Monday, 10 March 2008

#017 From Grass to Shale

After about 15 months at Burton my Dad asked me to come and work for him in the office at the shop, most of his men had been called up - including my brother Ernie who was with the Royal Navy - apart from Les Senescal who did cycle repairs. I had enjoyed my work at Burton Foundry and was loath to leave but under the circumstances I had little choice. I had made quite good friends of Stan Hadfield, Bill Woods and John Armson - three colleagues who worked in the same office. We had an hour and a half for lunch so in summer and on borrowed bikes we went swimming at Drakelow Deeps on the river Trent (now the site of a large power station). In the winter we swam at the local swimming baths. In July that year the Burton-on-Trent “holidays at home committee” were promoting an Open Athletic & Cycling Sports Meeting and I had sent in my entry. Stan now has a successful motor cycle business in Burton (his dad had had a cycle business at the time I was in Burton). I was to meet Stan and his wife in later years at ‘promotions’ held by Honda. Bill Woods was killed in Lancaster bombers and John Armson was a Spitfire pilot. (When I was working in Llanidloes last year, a girl came to work for us who was originally from Moira near Swadlicote where John had lived. She suggested I ring him up, I did and much to my sorrow his wife informed me he had died the previous week, I felt gutted).

July soon came round and the date of the Sports at Burton. We travelled by train to Burton, going from Trent Junction (another station axed by the Beeching debacle in 1966) We only paid for passenger fare hoping our bikes would be put in the guards van without us having to pay. Just before the train was due, the Stationmaster came along and asked were we taking our bikes with us. Norman turned to me in all innocence and asked “are we taking our bikes to-day?” the station master laughed knowing full well that we were racing somewhere that day, he did let us put them in the guards van with no charge.

We arrived at the cricket ground with plenty of time to try out the track, Norman suggested I raise my gear because the track was fast. My event soon came along it was a half-mile scratch for riders who hadn’t won a prize, this being my first open event confirmed by acceptance. With Norman’s guidance I won my heat. The final came, I had terrific support from my work mates all the foundry employee’s seemed to be there. We started off slowly the first lap, and on the second lap with two corners to negotiate Norman shouted “Up Alf”. I put my head down, winning the event from Jim Turner of Derby Ivanhoe who was eventually to ride for Benny Fosters East Midland C.C. circus and be very successful too. (We were to see him beat Lou Pond and Reg. Harris in a Champion scratch event at Derby some five years hence). Coming home in the train from Burton, Jim Turner came in the compartment with us, I proudly showed off my prize by placing it on the seat (the prize was a chiming mantelpiece clock). Jim then told us he had set is heart on winning the clock, he wanted to present it to his landlady he had lived with after his parents died, these good people were Jack “Bocka” Wright, parents of Derby Mercury and Road Club fame.

After the Burton ‘do’ Norman Casswell was called in to the Navy, what a big loss to us he was. However the track league at Nottingham was still going strong, new people were joining Lloyd Binch, “Lol” Wilson and “Hervy” Turner and Ron Meadwell. At a National NCU meeting held in Manchester, Arthur Spurgin went along with an idea to enter us in a inter city event between Sheffield, Manchester and Nottingham. We had only ridden grass and this comedian had challenged the best riders in the land on a red shale track. This time we did go by train getting there early to get a feel of the track, Bas put his bike on the track and his front tyre blew off the rim followed seconds later by the rear, we only had old tubulars. Mostly repaired by hand, that put us down to two Ashley and myself, we had got no chance. The other teams were Reg. Harris (just invalided from the tank Corp) Alan Banister both due to ride the Olympics in 1948, Cliff Beldam, Laurie Dodd, Jack Atkinson, Jim Postlewait and many more I cannot recall, they had six riders each, we had two. The events were quarter and half mile scratch, a 4000 metre Pursuit and - new to me- an Italian Pursuit. We were beaten in every event, the hardest being the Italian Pursuit as we had to double up, me doing the last lap. I’ve never been so knackered. The shale track was wet and we had no idea what gear to put on, what a shambles. I didn’t go to Fallowfield for many years after that, (and that was to take Johnny Aslin to a motor paced event when he was a Pro with Falcon, and then they lent me a duff bike). My memories of Fallowfield are not good.

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