I first met Billy about six one Saturday morning. I’d volunteered on the Laverstock Railway a few years before as a steward and now I was getting the chance to learn to drive, starting of course with cleaning duties.
Most of the crew had turned up the night before and stayed over on an old carriage in the sidings. I drove up early instead, so as a ‘newbie’ I was last to be paired with a buddy.
“Good to see you’re in the right kit,” said the Depot Manager. “You’ll find Billy over there,” and he pointed to where a pair of steel-toe-cap boots were sticking out from under a ‘Castle’ class locomotive, then turned and walked away with a funny little smile.
I walked over and introduced myself to the feet. “Hello; I’m Geoff. Are you Billy? I’ve been paired up with you.”
“That’s me. I won’t shake hands just now – pass me some more emery, will you?”
“The strip of glass-paper by my feet.”
I knew what emery paper was, but I’d been thrown by Billy’s light voice. Most engine drivers growled, in my experience, but maybe that was only when I was dressed as a steward. An oil can was passed out by a hand encased in industrial rubber gloves, and I exchanged the can for the paper.
“Cheers. What did you say your name was?”
“Thanks, Geoff. I’m just cleaning some pipework. You need to oil copper pipe first before rubbing.”
While I listened to the emery being used, I turned to look the engine over. It’s majestic lines were spoiled only by a sign, poking out from a lamp holder, which announced ‘Not To Be Moved’. Someone had just started to create a racket from inside the cab as the fire was being laid, so I didn’t hear the rubbing stop, or the scuffling of the boots.
“Right, Geoff: welcome aboard” said Billy, who took off a grease-top railwayman’s cap to reveal shoulder-length auburn hair kept up in a net. Gloves off, she thrust a well-manicured hand in my direction, and I couldn’t help notice that she’d chosen to paint her nails in Great Western colours; unconventional, to say the least.
That was three years ago, and now I’m trusted to drive ‘Hardwick Castle’ and most of our other engines. But try as I might, I’ve never been able to get Billy to come out for a meal. We do work together, though, cleaning the bigger engines as a pair beneath the sign which reads ‘Not To Be Moved’.