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Going Loco

BLOG - A closer look at our collection of historic locomotives

With a collection of locomotives dating from Victorian times to the 1960s, there's plenty to discover.


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The Yanks Are Coming!

In recognition of our visitor from ‘over the pond’ I thought we had better have a look at this most unusual of things. A foreign steam locomotive that is both active in U.K. preservation and of American origins. The bigger barrier to most foreign steam engines operating in the U.K. is their size. This is a classic example of the U.K. inventing a technology but paying a price as a result. The network is built with a small loading gauge for the track gauge. What does this mean?

The track gauge in the U.K. is 4’ 8½”*. This is the distance between the right and left rails on the track. Thankfully, this British invention is the same for over 50% of all railway lines the world over and is known as Standard or Stephenson Gauge. This clearly means that the wheels for even the biggest U.S. locomotive can fit on U.K. track. This isn't the issue, it's the space around the rails that is. As we invented steam railways, this ‘loading gauge’ was set for us a lot earlier, when the trains themselves were a lot smaller. This means that there is even today an issue fitting the larger rolling stock of other countries on U.K. railways and why we don't see many foreign steam engines in preservation in the U.K.

1604 again, when handed over by the US Army to the British railways at Paddington station on 11 December 1942

This was also an issue during the Second World War. The entry of the Americans in to the conflict meant that the already stretched British network would be stretched even further. More locos would be the answer and thankfully, despite their enormous loading gauge in the land of the free, they had already been thinking about this. American locomotives in the main (should that be Maine?!**) were just too big. The United States Army Transportation Corps (U.S.A.T.C.) had initiated an update of a design used in WWI from the Baldwin Locomotive Works. This became a design called the S159. Another updated resulted in the far less well known S200 Class. These were of a 2-8-2 wheel arrangement and would today be known as a Mikado but the anti-Japanese sentiments of the time lead to them being known as MacArthurs after the famous American general. There was an Indian broad gauge version of this machine to run on the 5’ 3” network there. Another was known as the S118, built to run on the Cape / Metre / 3’ 6” gauge of parts of what was the British Empire.

The next move for the U.S.A.T.C. was to produce a loco that was truly built to the austerity demand of wartime. This engine had to be capable of operation on the British network until the invasion of Europe had begun. It then needed to be able to be quickly shipped to the continent. Thence operating throughout Europe on the war damaged networks there, supplying the troops as they moved forward. In order to make it as light on potentially compromised track as possible, a small wheel 2-8-0 design was chosen by the team of engineers lead by Major J. W. Marsh. The whole idea was to build something that would be reliable and dependable for as long as it was required. This was not thought to be long and wherever longevity could be reasonably sacrificed for fast construction and ease of serviceability, it was. Everything learnt from the previous designs was poured into this machine.

1606 at the head of an ambulance train which was handed over by the GWR to the US Army at Swindon on 24 March 1943

If you take a look at an S160 you will see that it is very different from standard U.K. railway practice. The foundation of a locomotive is its frames, and in most S160s they were cast structures. Here we almost exclusively used large slabs of steel with cast or fabricated spacers for our locomotive frames. American practice is to make a structure that is of an open ‘bar’ type. U.K. practice - even on our Austerity designs like the W.D. 2-8-0 and 2-10-0s - was to leave the majority of the boiler smooth and for ancillary systems to be hidden away. Not so over the Atlantic. Things are bolted on where it is convenient. Access is key and aesthetics are someone else’s problem. It has to be said that his generates a wonderful ‘industrial honesty’ type look all of its own, but you know what I mean!

The US Army medical team at the handover of the ambulance train on 24 March 1943

The suspension was set up so the leading and trailing driving wheel sets were independent of each other to enabling the engine to soak up the bumps in rough track. Rolled plate steel fabrications held sway over more time consuming castings where possible. The tender had insets in its sides that enabled the crew to see out easily in reverse. You could never know whether or not turntables and the like were still in operation in war torn Europe so being able to operate easily in reverse was a must. Not usual for a tender engine of the time.

These machines were produced in huge numbers - a total of 2,120 being built. The construction being split between the American Locomotive Company (ALCO), Baldwin Locomotive Works and the Lima Locomotive works who built 755, 712 and 653 respectively. They were 61’ long in total with the tender carrying 5,400 gallons of water and over 8 tons of coal. Two 19” diameter × 26” stroke pistons with 10” piston valves turned the eight 4’ 9” diameter driving wheels. With a boiler pressure of 225psi, this gave them a tractive effort of 31,492 lbf. They were a strong and adaptable workhorse.

