My first turn on the main line was to work the early morning Postal from Perth to Aberdeen via Forfar and to return with an express train by the same route. I thought I had better look smart so I dressed in a white shirt and tie, brylcreem on my hair and a new set of overalls. I managed to survive the journey to Aberdeen but the return trip was different. It was a very hot, sticky day and working an express you are constantly shovelling coal into the fire to maintain steam. With sweat dripping from my face, coal dust everywhere, we eventually arrived at Perth.
My Driver promptly stepped from the engine, bid me farewell and disappeared. I was left to walk to the depot on my own. I started off, acknowledging the waves and smiles of fellow workers as I made my way by the lineside. I thought, if this is the respect you get when you are a main line fireman, just wait until I'm a Driver. Arriving at the Depot, I repaired to the toilets to wash my hands. Facing me in the mirror was the re-incarnation of Al Jolson; my white shirt, neck, face and hair were encrusted with a thick layer of coaldust. The only things white were my eyes and teeth.
My mum wasn't pleased!
'Disposal' was a job I liked. A part of the Depot was known as the 'Coal Road'. This was laid out with a turntable, coal hopper and ash pits. The Disposal Driver and Fireman relieved the train crew who brought in the engines after they had done their daily duty. The engine was turned on the turntable if need be then filled with coal and placed over a pit where the Fire-Droppers cleaned the fire and the smoke-box. The loco was then shunted into a road where the water tank was filled.
Sometimes there were a lot of engines waiting to be disposed of and I would try to do two jobs at the same time, such as turn an engine and coal another. The turntable was an ingenious piece of machinery. The engine was placed on the table and a rubber pipe was connected to the vacuum pipe of the engine. By releasing a brake and pulling a handle the table would turn. I would jam the handle open with a piece of coal then run to the coal hopper to fill a tender. The engine on the turntable would spin round on its own like a carousel. When I returned I would sometimes forget which way the engine should face and I would take it off the table still pointing in the same direction as when I put it on.
The first time I had to load an engine with coal no one explained how to work the machinery. A Driver moved the engine until the tender was underneath the coal hopper. I was in a small hut, the only apparatus was a lever and a push button. The Driver shouted "Go ahead", I released the lever which I thought was a brake and I then pressed the button. With a roar the coal spewed out of the hopper. I heard a scream and the Driver shouting "Stop". I released the button and applied the brake. He then shouted "Go Ahead", which confused me but I released the brake and pressed the button . With the roar of falling coal and the hissing of steam I failed to hear the shouts of the Driver. Eventually, with coal ricocheting off the hut I assumed that the tender was full. Imagine my surprise when I stepped out of the hut to find the tender empty and the Driver perched on top of his seat, pinned against the engine by a mountain of coal which completely filled the cab. Apparently the lever I thought was a brake only worked a flap inside the hopper which sent the coal either to the right or to the left. When I 'applied the brake' the flap was positioned over the tender but when I 'released the brake' the flap was over the cab.
The Driver wasn't pleased. If looks could kill!
Perth train crews worked Freight and Passenger Trains north to Inverness and Aberdeen, east to Edinburgh, west to Glasgow, south to Carlisle and most places in between. I often worked evening trains to Inverness, staying overnight in the Hostel in Rose Street then working back to Perth the next day. 'Fag-Ash Kate' was a scrawny middle-aged woman who cooked and cleaned at the Hostel. She had a cigarette permanently welded to her lower lip. She only used one eye; the left eye was kept closed due to the cigarette smoke. Porridge and bacon and egg were her speciality. She dished them out dusted with pepper but on closer inspection it was fag-ash.
On entering the Hostel there was a blackboard and a row of keys. You picked a room key and wrote your room number, name and Depot on the board. One night I selected a room but when I opened the door I could see a figure lying on the bed. A voice said, "Aye - come in." I stayed out. I never did find out who it was.
Some Drivers had a nick-name such as 'Hell-Fire Jim', 'Biscuits', 'Balla', 'Brakers' and my favourite 'Dry Rot'. There was something animalistic about him. He was built, roared and looked like a bull, could drink like a fish and was as gentle as a ram. In those days it was a matter of pride with some Drivers that their wives never knew how much they earned. 'Dry Rot' was off sick and a Fireman kindly agreed to deliver his wages.
Door opens - wife stands there.
"Is Dry Rot in ?"
"Aye, but he's in his bed."
"Oh! heres his pay."
We used to work livestock trains - mostly cattle, sometimes pigeons and once a year a Circus Train. When the Circus came to Perth they would arrive by special train and I remember a Sunday morning in the summertime shunting a Circus Special at the cattle bank which was a siding in the station where livestock could disembark. Elephants, Horses and Ponies were some of the four-legged animals. A Brass Band, Jugglers and Clowns were some of the two. They would leave by a side entrance and assemble in the station square and then parade down Marshall Place to their Big Top on the South Inch.