THE TOUGH OF THE TRACK
This is the
last episode (first series) is taken from The Rover No. 1740 -
Alf Tupper, the welding-shop apprentice whose sport was running, was
shoving an old hand-cart along
He hurried across the pavement and stared into the window. A big
printed card announced, "Greystone County Cross Country Race
Trophies". Gleaming in the window was a gold cup. Placed against it was
a smaller card: "Presented by G. R. Gill, Esq., and to be held annually
by the team winning the
Alf Tupper had won the race to be first at the bridge, but his “prize” for winning was a ducking from his opponent, Zemba the Zulu.
race had aroused such wide interest that teams were coming from all over
ZEMBA THE ZULU
At that afternoon, Alf switched off his welding torch in the archway in the railway viaduct where Ike Smith had his shop. "Are you going to start the job for the foundry now, Alf?" asked Ike, who, in his grimy overalls, was sitting on a box reading a newspaper. "No, I ain't," snapped Alf. "I'm going out for a bit of training." "Who is?" growled Ike. "I am," retorted Alf. "If you want the factory job started, do it yourself. You've done nothing but sit down all day and moan about your sciatica."
ain't sciatica, it's lumbago," grumbled Ike. "Why can't you wait till
knocking off time?" Alf growled scornfully. "Do you expect me to run
round a cross-country course in the dark?" he demanded. Ike knew it was no
use arguing. He watched moodily while Alf pulled out a tool drawer. From it he
took his running togs and shoes and wrapped them up in a bit of sacking. He had
the best part of three miles to go to reach the course. "be seeing
you," he said and walked out of the archway. Alf borrowed Ike's old cycle
and pedalled away. Twenty minutes later, Alf hopped off the bike at Tollgate
Corner. This was now a tram terminus on the fringe of an industrial part of the
town. Both the gas works and the cooling towers of the electricity station were
within view, but open country was not far ahead. It was from this point that
the runners were to start on the ten miles' race. Alf pushed his bike across
the road. Behind some twisted railings stood an advertisement hoarding. He
lifted the cycle over the railings and squeezed through a gap. Then he made his
way round to the end of the hoarding and emerged on a piece of waste ground
where he changed into his running strip. He left his clothes and the bike
behind the hoarding and trotted along the road. The road curved. On one side
was a fence enclosing the premises of the Greystone Metal Manufacturing Company.
As he passed a gateway he heard a whistle. Alf stopped and looked up a long
way. At what looked a perilous height to Alf, three men were standing on a
scaffolding built at the top of a metal chimney that was apparently being
demolished. One of the lofty figures, a man in a red shirt, waved to him.
"Looks like Syd Hutton," Alf murmured. "Ay, that's him!"
Alf recognised the steeplejack as a chap who had lived next door when he stayed
with his Aunt Meg in Anchor Alley. He grinned, waved his hand in reply and trotted
on. After another hundred yards came the gateway through which the runners
would turn off the road. There was a field of rough tussocky grass to cross and
then a brook with shallow banks. The brook was followed by a long testing rise
to Windmill Ridge. Alf crossed to the windmill, now preserved as an ancient
monument, and was on the fastest section of the circuit. He saw a dozen running
figures ahead of him. The Greystone Hall team and reserves were out for a run
in charge of Frank Hamilton, the track coach and ex-international runner. Among
the runners Alf noticed Neil Evans, Elwyn Barr and Harry Hart. Then his gaze
fixed on a tall, splendidly-built runner with ebony skin. "Lummy, who's
the blooming Zulu?" murmured Alf as he padded up behind. The coloured
runner was moving with an easy, flowing stride. His limbs were magnificently
moulded. Perhaps his torso was a bit on the heavy side but he had the legs to
carry his weight. The pack was doing little more than a jog and Alf drew level.
A hundred yards ahead there was a farm ditch across which lay a plank. Alf's
eyes flashed challengingly as he came to up Harry Hart, against whom he had run
on several occasions. "Race you to the ditch, Harry," he whooped.
Hart shook his head but the dark-skinned runner accepted the challenge and
broke away. His sideways glance at Alf was contemptuous. Possibly he thought he
was going to win in a canter. He soon found out differently. He made a speed
burst but Alf stayed with him. Neck and neck they raced across the grass.
