PRIDE IN THE DAY OF STEAM - I thought I should put pen to paper, or my two fingers to keyboard, to contribute to "CHAT" magazine after reading John Atkin's article on the railways. I happened to be in the village in January visiting my youngest daughter and read the article. John being a friend from primary schooldays, and at our age that really is early.
I'm spurred on by my experiences with the L.N.E.R. railways due to my father working in the booking office at Sleaford station when I was a mere lad. In what now seems the far off days of the 1930's, dress and presentation were part of the job. There was pride and a hierarchy starting with the stationmaster complete in a navy blue suit topped with a distinguished wide peaked railway cap. The job came with a stationmaster's house. Next in line was an inspector followed by the booking and goods clerks, then porters. I recall father wearing a winged collar and tie to work. A signalman in the signalbox was usually in his shirt sleeves pulling levers. All in all a jolly crowd full of characters with some amusing repartee that a young schoolboy couldn't latch on to.
One of the lasting moment's is the combined smell of smoke, steam and oil that emanated from the various engines that stopped or passed through. A cloud of this was experienced by standing directly over a passing train on the footbridge that connected the platforms. Due to repairs on the main line from Kings Cross to Edinburgh, usually on a Sunday, Pullman trains were sometimes diverted through Sleaford. Advance word came that enabled me to wait excitedly for one of the important engines, possibly the Silver Link, the Flying Scotsman or Sir Nigel Gresley. I was amused to see the curiosity of the passengers sitting in the dining car peering out of the windows Sleaford? Where's that?
Father, who knew the local engine drivers, managed to arrange for me to have a ride on the footplate of a tank engine when shunting wagons. Little did I realise that ten years later I would be married with a young daughter living in a house that backed onto this busy, nightly clattering of wagons.
One of the 'perks' with L.N.E.R. was the issue of privilege tickets and day passes that enabled us to visit many coastal resorts in England and Wales. These were exciting trips requiring changing at stations and seeing the various livery of the Midland and South-West lines. A corridor carriage was the 'tops' with more freedom to move around and lean on the window rail to watch the countryside roll by.
I recollect with amusement the challenge for us schoolboys to obtain one cigarette from the `Churchman's No 1' platform machine. We only smoked the best of course! Various machines were located prominently on the main platform between the booking office and the parcels office. Other machines offered Cadbury's chocolate bars and Sunpat nuts and raisins in little boxes. One had to surruptiously hover around the machines. Look both ways and make a quick move!
There certainly was pride and camaraderie at the station that even overflowed to the voluntary work carried out by the staff to make the station florally colourful. Flower beds with shrubs plus hanging baskets lined the platforms produced to compete with the other stations.
Bringing this bout of nostalgia up-to-date I have always felt, since Beeching's Axe cut our various local lines and stations in the 1960's, that one day there would be a re-opening of certain local stations. Sure enough, Ruskington and Metheringham re-opened on the Sleaford to Lincoln line giving an ideal transit system from those two main villages to town and city. In the present day of increased petrol and car parking I would imagine that these connections are ideal for journeys to work and light shopping visits. Of course I have no idea how this facility is faring today.
Editor's note: It is surprising how far and wide the CHAT gets to !!