AEI engineer derby locomotive works, toton
My Days With Sulzer / AEI Type 2 Diesels
at Derby Works & Toton Depot
in the 1960s

All photographs on this page are courtesy Bill Wilson

I am a Derby boy. I was born there in November 1939, appearing just a few minutes after my identical twin had arrived in the world. A few years later the two of us became train-spotters, often cycling locally to a bridge over the Derby to Birmingham line or to Derby Midland Station, Chaddesden Sidings or Breadsall level crossing, or, when a little older, venturing further afield to Burton, Tamworth and Lichfield. Fowler 0-6-0s, Stanier’s Black 5s and 8Fs, Patriots, Scots and many other steamers were our happy staple diet, even the occasional Garratt. Yes we greatly enjoyed and admired these engines, but my first really passionate love-affair had been earlier, as a youngster; when I had been greatly smitten by one of another pair of twins – the Derby-built diesel-electric locomotives L.M.S. 10000 and B.R. 10001. I would have been about eight or nine years old when a visit to an Open Day at Derby Locomotive Works triggered this love affair. Just which of the two locomotives I first saw, I don’t know, but how splendid each engine looked in its black and silver livery! Thereafter, my twin brother and I took every opportunity we could to see them.

Given this background, I suppose it is no surprise that on leaving school in 1958, I became an indentured apprentice with a very large engineering company - The British Thomson Houston Company (BTH) at Rugby, and in due course chose to specialize in railway traction. The late 1950s and early 1960s saw the dawn and morning hours of ‘The Modernisation Plan’ which had been announced and initiated for British Railways; a wonderful time in which to be involved in the technical aspects of the rail-traction industry. Together with its later associated company, Metropolitan-Vickers of Trafford Park, Manchester, BTH gave me wide experience, excellent training and opportunity to gain a degree. At the end of my indentured ‘time’, I was very happy to sign on as a traction engineer with what, by then, had become the combined company of Associated Electrical Industries – A.E.I.

After a short spell working with the prototype Type 4 diesel electric locomotive D0260 ‘LION' and a longer spell in The Netherlands, I found myself back in England and very shortly thereafter, I was appointed Senior Site Engineer for the AEI presence within Derby Locomotive Works and Toton Locomotive Depot. In contrast to my shortish spell with ‘LION’, I no longer have formal written record of my time in Derby Works or at Toton Depot, but I do have a number of clear memories which I have been invited to share on these pages.

About a year before taking up my posting to Derby Locomotive Works, and as part of my apprenticeship training, I had worked at the AEI site within Derby Works for just one week, and had thus been able to see and experience the set-up there. I do have a record of that one week. By that stage of things, AEI had erected its own very small wooden hut within the grounds of the Works; a hut no bigger than a medium-sized domestic garden shed. In August 1963, that shed was ‘George’s kingdom’, and George very seldom left it. As an ‘old boy’ and long-serving, loyal servant of one or other of the parent companies making up AEI, George was close to retirement. His workers liked him and he liked them, but most of all and by some margin, George liked his paperwork and his cups of tea. Dressed smartly in collar, tie, and tweed jacket, I doubt he possessed overalls of any kind, let alone a ‘boiler-suit’; he was a man from an earlier, very different and, did we but know it, dying age. I learned he was most reluctant to set foot inside a locomotive, and would, methinks, have never ever been found grubbing around underneath one. Happily for him, at that time he had others to do his bidding – namely a young and also sports-jacketed junior engineer, a technical trouble-shooter in a (dirty!) white boiler-suit, a brown-smocked foreman, and ten blue-overalled electricians. Quite a hierarchy with a clear pecking order! “By the nature and colour of their dress shall ye know them”! I enjoyed my week there, not least because I was able to live at my parents’ home – and cheaply!

