BRITISH COMICS

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THE TOUGH OF THE TRACK

This last episode (fourth series) is taken from The Rover No. 1361 - July 26th 1951

OVERHAUL FOR THE COUGAR

 

It was Monday morning and Alf Tupper, the Tough of the track had a look at the job he had to do. The body of the Cougar racing car had been taken off the frame – it was just a metal shell – and needed a lot of attention. As the welder in the crew, it was up to Alf to repair the holes, jagged edges and fissures. The success of the Cougar had been the sensation of the season.

 

Driven by John Kimball, it had won several Grand Prix events against terrific competition from foreign cars. Now it had been brought back to the factory at Greystone to be prepared for the great Festival Trophy Race at Dundrod on the Bank Holiday Monday – a week ahead. Dundrod, near Belfast, was probably Britain’s fastest road circuit. It was a seven mile course of an exciting character. The plan was for the Cougar to be taken over to Ulster in a flying box-car on Friday. It was going to be an eventful week for Alf. On the Saturday, he would be at Wembley.

Alf grabs the extinguisher as fire envelops the car.

Will he be able to save the driver ?

 

He had gained his place in the England team in the Festival Sports and would be running in the Mile against the star runners of Europe and America. While Alf wondered where he should start, the other mechanics were lifting the engine out of the frame with a chain host.

 

The foreman, Ted Chipping, was in charge of the job. His assistants were Ernie Oakes, Bert Robinson, Syd Pink and Tizzer Johnson. The lad, Cyril Cook, was making a brew of tea. He came in, carrying a blackened, battered teapot which he placed over a gas-ring. “I’ve a letter from the Athletics Federation for you, Alf,” he said. “The girl from the Correspondence Office was bringing it over and I met her in the yard.” Alf took the envelope. It bore the imprint of the British Athletics Federation and was addressed to him, “Care of the Cougar Company.” “What are they on about?” Ernie asked curiously. Alf opened the envelope with his thumb. The letter was signed by Harold Churcher, the honorary coach of the England team. The Tough knew him well. He was a former Naval Commander and Olympics runner and was the warden of the Granton Hall Athletics Centre. “Dear Tupper,” he wrote. “We are naturally anxious to put a good show in the Festival Sports and it has been decided that the members of the England team shall assemble at the River Hotel, Tapley-on-Thames, on Thursday morning. That will give us two days together for training, discussion of tactics, &c. As we are keen to get in a full day on Thursday, we are asking members of the team to report at Tapley not later than 10 a.m. I am looking forward to seeing you and am sure you will justify your selection in the mile.” Alf frowned. “Lummy, you’d think we don’t have to work for a living,” he grunted, and pushed the letter into the hip pocket of his overalls. Without thinking any more about it, Alf put on his goggles, switched on the electrical welding arc and got busy. The mechanics were in cheerful mood as they attended to the engine. “We’ll be able to hang the flags out if our chap wins on Monday,” Ernie said. “He’ll be up against it,” Bert remarked. “The Yanks have hustled a new R.A.K. across the Atlantic to try and grab the Festival Trophy. “The Scoda is in Belfast already,” stated Chipping. “That’ll give Sudermann, the driver an advantage. The Dundrod course is difficult to learn.” “Our chap drove over it last year,” Ernie said. “He was in a slower car than the Cougar,” replied Bert. “I wish we could give him more time for practice but I suppose it can’t be helped.” It was in the middle of the morning that the door of the shed opened. Richard Sherman, the chairman of the Company, came in with John Kimball. “You’ll have had a look at things by now,” he said to Chipping. “Are there any headaches?” “No more than normal wear and tear,” Chipping replied. “You’ll get the car over to Ireland in time for Friday’s practice.” “That’s fine,” exclaimed Kimball. Sherman noticed a piece of paper on the floor, bearing the mark of an oily heel. He stooped, picked it up and found it was a letter. He glanced at it and called to Alf. “You’ve dropped your correspondence, Tupper,” he exclaimed. Alf pulled off his gloves and took the letter. “Thanks, Mr Sherman,” he said. “I didn’t know it had fallen out of my pocket.” Sherman looked at him inquiringly. “Have you mentioned it to the foreman?” he asked. “Mentioned what?” said Alf. “I couldn’t help seeing what was in the letter,” replied Sherman. “Don’t you want to go to Tapley?” Alf gave a nod. “I’d like to train with ‘em, mister, but I never gave it a thought,” he said. Sherman turned to Chipping. “You could let Tupper go by Thursday, couldn’t you?” he asked. “Yes, that’ll be all right,” said Chipping. “We’ll be finished by then.” “Accept the invitation,” Sherman exclaimed genially. “I’d like to see you first in the Mile – and the Cougar take the Festival Trophy.” “Thanks a lot,” said Alf. “I’ll make for Belfast as soon as I’ve finished at Wembley.” “We’ll book a flight for you,” Sherman answered. “We must have you at Dundrod to change the wheels.” As a result of Sherman’s sporting offer, Alf wrote a postcard to Commander Churcher, stating that he would be at Tapley on Thursday.

