With the numerous excursions to Talbot
Road, within the eight hours until midday, most Ryecroft men
wondered and marvelled at the disposal problem. Because of
siding congestion, Blackpool excursion stock was filtered back
along the line as far as Preston, Wigan, Southport and
Blackburn, hauled by the useful ex-Lancashire & Yorkshire
Railway 0-6-0 tender and 2-4-2 "2P" tank engines.
Some five minutes after uncoupling, Tommy
gave a sigh of relief as the coaching stock drew away. Almost
immediately, the call-on signal cleared to run light engine out
of North Station; Blackpool shed confines were shortly reached
and Simeon Foster handed over ''Ethelred'' to the disposal men,
who had the thankless task of cleaning the fireboxes of scores
of locomotives in a mean temperature of about 88 degrees
Simeon and Tommy at first decided on a good
cold-water wash before some "snap". At this point it was common
for any visiting train crew to visit Blackpool sands for a
session in a deckchair. Alternatively, the men could get their
heads down for a few hours in the specially converted old
railway coaches with fitted bunks. Simeon and Tommy chose the
latter, and somehow managed to get some sleep in the still
baking hot conditions.
A call lad came into the coach about six
o’clock to give Simeon and Tommy time to prepare ''Ethelred''
with full steam for the run back to Walsall, leaving Talbot Read
excursion platform at 19.48. He was just as apprehensive with
regards to the return journey as he had been before the outward
journey: admittedly the sun was beginning to wane, but the
continuing ridge of high pressure over England could only mean a
warm, humid evening and night. Tommy knew he was in for another
gruelling stint with his gleaming work shovel.
There was no hope of Simeon changing his
driving methods, so Tommy just accepted his fate as ''Ethelred''
left Blackpool North shed and backed onto its waiting stock.
Looking down the platform from the cab of ''Ethelred'', Simeon
and Tommy viewed their Walsall day trippers searching for empty
compartments. Every child it seamed carried a bucket and spade
and was, as usual, full of noise and (generally) laughter. Their
fathers mostly appeared to have in their pockets a few bottles
of ale, having realised it would be closing time when they
reached Walsall. To go without a drink on a Sunday night was
sheer torture to some. Of the mothers their expressions
generally were: "Oh I will be glad to get back home, having been
up very early to get the children ready". Considering their
thankless task of damping down the children's spirits towards
bedtime, and thinking of the Monday washing, one can appreciate
the housewife's lot on a Sunday day excursion.
With the train full, Simeon watched for the
signal and, when cleared, slowly moved ''Ethelred'' away from
Talbot Road to join in the usual stop-start procedure all the
way back to Preston. Simeon was set to drive in his usual manner
of continual thrashing, causing Tommy to fire just that bit
harder than for other drivers, who preferred to ease and coax
their locomotives along.
It took about an hour to reach Preston,
with anxious looks passing between footplate and signal cabins.
After Preston, running along the slow lines, progress was
Passing Wigan and Warrington and other
small towns, Simeon’s heavy method of driving was responsible
for cascading red hot char and small lumps of coal skywards to
descend into back gardens and rows of Coronation Street-type
houses. But the Lancastrians were used to this procedure and had
long learned to live with the ex-LNWR engines.
During a brief respite from shovelling,
Tommy stole a few moments from his ordeal to take a drink of
cold tea, again from the usual pop bottle, finding time to
answer the waves of schoolchildren who were always in evidence
with their notebooks full of engine numbers. On the approach to
Crewe, signal checks began to put the Walsall excursion behind
schedule. The good point was that night was drawing in, and
Tommy was more than pleased to see his enemy the sun disappear
below the horizon.
Just after ten o'clock "Ethelred" was given
a road through the Crewe bottleneck, by way of the up goods loop
lines, bypassing the station under tunnels, and rejoining the up
slow lines at Basford. Tommy Bates, shortly after leaving the
Crewe lines, managed to put down the shovel for a chat with
Simeon Foster. It was just before Norton Bridge Junction
Signalbox, where the driver of an up train was required to
whistle appropriately to the signalman for the road to
Wolverhampton. This procedure was for the Norton Bridge
signalman to inform the Stafford signalbox responsible for
working the Trent Valley and Stour Valley lines. Tommy reminded
Simeon because Simeon had been known to forget. Once he had been
in charge of a Crewe to Curzon Street fish train and, having
forgotten to whistle, was diverted along the Trent Valley line.