I deduced that AEI had numerous good reasons to be there in Derby and all were to do with the BR/Derby Sulzer Type 2 (later Class 24 & Class 25) building programmes viz:

(1) to be on hand whilst the company’s electrical equipment, married to the Sulzer diesel-engines was installed in new-build bodywork and bogies within the main buildings of Derby Works
(2) together with B.R. and Sulzer engineers and technicians to undertake (outdoor) static testing of the locomotives, with the generator of the new locomotive wired into load-bank resistors within the Derby Locomotive Test House
(3) to ride with each new locomotive on its first light-engine test-run
(4) to ride with each new locomotive on its subsequent loaded test-run
(5) to trouble-shoot any problems which might arise if such problems involved AEI equipment
(6) to share responsibility for ‘trouble-shooting’ the locomotives for their first year in traffic – principally those locomotives allocated to the relatively nearby Toton Depot
(7) to undertake any modifications to AEI equipment and/or associated cabling or wiring which were deemed necessary in the light of operating experience.

This was quite a comprehensive set of tasks. During my one-week visit in August 1963, my own personal task was to get to know the locomotives, to understand their workings and to assist with the static-testing.

Just over a year later and as indicated above, in November 1964 I found myself going back to the AEI shed within Derby Locomotive Works, but this time as ‘boss’, and since I was some forty years younger than ‘old George’ (who did, I think, stay on and overlap with me for a day to smooth the hand-over), I found myself the youngest AEI employee on site. So there was some ‘street-cred’ to be established. Happily they were a good crowd and by donning my own (blue!) boiler suit, and getting my hands dirty a few times, things worked out well. I found I had one fellow ‘trouble-shooter’ (the youngish, traction-trained chappie in the grubby white boiler suit), but the other electricians, who had, I think, for the most-part been recruited locally on a temporary-contract basis, had had a more general electrical training and had no trouble-shooting expertise relevant to locomotives. The prime task of these ‘blue’ colleagues was an uncomfortable one; they were making substantial cable modifications to earlier Type 2 locomotives, I think perhaps to the field-divert system, but whether this was to BTH. Class 24s or early AEI 25s I am now unsure. By this stage these electricians (‘lekkies’) were well-practised in the task, were over-seen by the foreman in the brown smock, and needed no interference from me. But they did need a sympathetic ear. Their working conditions were not good, for they were doing the modifications with the locomotives standing out in the open – and it was November, and a cold one at that. Moreover, the working space inside the locomotive was cramped and with the locomotives having been in traffic, there was already the general grubbiness and smell associated with spilled diesel fuel and old lubricating oil. As a side-issue, I was intrigued to see that, outdoors in those temperatures, lubricant for the traction motor gear-cases was added in lumps, not as fluid, gooey out-pourings from a can!

I soon discovered that in some ways, conditions for us at Toton Depot were little better. Yes, a very large, smart, well-lit, brand-new Diesel Maintenance Depot had been built there, but, as ‘AEI chaps’, we were not employees of British Railways and we had been allocated, and were presently working from, a very run down old hut which cowered unwelcomingly against an outer-wall of the old steam shed. This hut is to be seen in one of the accompanying photographs. It was winter, and the scruffy hut had the sort of small, coal-fired stove one would have once found in a goods brake van. We acquired our fuel from the tenders of the occasional steam locomotive still to be found on shed at Toton. “Welcome to the brave new world of modernisation!”. Sometimes the diesel locomotives we were to work on were located within the new depot, and sometimes they were out in the yard. We weren’t able to do a lot about that aspect, but we did soon have a large, robust site hut sent up to us in kit form from our base in Birmingham and, once we had erected that on a spot closer to the diesel depot, we then had an acceptable office base, a dry store for our equipment, and a good social space for the collective tea break. Fifty years on, I don’t recall in detail just how our time and resources were split between Derby Locomotive Works and Toton Depot, but whatever arrangement we came to, it worked and I look back on those times as happy and interesting ones. As requested by my boss in Birmingham, I also made the occasional impromptu personal visit to the new Diesel Motive Power Depot at Tinsley (Sheffield) just to wave the flag for AEI and to see how they were getting along with our new Type 2s. If I chose a good-weather day on which to go (as of course I did), the chosen route through the grounds of the Chatsworth House estate was most uplifting. I thought it a smarter place than either of our two huts!

