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Reporters | 20th May 2020

Shankend aerial combat


By Bruce McCartney of Langholm

THE article in the E&L about Shankend and ghostly voices on tape brought to mind an experience of mine at Shankend.

Being interested in fiddling with electricity and building radios, it was a happy experience for me to get a summer holiday job in 1962 with Pete and Andrew, Rutherford Brothers, Hawick.

As well as the usual irons, toasters, TVs and radios to fix, Tuesdays, being half-day closing in Hawick was the day that TV aerials were installed. 

My knowledge of the Borders and out-of-the-way farms increased as Andy, the boss, Alan, the apprentice, and I went on installation jobs.

We reckoned that maybe three a day was good going; we worked well as a team.

1962 was about the time the BBC and Border Television had not long started transmission from Selkirk so there was a steady stream of TV aerials to put up.

One Tuesday we had two jobs at Shankend: the station house; and the farm, Shankendshiel, in the lee of the viaduct.

The aerial and TV installation on the station house went

quickly and according to plan: fine strength signals from Selkirk to the north.

I can remember the shaking as trains went past while I had my foot on the last rung of the ladder to keep it steady while Alan was at the chimney.

In the shadow of the viaduct, Shankendshiel house needed all three extensions of the ladder pulled out and, as was normal for this type of job, the aerial was attached to the mast on the ground and the whole lot taken up by the apprentice, Alan, to the chimney stack where he had already fixed the mast mountings.

The boss usually installed the TV with the owner of the house in the TV room.

When ready, the apprentice would drop the coaxial cable, I would catch it and feed it through to the boss who plugged it into the set.

Once again, my “job” was to stand with a foot on the bottom of the ladder.

After the mast had been slipped into the mountings on the chimney stack, Alan would shout “okay” and I’d relay this through the TV room window to the boss.

Andy would say “Swing now”, I’d shout this to the apprentice and he would slowly swing the aerial in the general direction of the transmitters.

Once a good picture was obtained and possibly the aerial swung too far round, the boss would shout, “Back a bit!” and Alan would very slowly turn the aerial, waiting for “That’s it, tighten up”. Job done.

That was the theory; normally, it was successful and straightforward but nothing was seen on the TV when the aerial was pointed in the general direction of Selkirk.

So the boss shouted, “Swing it right round”. It wasn’t unheard of to receive a “bounce” from a hill 180 degrees from the correct direction. Nothing. Not even a grainy picture was received.

After double-checking connections and cables, the boss called it a day and I relayed the message to Alan at the chimney stack.

He loosened the bolts, withdrew the mast and started on his way down the three-extension ladder with mast and aerial over his shoulder. 

Suddenly, from inside the house, “Stop there!”. My jaw dropped. Alan was half-way down the ladder and the aerial was pointing straight at the ground.

Not only that but he was on the side of the house which shielded the aerial from the transmitter.

The boss came out to have a look because he thought we were pulling his leg.

There were a few steps on the ladder where reception was almost perfect. Higher up or lower down and the picture disappeared into “snow”.

Nothing could be done in these circumstances and the boss reluctantly called it a day.

It would not be true to say that I never thought about that incident.  Teaching science and being a radio amateur positively showed that TV waves travel in straight lines. I just put it down as one of those things I couldn’t explain.

Then, several years ago, my wife bought me a book on railway ghosts.

It reported tales from around that part of the Waverley Route: tape recorders belonging to sound recordists had inexplicably failed; and a “presence” had been felt.

The hairs on the back of my neck rose. Were these strange occurrences and the strange reception at the Shankend TV related?

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