BMT Story, Chapter 6 - Tom the loco driver

This article was published May 17, 2012.

this is my ´love story´ to narrow gauge railways.

Tom Brikks the loco driver, did always get up early to fire up his engine. He lived close to the loco shed and used to go there just to light up some wood under the boiler before his breakfast. When he was finished eating and got back to the shed it was time to switch to coal. Tom was one of three drivers. It was Tom, Albert and Lloyd who only worked part time as a driver. Normally he worked in the workshop but did step in once and a while when the need arose. Tom had been in America and was never late to tell that to new employees. He had a huge mustache but was always careful with shaving the rest. He was known to be somewhat of a snob, mostly about clothes but also in general. He always used a ironed shirt and a very strict black tie. Uniform and shoes got there overlook each evening, even polished the peaked hat.. He had a special pipe which he bought in Cape land and it made almost as much smoke as the locos did. He ´was´ the loco driver, Albert just had it as profession.

Tom sometimes did join Bob and Lucas when they got out fishing. But they nagged on him for speaking to loud, so he was not always welcomed. Tom couldn´t resist comment on everyone he met during the day, specially the women. He had small monologues with himself out load, TO loud if you asked Bob. They thought he scared the fish.

This morning after Tom got the steam up in his engine, he got company with a small white kitten. Every step he took around the shed to get some tool or whatever, the small kitten did follow him and meow for his attention. Tom was not much for animals, but just to get rid of the kitten he gave the kitten some milk from his bag. He always did drink tea at eight and tea without milk was not possible. This was something he probably did regret for the rest of his life, because next morning the kitten was back again, and it also told its friends so each second or third morning it was one more kitten. In the end Tom got a long row of cats following him on his way from/to the loco shed. Finally the gang of kittens did grow up and found other things to do, but it remained as a fun story among people around.

Tom did run his loco down to the factory and picked up a couple of vans. These he did pull up to the passing loop. Then he did drive to the sawmill to pick up a couple of empty flats. After these were connected to the vans, he did go to the shed for a newly repaired coach. Along the way he did pick up two more coaches. When all were connected on the passing loop, it was time to check the clock and wait for time to leave for the waterfront.

Clock got six thirty, time for departure. Tom did loosen the brake and fired off a quick signal. A few easy pulls on the steam lever and the train started to move. The rails were still wet so the loco wheels did skid a bit, but soon the grip was enough to increase the speed. He did pass the small bridge over the stream, did turn right and then out on the long straight stretch along the fields. You could hear the rails sing as the train did move further and further, far along the tracks.

This was a very small line and most people did know each other since way back. Also common flag stops were not used, Tom did just stop when someone waved at him. They seemed to gather anyway to have some to talk to in the early morning. In chilly mornings some used to start walking along the tracks to keep them warm, and Tom just did pick them up along the way when he reached them. He always did two turns each morning. One to return the flats down to reload at the harbour and one turn to pick up ore wagons at the mine. On the way he did always pick up workers who needed to get to the factory at seven o clock. At eight it was time for tea. He had a special pot he filled with water and let hang inside the burner for a short moment when the train did stay still. That was one of the best moments on the day. He had made the little community ready for work, now he could take a short break and enjoy his tea. Spite the fact that many people did live a hard life then, they really did know how to relax and live by the moment. Company on the tea and a small chat did always lighting up the situation even more. If the break happened to be at the harbour and it was not raining, he used to join the loading gang on there tea break on the quay.

Ore wagons were emptied and the flats were filled with timber again, time to drive back. Tom did do his little routine around his engine to lubricate and check it. A few more baskets of coal and of he went. The drive down to the harbour is either flat or downwards, so not much water is used. But he needs a lot to get back up again. During worst rains or snow, they either disconnect half the train on the hillside and get them later, or else Albert need to come along with another engine to help pushing up the hill. This morning Tom was alone, no passengers either and the weather was warm and dry. He shouldn´t have any problems. First slope went well, second to. Two more to go. Third went well, but at last the hardest one, the train suddenly started to jump on the tracks. Tom quickly did stop the train, put on the brake and jumped out to check the damage. Derailments were common, but this time he had no help. But since it was a flat who had jumped and not a loaded ore wagon, it should not be so hard to fix it. These wagons were only about 4´ feet wide and 12 feet long. If no load on top, a long lever would do the trick. Tom did take of his jacket and started to throw off all the logs, one by one. When clear he selected one of the longest to use as a lever. A few other smaller logs in under and he was ready to lift the wagon. With some effort he managed to lift it up again, on to the tracks. When he let the lever go, the wagon totally collapsed over the track. ´-Now what!´, he thought. He did lean in and looked under the wagon. One axle was broken, that´s why it had derailed... ´And that I discover NOW´, he sad to himself out load.. After a long and well selected list of hard words, he did sit down on a stone beside the track to think. At this stage the sweat did pour down from his forehead. In front of him was one loco, 4 empty ore wagons, the broken flat, 3 heavy loaded flats and a small hut kind of break wagon they always had in the rear. The shining sun did not cold down his anger a bit. He suddenly realised he had a beer with him in the food bag. It had hung in the break-wagon and was still cold. He did open it instantly and let the beer pour down his throat, almost all at once. Compared to the temperature outside, it felt like ice to him.

