The International Steam Pages

Case Notes - Anglo-Indian Connections
Part 3 Eugene D’Cruz (Section 2)

Terry Case has been writing about his travels for steam, click here for the Case Notes Index. This is something a little different (and special RD).

Anglo-Indians ( were a distinctive part of the Indian Railway scene after independence, particularly on the operating side. Terry as a 'steam train' traveller as much as a dedicated steam photographer often met them when 'footplating'. Later he corresponded with two in particular who had migrated to Australia, as the Wikipedia article relates many others moved to other parts of the Commonwealth as well as the USA. These notes were originally published in the Australian Railway Enthusiast Magazine.

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I was puzzled why Arkoram though only 42 miles from Madras had become a reasonable size depot with crews exchanging on trains to and from Madras. Eugene explained that it grew from a small depot, but when the mail centre was shifted to Arkoram it brought in A link crews and their engines and they worked in 3 directions to Madras, Guntakal, Erode and Bangalore. Madras Basin Bridge depot (BBQ) had its own crews for suburban services; whilst hosting crews from Erode, Arkoram, and Derek’s depot of Bitragunta; they took rest there prior to their return workings. In addition to passenger link locos Madras had its own allocation of suburban tanks and freight engines from the busy marshalling yard. Basin Bridge depot was very busy and was unable to be extended further; hence the growth of Arkoram.

In those days Long distance Postal Mail Service trains had an Anglo-Indian Supervisor, other staff had English as a second language; they would be relieved by a new contingent at a Regional Language boundary. Much of the mail was addressed in English and sorted en route; trains collected and deposited mail and parcels at major cities; there was no automated pick up and deposit from trains on the move.

On 26th January 1980, WP 7090 a 1963 Canadian built engine was once allocated to Eugene; seen here departing Mettupalaiyam for Coimbatore. (Photo Terry Case)

When Eugene was promoted to a Mail driver he had his own engine and over the years had three WPs, 7596, 7090 (photo) and finally 7086. Drivers had their own assigned engines and took care of their appearance; brass and copper fittings were burnished, extra brass fittings were applied form the driver’s own collection. He had real pride in his WPs the outside jet black, with gleaming boiler bands and the smokebox had graphite applied; whilst a Silver Star was applied to the bullet nose; of course the cab was gleaming. “When I backed the engine onto the carriages at Bangalore or Madras Central a mob of old and young would gawk at the engine; even drivers from other divisions would stare in admiration, as all of us had beauties! They were our pride and indeed our bread and butter.”

Mr V.Anand an ex SR General Manager was at one time a loco officer who used to compliment Eugene on the state of his engine. In a 2002 speech he said; “The speed king of Arakkonam Shed was Mr. Tennant. There was another famous driver by name Mr. De Cruz, who taught me the rudiments of steam loco driving and firemanship”

Outward appearances might suggest all was well with the locos, but tropical heat and poor conditions meant it was an almost impossible job for repair staff to keep the engines to a high standard. Southern engine crews had to persevere with coal that had a high ash content, some coals were just slate, whilst others burnt like paper; it required careful firing and timing between firing was a key factor. Coolies dug coal out of the dump, sometimes collecting sand/dirt on which it had been stacked. Women labourers then hefted the laden baskets on their heads before climbing up the plank to the tender and tipping in the laden baskets. They had a tough job and some tenders needed 14 tons to fill so queues of engines would form in peak times resulting in crews scrambling to get their engine ready for its return leg. It was pitiful to see the women loaders slaving away carrying heavy loads whilst their babies played amongst the coal stacks. Depots like Basin Bridge did have fuel bins for loading engines, but even these had to be hand filled.

I asked Eugene about seeing three firemen on an engine and whether it was a case of overstaffing. He explained a 3rd fireman (qualified as a 1st) was occasionally needed, “on our division the Madras to Bangalore Mail had a 3rd fireman to assist the first as the firing rate on WPs was calculated to be above normal due to the gradients and heavy working at speed; on arrival at Bangalore the 3rd would be sent back as passenger. XE class required a 3rd due to the large firegrate surface and the small South Indian firemen had difficulty keeping up with them.

A 3rd was also used on the Madras to Bombay Dada Express, but joined at Nandalvu (about half way), Eugene and his crew had been selected to test firing rates for WPs on this route that resulted in the extra help. Unfortunately he says they chose a top crew on a crack engine with good coal, so the tests were not representative and hard to live up to for other crews on run down engines. The tests were conducted on 7596 (his allotted WP) when he was driving it on the Madras Dadar express, load 12 steel bogie carriages. He claimed to have the best fireman and that his loco would steam freely even on poor grade coal. The coal for the tests was bagged and weighed before loading; two inspectors recorded the time of each firing and how many sacks were used in a given time. Midway through the trip more sacks had been positioned and had to be loaded.

The express was a day run which they attached to at Arkoram when it arrived from Madras they worked it as far as Guntakal arriving at 6pm. “Bloody hell, I saw the firing performance would never get us the third fireman”, although from half way between Nandalun to Guntakal the firing rate and coal consumption could have justified a 3rd. His first fireman was Fred Besterwitch, (aged about 21; whose father was another Mail driver). Eugene told him to neglect the corners of the fire and allow a hole to develop, soon the pressure started to drop and Fred was doing extra firing, whilst Eugene started to push the engine. The inspector was an old hand and suddenly caught on saying “Eugene, play the game”. In spite of this the results were sufficient for a 3rd to be allocated when climatic variations, and the notorious strong cross winds on the section were taken into account; just as well as most WPs were heavy consumers and averaged over 3 tons more than 7596 had used.

On the Madras to Guntakal run it was regular that the tender was emptied, not only had the 2nd to push and trim all this coal he had to keep coming back in the cab to operate the fire-hole doors as the 1st swung coal in, with inferior coal (which became more frequent in later years) firing was almost continuous on this section and with summer temperatures of 112F, the heat in the cab was exhausting. From Kondapuram it is a continuous climb of 1 in 200 to 1 in 300. In bad weather the coal could be blown from the shovel in the strong cross winds; most drivers gave their fireman a break and fired on this section whilst the 1st picked up signals or helped the 2nd get coal into the chute; it was really tough! One of the 3rd firemen who used to work from Nandalun to Guntakal migrated to Perth and joined the railways, where he had an accident and lost a leg; he passed away some years ago. The other 3rd was Winnie Holmes who is now in Sydney where he and Eugene recall those hectic times.

“On my retirement, prior to a last trip with the Bombay Janata Express” 

Old colleagues join together on the platform as a farewell (l to R): Nelson Robson, Donald Johnson (my brother in law), myself with the train behind; Vivian MaGee and Cyril Renaux. (Photo: Eugene D’Cruz). 

Eugene celebrated his 90th birthday in November 2011 by returning to India for a family wedding and hoped to have a last chance to meet with his old friend Cyril Renaux.

Rob Dickinson