Around 2002-2004 Richard Whitaker, whose grandfather, known as Sam, was a driver at Grantham Loco, rescued an old wooden sign. He found it inside the 'Black Hut', a platelayers’ hut at the north end of the station that was about to be flattened. The photo above shows that the sign had seen better days, but it’s the sole survivor of several which were placed at strategic locations around the Loco Yard, on tall posts at ‘driver’s eye level’. Some of the posts also carried a lamp for identification in darkness.
The entrance and exit of Grantham Loco Yard could be a very busy place at any hour of the day or night. Engines would arrive and depart on either of two parallel tracks. There were crossovers between them, and many converging sidings – see the plan below. In the Loco Yard movements were not controlled by signals. Responsibility for the safety of every movement rested with loco crews, but visibility of the line immediately ahead of a large steam locomotive is poor, whether travelling forward or in reverse. Also, and perhaps this isn’t generally recognised except by those who have experience on a steam loco footplate, stopping 150 tons or so of main line locomotive, even from low speed, takes time and distance; not all the wheels have brake blocks, and the effectiveness of the brakes depends on variables such as the boiler steam pressure at the time.
These notices commanded all in charge of locomotive movements to 'HALT FOR ONE MOMENT', perhaps to receive instructions from shed staff, or in case another crew might be about to make a conflicting movement, or to check that the points were set correctly. The pause gave loco crews an opportunity to recognise a hazard, perhaps to alert one another using their engines’ whistles, or to alter the setting of the points, thus avoiding a possible collision or derailment.
Dealing with such hazards was very much part of the job, becoming second nature to men like Richard’s grandfather as they progressed through the ranks, gaining experience and skill under the watchful eyes of the older hands. This dilapidated sign is a reminder to us of risks competently handled daily by steam locomen.
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