Published: 16/09/2013 15:23 - Updated: 16/09/2013 15:45

Full speed ahead for north railman's memories

Retired railway Jock Hay with Ron Smith, who has written a book based on his memories of life on the Highland line.
Retired railway Jock Hay with Ron Smith, who has written a book based on his memories of life on the Highland line.

A HIGHLAND railwayman’s career which took him from World War II steam trains to the high speed passenger trains still in use today has inspired a new book.

Originally from Dufftown, Jock Hay always wanted to be a train driver and began his railway career in November 1940 in Forres, going on to work in Aviemore, Perth and Inverness, where he retired as a driver-instructor in June 1987.

Now Hay has told the story of his almost half century on the Highland railways in a new book Ben Hope to HST: Memories of a Highland Railwayman, which has been published to help support the Keith and Dufftown Railway Association.

"Jock has got a phenomenal memory and also what I think is a unique experience," author Ron Smith said.

"He started driving the Highland engines with LMS (London Midland Scottish), then went through to British Railways steam engines and the first diesels and then ended up as an instructor on the HST (High Speed Train) 125.

"That’s why I wanted to write the book. With Jock’s photographic memory, he’s got the names of all the people he worked with and there were over 100 men in Forres when he worked there — it was the biggest railway depot in the north after Inverness."

Aviemore was also a major railway centre. At one time it had a staff of 140. Today there are just three, Hay pointed out.

The short book also contains photographs from Hay’s private collection which have never been published before.

There are also stories he could not speak about when he still worked on the railway — like the day the train ran away from him at Boat of Garten.

Hay was fireman at the time to driver Jocky Robertson, more commonly known as the "Mole".

"The guard gives us the green light to go and the Mole opens the throttle — and we couldn’t move," Hay laughed.

"The brakes were still keeping the train from going — we had no vacuum pressure."

Hay went under the train to see what the problem was. While he did that, Mole took a lamp to check if there was anything wrong further down the train.

Unknown to both of them, the guard had found the source of the problem, a vacuum hose pipe that was hanging loose, and sealed it — with the result that the train began moving.

Hay got out from beneath the train and onto the platform just in time to see it moving off.

"I’m off after it too, running down the slope at the end of the platform and I got a hold of the handrail, grabbed it and pulled myself into the cab. Mole had no chance of catching it, he was away down the train, so he jumped into one of the coaches because he thought he could stop the train by pulling the emergency cord.

"However, I got the train stopped and the Mole came up, white as a sheet, and says: ‘My God, I’m pleased to see you.’ He thought that I was still under it."

It is tales like these which makes the book so accessible, Smith added.

"It’s not a technical book, which a lot of railway books can be," he said.

"This is a human story about railways and how they served the countryside.

"The aim of the Keith and Dufftown Railway is to preserve the whole railway, not just the track and line, but the whole way of life around it. Most railwaymen, like Jock, have this great bank of stories about how the line was. You can write very technically about when the Keith to Dufftown line opened and so on, but Jock’s stories bring it to life."

Hay, whose Lochardil home is full of railway memorabilia of his time on the tracks, believes he was on the job at the best of times, when drivers and other workers were not so controlled by budgets and regulations.

"It was a way of life," Hay added.

"I remember going back to my schooldays and the teacher says to me: ‘What are you going to do, Jock?’ And I tell him and I tell him: ‘I’m going to be an engine driver.’

"I was happy on the job."

Ben Hope to HST: Memories of a Highland Railwayman, by Jock Hay and Ron Smith, 72 pages with 55 photographs, is available from Keith and Dufftown Railway Association, priced £7.50.

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