There are some who think that my great interest lies in the steam locomotive and, above all, in the men who have spent their working lives in deep involvement with that living machine. And they would be right, for it was the steam locomotive that drew me to the railway and then led to my choosing the railway career which has given me so much happiness and fulfilment. But there is far more to it than that. I must have known, very well indeed and over a period of forty-
In January 1959, I was appointed District Motive Power Superintendent at Liverpool Street, under the Traffic Manager, Harold Few, who gave me great support when change was touching every aspect of the operational railway for the Modernisation Plan was in full swing. Harold did not interfere in the detail of my work and the importance of this cannot be over stressed. Nor were we financially constrained at a time when so much had to be done against both the clock and the calendar but, for all that, we were brought up to be financially prudent. Under my direction, there were some three thousand men; artisans, tubers, coalmen, boilerwashers, drivers, firemen, foremen, chargemen, clerks, cleaners and labourers whose way of life had to be changed in those four short years. At the same time, there was a railway to be run with ever increasing intensity and I was determined, not only to bring in the new form of traction to the highest standards, but to get the best from the old right up to the end.
As in many revolutions, we had opened quietly some years back. I had seen the odd 350 h.p. English Electric locomotive doing its job quietly and efficiently here and there, but I had not seriously considered the elimination of main line steam. But in the very early hours of a summer morning, only a few weeks before I left Ipswich for the Southern in 1952, I stood outside the shed waiting the arrival of a new locomotive. I can see it as if it were yesterday, a WD 8-
The 204 h.p. Drewry had an eight cylinder Gardiner engine which gave no bother and, at Ipswich, No. 11100 was set to work on the docks alongside the venerable Tram engines. Some of the drivers were at a loss for a start but those who owned cars, such as Ted Clarke, were to play a useful and constructive role whilst the Ipswich artisans were thirsting for information and experience. So James and his locomotive made a good, carefully nurtured start to the precursor of a useful class which did us well provided that it was not ill-
Returning from Stewarts Lane to Stratford in January 1955, I was appointed Assistant District Motive Power Superintendent to Terry MilIar, a far seeing engineer who welcomed the new forms of traction. He had been involved with the 1500v. DC electrification which had revolutionised the East Side Shenfield suburban services in 1949 and with the introduction of the 350 h.p. English electric shunters which took over much of the heaviest work in the Stratford District. These locomotives were well maintained in the New Shed (opened in 1871) in primitive conditions under the joint direction of the smiling Jack Taylor of English Electric and our chargeman fitter, Earnie Button, one of the earliest diesel converts and, my goodness, he was an able man of a type that was the backbone of the old rumbustious Stratford that bears no comparison to the present set-
The chargeman, Earnie Gill, became my Chief Maintenance Foreman when the new diesel depot was opened in 1961 whilst the fitters were Earnie Button and Les Thorne, who was to play a leading role in later years as my Diesel Assistant.
With regular maintenance denied to most of Stratford steam engines, it goes without saying that the only real trouble we had with the 350’s was due to going places in a hurry. However, the main yards were manned by experienced drivers who had completed their steam main line work and had volunteered for the Mills Gang -
The trouble lay with misuse of the gears. The locomotive was fitted with a Wilson gearbox and fluid flywheel where gear changing was achieved by the driver without resource to a clutch but, according to Drewry specification, with portentous solemnity. Now Spitalfields yard demanded a very high work rate on the back shift and the shunters had no patience with a machine that moved so slowly in bottom gear or paused at a critical moment while a gear was changed. The old Bucks, quick as lightning, had been banished, the firemen moved elsewhere and Spitalfields was stuck with the diesels. The inevitable happened, the drivers resorted to a species of racing change and then there was trouble. James found that his life had hardened but there was always the London humour to leaven the lump. The Mechanical Foreman, Syd Casselton, one of the richest of characters and experienced with WD diesels during the war, would stand by the old bell near his office. As James came across each morning to face the music, Syd would start his tintinnabulation -
We received several other shunters during the late fifties. D 3496 -
