There used to be a sleeper service starting from Perth to London. I was booked to work it one night from Perth to Carlisle. The train consisted of a diesel engine, my brake van and two sleeper coaches bringing up the rear. The last stop was Lockerbie then Carlisle. We had just left Lockerbie and I had settled in my van reading a horror story when there was an almighty screech, the van shuddered and we finally came to a stand. The young Motherwell Driver was banging on the van door shouting, "We're off the road, we're off the road". I got down on to the track to discover that the train was still on the rails but a large lump of rolled up metal was jammed under the locomotive. Fortunately we had stopped near a signal telephone and I informed the Signalman of the events. He told me to uncouple the engine as a train behind us would haul the coaches back to Lockerbie. After uncoupling I walked back one mile to protect the train and to wait for assistance. Picture the scene - its one o'clock in the morning, my head is full of a horror story, I'm standing in the middle of nowhere, it's pitch black - no light, no sound - then someone coughed behind me!
I did a few somersaults before spinning round for my lamp to light up a row of faces peering inquisitively over a fence. It was a herd of cattle!
To keep myself occupied while waiting for assistance I shone my lamp all around me and the light picked out some brickwork further up the track. Curious, I walked towards it assuming it was a bridge over a river. I leaned over the parapet and shone my lamp downwards realising that it was Kirtlebridge viaduct. Eventually assistance arrived and I was sent home to Perth.
The following night I was on the same job and we had just left Coatbridge station when we were stopped at a red signal. The Driver went to the phone then came back and informed me that the train ahead of us had struck someone at Whifflet Junction and the Police wanted us to give them a hand with the body. At that time Whifflet was known as suicide alley as the embankments were very high as also were the bridges over the railway. The Police could not get the body up the steep slope so they required a lift to Mossend Yard where an ambulance would collect it. Travelling slowly, we came upon four policemen, one railway inspector and one coffin. They placed the coffin in my van and the train moved off. The railway inspector came into my compartment and asked me if I had worked the same train the previous night. I told him that I had and he said that I was the luckiest man alive. He was the inspector who had dealt with the incident at Kirtlebridge. He told me that the locomotive had struck a steel girder (which had fallen of a north bound freight train), reared up off the rails, but fortunately landed back on the track then rolled up the girder before coming to a stop. He said that it was the weight of the diesel engine (117 tons) which had saved us. If the engine had been an electric one (80 tons) we would have went over the viaduct and plunged to the valley floor.
One day I worked a London to Inverness train called the 'Clansman' from Carlisle to Perth. Leaving Carlisle, the line climbs steadily uphill until it reaches a location called Beattock Summit where it then obviously runs downhill towards Carstairs. This day we had passed Beattock and were heading downhill when a passenger came to my van and calmly said, "I think my coach is on fire". I immediately ran through to the coach, threw open the door to find it completely filled with thick black smoke and the passengers still sitting in their seats coughing and spluttering away merrily. I roared at them to get out of the coach and I ran back to my van to apply the brake to attract the attention of the Driver. He indicated that we were nearing Carstairs and he would stop there. On arrival I jumped down to the track and ran along to the coach to find that a branch of a tree had become entangled in the brake gear thereby applying the brakes on the wheels of that particular coach. As we had been travelling downhill at speed with the brakes partially applied the result was that the wheels had become extremely hot and had melted the oil, grease and paint that clung to the undercarriage causing thick black smoke to be sucked into the air conditioning. What astounded me was the attitude of the passengers, sitting in their seats, inhaling greasy smoke as if it were a normal occurrence. I can only assume that they were all smokers.
There used to be two sleeper trains from Inverness to London. The first left at 7.30pm and the second left at 8.30pm. A friend of mine worked in London but stayed in Perth. He used to travel with the first sleeper train to London on a Sunday night returning to Perth the following Friday night. He had done this for years until I persuaded him to travel on the second train. One Sunday night in January 1984 I was booked to work the second sleeper train from Perth to Carlisle leaving Perth at 11.15pm. My friend was on the platform. "I've decided to take your advice Willie and I'm booked on the second train", he said.
We left Perth on time and eventually arrived at Carstairs where the worst snowstorm for years was in progress. The Supervisor told me that he had sent two trains south to Carlisle but no one knew where they were. My train was the next one to be sent but we had to wait until it was decided whether to close the line or not. By this time trains from Edinburgh and Glasgow were queuing up behind us. Eventually we got word that we were to travel. We left Carstairs and made our way south. Approaching Beattock we were stopped at a signal and informed that the line had been blocked by a large tree which due to the weight of snow had fallen on to the rails bringing down power and telephone cables and was completely blocking the track. There were three trains trapped at the Beattock. The first one had to pull into a loop, attach the engine to the rear and haul the train back to Carstairs. The second did the same and then it was our turn. We arrived back at Carstairs and as the main line south was closed we were routed to Edinburgh where the train was to terminate. We arrived in Edinburgh at 10.15 on the Monday morning, eleven hours after leaving Perth (a distance of 50 miles going direct). I caught the first train home.
A few weeks later I met my friend. He told me that he had a few drinks in the lounge car, went to bed, had a sound sleep, woke up in the morning, stepped off the train and couldn't understand why he was standing on Waverley platform two hours after he should have arrived in London!