When the writer Keith Langston knew that he was bringing out a second book of Fred Dibnah memories for W.H.Smith he asked me if I could remember any Fred stories.
I had already given him the top-of-mind ones for his first book, such as the blackening of a poor Rose Queen and her entourage in a procession when the traction engine we were on primed and blew a big shower of black soup up the chimney; and when Fred induced me to climb a mill chimney which I shall never forget!
In those early days before he was made famous by television there were many memorable experiences with Fred. At the time I had acquired a big red Burrell steam traction engine and it was at my first steam rally where I was trying to back both the engine and a living van into a narrow gap next to green steam roller that I first met Fred and a lasting friendship developed. There were many little incidents with Fred which at the time seemed quite normal, but on thinking back they seemed quite hilarious.
In his own eccentric way Fred was quite serious and morally upright. In fact, he was in many respects an out of his time Victorian, yet underneath there was a mischievous daredevil side which at times could be priceless. Fred could never see this as he would never accept that he was in the slightest bit funny - In truth he was a complete hoot. It was mostly to do with his quaint way of saying things based on Fred's perception of this awful modern world he happened to find himself in. I think it was Donald his old workmate who said 'It was like working with Rip Van Winkle'.
These little stories happened when Fred was a younger man. He was forever inquisitive and always for having a look to see what he could find, discover, invent, or think of next. Every week without fail the telephone would ring and it would be Fred with a new fantastical idea. He could be on for hours often culminating in some little adventure, but it was me who always had to go and pick him up and do the driving!
He never really liked going anywhere on his own and was certainly never keen on driving those new fangled cars as he considered them! His battered old Land-Rover was the nearest acceptance to modern transport. As Billy Greenalgh, one of Fred’s closest friends always said; "Going somewhere with Fred was like going with the Queen. You had to take him everywhere and he never had any bloody money.”
At the time, I worked for an advertising agency so he viewed me as one of them posh city men in a pin-striped suit - complete with engine! It was only when I was presented with a scrubbing brush and a big bar of soap at a steam do for being the dirtiest engine driver, and a Cup for driving the engine the furthest distance to the event that he finally conceded and accepted me into the fellowship of proper engine-men. I was more proud of that than I would ever admit at the time.
I hope you will enjoy these little excursions into Fred’s life. They were whimsical days and as I write this, I can even hear Fred’s voice, saying: ”D’yer fancy a butty, Rog?”
Copyright © 2011 Roger Murray