On a scorchingly hot Sunday afternoon I was asked, ‘what was it like, on days like this, working on the footplate’. Well, hot of course but, what they meant was how did we cope and how grim was it. Bottled water, there wasn’t any of that in 1960s Britain and shorts, trainers, and a t-shirt, well let’s just say I never met a fireman dressed that way. I did however, come across quite few drivers who, even on roasters, turned up for duty in a shirt and tie – proper old school.
In engines with a very enclosed cab, it was often ridiculously hot, especially if the engine was in the shed and you were preparing the fire to go off-shed. It was equally bad on the ash pit cleaning the fire too. The term, ‘sweating like a pig in a lard factory’, was a relatively accurate, if colourful, description of the conditions. In the summers of 63,64, and 65 I was a fireman at Nine Elms on the Bulleid Pacifics and Q1s which did get very warm but, the BR Standards, especially the ones with the big tenders, were fairly enclosed, and they were pretty warm too, when compared with the likes of an S15 or a U-boat. Once you got out on the road you could at least hang out the window for a breath of fresh air, between bouts of firing.
The really big difference between then and now is the attitude to alcohol. Drinking on duty was a punishable offence, then as now, however, a very blind eye was often turned; and after a trip down to Bournemouth, on a hot day, a pint of Brown & Mild in th BRSA club, wasn’t drinking it was re-hydration! And right outside the gate at Nine Elms was the ‘Brook’ – The Brookland Arms, the ‘lock-ins’ were the stuff of legend.
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