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This last episode of the second series is taken from The Rover No. 1324 - November 11th 1950


Alf Tupper, the Tough of the Track, was pushing a hand-cart on which there was a wash-basin, some pipes, and a bag of tools. A country road stretched out ahead. “Lummy, Charlie! How much further is the blooming hotel?” he asked. Charlie Chipping, the plumber who employed Alf, and paid him three pounds a week, had lagged behind to light his pipe. On his head was the battered bowler hat he wore as protection against hard knocks. “I’m just wondering,” said Charlie.

“Wondering what?” demanded Alf. “Wondering if we’ve come the right way,” replied Chipping. “Well, we’ve come a long way if we’ve got to go back,” Alf was saying, when a baker’s van came in sight. The van was travelling at no great speed, and Chipping made signs to the driver to pull up. “Where’s the Oaks Hotel?” he asked the driver. “Watch where I turn in, mate,” said the driver. He got on the move, and a moment or two later the baker’s van turned into a gateway that some trees concealed. Soon afterwards, Alf was shoving the hand-cart up the drive of a small residential hotel. Mrs Barker, the proprietress, met them on the doorstep. “I expected you here an hour ago!” she snapped. “We’re early,” said the plumber. “Early,” exclaimed Mrs Barker. “I didn’t think we’d be able to come till to-morrow,” replied Chipping. “Where d’you want the basin put in?” “Room twelve,” said Mrs Barker. “It’s the end room on the second floor.” Alf took the basin off the hand-cart and followed Chipping into the hall and up the stairs. They were going to install the basin and link it up with the hot and cold water systems. Chipping opened the door of a large, pleasant room. He crossed over and looked out of the window.

Alf’s desperate move to win – a short cut no other runner dares to take!

The great aerodrome, belonging to the Greystone Aviation Company, stretched up to the other side of the road. On the far side the control tower and the factory buildings could be distantly seen. Alf put down the basin, and at the roar of engines, hurried to the window. A vast plane was just taking off. It was the EA8, the new air-liner. Alf had had a hand preventing attempts to sabotage the machine, for at one time he had worked at the factory. The EA8 soared from the runway. The under-carriage was retracting as it roared over the hotel and vanished from view. Chipping gave a shake of the head. “I’d sooner,” he said. “Sooner what?” asked Alf. “Go by train than fly,” replied the plumber. “Bring the basin over to this corner, Alf.” The Tough was coming across the room when he stopped and looked at the big framed photograph of the EA8 taken at the end of its first flight. Among the group of people standing under the nose of the machine was the test pilot, John Gresham, in his white flying-suit. “How did that picture get in here?” Alf muttered. “It must have been brought in,” said Chipping. Alf glanced into an alcove. Hanging there was a flying-suit and a heavy, leather flying-coat. “Maybe Mr Gresham stays here,” he exclaimed. Mrs Barker hurried into the room. “That’s right! Mr Gresham is one of my regulars,” she said. “He picked this room because it gives him a good view of the aerodrome. “He’s a nice chap,” replied Alf.  “He gave me a ride to Belfast in the EA8 not so long ago. I wouldn’t have been in time for the sports otherwise.” Mrs Barker and Chipping settled one or two points about the exact position of the wash-basin, and while they were talking, Alf went downstairs to fetch the tools. A man stood at the side of a first-floor window and looked down at him. He had a bald patch, and his hair grew in tufts at the side. He had booked into the hotel under the name of Anderson, but the police knew him as Razeman, and they were searching for him because of his attempts to sabotage the EA8.


The EA8 returned to the airfield while Charlie Chipping and Alf ate their sandwiches in the scullery. “Are you having a run this week, Alf?” asked the plumber. “It would be a wasted week if I wasn’t, Charlie,” replied Alf. “Ay, I’m having a go at the Birchboro’ Cross-Country come Saturday.”

