Reliving one man’s railway journey…


Jim Mason. 191148-1

IT has been a good few years since 93-year-old Jim Mason has been in charge of driving a freight train but he still remembers his days on the railways with a sense of nostalgia.

Jim, of Swinton, worked his way up from cleaner to fireman to driver at two of the county’s busiest railway marshalling yards.

He chose the railways rather than staying on as an office worker at Denaby Colliery and said it was tough work with long hours.

Jim worked on the railways as steam trains were being replaced by diesel. It was a time of change when trains still transported large quantities of freight, as well as passengers.

“I started on the railways when I came out of the Army at the end of the war. I could have gone back to my job at Denaby Colliery but I wanted a change,” said Jim.

“My brother was on the railways.”

In the late 1940s when Jim started work, the newly nationalised British Rail had a large marshalling yard in Mexborough with 500 drivers, foremen and cleaners employed, as well as a fitting section.

Nothing remains of this vast workplace and its engine sheds today.

“It was alright but when I was cleaning the trains and using paraffin sometimes my wife would complain as I would stink of it, and my skin would be black with the dirt,” said Jim.

“But it was a friendly place, and I took an interest in trade unionism and eventually became the branch secretary of ASLEF. We had branch meetings every month,.

“But working there was dangerous. You had to be very careful. The rules were probably not as strict as today but we had a rule book and if you broke a rule you were up in front of the gaffer.”

Jim said he enjoyed working at Mexborough and witnessed the changes in the railway industry at first hand.

He saw electric engined trains based in Wath which were used to take take freight to Manchester, for instance.

Born in Denaby, Jim got his first job at Denaby Colliery where his father worked,. It was an office job recording the men going down the pit and coming back out again.

But when war broke out there was a ballot of workers because it was a restricted occupation where people did not have to sign up due to the importance of their work and Jim ended up becoming a soldier.

He served in the 6th battalion of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers.

As an engine cleaner at Mexborough, his work was to wipe grease and grime off the locos. He had to clean two engines per shift so it was gruelling work.

He had to climb into the train framings.

“It was not really hard but was just mucky,” said Jim.

After a while he became a fireman, standing on the footplate alongside the driver of steam trains which were used by British rail until eh 1960s when they were phased out.

But having to go on train journeys offered up new challenges for Jim.

“It was the shifts that were more of a problem. We had to work nights and sleep in the days. But it was a living and I could not pick and choose,” said Jim.

Financially, becoming a fireman was a step up. A cleaner got about £4 a week where as a fireman got £5. A driver would be over the £6 mark.

But if he wanted promotion, Jim found that he would have to move away from Mexborough and start work at the railway site in Canklow where there was a vacancy for a driver in 1964.

People may think that to become a train driver would be the result of long periods of intensive training, as would be the case today, but Jim said that there was none back in the day.

New drivers learnt how to drive a train by watching the driver of the train where they worked as a firemen.

Budding drivers would take their final test by driving a train with an inspector watching in the cab. If they got to their destination safely, they would pass!

“When I went o Canklow I didn’t get any training. The only training we got was learning the routes we were going on,” said Jim.

”When I went o pass for driving I had to take control of a passenger train with the inspector behind me. It was a passenger train from Sheffield to Manchester.

“When you got to Manchester the inspector would pass you out. There were chaps who failed because they couldn’t drive a train.

“You just had to watch the driver when you were a fireman to learn how to drive. You followed what drivers were doing. The railway company was getting training on the cheap.

“When you are driving an electric or diesel train you don’t have to think about whether you have enough steam or water.”

Jim said that working in a freight depot meant he did not have much opportunity to drive passenger trains.

But freight was an important feature of the railways back then, much more than is the case today.

“There were thousands of tons of coal going over the Pennines,” said Jim.

“There were different sorts of freight, such as iron to Scunthorpe from the Midlands.”

Jim would drive trains as far afield as Cleethorpes and Birmingham. He said that although he was supposed to do an eight hour shift, that would often be summarily extended to 12 or more if replacement staff did not turn up.

“If control had no one to replace you you had to carry on going,” said Jim.

“You never knew if you were going to get home.”

Jim said that he had been involved in three bad accidents during his time as a train driver. On one occasion he was approaching Masbrough Sorting Sidings when he felt a bump. His train, in foggy weather, had hit a man who had been walking down the line.

