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The Friends of the
National Railway Museum






South of England Group
Vice Presidents: Richard Hardy; Sir William McAlpine Bt, FRSE, FCIT, FRSA




Last Update






Talk Synopsis




3 January 2006






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A Railwayman Remembers
Richard Hardy
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 minutes.

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 months.

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 war-time years.

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 the memory.

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 course.

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.