This annual event is one of the highlights of the year at the railway where we volunteer; Derbyshire’s Peak Rail. It attracts large numbers of visitors and participants each year and it was great that this year was very busy, especially as it coincided with the Cromford Steam Rally and an event at the nearby Tramway Museumat Crich. The great weather must have helped to swell numbers as well.
Although I am still off work ill, we decided to go and add our effort to the volunteer force needed to make such a big event as this run smoothly. Dressed in suitable camouflage and khaki clothing, Sue and I arrived at the railway bright and early this morning, raring to go. We were to be coach stewards on the train, a task that really meant keeping things tidy, helping customers to find seats, especially at busy times and just being a presence in case anything needed doing.
Before the first train, we started our day with a cup of tea and a bacon cob from the already busy station buffet at Rowsley South station. Already there were a number of other people around dressed in far more authentic military uniforms than ours, including British, American and German, as well as civilians dressed in 1940s clothes. There was even a Spiv, complete with black market good for sale on the quiet. There must have been a hundred or more of these 1940s re-enactors around. There were also military vehicles and equipment on display as well as other memorabilia from wartime.
As the apponted time for the departure of the first train approached, we boarded the train and prepared ourseleves for the onslaught. We stationed ourselves towards the back of the train and did not have many passengers in our part of the train on the first trip. However, we took the opportunity to clean down tables and check that there was no litter left.
We picked up a few more passengers at Darley Dale and Matlock before the train made its non-stop run back to Rowsley South. The second round trip was similarly quiet in our part of the train and we were getting a little fed up at having very little to do. This was not helped by another volunteer from further down the train taking on herself to bustle through our part of the train with a bin liner doing the very job that we had come prepared to do.
I think it must have been the third or fourth trip when the train seemed to tax the little 0-6-0 Austerity saddle tank locomotive, WD150 Royal Pioneer. The train was heaving with people, with the vast majority of seats filled, people standing and sitting in the corridor and a great atmosphere. I am not old enough to have experienced wartime train travel, but I remember travelling on steam hauled trains when I was young that were full to capacity, probably holiday services on Summer weekends. This was well recreated for me at Peak Rail this weekend.
However, during the morning, it became clear that there were simply too many volunteers on the train and that we were having almost to fight to have something to do. Sue is very good at spotting jobs that need doing, though, and switched from stewarding to replenishing the on-train buffet stocks of soft drinks that had become seriously depleted. A few minutes after we pulled into Rowsley South station, I saw her battling her way along the crowded station platform with lots of Apple Tango and Ribena. However, this was never going to enough to keep both of us occupied for the rest of the day, so we decided to stick with our original commitment to the volunteer roster and to finish at lunchtime.
I was disappointed that we were not able to make a more significant contribution to the success of this important weekend for Peak Rail. However, I am happy that even after we had decided to finish, there were still more than enough volunteers there to maintain the very high standards of the event.
This experience, along with some similar ones in the past, have given me an idea for a way in which I can use my experience in volunteering to help make future events more rewarding for the volunteers as well as fun for the re-enactors and the visitors to the railway. I am going to produce a Guide to Involving Volunteers in Events. My initial idea is to publish here on the blog, so please come back and check progress and if you would like to help, please leave a comment with your own ideas for this.
A final point, we really must remember to take the camera to things like this so that I can share some pictures with you.