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REFLECTIONS OF A RAILWAY CAREER

AN EXTRACT FROM J.M DUNN'S BOOK

 


COMPILED AND EDITED BY GEOFF POOLE

 

J.M. DUNN WAS A RAILWAY SHED WORKER AND EVENTUALLY "SHED MASTER"
IN NORTH WALES DURING THE THIRTIES. HE WAS FOREMAN FITTER AT 6G
BETWEEN 1935-1939 , AND WAS EMPLOYED AT MANY OF THE STEAM MOTIVE POWER DEPOTS, IN WALES, DURING HIS CAREER. 

THE FOLLOWING GIVES AN INSIGHT INTO THE EVERYDAY  LIFE DURING THE EARLY DAYS OF LLANDUDNO JUNCTION SHED.

 

 

 

LLANDUDNO JUNCTION

 

On Saturday the 2nd February 1935 I went on duty at Llandudno Junction Shed for the first time and spent the best part of the morning looking round. The shed, which was of the “through” type with doors at each end, had four roads each 297 feet long and was the “Concentration Depot” * for North Wales established under the recent re-organisation of the Motive Power Section of the Chief Operating Manager’s Department, the “Garage Depots” being Holyhead, Bangor, Rhyl and Denbigh. The mechanical equipment comprised the following modern machine-tools, all driven by electricity:

  Wheel Lathe with attachment for truing-up journals supplied by Craven Bros.

  12 inch centre Axlebox Lathe by Dean, Smith and Grace.

  7-inch centre Lathe by George Hatch.

   Radial Drilling Machine, Type A, by Swift and Sons.

   High-speed Vertical Drilling Machine with 1-inch chuck capacity by Alfred Herbert.

   Hydraulic Press by Rice and Co.

   Emery Wheel by Luke and Spencer.

   Tube-cutting Saw Bench.

   Blower by Aland & Co.

   Whitemetalling Hearth.

   Coppersmith’s Hearth.

   Blacksmith’s Forge.

   7 ½ ton Chain Hoist by Herbert Morris.

   Worthington-Simpson Centrifugal Booster Pump.

 

 

Some of these had independent motors and others were driven through shafting.There was also a L.N.W. “pit-type” hydraulic Wheel-Drop with table 9 ft. 0 in. long. The office which I shared with the senior Foreman Fitter, whom I will call “Q’ for the want of something better, was a wooden hut on the shore of the estuary of the River Conway, here half. a-mile wide and from the window there was a glorious view across the water to Conway Castle, bridge and town.

*  Known as the ‘Motive Power Area Locomotive Supply, Repair, Concentration & Garage Scheme’ inaugurated in  1933 , see The Railway Gazette for April ,6th, 23rd and 3oth, 1937.

 

I had not been long at Llandudno Junction before I found that Mr. P... stood in very great awe of “Crewe” and got into a state bordering on terror if anyone from the Divisional Office at that place came on a visit. The people at the latter were aware of this and most of them improved the occasion whenever opportunity offered! He knew of my friendship with Tucker and that did not add to his comfort though I was always careful to avoid mentioning the latter if I could. On his part, P... when he had to refer to Tucker always called him “a person I will not name”! The staff were just as frightened of P... as he was of “Crewe” and matters were not improved by “Q” who was one of the most cantankerous and cross-grained men I have ever met. He in­variably arrived in a bad temper and the first member of his staff that he set eyes upon received the full measure of his spleen. Likewise he did not consider he was doing his duty if he did not have at least one member of his staff “on the carpet” in P. ‘s office every morning when the latter would do his best to frighten the life out of the victim. From this it will be seen that the atmosphere was not a particularly pleasant one though as “Q” told me that he had, himself, refused to go out to breakdowns with Ardern owing to the latter’s behaviour, the general conditions prevailing before that gentleman took his departure must have been very much worse and can be better imagined than described. They were bad enough at the time of my arrival: every time Mr. P... came out of his office he banged the door and every time the door banged, all the members of the mechanical and shed staff began to shiver and shake like a lot of rabbits that had been frightened by the report of a gun! There was little I could do about it until “Q” was promoted and took his departure in March 1936 because both he, the chief clerk and most of the senior members of the clerical staff who were persona grata with P.. . were already, for some unknown reason, obviously and bitterly jealous of me and it was no good making bad worse.

