Era: 19th Century
Dave stood at the back of the bar in The Last Drop Tavern, watching as Heather and Elise went between the tables serving and chatting to the customers who were in sheltering from the snow and wind outside.
It was quiet in the Tavern, Christmas had just passed and New Year was only a couple of days away, most of the regulars were at home with their families eating the last of the Christmas bird and ‘girding their loins’ ready for the New Year parties.
As Dave gazed out of the window at the snow flurries, a smut of smoke drifted down from the ceiling, his eyes followed its drifting fall until it landed on the bar.
“Och Will You Look At The Pressure” shouted John from his side of the footplate.
Dave looked up, another smut of soot flying past his cheek as the wind carried it over the top of the boiler and into the coal truck behind the engine.
Snow flashed past either side of the train as they sped their way towards Leuchars station on their way North to Dundee.
“We’ll be at Leuchars soon” Dave shouted back “We’ll pick up a bit of water to see us home.”
Engine No.224 had been on standby in Dundee when the Burntisland train (Ladybank) had failed so they had been called out to take the mail train down to the ferry to Edinburgh and bring the passengers back up.
The journey down had been uneventful only the wind increasing in strength throughout the afternoon, now they could feel the occasional shudder as the wind and engine collided head on, but No.224 powered on, her light cutting through the streaming snow and rain. Dave and John kept close to the wind break where the heat from the boiler gathered before it was whipped away into the cold night.
Dave spotted the signal for Leuchars station and started to slacken off the speed, John began his well rehearsed role as the two of them brought the train into the little station.
Just a small halt, it served the St Andrews community, but any passenger going to St Andrews would need a horse and buggy to take them the last 6 miles to the town.
Three passengers stood on the platform waiting to get on “anyone would be mad to get off here” commented John seeing that there was no transport waiting. He swung down from the footplate and went to sort out the water for the engine.
Dave looked back along the train to check that the passengers had got on and that the guard was ready, only to see him striding up the platform towards the engine.
“You’ll have to hang on a minute Davey there’s a doctor waiting for his carriage to arrive”
Dave nodded his understanding and went off to check the fire while John carried on with the tanking up.
John climbed back up to the plate to find Dave and the guard in discussion “if it’s no here in 5 minutes we’ve got to leave” said the guard “the doctor will just have to find digs in Dundee for the night”
“Aye he’ll be better off, it’s a long walk on a night like this” agreed Dave.
The three huddled close to the boiler keeping an eye out on the road looking for the lights of the horse drawn buggy that was supposed to pick up the doctor for his journey to St Andrews.
“That’s long enough” muttered the guard looking at his watch, “lets get going I need ma tea”. He jumped down and strode down the length of the train, blowing his whistle as he reached the guards van.
Dave and John turned to the controls, opening the steam valves and releasing brakes.
The shrill whistle pierced the hiss of steam.
Looking up Dave caught sight of a light appearing at the top of the road as a horse drawn carriage bounced its way down the road.
“Shut her down John” shouted Dave “The doctors ride has arrived”
Glancing back along the train he could see the carriage door opening and the guard jogging down the train to help the doctor off.
As soon as the doctor was off the guard waved to Dave to carry on.
“OK let’s go!”
The train pulled away into the storm, one more station till they were over the bridge and home to Dundee.
St Fort was barely a halt, only put there to serve the country estate, and collect tickets, the train rarely picked up passengers there so it was some surprise for the train crew to see a figure stood on the platform waiting for them.
The cowled figure stood with its back to the wind facing the approaching train.
Dave and John went into their routine to stop the train.
The figure was stood right at the edge of the platform and was looking directly at Dave as the engine slowly passed it.
The train came to a halt and Dave checked back along the train to make sure the passenger was getting on.
Nothing, no figure, no door opening or signs of someone closing a door behind them.
The guard jumped down and ran to a hook on the side of the only building on the platform, hanging a bag there containing the tickets to Dundee that they had collected.
Dave turned back to John “Did ye see that passenger on the platform?”
“Aye dressed up like some specter or something” said John
Dave shook his head in confusion “aww don’t be saying things like that you’ll give me the shivers” he laughed.
The train now made it’s way up the incline towards Wormit signal box, which controlled traffic on the Tay Bridge.
Slowing the train to a walking pace allowed John to lean out and take the baton from the signalman.
Through an intricate signaling system only one baton could be released from the storage boxes at each end of the bridge at a time. Meaning a train with a baton could cross, safe in the knowledge it was the only train on the bridge.
Dave opened the throttle again as a large gust of wind caught the train side on causing her to lurch on the rails.
“Hang on John it’s going to get breezy”
The train picked up momentum as the wind blew hard, picking up spray from the sea and blowing it onto the footplate.
“Och I’m going to get soaked” complained John as he turned to do up his coat.
Another gust of blasted across the foot plate catching John square on pushing him over the edge of the plate.
The whole train lurched at the force of the blast.
“JOHN” screamed Dave, diving across the footplate trying to grab his friends hand.
Below him amongst the wave crests he thought he saw a splash as John hit the water.
Turning back he tried to make it to the throttle to stop the train, but found that the footplate was tilting, the far side of the train raising upwards.
A squeal of tortured metal reached his ears over the noise of the howling gale.
The engine started to groan in protest as the whole bridge started to sag towards the dark waters below.
Dave floundered for something to hold onto, the footplate, slick with sea spray, provided no purchase against his tackety boots as he started to slide over the edge that John had just disappeared over.
The voice appeared directly in Dave’s head.
His slide to the watery depths slowed and the engine seemed to hang in mid air.
Around him the gale still raged, but stood on the footplate was the cowled figure, holding out a hand.
“Time to change tracks Dave” said the figure as Dave took the proffered hand.
Turning around Dave took a glass from the shelf behind the bar and poured himself a large dram.
Raising it in silent toast he thought “Here’s to you John and everyone else on 224”