“As long as it’s not your fault you don’t feel guilty about it,” said Jim.

Jim later worked at Masbrough and finally at the Tinsley marshalling depot until he retired early aged 62.

Jim has not travelled by train recently but has a high opinion of modern trains which he said are more comfortable and much safer.

“It was harder work when it was steam than with diesels,” said Jim.

“But the drivers now have to be more alert.

“Steam trains were mucky so I don’t really miss them.”

He volunteered as a fireman on the Earl Fitzwilliam steam train based at Elsecar Heritage Centre for a while.

Jim, who has been married to his wife Connie since 1948, looks back at his time on the railways with pride, remembering his former colleagues.

“There were some good people that I worked with,” he said.

A way for community businesses to get vital funding


ENTREPRENEURS in Yorkshire and the Humber aiming to create a community business can now apply for cash from a £3.2 million pot.

The Bright Ideas Fund – run by Power to Change, an independent trust supporting community businesses in England, and delivered by Locality in partnership with Co-operatives UK, the Plunkett Foundation and Groundwork UK – is being launched for new applications on August 6.

The fund offers tailored support and grants of up to £15,000 to community groups, associations and organisations across England who have a good idea for a community business but need help developing it.

Over three years, the fund will give community groups the early stage finance they need to carry out consultations with local people to develop a community business idea, and will also give them support and tools to start setting it up.

Between September 2016 and December 2018, the Bright Ideas Fund supported more than 80 groups with £1.85m of grants. This year alone 30 applicants have been accepted onto the programme.

One organisation which benefiited from the Fund was Equal Care Co-op, a tech-friendly co-op in Hebden Bridge and Todmorden, West Yorkshire, which received funding in January of £15,000 to help build a digital platform to match care givers with care receivers.

Emma Back, from the Equal Care Co-op, said: “Bright Ideas has been instrumental in bringing us to a point where we’ve been able to launch our community share offer, build our community groups and help our transformation into a fully sustainable community, digital, caring co-operative.

“Every idea needs its seeds – Bright Ideas is where it’s at.”

Locality chief executive Tony Armstrong said: “Whether you aim to start a local bus service, or set up a health and well-being centre, community businesses generate jobs, tackle social isolation and boost the local economy, we want you to apply.

“People all over England are bursting with bright ideas and we are really keen to find them in the areas that need them most like Bradford, Leicester, Hartlepool, Plymouth, Grimsby, Liverpool and Bristol.”

Kate Stewart, director of programmes at Power to Change, said: “We’re delighted to be continuing Bright Ideas, to provide crucial support and funding for local people who have a great idea but need some support to make it a reality.

“We’ve had some incredible applications come in already but we believe there are even more bright ideas out there so please do get involved and apply.”

The Community Business Bright Ideas Fund will close on Monday, September 30.

For information about the fund, visit

Polar bears, zebra, giraffes and a rhino – all in the heart of South Yorkshire


WATCHING a pair of enormous polar bears messing about in a pool of water like young kids having fun on holiday will be a memory that sticks in my mind for a long time.

It was a hot day so the bears wanted to cool off – but there was clearly much more to it than that. They were obviously having a lot of fun too as they rolled around and played with what looked a bit of rubber.

Dozens of people were intrigued and entranced and viewers must have got the impression that these bears thought they’d struck gold by ending up at their rather special home.


Their residence is the extremely popular Yorkshire Wildlife Park on the edge of Doncaster at Branton and its four polar bears have arrived at various times since 2014.

But the big bears are just part of a huge array of beasts big and small – 70 different kinds in fact ranging from mini meerkats to ginormous giraffes – which are drawing in the crowds throughout the year at the venue which opened in April 2009.

Since then it has made a name for itself and brought in such unusual beasts as giant otters, painted dogs and black rhinos.

And people have been flocking there: families, school groups, you name it.

Set over 70 acres, the Yorkshire Wildlife Park is big and you certainly need to give yourself the best part of a day if you want to see the whole thing. You can buy season tickets if repeat visits seem a good option.

The venue is divided up into sections which you can explore at your leisure. Areas include South American Viva!, Project Polar, Land of the Tigers, Leopard Heights and Into Africa.