However as soon as “Q” had gone I bearded the lion in his den and said “Do you know, Mr. P .., that every time you go out into the shed and bang your office door all the staff begin to shiver and shake?” He looked at me in silence for a few seconds until he’d got over the surprise and then said “Well, that’s how it ought to be!” I replied “I beg your pardon, but that’s how it ought not to be and if it doesn’t alter we shall never get things going properly”. P... gasped and gulped and then rather hesitatingly said “Oh, I see! You mean the spirit of confidence and all that”. I told him that was exactly what I meant and that I would like him to come out into the shed with me and talk in a friendly way to different members of the staff about the jobs they were doing. To his credit and my surprise he agreed without demur and wanted to start there and then but I told him he’d better wait until I had paved the way. Accordingly as soon as I got away from him I went to the most terrified of the “rabbits”, told him what was going to happen and said that I was going to make a start with him. The individual in question fairly begged me to do nothing of the sort but I told him not to be foolish and to talk to P.. . in exactly the same way that he did to me. To cut a long story short, I took Mr. P... to every member of the mechanical staff in turn for a chat—not a “telling-off” which had hitherto been the only thing expected from him— and before long the whole atmosphere had changed, a circumstance that P. . himself commented upon the following Christmas.

Having related this episode I must retrace my steps and mention the other leading lights at Llandudno Junction. The second man, Llewellyn Williams who was designated Running Shed Foreman was my enthusiastic supporter and consistently did all he could to make things pleasant for me, as also did the two Running Shift Foremen Parry and Sims, The chief clerk was known as “Blue Dick” and by that name I will refer to him in these notes. He made a special point of keeping as much of’ an eye on me as possible and reporting the result of his observations to P. . . with whom he and two other clerks were on very friendly terms. The chargeman-­cleaner was one “Wingy”, a one-armed man, whose principal use was as a medium for the conveyance of information to P... when, for any reason, we did not wish to impart it directly. In other words Mr. “Wingy” could always be relied upon to tell both P... and “Blue Dick” anything he overheard that he thought was worth repeating.

As to the General Office, I had never been in a place with such a horrible atmosphere and the very walls seemed to exude evil. This was not merely a fanciful idea of my own and others have made similar comments about it since. If ever a place wanted exorcising with “Bell, Book and Candle” that office did!

An outstanding member of the mechanical staff was the turner, David Price Owen who had served his apprenticeship at the Dinorwic Quarry works at Llanberis. He was a wizard with machine tools and if any locomotive or other detail was wanted in a hurry to replace a broken part and there was no spare available, he would quickly fashion the article out of the solid if a piece of suitable metal of the right size could be found, it was fascinating to watch him thus occupied as before one machining operation was finished he had made up his mind as to the next one and all the necessary processes were carried through without any unnecessary pause.

"D.P" as he was called had a very poor command of English and although he could understand what was said to him, he had difficulty in replying. He “thought” in Welsh and then had to translate his thoughts into English before uttering them.

One day a member of the staff came and told me that there was something the matter with the shed cat as she was lying in a pool of water in one of the engine pits. We got her out and dried her but found she could neither stand nor walk so we took her into my office and got her a drink of warm milk and brandy while we tried to find out what had happened to her. Presently someone suggested that she had had kittens, so we went to look for them and after hearing unusual noises inside the whitemetalling hearth took it to pieces and found three kittens behind the gas-rings! To cut a long story short, the mother cat soon recovered having apparently been gassed and after living with her for about three months in the stores one of the black, long-haired kittens came to stay with us. He was christened “Micky” and ruled our household until his deeply regretted death from natural causes just before his sixteenth birthday. He was a grand cat and a great friend.

