Above: John as a fireman at Grantham, with a B1 ('Springbok') locomotive.
John Aldous was born near Grantham but he grew up in Suffolk. Having moved back to Ancaster with his family, at the age of 18 John joined the railway at Grantham 'Loco' where, after a short period as a cleaner, he became a fireman. He worked many trips over the High Dyke Branch on O2 locomotives hauling ironstone. The O2s, known as 'Tangos', were a heavy freight version of the express passenger A3 class, among which was Flying Scotsman.
In 1963, when Grantham shed was due to close, John wanted to continue working on the footplate and he applied to transfer to Stratford in east London. This was agreed, but in the event he ended up leaving the railway to work at RAF Cranwell. Just a few months after he started there he received a letter asking him to consider returning to the railway at Grantham. This he would have seriously considered, but for a union requirement that the period he'd already worked as a fireman would not be counted and he would effectively be re-joining as a cleaner. John spent the rest of his working life in local industry including a long spell at Aveling Barford's, a world-renowned manufacturer of road rollers and dumper trucks for the mining, quarrying and construction industries.
Here are John's memories of the footplate, adapted from an editorial which appeared in Railway Reflections May/June 1983
One of the most vivid memories I have of my short working life on the railway was firing on A4 60028 Walter K. Whigham on a night express to York. I was 19 at the time. After the rostered fireman didn’t turn up I was taken off an ironstone train to Doncaster. The driver was on his first trip to York as a driver, and me as a fireman too. What an experience!
I fired on 'Tangos' on the High Dyke branch, which curved away from the main line close to Stoke Tunnel. It was customary to travel out to Stainby chimney first with the empties, and return tender first with the loaded tipplers. I can well remember having to open the crossing gates ourselves, and catching the token as we rushed through Colsterworth. You were in trouble if you missed grabbing it from the signalman, because it would then involve a long back-up to get out of the valley. We also had to watch out for sheep constantly on the High Dyke branch; on one occasion we nearly ran a whole flock down!
I used to work on the iron ore trains to from Highdyke to Scunthorpe via Sleaford, Boston and Louth. At about half way we swapped footplates with a Frodingham crew returning with empties. You just kept going till a signal box stopped both you and a returning train, then we exchanged footplates. This one was a long day of 12 hours sometimes. I also used to work on fully fitted iron ore trains from Highdyke to Rotherham.
Here is a list of the types of steam locomotive I remember firing:
- Main line engines: 4-6-2 - A1, A3, A4, and, once, a Britannia; 2-6-2 - V2 (we called them 'Green Arrows'), 4-6-0 - B1 ('Springboks'), 2-8-0 heavy freight engines - O2 ('Tangos') and 'Austerity'
- Tank engines: 0-6-2T - N2; 2-6-4T - L1
There may have been others possibly, but not a bad haul for now.
We had a Saturday afternoon job which began about teatime; we travelled to Peterborough then picked up a 'No. 1 goods' (a fully fitted express freight) with a B1 and went right through to Colwick. There we met a midlands crew and brought their train back to Grantham, where we were relieved by a Peterborough crew. This was the train where we once took over a Britannia at Colwick, a stranger to our Loco.
I also very often fired the local passenger trains to Nottingham Victoria (usually an L1 Tank) sometimes, the last train on a Saturday night to bring home the late night revellers! I remember being stuck by frozen points at Ilkeston on the Nottingham/Derby run, on an L1 2-6-4T on Christmas Eve. We tried to melt the frozen snow around the point rodding with hot coals from the firebox, but to no avail. A bus had to come from Derby to pick up the passengers. We nearly froze waiting for the bus to return, and we arrived back in Grantham very late.
Another job I did one Sunday was to fire a 'Tango' to Doncaster for repair via the Lincoln line, a route we hardly ever did (usually it was covered by Lincoln crews). I went with a driver who knew the road and, when I got to Lincoln, picked up another driver from there, so I had TWO drivers on one light engine to Doncaster via Gainsborough.
I think Lincoln was where i had my medical and eye test. I passed my firing test on the Nottingham run with an Inspector.
Two engines I forgot to mention above were the English Electric Napier 'Deltic' Type 5 and Brush Sulzer Type 4 diesel-electrics, where I worked on the footplate as second man, the equivalent of fireman on the diesels.
Another job was with the diesel shunter at Ambergate Yard - up to Barrowby Road signal box, then a short branch line took you across the bridge at Dysart Road to the old canal basin area, where there were coal and tar depots and the gas works; one of the bridge abutments is still there. I also used to go on the ballast train for track maintenance on a Sunday.