My AEI colleagues in Derby and Toton were a cheerful and largely uncomplaining bunch, their spirits constantly lifted by a rather special presence amongst us, viz. one Louis Martin – or Louis Martin MBE as he was soon to become. As a present-day Internet search would very soon show, Louis was already one of Derby’s favourite sons. Born in 1936 in Kingston, Jamaica, Louis was amongst the first tranche of post-war immigrants. As a young man back in Jamaica, he had taken up body-building and, after arrival in England, extended this interest into competitive weight-lifting. He became good; very good. Indeed by 1964 he was already British Champion, an Olympic medallist and a Commonwealth and World Champion. A modest, sensitive, good-natured, happy man he was a positive binding force within the group. When approaching a locomotive where Louis was working, usually with others, one could expect to hear either a melodious rendition of a Nat King Cole song, or a squeal of either delight or anguish as Louis recounted some tale of triumph or disaster - either his own, or perhaps someone else’s. The running joke amongst his fellow electricians was that Louis was “a good worker - but just don’t ask him to lift anything”; according to his fellow ‘lekkies’, such things as were to be lifted at work were, of course, invariably of “the wrong shape”! When the AEI presence in Derby Works was no longer required, Louis took employment directly with British Rail.

In general new-build and the testing thereof was pleasant work. That said, cannibalisation on the production line was sometimes something of a problem – that is, the robbing of parts off a locomotive further back in line in order to complete the locomotive which was due out of shops that day or within the next couple of days. This was a tiresome, time-wasting procedure brought about it would seem by the lack of adequate provision of spares. Even the lack of something as trivial and mundane as nuts and bolts for mounting a relay onto a control panel could cause delays and result in ‘stealing’ from other locomotives. And, of course, this sometimes led to an on-going domino effect. We AEI fellas were not normally directly involved in the production line and such hiccoughs only became my problem when it was a faulty AEI part that needed to be replaced and if there were no spares in the British Rail stores. Clearly one hopes and expects newly-made products to be fault-free, but, inevitably, that will not always be the case.

The first static-test of a completed locomotive was a mixture of both apprehensive excitement and semi-tedium. “Will the engine start?” was always the first question. In winter, with the locomotive standing out in the open, the answer of “yes” to that question was by no means assured. Fifty years ago, as was equally true with motor cars, locomotive battery technology was, unavoidably, ‘of its time’, and a large, brand-new, very cold, high-compression diesel engine, containing equally cold, viscous lubricating oil was a stiff brute to get to rotate. We used to monitor battery voltage, and it was commonplace to see the nominal 110 volts of the unloaded battery being dragged down to around 60V on attempted start-up. Had it fallen to much lower than that, key control relays would very probably have started dropping out. Happily, with a diesel engine there are no ignition coils or sparking-plugs to energise. If the engine did start, then one could enjoy that lovely barking rumble and, often, the periodic throb; if it didn’t start, then it was up to us and the on-site Sulzer representative to find out why.

Once started and running, the semi-tedium set-in, viz. climbing up into the locomotive, stooping around in its confined spaces (I was six feet two in those days) monitoring temperatures, pressures and other parameters and waiting for everything to stabilize. With that eventually achieved, the main generator and thus the Sulzer diesel-engine driving it would be progressively put on increasing load using the banks of resistors located within the Test House. I don’t recall handling these resistor banks; I think that was the task of B.R. personnel - the AEI equipment on board the locomotive was our prime and probably sole responsibility. As long as the engine would start, the rest of the process was usually routine; my recollection is that we seldom had a locomotive fail at this first testing stage.

With the static-test successfully completed, the locomotive would be scheduled for a light-engine test-run at the earliest opportunity. This test-run was seen as something of a perk of the job, and thus, as far as possible, I rotated it amongst those competent to undertake it. I seldom ‘pulled rank’ and, as a result, did but few of these test-runs myself. The youngish ‘man in the white overalls’ was the one I had to put most effort into keeping happy – he was a tad hostile towards equally young, university-trained ‘staff’ men such as I; but he eventually came round. He was a good chap, and I could well understand how and why he had come to have a bit of a chip on his shoulder.

In my time at Derby, the Sulzer Type 2 light-engine test-run was very often northwards up the then Midland Main Line and through the handsome scenery of the Derbyshire Peak District to Chinley on the more-distant south-eastern outskirts of Manchester. Again temperatures, pressures, voltages, load-regulator settings, traction-motor field-divert actuation speeds and currents, and other parameters would be monitored en route, with the locomotive given a thorough inspection upon its return. If all was found to be well, a request would be made for a diagrammed path to be made available as soon as possible for a test-run with a meaningful load. Very often, such a test-run ‘on load’ would be made the very next day; there was a keen desire on B.R.’s part to get these new locomotives out into traffic and earning revenue.