2131 at Reading with a goods train, also a Star class 4-6-0 in the background, photograph by Maurice Earley

The first 800 examples were built between 1942 & 1943 and - here’s where the G.W.R. connection comes in - were delivered to Newport in Wales. The first 400 of those were assembled and prepared in the loco works of the big 4 railway companies and were sent out for what was termed ‘running in’ but in reality, they were being used to augment the home fleet of machines. They were distributed amongst the big 4 with the G.W.R. getting 174, the L.N.E.R. were loaned 169, The L.M.S. had the use of 50 and the S.R. used just 6. The second 400 were all prepared by the staff at the G.W.R.s Ebbw Junction shed and placed into storage in order to be ready for immediate shipment to Europe after the Normandy landings. Once deployed, those engines on loan were recalled to Ebbw Junction, refurbished and then sent on to Europe.

2131 at Reading again. Note the USA lettering on the tender has been amended to read: “Uncle Sam’s Army”, photograph by Maurice Earley

While the design was indeed easy to build, it wasn't necessarily perfect straight out of the box. The axle bearing lubrication was inefficient if not properly looked after - something easy to foresee in wartime conditions - and this lead to damage of the bearings. It was also found that the brakes on the locomotive were described as ‘less than satisfactory’. Not comforting going downhill with a 800+ ton freight train at your back... The most dangerous flaw however was in the water gauge design. The ‘Klinger’ type gauge was prone to giving false high readings if not fully opened in the correct manner. This is dangerous as it can lead to water no longer covering the top of the inner firebox. This causes the metal to soften and if it all goes really wrong, the boiler to rupture or even explode. These explosions are highly energetic and cause a great deal of destruction. In just ten months, 3 of the engines loaned to the U.K. suffered collapsed firebox crowns due to this problem. In one incident in November 1944, No. 2403 claimed the life of a G.W.R. fireman.

A USA locomotive with a northbound train of tank wagons, photographed at Kennington Junction by RHG Simpson

Despite these shortcomings, the S160 was the right machine in the right place at the right time. As with much produced in America for the war effort, it might not have been perfect but it was available in inexhaustible quantities, and that is often how you win a war. Once the conflict was over, they often stayed in service for their host nation until no longer required and scrapped. They served in Europe, Africa, Asia and North and South America. Many of them remained in service long after their short intended expiry date would have you believe. A number were constructed after the end of hostilities and they were a popular source of motive power the world over. There was one example confirmed working in China at a coal mine until as late as 1997!

Our visitor is No. 6046 from our friends at the Churnet Valley Railway. This example was built in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania by Baldwins and never came to the U.K. during the war. She was exported directly to France in 1945 to help in post war reconstruction efforts. Despite the fact that the French National Railways scrapped the majority of their S160s at the end of their usefulness to them, No. 6046 escaped and made its way to Hungary. There they were known as the M.A.V. 411 Class and she became No 411.144. She spent an unglamorous working life on the industrial lines of Hungary before being withdrawn. She was intended to be kept as part of Hungary's heritage fleet but was accidentally sent for scrapping. In an eleventh hour rescue, a British pilot called Martin Haines purchased her and brought her to the U.K. She was purchased from her long term home at Tyseley by Greg Wilson and moved to the Churnet Valley Railway where her restoration was completed in 2006. A damaged cylinder block caused her to require major repairs in 2014 and this was carried out back at Tyseley. Some of No. 6046’s sisters even spent time at Didcot during the war so it is great that she is here for you to see - if only briefly - in our anniversary year. She is the first of her kind ‘on shed’ in 75 years!

No. 6046, like her fellows in the U.K.***, are superb ambassadors. But not just for the Churnet Valley Railway. She is a lingering reminder of the valiant efforts and great sacrifice made to protect and regain freedom for Europe by the people of the United States. Despite the politics and events that the intervening time since World War I and II has bestowed upon history, a common bond was formed between the actual people of our nations. It is so important in a time when history is not always well interpreted that the actions of the heroes of all nations are honestly recognised and remembered. No. 6046, No. 3822 and No. 5322 are tangible reminders of that history. The defeat of tyranny that they represent is a shared heritage that both nations can and indeed should be rightly proud of.

