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An Ashford Apprenticeship with the Q1s

Words by Clive Young.        

I started my apprenticeship at Ashford Works as a Locomotive Fitter & Turner on 1st January 1951.  We did not have New Year's day off in those days, which could come hard after seeing the New Year in, and walking, yes walking the current girlfriend home !

The Erecting Shop was 600 feet long and had three roads through.  It had become operated on what we called the "Belt system" after the fashion used for many years at Crewe, just as I started in there.  Locomotives came in at the Dover (country end) and were lifted over to the stripping pits, a filthy job if ever there was one.

They were then lifted over to the first gang, the "Frame Gang".  Here we refaced horn faces with compressed air angle grinders, and carried out whatever repairs were necessary on the cylinder block.  This might mean renewing the piston valve liners, or crawling into the cylinder bores to grind out the land left at the back end of the bore by the piston rings.

Also at this stage we trammelled up the frames through the horns, and fitted datum buttons which would be used for lining up replacement cylinders and refitting the guide bars, and working out any offset required in the axleboxes.  I cannot remember having to replace cylinder blocks on Q1's, but we did have to renew the piston valve liners, and occasionally put a cylinder liner in.

Once the frames were up to scratch they would move along to the "Intermediate Gang" where we fitted up the valve gear, pistons, valves, and if it had been removed, refitted the boiler.

A feature of the Q1 was that the boiler was lagged with fibre glass in sacking mats, and held in place by what can only be described as chicken wire mesh.  After working underneath the locomotive on the valve gear or whatever, one came out twitching as though afflicted with "St Vitus Dance" as a result of fibre glass strands getting down our necks and inside our overalls.

The cleading sheets over the lagging were thin sheet steel, held in place by 3/8" BSW screws which I always considered a very flimsy arrangement !

The "Smokebox Gang" would then come onto the site and fit up the main steam pipes.  The Q1's had a short extension piece on top of the cylinder block held in place on its studs by brass cap nuts.  We had to hand face the steam pipe flanges first with a 3/4" square file, then finish with a scraper.  If one took longer than half-an-hour to face the flange you were looked upon as not being very competent.

While fitting one of these extension pieces I was using a 2lb hammer on an open jawed spanner.  I swung my arm back, and caught a wash out plug on the smokebox tubeplate, whereupon the hammer described a classic googly and drove my finger between the underside of the flange and top of the cap nut.  On staggering out of the smokebox on to what passes for a front running plate, the fitter caught me, as the sight of the damage caused me to begin to faint.  That was two weeks or so off work, and sick pay was a fraction of that enjoyed today !

The final gang was the "Wheeling Gang" where a locomotive was finished off before going out to "Shed Gang" for steaming and a trial run, usually up the Canterbury branch to Chartham.  Q1's were noted particularly after a repair to have sticky regulators which would open, but not close.  Whilst on the "Boiler Mounting Gang" I was under the wing of fitter 'Toby Whitewood', a tall beanpole of a man who was a chain smoker of rolled up cigarettes.  Toby and I had refitted the regulator in a Q1 boiler which had locked open while in steam.

We were called out to the works yard, so we collected some tools and duly climbed aboard the locomotive.  Toby told the driver "Open her up" and off we went; stopping was a different matter as sure enough the regulator was stuck fast open, so it was mid gear and brakes on.  As we slid down the line a yard labourer shouted out "Ere mate, yer tender wheels are not going round."

A day or so later, once the boiler had cooled off we were back out in the yard, lifted the dome cover, freed the offending regulator valve and all was well.  I can always remember how high up one was on top of a Q1 boiler, you climbed up a wooden ladder and sat with your legs either side of the dome and undid the nuts, again with the 2lb hammer and an open jawed spanner.

Tools were crude by today's standards as we did not have much in the way of ring or box spanners.  The dome cover was heavy to remove, and the only bonus was that the cleading was fairly flat on top.  The faces had to be cleaned up, and a medium of "Boiled Oil & Red Lead" was used as a sealant between the faces.


Additional comments from Clive

Unfortunately I did not manage to take any photographs at that time as it really was a different world, and photography was frowned on in the Works.  Additionally as a 16 year old apprentice on 19s 6d (97.5 pence in today's currency) for a 48 hour week, I could not afford a camera, although I did manage to borrow Dad's folding "Brownie" occasionally.