A Sense of Comradeship

After a relaxing Christmas break, our volunteers are back at STEAM and into the swing of things. This year, we look forward to welcoming new visitors to STEAM and welcoming back our long-time supporters.

Here, Ray Mayell tells us about working at STEAM in his youth and the sense of friendship and comradeship that came with it.

I started a 5 year apprenticeship at Swindon Works aged 16. I started off turning for 2 years, then on to fitting for a year, and then into the main shop erecting the engines for 2 years. At 21, I had to join the army. When I came back from the army, they said that there was a vacancy in the erecting shop. At the time, they were just finishing off building steam engines. I worked on steam engines for about a year, but soon moved on to building diesel locomotives.

I liked working on the Western Class diesel hydraulics, building them and finishing them off. Every so often, they would then come back for an overhaul. We’d strip them right down and rebuild them again. Each loco which came in for refurbishing had 2 skilled men working on it, who were put in charge, with a team of 6 men in total. They’d see the loco right through, and when they finished they’d take it to be trialled.

I also worked building line equipment back down in the erecting shop. From there, I went back on to building shunters in the erecting shop, and then I finished up on the diesel engine testing shed, testing the refurbished engines and shunters.

It was dangerous work in the erecting shop. I remember one time we were working on stripping and rebuilding an engine, and two of the men were working together with a hammer and chisel. The bloke with the hammer took a swing, missed the chisel and hit the other bloke on the head! He fell back down into the pit, so we got the ambulance to take him down the hospital (we had our own hospital at the works). The poor bloke who swung the hammer was such nervous wreck, he didn’t come in the next day. But the bloke who got hit did! He was fine in the end. Its things like that – tragic at the time, but a funny incident afterwards.

There’s a lot of things I loved about it but to me, the sense of comradeship really stood out. If you were struggling, they would come and help you, or you would help somebody else. I think mainly because we worked on a bonus, and if you didn’t get the job done, you wouldn’t get your bonus! But nobody ever left you to struggle. There was always somebody to help me.

Overall, I worked 34 years in the railways. They were very enjoyable years for me. You’ll find no other place better than Swindon Works for friendship.

I started volunteering at STEAM in 2001. The thing I enjoy the most about volunteering is meeting the people and telling them about all the things that happened in the works. It’s very nostalgic for me.


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