Along came a canny little joker for Devonshire St goods yards to replace the Y4 ‘Pot’, which was the largest four-
Whereas the ‘Pot’ came back to Stratford at the weekend for washing out and a new set of cylinder cocks, for the old ones were often damaged by striking the track in the headlong dash to get to West Ham or Leyton Orient, the Ruston usually stayed at Devonshire St. If, on Monday morning, there was insufficient air in the reservoir to start the main engine, the driver was supposed to stand on the gangway and swing the flywheel of the single cylinder petrol engine, which, if it condescended to start, would then compress the necessary air to start the main engine. But, more than likely, there was a trip out for a strong arm Stratford fitter. Once started, this little machine gave no trouble whatsoever, for there was next to nothing to go wrong, but it was so noisy that we received endless complaints from the London Hospital Annexe. In the end, it had to go and the only alternative was to shunt the North yard only with a four wheeled 153 hp Andrew Barclay, which was too high to go into the tunnel. However, we were sent a super little machine, the only one of its class, No. 2999, so good that I had forgotten its existence. It was small enough to work in the tunnel and gave no trouble at all, if one accepts a con-
So these and a 153 hp Barclay sent to Ware to replace the aged Simplex, were the machines that came to shunt the yards in the Stratford District and, very quickly, they became part of our world whilst steam gradually faded from the scene and many of the Bucks were broken up. But, in 1956, it was the turn of the F6 ‘Gobblers’ and other old passenger tank engines to bite the dust for the day of the Railcar had arrived. My readers may wonder why I have not used modern terminology in referring to our machines but, in my day, we had not got around to such sophistication. So, Railcars, if you please, not DMU’s, but Met. Cam’s, Lightweights and Wickhams, one of which was converted into an inspection train for the use of the General Manager (excellent, provided that one dined with the engines shut down, they were underneath the table).
What we called those ‘Orange boxes’ on four wheels, maintained by Cambridge, that worked the Braintree and Maldon branches is nobody’s business, for I seem to think they did not always operate the track circuits and were therefore absent without leave, so to speak. But, by and large, the Railcars were a splendid innovation. The view ahead, the elderly driver, still in blue overalls, slightly self conscious as to the interest people took in what had been a private world, the braking technique so new to passengers who fondly imagined that stopping a train was like stopping a car.
On the Great Eastern section, it was the practice to arrange the Link progression so that men passed off the expresses onto local or suburban passenger work for the last few years of their service, which meant the Railcars were handled by men of vast railway experience. One might have thought that men so steeped in steam for forty years could never make the transition, never mind instruct other men who had never had a day’s formal training in the Company’s time on steam. However, the Stratford Chief Locomotive Inspector, Arthur Weavers, selected his instructors from senior men; Bill Shelley, Wally Mason, Fred Mead and others and packed them off to Norwich to be joined by other drivers from Ipswich to be trained in the art of handling the Derby Lightweight and Met. Cam. Later, they worked their magic on those who became the Stratford Railcar men. Knowing those men as I did, the instructors would have had a lively time but they made good Railcar drivers out of those conscientious old boys, so that there was rarely any mechanical trouble and the days of smashed final drives, burned gearbox bands and flywheels, rowing and reversing while still moving, lay far ahead.
The attitude of most men was refreshing and, having been the Ipswich Shedmaster from 1950 -
“Well now, things are beginning to hum here. C. Kape and I have gone into serious training on the Railcars operating between Norwich, Lowestoft and Ipswich. We nearly met with disaster to begin with, running a smart 62 between Darsham and Halesworth, PW men were working on the track, warning horn was sounded and no notice taken. Horn was broadcast continuously resulting in a frantic scramble to clear tools and a very rocky progress. We were not expected. I took her from Westerlield to Lowestoft and on to Norwich and we never had a clack up once! It looks as if I shall be busy as there are plenty of men to train. I feel I’d like to have a real go at this and thanks to Mr. Davidson, I’ve some good books to help me. On Saturdays, we have sessions with the fitters on, around and under these cars to become conversant with the fittings and apparatus. All this is very helpful.” The simple words of a man dedicated to his calling and there were thousands like him, the backbone of the railway.