Twenty yards from the ditch Alf spurted and grabbed the lead of a stride. The
other runner strove desperately to catch him, but Alf had his nose in front and
kept it there. "First Tupper," he chuckled as he slowed and turned on
to the plank. He felt it shake and looked over his shoulder. His eyes gleaming
with fury, the defeated runner was crouching and twisting the plank over. The
board heeled over and pitched Alf into the slime and water in the ditch. Alf
scrambled up out of the ditch and doubled his fists. "You blooming
cannibal," he yelled, and if Harry Hart had not grabbed him hostilities
would have commenced. "There was no need for that Zemba,"
INVITATION TO ALF
Alf went on by himself and completed the circuit. He did a second lap without seeing the Greystone Hall party again and then knocked off. He put his clothes on behind the hoarding and rode back to the welding shop. Ike was still sitting on his box. "Lummy, haven't you moved?" Alf gasped. "I've done a bit," Ike said. "Then my lumbago came on again.
There's a telegram come for you." Alf opened the envelope. He blinked as he read: "You are invited to join The Royal Milocarians Team in Gold Cup race on Saturday. Team will meet at Station Hotel, Greystone, on Friday . Please reply today by pre-paid wire. - Foster-Bowen, Honorary Secretary." There was another box handy and Alf sat down on it hard. "Are you feeling poorly?" Ike asked. "I'm feeling half-stunned," gasped Alf. "The Royal Milocarians have asked me to run for them. Me?" Even Ike had heard of the famous club. "Lummy, you're going up in the world," he said. Alf's eyes gleamed. "It's something to be proud of, Ike," he declared. "But, it's come as a shock. It's about the last thing I'd have dreamed of." "Then you'll accept the invite?" Ike asked. "Of course I shall," said Alf. He looked at the telegram again. "I suppose it ain't a leg-pull?" It was not a leg-pull. When Alf went down to Sam Kessick's café for his breakfast next morning he had a look at the paper and found the following paragraph. "The Royal Milocarian team in the Greystone Gold Cup Race has been completed by an invitation to Alf Tupper. Mr Foster-Bowen, the honorary secretary in making this announcement, stated it was in recognition of Tupper's great performances on the track and in cross-country races during the season." The newspaper also contained the names of the other members of the team. Among them Alf noted Dave Beatty, the Scottish international, Clive Ingleton, Stewart Vernon, Stan Ward, Phillip Gaston and Evan Llewellyn, all first class men. On the Friday, Alf put a bucket of water on the brazier in the welding shop and boiled it up. For the first time for many months, he had decided to use hot water for his wash. After drying on a grimy roller towel, he dressed in his sports jacket and grey flannels. He had an open-necked shirt. He shone his boots up and then made his way to the hotel. A grey-haired man, wearing the Milocarian tie, black with zig-zags, saw Alf hanging round the doorway, recognised him, came across, introduced himself as Foster-Bowen and shook hands cordially. "You're here in nice time," he remarked. "We are going to have a meeting to discuss tactics. Come and meet Dave Beatty. He's leading the team." The secretary took Alf into a private room where a number of athletic-looking fellows were laughing and talking. Dave Beatty, a fair-haired fellow, gave Alf's hand a firm squeeze. "We shall be glad to have you in the team because of your local knowledge," he said agreeably. "You're welcome to it," replied Alf. "Shall we get down to business?" called out the secretary and chairs were formed in a circle. "Now, then, Alf," said Beatty. "Tell us about the course." Alf decribed the two-mile course as well as he could. Beatty stood up, hands in his jacket pockets. "I need hardly say we're going to run as a team," he said. "We shall move fast, but we shall stick together. We're up against a strong field and there's no doubt that the toughest opposition will come from Greystone Hall. "Within the last week or two George Zemba, the South African athlete, has joined the centre. He's a very strong runner and possessed of great speed. "We shall have to watch him. If he looks like taking a long lead we shall possibly have to shake a man loose to go with him, but that will be for me to decide." Though the discussion went on for an hour, Beatty had really summed things up in his opening statement and there were only details to be arranged. When the meeting broke up, Foster-Bowen presented Alf with the Royal Milocarians' colours, a running vest with the amber zig-zag pattern on a black background.
ALF CUTS LOOSE
Spacious as was the Drill Hall, it was crowded on Saturday afternoon when hundreds of runners were changing for the race. The call came for the runners to go to the starting-line, All traffic had been stopped, of course, and a large crowd had assembled to see Mr Gill fire a miniature cannon and send the massed packs away.