 

 

The engines allocated to the Llandudno Junction District in December 1937 were as follows:

 

 

                        Llandudno Junction

                        2—6—2 T.B. Tk.                  495

                        4—6—0 5P.                           79, 82, 105, 107.

                        4—4—0 2P.                          5035, 5045, 5048, 5052, 5070, 5219, 5130,
                                                                        5235, 5236, 5246, 5253, 5444, 5371.

                        2—4—2     5 ft. 6 in. Tk.      6635, 6667, 6676, 6682, 6713, 6748, 6679.

                        0—6—2 S.T.C.                     27571, 27593, 27597, 27604, 7803.


                        “Precursor”                         25279, 25297.

                        “George the Fifth”             25348, 25371, 25373, 25392.

                         18 in. Goods                       8337, 8385, 8401, 8503, 852!, 86i6.

 

 

                        Rhyl

                                           4-4-0 2P.          420, 494, 651, 652, 638

                                           0-6-0  4F          4396, 4292.
                                             

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WATER PROBLEMS

 

One of the peculiarities that had to be contended with at Llandudno Junction was the locomotive water supply, which was obtained from the Gyffin stream, a watercourse which flows from the hills into the River Conway just behind Conway Castle. An electrically driven pump was installed in a hut built close up against the Town Wall of Conway and this pumped water from the stream at a point where its level had been raised by the construction of an earthen dam. There was no trouble until there were high tides in the river but when these came along the salt water would come over the dam, the height of which was restricted, I believe, by the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, mix with the fresh water and get pumped into the water-tank at the shed. then the fun would begin. The salt water would pass via the various water-columns into the engine tanks and then, in due course to the boilers. Then the engines would immediately be plainly and simply “sick” and vomit like a human being, all the water in the boiler being thrown out of the chimney. This was frequently followed by the fusing of the lead plugs and I was told of one classic occasion when poor Mr. P... found seventeen fused lead plugs on his desk when he arrived at his office one morning. As the fusing of a lead plug is almost as serious a crime in the railway world as murder, his feelings can be well imagined. The local residents got so used to the engines discharging the contents of their boilers through their chimneys that whenever they chanced to be near the railway and saw an engine coming they made for shelter!

As a result of these happenings it was, of course, necessary to endeavour to prevent a recurrence and to do this arrangements were made to stop the pump before the salt water got over the dam but it had to be kept going until the last minute in order to keep up the supply. In the ordinary way the pump was automatically started and stopped by remote control operated by a float at the shed tank, so at the time of high tides this was switched out and a man stationed at the pump so that he could shut off the pump at the critical moment. On the 17th August 1935 one of the busiest Saturdays of the year, I, together with P.. and one D. I. Jones who, because of his great reliability, was always chosen to act as pump watchman on these occasions, spent a very enjoyable afternoon standing in the long grass on the hank of the stream to make sure that the pump was kept working up to the last minute as we were short of water. Rain was pouring in torrents all the time and as soon as the salt water reached the dam, Jones went to the pump to be ready to stop it when we signalled that the salt water was near the top. On this occasion the salt water went over the top and contaminated the water on the “fresh” side: as soon as the tide began to recede Jones donned a pair of rubber thigh-boots and armed with a shovel got to work. He waded into the stream and broke down the dam so as to allow the fresh water unrestricted access to the river and to wash away all traces of salt. After that I went into action taking samples of the water in a test tube every ten or fifteen minutes and testing them with a few drops of silver nitrate. If salt was present the silver nitrate would give the water a turbid or milky appearance. I had to keep on repeating this until the addition of the silver nitrate made no change in the appearance of the water thus indicating that the salt had gone. Then Jones rebuilt the dam and when the fresh-water level had risen sufficiently, the pump was restarted on remote control after which we could all breathe again until next high tide. By this time it was about 5.00 p.m. and we were all looking forward to getting home to some dry clothes and tea but such enjoyment was not for us. As soon as we reached Conway signal-box the signalman told us that the breakdown train had been ordered to Llandudno to rerail a 2—6—2 tank engine which was off the road all wheels on top of all the point-rodding opposite the signal-box at that place. We got home soon after midnight!

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