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Alf Tupper took off his jacket. The sound of the loudspeakers calling out the runners in the mile open flat race at the Greystone University Sports announced the start of the new season to him. The Tough of the Track, as he was known in Greystone, reckoned he was in fine condition. He had been training hard, and, as he told himself, felt in the pink.

Now that the frosts had finished, and burst pipes were few, Charlie Chipping, the plumber for whom he worked, was far from busy. That had given Alf plenty of time for hard training. He had also assisted in some tests at the Granton Hall Athletics Centre, and, in one way or another, had kept running through the winter. A big, well-built fellow was stripping off his baggy track-suit. Alf shot a glance at him, and then turned to an official. “What’s the name on his ration book?” he asked. “Bruce Sedgemann,” replied the official. “The South African?” exclaimed Alf. “Yes. He’s taking a geology course at the University,” was the answer. Alf grinned happily. It looked like being a better race than he had expected. The piece of paper in which his fish and chips had been wrapped earlier in the week had contained a paragraph about Sedgemann. He had been the star South African runner at the Empire Games, and later had set up some fast times in his own country. Douglas Lindsay, the University captain was competing. Frank Barton, of the Greystone Harriers, a club from which Alf had been kicked out once and resigned from on another occasion, and Dick Hall, of Lingford A.C., were the other runners. With the exception of the South African, Alf reckoned he had the beating of them. Sedgemann was the unknown quantity. Alf went towards the line. He had meant to ask Charlie Chipping to cut his hair, but had forgotten and so was shaggy over the ears and down the back of his neck. One or two moths had had a feed off his running vest. One of his track shoes was black and the other white. Sedgemann was grumbling. As he came from a land of sunshine, maybe he had cause. “If I’d known it was going to be cold, I’d have scratched, Doug,” he said. “It isn’t fair to expect us to run in this icy wind.” “Same for all of us, ain’t it, Bruce?” exclaimed Alf. Sedgemann looked surprised at being spoken to in this familiar style by a stranger. He blinked and then turned his back on the Tough. “Don’t expect any fireworks from me,” he said to Lindsay. “I’m going to take it easy.” Alf nudged him. “Come on, sport, make a race of it,” he growled. Sedgemann scowled at the remark. The starter called to the five runners to get to their marks. The gun sent the runners away to a rather ragged start. Alf and Sedgemann hit their strides, but all the others were slow. After the first of the four laps, Sedgemann settled down to a fast, steady speed. Alf stayed with him. Frank Barton had established himself in third place. Rather to his surprise, Alf found that Sedgemann’s speed was testing.

This first episode (Fourth Series) of:

The Tough of the Track

Is taken from The Rover #1350

May 12th 1951

It was hard going and the third lap was a grim endurance test. Sedgemann was a little in front when the bell rang for the final lap. To try to shake him up a bit, Alf put on a spurt and took the lead. There was no response from the South African. He strode on without reply to Alf’s challenge. Frank Barton was still with the leaders. Doug Lindsay was a long way back, but kept plugging away. Alf was out to maintain the lead he had snatched, but the South African’s steady footsteps thudded close behind him. He was being pressed. He kept going hard, but he could not draw further away from Sedgemann. It was like this for half a lap. Then, out of the corner of his eye, Alf saw his rival coming up. The Tough plugged along. He was trying to keep a bit of energy for the run-in. In view of the tape, Alf threw in his final spurt. He did not fade, but Sedgemann came striding past. With just about his last gasp, Alf tried to break through and win, but he saw the gap widen. He could not catch up, and fell further back. The Greystone Harrier drew level, got in front, and was second over the line to add to Alf’s disgust with himself. Sedgemann finished the freshest of the lot. As he pulled on his track-suit, he glanced across at Alf. “What was that you were saying about a race?” he asked. Alf glowered at him. “This is the first time, Bruce,” he muttered. “I’ll run you yet.”


On the Monday morning, Alf walked down Gas Street to Charlie Chipping’s place. The plumber, pipe in mouth, had just unlocked the door. “Morning, Charlie,” chirped Alf. “If it doesn’t rain we’ll have a fine day.” “It’ll rain,” said Chipping. “How did you?” “What?” asked Alf. “Get on at the sports?” inquired the plumber.