Beatty set a fast pace from the start. The Royal Milocarian runners responded well and they got away together. Similar tactics were being used by Greystone Hall, the Sommerford Corinthians, the West Middlesex Polytechnic and the Greystone Harriers. It was a thrill to Alf to be running with such a team. By keeping in a group they helped one another along. He glanced back during the ascent to Windmill Ridge. It was astonishing how the runners had already straggled out. The first circuit was completed without incident. The runners came by Tollgate Corner. It was just as they turned on to the grass that Alf saw Zemba emerge from the ruck and go striding ahead. Beatty took no action, though he was watching the dark-skinned runner. Alf thought that his captain was being a bit too cautious. Zemba was pounding away powerfully and it struck Alf that he would not have cut loose unless it were Greystone Hall policy for him to do so. Beatty glanced at Gaston. "Zemba won't keep it up, Phil." He said. Gaston shook his head. "Not at that pace," he replied, breathing hard. "I reckon he will," Alf gasped. "What do you know about it?" demanded Gaston. "We'll let him go," Beatty decided. "He'll crack---" "Your blooming well wrong, Dave," Alf blurted out. "I'll run him---" "No," snapped Beatty. That did not stop Alf. He cracked on pace, brushed past his leader and went thudding across the field after Zemba. The gap widened quickly between Alf and the other runners. He cleared a ditch and jumped a bushy hedge. He reached the top of Windmill Ridge and he chased Zemba down the hill. Overhauling Zemba was a slow job. The coloured man was running strongly to make his bid for first place. It was near the start of the third lap that thudding footsteps behind him warned Zemba that he was being challenged. He looked back and his dark eyes saw Alf as his pursuer. Alf came up and they were shoulder to shoulder as they approached the brook. The wind blew with solid force. Alf hesitated. It was a question of whether it was safe to try to jump against the wind. He decided against it and slithered down the bank. The icy water came halfway up his thighs as he waded across. Zemba cleared the channel with a hugh leap. He looked contemptuously over his shoulder at Alf scrambling up the bank. Alf gave himself a shake and went after Zemba. He was only just behind at the first hedge. He went over the second with such a bounce that he found himself level again. Spectators standing by the windmill saw the two runners coming up the slope elbow to elbow, far ahead of the others. Zemba cracked on pace. Alf stuck to him. He stuck to him like a shadow and would not let go. With a spurt he came up, surprised Zemba and grabbed the lead. "I mustn't let up now," Alf thought. "I can run him into the ground now if I stick it." The thuds of Zemba's footsteps were loud in his ears. Alf drove himself harder than he had ever done before. He ran till his head was singing and his eyes were blurred, till there was a tightening in his lungs and his limbs felt heavy. Then he was abruptly aware that he could not hear Zemba any more. He looked over his shoulder and saw that the coloured runner had collapsed and was lying on the ground breathing heavily. Gratefully, Alf slowed down. "I've finished him," he muttered. "Now I can go a bit easy." Alf eased a bit and his astonishing stamina restored energy to his body. He strode freely along. That burst of his had put him right in front. He had built up such a lead that if he could keep going, the race was in his hands. He was ahead all through the fourth lap. As he came past the Tollgate Corner to go into the last circuit, he was still up in front all on his own. Alf padded along by the fence of the Metal Manufacturing Company. He was running towards the gateway when a man in a red shirt rushed out. It was Syd Hutton. "Saw you coming, Alf," he shouted. "Come and give us a hand! My mate's trapped in the chimney! Old Harry Powell's trapped up there." Alf slithered to a stop. He looked up at the metal chimney towering above the factory. "Harry's our engineer," Hutton cried. "Tom Mears and myself don't know how to use the cutting apparatus." "He's jammed, is he?" Alf demanded. "He'll have to be cut out," Hutton panted. "I warn you it ain't safe, Alf!"
CHIMNEY TOP THRILLS
The wind roared and tore at Alf as he clung to the ladder at the side of the chimney. Alf resumed his climb. Hutton was following him up, carrying the small gas cylinders and the oxy-acetylene cutter. From the swaying scaffold at the summit Tom Mears shouted to them to hurry.