CHALLENGE FROM SHERMAN

When the mechanics knocked off at the end of the morning, they went across to the big canteen for their dinner. Alf made short work of a plate of fish and chips, drank his tea, then left the canteen and headed for the sports field.

There was not a running track but that didn’t matter. He took off his boots—he never wore socks—put on his running shoes and started to jog round the field. The Tough was thinking about the race as he circled the field. His opponents would include the South African, Bruce Sedgeman, and Ken Bell, the young Scot, who had surprisingly pipped him on the post at their one and only encounter. Possibly the most formidable of the runners would be the American, Martin Heyer. He had been burning up the tracks at home and had an unofficial 4 minutes 6 seconds mile. From what Alf had read about him, he was a tremendously strong finisher. “I’ll have to save a bit up for that last lap,” muttered Alf. “As soon as Martin Heyer starts his spurt, I’ll go with him.” His eyes gleamed excitedly at the prospect of that last all-out dash for the tape. Running was Alf’s sport and the prospect of such a conflict gave him a big thrill. To finish with, he did two fast circuits of the field then had a rest. The hooter sounded and he returned to the shop. He stood and had a look at the chassis. He had some small jobs to do to it, but it was on one of the side members that he fixed his gaze. “Ted, this don’t look right,” he said. “What doesn’t?” asked the foreman. Alf squatted and peered closely at the side member. “No, it ain’t right,” he repeated. “It’s in proper alignment, Alf,” Chipping said. “I’ve tested it.” Alf uttered a grunt and picked up a hammer. He started to tap along the side member. In the middle of the spar, he tapped several times. “It’s just here, Ted,” he said. “There’s a flaw just here.” “It sounded the same to me,” exclaimed Ernie. “Then you must be deaf,” said Alf. It was a crude test but Alf had brought anxious expressions to the crew’s faces. At one time they would have scoffed, but the mechanics now had a big respect for the Tough’s knowledge of metals, technicalities meant nothing to him, but he had worked with metals ever since he had left school. “You’d better let the boss know,” he added. “Something will have to be done.” Chipping’s phone call brought Sherman down from his office in quick time. “The chassis ain’t really safe, mister,” Alf told him. “It might hang together but sooner or later there’ll be a bust.” “We’ll take it over to the test shop,” Sherman exclaimed. “It won’t take them long to find out if there’s a concealed flaw or not.” The chassis was lifted on to a trolley and trundled away. Then there was an anxious wait for the report. In the test shop there was equipment which in effect, would take X-ray photographs of the side-member. Within the hour, Sherman returned and his face was grave. “The photographs show a flaw,” he said. “There’s some crystalisation of the metal and a flaw had developed. There was a tense, worried hush in the shop. “That puts us out of the race, then,” Chipping muttered. “No, there’s still a chance of having the car ready,” said Sherman. “The chassis for the second Cougar is just about ready. Modifications will be necessary, but we can put on a night shift and you can get to work on it in the morning.” Sherman was throwing out a challenge. The gang would receive a bare chassis frame. Upon it they would have to reconstruct the car. “I’ll give you all the help you need,” he added. “I reckon we can just about do it,” Chipping said grimly. “Friday will be about the earliest we can finish—which will only give Mr Kimball Saturday for practice.” “Do your best,” exclaimed Sherman. “We don’t want the Festival Trophy to be lifted by a foreign car.” Sherman left in a hurry to give orders about the new chassis. In spite of the fact that the mechanics were faced with night and day work through the week, there was an atmosphere of excitement in the shop. Chipping turned to Alf. “What about you?” he asked. “Do you still want to go on Thursday? There won’t be much sleep for us till the job’s done.” Alf scowled. “I belong to the gang, don’t I?” he retorted. “I’ll stay.”

