Mallard’s return to Grantham brings back memories for former fireman

Derrick Selby, 87, aboard the Mallard. Photo submitted
Derrick Selby, 87, aboard the Mallard. Photo submitted
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Stepping on to the footplate of the Mallard took Derrick Selby back more than 50 years to his days as a fireman aboard the greatest steam locomotive.

He could not miss the opportunity to see the train again after all these years, nor the chance to sit in exactly the same seat where he spent many an hour keeping the engine going.

Derrick, 87, even took along his fireman’s cap to wear. He said: “When I sat on the fireman’s seat, it brought back old memories because it’s been about 55 years since I sat on that same seat.

“When I went in there were two or three more in there. I was showing them all the controls and what they did, with the valves, the regulator, all that.”

It was back in 1947 when Derrick’s career on the railway started, as a cleaner before he moved his way up the ranks three years later to fireman.

Not only has he worked aboard the world record-breaking Mallard, but also other great trains such as the Flying Scotsman.

He said: “The Mallard used to be based at Grantham in the ’50s with a lot of the Streamliners, in big sheds. We all worked on them. Most of the firemen at Grantham in them days in the ’40s and ’50s most likely fired on the Mallard at one time or another.

“It was a dirty job but you got used to it with experience.”

He remembers turntables located at Springfield Road and near what is now the Railway Club in Huntingtower Road, and the job of pumping water into the train’s tank from troughs located at Peterborough and Newark. He also recalls being woken up by the “knocker-ups” who were tasked with hammering on the doors and windows of drivers and firemen until they woke as their shifts were about to start.

Derrick, who lives in Harrowby Lane, decided to call time on the railway in 1959 when diesel engines started to replace steam locos, taking a job at Grantham Hospital to work in the boiler house. He was the first stoker on the job, working there for 28 years until retirement.