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Apprenticed as a fireman in an open steam train cabin, my grandad moved up to engineer when considered “mature” enough by his superiors who had barely set foot in a steam-engine’s cabin. He spent his working life stoking or driving these grey beasts. Then came the day to drive the new Queen Elizabeth.

Among his peers he was considered as the most experienced engineman and therefore, the safest, but some bureaucrat decided a younger man would logically, be a safer engine-driver for the young Queen returning to London from Manchester. After he left his country’s mainlines for the sidings, my grandmother once told me “it broke his heart you know”. After so many years of service given and respect gained? A certificate of long service and a photograph of his favourite engine? He retired from the Salford Railyard that served the Old Trafford Industrial Estate, supported the railwaymen’s football team, met friends at the Union Club and loved his garden.

As a twelve year old, I remember he showed me how to make firelighters from newspaper, as he had done on so many mornings to start the fire beneath the steam engine’s boiler, which I thought was wonderful! I, now too, could start fires, and loved helping him clean the home hearth, bring in the coal and set the fire. Running to open the front door for airflow, and learning how to balance the coal shovel in front of the fireplace on the hearth rail. Covering the whole fireplace with a sheet of newspaper when the flames caught, taking it away carefully when the coal fire roared.

Just an elderly man with his grandson both enjoying the passing of knowledge of the most fundamental kind – how to make fire.

dwk

The photograph is of Newcastle-upon Tyne Station in the 1960’s by Eric de Mare and is in the RIBA Collection.

Comments
  1. dragonkatet says:

    Such a great story and wow, what a really neat picture! I love the lines and movement the picture evokes and your story gave me a smile. Thanks for sharing. 🙂

    Like

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