Newly outshopped Class 25 locomotives D7599 and D7598 in tandem alongside Derby Locomotive Works yard. They were either about to set off on a light-engine test-run, or had just returned from such, sometime during the first week of February 1966.

For the reasons I cite above, I personally did relatively few test-runs. My recollection of one such is that, not far from Derby Works (at Chaddesden sidings perhaps ?) we picked up a train-guard and around ten passenger carriages and set off for Kettering and back. Much more than that I don’t now recall. Neither do I recall being kept very busy on the journey; I think it must have been that either one of my own AEI fellas, or perhaps B.R. personnel, did the on-board monitoring on that occasion. I suppose that by tradition, an effort was always made to make ‘the boss’ feel superfluous and redundant – but I believe I was adjudged ‘O.K.’ as long as I kept Head Office off the backs of the ‘true workers’, took the flak for anything that went seriously wrong, sorted out problems, and made sure I filled in the men’s time sheets, holiday-leave sheets, and overtime claims correctly!

In contrast to the rather soft-focussed, broad-brushed generalities of the above, I do have one very sharp but admittedly rather trivial recollection of a few moments during one of the light-engine test-runs up to Chinley. On our way back to Derby, whilst running in sunny, open countryside and fairly close to a hedged road which ran pretty much parallel to the railway line at that point, we noticed that a single-decker coach was stopped on the road. And then we spotted arrayed along our side of the hedge, each a discreet distance from her neighbour, was a row of squatting ‘old dears’. They had seemingly been lulled into a false sense of security by the long road-side hedge, and were temporarily blissfully oblivious of the presence of the nearby railway line. Our driver gave them a cheery succession of ‘toots’, we all waved to them, and we then went grinningly on our way.

We did experience technical problems whilst in Derby Locomotive Works, in large part because of the then rapid development of electronics and the desire of the manufacturers, and possibly also of B.R., to be seen to be up-to-date and modern. The most spectacular ‘fun and games’ I personally experienced involved experimental attempts to replace the tried and tested electro-mechanical voltage regulators with something more modern. The auxiliary generator on these Type 2 diesel-electric locomotives was driven by the main diesel engine, whose rotational speed varied, between tick-over and full-power, by a factor of something just over two. Despite this variation in rotational speed, the output of the auxiliary generator had to be maintained very close to 110 volts. It was the job of the voltage regulator to achieve this. The old regulators came in two main types, each of well-proven design and having been developed to withstand the rigours of service in a wide range of installations, including service in wartime aircraft and ships. In essence the British-made ‘Newton carbon-pile regulator’ comprised the union of a stack of carbon discs, a spring, and an electromagnetic solenoid which had been skilfully combined into a compact, robust, reliable unit. More sophisticated, but larger and not quite as robust, was an elegant unit produced by the Swiss firm of Brown-Boveri. This again was in essence an electromagnetic device, where moving sector-plates rolled across an array of stud-contacts thereby introducing varying degrees of resistance into a control circuit. Details of both of these historic devices can be found on the Internet. Once set up correctly, each of these regulators was capable of holding the output of the auxiliary generator to within plus or minus 2% (or better) of the nominal 110 volts. They were both good, reliable, trusted pieces of kit.

In consequence, we were curious and intrigued when, pretty much out-of-the-blue, we were told to expect the arrival on site of an engineer from The English Electric Company (big rivals of AEI!!), and that he would be bringing with him a new, electronic voltage regulator and would be fitting this into the next new locomotive to emerge from the production line. So, there we had it - a chap from a rival company was to be coming, and to be carrying with him that rival company’s product – to be fitted to one of our locomotives. My instructions from head office were to be co-operative, but not unduly so! And so he turned up, together with his ‘magic box’ and an oscilloscope with which to monitor the performance of same. Out on site, amongst us’ working chaps’, he was almost one of us – a working fella, albeit a qualified ‘staff’ engineer, who, as we saw things, “just happened to have had the misfortune to have chosen to work for the wrong company!” (Not true of course, for, as any enthusiast knows, English Electric produced many very fine railway locomotives). We gave him all the help we could, not least because, for obvious reasons, he didn’t know his way around the internal layout of the Sulzer/AEI locomotive.