“That’s a big race,” exclaimed Chipping. “The winner gets a gold medal.” “It’s over the same course as the National will be held on in the spring,” stated Alf. “Ten hard miles. There are a couple of chaps I want to have another go at – Harden-Hughes and the Frenchman, Jules Jazon.” Chipping poured some of his tea into the saucer. “You’ll never beat these fellows,” he said. “You’re really a track man, Alf. There’s a big difference between that and cross-country.” “I’ve a good bit to learn,” admitted the Tough. “Cross-country running is a slog, but there’s a lot more in it than just plugging along. I’m getting one or tow ideas about it – and the main thing is not to get left.” He followed Chipping’s example and had a drink from his saucer. Then they returned to the bedroom and finished their work. There was a kind of opening ceremony presided over by Mrs Barker. Chipping turned on the hot tap and kept his thumb in the water till it started to steam. “Okay! They’re connected up right,” he said, and Alf turned on the cold tap to make sure it was working, too. They were outside loading up when a sports car roared up. John Gresham lifted his long legs over the side and smiled as he recognised Alf. “We’ve been sticking your new basin in,” explained Alf. “Well, it will be useful till Friday. Then I’ll be away for a month,” said the test pilot. “Going far?” asked Alf. “India and then Australia,” replied Gresham. “We’re giving the EA8 its overseas tests.” “Keep your eye on the plane,” exclaimed Alf. “The police haven’t caught that Razeman yet. I expect you know I saw him in the town on Saturday.” “Yes, I heard about it,” said Gresham. “You can take it from me that the plane is well guarded – and will be till we take off on Friday night.” Gresham went into the house and Alf and Chipping trundled the hand-cart down the drive. The window of the first-floor room was pulled shut.


On Thursday evening, Alf sat on a cistern in Chipping’s shop. The morning paper was lying about, and when he turned to the sports page he saw there was quite a lot in about the Birchboro’ Race, and also a plan of the course.

“Lummy, this is my bit of knitting,” muttered the Tough, and settled down to read: – “The hundred runners at Birchboro’ on Saturday will face three laps of the hardest course in the country. If there is no more rain underfoot conditions will be good, but the course presents some stiff natural obstacles. The most notorious of these is the ascent known as Coppice Ridge. The runners face a steep rise of nearly two hundred feet, and will find the grass short and slippery. Dyer’s Ditch is another stiff obstacle. There is a hedge in front of it. A jump over hedge and ditch is possible, but the safest way is to take a gap in the hedge and go through the ditch. As it is situated only two hundred yards from the finishing point, there should be some excitement here. Jules Jazon will definitely run. Both Granton Hall and the Greystone Harriers are entering teams.” Alf himself belonged to the Crescent Club, but the team of youngsters he was training were not yet up to the grueling ten miles, and so he would be their only representative. The Tough folded the paper up. He had brought his running strip with him, and started to get changed. He was wearing only his shorts when he heard voices outside. Alf guessed that Chipping was coming in with a customer, and in the few moments remaining, climbed into the biggest galvanized tank in the room, and ducked down. Chipping opened the door and came in with a man and his wife, who were inquiring about the installation of a heating system in their greenhouse. There were a lot of details to be discussed, and Alf had to stay in the tank for a good ten minutes. When they went at last he sprang up and glowered at the plumber. “You might have got rid of ‘em a bit quicker,” he growled. “I never knew you were having a bath, Alf,” exclaimed Chipping. “I ain’t having a bath,” said the Tough. “I was hiding.” Alf was cold when he started out on his run, but he soon warmed up. He was jogging down Park Road when he caught up with the Greystone Harriers pack, who were out for an evening’s run. Neil Nason, the honorary secretary, was leading. He was a small, pompous man. The best of the runners was Bernard Bassing, and Alf did not much like him either. Nason led the pack through the gateway of the park. It was after closing-time, but the drives, with their well-rolled surfaces, were ideal for running. The lamps outside the park gave sufficient light. Alf turned in after them, but was stopped by a park keeper, who had spotted that he wasn’t wearing Harrier colours. In fact, as he was training, the Tough had on his old vest with the wolf’s head badge. “You can’t come in!” snapped the park keeper. “You’ve let this lot in,” retorted Alf. Nason heard the remarks and stopped. “I’ve obtained special permission from the Mayor for the Harriers to use the park,” he stated pompously. “Well, one more won’t hurt,” snapped Alf. “Keep out!” said the park keeper. Alf’s eyes gleamed. “You’ll have to blooming well catch me, cock,” he said, and dashed away. Alf did his evening’s training in the park! He soon put the Harriers out of his mind. His thoughts were about the race. He knew that Harden-Hughes and Jazon would make an early break from the pack, and that to have a chance he must stay with them. “This will be my last bit of training,” decided Alf. “I’ll go to Birchboro’ fresh, for it’s no use starting like a dead horse against these fellows.”


