Germiston shed always had a few spare fireman and drivers booking on duty at 4am everyday. These guys were there just in case any extra workings should crop up or if someone booked off sick or never turned up for duty.
It was winter in 1987 and I had just arrived at shed on my 900cc Honda m/bike. I was freezing and just wanted to heat up. I signed on duty and then began to chat with a few others also on standby. When on standby we were supposed to stay in the sign-on room just in case we were required for duty but that rarely happened. Most of the time would be spent having a laugh with drivers or in my case with Dr Rocky Lottering chasing me around the shed. Over/under locos, up on the shed roof, up the coal stage, you name it he had chased me trying to soak me with water etc. The whole shed used to call it the Richard and Rocky show.
Anyway, as we were talking away in the sign on room Rocky walked in towards the Forman's office, "I have no fireman" were his words. Like lightning 4 of us rushed out of the sign-on room and headed for the shed. Two other young fireman were still sitting in there and they can go with Rocky but by no means were any of us going with Mad Rocky today.
By 6am the four of us were hiding inside a 15F (2910 I think) firebox playing cards with a torch and in silence. Her fire had been dropped the previous day and it was just the right temp inside to have a party. This was common practice for the standby fireman, especially the older ones who knew all the tricks in the depot. It had been going on for years and nobody knew where to find us, that was until today. We heard Cafe-cats' (the Foreman) voice and knew he was nearby. Silence was the name of the game. We then heard someone climb up on the footplate and then we saw a bright torch shining from the firebox door. "So dis waar julle bl####ms hang uit, nou is julle is in die kak" (so thats where you bas###ds hang out, now you are in the s##t). On that note the firebox door slammed shut and he even tied it closed with a strand of wire or string while he went and got the top supervisor. Oh boy were we in the s##t we had to think very quickly.
First plan was to try and attract someone from the shed to open the fire door but with no luck it was time to think again. This time we managed to remove one of the grates but that meant having to squeeze then lay down in the ashpan then out the ashpan slide. One hell of a job. To make matters worse the bloody ashpan slide was closed. It was a very hard decision but it was that or get suspended for a few days without pay. We voted to try it and succeeded. The smallest one of us went first and tried to open the ashpan slide but could not. After many a try he managed to get the drop grate open from inside the ashpan. A 15F has a centre drop grate and this made it much easier for us to get to the slide.
Biggest problem we had was when one of us got into the ashpan hopper there was no room to move and it was very difficult to get ones hands onto the slide. Time was running out so we tried one last plan. The strongest one of us (not me) was then held upside down by the rest of us and lowered head first through the drop grate and into the ashpan hopper. Within two seconds he had opened the slide. With all of us now covered in ash and soot we quickly made our escape through the ashpan and into the pit below. Last one out we started heading towards the front of the loco when we heard Cafe-cat and others approaching. From the pit we could see them walking right past us and then we watched them climbing into 2910s cab. "die bl####ums is hier in" (the bastards are in here). Like a shot we were at the other end of the pit, out through the shed and over to the fitters workshop. A quick blowdown with the compressed air hose and a very fast sprint over to the sign-on room.
"Where the F##k have you lot been" asks one of the drivers. "two trains are standing due to no fireman". We quickly explained and asked him and the rest to keep quiet and say we were in the 15M shop helping with the re-building of 25NC 3472. The plan worked and we got let off but Cafe-cat knew there was much more to the story than that, but just could not prove it.