The Celebrations to mark the 60th Anniversary of the Great Western Society will get underway at Didcot Railway Centre with a gala weekend featuring six locomotives in action on Saturday 31 July and Sunday 1 August including our special guest, S160 Class No. 6046.

Tickets on sale:

*The modern standard is to write this as 1,435mm around the world except with the last imperial measurement hangers on - the U.S.A. Who still use 4’ 8½”. The difference? 0.1mm.

**Geography Vs. English joke. I'll fetch my coat...

***No. 5167 and No. 3278 Franklin D. Roosevelt are also at the Churnet Valley Railway. No. 1631 is at the Great Central****, No. 2253 (named Omaha in reference to the American landing beach in Normandy on the 75th anniversary) is on the Dartmouth Steam Railway and No. 5820 is at the Keighley & Worth Valley Railway.

****The mortal remains of Nos. 2138 & 2364 are also held here as a source of spares for No. 1631.


Oh, six too? (Part 2)

We continue our look at the G.W.R. and it's absorbed railway 0-6-2 designs in recognition of our esteemed visitor from the North Yorkshire Moors Railway, No. 29. Last time we took a look at a whole host of different absorbed 0-6-2 locos and the railways that ran them. This comes to a close this week and will just leave us with the Swindon built examples in part three. Onwards!

Brecon and Merthyr Railway 0-6-2 saddle tank No 23 built by Vulcan Foundry in 1894. She received the GWR No 1692, and was withdrawn in July 1925

The Brecon & Merthyr Railway

This line originally connected Brecon to an ironworks at Dowlais. Further connections to Merthyr, Talyllyn, Pant and Merthyr followed. Then in conjunction with our next railway, The Rhymney, it made its way to Newport. It became part of the G.W.R. In July 1922 and slowly dwindled away as part of the National Network until the final pit closure in 1980. This railway's 0-6-2s feature a design first for our little tale - they were saddle tanks. The water tank being of a saddle shape that fitted over the top of the boiler. They were ordered from the Vulcan Foundary in August 1863 and were delivered to the railway in May of the following year. Unlike many of its fellow Welsh 0-6-2s, the two machines each had vacuum brakes for passenger working. The first two had a roof but no cab sides (must have been lovely in winter...) but a second pair received full cabs. They ran all over the B&MR system and out onto other lines with excursions. Swindonised after absorbed, the last of them was withdrawn in 1928.

The close working relationship with the Rhymney system meant that as an upswing in coal traffic began in the early years of the 20th Century, the companies bought locomotives that were very similar. The order went to Robert Stephenson & Co. Ltd. This time a total of eight eventually saw service on the line by 1914. They were a more ‘traditional’ 0-6-2 side tank engines that had a tractive effort of 24,510lbs. Also Swindonised in batches after being absorbed, these machines lasted much later into the 20th Century, some being withdrawn and scrapped by British Railways. They were also vacuum braked but spent a good deal of their time on coal workings from the Rhymney area to Newport. The Rhymney also had a series of 0-6-2s that had 5’ wheels, giving them the ability to run passenger services at reasonable speed. The last of these useful machines finally went to the great shed in the sky as late as 1955.

Rhymney Railway No 64 built as a 2-4-2 saddle tank in 1891 by the Vulcan Foundry and converted to an 0-6-2 in December 1911. One result is that the running plate has decorative curves above the middle and rear driving wheels, while the newly-installed front driving wheel retains the straight running plate. This locomotive was allocated the GWR number 150, but never carried it, being withdrawn in March 1923

The Rhymney Railway

The Rhymney was one of the larger of the independent railways of Wales. The 51 miles of track went from The London & North Western Railway outside Rhymney to Cardiff in the South. It was founded in 1858 and, like the vast majority of the other railways we have discussed, ended in 1922 as part of the grouping. The Rhymney had a really interesting version of the 0-6-2. Not only were they saddle tanks but the were outside framed as well. This means that the locomotive wheels are inside the main frames of the engine. These machines had their coupling rods in the outside of the frames on extended axles. These were the ‘57’ Class and were built by various contractors between 1890 and 1900. Boiler improvements and an updated cab were to be noted throughout their production run. In 1906 they became known as the ‘K’ class. 5 of their 2-4-2s built in 1891 were also rebuilt so that they were also essentially ‘K’ class as well. A boiler explosion on No. 97 caused by an improperly assembled safety valve meant that they engines all had them replaced by a more modern design from 1909. They had a range of different braking systems. Some even had Air Brakes - very unusual for UK steam. After grouping the engines were slowly reduced in number from 1925. Before the last went, 6 were rebuilt with pannier tanks making for an even more unusual sight! The last going in 1934.