Back at Stratford, things were beginning to hum in the shed. The Railcars had arrived and it was necessary to select some maintenance staff. Of course, we had no electricians but, to competent Running Shed fitters, this presented no difficulty. But the Workshop Committee, who represented the entire artisan staff of some 480 men and led by a remarkable boilermaker, Jim Groom, looked askance at management picking their men unless some pretty firm undertakings were given as to the future employment of the artisan staff as a whole. My DMPS was on leave, I gave an undertaking, Les Gibbs and Len Brisland became the first Railcar fitters and, without quite knowing what I had done, I had taken the first step of the human revolution. We shall hear a great deal more of Jim Groom, for he was to play a leading role in the creation of a new world, a world of order and cleanliness that could never, never have been achieved at Stratford in steam days.
The Derby Lightweights were excellent cars. They had a power to weight ratio of 12 to I and were a lively ride at speed. The Met. Cam’s were more solid and have lasted for many years, not so quick on the uptake, but sound in every way. Our Lightweights had the 150 h.p. AEC engine and our Met. Cam’s the similar BUT engine, although I believe the Met. Cam’s, based at Lincoln, had AEC engines, neither of which gave any serious trouble. The Lightweights had alloy buffer beams and underframes which were suspect if the unit was involved in a bump up. The final drives and gear boxes were trouble free, the throttle control was complex, the header tank was in the roof and was by no means easy to service in winter. Les Gibbs and Briso were sent to Norwich in November 1955 for a fortnight to gain experience and witnessed some serious trouble with these tanks which fed a small tank mounted above the engine, which contained the low water switch. Consequently, the cooling water did not circulate in the header tank. There was a very hard snap, Norwich put anti-
The radiators faced forward and had some elaborate ducting but there was no overheating. However, the fan gear was complicated and the CAV generator was fixed to the crankcase on top of the engine. The generator was driven from the crankshaft by a heavy duty belt which frayed easily and demanded constant inspection and renewal. If the belt broke, the inevitable flat battery followed as there was no warning light in the driver’s cab. Changing the belt was a foul job, inaccessible and the shaft had to be split to fit the new belt. It was so easy to say, ‘Oh, she’ll do this one’, which were well worn steam words but, having said that, they were a splendid car and the steam locomotives they replaced were on their last legs! The Lightweights had a built-
However, Les Gibbs and Briso ran the Railcar business alongside the shunters in the 1811 New Shed and, as with the shunters, the maintenance was far superior to that given to the comparable steam locomotives. By 1958, we had ‘A’ shed which was supposed to be for Railcars only but the big diesels were on the doorstep. But in 1959, the Britannia’s were transferred to Norwich whilst some of the examinations on our main line diesels were carried out in the Norwich District to enable us to train more men and also to set up a strong dual trained artisan gang to maintain the Railcars in ‘A’ shed as the Rolls Royce 3 car units were arriving. And then our troubles began.
Before we tackle the RR’s, a word on dual training. Jim Groom had proved himself capable, for many years, of winning his battles with management by strong action as well as by diplomacy. For example, the 728 award for Running Shed artisans in all grades had been agreed nationwide as a result of Groom’s action at Stratford. Justice had been done the hard way on behalf of highly skilled and lowly paid men throughout the country. But that was in 1947 and Jim could now turn his talent for leadership to clearing the way for a new era. He knew that we were bent on achieving the highest standards with the new form of traction and that skilled and semi-
So we took some essential decisions; in 1959, the first of which was the successful application of a bonus 50p a week for men covering two trades, such as fitter/electrician and the conversion of boilermakers and fitters to electricians by our own efforts. Such a minor triumph may seem faintly ridiculous now, but the dual role was unknown in those days. Nor could we clear this with our line HQ for fear of delay and procrastination, for we were cutting across Trade Union lines and National Agreements. But when one has a heavy responsibility, one must take the action that is necessary to uphold it and, if necessary, the consequences. There were no experienced traction electricians available on BR and none in industry who would join us on BR rates of pay. So we got on with it, starting our own school and training our own electricians. Jim Groom saw to it that the four unions involved looked the other way and so we faced the massed arrival of main liners with confidence. But that is another story, so, back to the Derby Rolls Royce units which arrived in 1959. Our allocation rose to 20 three car units and, if my memory serves me right, we needed 14 each day for the Lea Valley services to Bishops Stortford, one for Southminster and one for the Romford -
The three car train weighed 107 tons and had four 230Bhp Rolls Royce engines, with a RR three stage twin disc torque converter. T he acceleration was comparable to electric performance with a maximum speed of 70mph. By 1962, they were giving excellent service. But not at once! Our first trouble was psychological: the very mention of a famous name was sufficient to place any blame for failure and delay on the “incompetent cretins” at Stratford who had, in fact, a cross to bear right from the start. Much of the trouble was with the auxiliary equipment such as neutral/drive selector switches, Westinghouse relay magnet valves and deadman’s fuses. Small matters in themselves, but enough to cause a total failure at a critical time. This was the sort of thing that should have been overcome in new units by 1959, but we had to fight hard to convince people that the faults were design rather than maintenance. But those powerful RR engines, how on earth could they be at fault?
