Harold Evans

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Tripps
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Harold Evans

Post by Tripps » 12 May 2015, 13:01

Three things have prompted me to enter this text.

1. I bought this book yesterday, and last evening I was also told that Cross Rail were presently recruiting 300 new tube train drivers from outside the industry. The contrast between what used to happen and what will probably happen now is striking. I'm still a bit uneasy about the phrase 'modern apprenticeship'

2. Newton Heath loco shed was part of my childhood. We used to go train spotting there, and if feeling brave, actually ventured into the sheds. I remember helping someone I now know to have been a 'Cleaner' to light a fire in a locomotive.

3. My Grandad worked for his whole life at the adjacent Newton Heath Carriage Works as a carriage builder.



From “My paper Chase” by Harold Evans. b.1928. Editor Sunday Times 1967 - 1981


The job my father had when I was born, Engine Cleaner, was a bigger deal than it sounds. It was the first rung on a very long but well coveted ladder to becoming a locomotive driver.
Train drivers were an aristocracy among the working classes. They had a job for life, the social esteem which came with security, and better-than-average pay. The downside was that the job was brutally hard in its physical and mental demands.The hours of work were horrible – 2 a.m. one week, 3 p.m. the next, then 5 a.m. another. It was a matter of pride to my father that he never needed the knocker-up to rapa on the window with his long pole (a long gone profession from the days when alarm clocks were uncommon). But the shifts meant that week to week we were asleep when he was up and he was asleep when we were up.

The railway historian Frank McKenna observed that ‘the eyes of a footplate man appear to be a decade younger than the rest of his physique’. Dad’s were striking deep in his sockets. Perfect eyesight and physical fitness were demanded of an Engine Cleaner as of the driver. A slight fall-off in the eyesight test, a hint of colour blindness or physical limitation, and a drive would be demoted to sweeping the sheds, or shunting wagons in the freight yard or cleaning lavatories, or dismissed altogether. Dad was so sensitive about his fine vision that he would not hear of it when as a teenager I thought I was becoming short sighted. I was, but he was in a state of denial I didn’t understand at the time. Now I see that the eye rolling exercises I picked up from a book by an Indian doctor would have alarmed anyone.

Every schoolboy then might have wanted to become an engine driver, but there was no glamour in the first step. On his night shift, among other dirty jobs, Dad as an Engine Cleaner had to go under the engine and climb into the dark belly of the beast to oil the big ends of te pistons, fearfully trusting that nobody would move the engine (as occasionally some lunatic did). It was several years of this before he was tested for work on the footplate (that is in the open cab), first qualifying as a Passed Cleaner, which carried the prospect of some turns as a fireman. What back breaking work! I have a mental picture of my father coming home, exhausted from an all night firing job on a goods train, keeping a foothold on the rocking engine while hour after hour shoveling coal from the tender, maybe six tons of it, and hurling it through the small fire hole into the right places in the firebox to raise the necessary steam pressure. ‘Where’s my steam?’ was the yell no fireman wanted to hear from his driver.
In time the Passed Cleaner could hope to become a Red Ink Fireman, on the footplate for a few months, then all being well, a Black Ink Fireman, on the rosters for regular firing; and finally Passed Fireman, tested to drive any train in his depot. As a Red Ink Driver he would be on the roster for driving in holiday periods, and the eventually a Black Ink Driver, the top of the ladder. No other craft or profession exacted such a lengthy ‘apprenticeship’. Dad carefully annotated the details of every driving turn he acquired. It typically took twenty years to get there. ‘Dead man’s Shoes,’ said Dad.

A driver could not take a train on a route until he knew its every particularity – the siting of every , the sounds and shadows that might guide him in fog or snowstorm when visibility was near zero, the shape of every curve in the track, the length and darkness of every tunnel, the trickiness of every ascent where extra steam and sand might be needed, the location of every set of points where they might be switched to a different line. They called this familiarisation ‘learning the road’ and Dad learned many roads, rattling most happily along the North Wales coast where many years later at Bluebell wood cemetery at Coed Bell in Prestatyn he was to find his final resting place.

Drivers and fireman were subject to strict military discipline and it was easy to see why. A railwayman who did not read, memorize and follow the hundreds of regulations in the precious Rule Book risked his own life, his workmates’ and the lives of several hundred passengers. Dad knew the Rule Book back to front. In the kitchen, testing himself, he’d ask questions rhetorically: What do you do with a runaway train on a hill or a train slipping back? How in an emergency do you signal to the guard at the back of the train? If you pass through facing points onto a curve, what is the safe speed? What of you have to run backwards?
What’s the right thing to do if there’s an obstruction on the line, an uprooted sleeper, a snowdrift? If you run out of steam, what lights do you lay down on the track and where?

The work ethic was puritanical – clean overalls, no drink, no swearing, no smoking on duty, and no tolerance of misdemeanours. If he as ten minutes late at the shed, he risked being sent home with the warning that next time he would be fired. I remember a railway inspector coming round to our house to see if Dad had taken home one of the high quality hand rags issued to footplate crews for oiling work. He hadn’t – he knew better.

