|1. Of Railfans and Railwaymen|
|2. A Machynlleth Sunday|
|3. Cuppa with John Gwynne|
|4. A Railwayman's Railwayman|
|Four: A Railwayman's Railwayman|
Class 156 DMU
pulls up by the
now a car
was finishing his explanation of the
dispatching system, the radio speaker mounted above the computer consoles squawked to
life. A train crew in the coach yards outside needed to move a rake of DMUs out of
the yard, and spot them on the main in preparation for a run later in the day. In
the time it took to walk four paces, John switched from manipulating 1990s computers to
bending 1890s iron. Planting himself firmly in front of the armstrong plant, he
heaved over the levers which lined a route from the yard tracks out to the down main.
As the levers clunked home in the tower, I could see the semaphore arms droop in
response out on the line-- a sight straight out of the steam railway days from before I
was born. The DMU crew pulled out of the yard, John reset the plant, and the crew
then reversed direction and crawled back to stop next to the coachhouse.
Detail of the 156
against the Welsh
accommodating the switching move, John
settled back in his chair to finish our visit. A railwayman's railwayman, John was
deeply concerned with for the growth and survival of his lines. Far from resenting
Britain's rail privatization experiment, he viewed it as an opportunity "to begin
doing things right for a change, to grow things around here instead of cutting them
back." When I met him, John had just attended a meeting with officials from the
English, Welsh and Scottish Railway, the new private company backed by American Ed
Burkhardt and the Wisconsin Central Railway which was in the process of reorganizing
British freight railway service on a for-profit basis. Two weeks later John was
still afire from his meeting with the EW&S people. "They want to grow the
traffic-- they're talking about expansion, about winning customers back to the rails.
We haven't talked like that in years." Inspired by EW&S, John had
plans of contacting two former shippers on the Cambrian lines himself, and exploring
whether it might be possible to woo them back to the rails and restore freight service to
the Cambrian for the first time since 1988.
middle of our animated conversation, John
glanced at the wall clock and said suddenly, "Well, you'd best be getting on then,
your train'll be boarding soon." With a start, I realized I'd completely lost
track of the time. As a parting gift, John pressed into my hands three copies of
British railway enthusiast magazines (by now nothing surprised me-- I'd long since
realized that John was a fan and a kindred spirit as well as a professional railroader)
and encouraged me to buy a copy of R.W. Kidder's authoritative history of the Cambrian
Railways as soon as ever I could-- his copy adorned his working desk in the tower.
He then imparted one last word of advice: when I got to the Rheidol I was to ride the very
first coach, "so you can really hear that little engine working as you climb the
indeed catch my train, and had a lovely day
riding the Vale of Rheidol Light Railway.
And I followed John's advice, and sat right up front in the first car. Yet though
the Rheidol was wonderful, it was John who made the day. His was the warmth and
kindness, his love for his work and his eagerness to explain it, made an indelible
impression. For John our meeting was an interlude in an ordinary working Sunday. For me,
it made a memory which will last for years to come.