Drawing of the book cover Water Under the Railway Bridge by Bill Gerty

23 Ballyconnell Porter

CHAPTER 23

BALLYCONNELL PORTER

Ernest came home one night and said that he had been transferred to Mohill station. He would now have to get lodgings away from home but he could get home on Saturday night as there were no trains running on Sundays, except on special occasions. He told me that there would be a job at Ballyconnell for a lad porter and that I should apply for it, I spoke to Eddie about this and he said that I should take it if I could. He could manage the work at home, there was always neighbours to help if he needed them as he often went out of his way to help them. He was also thinking about the one pound a week he got from Ernest which would no longer be available, it does not seem a lot of money these days but it went a long way in nineteen-forty-four.
I went to Ballyconnell and got an interview with Mr Wells the station master and a few days later received a letter to say that I had got the job and that could start work on the following Monday morning. I had an old pair of overalls which I duly washed and although there were a few patches on them at least they were clean it would not be long before I was given a proper uniform.
I arrived at work on the Monday in good time and was introduced to Frank McKiernan who would be over me, I was told by Mr Wells that my hours would be nine until six for six days with Sundays off and the pay would be one pound and ten shillings per week, with this money I would be able to give Uncle Eddie one pound and have ten shillings for myself. The rest of that day was spent with Frank who showed me all the jobs that I would be doing but most of them we would be working together.
Bob Wells has a wife who is a school teacher and two young girls, they also have a little dog called Rex. Bob's mother also lives with them in the station house and I am told by Frank that she is a bit of an old battle axe, I also find out that there are other jobs that I shall be expected to do for the family. They have quite a lot of land around the station enough in fact to be able to keep one cow and also grow some potatoes. My job in the morning, before the first train arrives, is to go and feed the cow in the cowshed and clean her out and the same each evening before I went home, the old battle axe did the milking. It was just my luck that I arrived there in the Spring so the ground had to be prepared and the potatoes planted in­between other jobs. We only had four trains each day to look after, one up and one down in the morning and the same each evening. This may not seem a lot but each time a train arrived we had six to eight wagons to take off the train and usually the same number to go out. The line linked the Great Northern on one side and the Dublin line on the other side. Nearly all the goods coming into Ballyconnell and
going out again came and went by rail, at that time there were only three lorries in the area, Ennis the milling company had one and he used the railway every day. Richardson's the biggest store in Ballyconnell also had a lorry and all their goods arrived by rail. The other lorry was owned by the Magee family, they collected eggs and poultry from all around the country and they arrived at the station every morning and we had to have wagons ready for them. The eggs are packed in boxes of one gross and as Magee is usually late and has to rush into the station office to do the paperwork, it is left to Frank and me to load the eggs. One morning he left the lorry too far away from the wagon and I tried to get it a bit nearer which resulted in several cases flying into the wagon, the wagon has a label on it [EGGS HANDLE WITH CARE] I think on that day it should have said [SCRAMBLED EGGS].

242T at Ballyconnell 1947
12T (2-4-2) at Ballyconnell 1947

All the goods that carne by rail had to be removed from the wagons and stored in the goods store with the exception of grain and flour, all these sacks had to be counted and checked against the invoice. All spirits and beers had to be weighed carefully because it was not uncommon for some of these to have some of the contents removed on their journey to us. All the wagons that we sent out daily had to be in the correct order for the train to pick them up, in other words a wagon for the next station up the line would have to be the last one on the end of the train. All trains going through our station carried passengers as well as goods. We did not have a shunting engine in our yard so for this Frank and me had to put our backs to the wagons and push them into the correct position. There were six side lines in the yard and Frank showed how all the trap switches and stop blocks worked, as we operated all the signals in the cabin I was also shown how these worked. The phone was not as we know it today, it was a little handle that you turned depending on which station you wanted to call, it could be one, two, two and half, or three turns. When a train was due the station that it left would ring us and it was time for me to go and shut the gates across the main road. I then had to stand on the platform and assist the passengers from their carriages, first class got priority. The engine driver carried a device called a staff, he could not leave the station until I took this from him and took it to the office where Bob would change the brass ticket in it allowing him to proceed to the next station. Wagons coming off the train for us had to be released by Frank and me, we had no such thing as a shunting pole so we had to stand in-between the wagon, which had only one buffer in the middle with a chain either side, release the chains unlock the catches over the buffer and undo the vacuum. This operation was much more dangerous when a wagon had to be coupled up because you had to stand in-between the wagons which were moving in order to drop the catch hook, all this I might add without gloves. Another dangerous operation was when a wagon was released from an engine up a gradient down to our store instead of the engine pushing it down the driver would give it a quick shunt and we had to stand on the side of the wagon with one foot on the brake lever ready to stop it at the store, sometimes this was a bit of guess work depending on how fast the engine pushed it off, too fast and you went flying past the store into the stop blocks to be hurled off the side of the wagon, or sometimes you stood on the brake only to find that this did not work. I often wonder what today's health and safety department would think about such actions.

