The Finkerbury Files: Secrets of the footplate

I recently went to get some things in the attic of the old apartment block where we now live. Each flat has a tiny storage room, and as I entered the attic I noticed that one door was ajar.

Feeling curious, I had a look inside. The room was empty,  but someone had left an old filing cabinet in the corner.

Imagine my surprise when, inside the cabinet, I found a number of files marked “Farthing”. With trembling hands I opened the first file, and…

Pleased to meet you Ladies and Gentlemen! I am Pickle S. Finkerbury, autodidact railway historian and time traveler. My works include “A Complete and Exhausting Survey of Farthing Station” and “Abandoned Occupational Crossings of Wiltshire, Vol. 1-3”.

My specialty, however, is to document the more, shall we say, unusual aspects of everyday railway operation. I have a certain knack for being in the right place at the right time, and have collected a number of files with previously unpublished information.

Today I would like to share an interesting finding that I came across in the bay platform at Farthing station, one fine day in the summer of 1907.

The branch passenger train from Overburne was just arriving, exactly on time.

The train pulled into the bay platform…

…and came to a halt at the stops, where Station Master A. Woodcourt  was waiting.

It was then that I overheard a most interesting conversation between the Station Master and the newly arrived loco crew.

- 'Gentlemen, can I have a word?'

- 'Yes, Sir?'

- 'I’ve been reading in the papers about all these dogs that have been disappearing.'

- 'Dogs, Sir?'

- 'Yes, it seems a lot of people have lost their dogs. The police are without a clue, but I’ve noticed….'

- 'Noticed, Sir?'

- 'I’ve noticed that the missing dogs all came from houses situated along the Overbourne line. You work that route together a lot.  And it got me thinking…'

- 'Thinking, Sir?'

- 'The two of you, you’re our best men on the footplate. Very eager, aren’t you, about optimising performance. Always experimenting with the firing and the fuel.'

- 'Fuel, Sir?'

- 'All right Perkins, that’s enough! I’m not an idiot. We’ll keep this to ourselves, but there will be no more firing with people's pets! It was bad enough with the cats last year. We certainly want a good fuel economy, but not at the expense of our four-legged friends. Understood?

After a long silence both men gave an almost imperceptible nod, and got back to work on the footplate.

They set the train back…

…did the run round…

…and eventually pulled away with the train. As we watched them go, I heard the Station Master reminding himself to inspect the ash pit that evening. I shudder to think what he found.

So there you have it, ladies and gentlemen. You are now privy to one of the best kept trade secrets of Great Western footplate men. And you know why GWR engines had such a lovely bark.

Till next time!