Four days before I was to be released from being under Douggie’s supervision, the deputy of the district called on us. It was towards the end of the shift; Douggie and I were waiting for our relief and preparing to finish our shift.
The deputy, John Hindle, explained that our relief had not turned in for work and that there was no one to step into his place. He asked Douggie to do a ‘double un’; this meant work over time until seven o’clock in the evening. Pay at time and a half worked out that you got another full days pay, a ‘double one’. Douggie had done this a few times before. The loader end needed only one attendant during the evening as very little material came over the belt end. Douggie said that it was impossible that day as he had somewhere to go.
John asked me if I would do it. I reminded him that I was still under Douggie’s supervision for another four days. John Hindle said it would be all right, I knew the job. I agreed, pleased in the knowledge that the deputy trusted me to be on my own.
The diesel driver had brought sufficient mine cars to last the evening and night shifts; there were about twenty parked up. The main roadway had a slight decline.
The system was that when five full cars were full, the steel rope was uncoupled and a few of the brakes of the cars were released. The cars were allowed to roll slowly down the roadway under gravity using the brakes to check their progress. I was instructed to park the full cars well down, past the cutting, on the single track.
The brakes on the individual cars were not usually well maintained, the brake shoes often too worn to do the job. Even with a brake full on, a car could roll under its own gravity. The cars were usually checked by placing wooden bars (planks of wood) across the rails, trapping the wheels. The bars were strewn down the side of the track.
I was reminded that Harry Silverwood and his men were working at the far end of the main roadway; Harry S. was the Union president of the colliery. He was arching out the main roadway making it longer, about two miles down the track. His team only worked the afternoon shift
All was going well, I had no problems. There was very little work to do other than occasionally pull the tugger handle to move the cars down little by little. When the cars were pulled forward down the slight incline the brakes were mostly on.
At about six o’clock, the five mine cars had been filled. I stopped the conveyor belt and ‘tugged’ them to the far end of the rope. I released some of the brakes of the empty cars and gravity allowed them to roll down the track. As they reached the loader end I quickly locked on the brakes and the cars stopped. The steel rope was reset and the conveyor belt restarted.
Then I had to lower the full mine cars further down the roadway as instructed. I released first one brake then another and because they did not move, another brake was released; still they did not move. As I was releasing the fourth brake they slowly began to move down the roadway. I quickly then began to pull on the brakes but having reset them, all the cars still continued moving forward. I realised that I had to place bars over the rails to halt the moving full cars. As I placed one bar across the rails, the mine car wheels just ‘jumped’ over it and continued unchecked. Although the full cars were only travelling at a few miles per hour, to me it was very fast. I was panicking now and I kept throwing bars under the wheels, but they refused to halt the gathering speed of the cars. I was well aware of the team of workers working at the far end of the heading; there would be no way to warn them of the runaway cars. They would have no chance of survival. I carried on throwing the bars across the rails until I was nearly out of bars; except for one, a thick one.
In desperation, even in the certain knowledge that it would not stop the runaways, the bar it was too thick anyway, I threw it under… The wheels did not jump the bar but bit into the wood, the cars were slowing down. I then realised I had a chance. Bar after bar I threw under the wheels and slowly the cars came to a thankful halt. Somebody up there did like me after all.
Gathering a handful of bars I placed them under each and every wheel. I over spragged the wheels being so relieved to have been given a second chance. There was no way those cars were going to move again.
Returning to the loader end I was full of sweat, not from exertion but of fear. Fear of what would have happened if the mine cars had carried on out of control. Over the two miles of downward track, really high speeds would have been reached. Harry S. and his team would never know how near to death they came that evening. I will never forget the incident it still brings me out in a cold sweat as I write this.
Later that year steel ‘drop’ Warwicks were installed in the roadway, one above and one below the loader end. A drop Warwick is a long H girder, fastened to the roof of the roadway with a hinge. Roofing rawlplugs are used for fixing. The girder can be lifted up until it is level with the roof. A hinged bracket and release bar is fixed to the roof. The bracket can then be slotted over the other end of the girder. A wire is attached to the end bracket release bar and strung along the roadway sides, upwards of the incline. A sharp pull on the wire will cause the release bar to swing forward allowing the Girder end to drop. With one end of the Warwick to the roof and the other end to the floor any runaway minecars would collide against it causing them to stop.
If there had been a drop Warwick in situ when the mine cars ran away from me I certainly would have used it and been glad of it.
Not long after the instalment of the drop Warwicks, one of my new mates Peter Whitehead, who was now a loco driver’s mate, was injured with one. A driver’s mate job is to couple/uncouple minecars, change rail points, etc. When the loco is in motion he would stand on the rear minecar coupling holding the edge of the car for balance. A loaded loco was travelling underneath a raised drop Warwick. The coal was piled higher than the Warwick. It dislodged a large piece on the rear car. Peter fingers became squashed between the coal and the minecar edge. Serious injury was caused to his right hand. His ring finger had to be amputated at the Second knuckle.