ALF SLEEPS ROUGH

By Thursday afternoon, tempers were on edge. The work was going well though snags had been encountered and overcome by skill. It was lack of sleep which was leading to loss of tempers. Alf had worked half through the night in completing alterations to the body.

 

During the morning, he had to tackle a series of tricky jobs in making brackets. Now it was found that the exhaust pipes were fouling a cross bracing strut. Chipping showed the Tough what he wanted done. It meant a slight alteration to the shape of each pipe. The extra clearance required was only about an eighth of an inch, but it was a big job for Alf. Alf pulled his goggles down. The sparks flew. His eyes ached and so did his head from the sustained concentration required. Then the phone gave a buzz—and another buzz. “Answer the blamed thing, Cyril,” roared Chipping. “If it’s for me, say I’m out.” Cyril went to the wall phone, put the receiver to his ear and then shouted, “It’s for you, Alf.” “Then they’ll have to hang on,” growled the Tough. A minute passed before he switched off and crossed to the phone. The operator in the works exchange was a bit snappy because she had been kept waiting. It was by Sherman’s orders that calls for the racing gang were put through. It was a privilege not given to others parts of the factory. “I have a trunk call waiting for you,” she snapped. “Here you are.” The voice of Commander Churcher rasped on the line. “We were expecting at Tapley, Tupper,” he said sharply. “Why haven’t you turned up?” “I’m working, mister,” replied Alf gruffly. “But you’ve been picked to run for England,” said Churcher. “So has the Cougar car,” retorted Alf. “I’ll get along as fast as I can, but it won’t be to-day.” “I think you should have notified us a lot sooner,” said Churcher angrily. “Cars can’t speak, mister,” growled Alf. “It never told us something was going to go wrong.

On Friday afternoon, the rebuilt Cougar was loaded into the flying box-car. The impossible had been done. It was on its way. Another plane was waiting to fly the mechanics over. Alf caught the train at Greystone. He had to change at Wycombe Junction for Tapley. He stretched out on a seat and was asleep in a moment. He had not had more than cat naps since the flaw in the chassis member was discovered. Now he slept like a log. He was aroused by somebody shaking his shoulder vigorously. “Snap out of it, chum,” said a gruff voice. Alf gave a tremendous yawn, squeezed his eyes and shuffled into a sitting position. “Is this Wycombe?” he asked thickly. “Wycombe? This is London,” said the porter. Alf fetched his knapsack off the rack and slung it over his shoulder. “Can I get a train to Tapley?” he asked. “Nine o’clock from platform three,” said the railwayman. Alf trudged to the refreshment room. He drank a cup of tea and ate a small meat pie. It was about half-past seven. He was sitting in a corner of the refreshment room and his head started to loll. He put his arms on the table and rested on them. Then he became dead to the clangour and bustle around him. He was awakened by the bang of a bucket. Somebody gave him a push. He raised his heavy head. The refreshment room was empty except for two or three cleaners. It was one of these women who had wakened him. “You ought to have been out of here long ago,” she said. “Sorry, Ma,” replied Alf and stared at the clock. “Whew, is that the time?” “The clock is kept five minutes fast so that people don’t miss their trains,” was the answer. “I’ve missed mine,” growled the Tough, for the clock was at a quarter-to-eleven. He trudged out into the big hall and went up to a porter. “When’s the next train to Tapley?” he asked. “Half-past seven in the morning,” said the porter. Alf thought this over. “Then there ain’t much point in me going,” he muttered. Alf tried several small hotels and boarding houses round the station, but they were all full. He was directed to a lodging house and saw a long queue outside. At Tapley, the non-arrival of Alf had annoyed Commander Churcher intensely. He would have been even upset if, at one o’clock in the morning, he had taken a walk along the Thames Embankment. There he would have seen England’s representative in the Mile asleep on a bench.

