Last Train To Somerford

When I was about six years old I used to go down to the station with other boys from my street to watch the steam train. It was towards the end of steam trains at Malmesbury although we didn’t know it at the time, but one of the boys asked the driver if we could have a ride on the footplate to Somerford. The driver told us we could, but not until the next day and it would cost us a tanner.

The following day we were up early and set out towards the station with a packed lunch each and a sixpenny piece to give to the driver and his mate. We climbed aboard, gave the men our shiny silver sixpences and were all given a chance to try and shovel coal into the fire box. The long shovel was almost too heavy for me and I manage a small lump. After about ten minutes in the station at the platform, the driver blew the whistle and we set off through the station yard towards the tunnel.

We approached the level crossing at the end of the yard, and the town upon the hill disappeared from view as we crossed it, entering a wooded area taking us over the river, and beyond lay the tunnel. The driver turned to me being the smallest child and lifted me up towards the roof of the open sided cab. Here was a chain hanging and he told me to reach up and give it a pull as it would sound the whistle, which had to be done before entering the tunnel.

The tunnel had little retreats built into its walls for engineers to take refuge from passing trains and we had often stood in these, when returning from expeditions into the countryside for blackberrying. As we came out the other side we were coughing on the smoke which had nowhere to escape to whilst in the tunnel, and had blown into the cab covering us in sooty smuts. It soon cleared and we could see down to the stretch of track, where the previous week we had laid down with our ears to the track to detect the approaching train and then laid copper pennies on the rail. After the train had passed we would rush back from hiding in the bushes to see our pennies now twice the size, having been hammered out by the many wheels of the train passing over. Of course we could no longer buy sweets with them but we thought it worth the while for the huge fun and excitement we felt from our naughty game.

After about twenty minutes on the foot plate we arrived at the junction to the main line in the next village of Little Somerford. We said goodbye to the driver and firemen thanking them with great enthusiasm for a hugely exciting ride and walked to the end of the platform where we sat down to eat our packed lunches. We watched a few fast passenger trains speeding through the station and waved at all the faces looking back at us and then we set out on our three mile trek back home, hopping over the ballast in-between the heavily creosoted wooden sleepers and exploring the hedgerows in the heat of the afternoon sun.

David Forward


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