Fred Currah remembers his work as a locomotive fireman and then as a driver
Resource Type: Audio | Posted on 19th August 2011 by Liam Physick
Fred Currah explains how he began working at Edge Hill depot, and became a fireman. After dieselisation, he qualified as a driver, before in 1987 being forced to retire from footplate duty and start working in the stores at Lime Street
Interviewee: Fred Currah
Interviewee Gender: Male
Jodie: So, youâ€™ve just been saying you used to work at Edge Hill?
Fred: I began my career at Edge Hill locomotive depot, I . . . in June 1961. I had a job previous at Edge Hill, at, working for the Co-Operative Milk for a year first, but my brother wanted to do something better, so it was his idea to come on the railway, so when we started, we sent down to then Exchange station, you had a full medical, and then they, for the footplate you had to have perfect colour vision for the signals . . .
Fred: . . . so we had a test, what they called the (indecipherable Book, I think itâ€™s called, what it is, it, it opens the book, and itâ€™s all black and white dots, in the middle thereâ€™s a colour, ink coloured dots, now a person with normal colour vision could see that colour, see that number, you go six, eight, nine, youâ€™re OK, me brother failed that test, he was colour-blind . . .
Jodie: (tutting sympathetically) Oh.
Fred: . . . and so I began my career on the railway in June 1961 as a cleaner, that meant that I was in, in charge, I was under the authority of what was called a charge-hand cleaner, an and what we would do is, weâ€™d get, weâ€™re given buckets and cloths an weâ€™d polish the steam engine boilers, clean the wheels, and after two years then I passed out an examination to be what was called a pass cleaner, which mean I could do my ordinary cleaning job, but I could also go out firing, if they were short of a fireman then theyâ€™d use me
Jodie: Oh, right.
Fred: (coughs) So you could, you would, what, what you were doing, you were building your way up, you see, to be a . . . cos you couldnâ€™t just start as a fireman, cos the skills were too difficult to learn. It might not sound a lot, to, to fire a steam engine but it did take a lot of skill to fire a steam engine cos every engine was different, some . . . and so, then in 1964 I became a full-time fireman. I began small, working round this . . . there used to be a parked sidings round here, itâ€™s gone, where the technology park is, that was Edge Hill park sidings, a massive park siding, a massive marshalling yard, one of the biggest in the North West, and we also had what called the grid iron, weâ€™d take the trains up the grid iron, and then weâ€™d, what we would do, the loco would hook off and come back down again, what theyâ€™d do is whatâ€™s called gravity shunt, because it was on the hill, the, the, the shunters would get hold of the, get hold of the, the brake on the wagon, the spragstick, and they would run the wagons down into the various . . . and of course eventually and I started firing on higher jobs, I was doing passenger work from Lime Street, and then eventually, in May 1968, steam was, it decided that steam was to be finished after 150 years, so I finished my day duty on the Friday, on a Saturday, on steam, I came back on the Monday and all the steam was gone, so everything Iâ€™d learnt as a fireman now was no longer any use to me . . .
Fred: . . . now it was diesels and electrics (coughs), so in 1969 I passed out for driving, so then I had to do a six-week course at Wigan on diesels. Of course, I was very mechanically-minded, cos I didnâ€™t have a car, and co you go through all the mechanicals, parts of a diesel, the electrics, and then youâ€™d be passed out, and then I drove electrics and then in 73, 1973, I was passed out on the electric locomotives, I was driving to London, Birmingham, all over the place, and then I did that until I became a fully-fledged driver in 1979, and then in 86, Iâ€™d started to have health problems, so I was sent to see the railway doctor, and he would decide whether you could carry on with your footplate duties or whether you werenâ€™t physically fit because it was very demanding because of the intense concentration you needed to be a driver of express passenger trains, very intense, cos youâ€™ve got peopleâ€™s lives in your hands . . .
Fred: . . . you know, and so he decided that (coughs), excuse me, my throatâ€™s a bit . . . he decided I was no longer fit to do the driving duty so they put me in the stores at Lime Street in 1987.
Categorised under: The Station & Railway Pioneers