It's all change for Cyril as he waves goodbye to 51 years on the railways
As he prepares to retire, train driver Cyril Hirst looks back on a 51-year career on the railways. He tells Kelly Tyler about working during the final days of steam power and of the day he drove the Queen to Matlock.
IT took him 18 years to fully qualify as a train driver but for Cyril Hirst it was definitely worth the wait.
He saw the transition from steam engines to diesel and even had the opportunity to drive members of the royal family across Derbyshire.
Now, after 51 years on the railway, the 66-year-old is putting on the brakes and retiring.
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"They were the good old days," he recalls. "I loved my job. It was brilliant."
Cyril, of Mackworth, began working for British Rail in Derby on January 1, 1962, at the age of 16.
"I was supposed to start work at 9.20am on my first morning but I was late because of the snow," he says. "The buses were not running so I had to walk it. I lived in Cheviot Street at that time.
"It was my first day and I got a right rollicking."
Working on the railway was a trade which had been passed through many of Mr Hirst's family generations.
"My mother's side of the family had worked on the railway since the 1840s so I was following the family tradition," he says.
"My grandad was a plate-layer and my uncle also worked on the railway, too.
"I started off cleaning engines. When I first started, my mum used to send me to work in a white shirt but it was a dirty job.
"I did enjoy it, though. I was with all the lads and we just got stuck in. It was brilliant. No matter how long you worked there for, you had things to do. That's how we learned the bits and bobs of the engine – by cleaning it."
Cyril, of Collingham Gardens, also worked as a firing man, shovelling coal for the steam engines.
"Moving a couple of tons of coal in a shift was nothing," he recalls. "Working 50 to 60 hours a week was the norm."
He also took on the role of "calling up", which involved cycling across Derby to tell the train drivers of their shifts the following day.
"We'd go all round Derby two or three times on push bikes to places like Mickleover, then Chaddesden and Spondon. There would be a few of us who would go different routes. It was a very physical, hard, labouring job but I liked it."
After 18 years of waiting, Cyril finally became fully trained to drive trains, by which time diesels had been introduced.
"I was a bag of nerves for a bit but I was working with good mates. It was very hands-on in those days," he says.
"The trains would operate from London to York, to Bristol and Newcastle. I did most journeys to Derby, Manchester and York."
Over the years, Cyril has worked for British Rail, Midland Mainline and now works for East Midlands Trains.
He says: "I had the back-end of the steam and the beginning of the diesel trains. I thought the steam were the better days. Now the trains are a lot cleaner and much faster. Steam engines could move but today's trains are so fast."
In his half-century on the tracks, Cyril has encountered all sorts of sights. He says: "I've seen prams full of bricks thrown on to the railway, even a Transit van.
"I remember when a man's greenhouse came on to the tracks in Wirksworth. It was around the 1970s when they were becoming more popular. There had been a flood and it swept the wooden frame in front of the train. We managed to stop in time and get it back to him eventually."
Now, his typical routes see him driving trains from Derby, Leeds and Sheffield to London St Pancras station.
Even though his journeys do not take him as far afield now, Cyril says route knowledge is still one of the hardest aspects of the job.
"We have to learn every signal, stations and diversionary routes. When you are travelling at over 100mph and the weather is bad, you have to know exactly where to stop," he says.
One of the highlights of Cyril's career was assisting in driving the royal train across the county on four occasions.
"It was whoever was available at the time – I wasn't specifically chosen," he says.
"Over the years I've driven Queen Elizabeth to Matlock, Prince Phillip, Charles and also Charles and Diana together. Philip spoke to me once and asked me if I was having a nice day. My mother thought it was brilliant.
"We were not allowed to go anywhere near the royal train until we were told to do so. "When the royal party were ready, we were instructed of the exact times and speeds we had to drive at. We had to be there on the dot.
"I got pleasure out of knowing I was there right on time. We'd work to seconds."
Cyril plans to spend his retirement playing darts, tracing his family history, doing DIY and spending time with his family, including his wife of 41 years, Beverley.
He says: "Working on the railway is the job I've done all my life. It's not the same as it was back when I started, but I have some great memories which will stay with me."