A welcome visitor this morning was ex Carlisle steam engine driver Ian Graham (see posting for 29th June). Ian had made us a wooden brake lever. Here he is demonstrating its use.
This could be a very hazardous operation. The only braking effort for an entire freight train was that of the locomotive and the guards van. On an 'unfitted' freight (one without continuous brakes) the brakes on the individual wagons had to be set by hand - perhaps with the train moving. On a hilly line like the Settle-Carlisle this was vital if run-aways were to be prevented, the consequences of which could be disastrous - as recent events in Canada have shown.
The hand-held brake lever was placed between the wagon's own brake lever and the wagon springs 'or owt you could lever against' and the fitted lever forced down as far as it would go. A small metal pin, attached to a chain, was rammed in to the tightest of a series of holes in the vertical brake lever guide irons.
Heavy, dangerous and skillful work. Ian reports that train crews had their own brake levers but in emergencies shunting poles or anything that came to hand would be used.
Ian's beautifully made brake lever shall have pride of place here at the water tower. He had travelled from Carlisle to present it to us.