One night, towards the end of December, in 1874, when skating by moonlight, not far from Cambuslang, I chanced to meet a young friend, a clerk in the Glasgow and South-Western Railway, who, like myself, was enjoying the pleasures of the ice. Tom was not with me, for he, poor fellow! was not well enough to be out o’ nights in winter. My young friend gave me, with great eagerness, a rare piece of news. Mr. Johnstone, the Glasgow and South-Western general manager, was retiring and Mr. Wainwright was to succeed him! Well, that did not excite me, and I wondered at his earnestness; but more was to follow. Mr. Wainwright, as general manager, required a principal clerk and there was, it seemed, no one in the place quite suitable. He must be good at correspondence, and expert at shorthand. I was, my young friend said, the very man; I must apply. Mr. Wainwright was English, so was I; I came from the Midland, and the Midland and the Glasgow and South-Western were hand and glove. How lucky we had met; he had not thought of me till this very moment. It was fate. Would I write tonight? By this time I was as eager as himself. No more skating for me that night. I hurried home, Tom and I composed a careful and judicious letter. I posted it in Her Majesty’s pillar box hard by; went to bed, but was too excited to sleep. An answer soon came, and an interview with Mr. Wainwright followed. I received the appointment, at a salary of 120 pounds a year to begin with; and in the early days of the new year, two years after my first appearance in Scotland, entered upon my duties, not at Saint Enoch Station, where the headquarters of the Glasgow and South-Western now are, but at Bridge Street Station on the south side of the river, where the office staff of the company was then accommodated.
Such unromantic literature as Acts of Parliament had not, it may be supposed, up to this, formed part of my mental pabulum. I knew that an Act was a necessary preliminary to the construction of a railway, and this was all I knew concerning the relations between the railways and the State. Whilst a little learning may be a dangerous thing, in my new situation, I soon discovered that a general manager’s clerk would be the better of possessing some knowledge of the numerous Acts of Parliament that affected railway companies. Almost daily questions arose in which such knowledge was useful; so I determined to become acquainted with them, and in my leisure hours made as profound a study as I could of that compilation which, in railway offices was then in general use—Bigg’s General Railway Acts. I found the formidable looking volume more readable than I had imagined and less difficult to understand than I had expected.
Governments have ever kept a watchful eye on railway companies. Up to 1875, the year at which we have now arrived, no less than 112 general Acts of Parliament affecting railways had been placed on the Statute Book of the realm. They were applicable to all railways alike, and in addition to and independent of the special Acts which each company must obtain for itself, first for its incorporation and construction, and afterwards for extensions of its system, for the raising of capital, and for various other purposes.