Just like the old days, the crew on No.78019 exchange a friendly wave with their counterparts on No.48624, as she scurries south with a rake of mineral empties. Just like the locomotives they worked on, footplatemen come in all shapes and sizes, some jocular others dour, some good, some less so. For every one who gave his time to the MIC classes there was another who gave his time to beer glasses, some were gentlemen in every sense of the word, others were of a rougher hew.
No matter what their characters or foibles were, the reality is that their working lives have been subject to more literary endeavour than any other blue collar job you can think of – why? In 1963, when I was working in and out of Waterloo everyday – passengers didn’t even glance in your direction, to all intents and purposes the footplate crew were anonymous. The depot I was working at, 70 A Nine Elms, suffered regular staff shortages and rest day working was the norm. Things were so stretched, at times, that crew were borrowed from other depots, firemen especially. In swinging sixties London, young lads didn’t want dirty, demanding, work, with shifts which started or finished at every minute on the clock face.
In other parts of Britain things were very different, I often recall the looks on the faces of the Exmouth Jct. men, when we relieved them at Salisbury, the firemen were years old than my driver – men in their forties were still on the shovel, promotion for them was the time honoured dead men’s boots, it really was a ‘job for life’ – well that was how it seemed. Then came the redundancy and closure notices and the tidal wave of modernity swept lines away, turned sheds into supermarkets, and forged the dustbin of history from once handsome engines.
The location in the photograph is the Great Central Railway near Loughborough.
If you have enjoyed my blogs – I have written a book about my 60 years involvement with railways, from trainspotter, via steam age footplateman, to railway author and photographer, this is a link to it: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Gricing-Real-story-Railway-Children/dp/1514885751