Ken Stoneham’s Tea

When the Driver and Secondman take over a train from the previous crew, who have brought it into the station, the driver is given a sheet of details about the train, its load and braking capabilities. You then make your checks in the cab and wait for the home signal to clear the way to proceed. With a freight train, you can be held whilst any fast passenger trains pass you by, before you follow then onto the main line separated by sections. This can take a while and is the perfect opportunity to brew up a cup of tea.

In the cab of a locomotive there is usually a “Hot Plate” situated on the Secondman’s side of the cab, it being in a different position for different classes of locomotive. My Driver, Ken Stoneham, sat watching the signal waiting to be given the go ahead. Whilst this was happening I was brewing the tea. Crew members each carry their own bag containing an aluminium can with lid and handle used as a tea pot, tea leaves in a packet, as it was the pre-tea bag era, a tea strainer, milk in a small screw cap bottle, sugar and spoon in a bag, and any other items such as your Rule Book and daily publications informing you of any changes in track conditions due to engineering works, that may requiring speed restrictions etc.

The pot is placed on the hot plate, filled with water, brought to the boil, then tea leaves added. You then wait a suitable amount of time, gained from experience, for the tea to brew to taste. Then the hot plate is switched off and the tea poured into cups with milk and sugar added to taste, then a cup is passed to the Driver and sometimes to the guard also, who may be in the cab behind, via a walkway in the engine room of the locomotive.

On this occasion it was taking a particularly long time for the signal to come off, being distracted I forgot to check on the time the tea had been brewing for. Ken then asked, “Where’s this tea then?”, I suddenly realised I’d forgotten to pay attention to the only important task entrusted to me, and quickly poured out the tea, added the sugar and milk, stirred it and handed it across to Ken. Being so early in the morning it was completely dark outside, and I had failed to notice the colour of the brew.

Several minutes passed while Ken watched the signal ahead at the end of the platform. He now judged his tea to be cool enough to take a swig, and having done so, he then rapidly turned to the sliding window on his side of the cab, threw it back in great haste, and spat out the mouth full of tea, onto the trackside below, closely followed by the remaining contents of his cup. “What the Hell do you call that?”, he boomed. To which I replied, “I may have over brewed it a tad”. “A tad!, if that had landed on the rails it would have burnt its way right through the steel”.

At that moment with great luck and fortune, the signal turned Green, giving Ken plenty to concentrate on and with a few notches of power selected, he then released the train’s air brakes. Whilst I then threw the remaining couple of pints of deep black, ‘paint stripper’ tea, out of the window on my side, and then proceeded to perfect a second attempt, hoping to seek the approval of the still fuming Ken Stoneham, overwhelmed at what British Rail were now training up as the next generation of diesel locomotives crews, for the new Intercity 125s.

27 August, 2017
All images and written works by David Forward are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License