Some while later, with the physical mounting and the electrical wiring-up of the new voltage regulator completed, we were all ready for the big moment; the moment of start-up. Picture the scene - quite sensibly we have elected to use the ‘local engine start’ button within the engine room, rather than either of the start-buttons on the drivers’ desks in the cabs. This decision puts us closely on hand to control and watch events. The triple-pump has been running to prime the system, flows and pressures of water, fuel, and oil have been established, pressure-sensing relays have picked up and are now set and latched, and we await the ‘let’s go’ signal from our visitor. Down comes the starting flag (I exaggerate !), and we’re off. The start-button is pressed, the lights dim as the batteries strain under the starting load, the main diesel engine struggles to rotate, the engine-governor does its job, fuel squirts invisibly into the cylinders, and the engine fires and starts to pick up – and then all hell breaks loose! Within the once gloomy confines of the engine room, things become brightly but briefly, spectacular. All the light-bulbs become intensely and increasingly bright. Simultaneously the noise level increases alarmingly as electric motors driving the air-compressors and other equipment start to race away, and then the light-bulbs give a final flare and pop out. Despite the small windows in the engine-room body-sides, we are now pretty much in darkness. Someone hits the ‘stop’ button, and relative peace and sanity return. There somewhere in the gloom is our guest. His ‘magic box’ has failed; it is kaput. Our visitor is embarrassed and crest-fallen. As an electrical engineer, I am agog and wanting to know just what has gone wrong.

When it came, the answer was both intellectually satisfying and rather sad, for, with better co-operation between our two rival companies at designer level, the potential debacle might well have been foreseen and averted. In essence, stray, inductive transformer-type action between the various windings of the main and auxiliary generators meant that, when the diesel engine fired and ran and the starting contactors dropped out, the rapidly collapsing current and magnetic field in the starting winding induced a short-duration, but very high-level voltage ‘spike’ across the field winding of the auxiliary generator. This voltage-spike was fed back into the ‘magic box’ and knocked out the new ‘electronic gizmos’ within it, viz. the all-important but vulnerable transistors. Unfortunately, the regulator failed into ‘full output’ mode and, as a result, the output voltage of the auxiliary generator had shot up from around 110 volt to something very much higher. Once recognised and understood, the problem was, no doubt, soon overcome, and I imagine that, before too long, transistorised electronic voltage regulation became the norm.

The application and extension of solid-state electronics into other areas brought us further problems, particularly when such electronics was in digital form. These teething troubles wouldn’t have mattered had experimentation been introduced quietly and progressively, away from the spot-light of locomotives which were either in, or about to enter, revenue earning service. The locomotives coming out of the Derby Locomotive Works were seemingly urgently required, and, although I may perhaps be wrong about this, it seems that no thought was given to perhaps setting one or two locomotives aside for low-key, unobtrusive experimentation on some redundant branch-line.

Two further technical set-backs come to mind. The first was when the means of measuring the speed of the locomotive was changed from a simple, electromagnetic, analog approach to a sophisticated, electronic, transistorized, digital one. To the best of my knowledge and recall, the earlier, very simple and reliable analog set-up comprised a very small generator (either a d.c. dynamo or an a.c. alternator) mounted on the end of an axle, and this generator delivered a smoothly varying output voltage to a d.c. voltmeter in the cab. The output voltage of the generator was directly proportional to the speed of rotation of the axle, and so all that needed to be done was to calibrate the speedometer/voltmeter on the driver’s control desk in units of m.p.h. rather than volts. In my own personal experience this simple set-up never gave any trouble, and I never had occasion to take it apart and to study its workings in detail. But I confidently believe the modus operandi to have been as I have just described.

