THE TOUGH OF THE TRACK
The following episode of Alf Tupper taken from The Rover No. 1295 - April 22nd 1950
The dignity of the parade was rudely shattered when Alf Tupper, trundling along a squeaking wheelbarrow full of jangling pipes, got mixed up with the lines of athletes.
THE GREYSTONE SPORTS
a heavy clang, two trucks which were being shunted on the railway viaduct in
Greystone came together, and the impact, shaking the brickwork, fetched down a
shower of flaky sooty whitewash from the roof of the welding shop in the
archway below. Alf Tupper, a lad who was apprenticed to a tradesman called Ike
Smith, at a wage of twenty-five shillings a week, flung off his goggles and
gloves. He leapt up and rushed across the shop. “Look at my blooming shoes!” he
bellowed. “He shook his fist at the roof. “Look at them! I’d like to give that
shunter a smack on the ear.” Ike Smith, who was sitting on an empty box, saw
that Alf was holding up the running shoes that he had polished a little time
previously. “You’ll ‘ave to polish ‘em again,” said Ike quietly. “Polish ‘em
again? I might have had the time if you hadn’t spent the blinking morning
watching me work, instead of lending a hand.” Snapped Alf. “You haven’t got my
rheumatism,” moaned Ike. Alf sniffed. His overalls had holes in them. He needed
a haircut. The state of his fingernails would have caused a manicurist to
swoon. Yet, though he worked in that damp, dark, welding shop, that he also
made his home, because he did not get on with Aunt Meg, he had a great
reputation as an athlete. Alf was crazy about running and jumping, and about
little else—except, perhaps, eating. He was always hungry. Hard work and hard
training accounted for that. Alf had polished his shoes, because on that
Alf had been invited because of his reputation as a runner, to take part in the mile handicap. It was going to be a tough race for the winner. Jack Barstow, the London champion, and Ian Farne, who had done so well in the Empire Games in New Zealand, were like Alf, starting off the back mark. Another scratch man was Paul Shawe, running in the colours of the Granton Hall Athletics Centre, Greystone, a school that set out to improve the standard of British athletics. Alf came back across the shop. Ike had received a small order from the Engineering Department of the University, for welded joints and sections, required for an extension of the machine room. Alf squatted down and put on his goggles. Ike rubbed his bristling chin. “Will the job be finished today?” he asked. “What’s the time?” demanded Alf. “About half-past eleven,” said Ike. “I’ll just about get done, then,” replied Alf. “Glad to hear it,” muttered Ike. Who could do with the money. “You’ll be able to take the stuff along to the University first thing on Monday morning. Alf looked at him scornfully. “D’you think I’m going to wear my feet out making two trips?” he scoffed “Not likely! I’ll shove ‘em along in the hand-cart this afternoon on my way to the sports.” At Alf finished the job. He had not much time, for the sports meeting started at , and the University was three miles from the middle of the city. He crossed to the tap and filled a leaking bucket with cold water. He removed his overalls and pulled off his shirt. He had to make a search for the bit of yellow soap, and found it on the floor. He stuck his head in the bucket, pulled it out, gasping, flung water over his shoulders, and worked up a lather. He fumbled blindly for the torn roller towel. When he was only damp.
Alf hauled open a drawer in the tool bench. He took out a clean shirt. It was full of wrinkles, because, though he had washed it himself, it had not been ironed. He tucked the shirt down under his belt that held up his patched trousers. Round his neck he tied a muffler. He put on a sports jacket that had shrunk since he had been caught in the rain. Out of the drawer he took a pair of shorts and a running vest he had brought at a second-hand shop, and which had the head of a timber wolf on the chest. He wrapped them up in a bit of brown paper, and put them in the hand-cart with his shoes. He was ready to go. With a clang and a rattle, Alf shoved the hand-cart, one wheel heeling out crazily, down the cobbled alley. The first leg of his journey was short. He parked the hand-cart outside a café in the bottom archway. A smell of fried fish welcomed him as he pushed open the steamy door. Sam Kessick, the owner of the café, broke away from a conversation with a tram conductor and a lorry driver. “We’ve just been talking about you, Alf,” he said. “What chances have you got against the stars this afternoon?” Alf grinned. “I can run ‘em,” he replied. “Well, let’s have a stoke-up.” “Fried fish and chips?” asked Kessick. “If you had turkey and plum pudding. I’d still have fish an’ chips,” said Alf.
