A Railwayman Remembers
16 November 1998
Richard (Dick) Hardy started his talk just before
the start of his railway career. At the end of his schooling at
Marlborough College he had a meeting with a career advisor. When he told
the advisor he wanted to go to work on either the LMS or LNER railways,
he was curtly told to go on the LNER because "there was a gentleman at
the top". He wrote to Nigel Gresley and got a reply from Thompson
inviting him for an interview as a premium apprentice. In January 1941
he started on the LNER, following an interview which lasted all of 15
He found digs in Doncaster for the princely sum of
30 shillings per week and started as an apprentice in the machine shop.
He quickly found out that foremen were the ones to be aware of. One
early experience had him sent to pick up a casting on a barrow. A
foreman on his rounds saw him struggling with this and bellowed that
"Had no *** ever told you how to lift".
The months went by, and he found himself in the
erecting shop giving general overhauls to the war-time engines as
quickly as possible. He was supposed to spend only 6 months working on
the 4 coupled locomotives here, but he found it so good he stayed for 11
While at The Plant he attended Doncaster Technical
College, where he got friendly with John Stephenson, a boy who had left
school at 14. Despite the brief education, John was still able to helped
Richard with his maths. Richard quickly realised that he would never
make a good engineer, so he decided to go run the railway instead. John,
with his strong maths, went along the technical route, finally to
become head of carriage and wagons.
At the start of 1944 Richard went to the Running
Sheds and experienced the rough and tumble of running repairs on engines
in steam. Conditions were typical of the era; cold winds blew through
the open doors, and there were no cleaning facilities other than a
bucket of paraffin. He was put onto the emergency breakdown crew -
becoming the train mascot. In those days there were many derailments.
One he remembered was at Keighley where a wagon ran away through the
goods shed to land in the street. He also went to Gainsborough, in a
mission clouded in secrecy, to load a midget submarine onto a rail
wagon. In February 1944 he had 63 hours of continuous duty on the
breakdown train - as a result he saw his first £5 note in his pay
tin. The problem was that a young man in overalls during the war
couldn't get it changed in the shops - they tended to think you had
either stolen it or were a fifth columnist.
In December 1944 he went into the drawing office.
The draughtsmen were ill paid but very able, this didn't suit Richard.
Finally, in August 1945, he went to Thompson to be sent for interview
with L.P. Parker at Stratford. He had a reputation for making
apprentices take responsibility and quickly go up the ladder. That was
the end of Richard's career at Doncaster.
His spare time at Doncaster, apart from study and
home guard duties, was spent unofficially on the footplate. Even before
he started on the railway he was attracted by steam engines and he won
his first footplate ride at his boyhood home station of Amersham. While
on apprenticeship he was only allowed 3 weeks on the footplate
officially. This was not satisfactory to Richard, so he found other ways
to extend the experience. He was so successful at this pursuit that,
while at Doncaster, he managed to clock up 60,000 miles on the
footplate. This experience was invaluable to Richard in his later
career. He saw people working at the front line, with people taking
decisions on their own responsibility with little direct supervision.
In May 1941, he was on his way back to Doncaster at
Wakefield Westgate, and when the train rolled in, as usual, he made his
way to the locomotive. The fireman asked him who he was and when he
found out he was an apprentice he was invited up. This was Stan
Hodgeson, a young hand (about 35 years old) who was a relief fireman.
Arriving at Doncaster he wasn't allowed off at the station as "there are
people watching", so he stayed on board and was taken down to the shed.
Despite having finished an arduous tour of duty, the crew were keen to
shown him how to dispose of the engine. He was told to come back to the
shed and, through this friendship, he was regularly taken on footplate
rides. After a few weeks he was allowed to take the engine up to the
station. Stan and his driver were Copley Hill men. They didn't get many
big engines, but had a wide range of tanks and smaller tender engines.
Copley Hill had a supply of good quality coal. They were proud of their
ability to get the best out of the boiler and never allowed the use of
fire irons. The team gave Richard a good training in firing. Copley Hill
had four K3s for the heaviest jobs, pulling up to 20 coaches in those
To illustrate their skill, Richard described the
work of Bill Deadman, one of the Copley Hill drivers. One night he was
to take over the Colchester train at Doncaster and take it forward to
Leeds. It was some 16 coaches long. At Wakefield he stopped the train as
normal and then faced the standing start on a 1 in 100 rising gradient.
London trains normally detached a Bradford portion here, but the
Colchester train went through to Leeds in one part. He had 4433 not in
the best condition, but it had got him to Wakefield virtually on-time.
He put the valve gear in full forward, opened the regulator wide but
nothing happened. He reversed the train slightly, to take the dead load
off the engine, then tried again. A slow movement, but as soon as the
load came on it stalled. He repeated this five times, all to no avail.
