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HALT FOR ONE MOMENT – a reminder of Grantham Loco Yard

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.

Class O2 No. 63940 is passing the shed exit signal as it leaves Grantham Loco on Friday 28th June 1957. In the background is a platelayers’ hut known as the Black Hut and on the right, mounted on its post, is the board saved by Richard.  No. ‘3940’ was a Grantham engine from 1945 to 1963.
Photograph taken by Phillip H. Wells. This image is from the collection of The Railway Correspondence and Travel Society (RCTS), ref. PHW1226, and it is used here with permission.
An extract from a plan showing the north end of the Loco Yard as it was between 1903 and 1950.
The top two tracks shown at the bottom right are the Loco Yard entrance/exit roads.
On the line marked ‘London Road’ locomotives which had been prepared for their assigned duty were positioned in order, ready to leave the shed when required.
Engines arriving off duty would usually take the line immediately above it to the coaling stage, or turn off to visit the turntable.

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.

A view of part of Grantham Loco Yard on Thursday 31st August 1961 showing, near the centre, one of the ‘HALT for one moment’ signs with its lamp.
Photograph by Cedric Clayson, © John Clayson

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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