Robert Duncan is reminded of a worrying train crash…

Jamie-and-a-tank-engineOne of the many joys of being the ancient father of a six year old lad is having a really good excuse to go to places like Legoland and Thomas Land.

A couple of years ago head office announced that we were going over to Quainton, near us, which boasts a railway museum and a short track where you can actually travel up and down on a steam train. This is all operated by a team of volunteer enthusiasts, and comes to life especially when Thomas arrives (God knows how) and we all chat to the Fat Controller and we all get on him and ride up the track. ( On Thomas, not the Fat Controller.) Ah! The smell of the smoke, the beep of the whistle, the puffing and blowing. (Of Thomas, not the Fat Controller.) All too soon he is laboriously put on a low loader and dragged away to where he is kept. (Thomas, not the Fat Controller.) On this particular occasion we had done the Thomas ride, bought the souvenir Thomas model at the shop, had a coffee and sticky bun and were ready for the other delights that this fab place had to offer. Top of the list was a very small gauge train that you sit on the back of. It works properly, with coal and steam and everything – and railway enthusiast number 47 drives it round the little track. On this occasion we were building up a good head of steam if you’ll pardon the expression, and were turning a corner before we got on the straight back to the main station. Our driver, resplendent in greasy railwayman’s cap, leant out of his locomotive to throw the points switch and fell off. This had two immediate effects, or three if you count our horror at the bad things that were happening. (1) We realised that the engine was driverless and (2) the engine itself fell off the tracks and went over. I need hardly tell you that this had the effect of stopping the train, and left us all with very little to do apart from sit there and wonder what was going to happen next.

Luckily the driver hadn’t had some sort of attack and was well enough to jump to his feet and run to a little station that was a few yards away and would probably have been our next branch line stop. On bended knee he reached into a tiny signal box and pulled out a large phone to report the horrific incident. He then hurried back to us and told us to get off, and that help was at hand. In the meantime we all stood on a very small platform, with only some SIndy doll passengers for company, and waited to be rescued. The SIndy dolls were not in great shape either, which was strange since they had not been involved in the horrors of a train crash. They appeared faded, having been subjected to years of sun and rain, and were not in the least interested in our sad plight.

After many minutes of standing around among SIndy dolls in appealingly short skirts, very small pieces of luggage, tiny and sadly empty chocolate machines and rusty porters trolleys we were rescued and taken back to the main station, sadder but wiser men.

Jamie has never forgotten this incident and whenever reminded of it does a rather good impression of the train driver keeling over with a sort of aaaagh groan, and falling on the floor.

For comic effect I once tried the same thing, but I couldn’t get up again. Oh the joys of youth, 2nd class carriages, string luggage racks, slide down windows, whistles, tunnels and railways generally. And me? I used to walk down to Pinner station to meet my Dad off the 6.30 steamer on many sunlit post-war evenings – but that’s another story…