Wagon Train. ( Part 1)
We met up behind the garages. We didn’t have long. I had to be in by 6.30 or Mum would go mad. Reggie told us the news. It was definitely there. He’d just heard his dad talk about it over dinner.
Today was Friday. It would be there till Sunday. That was good enough for us. The raid was on.
Me, Dave, and Trevor were all eleven years old. Reggie was a year older and went to big school. That made him the leader.
The treasure was being stored in railway carriages on the sidings behind German Hill.
We didn’t know why it was there or where it was on its way to. It was just there and that was good enough for us.
German Hill was a vast waste ground that led down to the river on the Thames View Estate.
Called German Hill because of the number of small concrete bunkers that were scattered around where soldiers used to look out at the Thames to see if the Germans were coming.
It would be a dangerous mission. Barking Power Station was just up the road and people said that German Hill was where all the waste from the station was dumped. The waste was poisonous and could turn your flesh to jelly in seconds. It was also haunted. It used to be where they buried plague victims hundreds of years ago. At night they all came to life and attacked anyone that dared enter their kingdom. So we had to do everything in broad daylight. It was risky.
But they were risks we’d have to take. There was Popcorn to be had. And it was Butterkist. The sort you see kids in America eating when they’re sitting in cars watching movies.
The route there was easy enough. Through our estate, then up to The Thatched House pub, across the busy, scary and child killing A13, through the Industrial Estate , turn right at The Ship and Shovel pub into River Road, then it was a fifteen minute walk to German Hill. If we went any further we’d be in The Thames.
Coming back we’d have to change route. We’d be carrying boxes of popcorn and didn’t want to be seen by too many people. We’d continue through the wasteland and come out onto the A13 at Dagenham. Once we’d crossed the child killing road we’d walk over the bomb sites at Goresbrook. Then through the narrow back streets of the Castle Green area and finally enter our Estate from the rear. It wouldn’t be easy. Rival gangs might spot us and want to steal our prize. If necessary we’d have to fight our way back.
We’d arranged to meet at one o’clock on Saturday outside Old Ken’s sweet shop at the front end of the Estate. Reggie wanted to go earlier but Dave had to go and get a new pair of school shoes with his Mum and Trevor always had to take shopping to his Aunt Flo on Saturday mornings.
We were all there at one o’clock. Surprising really as none of us had a watch. But if we had, we’d have synchronised them like they do in the films. We made a pact. No matter what happens, no one gets left behind.
The journey up to the Thatched House was easy enough. But then we had to cross the A13. It was a child killer. Our Mums had told us so many times. “Don’t you dare go near that road. It’ll kill you!”
But with stealth and timing we achieved the impossible. We were on the other side.
We soon reached the Ship and Shovel and now it was just one long straight walk down River Road until we could see the vast wilderness of German Hill. The whole area was deserted. An occasional Lorry would pass us on its way to the Power Station but there were no people. Perhaps they were too scared to go anywhere near German Hill, but not us. We were on a quest.
There was a fence to climb but no problem for us. We were up and over in seconds. The ground was boggy. It made squelching noises as we put our feet down. We quickly realised that wearing our school plimsolls may have been a mistake. Especially Trevor because his pair had a hole in each toe.
With wet feet and feeling the icy wind blowing in off the Thames we plodded on until River Road was far away in the distance. Our brave leader Reggie went on ahead and he was the first to see them. Four wooden Railway Carriages.
Reggie’s Dad called them Wagons, a word we all loved. We were cowboys on our way to a Wagon Train.
We circled the Wagons. Up close they were enormous. But they were no match for our gang. I stood on Dave’s shoulders and pulled at what looked like a giant lever. The door started to move to one side. After a few tugs it opened wide enough for us to see what was inside.
Big brown cardboard boxed with the magic words BUTTERKIST written on them. The treasure had been found. I pulled three boxes off the wagon, one of them split open as it hit the floor. This wasn’t just any old popcorn. This was the god of popcorn. Toffee Popcorn.
None of us had ever tried it before. Popcorn, especially Butterkist Toffee Popcorn was for the posh kids. The sort of kids that went to posh schools and whose mums and dads had nice cars and houses with inside toilets and soft paper. Most kids on our estate had never heard of popcorn let alone tasted it. Our gang knew about it because it was advertised on the big screen at Saturday morning pictures.
Reggie was the first to open a packet. He tipped some of it into his hand. “It’s sticky” he said, then put the handful into his mouth. He munched away like a greedy hamster. We waited for his approval. Finally he swallowed and nodded. “It’s good.”
We all dived in and for the next five minutes there was a popcorn eating frenzy. Reggie was right. It was good. Very good.
But our leader quickly brought us back to our senses.
“Enough now. We’ve got to get this lot back to Dave’s dads shed before dark.”
He was right of course. Our raid had been successful but the quest wasn’t over yet.