Horses For Courses

My story is of two drivers, but only one man, Tommy Holland (Tommy Trouble) as he was known, due no doubt to his sullen manner and approach. He came to Newton Heath in the 1940s to be promoted to driver, with a first preference for Longsight when a vacancy arose with his seniority date.

Being newly promoted he was in a junior link which involved him in trip working in the Miles Platting area trundling wagons between the various marshalling yards like Brewery Sidings, Moston, Philips Park, New Allen Street, Tank Yard, Collyhurst Street, Oldham Road and Beswick. Whilst it was junior work for drivers it was where the senior passed firemen were linked to have them on hand should they be required for driving duties. At no time was a trip working more than 45 minutes walking time away from the depot so a pool of passed men were easily available in emergencies.

Being junior work it was also ideal for such eventualities to be covered by passed cleaners but Tommy was non too pleased when his mate was taken for driving and he was given some young kid who did not know his arm from his elbow. I was on a few occasions one such kid and I remember he always wanted a full head of steam no matter what we were doing which I now know to be wasteful and involved us in taking on water frequently. He was quite resentful of having to tell you what to do and, whilst you had to learn, it was for other people to do the training, not him. There were not many passed cleaners who enjoyed the prospects of a day with Tommy who left Newton Heath sometime in the 1950s.

I only came across him again when I became Area Traincrew Manager, Manchester Piccadilly in November 1978 when Longsight was one of the depots for which I had responsibility. In 1980 I was sent on a 5-week residential middle management course at the management-training centre,“The Grove”, Watford, requiring me to travel down Sunday evening and returning after lunch Fridays. I rarely had lunch, as I wanted to return home on the 13.55 ex Euston which was first stop Stoke-on-Trent and arrived in Manchester at 16.30. I knew Longsight drivers worked this service having ridden home in the driving cab on a number of occasions in order to refresh my memory of the route from the days when I fired on Moston-Camden.

On the day in question I walked down to the loco at Euston looked in the cab, saw Tommy sat there, and pulled my head back, but not fast enough, I heard him shout, “are you riding with me, boss”. There was little I could do but climb aboard with my passed recollections of times spent at Newton Heath. He said that he had been warned that I may travel back with him and had been on the lookout for me, so the bush telegraph was working well. He started by asking if I was the same Nixon who had fired for him at Newton Heath, of course, I was, “you’ve not done bad for yourself” he commented shortly before we got the tip to depart.

We passed Watford in 16 minutes, during which time he had sat there quite relaxed, a man in complete control of the situation. The extent of his expertise came more to the fore approaching the permanent speed restriction round the curve at Berkhampstead where he ran the power off and glided round the curve at 85 mph, bang on the permitted maximum speed. He applied the same level of control at all speed restrictions and when approaching all neutral sections and we passing Rugby in 56 minutes. Euston to Rugby is 82and/3/4 miles at an average speed of 88 mph and I could not recall a single brake application to that point. I was being given a master class in how a Class 86/2 loco with a train of 400 tonnes should be worked. Very little conversation took place throughout the journey except from him pointing out changes that had taken place since my firing days over the route.

We arrived at Stoke-on-Trent with plenty of time in hand and stood some minutes waiting our booked departure time discussing the merits of 86/2s and class 87s. The running times to Macclesfield and Stockport were no problem and with Stockport being set down only left ample time to meet our booked arrival at Piccadilly. I left the train at Manchester after arriving 4 minutes early, not in a state of shock but wondering what ever happened to that man from Newton Heath, that exhibition was not the Tommy I remember but a man completely at home on electric traction. I related the experience to my Chief Traction Inspector George Ravenscroft who said, “I must have caught Tommy on a good day”, a little unfair I thought after what was a fine exhibition of handling an electric hauled express passenger train and in such a relaxed manner, it was certainly not purely for my benefit.

I have often been asked how the older steam drivers took to the change over to diesel/electric traction, not all I must say were as at home as Tommy, and one particular driver comes to mind. The thought of any train working requiring speeds in excess of 15mph caused him to perspire so it was no surprise to learn he was one of the first to take redundancy when it was offered. On leaving the railway he got a job as a goods lift attendant in a Manchester wholesale warehouse and one day his supervisor told him that his colleague, who worked the customer lift, was having the following day off and he would be called upon as necessary to stand in. He failed to turn up the following day and when asked where he was he replied, “I worked 35 years at British Rail and never worked passengers, I have no intention of starting at this late stage”.

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