ERS 125 - The Railwayman's Last Salute

ERS 125 - The Railwayman's Last Salute - Ryan

Throughout the Railway Series, the subject of death is never touched upon in any great capacity.  There have been three Fat Controllers, two have passed on, but the ‘passing of the torch’ has never been fully explored.  Thus, the initial idea for this volume was to explore the idea of the Thin Controller passing on, the stories taking the form of a grieving process, and bringing new blood to the railway – Richard Hatt, who would become Sir Topham Hatt the 4th, took up the mantle in his place.  This marks the beginning of Richard’s story within the ERS, and more will be revealed about him in other stories and volumes.



Part of this story is based on the accident at Blaenau Ffestiniog in 2001's Anything Goes Gala, where the points were changed prematurely, leading to a disastrous pile-up in the station.  The Thin Controller has been absent from the railway for several days, and Sir Handel is complaining bitterly about it.  Rusty tries to soothe the situation, but it does little good.  Later that day, Rusty and Mr Hugh receive an urgent call, and rush back to the terminus.  Mr Hugh does not tell Rusty what the emergency is, and rushes off hurriedly in his car.  Later that day, as Peter Sam is returning to the station, the points change before the last coaches of his train have made it across, causing them to derail and protrude out at an angle.  Sir Handel fumes about the day’s disasters that night in the shed, and blasts the Thin Controller for not being there to set things right.  But Mr Hugh arrives back, clearly distressed and delivers some difficult news – he had been called to the Thin Controller’s house to say goodbye.  The Thin Controller had passed away earlier that day.



I based this loosely on two events – the funeral train of Evan Davies, from the Ffestiniog Railway who had dealt with the handover of Garratt locomotives from the Alfred County Railway in South Africa, and the event from the Talyllyn Railway where all the railway’s locomotives stood on Tywyn Wharf and blasted their whistles in unison to remember a departed railwayman, during our SiF Week in Wales during 2007.  Skarloey and Rheneas have the difficult task of taking the funeral train to Glennock station for the service.  They stop as they leave the station to whistle with the other engines as Gordon stops and does the same – it’s a final salute to their fallen leader.  The mood is sombre when the engines return – and all wonder what the future will hold without a Thin Controller.



Usually, the person who takes a death the hardest is the youngest.  They don’t understand it fully, they cannot bring themselves to accept it and it takes the most time for them to deal with it.  However, I decided to bypass Ivo Hugh on this instance and aim for Skarloey’s thoughts and feelings instead.  With the Thin Controller’s son declining the post, the Skarloey Railway Board need to look elsewhere, and Mr Hugh puts forward a suggestion to the Owner, who heartily agrees.  Gordon tells Sir Handel that he has overheard who the new Controller will be at the Big Station, and he believes that the Fat Controller will be taking over their management.  Skarloey and Rheneas are aghast, and an argument breaks out between them, Ivo Hugh, Sir Handel and Shamus – which has to be quelled by Mr Hugh, who arranges for the confusion to be settled with a visit from the new Controller.  It is soon revealed to be the Fat Controller’s son, Richard, who will be stepping into the Thin Controller’s shoes.  The engines are concerned though – will Skarloey approve of the new arrangement?



Mr Hatt begins to familiarise himself with the railway’s operations by actively participating in various tasks associated with the running of the trains.  He takes up the role of Guard on Sir Handel’s train and joins Skarloey’s crew on the footplate for a journey up the line – impressing the old engine with the handling of his often awkward and temperamental fire.  For the following journey with Skarloey, he drives the old engine up the line – for which I drew from my own Driver’s Experience course on the Talyllyn Railway’s No.4 – Edward Thomas in 2009.  Skarloey warms to the newcomer and feels at ease as they coast down the line back to the yard.  And that evening, as Mr Hatt addresses the engines, the important question is raised – what should he be known as?  After a short debate, Skarloey suggests he become the Tall Controller – Mr Hatt happily agrees.