyrotechnic display but it did nothing for any washing that happened to be hung up to dry in the back gardens close to the tracks.
On arrival at Shoeburyness the train would be pulled off and we would drop on to the shed taking coal on the way in. Having found a suitable spot over a pit the hard work of the day would begin - cleaning the fire. The idea was to remove the clinkers that had formed over the fire bars and to leave in the live coals ready for the next trip. For this the railway devised instruments of torture known as long and short slices and long and short pricker bars. Also required were some cotton waste and a bucket of water to cool off one's hands and to douse small fires. A slice is a long handled shovel used to remove the clinker. The normal procedure was to move the live coals forward (ie towards the smokebox) with the short slice to expose the clinker in the back part of the firebox. This would be broken up with the short pricker bar and removed with the slice by shovelling out through the firehole, through the cab and on to the ground. The live clinkers would inevitably start fires in the wooden cab floor which would then be extinguished with the bucket of water. The long slice would then be used to move the live coals under the firehole and the clinker at the front would be removed, again through the firehole. This was the most difficult part as the slice was 8-10 ft long and the clinker had to be lifted over the live coals. Some would be difficult to break up into small enough pieces to go through the firehole and occasionally part of the brick arch would fall during a trip and fuse to the firebars. The fire irons would heat up and become soft and useless. A battered slice could be improved by running the engine over the edge of the blade to straighten it!
Wielding fire irons in the confined cab of a tank engine was quite a feat. I had only to hit my fingers once on the bunker to learn to hold the iron with my hand inside the ring-type handle. This was carried out with bare hands, the only protection being the cotton waste which would occasionally start to smoke and burn.
With the fire cleaned it was a moment's work to shovel in a bank of coal under the doors which would then keep alright for several hours.
It was a less arduous task to clean out the ashpan and the smokebox but one had to know which way the wind was blowing. Steam engines invariably had drips of hot water which would find the back of one's neck with uncanny accuracy and the plastic grease top cap came in very useful.
Locomotive disposal was the worst part of the fireman's job and one can imagine my feelings one evening when I had cleaned and banked my fire only to discover that the engine was due for a boiler washout and the fire should have been just thrown out. The only good thing about throwing out the coal that I had just put in was that I was paid overtime for doing it!
Night work was completely different. I shall never forget my first trip at night! Having booked on at midnight, I stumbled in the dark along a row of steam engines looking for No 80101. Coming across a Standard locomotive, I wiped away the grime to reveal the number 80101. My mate was already in the cab. There was 801b of steam, the water level was fine and after checking the smokebox I inspected the fire. Everything was in order, so out with the pricker and with my first thrust the 'black' fire burst into life and singed my eyebrows. My mate grinned to himself and reminded me to turn on the blower next time.
Undaunted, I began to prepare the fire. With my instructor's words ringing in my ears, I broke up each lump of coal to the regulation size (the size of two clenched firsts) and placed it just where it was needed on the grate. 1201b showed on the clock and both injectors were working well. This grimy 2-6-4T would be fit to work the 'Flying Scotsman'. My mate spoke
'Do you mind if we leave now? ' 'But I only have 1201b.'
'That will be plenty. Our train is cancelled and we're running light to London. You should read your notices more closely'.
Deflated, I hid in my corner of the cab as we moved up to the shed signal. The board came off and we moved on to the up main and gathered speed. The only light in the cab came from the oil lamp hanging precariously from the water gauge fitting which theoretically enabled the crew to see the boiler water level.
It was pitch black outside and I couldn't even see the rails except where they reflected the light from the signals. It was difficult to see the cab controls and even my mate was hard to pick out in the gloom. It was like being in my own world oblivious to everything else.
No 80101 steamed well and we arrived in London where we had to change engines with another crew. The other fireman took a look at my full boiler, 2001b of steam and good fire and said,
'Thanks a lot. She'll be blowing her head off all night. How do you expect me to sleep? Anyway, you won't be able to do that with twenty-two twenty three. Just watch the injector on your side.'
On 42223 it was obvious what he meant. The fire was burning with a blue flame, signifying clinker. We had plenty of time but I could not use the fire irons because we were under the electrified wires and the irons were laid along the top of the tank - too close to 25,000 volts.
Realizing there was not a great deal we could do about it, my mate climbed down from the engine and went to the adjacent signalbox. I could see him arguing with the signalman within the dim confines of the box. A little later he came out and slammed the door hard enough to rock the entire wooden structure.
'What's the matter?'
'He won't drop us down a couple of signals to watch the sights'.