Alf scowled at the recollection. “I was blooming third,” he growled. “I led Bruce Sedgemann and Frank Barton beat me.” “Fast time?” asked Chipping. “No! Four twenty-three,” growled Alf. “I ran like a cow with croup. I had no bounce, Charlie. I was as full of fizz as a bottle of cold tea.” “You can’t expect to hit your form straight off,” said the plumber. “I ought to have done better,” said Alf emphatically. “I thought I was in trim, but I wasn’t.” “Don’t work too hard at the start of the season,” advised Chipping. “Take it steady.” Alf’s eyes had a gleam. “I’ve got to train hard to beat Sedgemann,” he retorted. “I’m not taking another good hiding from him. I’ll rune him.” Chipping pulled a black, shiny notebook from his pocket, licked his thumb, and turned the pages. “It’s a blessing,” he said. “What’s a blessing?” asked Alf. “That the town has hard water—or there’d be precious little work for plumbers in the summer,” Chipping said. “Put some half-inch piping on the hand-cart, Alf. The hot-water pipes in the kitchen at the Bijou Hotel have furred up.” Chipping and Alf spent the morning in replacing the piping damaged by hard water. As he was pushing the hand-cart away, the Tough asked what the afternoon’s job was. “There isn’t one,” the plumber said gloomily. “I’ll stay at the shop in case anything turns up, but there’s no point in your hanging about.” “Sure?” Alf exclaimed. “Ay,” replied Chipping. “You can have the afternoon off.” “Thanks,” said Alf. “It’ll give me a chance of doing some running.” Alf had a cup of tea and an egg and chips for his dinner, and then walked to the allotments, where he lived in a former tool-shed constructed of old railway sleepers. It had an earth floor, but it suited him fine. He took off his overalls and working clothes, put on his running kit and unspiked shoes, and set out into the country. He soon turned off the main road into a side-road that led to the old Lindfield Aerodrome. It had not been used for flying since the war, and for a long time had lain derelict. Alf was soon striding along parallel to the barbed-wire fence. On the other side of the fence was the former perimeter track. There was a concrete stretch. Then the Tough saw the concrete give way to a tarmac section that extended away into the far distance. Alf stopped and had a good look. The tarmac had been freshly laid, that was evident. Small chippings had been rolled in to give it a first-class surface. “I’d like to have a run on there,” he muttered. “One of the reasons I was so blamed slow on Saturday was because I’ve had nowhere to crack on a bit of speed.” Alf did not possess the entry to such running tracks as Greystone possessed. He did not belong to the Harriers. He was no longer employed at a factory with recreational facilities. The Granton Hall track was being relaid, so he could not that either. When Alf had an idea, he usually put it into practice. He backed a little way, ran, took off, cleared the barbed-wire, and was in. The tarmac had a “springy” feel. It was a bit of all right, and he wished he had brought his spiked shoes. With a woosh and a roar, a black car overtook Alf and flashed past. He was blinking in surprise when a red convertible car streaked by with a blast of air that ruffled his hair. Alf looked over his shoulder and swerved to the side as a third car approached and roared past. “What’s going on?” he muttered. Then he heard the sharper sound of a motor-cycle exhaust. An angry-looking man in a blue crash helmet marked “Police” rode up and stopped. “What d’you think you’re doing?” shouted the official, whose name was Tarsh. “Well I’m not driving a cow, am I?” said Alf. “Don’t you know this is a car testing-ground?” snarled Tarsh. Alf shook his head. He had not heard that the Lindfield Aerodrome had been taken over by the Association of British Car Producers for tests and trials. “I never knew,” Alf said. “You know now—so get out,” bawled Tarsh. “If I find you inside again, I’ll nab you for trespassing. Beat it!” “I heard you!” growled Alf. “What d’you feed your big mouth with? Thistles?” Tarsh swung off his machine and yanked it on to its stand. “I’ll have your name and address,” he snarled. “I’ll summons you for trespassing.” “So long, cock,” said Alf. He ran across the grass verge, jumped, soared over the wire, and jogged away. Tarsh, no high jumper, muttered threats as he stared after him.


