A Guard's tales

Recollections of Mike Smith

Transcribed from a recorded interview made by Allan Guy (2001)

[AG] "Mike Smith graduated from porter to guard and saw the last passenger train out of Dursley to Coaley."

[MS] "I started August Bank Holiday 1945. I always remember that because I had a message to go and see Mr. Cook, the stationmaster at Dursley at the time. I went and saw him on about the Thursday or Friday and he said to me, 'Right, you can start Monday.' I thought 'That's queer, a Bank Holiday.' No, he said 'Monday' because in those days you had to work a year before you were entitled to any days off..."

[AG] "Bank Holiday days off?"

[MS] "Anything, you had to work a full year before you were entitled to anything. When you come to think of all the stuff coming in to Dursley, which was nearly everything that the shops wanted in Dursley, all came in by train, everything you could think of. Plus Lister's stuff. I mean most of the day was took up with the stuff coming in, in the morning, dealing with that and then the rest of the day was took up with Lister's, Mawdsley's and whatever going out. And it was...it was really hard graft."

[AG] "And you were the guard on the last train that went out?"

[MS] "That's right, yes."

[AG] "What was that occasion like?"

[MS] "Well, it was a bit chaotic, you know. 'Cos I mean, it wasn't so bad... there was quite a few going down to Coaley but the last train coming back, 'cos nobody didn't care then... probably half-hour late, three-quarters, perhaps an hour, and when it got to Cam, everybody piled out, taking photographs and standing around. We was there for another half-hour and then eventually...the same thing happened at Dursley. When we got to Dursley, everybody piled off, taking photographs. You know, it was real chaotic, and of course, on the last day it didn't make any difference. And that was it, which was a bit of a sad day really, you know."

"I hadn't been a shunter long. I can tell you now because there's nobody left alive now. Down at the gas works, we went down to the gas works which we called in twice a day and sometimes three times a day to take the empty wagons out and put fresh ones in. And for some reason, Ted Spilsbury and myself, we walked down in front of the engine, for some reason. I mean it's a thing that's never done at Dursley, having the engine the wrong end. You know what I mean, you've got to keep the engine Coaley end of everything as you go into the different sidings. For some reason we walked down, and there was some wagons standing in the gas works siding and for some reason we thought "we'll let them run down to the end, ready to pick up". But as we ran these down, there was one full one on the end and as it got down to the end where the points were, it ran through the points, out on to what we called the main... the running line, you know what I mean. I chased after it, I got so far... I mean it wasn't going fast, but it's just that I couldn't... I got to it, dropped the brake down and the brake dropped right to the bottom of the rack which they do on some of the old wagons, they've been used for so many years, the brakes were, in other words, no good at all. The engine was back up, nearly back up to the engine shed and we couldn't do nothing and this wagon goes trundling off down. Course we were getting in a bit of a panic by then. We watched it until it got nearly to the Gallows bridge."

"Ted Spilsbury ran up into the gas works thinking about ringing up Cam. Well it flashed through my mind 'Well, by the time he gets to Cam... if he knew the number, by the time he'd rung up Cam and they'd answered the phone...' I ran back towards the engine and shouted out to them what happened so the driver then started blowing the whistle non-stop. Anyway, as luck would have it, Bert Smith at Cam, was out on the platform talking to somebody and he saw this wagon coming down past Cam Mill, so he opened the gates and as it went through... I mean, I don't suppose it was going all that fast because as it happened it was an old grease box, one of the old wagons which was a grease box rather than an oil box and I suppose it was binding all the time and not running like an oil box would run. So it went through Cam, and as you... just after you go through Cam, past Steele's bakery you go on a bit of a bend and I suppose the wagon was binding then on the rails and it got almost to Daniel's and it stopped. And I've often... I used to wake up at night thinking 'What would have happened, if that wagon had have went through Cam crossing when the bus was going through or even a car or anybody.' You know, 10 ton of coal plus the weight of the wagon, trundling down there, you know. If that had been an oil box, well I don't know what have happened. If that had been a new wagon with oil bearings, he'd have sailed right through to Coaley. Well, he'd have went through the gates at Box Road."

[AG] "Is it down hill all the way?"

[MS] "Oh, yes. It really frightened me at the time. Nobody said nothing and therefore nobody knew nothing. So we just tootled off down with the engine and coupled it on and dragged it back up."

[AG] "A secret between you, Bernard and Bert Smith."

[MS] "That's it, yes. I mean, everybody's dead and gone so it don't make no difference. And the time we've sailed through Cam, with Dursley. We used to do the same thing, day in, day out. Same time, and you used to get a bit... I don't say lax."

[AG] "Over-familiar I would think."

[MS] "Yeah. I mean very often we used to come sailing up from Coaley pushing... with the engine on the back, pushing. And when you get... the engine would whistle up for Cam and you'd think 'Bit slow opening the gates...' there's gear in the front of the goods brake obviously, 'Bit slow opening the gates, Cam.' And you'd look back and there's the engine stopped out there and we're sailing along. Perhaps there was anything up to 20 wagons sailing on merrily you know."

[AG] "All uncoupled?"

[MS] "Yeah. Somebody had forgotten to couple it up. That's about the worst thing that ever happened you know. I mean once you saw that you'd screw the brake on, locking it down."

[AG] "You've got to brake in the brake wagon?"

[MS] "Oh, yeah. And if you weren't going too fast you could usually... you had plenty of time to stop... the only thing is if was raining and the rails was wet. Once those wheels locked, you started going a bit faster then."