We worried about my father’s daily risks. Usually he came home chuckling over some incident It was ominous when he didn’t:
‘What’s the matter Dad?’
Something terrible’
‘But what?’
‘Bad accident’
‘What kind of accident’
‘Finish your tea’

We’d eventually discover that a platelayer had lost a leg, a shunter had been crushed between wagons. A fireman had been scalded, a driver had been killed walking across a track to check a frozen signal. His own most common affliction was grit in the eye, looking out of his open cab at speed: there was no protective eye shield for footplatemen.

He tried to educate his union – the Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen, not always to campaign for wage increases but to aim for medical benefits and for decent pensions, pointing out that an extra shilling or two now would be better invested for retirement. But he never could persuade them, so when he did retire, his pension after fifty years was seven shillings a week,(about £3 at today’s values).

In the early 1930’s the composition of the manpower at LMS Newton Heath sheds way across the other side of Manchester offered a better prospect of graduating from Passed Cleaner to Red Ink Fireman. Newton Heath was a very big depot with over 200 locomotives.
Also of some relevance was Dad’s passion for football: he never saw a ball he didn’t want to dribble around an imaginary fullback, and scorning players who could not shoot with both feet, drilled us hard on that. Naturally he liked the idea that Newton Heath loco sheds were the birthplace of a football team- not any old team but The Heathens, a bunch of railwaymen who managed to get into the Football League, nearly went bankrupt, then did rather better after 1902 when they changed their name to Manchester United.
Born to be mild. . .

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Re: Harold Evans

Post by Tizer » 12 May 2015, 18:55

A great post, Tripps, very interesting, very moving. It's especially striking just now when the West Coast Railway which does the preserved engine train journeys is in big trouble for almost crashing into a 70mph Paddington-Bristol express. An investigation is looking into the possibility that the loco crew switched off safety features. It was hard on the crews and signallers in the old days because they often got blamed for rail accidents when it wasn't really their fault but a lack of safety in the system. It was like bringing in safety by trial and error. The book I've been reading (`Taunton Steam') tells of major accidents at Norton Fitzwarren near Taunton in about 1895 and 1940 and in each case new safety features were introduced after the event, after people had died and others injured.

On a lighter note there was a lovely tale of the crew at Chard station who went for a brew in the morning as the engine was steaming up but they'd left the regulator slightly open. When they came out, there it was, gone! It might have been the same engine as the one that reputedly found its way into the car park of the Chard Arms.

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Re: Harold Evans

Post by Stanley » 13 May 2015, 03:47

Lovely and accurate post. Harold is a good man and his book on picture editing for publication is still the industry standard.

Image

I spent a lot of time in loco sheds as a lad at Heaton Mersey shed. Nobody ever stopped us from roaming around as the men worked.... Thise were the days, they were recruiting engine drivers!
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Re: Harold Evans

Post by Tripps » 04 Jun 2015, 15:32

A further extract from 'My Paper Chase' by Harold Evans.

For those that pine for the good old days when there was lot more public ownership of the commanding heights of the economy. :smile:

My first column was passable, with three or four shorter items, but it was not personal, and could have been written by a man on the Clapham omnibus. I was rescued by the antic behaviour of the nationalised Electricity Board responsible for serving the whole of the North West. During my lunch hour, I walked into their show room in Manchester to buy an electric cooker they had in their window. It was an older model at a knock down price; I was newly married with furniture bought on credit and we couldn’t afford a new model.
I paid, and gave the salesman an address for delivery to our flat in Altrincham, a suburb of Manchester. He revoked the sale. In no circumstances would he deliver to Altrincham, he explained. It was in the rules. Not giving up, I went to the Altrincham saleroom of the same Board. They didn’t have a cheap model. Would they kindly order it from their colleagues in Manchester? ‘Oh dear me no – we’re not on speaking terms with Manchester’. I went back to Electricity HQ. I said I’d buy it and arrange my own pick - up and delivery. ‘We’re a state enterprise said the salesman triumphantly. ‘We can’t deal with a private trucker. They didn’t thank me for my apology for thinking I Was in Manchester, not Moscow..
Born to be mild. . .

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Re: Harold Evans

Post by Stanley » 05 Jun 2015, 03:42

All he had to do was get it delivered to an acceptable address and pick it up from there.... Never let the facts spoil a good story!
Have a look at THIS for a possible explanation. Altrincham had a bad reputation when I was a lad and they were still telling jokes about it into the 1950s.
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"Beware of certitude" (Jimmy Reid)
The floggings will continue until morale improves!

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Re: Harold Evans

Post by Tripps » 05 Jun 2015, 11:19

I think the link is known as a 'non sequitur' :smile:

That story chimed with me because I was once (1970's) publicly reprimanded by the chap in the Gas Board showroom, where I was buying a replacement part for my gas boiler. I think it was an easily changeable plastic switch. He told me in no uncertain terms that I was depriving a tradesman of work by doing it myself.
Born to be mild. . .

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Re: Harold Evans

Post by Stanley » 06 Jun 2015, 03:51

You may be right about the link but there was a lot of bad feeling about against Altrincham when I was a lad.
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"Beware of certitude" (Jimmy Reid)
The floggings will continue until morale improves!

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