Incident on the line

Recollections of John Humphries

Transcribed from a recorded interview made by Allan Guy (2000)

[AG] "What are your memories of incidents on the Dursley Donkey line?"

[JH] "Right, the incident, I'm going to tell you now... I'd just been passed for driving. Geoff Cross was my fireman then, he's still around Dursley, I'd like to meet him some time. And he'd injured his thumb and I was doing the driving and firing to help him out. We had a hell of a load on and in those days we were pushing the goods to Dursley and that saved us running round. In fact the train was so long it was impossible to run round because it was only a certain length you could run round you see. So, we were pushing, and the guard had overloaded the train. The engine was faulty and instead of it going 'ch, ch, ch, ch, ch, ch, ch' it went 'ch, ch, ch, ch, roar, ch, ch, ch, ch, roar.' An enormous blast of hot cinders was coming out, and the platelayers had just cut the grass and instead of collecting it all up together and setting fire to it, the Dursley donkey did that for them."

[AG] "You were chucking out the sparks?"

[JH] "Well, yes, course I couldn't see because it was going behind us. Well apparently there were about thirty fire brigade from the district out at the fire and... I nearly set fire to Cam Mills. Well, Cam Mills sent this horrible letter to London in which it states that the writer 'had never seen the engine, a train, go up the branch at such speed'. It's laughable because we were crawling along, we had a job to make it, it's all up hill to Dursley. But of course the noise of the blast must have frightened people and apparently women were running out of Cam Mills screaming, thinking 'this aeroplane is coming in to crash'. Well, however, this letter was sent to Paddington and a court of enquiry was held, a proper court, in which everybody had a terrific rollicking. The guard had a rollicking for overloading the train, because the guard is responsible for the tonnage, not the driver, and he had overloaded it. The fireman got a telling off because he should have sent for another fireman and the platelayers got a terrific rollicking for not burning the fire which I set fire to, and Gloucester locomotive depot had a telling off for shunting an engine up that wasn't in a roadworthy condition. And, would you believe, I got a medal as big as a dustbin lid for doing a good job under the circumstances. But the ones who got the biggest telling off was Cam Mills because... they had a private siding and if you have a private siding you are responsible for the upkeep of it. Now the weeds was all up here... and they'd just changed over from coal fired engines to diesel fired and they had about 200,000 tanks of diesel by the line. They had to stop work in the factory, call all the men out to put the fires out and they said 'Look, you're responsible for this happening there, so don't blame the railways, that's your job.'"