Nice to hear your memories, funny how our loco/traffic service was almost the same, but reversed.
re Benny & the Head Cleaners. Reg & Tom were old, they must have retired in the late 1970s.
Benny was alright, with his bald head, Shunter's grey felt hat, bib and brace overalls, wrinkled old face and boxer's nose, but he was at times a lot harder on the Trainee Enginemen (Unqualified) than Reg or Tom. Both Reg and Tom used to growl at us a lot but were otherwise harmless. I'll explain.
In 1976 there were a lot of Trainee Enginemen both unqualified, and qualified. The qualified ones rarely did cleaning in the shed, as there was a shortage of enginemen qualified to 'go on the road' as was the term used back then.
Those qualified Trainee Enginemen rostered on cleaning in the shed rarely did a full shift cleaning, invariably after an hour or two they'd be summoned over the loudspeaker system to the sign on room, when a fireman (as anyone qualified to ride on a loco was still commonly called) had failed to turn up, or had rung in sick on very short notice for his rostered job.
Most of the Trainee Enginemen (unqualified) were rostered on day shift, with with either a 6.00am or 7.20am start. A handful were rostered on afternoon shift (2pm and 3pm start) and nightshift (10pm and 11pm start).
Some of the Trainee Enginemen might have to wait some months before they could become qualified, and were kept employed doing various cleaning jobs.
Benny (Tom and Reg) only worked the dayshift, for the other shifts the Shed Chargeman supervised the Trainee Enginemen on shed cleaning duties.
There were never really enough jobs for all the Trainee Enginemen (or T.E.s) on dayshift.
1 would be allocated to clean loco cabs on the departure road with a mop and bucket.
1 would be allocated to clean diesel loco cabs on number 1 road in the shed (with mop and bucket)
1 would be allocated to clean diesel loco windows on number 1 road in the shed
1 would be allocated to vaccuum diesel loco cabs on number 1 road in the shed (particularly the ashtrays which were always overflowing with bumpers)
1 would be allocated to clean 46 class cabs with mop and bucket
1 would be allocated to clean 46 class windows
1 would be allocated to kits on the diesels
1 would be allocated to kits on 46 class
1 would be allocated to buckets on the 46 class (the 46 class had no water storage or wash basin for the crew, so a metal bucket of water had to be placed in the engine room, this needed to be refilled)
2 would be allocated to the spray pits, to steam pressure spray the underside of diesel locos, specifically the traction motor covers and cables, so the fitters wouldn't get greasy. Locos only went to the spray pit when they were due for a service or inspection.
The rest of the T.E's would be allocated to wax and polish various locos in number 2 road and another road near the Chargeman's office where locos were in for a while for varying degrees of overhaul. This could be a dozen more T.E.s, sometimes more, on dayshift, other than those on the other cleaning jobs.
Anyone rostered on the cleaning cabs and windows jobs listed usually did them fairly conscientiously and well, but "wax and polish" duties was a different matter. There was a real feeling of "mission impossible" when allocated to wax and polish a grimy old 44 class, or just about any of the locos. The wax we were given was a thick soupy white stuff, and we were given recycled rags to apply the stuff with and buff it off. It was very difficult to remove the grime, mostly the wax was applied over the grime and buffed off, in effect putting a shine on the grime.
422 & 421 locos were mostly pretty clean, so if you had to wax and polish one of them it wasn't too bad. I was told by T.E.s that had worked at Eveleigh that this was because these loco types were frequently used on south bound passenger services (Spirit of Progress, Intercapital Daylight, Southern Aurora) and the Eveleigh T.E.s were made to do a good job on them, but they could rest in the meal room, talking, smoking, playing cards, reading the paper, once they had finished waxing, and the Head Cleaner would then know where to find them when he needed them. Seemed like a good system to me, hard work rewarded.
In Delec it was different. The T.E.s skulked in the shed the whole working day, only being permitted to go to the canteen for morning tea or lunch break. In theory we were not permitted to sit down in a loco or anywhere else, but in practice we frequently did, always being on the lookout for Reg, Tom or Benny, who would prowl around at unpredictable times, and growl at us if they caught us sitting down or not actually working.
I read recently that 34% of Australians smoked in 1980. I don't know what the figure was in the late 1970s, but 95% of Trainee Enginemen smoked, and I reckon about 90% of all Enginemen smoked back then. Frequent unofficial smoke breaks were had, either standing around in the shed, or sitting in loco cabs (with the loco mirrors set to see anyone approaching from behind).
One day I was assigned with 2 other T.E.s to wax and polish a 422 class in a quiet road near the Chargeman's office. Benny surprised us in the cab sitting down, chatting and smoking and sent us home (without pay for the rest of the shift). I got a bung a few days later written in official wording advising of the fact that I had been found sitting in the cab of 422xx (I cant recall the number and dont have the bung anymore) and had 3 charges, the first being "Idling my Time", I don't recall the second, and the third charge being "Misconduct within the meaning of the term". I was given a fine of maybe $10 or $25 as well. Fair cop I suppose, but this was a rare penalty, to be sent home without pay, and fined, in reality a dozen T.E.s should have been sent home every working day.
