Chapter 4 – Page 7

“The railway is not a thing of the past, it’s our future. We have to get the cars off the road. This is what the state should be doing. We have a highly-engineered transport infrastructure and we need it for the times ahead. Instead they worship the god Oil and generally mess up the future.” His hands were tense with frustration and every now and then his head would give a little shake of disbelief.

“I never thought it would be this long. We can restore them. We still have the know how, it would even be fun even! …I just want to get started!” He finished.

The original line was a fifteen and three quarters stretch from Exeter to Heathfield, that took two railway companies, forty three years and eighteen acts of parliament to get finished. The restored section around Christow station sits like an island in the middle, waiting, to find the rest of the line.

In the yard are two carriages that Colin made as accommodation. Toad, the larger carriage, with a double bed and kitchen area, and Tadpole with two small bunks. Both were lovingly full of detail. Tadpole was originally made for children, with only the bottom bunk being big enough for an adult. The walls were richly coloured shiny wooden slats and a picture hung. Dark green bunks were next to a little table with a lamp and mini kettle. An old signal lamp and canteen of ‘whale oil’ sat on the outside shelf. He must have spent so many hours on it, on all of it. He had poured himself into this site, yet a lot of people didn’t get it.

“The local people think I’m a crank.” he confessed.

Chatting with Colin about the environment, society, climate change and transport I felt a thrill of discovery at finding such a person by accident. After a couple of hours we were still leaning against a carriage chatting and he offered me a bunk for the night in Tadpole. I’d walked hardly any distance that day, but the railway was such a special place and Tadpole looked so inviting!

Colin took the brakes off the tiny carriage and pulled it by hand so it was next to the river and showed me the outdoor loo made from a signalman’s box. As I settled in and watched the river, my neighbours from Toad came and invited me round for dinner. Eating pasta on their carriage veranda, watching the sun go down I marvelled at the journey, at the wonderful space, at the kindness of the unexpected railwayman.

I snuggled into my bunk and discovered a bedtime story on the bedside table that Colin had written about Tadpole. Tadpole was made to mimic the old brake cars. Years ago the trains had the brake in a special carriage at the end of the train and a brake man was employed to operate it as the train went up and down the hills. In the story the brakeman’s night shift is described as he heats his coffee on the little wood stove, leans out of the train and signals the engine carriage, and dreams of one day making the little carriage into a sleeping car. It was such a lovely gift to read, I felt I had had the perfect day.

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