 

THE MILE OF THE CENTURY

The flags streamed out round the great stadium. A record crowd for any sports meeting in Britain filled the stands and terraces. To the stirring music of the Massed Bands of the Guards, the parade of athletes was taking place. Commander Churcher, wearing a red blazer and flannels, stood and watched the parade with Sir William Waite, the president of the Federation.

“Look at Tupper,” he said severely. “He’s marching out of step.” “He looks half asleep to me,” snapped Sir William, who had been, who had been a runner of distinction during his university days. “We found him asleep in a dressing-room when we got here,” said Churcher. “He had been eating chips! We found the remains of a package of chips scattered round him. I regret his selection. I gather he’s been working all hours on the Cougar car.” The parade ended, to Alf’s relief. He thought that marching round was a bit daft. Britain’s great revival since the war in athletics was maintained that afternoon, but the event for which the spectators were eagerly waiting was the Mile. There was a stir of great excitement when the event was announced and the runners called to the starting line. Martin Heyer’s, in the American colours, was quickly picked out as he jogged up and down. He was a tall, bronzed fellow of powerful build. There was no doubt that the warmth would be to the liking of Bruce Sedgeman. He had not been at his best when he last ran against Alf, but was now back to the peak of his form. The swarthy South American, Ibitso, looked in fine fettle. Ken Bell had a quiet confident look. Alf leaned down and rubbed his hands up his legs. He straightened himself and breathed deeply. He wished his head did not feel quite so heavy. He saw a man in a white coat, with a tea container strapped on his back, coming along in front of the crowd. Alf dashed up to him, followed by a stare from Churcher. “Gimme a cup, mate,” he said. “I’ll pay you after.” “Have it on me,” chuckled the man as he filled a cardboard cup for Alf. The Tough sipped at the scalding tea. He had a good blow at it and sipped again. He managed to gulp it down before the final call to the line. “Get to your marks…” There was a deep hush in the stadium at the sight of the runners going to their marks. It was to be a “staggered” start. Each man would run in his own lane. “Get set…” The gun! Out along that grand track started the runners. As Alf strode out he forgot all the ups and downs of the past week, the hard work and the strain, his sleepless nights and his hard couch on the Embankment bench. There was the finest track in Europe under his feet and five men to beat. Round came the six runners in nearly a straight line. The pace was very fast. Alf felt grand. He was running within himself. He was going to be ready for Heyer’s tear-away finish. The television cameras followed the runners and the radio commentators spoke fast. Ibitso took the lead in the second lap. In the third, Heyer, without any hurrying caught him. Alf was close up. He was appreciating the great speed of the American. He was battling along at a relentless pace. The third lap was grueling. As the runners neared the end of the circuit, a thrill of anticipation seethed through the spectators as they waited for Heyer’s speed burst. It came! Alf was watching him. The bell clanged. As if he had only been jogging along before, Heyer broke into an astounding spurt. “I’ll have to go with him,” muttered Alf. “Lummy, but I never knew it would be like this.” It hammered through Alf’s head that he must stay with Heyer and he responded to this spurt with a burst of his own. Thus, instead of one runner drawing away from the bunch, there were two. A tremendous roar arose at the sight of the Tough going away with the powerful American. In all his running career, Alf had never had to make such demands upon himself, never had a spurt started so soon or been maintained at such speed. Heyer was striding fast and Alf still stayed with him. Further and further away they pulled from the others. At the half-way mark, they were racing like a couple of sprinters. Alf threw tremendous demands on his big heart and lungs and drove himself along. There was a tightening round his skull but the other man was still going flat out and the Tough kept up with him. The spectators were in a frenzy, a frenzy of hope that there might be a British win, a frenzy of fear that Alf would crack. Round the last curve they raced and still they were together, Alf had a blurred glimpse of the tape. He had nothing left. He was all burned up, but he saw the tape and he “ran with his arms” and made for it. His head was drawn back and his face was contorted in a snarl. He clawed at the air and he was semi-conscious as he ran over the line, staggered and dropped flat with a roar in his ears. He was pulled to his feet and he sagged in the arms of the stewards who had picked him up. “Did I run him?” he panted. Churcher’s voice rang out triumphantly. “You beat him, Tupper,” he shouted. “You beat him in the last three yards.” Alf’s body was heaving. He gulped for breath and he grinned. “You’ll have to let me sit down,” he said. “I don’t seem to have any legs.” To the roll of thunderous applause, Alf was carried off. He had run the Mile in 4 minutes 6 seconds.