When Alf got to the plumber’s place in the morning. Charlie Chipping had arrived, and was opening his letters. “All bills,” he said, and dropped them into a cistern. “I’ll pay them when.” “When what?” Alf asked. “When I has to,” replied Chipping. “What’s the job this morning?” Alf asked. Chipping sucked at his pipe. “There isn’t a job,” he said. “I’m always slack in the summer, Alf.” “If you can’t afford to pay me, say so!” Alf exclaimed bluntly.


Chipping pointed his pipe-stem at the Tough. “I was talking to my brother Ted last night,” he said. “You’ve heard me speak of him. He’s a foreman at the Cougar Cars place. Well, his special line is racing cars. He’s been at the job for years. Ted’s well-known at Silverstone and on the other car racing tracks as some of the drivers.” Alf became interested when car racing tracks were mentioned. “Just now Ted is foreman of the gang working on the new Cougar racing car,” Chipping went on. “Matter of fact, he’s been on the job for a couple of years. From what he says, racing cars have more teething troubles than babies. I mentioned that you had been apprenticed at the welding before you came to me, and also had a spell as a millwright at the aero factory.” “That’s right, I did and all,” Alf said. Chipping found his pipe had gone out, and searched for his matches. “He says you might be useful to him,” he said. “He can do with a welder and a general mechanic.” Alf scowled thoughtfully. “I appreciate your mentioning it, Charlie, but it ain’t my bit of knitting,” he said. “I’m not interested in cars, and I don’t want a job in the Cougar factory—too many blooming rules and regulations and what not for me. I’ll have a look round for something else, Charlie.” “I never said nothing about working at the factory,” replied Chipping. “Ted and his gang work out at Lindfield.” “Lindfield?” gasped Alf. “On the old ‘drome?” “That’s right,” said Chipping. “Then that’s just the job for me,” chortled Alf. “But you told me you wasn’t interested in cars,” protested Chipping. “I ain’t,” said Alf, “but you ought to see the track, Charlie! It’s made for running.”

