We are lucky to have regular contributions from former engine driver John Anthony. John was born in 1938 when Mallard sped to 126 mph. As a volunteer driver, John has driven Mallard. Clan line, Duchess of Hamilton, Princess M Rose, Bahamas, Green Arrow, Sir Lamiel, Princess Elizabeth, Taw Valley, Sir Nigel Gresley, Duke of Gloucester, George Stephenson, Blue Peter, Britannia, The Great Marquess and City of Wells. John’s posts give a real flavour of what it is like to be a driver of a steam engine and make for excellent reading!
The Art Of Conducting a Thunderstorm
30 thoughts on “Tales of an Engine Driver”
THERES SNOW ABOUT,,Hi me lovelies,,,Hope you do,nt get stuck in the snow,,One snowy day, after struggling over the S and C from Skipton to Carlisle , i ordered the snow plough to go before me on my return journey,,Crossing the platforms at Carlisle station i noticed the snow plough standing in the siding. I sat in my cab on two platform and noticed my signal turned from red to green! Then whistles shrilled, and my guard gave me two on the buzzer,,,I sat ,,then i sat some more till the platform inspector trudged up the snowy platform and said”Whats up driver”,,,I said “See that white stuff on your effin shoes, well theres tons of it where i am going, so get that effin snow plow tabboggin in the Skipton direction,please!,,john.
JUST FOUND THIS! 😀
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John’s tales always a smile on your face!
thanks,, johnathon,,i like your poetry
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FIRING UP THE LICKEY INCLINE…. Hi, folks,,Buffering up to the Bristol to Birmingham night mail train at Bromsgrove station WE COMMENCE,,,Four drivers make four 0/6/0 JINTY,S shout at the black night sky!,,,I open the fire hole door and am blinded by an exploding supernova ! White rays seer into my retina and i am blind,,,I peer into the dark fields from this bounding iron of madness and see nothing but whiteness,,Suddenly its all over and i see blackwell signal box and think BLIMEY, SHE,S A HOT UN,,,john.
ORT-ORT-ORT!!!! (THE…Seal of Approval!)
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Hi, my lovely folks,,In 1956, with cinders in my shoes and fire in my heart, i departed my haven (sutton oak) of little steam engines and journeyed south, to the hallowed towers of London. I was “on loan” to L M S top shed 1 B , Camden,,,,WOW,,I stared in awe at the rows of massive express steam locomotives, most with majestic names,,,,My first week was shed shunt with an old “demic” driver,,” now me old cock sparrer” he chortled with a wide cockney grin, “can you drive these fings”,,,”no problem” i lied ” i drove them regular up north”,,john.
Hi folks,,Back in the old hickory dickory days of steam,,when heavy unbraked freight trains coughed and wheezed down loops and slow lines,,huffing and puffing past lazy barn owls fast asleep in lineside water towers,,,life was so sweet,,exept when you fired for “OWD NANGY”,,,he,d scream “Did you fill those sand boxes right up?” ,(above the noise of battle),,”Did you check those detonators” he,d howl ( above the broadside and salvoes of escaping steam),,OWD NANGY, likeda full head of steam,,ALWAYS!,,,so to keep him happy, i would stick chewing gum on the boiler pressure needle so it would ALWAYS! be on the red mark,,john.
A SAD DAY,,,DOWN THE OLD RAILWAY,,,,,,,,
The train and i flash by,
Semaphores bow, agreeing our course,
Along embankments blackberries tumble,
Autumning black, waving their brambles at the weaving train,
The signalbox soars above the silver rails,
Halo,ed in light, glass flashing its eyes,
Over sleepers coaches swerve,
And the train kicks and giggles,
Suddenly,,i a deer , oblivion bound,
leaps beneath my cleaving wheels,
On that sad day,,down the old railway.
THE GHOST OF HALTON TUNNEL,,,,,,Hi Folks, The old girl was heaving it,s ancient heart out! CHUFF, CLANG, CHUFF, WHEEZE, CHUFF, BELCH, CHUFF, COUGH, Each turned circle of it,s tortured wheels, brought forth a victorian criy of pain! ,The tunnel mouth yawned and in we went,,,I was peering through the smoke blackened boiler window when a ghostly visage bobbed up and grinned at me “A GGOST” , I screamed to my driver,,but he had vanished!! Then, i realised what had happened,,my mate had climbed round the loco,s framings and made me cream my best undies!,,john.
