Above: Driver Sam Pearce on the footplate of class O2/4 heavy freight locomotive No. 63956 at Grantham in the early 1960s. Photograph taken by Colin Walker, © Martin Walker.
by Chris Pearce
My grandfather was Sam Pearce who started working on the railway after an early job as a gardener at Belvoir Castle. He lived at Woolsthorpe by Belvoir at the time and used to cycle to Grantham to work, I think as a cleaner. He later moved to Springfield Road and was promoted to fireman and then driver during his 47½ years with the railway.
Sam (his real name was Wallace) and my grandma, Gladys, were a large part of my life as a child. They lived opposite the turntable which was next to the Top Shed, where the Reads can-making factory was later built. The turntable (so I was led to believe) was targeted by German bombers and the raid broke the foundations to their house, which caused the windows to rattle every time a lorry passed.
I remember Mondays being wash day and the copper being fired up for the water. My grandfather used to scrub his blue overalls with hot soapy water on the yard, with the yard brush, before a session in a tub with the Dolly peg. They were then mangled to get the water out. Wash day dinner was always one to look forward to, being the leftovers from Sunday dinner and the added bonus of bubble and squeak!
There was a very warm railway overcoat that used to get used as an overblanket on my bed when the weather was cold. He had an enamel lunch box and a container, I think he called his flask, which was made of cream enamel with an enamel cup lid. It was not a thermos flask as I know one now. I guess you could mash tea in it with any available boiling water, so more like a kettle really. Sam was always a very proud railwaymen with great values and ethics, a great role model to my father, and to myself to this day. Oh, and his pocket watches, of which he had several. Time keeping was essential to him.
I remember his tales to this day, especially from the war years. One of the most vivid memories I have from Sam was when he told me how the German bombers would often follow the steam engines during night air raids, knowing that they would be travelling through Grantham. Marco’s ammunition factory was a prime target and he told me that if the train drivers spotted a German bomber following the train, they would slow down in the tunnels so that the bombers flew on quicker than the train, therefore losing the train’s guidance. I went to sleep most nights as a child listening for the sound of 'his' whistle after coming out of Peascliffe tunnel, which he said he would blow for me. I think he drove a locomotive called Blink Bonny at one stage, and I can remember going in with him on the odd occasion when he was shunting. Fond memories.
LNER Gresley A1 pacific No. 2550 Blink Bonny at Marshmoor, between Potters Bar and Hatfield, in 1929. Mike Morant's photograph collection can be visited by left clicking on the image.
Sid 'Spud' Murphy was one of his firemen. I met Sid once when he interviewed me for a job at BMARC.
There's a picture of Sam with his devil's head pipe in a book called Trails of Steam Volume 6 - Trails through Grantham by Colin Walker, and it's interesting to see a fuller account of the day when the picture was taken (A Trip to Highdyke in Winter's Chill).
I still have the clock Sam received when he achieved 45 years' service with the railway - and his 1927 Rudge-Whitworth bicycle, which I ride occasionally. I think it may have been purchased from a shop on Dudley Road in Grantham.
Driver Pearce was not the only Grantham footplateman to be known as 'Sam' when it wasn't his real name - see 'Sam' Whitaker's page here.