Rhymney Railway ‘M’ class No 108 built in 1904. This became GWR No 49 and was withdrawn in April 1938

Rhymney Railway ‘AP’ class No 36 running as GWR No 79 entering Rhymney with a train from Cardiff on 1 August 1953. This was one of the locomotives designed for passenger working and built in August 1921. She was withdrawn in July 1955. Photograph by W Potter

The first 6 of their inside frame, side tank 0-6-2s were delivered to the railway in 1904 by Robert Stephenson & Co. these were known as the ‘M’ Class. These were disappointing and were not efficient producers of steam. A series of experiments to improve matters eventually worked and a tractive effort of over 24,000lbs was achieved. The ‘R’ Class were designed as a result of the experiences with the ‘M’s and these worked straight out of the box. Also using a range of suppliers there were a total of 12 were built. The same range of braking systems were applied to these machines as were the ‘K’s, depending upon their assigned duties. A larger wheeled (5’ diameter) passenger version came along in 1909 and these were given the class letter of ‘P’. As the driving wheel diameter had been increased, the tractive effort was reduced to 22,060lbs but enabled faster running. The last of this important group of 0-6-2s was the ‘A’ class, began to be delivered in 1910. These were intended for short freight trips and heavy shunting work and this was reflected in their smaller wheels and loco only brakes. Some were delivered or modified with a more modern boiler and became known as the ‘A1’ Class. No, not Flying Scotsman! There was also a passenger version of the ‘A’s too with the same 5’ driving wheels. This group of classes were very long lived in some cases and for non-standard pre-grouping designs they faired very well. Swindonisation helped to stave off the cutters torch with the last of these engines making it into the mid 1950s as part of the B.R. fleet.

Taff Vale Railway ‘O2’ class No 85, now preserved on the Keighley and Worth Valley Railway. This locomotive was built in May 1899 and received the GWR No 426 before being sold in 1927. This photograph was taken during a visit to Didcot Railway Centre in 2007 for the 40 75 gala (40 years since the GWS arrived at Didcot engine shed and 75 years since the engine shed was built)

The Taff Vale

This was the oldest of the pre-grouping Welsh railways to survive to 1923 and also the largest. Having it's origins way back in 1836, it's main line ran from Merthyr to Cardiff and the railway had a total of 112 miles of track. It was successful as well, moving 8 million tons of freight and 8 million passengers annually at its peak. Their first 0-6-2s were built in 1885 and they were some of the smaller versions we have seen. At just 49 tons and 17,380lbs tractive effort the ‘M’ and ‘M1’ Classes began as freight machines but were quickly replaced by more powerful machines. They soldiered on until the mid 1930s with the G.W.R. in the passenger role and a few even received auto working gear. A larger version called the ‘N’ Class followed and these were intended as mixed traffic engines although they remained mainly freight orientated. The ‘O’ and ‘O1’ classes were again slightly enlarged from the class before and again moved a lot of coal. These engines were sold into industrial service in the 1930s post grouping. The amazing thing is that one of them, T.V.R. No. 28, made its way to the very colliery that our current guest locomotive was built for - The Lambton, Hetton & Joicey Colliery. Even more remarkable is that it survived via use at the Army's Longmoor Military Railway. It became part of the National Collection in 1960. It has had periods of operation in the 1980s and 1990s but is currently a static exhibit on the Gwili Railway.

Taff Vale Railway ‘O4’ class No 48 early in life. This was built in May 1908 and went on to become GWR No 289, being withdrawn in August 1949. Photograph from the Great Western Trust collection

Passenger versions of the ‘N’ with the larger wheels trick followed in 1896 called the ‘U’ and ‘U1’s. Then the ‘O2’ class - a mid point between all the recent developments was tried. These were not as fortunate as the previous classes with only one ending up in industrial service. No. 85 was also sent to the Lambton network and was also preserved. This loco was rescued from destruction by the Keighley & Worth Valley Railway in 1970 and has enjoyed frequent returns to steam over the years. A long way from it’s Welsh origins* to be sure but it's still here and well cared for. Various other versions of the 0-6-2 were tried including the O3 (mixed traffic again), the O4 (freight) and finally the ‘A’ Class (back to passenger working). Most of the 0-6-2 classes of the Taff Vale had some or all of their members Swindonised post grouping and this resulted in a look that meant that unless you were ‘in the know’, you could be fooled into thinking that just another G.W.R. engine had gone past. The last few T.V.R. engines in B.R. service nearly made it into the 1960s so they did pretty well!

