ENGINEMAN S.R. - A Winter's TaleThe winter months of late 1962 and early 1963 caused massive disruption to the railway system. In what can only be described as arctic conditions, lines were blocked, and engines and trains became buried in snowdrifts. Passengers had to be rescued from remote rural lines that had become impassable and trains were being cancelled in large numbers.
As the New Year continued conditions did not get any better. Temperatures plummeted and remained close to or below freezing for much of that January. This put paid to any hope of a thaw and as more snow storms swept the country during the course of the month, the disruption of the railway system continued un-abated. It is a remarkable statistic that much of England remained continuously covered by snow from Boxing Day 1962 until the first week of March 1963.
This then is the background to a trip that I made in January 1963 when working an Up 'Boat Train' from Southampton Old Docks to Waterloo. Bill Turner and I had worked a train down during the early hours of the morning to Southampton Docks, with a Standard Class '5' locomotive and were booked to work a 'Boat Train' back up to London. On the way down, it had been snowing heavily and the conditions were really bad but somehow they had managed to keep the tracks open in the Old docks, and we were able to make our way there across Canute Road despite the atrocious conditions.
Unfortunately, after we'd arrived and taken water, we were left standing for quite some time and it was bitterly cold. There was deep snow everywhere so much so that it was even difficult to get off the locomotive. Then, when attempting to top up the boiler water level, I found that both the injectors would not work as they had become frozen. There was plenty enough water in the boiler at the time, but we knew that if we were unable to get them working again quickly, we would not be going anywhere at all.
Bill and I searched around the footplate and found some old dirty hand-clothes that we then soaked in paraffin and oil. We then wrapped them around the injector bodies and set fire to them. This did the trick as in a short time water started to trickle through the injector overflow pipes restoring them in working order, thereafter I regularly used them intermittently to avoid any further problems. Eventually a shunter arrived through the snow and we slowly moved through the Dock Yard and eventually dropped back onto our train that was standing inside one of the dockside sheds alongside a Liner. We had 10 or 11 coaches on including two Pullmans and although we were officially a 'Boat Train', we were given a special stop order to call at Eastleigh, Winchester, and Basingstoke to pick up anyone who wanted to travel. Obviously this was due to the fact that there were so few trains running on the main line due to the terrible weather conditions. Once clear of the Dock Yard we made reasonable progress calling at Eastleigh en route. We had just restarted the train after the Winchester City stop and were continuing the climb on up towards Micheldever with the engine having to work really hard in the frightful conditions. Then after passing Winchester Junction, as we came round the corner leading into the cutting at Worthy Down just before Waller's Ash Tunnel, we were suddenly confronted by a wall of snow. We found that the whole of the cutting had filled with drifting snow, we could not see the tracks, it really was the most incredible sight. At this stage we had two choices, we could either attempt to stop and not go on any further, or we could go for it and hope that we would be able to punch our way through whatever was there. Bill decided that we would go for it! He fully opened the regulator, turned on the sanders, and literally launched the train into this mass of snow. Within seconds, the engine was totally enveloped, you couldn't see the sky, you couldn't see anything out of the cab windows, and there was snow everywhere. The engine started to labour, even as Bill increased the cut-off, we gradually got slower and slower then just as we were beginning to think that we were going to come to a halt we burst out of the bank of snow into reasonably open track again. What the experience was like in the train I can't imagine! After that, conditions eased a little although still extremely cold and we eventually made it to Waterloo without any further incidents. Despite the fact that we had started the nights work with a tender full of coal it was now was completely empty with just enough fire in the box to get back to Nine Elms. Almost forty-four years later I think those were the worst conditions that I ever experienced in the whole of my railway career. I worked something like 18 hours or more that day and at the end of it I was absolutely exhausted. Bill, who was a solid Trade Unionist, told me to take the next day off in order to recover and then report for duty the following day.
Copyright 2007 © Jim Lester
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