Station Stories at the National Railway Museum (6)

Posted on 14 December 2012 | Image, Narrative

Selling ice cream at York station

David King visited the National Railway Museum’s website and shared a story about his boyhood summer job.

Station Stories at the National Railway Museum (6)

A fellow young station worker mans a mobile WH Smith stall in 1950. Image courtesy of the National Railway Museum.

“It was 1959 and I was fourteen years of age. I needed no encouragement from Mrs Roustaby when she told me that she was taking two weeks holiday and asked if I would stand in for her, working at York Railway Station. I had assisted her as a thirteen year old the previous summer during the school holidays and had enjoyed the work experience and apart from that, I knew I wouldn’t need the 1d platform ticket I normally bought for train spotting.

My motivation this year was threefold and near perfect for a fourteen year old boy. First and foremost, I could watch steam locomotives, secondly I would earn pocket money and finally I could help myself to ice cream. How I hear you ask?

The job was selling ice cream from a mobile cart, employed by Wall’s and in my mind it was a job of real skill and agility. I listened to the station announcer telling travellers at which platform the next train was due to arrive. I had a heavy cart to push. With the knowledge that I needed to get to the centre platforms, I had to quickly negotiate the lift allowing access to the passageway under the railway lines. It was quite something listening to the trains rumbling overhead and I was always pleased if I arrived at the targeted platform before the train pulled in.

I may have only been fourteen but I had learned from a good teacher that the long distance trains coming from London and the South, heading for Newcastle and onto Edinburgh, were where the best sales were going to be achieved. I had to make sure I was not going to be distracted by the fact that the train could be hauled by a Class A4 Pacific, hopefully 60009 Union of South Africa which I had not seen before.

I was focused on selling ice creams when a regular visitor, a fully laden Class A1 Guy Mannering noisily entered the station with passengers already straining their necks out of doors and windows of the carriages looking for refreshments.

I worked quickly providing thirsty passengers with ice creams and lollies. They’d take their time much to the frustration of customers at the back of the queue. I put the money into a brown leather satchel, draped around my neck, carefully counting out their change. As time began to run short, the seemingly endless queue of customers nervously keeping one eye on the train and the other on the quickly diminishing ices, began to accept almost any sort of refreshment especially when they spotted the guard looking at his watch and twitching his green flag.

When the call came to get back on board passengers dashed back to their carriage saying, “Keep the change”. A lady passenger with young children had not wanted to risk leaving the train and she hung out of carriage windows, holding out money and asking for anything I had left. I was very athletic, having played all sports at school and found no trouble in quickly dashing from the cart with a handful of ice lollies for her. My lasting memory however and the reason why I remember this day so well was down to the final passenger I served.

‘Boy, boy, get yourself over here, give me an ice cream’, or something to that effect; there was no please and I anticipated there was going to be, no thank you.

As the train gathered momentum he thrust a half crown in my direction, which I took in exchange for his Wall’s ice cream and two separate wafers. If memory serves me right this would have cost around 6d. The train gathered speed and as much as I tried to find his change, I regrettably failed to keep up with him. I hoped that if he was making a return journey, Mrs Roustaby would be there to serve him.

I couldn’t truly say that I was working for the railway company, not like my Dad who was a guard running goods trains down to Wath on Dearne, or like my granddad who was a passenger guard on the GNER main line York to Kings Cross, not even like my Great Granddad who was a foreman platelayer back in the 1880s at Levisham. But in my mind, I had certainly worked and enjoyed every minute of my time employed at York Station.”