Taff Vale Railway ‘A’ class No 412, built in February 1921, running as GWR No 402, enters Pontypridd station in 1946 with a pair of trailers converted from early railmotors. This will form a train to Cardiff via St Fagans. The locomotive was later renumbered GWR 304 and withdrawn in August 1957. Photograph by I L Wright

It is a sobering thought that of all the engines I have mentioned in these 2 blogs, apart from the 2 Taff Vale machines, all of the Welsh engines are now gone. Swept away from the rails from the 1920s onwards. There are two good reasons for this. Even though there was an attempt to Swindonise the machines with G.W.R. parts, they were still non-standard. Although some did survive for a long time, a company that founded its early 20th Century engineering practice on standardisation wasn’t going to encourage too much of this sort of thing. Particularly so when many of the locos were in poor condition when the G.W.R. received them. It also has to do with the fact that there was a pretender to their throne. The G.W.R. was going to do its own version of the classic Welsh 0-6-2. More of that another time...

Taff Vale Railway ‘O4’ class running as GWR No 283 towards the end of her life. This locomotive had been built as TVR No 17 in August 1910 and was withdrawn in March 1949. Photograph from the Great Western Trust collection

Just a quick note to remind you again that a lot of the research for today's blog came from the fantastic book written by Society friend David Maidment entitled Great Western 0-6-2 Tank Engines, Absorbed and Swindon Designed Classes. This is from publishers Pen and Sword in their Locomotive Portfolio series. They are all a fantastic read and are available in the shop at Didcot Railway Centre so why not pick one up as a memento of your visit? A good read and the profits go towards looking after our fantastic Didcot home. What could be better?

*It was built by Neilson, Reid & Co. of Glasgow so perhaps it's just found a happy mid point?


Oh, six too?

Lambton Tank at Didcot Railway Centre June 2021 - Photo used with permission

The recent visit of Lambton Tank No. 29 set me to thinking about the 0-6-2T wheel arrangement. This has been a staple for colliery and coal related working in the UK for a very long time. On the pre grouping* railways of Wales - an area famous for the mining of a number of minerals, including coal - the wheel arrangement was very common. Let's take a look shall we?

The 0-6-2 wheel arrangement has a lot going for it in tank engine form. The main one being that it maintains the majority of the advantages of an 0-6-0 design in that the vast majority of the loco’s weight is over the driving wheels. This means excellent traction. An 0-6-0 is slightly hamstrung in the fact that the design doesn’t allow for large amounts of coal and water to be stored on board and without a tender, this limits the engine’s range. The more powerful you make your engine, the more fuel and water it consumes. So, if you add set of trailing wheels at the back, you can extend the frames and add more coal and water storage and yet keep the overall size of your machine fairly compact. Ideal for twisty routes through industrial and hilly terrain.

The ‘first use of the 0-6-2 wheel arrangement in the UK’ honour actually goes to the Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway designed by William Barton - Wright and built between 1877 and 1883. The most famous use in this earlier period goes to William Webb who designed a tank engine version of his 0-6-0 goods tender engine for the London, North Western Railway. Built between 1881 and 1897, they were very long lived. Some survived in service until the late 1950s. A single example of the Coal Tanks was preserved and is owned by the National Trust. No. 1054 (or L.M.S. No. 7799 or B.R. No. 58926) is cared for by the Bahamas Locomotive Society and lives on the Keighley & Worth Valley Railway. Other notable examples in the U.K. include the famous N7 suburban tank engines of the G.E.R. / L.N.E.R. which were famous for being used out of Liverpool Street Station in London.***

LMS Webb coal tank 0-6-2 No 7700 photographed by Ben Brooksbank at Swansea Paxton Street engine shed on 17 September 1946

