The main tool of shunters working with hook-and-chain couplings was a shunting pole, which allowed the shunter to reach between wagons to fasten and unfasten couplings without having physically to go between the vehicles.
The occupation of shunter is particularly dangerous because not only is there the risk of being run over, but on some railway systems, particularly ones that use hook-and-chain coupling systems, the shunters have to get between the wagons/carriages in order to complete the coupling and uncoupling even with the poles. This was particularly so in the past. The Midland Railway company, for example, kept an ambulance wagon permanently stationed at Toton Yard to give treatment to injured shunters.
In addition to this the early wagons only had the hand braking levers on one side. The shunter had to watch for the wagon coming and hop to the side with the brake so it could be applied before the wagon was uncoupled. Jumping about in front of moving wagons was quite a dangerous pastime!
As with any industry, the railways have developed special tools to deal with particular problems encountered either on the permanent way or on the operations side. Many can be now found in antique shops or even in car boot sales where their original use is unknown. A shunters pole was once found described as a 'weed puller!'
Rare 1960's film of Tinsley Marshalling Yard. At this time it was the world's most modern rail marshalling yard.
Framed copy on canvas of original painting owned by BHESS of Barrow Hill shunters "Walt Mutt Thompson" and Albert Whittaker (Brakestick)
by David Charlesworth (artist of Chesterfield).
Commissioned by National Railway Museum for their "Unsung Heros" series.
The film shows the use of these tools very clearly and indeed the dangers faced daily by the men using the brakestick.
In hump shunting yards before the introduction of somewhat safer means of slowing the free-rolling trucks, the brake stick was used to apply a greater leverage force to the braking lever. Not quite sure this would be allowed with today's safety rules!