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Six months a volunteer

It was the first Thursday of October that saw me approaching a group of people outside the carriage that acts as the TVR headquarters. You may ask what took me there, well having defied the government's idea that we work and pay taxes till we drop, I took early retirement to enjoy myself. I found that having caught up with jobs that required attention I was missing the banter and social interaction amongst people that had been a major part of work. I was about to volunteer for another organisation when a friend suggested the TVR would be ideal. They are a good bunch of people, very friendly and could do with some help.

So the decision was made. Sure enough I was made to feel very welcome, offered a cup of tea and given a brief insight into the history and aims of the organisation. If I remember rightly, it was at this point I was relieved of some money and then given a safety induction and set to work. The job I was given was to chip paint off a tanker. There were two other volunteers as well. The tools I was offered would not take the icing of a cake, let alone the paint off the tank! The following week I was on my own, one volunteer who had been ill was now back to work, the other was taken ill. So armed with my own tools I thought 'in for a penny in for a pound' so I got stuck in. The tanker, approximately one hundred years old, was caked in layers of paint and bitumastic and could only be laboriously chipped away bit by bit, I was helped occasionally, but not for long.

During the ensuing weeks as I plodded on chipping I got to know, not only the people, but also the vast amount of work done by a limited few. The TVR may only be a tiny concern, however, the rules and regulations that apply to the major heritage railways also apply to us which, of course means paper work, meetings, minutes, planning, budgets, fund raising, organising first aid courses, dealing with councils the list is endless. It was about this time I got bored with chipping.

I decided that the timber frame that supported the tank and also stopped it sliding backwards and forwards had to go and armed with a saw I removed the first bit. This caused great consternation amongst the elders, however, after I explained that it was totally rotten and was holding water like a sponge, causing further rusting I was allowed to proceed. With the help of two people, great piles of what could only be described as compost was removed along with some very soggy timber and any amount of rusted slices of tank.

By this time Christmas was upon us and other work was required. A marquee needed to be erected for a craft fair, a grotto made for Father Christmas and I became Santa's little helper (a bit tricky at six foot and sixteen stone) all very enjoyable. Then of course there was the Christmas meal for all the volunteers.

January brought different work again. This time we all had to work together, removing tree roots and the accumulated rubbish of fifty years from the loading bay that was next to one of the sidings, take away the spoil then refill with chippings. The end result was very pleasing. It's surprising what a bunch of old folks can do! After that a section of fencing had to be removed at the behest of the council and replaced with a wire fence. In between times I was involved in a trip to Birmingham to investigate the purchase of a second shunting engine as a long term project, very interesting. By now several Saturdays had been worked along with the normal Thursday.

The very last day of March, a lovely spring day, with the help of John, we were able to finally get a coat of paint on the tanker, only one side but what a difference. A very pleasing sight and very satisfying, and a good way to end my first six months.

The TVR is situated along side the Tarka Trail, next to the Puffing Billy and is a little oasis. Always busy and very pretty. The people passing are always showing an interest. A short walk will take you to the weir where otters are to be seen if you are lucky, even shorter you can stroll down to the old bridge built by the monks and just take in the view.

So why not become a volunteer yourself, no skills required, just the ability to drink tea to chat and pass the day with a very friendly group of people who just happen to want to build a small railway.

Looking forward to the next six months!

Recent addition to the volunteers, Bob, describes his experiences below.