Mind the Gate!

Recollections of John Humphries

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

[AG] "Wasn't there an occasion when the Donkey was pushing uncoupled wagons up to Dursley and the gates at Cam were closed."

[JH] "Yes, that's right. Now we had... when we was blowing up for... he was deaf as a post, it didn't matter how much you was blowing..."

[AG] "Jack Taylor?"

[JH] "Jack Taylor, yes that's right. However, Ted Spilsbury was our guard and he used to not bother to couple up the guard's van, the brake, and he was chopsing to people carrying up... platelayers and that. And we'd stopped, because the gates were shut but Ned didn't know that. Ned was going full speed ahead and nearly went through the gates on several occasions. On one occasion we actually did go through the gates at Box Road."

[AG] "Oh, I see, it wasn't Lower Cam?"

[JH] "No, Box Road this was, because what they used to have to do... who's the councillor... Addle?"

[AG] "Brian Addle."

[JH] "Brian Addle, well he would leave just before the Donkey left Coaley Junction and he had... we had to wave to him, we used to wave to him coming up saying 'Come on, come on, hurry up.' Anyway, he didn't get there, and he must have forgot, and we actually went right through the gates before we realised it. You're so used to the gate being open, we was going up about 30 or 40 times a day you know. Up and down, up and down, no time to spare."

[AG] "And your locomotive doesn't stop on a sixpence does it?"

[JH] "No, we got all the way to the train, but this was a passenger train there, where we went through. We was at fault for that. Well I wasn't then, on that occasion."

[AG] "I remember having to wait while... on my way home from infants school in Lower Cam to lunch... I had to wait at the Railway Inn while the Dursley Donkey shunted the wagons into the siding for Josh Price's coal yard and then to Cam Mill."

[JH] "Well it was a regular thing then, when we left Dursley with a goods train, we would stop at Cam Station for a while and we'd all go into the Railway, and also there was a nice little bakery the other side. I don't know if it's still there, this is going back to the 50's now."

[AG] "Steele's bakery."

[JH] "Was it? They used to make delicious cakes, and that was the only break we had all through the day actually. We was on the go all the time."

[AG] "You weren't cooking bacon and eggs on the shovel."

[JH] "Oh, yes we used to do that. In fact bacon and eggs and sausages have never, ever tasted so delicious."

[AG] "This is on the end of the fireman's shovel, you were putting them in the firebox and cook them off?"

[JH] "That's right."

[AG] "It seems unbelievable that you'd eat bacon and eggs off a coal shovel."

[JH] "Well, of course you'd used to get the shovel red-hot first to kill all the germs and that, because other things were done on the shovel. You couldn't stop, there was nowhere to go. When you think of all the places where we used to shunt, when we left Dursley with a goods train, a heavy goods train, we would start shunting at Lister's foundry, putting in pig iron, coke, coal and all that. Then the gas works, that was a heavy place, because it was on a bank, steep, going up. Then you'd come down to Cam Mills. Then you had the sidings at Cam, coal sidings. Then you had Middle Mill and then you had the flour mill, Draycott flour mill and that was it."

[AG] "So you were kept pretty busy then?"

[JH] "Very, very busy. I mean, there was just so much traffic coming up... as I say, every station between Gloucester and Bristol, their sidings were choc-a-bloc with things waiting to come up. And it was said to be the only link with the outside world which I find amusing now 'cos people can't see that... unless you lived through that time you didn't realise. Nothing on the roads."

[AG] "Wasn't it one of the most profitable branch lines...."

[JH] "It was said to be, I can't vouch for it being true, but it was said to be the most profitable two lines, it was two lines wasn't it... two miles of track in the whole of Britain. And they didn't want branch lines, they deliberately made it awkward ... for the trade to go elsewhere... put it on the roads."

[AG] "You enjoyed your spell?"

[JH] "Oh, yes, wonderful happy times. In fact, would you believe, it's all those years ago, 50 years ago, and night-time in bed I'm still driving the Donkey. Still going through the gates."

[AG] "John Humphries, many thanks for talking to us."