On Friday morning, Alf was outside the shop loading up the hand-cart when the phone rang. Charlie Chipping turned back in, while the Tough put a bit of rope round the long pieces of piping on the hand-cart. The owner of the greenhouse was anxious for the work to be put in hand quickly.


Chipping came out of the shop. He took off his bowler hat and put it on again. “That was Mrs Barker on the telephone,” explained the plumber. “She’s complaining that the cold water tap has a poor flow. Only trickles, she says. She wants us to go up straight away, but that would throw us out on the greenhouse job.” “Well, Mr Gresham won’t be wanting the basin after to-day, as he’s off to Australia,” said Alf. “We can go along after the weekend.” “No, I’d like to oblige her, Alf,” exclaimed Chipping. “She could be a good customer. It won’t be long before the heating apparatus needs repairing. I noticed a leak or two – and I’ve always an eye for leaks, because they mean work sooner or later. We’ll get a good start on the greenhouse, and then, maybe you can go along to the hotel towards the end of the afternoon.” “It’s a long walk,” retorted Alf. “You can go on the bus, as you won’t be needing the hand-cart,” said the plumber. “Okay,” agreed Alf. They put in several hours’ work in the big greenhouse. It was getting on for four o’clock when, carrying his heavy bag of tools, Alf headed for the bus terminus in the middle of the town. He wanted a Number Twenty bus that connected Greystone with a number of widely-scattered country villages. What he did not know was that it was also the school bus and when he reached the terminus he found a long queue. He joined the end of the queue. The bus, when it arrived was a single-decker. He watched anxiously, wondering what his chances were, as the queue shuffled forward. People were already standing as he reached the step. The conductor put the chain across just as he was going to get on. “Hi!” protested Alf. “You can find room for me, chum.” The conductor, a sour-looking man, did not unhook the chain. “I’ve got my load,” he said. “When’s the next bus?” Alf demanded. “Five o’clock,” replied the conductor, and rang the bell. Alf glared at the bus as it moved off. “I ain’t hanging about,” he growled. “I’ll walk.” The distance was the best part of four miles, and the bag of tools dragged heavily. Alf trudged along through the dusk. It was nearly dark as he approached the Oaks Hotel. The aerodrome buildings were lighted up. Away on the far side he could see the EA8 under the glare of flood-lighting. The engines were being tested, judging by the distant roar. Just as Alf reached the gateway, a car came down the drive. It was Gresham’s sports model. “Good luck, mister!” Alf called out. “Bring me back a kangaroo.” The driver waved a hand in reply, and the car sped away towards the aerodrome gates. Mrs Barker met Alf on the doorstep. “When I pay for work to be done, I expect it to be done properly,” she said crossly. “The cold tap only dribbles.” “It’ll run like blooming Niagara Falls before I’ve finished,” Alf promised. He went up to the bedroom and switched on the lights. The flow from the cold tap was very poor, and as the pressure had previously been strong, he came to the conclusion that there was an obstruction in the pipe. He turned the water off and then got busy disconnecting the pipe to the tap. He quickly discovered what was wrong. Some cotton waste had got into the pipe, and when the pressure had forced it up, the aperture to the tap had become blocked. Alf pulled the waste out and was reconnecting the pipe with his wrench, when he heard a knock. He looked over his shoulder, but the door was open and there was nobody on the landing. As he gave another pull at the wrench to knock was repeated. Alf let go the wrench and stood up. He walked round the bed to the big built-in wardrobe. He turned the handle. As he pulled the door open the figure of a man fell against him. He staggered back under the sudden weight, but caught hold of the limp, sagging body and managed to stay on his feet. “Lummy!” gasped Alf. “It’s Mr Gresham.” Gresham’s eyes were glazed. He swayed as if he were doped. Just for a moment there was a flicker of consciousness in his eyes. “I went queer,” he muttered hoarsely. “A man came in and dressed in my kit. He put me in the wardrobe. The plane – the plane!” All his weight was on Alf again. The Tough dragged him to the bed and laid him down. “He’d been put out of the way while his place has been taken,” muttered Alf. “If I hadn’t come along to mend the tap he mightn’t have been found for hours.” Mrs Barker was having a cup of tea in her sitting-room when she heard Alf’s shouts. She hurried to the door and saw him bounding down the stairs. “I’ve just found Mr Gresham bunged in the wardrobe,” he yelled. “Impossible,” exclaimed Mrs Barker. “He’s gone away in his car—” “You go and look then,” retorted