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Quainton News Archive - Quainton News No. 46 - Spring / Summer 1982
Voluntary Co-operation - Janice Uphill
It is paradox but true that the best run organisations are those that appear to run themselves. Although I am probably as bad as anybody else for grumbling when something in our Society does not run smoothly, it still amazes me how well things do run on the whole, considering the amount of land we own or have the use of, the number of locos and pieces of rolling stock to look after, the turnover of money - and yet we are all volunteers and living scattered over the Home Counties. That we do it for nothing is not so important, as most of us look on it as a hobby, but that we are able to run the Open Days and the business of the Society, while at the same time having paid jobs and family commitments elsewhere which must be done, is something of which to be proud.
When I was duty stationmaster last Sunday and did my several tours of the site during the day, I was struck by the long way we have come and how we all fit together, each doing our separate jobs. It is nice to know that, for instance, the keys will be where you expect to find them - or, if not, someone will come forward and produce them. It is this taking jobs seriously and carrying them right through which is the only thing that makes the Society a success, for there is no one person with the time (nor should they have to) to check up on what everyone else is doing; much has to be left to trust and the reliability of the member, who, as far as possible, will arrange for their normal job to be done by someone else, if for some reason they are unable to do so. In this way, if one has a reasonable framework, it is possible to know what is going on - and, if by any chance any cog in the machine gets out of gear through, for example, serious illness, then the work can be spread to a large extent among the other members until that crisis has passed. Of course, all this means dedication, as jobs are not done by magic - and you need to be able to work on your own while at the same time be in co-ordination with others.
Everyone is apt to think that their job or department is the one that holds the Society together, but, of course, all are important; from the armchair members who provide the Society with much needed money, the ones who help with the business side behind the scenes, to the ones who work in all weathers on the site, on preservation, on the gate, in the shop or refreshments. At Quainton there are very many different jobs to be done, so there is an opportunity for all types of people to take part- either giving the Society the benefit of their professional skills or doing something completely different. For me it is the contrast which makes working for Quainton interesting - I have two hats: the professional one of Minutes Secretary, where I basically do the same job I am paid to do during the week, and the amateur one of loco crew / preservation.
On the professional side is the bulk of the paper work for the AGM and minutes of the Executive Meetings. It has been said that an official meeting cannot take place without a chairman and someone to make a record of decisions taken; ever since I learnt shorthand I always seem to land up taking the notes - and this goes for several organisations over the years, which means, for example, at AGMs I am so busy I hardly open my mouth (which I make up for at other times! - and some other kind person has to sit beside me sharpening the pencils). In looking back through previous AGM notes recently, I was amazed to find that I had taken the notes at all AGMs bar the first one and that since 1975 I had either done the minutes jointly with our Secretary, Roy Miller, or at least had typed them on to stencils - and on occasions had duplicated the 500 copies as well. But this is only half the story, for the Executive Report, Agenda and Accounts have to be done. All these jobs have deadlines: the Accounts cannot be started until 31st December of each year and the Agenda cannot be completed until after 31st January, when one knows if there are any nominations. These all have to go out to the members not less than 14 nor more than 28 days before an AGM, which has to be held in March or April. This may seem quite simple, but added to which the auditors must see and pass the Accounts, the Accounts and Executive Report must be seen and approved by the Executive Committee at one of their six-weekly meetings. Once all this has been typed, it has to be photocopied or duplicated, put into envelopes and sent out to members. My neighbours have got used to the sound of the typewriter - in the garden if the weather is fine. I do not know which annoys them more - the noise or the fact that I am only wearing a bikini!
About eight people are particularly involved in the AGM work, nearly all of whom live several miles from each other - and are sometimes the other side of the world, on one occasion involving use of the transatlantic telephone when a job was particularly urgent. This all needs careful co-ordination I can tell you - and, when the post is not quick enough, much petrol (none of which is charged to the Society) is used up to get each item on to its next stage so that the members get the material in time. So far we have always managed to keep with the Rules, despite family crises, suddenly having to move house and jobs taking us away from home, but it is a near thing!
The same goes for co-operation in the running of the six-weekly meetings of the Executive, which takes place in that ever-so-draughty booking hall in the station building. I am glad to say that members are very well trained - and if they cannot turn up on time or at all will give their apologies in advance. The decisions of the Committee, once made, are the decisions of the whole meeting, but I know many members would love to be flies on the wall to see who initiates the decisions, who looks menacing and says someone is talking rubbish, who needs kicking under the table because they are being obstreperous, how many times does the Chairman bang his gavel and someone shout "You don't need to write all that down, Janice!" Really, however, the meetings are often very boring, with no fantastic revelations about what Sir Peter Parker is doing, or anything like that, which is why at the end of a long marathon (10.30 am to 8 pm is the longest yet) we all tumble out looking pretty bleary eyed.
