'Squizzy' spins out numbers for cricket and railways

STEEL RIDER: Former Indian-Pacific passenger train waiter 'Squizzy' Taylor checks out a book titled Riders of the Steel Highways.
STEEL RIDER: Former Indian-Pacific passenger train waiter 'Squizzy' Taylor checks out a book titled Riders of the Steel Highways.

As we held a book written by legendary cricket commentator Henry Blofeld, there was a small movement.

Ken (“Squizzy”) Taylor’s hand began to shake.

The tremor moved through the open pages and spine of the book to my hand holding the cover.

I looked at “Squizzy” – amazed at his resilience from Parkinson’s disease and incredible memory for facts and figures from the diverse worlds of cricket and railways.

His disease is a progressive disorder of the nervous system that affects movement.

But “Squizzy”, 69, has confounded his medical support team with the sharpness of his mind.

He rang me at The Recorder to report on an upcoming milestone in the history of the Indian-Pacific passenger train for which he worked as a waiter for 25 years.

We soon got into the Bradman Room – his bedroom adorned with photos of the world’s best batsman as well as Victor Trumper, struck down by kidney disease at 38 years old.

Then “Squizzy” produced a couple of books including the one by Blofeld who once journeyed on the passenger train to Western Australia.

Reading from the book, he quoted the author’s description of himself as the waiter: “He was short and fat. He never stopped smiling and laughing and was a genius at carrying four plates of soup without ever spilling a drop.”

“Squizzy” recalled the trip.

“Blofeld was on the Indian-Pacific in 1986. It was November 3 … or is that right?… yes, it was November 3,” he said.

“I had swapped shifts with another head waiter so I could be at the England versus Western Australia Country Eleven match at Kalgoorlie.

“It is the best job I ever had, especially the last five years when I got paid $60,000 a year to ‘bullshit’.”

He got along well with passengers and his colleagues alike.

He recalled doing his bit to advance the case of railway staff by travelling interstate in a delegation with the late Kevin Campbell to seek better conditions.

He remained friends with Mr Campbell, also a football “nut”, and kept acquaintances with the late Bob Everett who was also “mad” on cricket.

“I am a cricket ‘tragic’. My grandfather gets the blame because he took me to my first game of cricket, a Sheffield Shield match, and I saw the great Garfield Sobers start a double-century for South Australia,” he said.

“I went to high school the next day and came home and all I could hear on the radio was applause for Sobers who was just dismissed for 251 and he then took six wickets … I think for 72.

“Sobers, a West Indian, and batsman Graham Pollock, of South Africa, were the two best players I ever saw.

“I would have loved to have seen Bradman and Trumper who had Bright’s disease which affected his kidneys, but he would have lived today.

“I was a cricket ‘nut’ before I went into the railways. I hardly played the game – I had the keenness, but not the ability and I admit it.

“I competed in the railway teams.”

Asked whether he could identify a similarity between cricket and trains, he admitted that both were “stop-start” activities.

If “Squizzy” cannot remember a date, he knows where to find it quickly.

Opening a copy of Riders of the Steel Highways, he put his finger on September 14, 1912, as the date when the first sod was turned at Port Augusta for the building of the railway to Kalgoorlie.

“They used horses and primitive equipment as well as camels in the construction work,” he said.

He said he would “hate to think” how many times he crossed the land on the east-west journey.

“It used to be 1108 miles from Port Pirie to Kalgoorlie,” he said.

“Once every 10 days you would go to the west or you would go to Alice Springs on The Ghan passenger train.

“I remember there was flooding and food and grog was flown into us. It was April, 1974, at Petirder, in the Northern Territory while I was working on The Ghan.”

The son of Royal Australian Air Force personnel, “Squizzy” triumphed over educational shortcomings to carve his career beside the red deserts of the nation.

He never finished first-year high school.

“I was in the Army Cadets and I got a chill and I just never want back to school,” he said.

“I worked on sheep stations near Broken Hill and around Copley. I used to kill the ration sheep for the shearers and milk the cows.

“I wanted to join the army and got knocked back on medical grounds and I went on the railways.”

“Squizzy” grew up in Lyndoch, the son of air force cook Arthur James Taylor and Lillian Joyce Taylor who directed planes to bombing targets in World War II.

“Dad served overseas. He had a stove blow up in his face in the war and eventually it ate away his face,” he said.

“He was nicknamed ‘Shorty’, but all the other Taylors get called ‘Squizzy’ after the Melbourne gangster.”

And so the conversation eventually turned to the original subject that had been raised – the linking of railways in the desert.

Almost a century ago, on October 17, 1917, two kilometres west of Ooldea, the tracks linking Western Australia and South Australia were joined.

“When I was going west on the Indian-Pacific, we would pass the spot about 6am and coming home about 8pm,” he said.

“Every so often they would have an event to coincide with the time in history.

“I believe there will be an event at Ooldea to celebrate.”

Meanwhile, “Squizzy” is not so active at home in Esmond Road any more. His lovely wife of 44 years, Briony, painted the house, renovated the floor and built his bed.

He still has his books and his memories.

“I know all the names of the kings and queens of England,” he said proudly.