Dirty and dangerous – but how he loved it

Granville Dobson - author of 'Old Flames'
Granville Dobson - author of 'Old Flames'

IT was love at first sight for Granville Dobson but, as he was to discover, he had fallen hard for a demanding mistress.

The sight of a steam train being prepared to leave Euston Station started a lifelong romance for Granville and made him determined to make a career on the railways.

Wyke-born Granville was ten when he was taken on a trip to bomb-damaged London by his parents. His father was keen to show the young Granville the damage to Euston Station which had taken at least one direct hit during the war. But for Granville the visit was to have a greater significance.

“It was love at first sight. A Stannier Pacific named The City of St Albans was standing in the platform and the bustle of the passengers, slamming of the carriage doors, luggage being loaded, trains arriving and departing and the announcer’s voice had a hypnotic effect on me.”

In his book ‘Old Flames’, which vividly recalls his railway memories, Granville writes about the start of a lifelong passion. “The driver of this magnificent machine opened the engine doors and, without a word, motioned me to climb on to the footplate. Unable to believe my good fortune, I climbed on board. The smell of oil, smoke and heat was overpowering as I tried to commit everything to memory.

“The train’s departure time was imminent and the feeling of this beautiful piece of machinery, straining to be unleashed, was palpable. From that moment I was lost.”

Five years later Granville announced to his parents that he wanted to leave grammar school and start work on the railways. “It cost my parents a fine of £10, which was a lot of money in those days, for me to leave before I was 16 but I was absolutely determined. The only thing I wanted to do was work on the railways.”

At the age of 15 Granville’s application to join British Railways was accepted and he started work one December morning at Low Moor Shed. It was noisy, bitterly cold and dark but nothing could quench Granville’s enthusiasm for the job or his admiration for the men who worked the footplate.

That, he says, is his prime motive in writing the book. “There are plenty of technical books about steam trains but I wanted to write about the people who worked on them. In its heyday Low Moor Shed had some of the most powerful and fastest locomotives built by the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway. It was responsible for providing power for trains from Bradford all over the north and even to London. Yet strangely, this very important depot and the footplate men who worked there have received very little attention.”

Granville’s first job was an engine cleaner, working among the smells of ‘hot oil, suphur, smoke and tallow’. It was hard, dangerous and exhausting but Granville loved it and worked his way up to locomotive fireman before moving into management at the end of the steam age in 1966.

“A steam engine was a demanding mistress but the footplate was a dirty, dangerous, uncomfortable and wildly-exciting place to be,” said Granville, who lives at Greenacre Way with his Brighouse-born wife, Lily.

l Copies of ‘Old Flames’ can be obtained from Granville Dobson on 01274 675382 or e.mail dobson@tiscali.co.uk. Price £13.50+p&p.