Under Company Law and the Rules of our Society some things can only be done by an Officer: e.g. the Secretary has to sign all official documents, such as share certificates; the Chairman is the only person with a second or casting vote; but, within that framework, the other work of the Society to be 'executed' can be done by any member of the Executive who reports back at the next meeting what has been or is in the process of being done.
Now to my other hat: crewing a locomotive or helping with preservation. No contrast could be greater - and it is nice to get out in the fresh air away from the central heating and look like the Wreck of the Hesperus instead of trying to look respectable. Several members who have visited me at home or at work or encountered me on a railway station have hardly recognised me - and one member was so astonished that he burst out "You're wearing a skirt!" Another member nearly dropped his cup of tea in the refreshment coach when he saw me washing up over the Late Summer Bank Holiday and I actually had clean hands.
Those of you who think our loco, Chislet, will be perched up on those sleepers for ever may rest assured that, once the new back axle bearing has been fitted and several bits of stolen pipework replaced, she really will come down on to her wheels again - and the PW Department have been warned to make sure that the track is in a fit condition to bear the weight (we have offered them footplate rides as bait). Reg and I were able to raise the engine, which weighs 50 tons, one inch in one day, so I hope she comes down more easily. It is a great dilemma whether to spend one's spare time restoring an engine, which will ultimately benefit the Society, or to help more directly with the business side and the running of Open Days. We try and keep a balance, but it does mean that for ten years we have been working on Chislet and never seen her in steam - and as for the horse box ... (!) we promise to do more to the outside in the near future, before the whole thing disintegrates in a pile of rust.
When I tell people at work that I fire a steam engine they all gape, but, of course, many people do not really know what it entails. There are many parallels between a train crew and the running of a Society, as both need team work and co-ordination so that the right hand knows what the left hand is doing; in this case, the loco crew, the guard and the platform staff. A footplate is not very big and the two or three people on it are each trained to do their own job and keep out of everyone else's way; every fireman learns the quirks of his driver who is in charge of the engine, as they all have their differences, such as whether the injectors should be put on little and often and exactly where the water should be kept in the glass. Earlier this year we gave footplate rides to two drivers from the French SNCF - and it was noticeable how both of them immediately stepped into a corner and stayed there until invited to move; none of us spoke more than six words of French and the two drivers did not speak much English, but language is no barrier when you are in the same fraternity - and I am sure the Entente Cordiale was much enhanced by the rides, one driver insisting on keeping his footplate pass to take home to his friends. As the fireman I was doing the hard work, but neither Frenchman seemed taken aback - unlike a Belgian last year, who managed to stumble out in English "A woman on the footplate, whatever next!"
Provided the crew is compatible, even the most horrible situations can be bearable; you are always learning, so the work never becomes boring. Like the time when we lit up Coventry with some new coal that would not take the skin off the proverbial rice pudding; we had started lighting up in good time, but the engines refused to get up steam. The cab was full of smoke and we each took it in turns, like war-time fire fighters, keeping one's head as near to the floor as possible, where the air was slightly less foul, and trying to poke some life into the fire. The driver was a hero and finally managed to get it to burn, while nearly being choked to death, and several members shouting "Haven't you got that engine in steam yet? Didn't light up soon enough" - or words to that effect. However, we were vindicated the week after, as the next crew had an even worse time, and the trouble was not cured until all that coal was burnt.
Now that I am a fireman and training to be a driver, I usually have a trainee fireman with me, though I must admit that, on several occasions, the trainee has known as much as I do, through previous experience elsewhere. It is then that you realise how much work on a footplate is a skill, it is not just shovelling coal for dear life; there is a subtlety in keeping the water at the correct level, the fire just right, while at the same time not letting the pressure drop or the safety valves lift. It is also comforting that we are trained in safety procedures - once, when some people ran across the track in front of us, the trainee fireman and I shouted 'Stop' in unison, while the driver already had the brake hard on and was bringing the train to a stand.
I daresay though that the male crews find me a bit unscientific - you will appreciate why the driver was so furious when I asked for a spanner to tighten up the whistle nut and, when asked what size, said "Not too big!" - or the poor trainee who asked when you knew you had put enough coal on and I replied "When it looks right".
The attraction of steam owes a great deal to the dedication, skill and hard work it exacts from those who handle it, just as producing clear minutes mean extracting the decisions from lengthy discussion; and, above all, as a volunteer, you know you are doing the job because you want to and if ever you don't like the heat you can get off the footplate, both metaphorically as well as physically.
Text © Quainton Railway Society / Photographs © Quainton Railway Society or referenced photographer
Page Updated: 18 December 2017