Interview: Machine OP 'Mad Jack' Retires from Quattro After Almost 25 Years



In 1999, RRV operator Jack Rowland was welcomed into the Quattro family.  Since then, Jack has worked on rail all over the country, including Manchester Piccadilly, Crewe, Derby, lines in the Scunthorpe Docks and hundreds of p-ways.  The chances are if you’ve rode the train up the west coast mainline, those tracks were laid by ‘Mad Jack’.

Born and raised in Clifton, Manchester, Jack Rowland is now retiring at the end of November after a lifetime of nights on the railway.  We caught up with him to reflect on his career and what’s next for the self-proclaimed ‘adrenaline junkie’.

How did you get started on machines?

My father was a tip foreman for the National Coal Board.  During the school holidays he got me started on a bulldozer.  At aged fifteen I could hardly reach the pedals!  I drove it with lots of padding behind me in the seat.  Back then you had to have ‘arms like Garth’ to use bulldozers!  As I got older I started work on rail doing drainage, got my PTS then carried it through to work all over the country.

Is this something you wanted to do as a young boy?

Well… school was eventful.  I wasn’t the brightest but I wasn’t a bad boy.  I loved metalwork and woodwork, and the more practical, hands-on subjects.  At Christmas I’d get something and sit down to take it apart.  I liked mechanical toys and finding out how they worked.  It was a case of dismantle it to see the parts then not know how to put it back together!

Do you prefer working days or nights?

Lately I’ve been on days but I prefer nights because it’s easier to travel round the country.  You can get home before the traffic.  On the nights there’s great camaraderie, you always meet the same people.  If you can’t remember their names you can give them nicknames!  I've always had a bad memory for names; that's why I call everybody 'Cock'.

What’s your nickname?

I have many, none can be printed.  Let’s stick with ‘Mad Jack’.  I got that name because of some of what I used to get up to in my younger years. I liked danger!  At sixteen I used to go caving, climbing, hand gliding, pot holing, you name it.  I was a proper adrenalin junkie.  I’d just do daft stuff just so I can say, ‘I’ve done it.'  Hand gliding was the most terrifying, you run down a hill then you’re up in the air, but one wrong turn and you’re on the ground.  It took a lot of concentration so I decided just to do it the once.  I went caving and climbing a lot.  I loved to see something new that I’ve never seen before, see something different first time, like when water drips down and forms a curtain in the cave, that’s beautiful.  

My dad always said ‘You’re a stupid bugger, but if you enjoy doing it, do it.  Don’t miss out on life.’

What’s the most satisfying thing about being an RRV operator?

When the job gets completed and everybody’s happy you can say ‘Look what I built’.  I built the West Coast mainline, hundreds of little side tracks, single line tracks, lines in the Scunthorpe Docks, some tracks on the east coast.  The variety is also really good, you’re never short of somewhere new to go or a new face to meet.

What’s your best machine to work on?

My favourite machine to operate is a Mec 14, or a Mec 12.  A 24 tonner.  With a bendy boom it could dig like hell.  I like re-railing and thimbling too.  

What’s your top food to take on shift?

My buttie box includes sandwiches, a chocolate bar, two mini pork pies, and some salt n’ vinegar crisps. 

Photo 2003

What advice would you give a rail apprentice who is starting out?

Keep your head down, take as many courses as you can, get on with it and keep stepping up.

What will you miss most about working at Quattro?

I’ll miss the people, but I think it’s time to retire.  I had a heart attack 18 months ago and it gave me perspective.  After that I bought a treadmill.  At aged sixty-six I’ve decided not to push myself anymore. But I’m not a vegan yet!

What do you have planned for your retirement?

I love springers; pistol air rifles. I’ve been into shooting since I was eight.  I renovate them and do them up and sell them on.  That’s my side business and that’s what I’ll be doing.  I’ll also be going on a cruise with my wife, a fortnight around the Med.  I’ll take a few books and lie on a lounger, that will do fine!  I'll also enjoy a nice steak and chips dinner, not cooked by me, I burn water.

Finally, Jack, tell us about your trademark moustache.

I got it when I was fifteen and it has been there ever since.  I grew it to get into pubs before I was eighteen!

Callum Jardine, Contract Manager:  ‘It’s about time Jack retired.  It was taking him longer and longer to get in and out a Mecalec! Happy retirement Jack, we will miss you!’

Peter Jardine, Regional Rail Director:  ‘Finally Jack is standing aside to let the younger generation of RRV operators through… Then again I told him he should have done that 20 years ago.  We wish him a fantastic retirement. In the words of Jack Roland ‘All right, Cock!’

John Murphy, Managing Director:  ‘It’s been an honour to have someone as experienced as Jack at Quattro. We wish him all the best and all good things to come. After nearly 25 years with us, he’s more than earned it!   Happy retirement and congratulations!  We'll see you off with a few pints of your favourite Holts Crystal Lager in your honour.’

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