It was an awkward and busy box to work with the main line and branch traffic as well as controlling the access to both up and down yards. West Box was open from 04.40 until the 15.30 from Paddington due off Camborne at 22.15 had cleared Long Rock. The station had a poor layout and every main line, branch and shunting movement required the closing of the gates, often for long periods which did not please road users who sometimes came to the box via the footbridge to make their feelings known. On one occasion a local doctor came to complain saying, "What about my patients?" I replied, "There's a non-stop train due so if I let you onto the crossing now you won't be in a fit state to see any patients." He did not reply!
On one occasion, in the early diesel days I had a D63XX come up from Long Rock to shunt the down yard. It was a dull, dark, miserable morning as the loco rolled to a stand in the up platform. I instructed the driver to reverse to the crossover at the west end of the station and from there gain access to the branch platform and thence to the sidings. In the gloom I watched the loco reverse slowly back down the line and then I waited for a long time for a blast on the horn to indicate that he had crossed over and was ready to move once more. As the down postal, which should never be delayed, was due soon I was getting anxious and assumed the loco had crossed over and sounded its horn but I had not heard it. It was almost impossible to see the engine in the fog but as its lights appeared stationary I pulled the points back to normal. I did this as the loco was slowly crossing over and in so doing I completely derailed the engine blocking the up line! It took some time to clear the engine and reopen the line and the knock on effect on the day's service was considerable. Among the trains delayed was one taking supporters to watch Plymouth Argyle..... The crossover points were disconnected and the down line point clipped. Single line working was set up between Camborne and Hayle with the Camborne shunter being pressed into service as pilotman. The Helston branch continued to operate as normal. Why the crew had taken so long with the reversing movement I don't know but privately I believe they had problems getting to grips with their "new fangled diesel". Subsequently I was summoned to Plymouth to explain myself to the District Manager. He was sympathetic and saw that my action was taken in good faith so I emerged with a "verbal caution".
On another occasion I was cycling from the level crossing to East box to open up at 06.00 in time for the 05.40 Ponsandane to Tavy. Jct. freight. West box, already open at 04.40, had a goods train in the down platform which was being backed into the refuge siding to clear a path for the down "milky" (empty tanks for St. Erth) which was already proceeding from Camborne under a caution (Reg. 5 Section clear but station blocked. Gwinear West would have sent bell code 3-5-5 in response to this). As I continued towards East box I noticed, to my horror, that the down main home signal had frozen in the off position. I kicked the balance weight a couple of times and to my relief the signal arm rose to "on". Had the driver of the milky seen the home at green as he passed under Sandy Lane bridge he would have opened up and struck the good train fair and square as it reversed into the refuge. I like to think that this "paid back" for the derailment I had caused earlier.
An odd memory from my days standing in the box watching a non-stop steam hauled down train approach is that it always looked as if the buffer beam would strike the down platform as the loco rounded the sharp curve.......it never did. As is well known the once busy yards, the Helston branch, the boxes, the station and the popular refreshment room down beside the road have all disappeared. My last task at Gwinear Road was to was to monitor the automatic crossing barriers on some occasions after they were first installed. This included being on duty at 00.15 on Boxing Day morning 1965 to see the progress of the up milky. I parked my car adjacent to the crossing in good time and sat and waited. After a few minutes a police car turned up and an officer came over and asked if I was sleeping off the Christmas celebrations. Initially he wasn't impressed with my answer that I was "waiting for a train" but after further explanation all was well. This was my last shift at Gwinear!
Many thanks to Mike Hitchens for allowing us to publish his Dad's memories. Pictures in the Cornwall Main Line section.
Nicholas Horne Collection
With rumours that this will appear on the Gunnislake Branch. I thought that you may be interested.
Interesting to note that the front car has a different paint scheme to the rear car which has an all over yellow end.
Will we see these on the the Devon Metro?