Tarsh was prowling round the Lindfield hangers at eleven o’ clock next day when his neck suddenly seemed to extend like a telescope. His gaze fixed on a running figure. Yes, it wasn’t a mirage. Somebody was running at the side of the track. He ran to his motor cycle, sat heavily in the saddle, kicked the starter, and accelerated violently. Alf, in overalls, but wearing his track shoes, heard the motor cycle coming. When Tarsh caught up with Alf, he braked a bit too heavily, and nearly fell off. “I warned you yesterday,” he snarled. “Now I’m nabbing you for trespassing.” “Nuts!” retorted Alf. “I work here.” “You work here?” gasped Tarsh. Alf pointed to a shed that stood on its own. “Ask there if you don’t believe me, cock,” he said. “I’m in Ted Chipping’s gang.” “Oh, are you?” growled Tarsh suspiciously. “I started this morning, bright eyes,” said Alf, and resumed his run. In the brick shed. Ted Chipping and his men had knocked off for a few minutes. It was while they were having a brew of tea that Alf had nipped out for a run. There in the shed, partly stripped down, stood the Cougar racing car that represented years of sweat, toil, and tears. From the day it had gone down on the drawing-board, it had represented trouble with a capital “T.” It was an open secret in the motoring world that there was now bitter disagreement among the bosses of the company concerning the car. It had seemed a good idea when the chairman, Richard Sherman, the Grand Prix racing driver of 1923, had proposed that the company construct its own racing car to help put British racing cars back on the international map, and to advertise the make. Now he had the other directors up against him. Something like £70,000 had been spent, and, so far, the car had done nothing. Sherman’s faith that the Cougar was Britain’s answer to the foreign monopoly of racing successes had received blow after blow. Ted Chipping, a lanky, bony man, ten years younger than his brother Charlie, the plumber, stood with a tin mug in hand and stared down at the engine. The car was constructed to the post-war Grand Prix formula with an engine of one-and-a-half-litres with a supercharger. The independent front wheel suspension was of the transverse leaf type. The rear had transverse torsion bars with hydraulic spring dampers. The engine was now being reassembled after being stripped down for worn parts to be replaced. Then it was due for a speed test. Alf came trotting into the shed just as Chipping emptied his mug. “Let’s get cracking,” the foreman growled. “They ask the impossible and we’re supposed to do it. I’ve told them we shan’t be half ready for a trial on Saturday. Will they listen? Not them!” Bert and Ernie Tizzer and Syd, the mechanics, Cyril, the lad who handed them the tools and made the tea, gathered round the car like Druids round an altar. To this intricate mass of machinery, with something like twenty thousand moving parts, their working lives had been dedicated for a couple of years. Their ambition—though they never expressed it—was to make a winner out of it. In fact, while putting everything into it that skill and experience could give, they grumbled and groused unceasingly at their creation. Alf took off his shoes and put on his boots. He went to the end of the shed and put on goggles and gloves. He switched on the electric arc and the sparks fizzed as he welded a crack in a body mounting bracket. Chipping soon came over and watched. He gave a satisfied nod. “You’ll do,” he remarked. “It’s the kind of job that suits me,” said Alf. “You’ll be lucky if you keep it,” replied the foreman gloomily. “There are rumours flying about that the directors want to cut their losses on the car and junk it.” Alf looked alarmed. “Is it a wash-out, then?” he exclaimed. “We’ve never had a trouble-free run,” said Chipping. “Something has always gone wrong. Last time we had transmission trouble. The time before that the blower packed up. It’s been like that all the time. I’m expecting to hear any day now that it’s going to be scrapped.” He returned to the car and Alf started work on another bracket. It was towards the end of the afternoon that an open sports car entered the aerodrome. The keen, determined face of the driver was well-known on British and Continental racing-tracks. The question was often asked as to why John Kimball wasted his time fooling about with the Cougar when he could have driven in any crack team. Squeezed in at Kimball’s side was Richard Sherman, his dark hair turning grey, with innumerable wrinkles round his eyes, and with a closely-clipped moustache. “Well, that’s the position, John,” he said to the racing driver. “The other directors said their last word this morning, that if the car didn’t have a two hundred miles run without trouble not another penny was to be spent on it.” Kimball slowed down as they approached the shed. “Then your colleagues can’t see past the end of their noses,” he said. “You know why I want to handle the Cougar. I’m tired of finishing behind the French and Italians. The Cougar is the car that would give me the chance of heading ‘em for a change. The design’s right, Dick! That day I drove the car fifty miles before the gear-box failed, I knew it was right.” Sherman shrugged. “That’s what I keep saying, but they won’t listen,” he said. They went into the shed. Sherman called the mechanics around him. “I’ve something to tell you chaps,” he said. “We are now having our last chance. If the trial is a failure on Saturday the car goes on the junk-heap. It’s a final decision. You’ve always done your best so this isn’t a threat. I just wanted you to know how we all stand—me as well as you.”


On the Saturday morning, Alf was doing odd welding jobs. The car, which had to be ready for the trial run at two o’clock stood near the entrance of the shed and the mechanics were still busy. Alf switched off when Ted Chipping came across to the bench to fetch a set of hard plugs. “I hope you don’t want me this afternoon, Ted,” he said. The foreman stared at him in surprise. “It’s the trial to-day,” he exclaimed.