FIRE!

The racing cars snarled past the pits. The black R.A.K. was just in the lead. The crimson and yellow Scoda thundered past. The Cougar streaked by in a green flash. With a shrill whine of superchargers, the other cars went by. The Festival Trophy Race was half over.

 

The drivers had another 120 miles to cover. “Stand by,” Sherman shouted. “He’ll make his pit stop next time.” Alf made sure his wheel wrench was in his hand. He glanced as the four new wheels leaning ready against the counter. Sherman was watching his stop-watches. Tremendous speeds were being maintained. The record for a lap had already been broken. Con Allan in the R.A.K., had lapped at 91.3 miles an hour. “One minute!” Sherman rapped out. Chipping stood ready with the fuel hose. Ernie would see to oil and water. Alf and Bert braced themselves to do a lightning change of wheels. The scream of superchargers was heard. Into sight came the R.A.K. and the Scoda. With a widening gap because it was stopping, the Cougar came past the stands and turned towards the pit. Before the engine had spluttered to a stop. Bert had pushed the jack under the front of the car and lifted it. Alf slapped his wrench over the first of the ear nuts and fetched it off with a tug. Bert dragged the wheel off. The Tough slammed the new wheel on, tightened it and dashed to the other front wheel. As he came round, Alf uttered a yell. “Look out!” he screeched. “The fuel hose is split…” He saw a fine spray spurting from a crack in the fuel hose, saw fuel falling on the hot exhaust pipe. Alf threw his wrench down. He grabbed for the fire extinguisher on the counter. With a flash the fuel ignited and Chipping reeled back from the searing heat as he smashed the extinguisher cap. Foam gushed over the exhaust pipe and the car. As swiftly as it had started, the flames and smoke were snuffled out. In frantic haste, the mechanics worked to swab the foam away and clean up the cockpit and steering wheel. Then Alf and Bert changed the remaining three wheels so fast that almost before the crowd realised what had happened, the Cougar was pulling out and was back in the race. Alf then had time to discover that he was smothered in foam from face to feet. “Thank goodness you were so quick, Alf,” Ernie gasped. “If the fire had got a real hold, our chap would have had it.” Alf flung handfuls of the soapy mass off himself. “He must have lost a lot of time,” he said. “We’re two minutes behind the leaders, but they have their pit stops to make,” Sherman exclaimed. “Our chap will keep his foot down on the boards now,” Ernie said. “He can make up what he’s lost.” The R.A.K. and Scoda came in two laps later. Both were out again in 45 seconds, but now Kimball was making up for lost time with a vengeance. Radio commentators at other points on the course kept speaking of his sensational cornering. The excitement reached its peak when, with one lap to go, the Cougar overtook the Scoda in front of the grandstand and closed in on the R.A.K. The minutes passed and then the scream of engines was heard. Alf cocked his head at an angle and listened. “Our chap’s in front,” he whooped. “He’s going to make it.” The sight of the green car leading brought the grandstand spectators to their feet and it passed the chequered flag five seconds in front of the R.A.K. to win the Festival Trophy for Britain. Ernie smiled broadly. “Now we can relax a bit,” he said. “As soon as we get home, I’m taking the missus and kids to Blackpool. What are you going to do, Bert?” “I’m going with the missus and kids to Clacton,” replied Bert. Ernie looked inquiringly at Alf. “How will you spend your holiday week, Alf?” he asked. Alf grinned. “I’ll be running most days,” he said.

 

THE END

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 2006