The experimental digital speedometer set-up employed a toothed wheel assembly (again mounted on the end of an axle) to generate a series of electrical pulses which were fed to an electronic circuit board. The circuit on the board was a digital-to-analog converter which counted the rate at which pulses were being generated at the axle and turned this into a small output voltage which was fed to the cab-mounted voltmeter/speedometer just as before. This was fine in principle, the only trouble being that, when first installed, the digital circuit would often also count and display pretty much any stray pulses that happened to be wandering around the engine, these stray pulses managing to enter the closely-packed wiring of the locomotive. When, inevitably, a conscientious driver eventually failed a locomotive in traffic because the needle of its speedometer was dancing around all over the dial with the locomotive stopped in a station, we discovered that, in that instance, the pulse counting circuit for the speedometer was counting and displaying the pulses generated by the repaired and newly re-installed, ‘magic box’ electronic voltage! As I say, “fun and games”.

Closely linked to this digital revolution in the measurement of locomotive speed, was a change in the way in which the field-divert circuitry for the traction motors was activated. On the early locomotives, there were no less than six stages of field divert for the traction motors, this ‘field diverting’ may be thought of as the very approximate electrical equivalent of the selection of a different gear in the gearbox of, say, the mechanical transmission of a motorcar. Whilst it is true that, in a car, the chosen timing of such gear-change is largely governed by road speed, as any experienced car-driver knows, the ‘degree of loading’ of the vehicle and the presence of any upward or downward gradient of the road also play a part.

So is it also with a locomotive, except that the ‘degree of loading’ aspect is very much greater than in the case of a car – viz. from running light-engine to having perhaps several hundred tons of train in tow - and, conversely, in normal usage, the range of ‘encountered gradients’ in the case of a locomotive and train is very much smaller than with a car.

Originally, the ideal moment to initiate ‘a change of gear’ (i.e. the selection of a different stage of field-divert) on the Class 25 locos was detected and controlled principally by monitoring the level of current being drawn by the traction motors. This monitoring and actuation was not under the direct control of the driver but, rather, was done automatically by substantial, heavy-duty relays which monitored motor current and either ‘picked up’ or ‘dropped out’ at pre-determined current levels. Pre-setting of these relays was an interesting and tricky task but, unfortunately, despite one’s best efforts on the static test-bed, once out in traffic, a sudden jerk or lurch of the locomotive occasioned by pointwork or rough track could result in premature pick-up or drop-out operation of the relays. That said, by and large the system worked well, and a major plus point was that it was a least attempting to make its decisions and changes on the basis of the most pertinent parameter viz. traction motor current. But, come the arrival of the pulse-generating speed-sensor, and its electronic counting circuits, the powers-that-be decided to eliminate the somewhat crude and bulky current-sensing relays and to try the effect of initiating selection of traction motor field-diversion on the basis of track-speed alone. Thus the pulses from the speedometer-drive were, in effect, then also fed to the field-divert control system, and, at first, account was no longer taken of motor current or the weight and drag of the trailing load. To a number of us, this seemed a surprising design decision. As discussed above, locomotive speed is but one pertinent parameter in the automated ‘decision making’ process, and initially this change to digital, speed-based control of field-divert resulted in some pretty lumpy and jerky ‘gear changes’, and to a very busy engine-governor and electrical load-regulator. No doubt the system was later refined and improved.

One change I did see successfully implemented was a big improvement in the accessibility of the bottom brush-boxes of the main d.c. generator. Brush-boxes were arranged at regular angular spacing all around the periphery of the machine and, in theory, removable covers gave access to them for inspection and, when necessary, for brush-changing. However, once the engine-generator unit was installed in the cramped confines of the locomotive, the lowest point of the generator was down around floor-plate level, or perhaps even a tad below - in the ‘well’ between the two engine bed-plates and walk-ways. As such, the lowermost brush-boxes were the very devil to get at, and inspection of them took up a wholly disproportionate amount of the total time allocated to inspection of the generator brush-gear. Our maintenance fellas were used to it, and although they cursed it, they were reluctantly living with it. Hitherto, ‘old George’ had never previously personally experienced the problem for himself but, as a ‘dirty finger-nailed’ new-broom, I had, and I thought it wholly unsatisfactory. In consequence, I got in touch with the factory and told them of the problem. They were not at all sympathetic, telling me that they themselves had no trouble inspecting and if necessary changing brushes when the generators were on test in the factory. Of course they didn’t (!); on a test-bed in the factory the generators were probably then several feet off the ground and easily accessible all round, not low-mounted and enveloped within the confines of a very tightly packed locomotive! I wasn’t to be put off, and, with the permission of the Birmingham-based overall manager of AEI Traction Erection Department, I invited one of the design engineers to come down from the factory to show us how things should be done. “Of course” he confidently replied.