THE BOY WITH THE BARROW
Flags streamed out in the breeze from the flagpoles at the University. The main buildings formed three sides of the square. On the fourth side was a high wall and the archway that was the main entrance. A wide drive encircled a big lawn, in the centre of which was the statue of the Sixteenth Century Founder, Erasmus Lincoln. Early in the afternoon visitors were arriving in large numbers. As long as anyone could remember, the sports had opened with an impressive ceremony in this quadrangle. Clem Johnson, a young reporter, stood on one side and looked trough the programme with which he had just been presented. He noted that the ceremony would start with a procession of University dignitaries, headed by the mace-bearer, to the platform that had been put up in front of the principal building. When the dignitaries had reached their places, a signal would be given for the entry of the procession of athletes. Led by the captain of the University Athletic Club, and followed by four standard-bearers, the Varsity athletes were to march in through the archway, singing their traditional Latin song. First they would pass by the platform, salute, march round again, still singing, and form up in front of the dias for the exchange of speeches between the captain and the Chancellor of the University. The latter would then hand a torch to the captain, who would run to the sports field with it. Maurice Webster, a press photographer, camera bag slung over his shoulder, walked across to Johnson.
“This is the tenth time I’m covering this job,” he remarked. “It sound as if they’re just going to begin,” exclaimed Johnson, as the bells in the tower began to ring. Into the quadrangle, at a solemn pace, walked the mace-bearer in his cocked hat and blue tail-coat. The Chancellor, Sir William Gunter, in a wig and scarlet robes, paced after him. The Principal, Dr Fosdyke, in robes of black and purple, the Mayor of Greystone, the local M.P.s in top-hats, the professors, in their hoods and gowns, passed round the quadrangle to the platform. There they took their seats, looking very dignified indeed. Bugles rang out. As the sound died away, the procession of athletes started to come under the archway. Louis Marchant, the captain, a fine figure of a young man in his athletic kit, his white vest bordered with red, marched like a guardsman. Behind him, the four standard-bearers wheeled. The words of the Latin song rang out as, in fours, the procession of athletes swung into the quadrangle. Clem Johnson, who had seen all this before, was sharpening a pencil, when, out of the corner of his eye, he saw Webster jerk up his camera. At the same moment Johnson became aware of a sound that was not musical, and of horrified expressions on the distinguished faces on the platform. “Gosh! Is this a student gag?” he gasped, as a jangling, squeaking hand-cart appeared between two squads in the middle of the procession. Louis Marchant looked over his shoulder, and his face twitched with fury. With an air of being fed-up to the teeth. Alf shoved the hand-cart along. At that point there were too many spectators on either side of the drive for him to push through. The pipes and the angle-irons on his hand-cart banged and clanged. Ling, a long jumper, who was leading the squad immediately behind Alf, stopped singing. “Get out of it,” he snapped. Alf glared over his shoulder. “How can I?” he growled. “I don’t want to be in your procession. I’m looking for the engineering shop. I was just getting my way in, when you lot came along with your procession and I got caught in among you.” An angle pipe fell off the hand-cart. Alf pulled up to pick it up. Ling’s squad divided and marched round him. He dropped the pipe back on to his load, grabbed the handles and pushed forward again.
Chancellor looked rigidly across the quadrangle at the weathercock above the
archway. The Principal had an aloof expression, as if he had not noticed the
hand-cart. The athletes went on singing. The porter had appeared on the scene.