Alf. “Where’s your phone.” She pointed into the sitting-room, hesitated, and then was hurrying up the stairs. Alf yanked the receiver off the phone and dialed 999. But there was no answering buzz from the phone in the police station. Alf dropped the receiver. “Lummy, it’s dead. I bet the line’s been cut,” he gasped. Mrs Barker reappeared in a great state of agitation on the stairs. “Have any of your other guests got a car, missus?” Alf shouted. “No!” said the flustered landlady. Alf whirled round towards the front door. Then I’ll have to blooming well run it,” he shouted, and rushed out of the house. Alf tore down the drive, when he reached the road he glanced up and down but there was no vehicle in sight. Facing him was the high, barbed-wire fence round the airfield, dimly silhouetted against the distant lights. A grass strip six or eight feet wide set in back from the road. Alf went at it. He picked up speed across the road, ran across the grass verge, swung his arms and took off. As he soared he thought he would clear the fence, but the toe of one of his heavy boots caught the top strand. He plunged heavily and landed on his left shoulder. He rolled into a sitting position. “I can’t run in my boots,” he muttered, and jerked at the knots in the laces. Alf pulled off one boot and slung it away. He wrenched off the other. Then, in his bare feet, he ran across the perimeter track and on across the grass at the side of the immensely long concrete runway. He knew that the airfield was a mile and a half across. With the legs of his baggy overalls flapping, he strode across the grass. He put a foot down hard on a sharp stone and limped for a few strides. He picked up speed again. He had run in some desperate races, but never in one on which so much depended. Under the floodlights, the last preparations were being made for the vast aircraft to take-off. The pilot and co-pilot were aboard. Ground crew stood ready to pull the chocks away. The engines started with Alf still far away. He cut loose in a tremendous spurt. He drove himself along as he had never run in a mile race on the track. He emerged from the darkness, and a burly policeman saw him and threw out his arms to stop him. Alf shouted, but the noise of the motors drowned his voice. The steps were just being wheeled back from the plane, and the door was being closed. Alf spotted Mr Pendle, the ex-C.I.D. man who was chief of the works police, standing just behind Mr Foster. “Stop the plane!” he panted at his last gasp. “Mr Gresham’s been doped!” “Gresham? I’ve just said good-bye to him,” exclaimed Mr Foster. “You shook hands with the wrong man, mister,” said Alf hoarsely. “I’ve just found him laid out at the hotel.” Pendle ran towards the plane. The member of the crew who was shutting the door saw him waving in the nick of time and hauled the door open again. At a gesture from Pendle the steps were pushed back. He went up them with Alf just behind him. The scientists who were taking their seats in front of the instruments in the main compartment, looked round in surprise as Pendle ran down the gangway followed by the Tough. Pendle pulled open the door that led to the spacious cockpit. In the nose of the plane, pilot and co-pilot were waiting for the signal to take-off. The pilot whirled round. Fury blazed from his eyes as he saw Pendle. He snapped away from his straps and leapt up. The squat shape of an automatic pistol glinted dully in his grasp. “Get back!” he snarled, and withdrew a pace so that he was also covering the co-pilot. “Get back!” He dropped his free hand on the bank of throttles and yanked them over. With the full pull of its motors, the EA8 lurched over the chocks. He yanked the control-pillar into the side slot and the plane swung round, and, scattering the crowd, roared along the ground towards the aerodrome buildings. Alf snatched a spanner from his pocket. He side-stepped from behind Pendle and hurled it at the saboteur. The spanner, thrown from short range, hit him between the eyes, and, as he staggered, Pendle dived over the back of the seat and threw his arms round him. The co-pilot shut off power. He hauled over the brake lever. On screaming, smoking tyres, and with a stench of burning rubber, the EA8 described a gigantic skid and stopped. Alf went over the back of the seat to help Pendle. The bogus pilot was fighting like a maniac. The Tough picked up his spanner and the crack he gave the crook on the head just about finished the fight. In a few more moments Pendle had the handcuffs on him. Grease paint smudged the police officer’s coat. It had come off the fake pilot’s face. Alf glared at him. “we’ve got the blighter at last,” he growled. “That’s Razeman.” I never twigged he wasn’t John Gresham!” exclaimed the co-pilot. “You can see what he meant to do. He’d have wrecked the plane on some stage of the flight!” He must be daft,” said Alf.