Alf sniffed. “The car will run without me looking at it,” he said. “I suppose there’s nothing to stop you if you want to clear off,” Chipping replied. Their work was just about finished when John Kimball and Sherman arrived. “You’ve been hard at it,” Sherman remarked. Chipping stared down at the engine. “We’ve done all we can,” he said. “If it don’t go now, it never will.” “We’ll hope for the best. The other directors are coming down to watch,” Sherman replied. He glanced into the shed and his shrewd gaze fixed on Alf. “How’s your new chap doing?” “He knows his job all right,” replied Chipping, “but he’s not keen on the car at all.” “Well, you know what to do,” said Sherman. “Push him out.” John Kimball slid down from the cockpit and, while adjustments were being made to get the seat right. Alf strolled over and had a casual look at the engine. Then he ducked his head down for a closer look. He pulled a spanner from his pocket and tapped on the pipe leading from the oil pump to the filter. “You’d better have a look at this, Ted,” he said. “It ain’t right.” “What isn’t right?” the foreman asked in a ruffled way. “This pipe will break at the joint when it starts vibrating,” Alf said. “You don’t know what you’re talking about!” snapped Chipping. “I fitted that myself. “You’re satisfied, are you?” Sherman asked. “Yes, of course I am,” said the foreman. “Well, I’ve told you,” exclaimed Alf. “When it busts don’t blame me.” Chipping glared at him. “I’ll have to push off now if I’m going to catch the bus into town,” said Alf. “So long!” Alf caught the bus and stood all the way into the town. He was able to get fish and chips for his dinner, then he made for the sports ground. The entries for the open mile were the same as on the previous Saturday, with the addition of Clem Scott, who had come down from Granton Hall for a run. The track was dry—in fact, a bit dusty. From the start, Sedgemann, with the sun on his back, settled down to a faster pace than the previous week. He was just as balanced and smooth, but was going to clip seconds off last Saturday’s time. Clem Scott shadowed him. Alf hunted them round. The pace was testing. It was an exciting speed to have to maintain. But Alf was reveling in it. Towards the end of the third lap, Clem Scott snatched the lead. Sedgemann let him go. The South African kept on with his fast, remorseless striding, but refused to press. The bell clanged, and Alf shadowed the leaders round the circuit. Sedgemann’s pressure told on Clem Scott. Inch by inch the Granton runner lost his lead to the formidable, unruffled South African. Alf knew he had to time his burst to the yard, to the instant. If he went too soon he would fade out. If he left it too late he wouldn’t have a chance of catching up. He padded on, saw the tape, and flared into his spurt. He worked up to a burst of speed that carried him past Scott and brought him up to Sedgemann. The South African kept on smoothly. He probably expected to see Alf wilt and fade. Alf got in front twenty yards out. He did not fade. His big heart was carrying him. Sedgemann realised this, and went for it, too. The spectators roared excitedly at the sight of the two leaders battling it out. The tape broke and swirled around them. It was not quite a photo finish. The judges had no difficulty in deciding that Alf was the winner. Hands on his hips, his hair flopping over his eyes, he grinned at Sedgemann. “That was more like a race,” he said. “You’ve sharpened up since last week,” Sedgemann replied, and there was respect in his voice. “I’ve had a good track to run on,” Alf said. “What’s our time?” The time was 4 minutes 11 seconds. That was good going, thought Alf, for so early in the season. When he had changed, he decided to go along to the testing ground. “I’d better find out if the car has bust up,” he muttered. “If it has, I’ll be looking for another job on Monday.” He took a bus out. When he walked past the former hangers he heard the roar and the whine of an engine, had a glimpse of the silver and black Cougar skimming the banking and then screaming away down the straight. Outside the shed, Sherman and three of his fellow directors, Chipping, and the mechanics, had there heads turned as they watched the car dwindle to a dot. “It sounds nice and healthy, Ted,” remarked Alf. Chipping turned to him and his face was jubilant. “It’s running like a sewing machine, Alf,” he shouted. “Them gents,” he pointed at the other directors, “are satisfied already, but—” He broke off and walked to an oily box containing odds and ends. “I’ll show you something,” he said, and held up an oil-pipe fractured at one end. Alf gave a chuckle. “So you took off the pipe I told you about,” he exclaimed. “We took it off, and it was a good thing we did,” Chipping said. “There was a hidden crack in it, Alf. It broke as soon as I gave it a twist. You were right. It wouldn’t have lasted fifty miles, and if an oil-pipe breaks it can bust the engine up in the time it takes to stop the car.” “Then you’ll want me on Monday?” Alf asked. Sherman was standing by. He heard Alf, and smiled upon him. “We shall want you for the rest of the season,” he said. “We’re going ahead with a full racing programme. You have a good mechanical eye, Tupper.”


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 2005