Oh! Mr. Wheel Tapper

4-6-0 7816 is the pilot at Reading in 1963.  It has a few pretty dirty parcels vans similar to the one that was used on the Worcester to London train.

I was looking at the Will Hay classic black and white movie “Oh! Mr. Porter” the other day.  One of his jobs on the railway in this 1937 film was Wheel Tapper.  When I was at British Railways, Reading I had a wheel tapper on staff.  Wally was a qualified Carriage and Wagon Inspector who had a small hut just off the centre island platform.  This was a useful location for me because I could “disappear” when I needed to and there was always a cup of tea available. We used to enjoy a chat in front of his stove when he would extol about the good old days.

Wally was very a very experienced mechanical inspector and he could often be seen walking alongside the trains stopped in the station not only tapping the wheels with his small hammer on a long handle but ensuring that the brake gear was in good order.

It so happened that the powers that be had decided to remove one of the guard’s Brake Vans from the trains on the LondonWorcester run.  All trains had to have at least one brake compartment for the guard, so this move was within the rules, but Wally saw it as a retrograde step and was quite vocal in telling anyone who would listen.  Problems would only arise if the one remaining brake compartment vehicle became bad order and had to be removed from the train which would then have to be terminated.  The risk seemed to be pretty low as I couldn’t ever remember having to switch out a bad order passenger car in a train at all, yet alone a brake vehicle.

The new train formations on the Worcester line came into force on the Monday and Wally was bound and determined to prove a point.  He went over every one of the Worcester trains, in both directions, until that Friday, he found a hot bearing – and it was on the sole brake compartment vehicle.  Wally said: 

“It’s got to come off”.

To which I replied:

“But Wally, it has only got another 35 miles to go to London”.

He replied:

“You either run it at 15 miles per hour and stop for me to examine it every five miles or it comes off. Your choice.”

It was just before the evening rush period and 15 mph on a 90 mph line would have caused chaos.  At least it was the last vehicle on the train so we were able to take it off without too much problem.  I found a dirty old baggage car which had a brake compartment in it and we used that instead that much to the annoyance of the Worcester guard with his white shirt and a rose in his buttonhole.

And so Wally proved his point.  For the rest of my time at Reading I don’t think he ever bad ordered another passenger rated car!

Apart from this incident, the cups of tea and the chats, Wally remains in my memory for one other incident.  One day we had a freight train pile up just after having passed through the station which was crowded with commuters at the time.  Wally found the burnt off journal bearing on the approach side of the platform!  The train had run through the station with one four wheel wagon having only three bearings.  We were really lucky that the derailment hadn’t piled wagons all over the station.

Ottawa Valley Associated Railroaders - OVAR, The Interchange, November 2007.

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