Saltley Guard
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Saltley Guard


My trusty 'Lifeline' notes have it that I transferred to the Saltley depot in 1973 after the partial closure of the Tyseley depot. So here I was transferred to the Midland Region after all those years of being a Western man, trainspotter and worker! Yes, I know I had been working for the Midland Region [British Rail to be precise] all along and that the Western Region had passed into time well before my appearance on the railway scene, never stopped me dreaming or pretending though.


Google has it that the GWR became part of British Railways in the nationalisation of January 1st 1948, 2 years before I was born in fact.  Then, starting in 1963, British Railways underwent a radical re-organisation itself, enter Dr Richard Beeching!  Beeching demanded, and got, a full set of data on costs and revenue for each line of route. He concluded that the case for service withdrawals and line closures was overwhelming and published his findings in the infamous report The Reshaping of British Railways, universally known as the 'Beeching Report'.  The report pointed up the low receipts in rural areas, low utilisation of rolling stock (particularly freight) and suggested that 2000 stations and 250 passenger services should be axed.  The rest is history as they say.  In 1965 the whole railway was re-branded as British Rail, with the distinctive double arrow logo. In 1966 the main-line express train services were named Inter-City and the freight operation was named Railfreight.  British Rail was itself privatised between 1994 and 1997, giving us the railway we know and love today J [2005].  As for the future of the railway system in the UK, the only way is up because the roads are going to grind to a standstill anytime soon.  Perhaps Jimmy Saville can fix it like he did for the Inter City services in his famous television ads?

Signing For the Road

Being a Tyseley Guard equipped me with a half-decent road knowledge card, signing for places I never dreamt of going to during my firing years [tongue in cheek] there.  I recall this caused a bit of a stir at Saltley, after all a lot of their men hadn't had the opportunity to sign for Gloucester over the North Warwickshire line, Paddington via Banbury and High Wycombe or Basingstoke via Reading.  There seemed to be plenty of passenger jobs available running over these metals, they must have been transferred to Saltley after Tyseley's partial closure?  One such job, a summer special I seem to recall, resulted in a rather bizarre situation where I received a letter from a Mr Edwards, Saltley shed superintendent [or some such title], asking me to explain what I thought I was doing "allowing my train to run between Basingstoke and Reading without a guard?"  This was Bizarre in-extremis, apparently someone had reported that the trains guard [me] had not travelled with the train between these points.  Talk about shoot first then ask questions later, that report greatly incensed me and its response was carefully worded and returned to its ill-informed and somewhat gullible author.  I heard no more about it and let the matter rest there, should it happen today I could probably sue for personal [psychological] injury or deformation of character!


I did of course build up my road knowledge card as a Saltley man proper, this added Derby via Burton, Leicester via Nuneaton, Gloucester via Bromsgrove, Coventry via Tile Hill, Wolverhampton via Tipton and Redditch via Bournville, to name a few. I've sat in many a rocking & rolling brake van on freight trains to Derby and Gloucester and trippers around the Saltley & local Collieries area. We also had the luxury of riding on the engine on parcels trains, fully fitted freights, merry-go-rounds, empty stock, the odd freightliner and light engines.


I remember the 'Peterborough Parcels' quite well having been in the link long enough to have worked it a few times with the same driver, Len Stokes.  Driver Stokes and I got on very well, he was yet another nice railwayman who, as I recall, liked his cigars and liked his coffee.  On this turn I always rode in the front cab with Len and we always had our plan for when I should get the coffee ready, can't remember which places were our 'coffee points' but do remember making full use of the engine's stove to brew it or warm it.  For those not aware, the stove on a diesel engine was installed as just that [they usually had 2 electric heater rings], even though it may have been mistaken for the second man's [before single-manning] 'footrest shelf' by the casual observer at the time.


Another 'luxury' [no brake van] job that I worked was a class 6 fully fitted that we would relieve at Wigston Glen Parva Junction.  I don't remember where we worked it to, or what our up working was, but do remember the phone by the relief cabin where I would call the Bobby and announce "You've got the Saltley men for the 6xxx [train reporting number] at LRxx [signal number], to which he would reply all right mate [or such like] she'll be with you in 20 minutes [say] and you'll be right away Brum [say].  I still feel a tingle when I think of all this, can I have my job back please?