Ballyconnell track layout in 1917

Cattle fairs were held in most towns once each month and extra trains would be required to take the cattle to various parts of the country. On such occasions there would be a train going to Killyran around the time that I was due to leave work, and as I knew all the engine drivers I used to sling my bicycle up on the tender and ride home on the engine, so I knew how to open the throttle and how to apply the brakes. When it was our fair day we had an engine all day in our yard to shunt the wagons, this was on the eighteenth of each month, on such days the engine driver and fireman would walk into town to have a few drinks at lunchtime so Frank and me took it in turns to have a ride up and down the yard if there were no cattle coming in to be put in wagons.
We had a chap who came in daily with a donkey and cart and took small parcels to be delivered into town, the donkey was that used to coming into our yard that he quite often arrived without his owner while he was chatting along the road somewhere. On Friday of each week I was given a list of money to be collected from the bank some in notes and some in silver and pence the list was handed over in the bank and the cashier put the money in a paper bag and handed it back to me. On one occasion I took the bag back and handed it to Bob Wells, a few minutes later he called me and said "Where is the forty pounds I put on the list", my heart nearly jumped out of my mouth, did he think that I took it, "you had bet
ter go back and see if you can find it" he said. All this money was wages that was to be paid to various people working on the line in the area of the station and Bob was the man who made the wage packets up. Well I jumped on my bike and cycled back to the bank like a bat out of hell, I told the cashier that I was forty pounds short and he looked at me as if to say well that's your problem lad but to his credit he went back and looked at the list I gave him previously, he arrived back and said "well its on the list", and then at what seemed like hours he grinned and said "yes it is on the list but I did not cross it off so I could not have given you the money." When the wages were paid out I had to go back to the post office in town with another load of money to buy stamps for the worker's insurance cards. It was Franks job in the afternoon to go and collect the invoice money from all those people who had goods delivered by rail.
It was my job to look after all the paraffin lamps that were used on the station and this included walking out to the home and outer signals some distance away, filling the lamps up, trimming the wicks and cleaning the glass. The outer signals were quite high up and if it was a windy day you could use a whole box of matches trying to light the lamp. One of my favourite jobs was walking down to the Woodford River where we had a building which housed a pumping engine this had to be started up in order to pump water up to the water tank at the station for the engines.
Bob was very keen on having a nice station so flower gardening was given over to a lot of our time in the Spring and Summer months. We got some old lorry tyres which we cut one side off filled them with earth and put them along the platforms, they were planted up and the sides of the tyres were whitewashed they looked a real picture, apart from these we had some lovely roses, banks of Dahlias, Gladioli and rows of Sweet peas along the walls, the end result was that we won best kept station on the line which made Bob strut about like a peacock, although he never lifted a finger to do any of the work. It was just the same when Frank and me stopped late in the evenings to make hay to feed his cow he would just stand and watch.
My lunch was always the same, two slices of bread and butter nothing else, I had a tin which held tea and sugar enough for two cups per day one lunch time and one in the afternoon I handed this to the old lady who used to make my tea daily. If I had no sugar which often happened she would never put any in for me, inconsiderate I thought for all the work that I did for them, not to worry, what she did not know there was usually a big bag of sugar in the store and with careful manipulation it was possible to get some out without much difficulty.
I had been measured up for my uniform and was very pleased when it arrived along with a letter and a ticket for me to go to Dublin for a medical. I had never been to Dublin but Ernest had when he went for his medical. As I was going past Mullingar where he worked I arranged to stop off on the way back, which was on a Saturday, and spend the weekend with him. "You must have some fish and chips when you get to Dublin", "What the hell is chips!" I said having never had fish and chips.

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