“Come on out of it!” he cried. “Where’s the engineering place, then?” Alf
snarled. “I’ve shoved these weldings three blooming miles and I want to get rid
of ‘em.” The porter pointed to a passage between two of the buildings. “Take it
away down there!” he snapped. Alf heaved the hand-cart round, and trundled his
load down the passage. The din, if anything was loader because of the echo, but
it gradually died away. The athletes raised their arms in salute. They made
another circuit of the quadrangle and halted in formation in front of the dias.
The Principal bowed to the Chancellor. “Hounoured Sir, in the name of the
THE UNIVERSITY MILE
Half-an-hour later, Alf had put on his strip in the dressing-room. He found his vest had shrunk since the previous season, and that every time he straightened himself, it pulled out of the top of his pants. He was starting to massage his legs, when the secretary of the Athletic Club, Don Frearson, came into the room. He beckoned to Alf. “We want a word with you in the committee room!” he snapped. “Okay doke,” grunted Alf, and followed him along the passage to a room, where Louis Marchant and several members of the committee were sitting round a table, looking very serious. Marchant scowled at him angrily. “We have been discussing you, Tupper,” he rapped out. “You ruined the ceremonies.” “Well, why didn’t somebody tell me where to tip the stuff?” retorted Alf. Marchant shrugged indignantly. “You wrecked an important occasion, and we’ve decided to withdraw your invitation to run in the mile handicap,” he said bleakly. Alf uttered a derisive laugh. He knew that Marchant was running in the event himself, though not off the back mark. “So you’re afraid I’ll beat you,” he scoffed. There was an outcry in the room, and Marchant flushed. “I’m not standing for this,” he shouted. “We shall have people outside saying the same thing. Let him run.” Alf grinned. “You’d better stick a rocket in the back of your pants or you won’t have much chance,” he said. Ten minutes later the runners in the mile invitation handicap were called to come under the starter’s orders. Ian Farne gripped Alf’s horny hand as they met going out. “Are you hitting up the knots again, Alf?” he asked. “It’s my first time out this year,” said Alf.
were twenty runners in the race. The man on the front mark was receiving 50
yards start. Marchant was on the 5-yard line. “Get to your marks!” said the
starter. Alf got down between Farne and
experts watched keenly, trying to pick out who would try to break away. Alf and
Farne made their effort simultaneously. The Tough of the Track had been nearly,
but not quite, caught out. But they both had to turn out to pass Shawe, and
Alf, on the outside, was a shoulder behind as they straightened. Shawe was
finished. His race had not been well-judged, but from behind came the patter of
A JOB FOR IKE
stood at the door of the welding shop on the Monday afternoon and shouted
directions to the driver of a Greystone Aviation Company lorry which backed up
the alley. “Straighten out,” yelled Alf. “Okay! Whoa, lad.” Ike Smith stood in
the shop and watched. It was the first time he had received a job from the big
factory. The lorry had brought a load of odd-job parts, mostly small, for
welding. The driver, a chap named Jubb, climbed down. In his lapel was the
badge of the Company’s athletic club. “I never knew you worked here, Alf,” he
said. Alf glanced at Ike. “I’m the only one who does work here,” he replied.
“He ain’t got my rheumatism,” growled Ike. Jubb, who was a keen but not very
good runner, went to the back of the lorry to let down the tailboard. “We shall
be seeing you at our works sports on Saturday,” he said. “Ay, I’m in the
invitation mile,” replied Alf. “If you pull it off you’ll have won the town
double,” remarked Jubb. “You’ll be up against some hot stuff. Jack Barstow’s
coming down, and
While he held the envelope he had at least a flimsy excuse for not helping with the unloading. It was a heavy hot job. “Busy up at your place?” Alf asked. “Busy ain’t the word. That’s why these castings have been sent out,” answered Jubb. “It’s the hush-hush job that’s keeping us on the hop.” “Hush-hush?” exclaimed Alf. “You know—the new airliner,” said Jubb. From Ike, who had just opened the letter came a staggering cry. “Hurt yourself?” Alf asked. Ike’s hand shook. “They want a batch back every day, Alf,” he gasped. “They want the job finished off by next Monday.” Alf looked at the pile of castings and pulled a face. “We’ll just about do ‘em if you take your jacket off and muck in as well,” he declared.
