When Cars Broke Down – A Lot!

I was driving back from Manchester Airport with a friend recently and we were remembering how breaking down was just an accepted part of motoring in the 1950s and 60s. And nobody had mobile phones then. So how did we manage?

Sometimes the car just needed a rest and to let off steam – literally! At the top of any long uphill route – and we have plenty of those in Wales! – there would always be two or three cars with the bonnet up and steam billowing out from the radiator.

If it wasn’t a simple case of overheating or a puncture then you needed your trusty breakdown organisation. It is still a good idea to be in one and there is plenty of choice now. But back in my childhood there were two. The AA and the RAC – in full The Automobile Association and The Royal Automobile Club.

The AA was launched in 1905 specifically to help motorists avoid police speed traps after new penalties were introduced in 1903. From 1906 until the early 1930s they also managed all road signage until the responsibility was passed to the local authorities.

An early AA man putting up a road sign.

A very early AA patrolman saluting a car with an AA badge. An RAC or AA patrolman driving or riding about always saluted a car displaying a member’s badge. What I hadn’t realised until researching for this post was that if a patrolman from your organisation didn’t salute you as he passed, that was a sign that there was a policeman around, possibly with a speed trap.

Moving on from a bicycle to a motorbike . .

. . . to four wheels.

A 1960s RAC patrolman helping a female motorist.

 

 

The badges which were displayed on the front of the cars of members.

Both organisations produced a members’ handbook which was updated regularly and eventually annually. The first AA handbook was a list of nationwide agents and repairers. When I was a child the AA and RAC handbooks also contained maps, route information, a list of the car registrations from all the towns and counties of Britain and a summary of useful information about all the British towns above a certain size. The latter was extremely useful when you were on a long journey and needed a pit stop.

Modern AA and RAC patrolmen.

The call boxes to which members had keys.

 

50s and 60s Railways and Trains.

Is it just here in Britain or are people in other countries fondly nostalgic for the railways and steam trains of days gone by? I think it could be because there are no longer steam engines and also many of our lines closed in the 60s. We still have trains but our memories of earlier train travel are tied up with the smell of coal fires, the sound of the whistles, the style of the engines and the wonderfully warm and welcoming stations with cosy waiting rooms.

Whatever the reason, we do seem to look back on steam trains with a great deal of sentiment so I thought I’d tap into some of that today. If you lived through the era of steam trains you will understand what I’m saying!

Our village station had a full time station master who looked after the station with pride. There was a signal box on one side of the line full of coloured levers and switches and a station building on the other side housing a ticket office and a waiting room – even though this was a rural station serving a tiny village. There was always a coal fire burning in the waiting room in winter and it was a joy to be able to warm our hands and faces in front of it whilst waiting for the train.

The following photographs are a random selection of photographs gleaned from various sources. I do not have one of the village station from my childhood.  (If anyone thinks I have infringed copyright, let me know and I will take the offending photograph out). They are meant to give readers over a certain age a trip back through time to when: trains chugged and whistled, engines emitted clouds of white steam, carriages were divided into compartments with plush covered bench seats in each compartment facing each other (modern train interiors are more like buses), there was an all-pervading smell of coal smoke and there wasn’t a Greggs and a W H Smith at every station.

liverpool(hcc10.1959)central_old11

 

N_Street

 

llanfyrnach(harden_c1950s)old1

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ffcc024ba6f45f056636f4d9ee4717c6.jpg

The-W.H.-Smith-bookstall-at-Victoria-Railway-Station-London-January-1924-1280x993

Powys-20150629-05414.jpg Our signal box was like this one.

 

maps

This is partly why we in Britain are sentimental about railways. The two maps show how drastically the number of railway lines was cut in the 1960s.