When I concluded my story of nocturnal activities back in the early 1980s (if you missed this, start here), I mentioned that Zim had indicated there was a good reason for the signal being there. I also expressed my hope that he’d provide an explanation, which he did in the comments section of that third instalment. However, I am conscious that not everyone will be checking the post on a regular basis just in case so, to satisfy those left wondering, I am reproducing his response in full here.

Well, don’t say you didn’t ask!
Firstly, and your right, there would be no point whatsoever in having any form of meaningful signalling on a disused railway line. The line WASN’T disused in 1982 Graeme, it was eking out it’s final few years as a long single track branch line from Loughborough. Freights still ran to the British Gypsum works at East Leake on an ‘as required’ basis. They finally ceased in 1985. By the 70’s freight trains to East Leake were few and far between. As such, there was no real need for any signalling on the line whatsoever, other than a solitary signal to let trains back on to the main line. It was the signallers job at Loughborough to ensure that ‘if’ a train was on the branch, nothing else could go up there until whatever was up there, had come back to the main line. I think the proper phrase is ‘one train on line basis’, which is a perfectly reasonable explanation and a lot of freight lines across the UK work on this system. I assume the signaller ties a knot of string around his thumb to remind himself that a dirty great freight is snarling back and forth somewhere between East Leake and Loughborough and the string’s removed once the freight comes back on to the network proper – well, something a little bit more high tech maybe.
So, what was the purpose of the signal which we borrowed, particularly bearing in mind it was completely marooned from the signalbox in nearby Loughborough. There were no pulleys or wires by which it could be pulled up nor released down? (It was perpetually ‘down’, a bit like Morrissey)
Well, to understand, you need a bit of context…. (please feel free to doze off/die/lose will to live at any point – and I’m talking signalling here, not your presumed aversion to Mozzers latest long player)…
When railways first started, they put a simple signalling system in. A signal raised meant the train could pass, if it were lowered, the train must stop. Within a few years this method of working was deemed inadequate. Train speeds were increasing and, particularly if coming around a corner, if the signal could not be sited reasonably early, a fast moving steam train wouldn’t be able to stop in time. What to do? Well those clever Victorians put in a form of ‘repeater’ signal, an advanced warning of what was about to come. To ensure the driver knew what he was looking at, a repeater signal, or the real deal, they were giving visually distinctive colours/shapes. A ‘proper’ signal, to be obeyed at all costs, was coloured red. It also had a white vertical bar painted on it. An advanced warning signal, was coloured yellow. To make it more unique from its proper cousin, it had a ‘v’ shape cut out of the end, and a black v painted on it as opposed to the white bar. The former was known as a ‘home’ signal, the latter a ‘distant’. So you MUST obey a home signal, but a distant was merely letting you know in advance what the home signal was set to, just in case some judicious braking were required. So, our signal arm Graeme is a ‘distant’. Here’s a photo of mine that shows the two different types…

So, the marooned distant we ‘borrowed’, DID serve a purpose even though it were disconnected. It was a repeater signal for the more modern colour light signal that protected the main line. A train coming from East Leake to Loughborough would see this ‘distant’ as a visual reminder that they were approaching the signal which protected the main line and the driver should be prepared to stop at it. Now the fact it could not move to reflect the real status of the home signal it protected wasn’t really an issue, it was more a case of grabbing the drivers attention after 5 miles or so of no signals whatsoever, and waking him up to the fact that he was about to come in to contact with a working example and he better put the Daily Mirror down and tweak that brake.
So when we nicked it, the next trains driver presumably reported it (actually I’m amazed he missed it’s absence!). Anyway report it he did, so British Rail had to replace it …. and again …. and again. Finally, irked by the constant removal of this fairly redundant but ‘union required’ hardware, they took a gas gun to the signal pole ladder and chopped off several feet of it to prevent any further oiks nicking the final replacement.

So what we did was pretty bloody stupid but as I said at the time, I genuinely thought it was a relic that Beechings mob had forgot to cut down when they shut it as a main line in 1966. As such, I thought it was safer in my hands than the next collector who decided to whip it. It was, and as you know, I returned it several years ago to the preserved railway that now plies its trade between Ruddington and Loughborough. I was down there a few weeks ago, and spoke to Phil Stanway who’s ‘office’ (I use the perm office lightly, Phils abode is actually inside of some old freight wagon) the signal used to reside in. But guess what? Some ****er’s had it!!! Can’t trust anyone these days can yer? Well actually you probably can, the signalling gang have probably taken it, and soon, it will reside back in it’s rightful place, gazing down on passing trains once again. Maybe when we’re 70 year olds Graeme, we should consider …….nah, maybe not…..surely?

It seems this explanation is almost as long as the three instalments I drip-fed to you over a week or so, but I hope you appreciated not only the background, but also Zim’s inimitable style, which I would have found hard to reproduce as I refer to him in this story and others already told and still to tell.

As for his suggestion at the end, our birthdays are only 10 days apart, so we could consider giving ourselves an extra birthday present around the same time. Though whether we’d want to be scaling ladders in the dead of night in February is a different matter. I think the more worrying thing for me, is that we would have been around 20 when this whole saga began, and my 70th birthday is now a lot closer than my 20th. Still, it’s good to have the memories of a mis-spent youth to look back on. And, fortunately, no harm was done…   Unless there’s something else he’s not told me yet!


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