'What are these sights that we are going to miss?'
Just outside Fenchurch Street, the railway was on a viaduct close to a block of flats, many of which were occupied by working girls who worked with the curtains open. It was common practice for light engines to creep down and while away the wee hours waiting for their next working watching the nightly performances. This was only possible with the signalman's co-operation which, this night, was not forthcoming. Maybe there is honour among thieves because the enginemen made it a golden rule to keep the engine quiet and never to use the whistle in this vicinity. The girls needed their beauty sleep during the daytime.
We backed on to our train and waited until it was time to return to Shoeburyness. Time passed slowly and I dozed off - but not for long because it was too uncomfortable sitting on the wooden flap that passed for a seat. Around 4.30am I started to make up the fire. It was very sluggish and the boiler took a long time to come around. My injector worked in a fashion, although the only way I could get it to stay on was by holding the water control handle steady. Even so, by departure we were in fairly good shape.
A green light from the other end gave us the 'Right Away' precisely on time at 5.10am. My mate opened the regulator and we were off. He soon notched back a little and I opened the doors for the first round of firing. The flames were still an unhealthy-looking blue but we had worse troubles. I looked over my side to see water flowing out of the injector overflow, signifying that no water was going into the boiler. I tried to reset it but it would not work while the engine was in motion. I had to use the driver's side injector but, every time I did, he had to get off his seat because the water control was below his flap.
The water level was dropping and so was the steam pressure. We ran into Barking with the blower hard on and took advantage of the station stop to put a little water in the boiler. We did the same at Hornchurch and by Upminster, with its longer station stop, things were a little better. From here it was level to East Horndon then the stiff five mile climb to Laindon. The little and often technique was working. The fire was better and the pressure remained steady until we hit the bottom of the grade when it started to drop back again. The reverser was gradually wound forward and the chimney began to chatter. The blast on the fire was fierce enough to suck the coal off the shovel. I closed the doors after each shovelful to keep the cold air out but still the pressure dropped.
I was now very tired and put my head out of the cab window to revive myself in the breeze. Outside everything was serene. The early morning dew reflected the beautiful sunrise over the Laindon Hills. For a moment the peace made all seem worthwhile until I looked back into my own private hell and realized that I would have to mortgage my water to get to Laindon at all. We struggled over the summit and expired thankfully in the platform with the water bobbing up and down in the bottom of the glass although it soon reappeared with the one good injector on. Five miles of coasting downhill with the regulator closed brought the pressure round with a vengeance and the safety valves began to roar.
We made our way noisily through Benfleet and past the beach at Leigh-on-Sea where the fishermen were preparing their boats and nets for the day. Then, on the steep grade through Westcliff, the driver's injector failed. I managed to get mine on but as we were running into Southend it would not shut off. The clack valve on top of the boiler would not close.
It was probably a small piece of scale that could be dislodged with a smart tap from a hammer but we could not reach it because of the overhead wires. Not only could we not put water into the boiler but we could not stop steam escaping from it.
It was now a race against the boiler and luckily we had only five miles to go. Approaching Shoeburyness the brakes started to drag because steam pressure was insufficient to maintain the full 21in of vacuum.
I don't remember cleaning the fire after that trip. All I can remember is my mate's trip report:
'Jack up whistle, replace engine, lower whistle.'
Most of the drivers would laugh at a poor trip like that. Not all of them, though. Tom was one of the most miserable drivers I have ever met. He walked with a limp and had a permanent scowl on his face. To make matters worse he was a short man and carried a piece of wood with him which he would place on his seat so that he could see out.
Tom made quite a name for himself among the young, inexperienced firemen at the depot and everyone dreaded having to go with him. Everyone except Ray, that is. Ray was a quiet man who knew his job, but he had one basic fault. He could not fire from the right hand side. On the 2-6-4Ts the fireman had to move the coal from the bunker on his left to the firehole which was on his right. This was the wrong way around for Ray who would fire with his back to the driver and from the driver's side.
One day Ray was booked to work a passenger train with Tom. They started out fine - that is until Ray started to fire from Tom's side of the cab. Every time Ray took a shovelful of coal he put his backside right into Tom's face (remember that Tom was a short man). This annoyed Tom so much that every time Ray went to swing the shovel Tom poked him in the rear. Of course, this did not go down too well with Ray and very soon they had an argument. At this, Tom climbed down from his seat, produced a piece of chalk and drew a line down the middle of the swaying footplate. He said to Ray, pointing to the two halves of the cab:
That half is your half. This half is mine. You stick to your half and I'll stick to mine'.
