Tuesday, 19 June 2007

Holiday Time at Bloomfield

In 1962, I had some signalman friends who were kind enough to let me work signal boxes unofficially. I wrote the following report at the time (in fountain pen!). It describes part of the 'early' shift (6.00am to 2.00pm) on Saturday, 28th July 1962.

I've edited the report a little to try to make it a little more understandable to those not familiar with the location or the era, when electrification and resignalling was in progress. It's probably a good idea to read my earlier post Bloomfield Junction first, to have an idea of the layout.

The report makes reference to the timings entered in the Train Register book - they're not to hand, I'm afraid.

The 5.58 a.m. local from Wolverhampton whisks your sleepy reporter towards the Tipton Tangle and 6.20 a.m. sees us climbing the box steps as the official signalman, Tom, arrives in his Reliant van.The first surprise is a change in box working, initiated during the week. Up to this time, on the up line expresses were offered on receipt and other trains on receipt of Train Entering Section from Spring Vale (Train Approach authorised from Deepfields when open but not actually sent – early 'Section' was usually used instead). But since the removal of Monmore Green signal box and the alteration of signalling between Wolverhampton No. 1 and Catchem's Corner, Catchem's has been sending trains on receipt, instead of on 'Section' or 'Train Approach' from Monmore Green. This has resulted in Dudleyport and Albion having trains 'on the block' for up to twenty minutes before seeing them and so this alteration was introduced.

When Wolverhampton platform staff 'ring out' trains, the description is forwarded to Bloomfield Junction, where it is held until receipt of 'Train Approach' from Spring Vale, who sends this signal on receipt of 'Train Entering Section' from Catchem's Corner. As the early entries in the train register book betray, Spring Vale is, in fact, sending an early 'Section', since there is only about one minute between receiving 'Section' from Catchem's and the train passing Spring Vale. However, when Deepfields signal box is open, Mr. Almond there sends the correct 'Train Approach' forward. This system has, as yet, confused the gentlemen who staff Tipton Station box. After the introduction of the four-aspect colour-light as Deepfields' Up Starter (replacing a 3-aspect colour light), Deepfields used to send 'section' to Bloomfield on receipt of 'section' from the rear for expresses. Bloomfield at once gave 'early section' to Tipton, giving the signalman adequate time to open the gates and show the driver clear semaphore distant signals at Bloomfield at least, and, if he was quick on the gates, a green at the Deepfields colour-light as well. But, now, Tipton must open his gates virtually 'on receipt' and Tipton is not quite used to this. On this particular Saturday, the signalmen were erring on the right side by clearing their signals rather too early but by the time a week had elapsed, things were different.

The first two hours this morning were very exhausting: just look at some of the timings in the register. First of all, 1L02 on the down: the 'Scottish Tours' special, three coaches with a 'Black 5' on the front end. 1Z70, the Blackpool excursion, was taken on right behind and meanwhile 1M16 passed on the up, running 'right time' with a Type 4 roaring on the front. At 6.44 a.m. the down Blackpool storms past, with another `Black 5' in charge.The down Liverpool special, 1Z09, is offered right behind the Blackpool. Spring Vale hasn't yet cleared for the Blackpool and so 'Byron' has to drag 1Z09 slowly up to the colour light down starter to await acceptance. The London drifts by on the up, behind another Type 4 diesel-electric. As the fireman of the Liverpool buzzes the signal box telephone, Spring Vale gives 'train out of section' and 'Byron' departs, the plume of his exhaust visible behind the houses up towards Deepfields. The 6.55 a.m. local bowls past towards Birmingham and then freight T37 is offered by Spring Vale. 'Section' immediately follows the 'Is Line Clear?' and the train is 'sent on' to Tipton Curve, the junction is set and the signals cleared.

Another Type 4 puts in an appearance on the down Crewe, struggling up the bank from the station stop at Tipton, accelerating under the box and away, curving beneath the bridge. But, before the colour-light gives the familiar 'burp' as it's replaced to danger automatically by the train, a following Llandudno train has been accepted from Tipton. The freight train rumbles past the box on the up; a Class 8, tender first, with a long train of empty coke wagons from the furnaces of Stewarts and Lloyds, returning to fetch a further load. The down line instrument from Tipton stands at 'Train On Line' for the Llandudno before the Crewe train, having stopped at Coseley station, clears Spring Vale and we can pull off our signals for the approaching Llandudno express, slowed by our adverse distants. The Llandudno, 1Z12, approaches cautiously with 'Kitchener', clean for a change, at the front. A wave to the driver from the landing at the top of the stairs tells him he's 'got the road' and that our colour light starter, hidden round the long right-hand curve, is 'off'. I come back from the door, hit the catch handle of the down Home and the tension in the signal wire is sufficient to pull the lever 'back in the frame'. I walk across the box, squinting downwards through the grimy windows to catch the tail lamp and then, satisfied, reach up to the block shelf. '2-1' to Tipton, snatch the commutator to 'Line Closed' and then pause for a moment, half waiting for the '2' from Tipton to summon a further express, this time 1H03 to Manchester.