During the course of this, nothing was said on the footplate, the crew
concentrating on the work in hand. On the sixth attempt, it started to
move slowly, there was a soft smoke ring out of the chimney, then the
next slightly stronger until a real bark came out. It then went through
to Leeds without a problem - a superb piece of enginemanship. Copley
Hill was staffed with mainly ex-Great Central men. Harry Hornby, a GNR
man and the leading engineman at Copley Hill, asked Bill whether he had
got away from Wakefield and when he said yes, Harry Hornby said he
couldn't have done it. The was rare praise indeed, and Bill treasured
Another man at Copley Hill was Alf Cartwright who
always wore a celluloid collar. He was a very droll man. One day, with
Richard firing, he stopped at Beeston, the second station out from
Leeds. The Station Master, who realised that the train was not scheduled
to stop there, came across and asked Richard, who was on the platform
side, why they had stopped. Richard turned to Alf, who ambled over and
responded "Well it was a long time since we saw you so we thought we'd
see how you were going on" then, while the Station Master was still
thinking about this, he grabbed the regulator and they were off.
In the summer of 1941, while on the platform at
Grantham, Richard got talking to a fireman called Alf Rudkin. The same
thing happened as at Wakefield, following a brief conversation about his
apprenticeship at Doncaster, he was on the footplate and travelling
along the main line. This experience introduced him to Bill Thompson, a
long-time friend, who was forever asking Richard to accompany him on
footplate trips. One evening he went with Alf and Bill on the night
sleeper to Edinburgh. The "Cockneys", as the London footplate crew were
nicknamed, came off the engine at Grantham said it was a real bad 'un.
Richard fired through to York and he really had to work hard to keep
pressure up. Bill always came to work with apples and pears in his
pocket. He asked if Richard was having a rough time and, when Richard
said he was, said "never mind, have another pear!".
Ted Hailstone, another ex-Great Central man had
moved to Bradford. He took a liking to Richard and said if he was
prepared to come with him he would teach him how to fire and drive. This
was the start of a long friendship and every time Richard got promotion
he told him what he expected him to make of the post. In his regular
letters to Richard, he always signed off "Yours Ever Forward" - the
motto of the GCR.
Bradford engines had to work a lot harder on the
hills surrounding the city, but had much poorer coal, very small lumps
and dust, than Copley Hill since it was mainly a freight shed. In
contrast to Copley Hill tradition, Ted told him how to use the fire
irons to get a real blazing mass. He taught him how to fire all kinds of
engines. He also taught Richard self discipline, without which you were
a menace to others. On a Bradford-Halifax train Richard was firing but
was so thirsty he needed a cup of tea. He therefore left the engine to
grab a quick cuppa in the station buffet. On coming back, Ted glared at
him, and then gave him a real dressing down for leaving the footplate
without permission. On the first time out with Ted on the
Bradford-Halifax service he said that the engine, an N5, wasn't up to
dealing with a double-length train. So he said he would use a "jimmey"
across the blastpipe. This was totally illegal but created a bigger draw
of air, and every fireman at Bradford carried one. It made a world of
difference, coal and sparks going up the chimney, and the pressure well
up on the gauge. In January or February 1943, he was again on the
Bradford-Halifax with a N5 engine. Again on the last double-length
train, they put the "jimmey" across the blastpipe and set off. At
Queensbury they got a signal against them, while a train from Keighley
passed through. Then it was pulled off, and they were into the station.
There were no signals on the platform, and when they got the signal from
the guard, they moved off. Richard and Ted were stood next to each
other chatting to each other - but the advanced starter was set at
danger and, just after they had passed it, they stopped. Ted would have
been in for a lot of trouble had the incident been reported - after all,
Richard wasn't even supposed to be on the footplate, let alone firing.
Ted squared it with the guard, but needed to square the signalman. So
they went and "had a word together". It never appeared on the record.
Richard learnt the lesson; never talk when there was anything out of
Mad Benny Faulks was at Ardsley and, despite being a
driver, used to like to do the firing. Richard got to know him when he
had a footplate pass so, for once, he was on the footplate officially.
Benny was notorious for fiddling the system. He taught Richard
deliberately, so that when Richard "became a boss" he knew what was
going on. He never talked about the railway when he was not on duty. He
had not been on the railway long when he and his school friend from
Marlborough College, who was then working on the Midland, met at
Sheffield to travel over the Woodhead route. At Penistone they got out
of the train and walked up to the loco. Mad Benny was there and, on
hearing he was an apprentice with an official footplate pass, Richard
and his friend were highjacked. At Penistone they had intended to get
off and travel to Barnsley, but Benny would have none of it, and they
went on to Manchester. At Hazelhead Bridge it was single line working
and this caused them to halt on a very steep uphill grade. It took about
10 minutes of hard working to get going again and, by the time they
reached Woodhead Tunnel, they were well down. When they got over the
top, Benny said they were about to let rip, and so they did; Richard was
never so worried in his life. By the time they were at London Road they
were on time. Up came the guard, who normally worked goods, and passed
across his log book and the drivers ticket. He said he didn't know how
to book such a run. Benny said no problem! He simply rubbed out all the
timings and showed right time all the way.
Richard finished his talk with a short series of his
own slides taken at the time, and showing some of the many characters
he had told us of.