MY 299 MILE RUN
Hi, my lovelies,when I was “on loan” to Camden in 1956,i fired a night express north to Carlisle,,To say I was exhausted was an under statement!! The next day my driver said we was to take a “light” engine to Crewe,BRILLIANT,,,,(my friends,,a light engine is an engine with no train to haul behind the buffers) to my utter surprise I learned we were to hook on to an express,,,,first stop Crewe !!!! Hurtling down hill from PENRITH, my driver made a full application off the brake,,startled,,i asked my mate whats up,,he replied “the distants on for Grayrigg”,THATS HOW YOU DRIVE AN EXPRESS,FOLKS,,SHOW THAT YOUR THE BOSS!! john.
Hi me deauties,
Steam engines are multi pistoned, a two cylinder loco has a steam engine on one side and another on the other side,!,,a three piston loco has three steam engines and a four piston loco has four steam engines !,,Now, what is lead steam ?,,lead steam is steam that enters the cylinder just before the piston finishes its stroke, it “cushions” the cylinder and perfects smooth running,,,A steam engine is a “one” stroke engine!,,it has a power stroke on every traverse of the piston !,,john.
Hiya,,me sports,,Went to Skipton for the new year (where I drove the hurtling iron hippo,es),,and could,nt resist a trip on the keightly and worth valley railway, “is city of wells in steam” I asked, “used to drive her” I said,,,,”whats your name” this bloke asked,”,john Anthony”i replied,,,”your picture with Sir NIGEL GRESLY is in it,,and your poem too” ! This new book is called RAILWAY PEOPLE OF SKIPTON by Malcolm Jarvis, john.
THE ROYAL TRAIN
Hello, me mates,,when I was at 1b, Camden, 6229 “the duchess of hamiton” was being nobbed up,she shon like a star, her buffers sparkled , her paintwork dazzled and her wheels shimmered in the London smoke. a few days later I watched as she steamed past, hauling the royal train, I was sat on the turntable at the north end of the shed , clad in oily dirty overalls, filthy boots and battered grease topped hat, a few coaches past and there, staring at me was the Queen with two kids,( immaculately dressed), prince Charles and princess Ann!!!,,I nearly fell into the turntable pit in supprise! ,,john.
RAILWAY PEOPLE OF SKIPTON
hi, me pals and buddies,,the above is a new book by an ex fireman of skipton loco shed by Malcolm Jarvis,,,,at the front of the book is a poem I wrote,,,hope you like it.
OLD SKIPTON SHED..
say, do you remember, old skipton shed,
young lads of sixteen fresh out of bed,
standing first on the road,
awaiting the load,
out on the main, ahead of the train,
and a “crow” for the man, in box number one,
blower down,damper on, fire spread,
“right mate, get her warm”,
and the hiss of steam as we moved,,
down cylinder cocks.
past the starter.down the main,
guard asleep in his domain,
the kiss of the buffers, then steam on to wake,
the guard from his slumbers back in the brake.
on into the night exhaust barking loud,
hills in the dale asleep in their shroud,
up stainforth cutting we,d flash coal around,
the clang of the “ringshield” as uphill we pound,
a gleam in the dark as onward we sped,
put down the shovel ais gill is ahead.
now its all over,the steamers all spent,
where are the lads, where have they went,
some still dream, fast in their bed,
when they were sixteen,at old skipton shed,,,,,,,,john.
Hi folks, I picked up the phone this Easter morning,,”Hello?,,”Its jim”,,”Jim who”?,,”You know,your fireman on “SIR LAMIEL”,,( jim,s a train driver at Shrewsbury),, “Oh,,hello Jim,,Remember when the injector wheel fell off just leaving Carlisle?,,”Yes” said Jim, ” and the other one stopped working”! “Yes” I said, “and the begger was shy on steam”,,”And a spark nearly set the inspector on fire” I said,,”And you started to giggle” said Jim, “And the inspector started to giggle”,,,”Yes”, I said, “And we all never stopped laughing, till we got to Giggleswick!,,john.
FROM HUN TO NUN,
During the second word war,,the whole of Liverpool was blacked out, up the moonlit irish sea, from north France,, flew the Nazi bombers, like a flock of geese, and dropped incendery bombs over the massive railway complex of Garston on the outskirts of Liverpool,,
Trudging through this mayhem of fire was a Garston engine driver, going to work at the steam depot there, he was well known for his nervous disposition.
At the time there was talk of german parachutists dropping dressed as nuns.
An incendiary bomb set fire to the co-op stables and someone let the terrified horses run loose about the streets,,At the same time a troop of nuns were running past this nervous engine driver!
He burst into the drivers lobby and shouted,,”THE GERMANS HAVE LANDED,DRESSED AS NUNS AND THEYVE BROUGHT THE CAVALRY” !!,,,,john.
THE GIANT LEAP.