You can travel around in any direction you wish once you’ve entered via the Safari Village which has an array of interesting shops.

I ventured over to the baboons first and enjoyed seeing the group dynamics at play. The dominant male surveying his kingdom, his underlings vying for position, the females in clear charge of proceedings and the delightful youngsters annoying each other as well as the grown-ups.

Polar bears at play

The painted dogs weren’t doing much apart from lying in the sun. It was a hot day and they had the right idea. Their coats of yellow, white and black spots and stripes were really pleasing to the eye.

Next to Lemur Woods for an up close experience with ring-tailed and red-bellied lemurs. It was the ring-tailed variety who seemed most brazen, sitting eating leaves less than a metre from people. It was pretty amazing because you could spot one then two and suddenly realise there were actually around a dozen right in front of you.

Everyone seemed to like the lemurs – and why wouldn’t they?
Next on my visit was Project Polar where three of the afore-mentioned bears were enjoying some watery fun.

However, it was when one bear came out to be fed that a true impression of this animal’s size became apparent. They are huge and their paws, and claws, are testament to their ferocious reputation. But the one eating out of a handler’s hand (admittedly behind cage wire) seemed rather laid back.

The South American Viva! section offered up a variety of treats, including uber cute squirrel monkeys, biggest rodent in the world the capybara (as big as a medium-sized dog), giant otters, coati, mara and the plain weird giant anteater, a long-snouted hoover of ants and termites with a rather punkish personal decor. A bizarre creature indeed!

But it was this section which offered up my personal favourite creature of the day – the six-banded armadillo.


There were two of them who seemed perfectly happy going clockwise or anti-clockwise around a track they had worn out with their little feet along the perimeter of their pen, helpfully bringing them very close to the watching public who they studiously ignored.

As the little creatures, about the size of a chubby small dog, trotted along they would suddenly veer off to some spot which had caught their attention, snuffle around for a bit and then run back to their path to continue their never-ending journey.

The armadillos had their own agenda and nothing was going to steer them off from it. I could have watched them all day.

The Land of the Tigers contained, well, tigers. Three Amur Tigers to be precise, called Vladimir, Sayan and Tschuna. No cute little pussies these, and the way they fix you with their cold eyes is truly unnerving. Yet when they saw a handler with potential food they were almost playful and excited like our domestic moggies, running after him and jumping about.

My expedition continued to the Into Africa section where I had the pleasure of seeing giraffes, black rhino, ostrich, amongst others, and this led me on to Lion Country where the king of beasts were well and truly fast asleep in the blazing sun.

But there was much more still to see, including camels, brown bears, leopards and others.
There really is so much to do at the Yorkshire Wildlife Park and the little human beasties can also run off some that excess energy in an adventure play area and a play house with super slide.

Visayan warty pig.

There are plenty of opportunities to grab a bite to eat, have a drink or buy a souvenir, and the venue has ample parking though the Wildlife Park does get busy.

It runs special events too, so keep an eye on its website at to see what is going on.

The park is open every day from 10am, apart from Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, so it can be an all-year-round treat.

The Yorkshire Wildlife Park is certainly much more than a zoo and the Yorkshire Wildlife Park Foundation supports conservation and welfare.

If you like animals, this is the place to visit. To me, the animals seem to have plenty of space and are well looked after. They seem to have the freedom to move around their spacious pens as they wish, which sometimes gives humans the chance to get very close.

It is a lively, interesting venue for all ages. My next visit is already on the cards.

Revving up for a future on the racing circuit


Hot racing prospect James Taylor from Wath with his latest trophy. 190116-2

IT is slightly bizarre that teenager James Taylor is currently learning to take his driving test.

There’s nothing odd about that, you may think, but the irony is that he spends his weekends driving at fast speeds around race tracks and is one of the country’s brightest young racing talents.

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Coffee firm perks up its business


Cafeology MD Bryan Unkles and roaster Steve Hampshire, pictured with the new 35 kilo Diedrich roaster, capable of roasting 35 kilos of Cafeology’s Fairtrade-certified beans at 430degC in 12 minutes, with a capacity of a tonne a day

A SOUTH Yorkshire company is giving an extra boost to coffee connoisseurs thanks to a massive £250,000 investment.

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