On another occassion I was in the canteen outside of the official lunch or morning tea break with a group of other T.E.s and Benny again signed us off duty and another similar bung & fine followed.
I bore no grudge, though I'd like to have seen the penalties be a bit more evenly applied, or not applied at all. Possibly he had warned me, or others on previous occasions, I don't recall now. On at least one occasion after Benny gave me a lift to Lidcombe station after work. He advised he lived somewhere near there.
The rumour that was common knowledge back then as to how Benny came to be Head Cleaner was very different to what you heard. I won't repeat it here as it would seem a bit mean spirited, and fact is I dont know what the truth was. He would be quite old now and is very likely in an old folks home or no longer with us at all.
I think the whole culture in Delec probably changed into the 1980s. I kept contact with a driver long after I'd gone, who advised a new DLE (District Locomotive Engineer) came along who put a new broom through a lot of things there, including how the fitters and labourers worked, demolishing their humpys under number 2 road fitted out with benches and TVs, among other things.
Even by 1977 cleaners were starting to be employed to take over some of the cleaning jobs in the shed that were being done by T.E.s
Like you I also almost came a gutser on the Departure Road
I also had to clean windows on Departure Road once. My first day at work was directly after the Easter long weekend in 1976 and Departure Road was chock a block with locos of all kinds. Me and another T.E. were given the job of cleaning the windows. At that stage we had to mix white powder with water into a thin solution in a bucket, apply it on the window with a rag, then wait till it dried, then remove it with a dry rag.
The other T.E. applied the solution to all the loco windows, and armed with rags I had to follow behind and wipe it off. It was awkard clambering onto the noses of the 42, 43, 44 and 421 classes to get at the windows, without the benefit of any kind of raised walkway, like existed in the shed. I didn't come a gutser that day, but a few weeks later I was assigned to clean cabs on Departure Road. This required you to stand around with mop and bucket near the south end of number 1 road outside the shed as this was close to where the shed crews parked and prepped departing locos.
I looked down the departure road and saw a 42 class, number 2 end leading coming slowly in my direction on the road parallel to the departure road. Nothing odd about that. I must have become distracted, and saw a rag laying between the rails, in the 4 foot of that road just in front of me. The Head Cleaners were always growling at us about rags laying around, so I took a few steps forward leant over and picked it up. Just as I started to straighten up I was hit by the 42, hard in the shoulder. As I was already moving backwards, the hit pushed me back harder, away from the loco, spinning me around.
My shoulder really hurt, and I felt really embarrassed as it was such a stupid thing to have done. I had seen the 42 approaching but had momentarily forgotten all about it when I saw the rag. I wondered, if I had leant forward a couple of seconds later, whether the hit would have propelled me forward and fully into the path of the loco.
No one seemed to have witnessed the incident, and there was no way I was going to report it. My shoulder was stiff and sore for a few days, but that was it. In all my time on the railway that was the closest call I ever had.
The afternoon and nightshifts were better, as there was never any 'wax and polish' just a few guys, divided between the departure road, 1 road, and "the 46 side", as it was called.
Most of the Chargemen were alright, except one, who often refused to sign our daily work sheets till exactly the sign off time. Most Chargemen were a bit of a pain about this, as the sign off times were on the half hour (e.g. 10.30pm) but the bus to take you to Strathfield station always left at 25 past the hour (e.g. 10.25pm) so we would always try to get them signed at 10.20pm, to allow us time to get to the bus, otherwise another half hour wait ensued. Most of the T.E.s unqualified were teenagers and many of us did not have cars, except older guys like Kojak and John The Baptist who had cars.
On at least a couple of occassions a rostered shed driver, in the Chargemans office to get a listing of what loco needed to be moved where, would stick up for the humble T.E.s and tell the Chargeman to stop acting like a bastard (or words to that effect) and sign our sheets.
I can't recall a single Chargeman's name now, except possibly one was named Stan Smee, (unless I'm getting that named mixed up with a loco inspectors). He was alright, I don't think he ever made anyone miss the bus, though he'd usually sign the sheet growling.
Chargemen were all ex drivers, and in the later stages of their working lives. I was told they had given driving away due to the long and unpredictable hours that driving provided, preferring the stability of fixed shifts and rosters. I don't know if any had given away driving for medical or other reasons.
I remember being on kits too. Best job for a T.E. in the shed. You had to be qualified back then to be put on it. Checking the kits of all the locos on Departure Road and adding what ever was missing. There used to be a locked cupboard underneath 1-2 road at the south end of the shed with all the kit spares. And you'd have a key on a large brass ring for the cupboard, it had to be kept locked, too many thieves around !
anyway thats all for now, time to sign off