Hi folks, when you step across the footplate of a steam engine, from fireman to engine driver, you are making a mighty leap! theres nobody to ask now if things go wrong, this growling, hot, spitting iron monster is yours to control, yours to tame, yours to bend to your will! with primitive controls, rods to pull, brass wheels to turn, levers to tug, you must be able to handle her with gentle suttleness,be inch perfect in moving her, make her pull massive weights and fly faster than the fastest birds! ,,Under my skin lurks an engine driver, my bones yearn to be let loose on an old steam engine again, my blood surges in frustration at the sight of a preserved steam engine in flight,,,,Oh I,m a lying begger, I loved the diesels! ha ha,,john.
CHARRED AND FEATHERED
Hi maties,, It was hot summer weather, that week in 1956 at the mighty Camden steam depot at the top of Camden bank , London, and I was booked a week in the dreaded disposing link.. massive express locomotives would arrive at the coaling stage needing to be coaled, watered, their smoke boxes, like devils caverns, cleaned out, with the blistering sun scorching down on ones head and shoulders, red hot cinders burning boots, one shovelled out hot ash,,then it was down to the satanic pits to drop old clinker into them with an iron rake amid burning embers and suffocating smoke! then berth them ready for their next turn of duty,,after a week of that I used to spit black spit for a couple of days! but it was lovely tasting spit!,,john.
THE OLD FAITHFULS.
Hi There, Modern tractions are instantly mutinous! they either go or stop! Dial needles plunge to zero and theres suddenly an eerie silence! ( time to study the fault book driver).
Now, with the old honest and faithful steam engine, she would give you her last gasp! With hissings of hot vapour and belly belches, she would reach the next signal box and her driver would shout ” STOPPED FOR A BLOW UP MATE, WON,T BE LONG” Then , with a neigh and a snort, the old faithful, would chug off with her days errand completed,,john.
THE “MANCHESTER SCREWDRIVER”
Hi,folkes, one of the most important tools on a steam engine was the coal pick! if things get stuck, why, give it a clout with the “Manchester screwdriver”. one day, the injector “clack” stuck on top of the boiler of a black five , steam was blasting out of the injector outflow pipe at a fast rate of knots, NO PROBLEM! Give it a sharp “thwack” with the good old faithfull “Manchester screwdriver” the panacea of all locomens problems..I proceeded to climb up on top of this hot black boiler, when my driver shouted, “WHOAH!!! ” What about the over head wires” (at that time, steam engines worked under the new electrified wires being rolled out on the Liverpool to London line) PHEW! I WAS NEARLY TOASTED! JOHN.
Hi, Folks, An engine driver and his fireman are bound together by invisible shackles and out on the road, this cohesion is mandatory to the safe operation of trains, but sometimes cinders fly!
A Firemans Lament.
We,re running late on the eight forty eight,
and the regulators open wide,
we,re barrelling swift but the steams adrift,
and dropping by the stride.
To the whistled whine that old swine,
in the corner at the wheel,
spits a steaming gob at my old clog,
that sparkles in the gleam.
He hates me deep he makes me wheep,
because I,m in the N,U,R,
and now its never happy days,
THE STAR OF BETHLEHEM.
Hi folks, In the steam days, drivers and firemen on the “long drag” (the settle to Carlisle railway) would often talk about the “STAR OF BETHLEHEM”. I transferred to Skipton , Yorkshire in 1987 and heard the whispers about this “STAR” that appeared over the high dales….Later I found that they were talking about a semaphore signal approaching Aise Gill summit signal box, After a back braking slog up to the incline, the driver would shout to his fireman,”Put shovel down mate,ive spotted “THE STAR OF BETHLEHEM”, and his fireman would reply ” Thank CHRIST for that!”
Happy Xmas everybody, john.
Hi,folkes, the “Whistler” is the English Electric Type 4 locomotive, nicknamed the “Whistler” because of the four turbo chargers mounted at the four corners of a massive 16 cylinder diesel engine..One dark spit black night, I climbed aboard my sleeping “Whistler”, and as usual, put in the main battery switch and let the diesel primary pump run for 15 seconds, then pressed the start button. With a mighty roar, she coughed into life, then the exhaust driven turbo,s began to scream their high flown music.While waiting for the compressors to pump air into the heart and lungs of this miniature power station, I lowered my window and looked out into the coal black night and heard a voice from the bedroom window of the nearby tenements, “For f***k sake, play another tune”,,,john.
The Cumbrian Mountain Express
(2nd March, 1991)
Chittering chattering, the old girl,s clattering,
Shunting steam up her black smokestack,
Whimpering, whistling, vapours shimmering,
“Sir Lamiel” dances up the railway track.