“I don’t know about that, Alf,” replied Pendle. “This plane contains equipment that couldn’t be replaced for months.” The technical director seized Alf’s hand. He was shaking it vigorously when he looked down. “Tupper,” he exclaimed in alarm. “Your foot’s bleeding.” “It’s nothing,” grunted Alf. “I put my foot down on a stone a bit hard. It’ll be okay.”


Harden-Hughes fixed his gaze on Alf as he walked with a slight limp towards the starting-line in the Birchboro’ meadows on Saturday afternoon. Then he saw that Alf had a bandage tied round his foot. “Are you fit to run?” he demanded. “We’ve a tough ten miles ahead of us.” “I’ll get along, Noel,” said Alf. He looked round for Jazon and saw the big swarthy Frenchman doing a jog-trot.


There was a keen edge to the wind. The bang of a pistol sent the hundred and twenty runners away. Across the wide meadow surged the throng. Jazon and Harden-Hughes began to work their way out of the mass and Alf went after them. The course was stiff all the way, but it was towards the end of the circuit that the runners were confronted by the steep ascent of Coppice Ridge. At little more than walking pace Jazon jogged to the top. Harden-Hughes was in close touch and Alf was staying with them. The pace instantly increased down the slope. There was a short, level stretch of turf and then the ragged hedge in front of Dyer’s Ditch. The turf was wet and tussocky and gave no good foothold for a jump. Both of them made for a wide gap in the hedge, slithered down the muddy bank into the ditch, splashed through the water and scrambled up the other side. Alf went after them. It was the sensible thing to do. The course was taking its toll, and numerous runners were falling out. All through the second lap the leading positions were unchanged. Alf plodded along into the third lap. His foot nagging him, nagging him badly, and there was a dull, persistent ache in his shoulder. The bandage under his foot had rucked up and hardened. Halfway round he stopped lifted his foot, pulled his shoe off, and tore away the bandage. By the time he had put on his shoe again Jazon and Harden-Hughes had got a long lead and Bernard Bassing was up with him. Alf strode out to catch up. He got away from the Greystone Harrier in his satisfaction, but he was twenty yards behind Harden-Hughes at the foot of Coppice Ridge and gained nothing on the way up. Alf reached the summit and looked down the slope and on towards the distant crowd of spectators at the finishing line. He saw Jazon swerve towards the gap. Harden-Hughes went after the Frenchman. Alf fixed his gaze on Dyer’s Ditch. “If I don’t get in front of them now I’ve had it,” he muttered. Across the tussocky grass he ran. He put his foot in a hole and stumbled, regained his balance in time to work up speed again, approached the hedge that seemed to grow in height as he got within jumping distance and hurled himself upwards. His short cut over the formidable leap had taken him ahead. The spectators roared at the spectacle of Alf legging it towards them with the French runner and Harden-Hughes in frantic pursuit. Jazon made a desperate effort. Alf could hear his harsh panting as he drew level. The Tough somehow held his pace. Jazon dropped back. Now Alf could hear the racing footsteps of Harden-Hughes. Alf was at his last gasp – but he was in front, and he was not going to be licked. He stuck it out, and with blood staining the grass where he stepped he won. On Monday morning, Alf limped into the plumber’s shop. “Hello, Charlie,” he chirped. “Nice day for a Monday.” Chipping struck a match on his boot to light his pipe. “Got it?” he asked. “What?” asked Alf. “Your gold medal,” said Chipping. “Ay, it’s somewhere about,” replied Alf. Chipping pointed his pipe at the phone. “The Aviation Company wants you to give ‘em a ring, Alf,” he stated. “The chap said something about finding you a posh job.” “They can keep it,” said Alf. “Plumbing suits me fine.”

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 2007