The Fun We Had

It was the best of times, it was the worse of times. When I finally made my escape from the communications department at Buchannan house and became one of the first females to ‘train’ as a driver. Once i had completed my training and had passed out and gained the relevant seniority, I was sent where all green hands (Technically known as ‘mugs’) were invariably sent. Glasgow Central Electric Depot. Grand as that name sounds it was actually a grubby messroom and scheduling clerk’s office up a flight of stairs ajacent to platform one. strange to think now that in them days, we were regarded as a bunch of cowboys! (And of course, female drivers were an accident waiting to happen, wern’t they.)

Central worked the cathcart circle and out to Motherwell as well as the cathcart circle. In those days, the ‘Trans-clyde’ lines, AKA the Glasgow central Railway was still light years in the future and were no more than a derelict set of tunnels haunted by the ghosts of the past. Similarly the Ayr lines were still operated by ancient (To our eyes) Diesel units which were always late and invariably breaking down. The other lines we worked were the coast lines to Gourock and Wemyss Bay.

In them days trains still had guards who opened and shut the doors, took care of platform duties and told you when to start by ringing two bells.All you did was watch the signals and stop the train in the correct spot. Seemed simple enough. The controls of a ‘Blue train’ (AM3 or 303 units) were simple enough Controller which included a dead mans handle, which had four ‘notches’ (Shunt, series, parrallel full field, parrallel weak field.) A forward, reverse and ‘off’ switch. and an air brake. (Mind thae brakes hen, they’re awfully fierce.’) A row of buttons for various things (Pan up pand down and one that I never did find out what it was) A big cromium plated button right in the middle of the desk, the AWS cancell button. On the panel was from left. AWS visual indicator, speedo Ammeter, Air pressure gauge indicationg pressures in the pipe and in the reservoir.) simples!

‘After the initial nerves were conquered I settled down to the job. As a ‘mug’ I got all the minging turns that the old timers didn’t want. One of the worse being saturday duties when there were big fit’ba games on at Hampden. It was on one such occasion that I thought my time had come!

‘They say that when Rangers play Celtic, and ‘Auld firm’ match, absenteeism triples among the transport staff in Glasgow. (Especially if its on the telly) Anyway, one day I was on 14man spare and right away was dispatched to the circle. No alarm bells rung in my mind.I was still too naive to realise what was going on.

‘Platform six.’ the clerk told me as I was signing for the road. ‘Due aff in five.’

Off I went to platform six and found a train packed to the gunnels with Rangers supporters. There were two flute bands (With full percussion) and at least one accordion band, all in full flow. The gentle strains of ‘The Sash my father wore.’ were coming out of the coaches at full pelt.

‘Get it to FUCK!’ the platform chargehand said grimly as I came up to the cab and unlocked the door.

‘But I’ve still to prep… ‘I began

‘GET IT TO FUCK NOW!’ The man, usually the most mild of manner, said.’

‘RIGHT!’ I said, getting in and placing my key for the master controller into the socket beside the brake handle. Turning it, the AWS horn squaked as I threw the brake handle over and depressed the reset button. The ‘Sunflower’ pattern came up in the visual indicator.’ I restored the brake and watched the air build up in the pipe. Quick check and I looked out to see the chargehand plead with the guard to get the hell out of here before anything happened.

‘In those days, the 303’s had not yet been rebuilt and there was no access between the drivers cab and the train. There WAS three large windows which gave passengers a magnificent view forward.Blinds were fitted to prevent glare at night. Most drivers pulled the

blind behind the seat down anyway but someone had pulled all three blinds down today. I decided to leave them like that. Then two bells from the guard, two in reply, check the platform starter and away we go.

The train was a special and non stopping until Kings Park Off we went at a spanking rate, coasting through the stations to the musical accompaniment from the train. By Queens Park, they were on to ‘Derry’s Walls’ having already murdered the ‘Orange and Blue’ and ‘Dolly’s Braes’ THEN… it happened. ‘BANG’ the purple ‘Line’ indicator goes out. We’re just into cathcart junction. ‘OH HELP!’ Frantically press ‘Pan up’ nothing! By now the musicians, those without drums, started using the windows behind the chair as a makeshift drum. Buzz from the guard.

‘Whats up?’

‘Lost line.!’

‘Have ye tried tae reset it?’

