The Men in the Serge Jackets

Readers of these posts may have noticed a past reference to my career as a volunteer ‘host’ on the Great Central Railway, supporting visitors who had booked ‘driving experience’ packages. It was an interesting and enjoyable experience over the years. A double track railway has lots to offer the prospective engine driver and, given that the shed always turned out tender locomotives from the active roster, varying from BR Standard types to LMSR 8Fs and the occasional SR ‘King Arthur’, it was always a lively day. Occasionally, a 9F 2-10-0 would trundle down the platform ready for duty much to the delight (and some trepidation) of the ‘drivers’. Packages varied from a shared drive with another visitor up and down the line ‘light engine’ through to several trips up and down with an empty rake of coaches behind.

Footplate and controls. Mallard. NRM


After various preparatory stages the moment came for the ‘driver’ to be introduced to the regular footplate crew. Farewells were said to wives and girl friends (and occasional boy friends) as if this was a final parting. Then the ‘driver’ entered the strange cave of the footplate, festooned with pipes, gauges and various valves. Cliff, a regular driver, patiently sat the victim down in the driver’s seat and explained the important bits – brake, regulator, and so on. There was the regular patter – ‘We don’t have an ignition key, in fact we don’t always have a speedometer, just like the old days.’