So Ray began to fire the wrong way around and it was not long at all before he was hitting the firehole ring and scattering coal all over the footplate. Of course this amused Tom. His amusement soon turned to anxiety, however, when he looked at the pressure gauge which had started to drop back. As the steam pressure continued to drop, Tom's glances over to the fireman's side became more frequent and more anxious. Ray was not concerned. When he was not firing he was keeping a good lookout ahead. In the end, Tom could stand it no longer and shouted across:
'What's the matter with the fire?'
Ray looked up, surprised, and slowly got up from his seat. He opened the doors and took a long look at the fire. He straightened up and said to Tom:
'I don't know. My side's all right but your side doesn't have any coal on it!'
My days at Shoeburyness passed very quickly and soon it was time to go back to college. It was a vacation well spent and the experience has stood me in good stead. Not only did I learn about steam locomotives but I learned about people. I also learned a little about ferroequinological cuisine. This is a branch of the culinary art that is seldom explored and I will finish with a short discourse on the intricacies of dining 'a la locomotive'. Take a coal shovel and insert it through the firehole and leave it there for about 30 seconds. Withdraw the shovel and immerse in cold water. The sudden cooling cleans the shovel like a new pin and we now have a combination frying pan/saucepan. Fried egg and bacon is quite easy. Just place on the blade of the shovel and re-insert into the fire until cooked to taste. Boiled eggs are a little more difficult. The technique is to pour water into the cavity in the heel of the shovel and balance it on the firehole ring. This requires a steady hand in order not to spill the water.
Baking or grilling can be accomplished by hanging the food from one of the projections on the backhead. A driver I once worked with hung a pair of kippers from the injector steam handles. Not only did this produce an excellent meal but the aroma of the fish pervaded the cab in the most delightful way.
However, there are one or two dangers to ferrovian haute cuisine. Albert was a very keen fireman and, when I knew him, he was just about to be made up to driver. One day, he was assigned to a turn with a veteran driver. It was an easy job and his mate was giving Albert some practice at driving. They had finished some shunting and then had about half an hour before leaving the yard - nice time to have breakfast. Now, although Albert was pretty knowledgeable about engines, he didn't know much about cooking 'a la locomotive' and he was fascinated watching his mate prepare a breakfast of bacon, fried egg and fried bread. The bacon was just beginning to smell good when Albert noticed that the shunter was signalling to him to pull forward. Albert, who was sitting in the driver's seat, asked his mate.
'He wants to make another move. Shall I take her down?'
'He's had all morning. Let him wait until I've finished cooking my breakfast.'
Seconds passed and the signal from the shunter became more frantic.
'He's still waving. I think he's getting angry.'
'Never you mind, I'm going to cook my breakfast first.'
Time passed until Albert could stand it no longer. He grabbed the regulator and pulled it open. His mate heard the sound of steam and tried to withdraw the shovel. Too late! The engine, which was in full forward gear, gave a big puff and a blast of air was sucked through the firehole - and with it went the lovely fried egg and crispy bacon. The driver saw his breakfast emerge from the chimney - very well cooked indeed!
The trip back to the depot was accomplished in a rather strained silence! Needless to say, Albert was relegated to the coal shovel and, although normally it was an easy job, his mate was really heavy on the lever so that he had to move more than twice the normal amount of coal. It was certainly a lesson learned the hard way.
I made two trips back to Shoeburyness in early 1962. It was very sad to see so many old friends lying dead and waiting to be towed away. Nos 42075 and 42076, which were well liked because they had rocking grates and self-cleaning smoke-boxes. No 80133, which was only seven years old and No 42514 which finished up with a broken buffer beam after a pitch in while on the Shoeburyness Carriage Pilot.
The saddest sight of all was No 42509, Sam Brown's regular engine, once the pride of the shed, and now as dirty and as rusty as the rest. I climbed into the cab of 42218 and drove it from one end of the shed yard to the other past a row of 31 dead engines, only one of which, No 42500, would be spared the cutting torch.
Perhaps the only happy part was a ride in the cab on an electric multiple unit with Ben, for whom I had last fired on 42681 on the 'Spiv Special'. He looked glumly at his regular engine on the scrap line but was happy to put his new love through its paces for me. We rolled up to Laindon Summit at 50mph with the controller closed and surged along between Upminster and Barking at an effortless 70mph. But it was a soulless, empty, lonely performance.
Such is progress!
Steam Days, June 1992.