An incident where road knowledge and brake vans caught me out one night happened in Wolverhampton at the steel sidings [today called Corus, then British Steel?], just outside of it's High Level station.  I recall being half asleep in the brake van on the main line when the driver bought the train to a halt just outside the sidings reception road.  I pass those same sidings every day on my way to and from work in the City of Wolverhampton [it was a town in the 1970's] and am happy to say that it's still in use, some tracks have long since been lifted but it's surviving as a Corus site.  Imagine my horror when I looked out of the brake van trying to quickly work out what was going on in the darkness, had something happened that would call for invocation of an action from the rule book?  Fortunately, we had a short train, the engine was not far away and it soon became apparent that we were booked to go into the steel works sidings, a task that was accomplished without too much more fuss.  Yes, this was my first trip into those sidings, I did not even know they were there when I learnt the road to Wolverhampton, an oversight to say the least!  The job itself that night was not diagrammed so must have been some kind of a one-off that I fell for hook, line and sinker, my definite error was in not checking the destination when I accepted the job.

If Signal Boxes Were Palaces, Then Brake Vans Could Be Luxury Villas

I mentioned on the 'Tyseley Fireman' page how well kept signal boxes were and how us young firemen weren't allowed in by the bobbies when the driver had sent us up to make the tea.  Brake vans, though less grandiose than a signal box, were usually handed over clean and tidy, with a good fire [in the winter] and trimmed lamps when trains were relieved along their way.  At least this was the case with the older, more experienced guards who still retained their pride in a job properly and well done.  Should a holiday brochure espouse that a brake van offers panoramic views from its balconies, has roaring coal fires to warm you or comfortable beds to sleep off the rigours of your day, then it surely wouldn't be far out. 

Sadly, one early morning job that we had from Bescot yard appears to have been a non-brochure turn.  I completed the job several times in the link in freezing cold weather and each time found that the brake van had no fire lit.  Suffice it to say that a fire was quickly started before I went round the train and reported our load to the driver.  Those familiar with brake van stoves [hearth, enclosed grate & flue pipe to roof] will know that you could get them roaring away in no time, with the grate glowing red-hot if you weren't careful.  There was usually some wood and paper left by the stove and I always carried fire lighters in my bag to get things off to a good start.     

Travel Home Passenger

Of course not all jobs had strenuous return workings J such as a Leicester job where we arrived there in the early hours of the morning and were booked 'back passenger' on the first train to Birmingham, a DMU worked stopper.  The DMU used to be stabled on a side road at Leicester station and served as the dormitory for returning Saltley men, how considerate.  If I had a criticism of this hostelry it would be that those DMU's got rather too warm at times [engines running, heaters blasting] and rather smelly [smell from their warm air heaters], or am I being picky here?  If proof were needed it was sometimes displayed on the faces of the early morning commuters who would be boarding as we were waking up.  Have you ever been too hot in bed or nearly poisoned by fumes from some clapped-out warm air heater?  I must have made a worrying site at times because I do recall being asked if I was all right by a well-meaning commuter one morning.


From railway books that I have read, travelling home passenger from Gloucester in the early hours had also long been a Saltley tradition, well before I joined the railway.  I bet 44691 and 92128, seen here in the roundhouse at Saltley, worked a good few Gloucester jobs in their time.  I did manage to travel home passenger from Gloucester on a few occasions and can remember the station at night, its buffet, the red corridor carriages we sometimes travelled in and the camaraderie if a few crews were travelling home together.  The station buffet served delicious tea [can't remember whether we were charged?] in austere yet distinctive green 'railway engraved' cups & saucers.  So distinctive in fact that a driver and I failed to return ours one night after finishing our tea, I had mine for quite a while after that and used it daily until it got broken.  One journey home from Gloucester that has stuck in my mind was when the group I was travelling with included a few lads who could really sing a nice song, one of them may even have had a guitar as far as I can recall.  Readers familiar with railway life 30 years ago will find this pretty ordinary, I doubt it happens nowadays?  Anyway, sing and play they did and what a performance they gave, I confess to having a trace of a tear in my eye when they sang some of their traditional ballads about loving your mom or the hardness of life for the working man, I can see one of them now and if ever his name comes back to mind it will appear here for sure.  

