By Clive Dalton
One of the great fascinations for us Noble Street kids going home from school in the village up past the railway yard, was to watch the arrival of the little bogey which carried the surfacemen (platelayers) from their Bellingham base to where they were working on the track. They did most of their work up the Tyne from Bellingham as the next gang was at Falstone. The Reedsmouth gang worked down the Tyne and did part of the Wansbeck line.
This little vehicle was basically a small wooden shed on a chassis with four wheels driven by a J.A.P. (J.A. Prestwich), air-cooled, two-stroke engine. I never saw how the power got from the engine to the wheels but it must have been a very simple drive, probably by belts.
There was a long wooden bench along one side to seat three men, and the same along the other. One man sitting at the front drove the bogey, looking out through one of two round windows of the front wall. In the Bellingham gang Jack Gibson was the driver.
The sides had solid wooden sliding doors of tongue and groove timber (with no windows), which were closed for travel in cold and wet weather.
You could here the bogey coming a long way up the line, with its popping engine and iron wheels clickety-clacking on the iron track. It used to come down under the Otterburn road bridge (by the Fairstead) and the mart field at a fair lick, until it slowed to drive into the siding and up to the door of its shed in the yard.
I'm nor sure now if they bogey carried a tablet like the engine drivers to avoid two trains being on the one line at the same time. If they didn't, they must have had some system of letting the signalman know at Bellingham when they were leaving their work location, so the signalman could change the points for them. Beside each surfacemen's hut there were some short rails at right angles to main line to park the bogey when the men were working.
I was allowed the privilege of watching the nightly arrival of the bogey at Bellingham because Tommy Davidson who was a surfaceman was our neighbour, and after the bogey had been put away, we would walk home together, having ‘a bit crack’.
To get the bogey off the track, the first job was to put a solid block of wood into a large iron pin in the middle of a sleeper directly opposite the middle of the shed. On this was placed a light iron frame of two rails which sat slightly higher than the main track when level.
This was tilted back to rest on the rails so the bogey could run up on to it. It was then slowly swung around by the handles on the outside made for the job. When in direct line with the shed, the back of the bogey was lifted by two or three men and it ran by itself into the she on small rails.
The driver who stood by the side of the bogey during this exercise then grabbed the brake before the bogey hit the shed wall. All very neatly done.
This same process was used to move the bogey off the main line when the men were working. There was always a bogey parking area beside the surfacemens’ huts which were built along the main line.
All the men had their bait bags and bottles of tea in old socks to keep them warm. It was wartime and the very early days of the thermos flask so few were about. The men all wore clogs instead of boots as they were lighter for working in they said. They spent a lot of their time walking on the cinder ballast, which was hard on leather soles, and the wood of clogs was more resistant.
I remember Tommy Davidson spending many hours putting new irons on his clogs. He used old match sticks to fill the holes where the special square nails had come out so the new ones would hold. The clogs had to go to the cobblers when they needed ‘re-clogging’, which would be expertly done by Bob Mole.
More information. I would be delighted if anyone could add anything to this information.