He did fresh up a bit and put on his jacket and cap. Did disconnect the broken wagon and continued his drive up to the factory. When arrived he yelled at Lloyd and a few others to come and help him. They disconnected the ore wagons and loaded another flat with tools and things to repair the broken wagon with. Tom did fill up some more water in the engine, and of they went again.

When arrived at the accident, they all did see that even the tracks were damaged. Lloyd found the wagon so damaged it was not worth doing anything about it right now. So they did just lift it up upside down, on the flat they had with them and started to repair the tracks. This time they were five of them and with the proper tools, so the tracks was soon in order again. Tom did connect the wagons and did drive them all back to the factory. Since all this happened, he hadn´t had time for lunch, but the mine needed more wagons to load, so not much to it. He had to continue and eat his lunch beside the mine.

When he arrived at the mine the foreman did stand with his arms crossed and with a very determined expression on his face, he hadn´t heard the news about the accident. Tom was never late, in fact he put an honour in keeping the schedule. But when there were accidents on the line, there were not much he could do about it. Tom did tell him, but he still didn´t like it. Tom did place the empty ore wagons under the mine shoot and drive back to the passing loop there loaded wagons were waiting for him. He coupled them up, filled up more water in the engine and collected a few new baskets of coal. He had planned to eat his lunch there, but he just oiled the engine on most important places and drive of again. He lost his apatite. Tom drive all the line down to the harbour and did sit down on the quay instead. There it was calm with a slow breeze, a few seagulls did walk around a bit away. Now finally he could eat his lunch. Due to the days event, he took his time and after he did lay down on the back with his cap covering his eyes and his arms under the head. With a strew of reed in his mouth he laid there thinking.

Some day-workers did comment on his manors, but they forgot about his hours. Tom and Albert had to get up around five and seldom ended work before nine same evening. If they got a few minutes here and there in between were not more than right. Of course working hard down the mine were not easy, nor working in the factory ten hours a day. But being a loco driver were something else. He and Albert got the same rank as the policeman, or like the foreman on the mine for that matter. So they could afford doing a bit like they wanted. As long as they did take care of the trains and kept there schedule, no body had anything to say.

Now the flats had been loaded again and the ore wagons were emptied. They had a barge in the harbour, so they could throw the ore straight in to it. Sometimes when the little steamer didn´t have another barge with it, they had to store the ore and later throw it over to the next barge with shovels. It could take hours to load the barge with just two days of ore from the mine. There were almost as many men occupied at the waterfront as there were in the mine. Later a steam crane was installed and almost everyone had to find work elsewhere. The crane did both load timber and ore and were very efficient.

Tom did prepare the loco for another ride. Now it was late afternoon and not many more trains to drive. The drive up to the factory went well. He did uncouple the flats with timber and did continue up to the mine. When he arrived at the mine, the foreman was not around. He did just uncouple and switch to loaded ore wagons again. A few moments with more water, coal and oiling the engine. Checking the clock and of he went again.

When he was back at the factory, he uncoupled the loaded ore wagons and drove down to the shed. Lloyd, Albert and him used to share a cup of afternoon tea, this was no exception. They did discuss the accident and other things which had happened around the factory that day. Lloyd reminded them about that it was time for the yearly inspection of the boilers. An inspector would come next week and he needed the locos to be ready by then. Only morning and late afternoon trains would be possible, the inspector used to be very thorough.

Now Tom only had one more drive to do. This time he was scheduled to drive the afternoon passenger train. He coupled a string of summer coaches together and drove them up to the passing loop. Just when he picked out his clock, the factory whistle did blow. A horde of workers did came out through the factory gates. The coaches were soon filled. Tom did loosen the brake and fired off a quick signal. A few easy pulls on the steam lever and the train started to move. This time the rails were dry and the train was light. Tom did know by experience there many wanted to clime of, so he just stopped on the regular places. When arrived at the waterfront he did leave the coaches there and took some loaded flats back to the factory. Next morning Albert would drive them back loaded with workers again.

Finally this day was over. Tom and Albert did join up with Lloyd, Bob and Lucas to a late evening swim in the pond. The stream which passed both the bathing house and the factory, did first stem up in a small pond just above the area. After this long hot day, a swim in the pond were great. The water was warm and the beer was cool. A small chat sharing some tobacco ended the day nicely. Time to go home and hit the bunk.