Playing Both Ends Against the Middle

On Saturday mornings in the summer I enjoy going to Fred Mills’ garden railway to run G scale trains.  For many years now I have had the job of Yardmaster Nelson Yard, so named after the late Bud Nelson.  Nelson yard is double ended and similar in concept to Ottawa’s Walkley Yard.  It is shaped somewhat like a saucer so that cars will run into the middle and it is worked by a yard crew at each end with the yardmaster in the middle. 

In a normal working day we have four trains to make up, main line trains 311 and 312 and 65 and 67 (mixed) which are locals.  Each one of these trains has an assigned track and each track has a designated color.  At the start of the day cars are placed at random on the yard tracks.  There are two switching assignments, the East End and the West End.  These work from their designated ends with the pulling the yard tracks in turn and placing the cars on the correct track.  To assist this process painted pennies are placed on the cars – all cars with red pennies have to go into track one for train 311 etc.

While this work is going on I take a third locomotive and pull cars from Fallentree Mine and Mckenzie Lumber and give these to the two yard assignments to complete making up the trains.  The vans are added to the appropriate ends of the made-up trains and the East End assignment then takes out 65 while the West End takes out 67 returning later in the day as 68.

With a little time to spare I can then check the composition of 311 and 312, making sure that the train is complete and that stock cars are placed next to the locomotive and dangerous commodity tank cars are not next to the locomotive or van.

Many years ago I spent a short time as Assistant Yardmaster at Acton Yard located close to the western main line a few miles outside London Paddington station.  The set up was similar with a yard crew and an inspector working from each end and the yardmaster’s office roughly in the middle.  We were quite busy, dealing with a large number of freight trains, some of which had to be made up while others had to be reformed and sent on.  There was a small team track to service with an old 5700 class 0-6-0 steam switcher but the two yard jobs were diesels.

Every day started the same way.  The yardmaster, who had the unfortunate name of Mr. Vile, was a pleasant, quiet spoken man with a great deal of patience.  One of the inspectors would barge into the yardmaster’s office, grab a mug of tea and start to complain about the railway in general and the other end of the yard in particular.  At the same time, the inspector from the other end of the yard would get on the phone and there would be a shouted three way argument in which the plan for the day was sorted out.  I don’t know how the inspectors managed this but they were never in the middle office together and we never knew who to expect.

After about half an hour or so honour would be satisfied all around and the inspector would stalk back to his end and men would come out from breakfast and start to bat cars around the yard.  Normally things worked smoothly but occasionally when an inspector was upset the cars would be sent heavily towards the middle and we would be treated to loud explosions just outside our office.

One day the boss came out to me and said.  “They seem pretty quiet up the east end.  I think you had better go down and see what they are, or rather are not, doing.  I walked down to the east end shack and found everyone silently sitting inside along with a white faced truck driver who was visibly shaking.

I said, “What’s happened?”

“The steam switcher hit a truck at the team track.”

“Good heavens, that’s terrible.”

“Yes boss.”

“Is the engine alright.”

There was a deathly hush and someone murmured:

“There speaks a true railwayman”.

Turns out the truck was a write off but the switcher had just lost a few pieces of rust.

“Have you called for an ambulance?”

“’E don’t need no ambulance guv, a nice cup of tea and ‘e will soon be right as rain”

There were times at Acton when we turned a blind eye to hard shunting.  The mess rooms and offices were all heated by coal and British Railways never provided enough to last the winter.  When our fuel supplies were running low someone would send a car down short then put the next one, an open wagon of coal, down hard.  There would be a loud bang, one end of the car would come up and deposit a load of coal on the ground. Most of the time the car would stay on the rails but they were good at re-railing cars without management knowing.  It was then a case of getting out the buckets and shovels to clean up the yard.

This technique went well for many years but the yard crews came a cropper when they tried to extend it to other products.  Several of the men were enthusiastic gardeners and one day someone noticed a car load of potash passing through. “Ah ha, free fertilizer” someone thought. There was a rough shunt and out came the clean up crew.  However, they did not realize that the potash was highly concentrated and the unfortunate result was that the entire Acton tomato crop was killed that year.

Ottawa Valley Associated Railroaders - The Interchange May2017

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