The Lickey Incline

What Saltley man's story is complete without mentioning the Lickey Incline?  None I would say, so here's my 4-penneth. 











I reckon 6 things used to happen on that famous incline: So, what did I get up to on the Lickey Incline?
Freight trains had some of their brakes pinned down at Blackwell Yep, I pinned a few train brakes down with the brakeman
Trains got out of control and 'ran away' on the way down Never happened to me
Trains got 'stuck' on the way up Never happened to me
Trains broke away on the way up Never happened to me
Nothing at all!  Which of course is the norm That was my experience of the bank, apart from......
Close shaves occurred in either direction My one claim to fame.  Me in front cab of diesel class 47 with driver on empty stock train. Speed through Bromsgrove station 83mph. Banker? Err no. Speed over the top 7 mph with engine screaming liked stuffed pig! Relieved? you bet! Result - I get to tell this story over and over! Thanks for listening J


Oh, nearly forgot, working a freight back from Gloucester one day we put a hot-box off at the banker sidings before ascending the bank.

Off the Road

I managed to come off the road twice in my time at Saltley, once on a class 20 English Electric Type 1 at Washwood Heath and once in the brake van of a train at Whitacre Junction.  Fortunately, neither incident involved anyone getting harmed, but of course did involve the inconvenience of re-railing the stricken engine and brake van.  In the Washwood Heath incident, the class 20 engine was called forward by one of the yard shunters and took it upon itself to jump onto the sleepers with a mighty crash.  I don't remember the drivers name, but do remember the look on his face as he hurriedly shut off!  Whether we were making a shunt or leaving light engine for Saltley loco I don't recall, whatever the reason the class 20 was having none of it as it buried its under-cab wheels into the wooden sleepers.


It is worth noting that shunting at Washwood Heath yard could be a spectator sport and it could be dangerous too, loose shunting in particular was not a sport for the feint hearted to indulge in or watch.  I can recall seeing 'car-flats' flying through the yard, with their front bogies airborne as they crashed into their train formations with a mighty bang.  I was nearly decapitated between 2 trucks myself one day as I went about coupling up and preparing a train, fortunately I heard the sound of screeching wheels hurtling my way and got out of the 4-foot sharpish.  Moments later, bang! and the truck joined our train formation.  Was I shaken?  You bet I was, I'd just had a lucky escape.  It has been suggested that some of this loose shunting work was undertaken with gay abandon by some of the shunters, surely not? J


The second 'off the road' incident, at Whitacre Junction, happened just as my brake van had joined the main line heading towards Water Orton.  Looking at a map now, I would guess we were working the train from either Arley or Whitacre collieries?  When I realised something was not quite right, I had a look over the side of the brake van and saw that its wheels were travelling along the sleepers as opposed to the track.  After much frantic waving the driver [or second man?] looked out of their cab, saw me and the stricken brake van travelling along the sleepers, and brought the train to a halt.  At this point it was out with the detonators and off along the track to protect the rear of the train as per the rule book.  My submitted report must have been satisfactory because I have no further recollection of the incident after that. 


Just like at Tyseley I did manage to work a breakdown train at Saltley, this time the destination was Nuneaton.  All I remember of the job was the rather well equipped mess coach with its long table, padded seating, roaring fire and swish cooking facilities, all very civilised I must say.  Had I beaten the 19 hour stint [complete with overtime] that the Tyseley job provided perhaps I would have remembered a little more about the job, like what exactly were we doing there, never mind.


Another incident that comes to mind happened in one of the colliery yards that we used to work trippers to and from, Arley or Whitacre perhaps?  I was calling the driver on and failed to gauge the clearance on our blind side between the engine [a Peak class I think] and a line of trucks on the next road.  As the engine passed the trucks its blind side cab handrails got scraped off, Oops!  That was a genuine mistake on my part and fortunately no further action was taken after the submission of my report. 

Who'd Ever Believe It?

Did you see the headline in the Birmingham Evening Mail [c1974] that read - "Freight Train worked by Saltley crew called Luney, Pottie and Bhatty."  The crew in question were Driver Lune, Second Man Pottie and Guard Bhatty and the story [fictitious only in that it never appeared in the paper] is in fact true.  At the time, the Saltley mess room banter had a field day with it, particularly as all three combatants fitted their perceived descriptions remarkably well, if you see what I mean.