Alf gripped the iron rungs of the ladder. It was shaking. He set his teeth and went on up. He crawled through a hole and stood on the scaffolding. A groan reached Alf's ears. He looked into the chimney. Harry Powell was trapped by two jagged strips of metal that had closed round his right leg like a man-trap. He was lying back on a plank held by slings from the top. "We'll put a rope round you and lower you down to him, Alf." Hutton said tensely. With a rope round his body under his arms. Alf was lowered till his feet touched the board. The oxy-acetylene apparatus was let down to him. The blue, sizzling, blinding flame lit up the darkness. Alf, having no goggles, screwed up his eyes against the glare and the sparks as he started to cut away the jagged strips. A great shudder shook the chimney and something cracked. There was a general shifting of the top section and the crunch of buckling plates. Alf, kneeling on the rocking board, cut a strip out of the metal. He started to make a vertical cut. The wind rose to a screech and the top section tilted further over. "It's no use," yelled Mears. "It's going! It won't stand another gust like that." "Hold on," roared Alf, half-blinded by the glare. "I'll have him out in a second." Hutton and Mears stared down. The glare was extinguished. They heard Alf shout, "Haul him up!" As Powell was being hoisted up, the chimney swayed. The acetylene cylinders broke away and went crashing down. The plank was swinging like a twig in a gale. Alf, staring up, saw Powell lifted out of the chimney on to the scaffolding. Then the rope tightened round him and he was pulled up. Hutton was going down the ladder slowly and skillfully with Powell over his shoulder. "You'll have to wait a minute, Alf," Mears gasped. "It won't take our weight as well as his. It seemed an age before Hutton descended from the first length of ladder on to the top rungs of the second. "Go on," said hoarsely. "Fast as you can." The tilt caused the ladder to hang out. Alf swing his foot on to the rung and was able to take the strain off his arms. He got on to the second ladder, and though it shook, it was not threatening to break away and he was able to go down fast. Alf let himself go and sprang down the last six feet. Mears tumbled alongside him, grabbed his arm and dragged him away. There was a resounding crack and tons of metal dropped to the ground with a thunderous crash as the top portion of the chimney broke away. It smashed to the ground where had been standing only moments before. A cheer came from the large crowd which had turned its attention away from the race to watch the rescue operations. Alf was turning away when Foster-Bowen grabbed him by the arm. "Do you feel like carrying on, Alf?" he said urgently. "We shall have a chance of bringing it off if you can beat Zemba. The Zulu has recovered a bit and has a lead of about two hundred yards on you, but, if you can catch him, we'll win." "Right mate," said Alf and raced off through the crowd.
The stragglers were coming in. Officials were figuring out the positions. Excitement was tense. The Royal Milocarians and Greystone Hall had tied, each with 117 points - the lowest aggregate, of course, would win. Panting, exhausted runners staggered over the finishing line Frank Hamilton uttered a shout. "Here's Zemba," he roared. "Here Tupper," bellowed Foster-Bowen. "He's still in the race." Zemba whipped himself into a last spurt. He was nearly all-in. After him came Alf, panting hoarsely, at his last gasp after running the fifth lap pushing himself to the utmost. Ten yards away Zemba was in front. Alf snatched a last, deep, searing breath and strode up, brushed past the Greystone Hall runner and went over the line to win by a stride. Alf's victory gave the Royal Milocarians the Gold Cup and medals by a point. Dave Beatty had come in first to win the silver vase. At the presentation of prizes ceremony, Alf got the greatest reception of all. The crowd cheered in admiration of his daring rescue exploit and the amazing last-minute effort he had made to gain his team first place.
The Tough of the Track (1st series) 32 episodes appeared in The Rover issues 1244 - 1275
The Tough of the Track (2nd series) 30 episodes appeared in The Rover issues 1295 - 1324
The Tough of the Track (3rd series) 10 episodes appeared in The Rover issues 1331 - 1340
The Tough of the Track (4th series) 12 episodes appeared in The Rover issues 1350 - 1361
The Tough of the Track (5th series) 20 episodes appeared in The Rover issues 1404 - 1423
The Tough of the Track (6th series) 22 episodes appeared in The Rover issues 1434 - 1455
The Tough of the Track (7th series) 13 episodes appeared in The Rover issues 1460 - 1472
The Tough of the Track (8th series) 22 episodes appeared in The Rover issues 1503 - 1524
He’s in the Army Now (9th series) 31 episodes appeared in The Rover issues 1543 - 1573
The Tough of the Track (10th series) 22 episodes appeared in The Rover issues 1646 – 1667
© D. C. Thomson & Co Ltd
Vic Whittle 2003