We started with cylinder head gaskets blowing due to protrusion of the wet liners, the position of which varied slightly when the engine was set up by Rolls Royce. A cylinder head covered four cylinders and, with the slight differences of protrusion, it was impossible to make a perfect steel gasket joint. To remove a head meant dealing with 30 long studs which tended to carbon up where the gasket was blowing and, although the engines were horizontal, the heads faced inwards, unlike the AEC/BUT. As they were slightly angled upwards under the floor of the vehicle, their accessibility and the language that accompanied their removal may be left to the imagination. Unlike the lighter AEC and BUT engines, there were no jacking nuts fitted, so wedges had to be used to lift the head about half an inch before sawing through the seized studs. Set bolts were ultimately used. Sometimes the engines locked when they were being started. T he coolant would seep from the upper copper injector sleeves and the gasket onto the top of the pistons. The short term solution was to bar the engine over backwards to release the coolant and then start it. But if the sump had filled with water, that was it. The fuel pump spring drives fractured frequently, cylinder head core plugs gave trouble, flexible exhaust pipes kept breaking, the Walker final drive isolating arms moved on their Woodruff keys and, for good measure, the alloy quick release reservoirs split and had to be replaced. In the end, all eighty engines were taken down for modification, as were the RR torque converters which were far from trouble free. But the Rolls Royce engineers worked closely with us and, once these faults had been corrected, the engine gave no trouble for the rest of my time in the District, indeed for several years afterwards.
They say that Stratford had all the luck and we needed it for we lived with adversity and enjoyed its challenge. One Sunday evening in 1961, when Rolls Royce units were working through to Ipswich and Felixstowe at weekends, a six car set left Felixstowe late in the day and very lightly loaded. The driver had changed ends and reversed the final drives throughout the train, or so he thought. The drive engagement light on his panel had dimmed but the final drive on the rear engine of the rear power car, 51004, was still in forward gear. The driver accelerated, the great power of seven 230Bhp engines overcoming the frantic endeavours of the eighth to return to Felixstowe but, near Trimley, there was an explosion which split the coolant tank wide open, tore the seats from the floor, blew the windows out and peppered the ceiling with bits and pieces. Naturally, the engine stopped and its warning light came up bright in the cab, but this did not worry the driver, as he had seven others going full blast on a level road. But neither he nor the guard had any conception of what had taken place until the train arrived at Ipswich! Nobody was hurt for there was nobody in that rear coach. Luck was with us.
Reversing depended on the operation of an air powered piston in a small cylinder. On the rear end of 51004, the reverser did not throw over and the 230Bhp engine transmitted power through the torque converter to wheels which were revolving in the opposite direction. The torque converter intercooler was linked to the main engine coolant system and tremendous heat was generated, which split the coolant tank under the seats. No modification was made to the final drive, but an electrical safeguard was introduced so that the drive engagement lights in the driving cab only dimmed after all final drives had been reversed. For good measure and to relieve pressure in the coolant system, we drilled an inch hole in each filler screw cap and covered it internally with a strip of sheet rubber with a small hole in the centre. We lived and learned!