WHERE IS IKE?
At half-past six on the Thursday morning a bus conductor going on duty banged on the door of the welding shop as he went by. After a moment a muffled voice from inside replied, “Thanks, mate.” Alf lay on a mattress on the floor. For pyjamas he wore his working shirt and trousers. Old coke sacks were his blankets. He yawned. As he heaved himself up he heard a rat scuttle away. He felt for his boots and put them on. He made his way round the shop to the light switch, and a small lamp burned dimly. The hand-cart was piled up with work done yesterday to be taken to the works. Alf had a wash and a drink of water. “It’ll be bread and marge for breakfast this morning,” he muttered. Alf had soon finished his meagre breakfast. He pulled off his boots and put on a pair of old, cracked gym shoes and tied the laces. A nearby clock was striking seven as he opened the door; and, on this cold, misty morning, padded away on a training run. It was the only bit of time he would be able to snatch all day. Even with Ike lending a hand for once, they were only just keeping level with the work. In about half an hour Alf was back and fetching out the hand-cart. Through the stirring city he pushed it towards the aviation works. A wide, straight road, flanked on one side by a section of the aerodrome, led to the factory. Alf had to keep into the gutter. Buses, with their indicators at “special,” motor coaches in from distant towns, cars, motor-cycles and cycles by the hundred whizzed past him. The footpaths were full of silent, hurrying figures.
The two uniformed gatekeepers knew Alf by now, and with a nod, allowed him to pass through. The factory had as many roads as a small town. Alf pushed the hand-cart towards one of the doors in the huge aero fitting shop. Managers got up early as well as employees. Mr Edward Foster, a burly, straight-backed man of fifty, was standing by the door talking to the bowler-hatted foreman, Fred Stokes. As Alf stopped, Foster picked up one of the smaller castings and turned it over in his hand, studying it with a keen, penetrating gaze. “It’s a good enough job,” replied the manager, and put the casting back on the hand-cart. Stokes turned to Alf. “Tell your boss to keep the supply up,” he said. “We’re wanting these as fast as you can deliver ‘em.” “You’ll have ‘em,” replied Alf, and trudged behind the hand-cart into the factory for unloading. “Did you know that was the runner, Alf Tupper?” asked Stokes. “Is it?” Foster’s grim mouth relaxed for a moment. “Then that must be the hand-cart that interfered with the ‘varsity ceremonies. The picture in the paper gave me a laugh.” “He’ll be running against your nephew at our sports,” said the foreman. Foster had lost interest, and just grunted. “If I’m wanted I shall be in the top shop,” he stated. Alf soon came out and pushed along fast with the empty hand-cart. As he approached the bottom of the alley he saw that a small crowd had collected. A policeman was in the middle of the throng. “There must have been a smash” Alf muttered. Then Kessick, who was in the crowd, pointed at Alf. “Here his lad,” he said. P.C. Hobson parted the crowd by walking to meet Alf. “What have I done now?” muttered Alf. The constable looked down at him. “When did you see Ike Smith last?” he asked. “Hasn’t he turned up this morning?” said Alf.
The policeman’s expression was grave. “He didn’t go home last night,” he said. “I’ve a cap and coat I’d like you to have a look at.” To the disappointment of the onlookers, Hobson took Alf into the café, where he picked up a cap and jacket from a table. Alf nodded. “Yes, they belong to Ike,” he declared. “That’s bad,” muttered Hobson. “These were picked up on the canal bank. It looks as if we’ll have to drag for him.”