Water in the boiler fast disappearing,
Men on the footplate sweat and sway,
Fire in the opening spitting and smouldering,
Burning our pride this mad March day.
My mate is bubbling, my ego,s smothering,
The semaphores troubling, makes no matter!
I,m nursing and cursing, things getting worsering,
So I stop at Appleby to get the water.
Then off, on this old southern coal burner,
An engine that haunts my dreams,
Off, panting out yesterdays,
When steams thunder shouted “hurrah”.
THE DARK LONG DRAG
Hi folks, life on the footplate on dark winter evenings over the Settle to Carlisle railway tests a drivers knowledge of the line to the limits, He feels his way, especialy when the weathers playing “blind mans buff”,,viaducts and cuttings are his “white stick,” so to speak, they are his friends that lead the way, his bossom pal that whispers in his ear, as he seeks out the tiny oil lit signals, little dots of green orange and yellow that say,,” miss me mate and you,ll finnish up in that for ever and ever box! One dark and stormy night , I thought I had missed the distant signal for Kirby Stephen, CRASH! on with the brake, (no hesitation) , creaping round the cutting, there she was , a little green dot hanging in the sky, my beautiful distant signal, she seemed to be saying “no forever box for you tonight driver!
Hi Folks,,At age 55, they made me a “Minder Driver”,,,One day, my supervisor at Skipton told me my trainee for the week was a Leeds city trainee,who would meet me at Leeds City station, on arrival,and stood there, in drivers uniform , was a “WOMAN”!!!
“Are you driver John Anthony? ” she asked
And this man of IRON,,This commander of massive steam locomotives, that thundered along the high and mighty railways of this scheptred isle, became a little lamb and stuttered,,”YYYESS MMMISS”!!,,,JOHN.
Hi folks,,The designers of the super heated freight steam engines, the ones with Webb Belpaire firebox, must have had a hatred of footplate men! When you had done an eight hour shift on one of these loco,s, you did,nt walk home, you hobbled!
They were very difficult to drive and if the boiler was over full, they tended to mutiny! Off they would trundle, squirting, black spit from the chimney, while the driver franticly spinning the reverser, to avoid a drastic collision .
The hand brake and scoop wheels were especialy designed to inflict pain! the poor fireman, trying to steer the shovel between these, always knocked skin off knuckles and thumbs!
At speed, they were designed to force an occasional embarrassing bowel ejection!
My dear wife, on washing day, would quip,with a knowing glance at me,,,”Been on a “super D” this week again?”,,,,”Yer”, I would reply,” Sorry”,,,,,john.
One sunny saterday morning, I climbed aboard the mighty “Dutchess of Hamilton” (6229) at Holbeck mantainance depot, Leeds, Yorks.
There she stood, all gleaming and bright, in possession of her new boiler certificate and bursting with steam, ready for lucky me to drive her from Leeds city to Carlisle via the untamed Yorkshire dales.
With whistle shrilling I negotiated the colour light signalling and severe curve round Leeds Whitehall junction then out onto the down fast I gave her the “gun”.
I noticed, high above, a helicopter following the train, and when it came close, I could see a person videoing our train!
I managed to aquire that video and I watch it now and then, to remind me how lucky I was to drive those magnificent steam engines.
Ive driven flight footed electrics,
That spark in the night,
And throaty mouthed diesels,
Both loaded and light,
But none can compare,
With that number one,
The beautiful Dutchess,
Of old Hamilton.
Shes a dream, can be mean,
Like all ladies should,
And drifting at speed, shes realy quite good,
But give her the “gun”,
Over the old S and C,
She,ll scare folks to death,
Even little old me.
Once Upon a Sapphired Day.
Well we,re running late, on the eight thirty eight,
From St Helens to Chester City,
And this old steed, will not steam,
Because the coals all nitty grity.
My drivers sam, an ancient man,
All gnarled, a snouty boar,
And as we shunt past the chemic tip,
He emits a mighty roar.
“Get the steam up boiler boy”,
As we sniff past the pegs,
“Get her hot, or you know what,
I,ll toe your lazy legs”
Well I fired her swift,as we did drift,
Down that railway past the mine,
As the hooter on the gasworks,
Laughed at my demise.
Over the cut, all wreathed in soot,
Beside a stinky brook,
The needle on the steam guage,
Fell into a droop.
Old semaphores posed like weeping shores,
Amid gods soaring skies,
Their wicks alight, an oily sight,
That lit my crying eyes.
We,re running late on the eight thirty eight,
From St Helens to Chester City,
But this old tater on the regulator,
Shows no joy or pity.