‘Naw! Why wid I dae that? OF COURSE I’ve tried tae reset it.’

‘Whit happened?’

‘NOTHING!’

By now the loveable louts in the train are getting restless and feet are being stamped the train is begaining to rock alarmingly.

‘If we don’t get moving soon this team will wreck the bloody train’

‘Shouldn’t we protect the train?’ I ask innocently.

‘You are SPOOFING ME!’ We don’t have time! and where we’re sitting, we don’t have enough detonators anyway! We need assistance. Rule 55, you better find a phone.’

Down I get and look for a signal. I have them memorised but out of the cab abd standing on the ballast everything looks different. I walk along in the direction of travel to the Catcart east Junction starter,

‘Please God, make the phone work!’ I silently pray. My prayers are answered.

‘Train number 2X35 satnding at bsignal numberG… ‘I begin

‘WHAT THE FUCK IS GOING ON?’ The Controller screams.

‘Er… whe’ve broken down.’

‘WHERE?’

‘Cathcart East junction.’

‘Are you on the junction?

‘Yes.’

‘AAAGH! FOR FUCK’S SAKE! WHY ME!’

‘We’ve lost line power.’ I explain.

‘Have you protected your train?’

‘Guard’s doing it now.’ I lie. ‘He suggested that it would be better to report in and get assistance.’

‘AND WHERE THE FUCK AM I SUPPOSED TO GET ASSISTANCE?’

‘Not my department.’ I say, getting just a little pissed off by the mans attitude. Not to say his language. So I put three detonators down the regulation ten yards apart and head back to thge train where things are getting desparate. But, being Rangers supporters, the Pope was getting the blame.

‘Eventually a diesel loco came along, heralded by the bangs of the detonators. I wave my red flag as if the revolution has broken out. I know the driver, I’d been his ‘assistant’ for a while. Nonchalantly, his current mate gets down and the buffer up having first dropped the buckey coupling to expose the drawhook and extended the buffers. Ten minutes and we’re away.’

I expected the shit to hit the fan big time over this one but nobody seems to care. Just another saturday on the magic roundabout although the Teddy Bear supporters missed most of the first half of the game and if I recall they got cuffed into the bargain.

It was another football match that gave me a scare some years later by which time I’d transferred to Gourock. Scotland were playing a totally meaningless international against a hill in Italy. a game that was, according to the national coach ‘Always going to be a difficult match.’

I was on a late shift Gourock, my last turn, The train was not crowded but there was a contingent of the ‘Tartan Army’ Kilted tartan scarfed. but compared to the old firm yobs who were prone to sundry naughtiness, the were relatively peaceable.

All went well until we were leaving Port Glasgow. AS i mpassed the starter signal, it became apparent that someone had pulled the communication chord. The train was grinding to a halt on the viaduct. I took over and stopped the train.

‘SHIT!’ I got my hand lamp and opened the door. In the dark I could see nothing. One false step and it was a twenty foot drop to Balflour Street below. gingerly, i got down nonto the ballast and looked along the train. The flag on the first coach indicated that it was there that the cord had been pulled. I opened the doors with the valve at the side. Inside all was silent.

‘Who pulled the cord?’ I demanded in my best authoritarian voice. Silence.

‘Who pulled the cord?’ I demanded again. Still silence from the kilties. AS i was speaking Gordon the Greek, the guard was coming along the train to see what was the matter.

‘GORDON! Phone the polis!’ I said. As I did a faint voice came from the interior of the coach.

‘Eh… it wis me by the way.’ one of the kilties says.

‘What did you pull it for?’ I snapped.

‘Er… mah scarf was round it and  ah pulled the scarf and accidentally pulled the chord as well.’

‘Well don’t hang your scarf on it, thats not what its for!’ I rebuked and closed the door.

Then we had the job of resetting the alarm which in those days had to be done manually. Eventually we proceeded on our merry little way. At each station, the kilties slipped away into the mirk. there wwere only a few left by the time I reached Gourock where my dad was waiting to drive me home, concerned at the late arrival of the train.

‘Eventually, I left the Electrics and went to Eastfield and the diesels on the West highland line. but I’l,l never forget the fun we had on the sparkies. I once asked a controller ‘Are ye winning?’ He replied. ‘Ye canny win on this job hen, the best ye can hope for is tae force a draw… ‘

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