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Birmingham Footplateman – A Job for Life



Author : Dennis Herbert
ISBN : 9780853616702
Cover : paperback
Price : £23.95

Dennis Herbert’s earliest childhood memories recall growing up on one of the many sprawling housing estates which were built in the Birmingham area in the 1920s and 1930s. We learn of his family members and also friends and neighbours on the estate. Dennis was a schoolboy during the war years, and by 1949 he was ready to seek employment. There was never much doubt where he would be working.

In those early years Dennis had discovered a life-long passion for railways, or perhaps he was brainwashed – his father was a locomotive fireman for the Great Western Railway at Tyseley. Occasionally, Dennis and his brother would be taken to Tyseley station to see their dad working on the shunting engine that worked in the goods yard adjacent to the station. As a small boy, the close proximity of this little locomotive became an ogre. With the locomotive wheels towering over him, it was little wonder that it took some time for his apprehension to pass.

Once on the footplate with his dad, however, the heat from the fire, combined with the smell of hot oil, the cab became narcotic. Meanwhile, Dennis’s poor mother was left to shiver on the exposed bridge!

On leaving school he was very disappointed to find it was the locomotive department’s policy not to accept employees at less than 15½ years of age – he was five months short of this target. After a visit to Birmingham Snow Hill for the usual tests, eyesight, colour blindness, etc., etc., Dennis was offered a job as lad porter at Acocks Green. By the end of 1949 he had transferred to the locomotives department at Tyseley. So started a career on the footplate which, over the course of its 40-plus years, was to see many changes to the railway.

Dennis worked his way through the ranks from humble engine cleaner to fireman, and in 1965 he was promoted to driver as the steam era was drawing to a close. Cutbacks, modernisation and rationalisation became the order of the day and for a while he became a ‘Put back driver’ before transferring to the former LMS shed at Saltley to resume driving duties once more.

Although steam power was no longer part of the daily scene Dennis was taken aback but delighted when, in 1973, he saw his name on a roster sheet to drive Sir Nigel Gresley’s Green Arrow and ‘A4’ Pacific No.4498 Sir Nigel Gresley. As the years rolled by diesel locomotives which had been introduced in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s were subsequently replaced meaning that these engines too became the attraction for enthusiasts’ special trains and Dennis was to be rostered as a driver for the ‘Farewell to the Fifties’ railtour too.

This is the story of a long and varied career which saw Dennis working on everything from the little tank engines that worked in and around Tyseley shed right through to top link driver on Royal Train duty.

A5 format, 272 pages, 105 illustrations.

Birmingham Footplateman – A Job for Life
£23.95
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