Finally the saga of the brakes. There was no doubt that the adjustment of the brakes on the Rolls Royce units was very important and that it had to be carried out well within the prescribed five day cycle. We had a very fast and powerful unit with brakes who’s sharpness waned very quickly indeed and bore no comparison with those on the Met. Cam’s. Early in 1960, Driver Fred Hawkins, a senior driver on the Railcars, felt strongly that it was time to open fire by writing direct to the Chief Mechanical & Electrical Engineer. His action, although not in accord with protocol, was logical as the Carriage and Wagon Dept. still existed as a separate entity, reporting to the CM&EE. The diesel units were “Carriages” and, although our people dealt with engines, transmission, brake valves and equipment, the C&W were still responsible for brake adjustment. The C&W staff had their own foreman and chargemen and no allegiance to the shedmaster. They had their own way of doing things and Fred’s letter was the start of a running verbal battle between him and the C&W staff.
Fred Hawkins was a large, big-
Early in 1961, I assumed, along with the rest of the ER District Motive Power Superintendents, the additional responsibility for the maintenance of all carriages, wagons, road motors and plant and machinery for which purpose I was retitled District Running & Maintenance Engineer, with a rise of about 75 a year. But we were now able, and at once, to carry out the brake trials for which we had asked, using the adjustment suggested by Driver Hawkins. In practice, this was not possible, but it led us to the right answer, which was to limit the stroke of the pistons, on adjustment, to an average of two and a half inches (against the C&W figure of four inches) and to reduce the periodicity of adjustment to three, with an absolute maximum of four, days. To obtain this result, our men set the fulcrum arm in the rigging vertical by means of adjusting screws either side of it, after which the brakes could be adjusted correctly. With the full co-
One wishes that the story could end there for it was now possible, with every confidence, to enter a situation on level track at 50 mph and stop easily with one application of the brake. I rode with Drivers Hedley, Chapman and King, of Bishops Stortford to witness this, but Fred Hawkins must have worked unadjusted cars when he wrote what proved to be his final letter to the Minister of Transport. Having had each unit tested on the road in untouched condition and having found them all in good order, I was obliged to remove him from the main line. His interest waned and he finished his time on the shed, a sad but inevitable end to his crusade. For all that, he was instrumental in bringing about an improvement, which was maintained for the rest of the time that the RR units were working solely in the Liverpool Street District. I would have dearly loved to have included excerpts from some of Fred’s choicer letters and repair cards but that would never do: shall we simply say that, on one occasion, he addressed one of Her Majesty’s inspecting Officers as “Colonel Blimp”. No offence meant and none taken, to the credit of both parties!
About 14:30 on an October afternoon in 1957, a group of railwaymen stood near the Stratford Running Shed outlet awaiting the arrival of their first diesel main line locomotive. None of them were particularly happy; far they knew their world was about to change. Soon, D5500, spotless in green and cream, came slowly under Temple Mills Lane Bridge and into the ERS yard. In the group were men who were to be responsible for running the new machines and who were to lead the technical revolution. For the moment, they were onlookers but Stratford enginemen were still in charge until D5500 was safely berthed on Works territory inside the Engine Repair Shop. As they prepared to leave, responsibility passed to the technical people, the Brush Service Engineer and the CM&EE’s representative, a certain Norman Kilshaw who had joined BR from English Electric. In time, I was to work closely with Norman in happy accord but, in January 1958, we regarded him with suspicion for not only did he represent K. J. Cook, the CM&EE, but he was by nature outspoken, explosive and initially critical of mere running men. Although Stratford, as always, had the measure of its many critics and, for ever and a day, humorously and affectionately christened him “Flashover”.
By January 1958, my chief, Ronnie Ewer and I had been translated from our Stratford HQ to the Traffic Manager’s office at Liverpool Street at the very time that we were most needed at Stratford. The old Motive Power Department was no more and we felt that we were losing our grip. Indeed, 1958 was to be a terrible year, during which we collected some thirty diesel main liners which we failed to maintain or clean particularly well whilst our steam fleet showed signs of disintegration, both on the main line and, in particular, on the suburban services. This was partly due to the policies of the then CM&EE, which were mercifully reversed within hours of the appointment of his successor, early in 1959. There is much to be said, in a later article, about the technical problems that we faced in those early days for which we were singularly ill prepared but, more important still, we were facing a human revolution without quite grasping the reason or knowing what we could do about it.
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by Richard Hardy.
The modernisation of British Rail -
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Part 2 of the Human Revolution