ALF GETS AN OFFER
On Friday night, at about , P.C. Hobson walked up the alley on his way home. The door of the welding shop was open, and from inside came the glare and the fizzing sparks of a welding job in process. Alf saw the policeman and switched off the acetylene. “Any news of Ike?” he asked. “Not a sign of him,” said Hobson. Hobson was a friendly sort of man. “Isn’t time that you knocked off work?” he asked. “I’ve got a job to finish,” Alf growled. “I’ll be stuck into it for some time yet.” Alf glared at the pile of castings that were due to be finished and delivered at the factory next day. He squatted down, switched on the torch, and started work again. For a solid hour he continued at his dazzling, back-aching job. He felt dead tired. “I’ll get my grub ready,” he muttered. “I’ll feel better when I’ve had a bit of supper.” Alf fetched down his frying-pan, which had long lacked a handle. He put a dab of margarine in. From a piece of newspaper he took two sausages that he had fetched from Sam Kessick’s, and slid them into the pan, that he placed over a gas-ring. So as not to loose a moment he then started work on a pipe that had to be welded. It was a tricky job. Alf frowned in concentration. He sniffed. He jerked round. He saw smoke rising from the frying-pan. He made a wild dash across the shop and stared at the charred mess that was to have been his supper. Alf sniffed. He took the frying-pan off the gas-ring with the pincers, lifted the top of the stove, and banged till the burned up sausages dropped out. “Good-bye to a good supper,” he growled, and went back on the job. It was at in the morning that Dave Bailey, a shunter, walked up the alley. He heard the hiss of sparks, and looked into the shop. “You’ve started work early, Alf,” he called out.
Alf lifted his head as if it were
very heavy. “I ain’t knocked off yet,” he said. Coming up to on the Saturday
afternoon, Alf slowly pushed the hand-cart towards the door of the aero shop.
He got a receipt for the welding from the stores clerk, and then with his shoes
in his hand and his brown paper parcel under his arm, walked as if in a daze to
the nearby sports field. It was half-past two, that a steward, with a rosette
as big as a saucer, stood in the doorway of the dressing-room. “Starters for
the mile invitation race,” he shouted.
Mr Foster slowed down as he approached the alley in his car. The manager had offered to take Alf home. Alf pushed himself up. “It’s all right,” he said. “I’m just about home. Thanks for the lift, mister.” Foster stopped and opened the door. “You ran a fine race,” he exclaimed. “My nephew says he thought he had it in his pocket when you came up and pipped him. But, you be careful, Tupper. You took too much out of yourself.” Alf grinned and walked up the alley. Mr Foster had just started the car when he noticed a pair of running shoes on the floor. He stopped, picked up the shoes, and got out. He walked up the alley, turned his head, and listened. It was the unmistakable hiss of a welding torch that he heard. He stepped forward and a gasp of astonishment broke from him. Alf had already restarted work. “You needn’t worry about the job, mister,” Alf said. “I’ll have it done for Monday.” The shoes dropped. Foster stared at the work still to be done. He thought back. He remembered now seeing a paragraph about Ike Smith’s disappearance. “Tupper, have you done our work on your own?” he demanded. Alf sniffed. “Anything wrong with it?” he retorted. “No, there’s nothing wrong with it,” said the manager. Before going to the sports Foster had happened to notice the last batch Alf had delivered. He was an engineer through and through. He knew the time required for each job. “Did you get any sleep last night?” he asked. “I nodded off now and again,” said Alf. “Sorry I can’t waste time talking, mister.” Foster turned and walked back to his car. He drove back to the ground. He searched for Fred Stokes, who was judging the egg and spoon race. When Stokes had given his decision as to the winner, the manager took him aside. “Get hold of Alf Tupper when he brings up the last of the work on Monday,” he said. “He’ll be out of work now that his employer is missing. Offer him a job. That’s the kind of fellow who can work all night and all day in order to get a rush job done, then turn out in a mile race, win it, pass clean out, and, on being taken home, start at once to his work. What a lad!”
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