A few days later he arrived; a chap around fifty, in a white shirt and tie, and a neatly pressed suit. Had I been minded to be cruel, I suppose I could have put him on the locomotive as he was, but, instead, we provided him with clean overalls and protected his shirt as best we could, and then put him aboard. He was aghast to find that the smallish inspection hole revealed by having removed the cover was somewhere down around, or below, his ankle level, and that he was expected to lie on his back or his belly and grovel around pretty much ‘blind’ feeling for the appropriate parts to release them or perhaps to fully undo and replace them. Unsurprisingly, he declined to attempt the job and, instead, watched as one of our regular electricians (‘lekkies’) set about it. Our visitor was duly chastened. Some weeks later, a revised generator design was announced, one in which the brush-boxes were mounted on a ring, and that ring could be unlocked and rotated so that each brush box could be brought, in turn, to a position of easy access viz. at about chest-height immediately adjacent to the walk-way within the locomotive. So, during my time at Derby, I did manage to achieve some small thing for the benefit of both posterity and my electricians' posteriors!

Just four of us ‘A.E.I. chaps’ outside the scruffy little wooden hut initially allocated for our use at the old steam-shed end of the Toton Depot site; others of my AEI colleagues were very probably at work elsewhere on the site at the time. The photograph was probably taken in the early months of 1965, by which time the new Diesel Maintenance Depot was up and running. Note the general rundown appearance, also the snow on the ground. From left to right the personnel are ‘white boiler suit man’ – whose proper name, regrettably, I can’t at present recall, then Bill Wilson, Louis Martin and Pasquali (‘Tony’) Laviano.

At Toton Depot we were mainly involved in trouble-shooting (which was our responsibility in the first twelve months of the loco being completed and released for duty) and also effecting any post-build modifications agreed between British Railways and AEI. The latter work was straightforward, and any of my ten electricians could undertake it; but trouble-shooting was a different matter. I myself could do it of course and much enjoyed it, and so could ‘white boiler-suit man’. The others saw that this was interesting work and were clearly envious of him. Fully understandably, one or two of the electricians who had been recruited had had little prior experience of complex locomotives. As such, whilst they were fully capable of making a thoroughly professional job of, say, first modifying and then reconnecting the complex bundles of wires within the wiring looms of the locomotive, they might perhaps be uncertain of the detailed and inter-related function of the many pieces of hardware inside the control cubicle. For my part, I needed more trouble-shooters. Thus it was that, in quiet times, I invited those interested to gather around a table on which we spread out circuit diagrams and I reminded them of the fundamentals of d.c. circuits and explained the logic of the locomotive’s control-circuitry. I found this teaching of willing adults deeply satisfying. Thus it was that, when I thought I began to catch the whiff of potential decline and possible job-losses in the manufacturing world of the British traction industry, I decided to jump-ship and to give full-time teaching a go. In consequence, my somewhat rueful resignation from the Traction Erection Department of AEI marked not only the end of my job within Derby Locomotive Works, but also the end of my time in industry. I went back to university to do one year of specialist teacher training, and then took my industrial experience and my acquired street-cred into the world of secondary school physics teaching where, I confess, I produced more potential engineers than potential physicists! And, yes, I did run a School Railway Society.

The AEI van outside the old steam-shed at Toton Depot, probably in the early months of 1965. Again, snow is on the ground. The van served as a transporter of both goods and personnel. (Seat belts were not a legal requirement in those days). Usually the driver was Tony Laviano, but, on this occasion, Bill Wilson is at the wheel.

Post-script. Whilst I was employed with AEI in Derby Locomotive Works, from time to time I found myself walking past the line of withdrawn and potentially condemned locomotives, amongst them one or other, or perhaps both, of my onetime heart-throbs, the diesel-twins 10000 and 10001. There they were - drab, discoloured, forlorn and unloved. The wheels of life and fortune had gone full-circle for them. How I wish that I had cared enough at that time to press for one or other, or both, to be saved.

Bill Wilson July 2014

Page added August 9th 2014

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