Buttons Index

Cooking Breakfast 'on the shovel'

We have recently received a question about stories told of cooking breakfast 'on the shovel' over the locomotive's fire - Shedmaster

Peter Clift writes:
Also, do any of the old ex drivers and firemen know where the story started of crews cooking eggs and bacon on the shovel. Jim Evans says they never had time to do anything like that and, although never a railwayman myself, I don’t see when crews would have had the chance to do it. Is it true or is it another invention of the ‘glamour of steam’ invented by enthusiasts. I would love to hear from the people who were ‘actually there’.

The Shedmaster adds - by coincidence, an excellent sequence showing a 'fry-up' on the shovel in Woking Yard on board 31866 is included in Lew Wooldridge's cine film of his days at Guildford mpd.

Still frame captured from cine film - Lew Wooldridge © 1964/2011

Driver B.A.G.West of Nine Elms and Waterloo depots has added:
In the late fifties I was a rostered as a fireman on the Bexhill West to Crowhurst line. The drivers on this line indeed used to cook their breakfast on the hot shovel at Bexhill West Station.

Alan Newman has written:
As for breakfast cooked on the shovel, yes this was a feature especially on short road goods turns where you shunted at most yards and sidings on any particular line. The most important item was a well used shovel (new shovels were painted and would spoil the food) a blacked out fire under the fire hole door was the order. Eggs, Bacon & Sausage were generally to be cooked but my Driver Ron West always had a quantity of lambs' kidneys which always smelled amazing when cooked this way. I do not recall having breakfast cooked liked this after 1964 when most of the short road goods turn had been given over to Diesel traction (class 33).

Brian Aynsley emailed the following:
As you say, having a fry up on the shovel was a common practice. Probably not so much for Nine Elms men as they would not have time on a mainline duty. However, a lot of the work at Guildford was local goods duties and we often had to wait for a time when we had finished shunting duties at various stations. I had many a delicious breakfast in this way.

The procedure was thus. 1. Wash the shovel thoroughly with the 'pet pipe'. 2. Warm the shovel in the fire box. 3. Place bacon on the shovel and hold over the fire, (the bacon cooked in its own fat). 4. Cook the eggs in the same way, using the bacon fat as cooking oil.

When I was a young fireman at Guildford and we were shunting the up yard at Woking, my driver asked me to move the engine on the shunters instruction while he cooked his breakfast. Unfortunately, as he was cooking his eggs, the engine slipped and the blast from the chimney sucked his eggs into the fire. He made a very rude comment about my parentage and didn't speak to me for the rest of the shift.

Tim Crowley writes:
Just a note regarding cooking food on the footplate,it would be acknowledged that a cooking utensil would be required, the nearest item to suffice was the firing shovel. I can relate that on occasions a driver Dan Law (Danny) who was acknowledged as having his breakfast cooked or warmed on the footplate. One must realise that this method could only be adopted in a shunting yard where time allowed, but it was done. No doubt it would be well understood that this would be out the question when operating on the main line, for obvious reasons and was no doubt plainly stated by Jim Evans in his book.

Ralph Hornsby has emailed:
In response to Peter Clift's recent e-mail, there are two videos available for viewing on YouTube, which show the "art" of cooking from the shovel whilst on the footplate. Both of these videos were taken on the North Yorkshire Moors Railway, thus in the preservation era rather than in BR days. The first of the videos is entitled " Breakfast From the Shovel of BR Standard 75029", the cooking part though is quite brief:- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b6-wH-gVe04

The second video is entitled "Yorkshire Steam - The Footplate Fry-Up", and is far more interesting than the first video, as will be noticed when viewed : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tr_nirCbcmE

I do remember seeing a film before, where there is a sequence of cooking from the shovel on the footplate, I am not 100% certain though what the title of the film was, I am almost sure it was in "All Change at Evercreech Junction". In this film, Donald Beale and Peter Smith of Somerset & Dorset fame, were filmed on the Mid-Hants Railway, part of the film shows them driving and firing on 34016 "Bodmin", I seem to recall that they get an opportunity to cook breakfast whilst at Medstead and 4 Marks. Hopefully somebody can either confirm or correct me on this.

Also posted recently on Steamtube are a couple of photographs by Tony Wood, of Bob Cartwright cooking breakfast on the shovel in August 1999. link to photograph

Jerry O'Sullivan has wriiten:
Just looking at the fry up on the shovel and Brian Aynsley's comment that Nine Elms men didn't have the time for such activities was right only in the top gangs, but in the lower links we did indeed fry up on the shovel as we worked many a night goods shunting yards on the way. I can recall many a duty that I packed away a lump of lard along with eggs (which were put inside the billy can for safety) bread and bacon, tea, milk and sugar all packed away in my WWII gasmask bag. The Vauxhall milk also came to mind as having picked up the milk train at Kensington you worked round to Vauxhall then sat all night while they unloaded the milk to the United Dairies bottling centre underneath the platform. On one of the nights I was with spider Webb who placed a rather large tin of tea in my hand and said "put it all in Jerry boy." I thought blimey it'll desolve the spoon but in fact it was like gnat's pee. I found out later it was recycled tea having first been used at home then dried, hence the large tin. Spider was in the green game ages before the country I think!

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