Another DMU speeds away on the up, carrying Saturday morning commuters to Birmingham and intermediate stops.`Train Approach' then 'Section' on the down and a Type 4 blackens the sky with its dark fumes. Its raucous exhaust cuts the still morning air on the gradient up to Bloomfield bridge. The train rumbles past the box, compartment after compartment shows its complement of passengers: a number of spinsters going to Manchester this morning! Tail lamp – '2-1' – 'clon-dong' – '1' – 'clon-dong, don-don-dong' – '2-3' – a crack from the commutator as I give 'Line Clear' to Tipton for a following Light Engine; a pause of a few seconds then 'don-dong' - 'Train Entering Section' and the commutator is turned to 'Train on Line'. It's the Dudley parcels engine turned out of the loop at Watery Lane and 'Right Away' Wolverhampton. 1H03 makes good time to 'The Vale' with the Type 4 and we soon get the road for the light engine but he's already missed our distants, so we give the usual sign of encouragement to the driver from the landing. The guard is riding on the footplate – it's our old friend Mr. Westwood and he waves jovially. After 'Train Out Of Section' there's just time to get the train register up to date before Tipton offers a local - '3-1'. The down local passes and there is peace for a few minutes until the up local is offered.

A '3' is next offered from Tipton. This pick-up freight is now target T73, but it used to be T235. After receiving 'section' we are just wondering whether we can get him away to Spring Vale when we get the 'George Hunt' from Tipton ('1-5-5': 'Shunt Train for Following Train to Pass'), so his fate is sealed. The train sounds the annunciator when he hits the berth track circuit on the approach to our down home and we clear the signal to 'loose him in'. As the freight – a 'Black 5' with a handful of wagons and a Southern Region brake – coasts past the box, the driver and guard are signalled to set back onto the front road. The train moves into the distance past points 13 and we 'knock out' to Tipton (give 'Train Out of Section', since the freight has passed our 'clearance point') and 'take' on a following parcels - '1-3-1'. A moment after, 'section' is received. The up local rattles past as we set the road for T73 to back 'inside'. The diesel parcels unit hits our track circuit and the annunciator sounds. This time, we can't clear the home signal because T37 is still slowly propelling his train clear of the main line. A 'Call Attention' to Spring Vale to offer the parcels is ignored and instead we get the painful '1...1...1...1...' which indicates that Mr. Almond is opening Deepfields. An impatient acknowledgment '5-5-5' precedes a further 'Call Attention' as we offer the parcels to Deepfields. Once T37 is 'inside', levers 8, 14, 13 are slammed back into the frame and the down home and starter are cleared for the parcels. 'Section' to Deepfields and out to my favourite vantage point, the landing by the door, to watch the parcels go by and signal that the starter is 'off' . The driver waves in a most friendly manner - it's the cheerful diesel parcels unit driver who ran round his van the other Sunday at Watery Lane.

A 'phone call to Spring Vale ascertains that he would like '235' down before the express, so once the diesel parcels is clear we 'turn him out' (13, 14, 16, 17) and 'get him the road'. 1G02 is 'taken on' on the up and this time we get 'Train Approach' from Deepfields (four beats consecutive rather than '1-2-1'!). The up train passes, hauled by a Sulzer Type 2 and dragging the usual Stores Van along at the rear. An up parcels is taken on close behind the express and another excursion passes on the down, 1Z71 to Blackpool, hauled by a Stanier 2-6-0. The up parcels, a 'Standard' 2-6-0 with one 'BG' parcels van, passes just before the down Saturdays Only local grinds by and another down express is belled following the local. The up local is 'taken on' whilst the up parcels is still working in the platform at Tipton, so Tipton is given the 'Shunt'. He puts the parcels back onto the branch so that he can 'knock out' and accept the up local from me. The up local rattles past; the passengers oblivious of the trains which might foul their path. The down express is another Llandudno, 1D27, and he roars past with a 'Black 5' working hard.

The Ganger checks the signal post telephone at the down starter as he passes it whilst 'walking the length' and an entry is accordingly placed in the Train Register Book. Another down local rattles past and the diesel parcels unit we had earlier on the down now returns on the up towards Birmingham, with a different driver. After a brief respite, we have the down Liverpool, 1K10 - 'Jubilee' class 'Novelty', clean and shining, is in charge today. The Manchester, 1H05, is offered immediately behind and sports a Sulzer diesel-electric this morning. The second train of the day to London, 1B08, is headed by another Type 4. The 8.50 a.m. from Newcastle (the one near Stoke) is a 3-car DMU and behind it 1G05, from Manchester, is Sulzer-hauled. 1G06, from Liverpool, follows immediately and it passes with a Type 4 just as the 10.20 a.m. down local sways past on the other line.

Spring Vale turns out an up freight, advising it as '244'. Officially, this working is now known as T34 (but not along the North Stour!). Once again, the 'porter-bobby' at Tipton (Mr. Toombes today) has to suspend his porter duties to walk to Tipton Curve Junction and open the box ready for '244'. As '244' comes into view on the up, the 'Shunt' is received from Deepfields, but '244' keeps coming nice and slowly down the bank, a 2-8-0 tender first, being pushed along by a long train of empties. In the opposite direction, '269' (now officially T61) is accepted from the Curve, despite the proximity of the down local and up express, and the freight comes rattling off the Curve, 'right away Spring Vale', with only a handful of wagons. 1G07 barely comes to a stand at our up home while '269' clears the junction and then the 3-car DMU from Stoke proceeds on its way. Not yet 11.00am, and still the trains keep coming!