Too late to rectify his mistake, the only alternative was to
stop at the nearest signalbox to ask for a road via Cannock and
Walsall, causing some heavy graft for the poor fireman concerned
on the Cannock Chase incline. In ''Ethelred's'' case Tommy had
no illusions about firing this ageing Experiment over that
With the correct whistle given at Norton
Bridge box, Simeon literally thrashed the rattling Ryecroft
locomotive towards Stafford. By this time, Tommy was spending
most of his time down the bottom end of the tender, facing the
footplate end, throwing coal forward. Tommy viewed the cascade
of sparks blasting upwards into the night sky, thinking that
some drivers would work out a less demanding firing routine by
skilfully adjusting cut-off and regulator openings. But not
Simeon Foster - just full bore, and wide open regulator.
Eventually "Ethelred" rattled through
Stafford Station and Junction and on towards Wolverhampton,
where Tommy checked his coal supply, and calculated that he
could just about make Ryecroft shed with a few shovelfuls to
spare. He had by then thrown nearly ten tons into ''Ethelred's''
firebox. Among Ryecroft shedmen, it was common knowledge that
Simeon had once completely emptied a tender on a previous
Blackpool excursion around Four Ashes Station, and had to call
on Bushbury shed for extra coal to get the last few miles to
Given a clear road to Bushbury Junction,
"Ethelred" thrashed on, and Tommy, almost dropping asleep, was
firing purely by reflex action. Simeon still continued to
emulate the legendary ''Major Segrave" however, and from
Bushbury and down the "Old Road" "Ethelred" sped on, thence
through Pleck Junction, eventually entering Walsall No. 1.
Platform at approximately 0.30 on the Monday morning.
Bleary-eyed parents and still noisy children clattered their way
up the curving steps to the LNWR-style covered passage leading
into the concourse for tickets to be collected. The glad news
for Tommy was the arrival of an inspector, who instructed him to
uncouple ''Ethelred'' from its stock and run light engine to
Ryecroft shed. The Stock was to be withdrawn into Midland Road
carriage sidings in due course as available, by the yard shunter.
So, with about two hundredweight of coal left in the tender,
''Ethelred'' retired to its home shed.
Simeon Foster drove by the ringing-off hut,
with its shed arrival bell ringing busily, and ran onto the
disposal road, behind another Experiment and an engine of the
Prince of Wales class, just in from similar excursions. The shed
turner arrived to ask Simeon if ''Ethelred'' was still in one
piece, knowing "Sim's" way of thrashing the ex-mainline
Tommy wearily gathered up his snapbox and
tools and proceeded to the booking-off office. Into the shed and
down No. 1 road he staggered with aching knees and arms. On
reaching the bottom end of the shed he noticed, peeping through
the dim gaslight and drifting smoke, a figure at the
drinking-water fountain, in the act of filling up the huge one
gallon iron kettle for the mess room firegrate. The figure was
indeed Simeon Foster’s young son Les, working the night shift on
calling-up and mess room duties. Les Foster, who had joined the
railway with the object of following in father's footsteps,
became uncomfortably aware of Tommy leaning on his well-worn
shovel and glaring in his direction with a look to kill.
Suddenly, from the lips of Tommy Bates, there leapt an
exclamation that was to live in the memories of Ryecroft shed
staff until the present day - "Young Les, it is said somewhere
in the Bible that all Sins of the parents shall be passed down
to the first, second, third, and fourth generations, and so be
it, that if I ever get you on the footplate as my fireman on a
Blackpool excursion I shall make you suffer, sweat and toil in
the same manner that your bloody old man has treated me today".
Tommy Bates tottered away to the toolroom stores, leaving a
bewildered young Les Foster speechless.
Considering that Tommy had not been to
Sunday school for many years, it was amazing that in his mind
still remained the learned text from the Bible, taken from the
Second Commandment - "I the Lord, am not easily angered, and I
show great love and faithfullness, and forgive sin and
rebellion, yet I will not fail to punish Children and
grandchildren to the third and fourth generations for the sins
of their parents".
Fortunately, in the vicinity, overhearing
this classic remark, were fitter Frank Rigby and fireman Walter
Franklin, who found this confrontation most amusing. It took
little or no time for the whole of Ryecroft shed staff to hear
of this encounter, and they looked forward to the day in a few
years time when Tommy Bates might have passed fireman Les Foster
on the footplate with him. Alas, this true Story has a sad
Tommy became a very efficient fireman, and
duly passed-out on his examination to be a driver on Ryecroft
shed. On only his second week driving one of the shunting links,
he duly booked on duty one morning full of zest and enthusiasm
for a day’s work, when in the act of putting his snapbox on a
high point on a Super D’s tender, he Stood on the tender brake
wheel to lift himself. Unfortunately, he slipped as the loose
wheel revolved, and fell awkwardly, hitting his head against the
steel tender frame, to be killed almost instantaneously, and so
never lived to carry out his threat to young Les Foster.