However, as always, we are after the Great Western connection and for that we look to the Welsh Valleys. The G.W.R. was always a large concern and was in the main, little affected by the 1923 grouping. The area that it absorbed the majority of its new lines was in Wales. There were a whole host of small railways here and these are where we will find the majority of our 0-6-2s. While the 5 main users of the type are mentioned in these blogs, there were other pre grouping railways that flirted with the design. The Alexandra Docks Railway of No. 1340 Trojan fame**** had a motley collection of 0-6-2 locos, including an ex LNWR 0-6-0 and an ex Metropolitan Railway 0-6-0 that were both modified to become 0-6-2s. The Neath & Brecon Railway had two ex Port Talbot Railway examples built by Robert Stephenson & Co. - not unlike the preserved sister of No. 29. The Port Talbot themselves having ordered a batch of 5. They became surplus to requirements, hence their resale. The other three going to the Rhondda & Swansea Bay Railway. Along with these, the railway had been using the type since Kitson (who also built No. 1338 - See my blog‘The Cardiff Connection’) built their first in 1885. They went on to supply another three in 1899. With the outliers neatly out of the way, let's look at the first two of the five main users of the type. We will deal with the other three and the G.W.R. version in parts two and three of this blog.

LNER N7/4 0-6-2T No 69614 was specially painted and polished for its station pilot duties at Liverpool Street station. This photograph was taken by Ben Brooksbank on 23 August 1958

The Barry Railway

Centred around its eponymous hub, the Barry Railway was primarily set up for shifting huge amounts of coal although they did have passenger services as well. They were relatively short lived, being founded in 1884 but this didn't stop them building a whole heap of interesting 0-6-2s. They also had a wonderful habit of naming their loco classes after letters of the alphabet so after the first ‘A’ Class 0-6-0s were delivered by Sharp Stewart & Co and found to need a little more range, it will come as no surprise that adding the rear wheels resulted in the ‘B’Class! Built in a few batches into the 1890s, they were all broadly the same design with minor differences here and there. The last batch were built by Belgian company S.A. Franco - Belge as Stewart's couldn't fulfil the order in the required time period. They were absorbed into the G.W.R. in 1922 and were subsequently Swindonised. This term is common among absorbed engines and refer to the gradual replacement of original makers parts with G.W.R. standard bits. This included - in no particular order - water tanks, boilers, coal bunkers, and so on. Not all of them got all the bits and poor No. 9 was withdrawn and scrapped on receipt. Must have been a lemon... The engines soldiered on until the last, which had been sold into industrial service at a pit in County Durham was cut up in 1960.

We can't leave the Barry Railway without talking about the American engines they owned. While the thought of a Union Pacific 4000 Class ‘Big Boy’ 4-8-8-4 pounding its way through South Wales is really, really appealing(!), they were of course 0-6-2s. Again, finding British locomotive builders order books full, they went stateside for these 5 machines. They were dubbed the ‘K’ Class and were delivered in 1899. These were very different looking engines, with typical American features like outside cylinders making them stand out from their European cousins. They were extensively rebuilt by the G.W.R. and never really strayed far from their Barry homes. The last went in May 1932.

Barry Railway B1 class 0-6-2T running as GWR No 265, photographed by Ben Brooksbank at Swindon Works on 11 June 1950. Originally Barry Railway No 109, built by Sharp Stewart in 1900 and withdrawn in 1949

The Cardiff Railway

We looked at the history of the Cardiff Railway when we looked at No. 1338 in my blog “The Cardiff Connection” so we will jump straight in with the locos. They were all built by Kitson, just like No. 1338. The first few were of a fairly similar design which began delivery in 1886. The only big differences being increases in boiler pressure and coal & water capacity. There were a second set of 0-6-2s that began delivery in 1905 and these looked very different externally with their range being extended by the inclusion of some unusual looking sloped water tanks. These quite distinctive machines also had vacuum brakes - enabling them to operate passenger services. The last set of Cardiff 0-6-2s showed up in 1908 and these engines were a bit more powerful than their predecessors with higher boiler pressures and slightly smaller wheels increasing their tractive effort. Nearly all of the Cardiff Railway 0-6-2s were updated by the G.W.R. Some of these machines made it into service with British Railways in the 1950s so they did pretty well! Two of the early batch (Nos. 156 & 159) eventually found their way to the Lambton colliery system in 1931, serving until being broken up in the early 1960s. Which brings this blog to a rather neat circular close for this week as there, they served alongside our visitor No. 29.

Cardiff Railway 0-6-2T running as GWR No 155, photographed by Ben Brooksbank at Cardiff East Dock engine shed on 27 July 1950. The odd shape of side tanks makes this a particularly unattractive locomotive, not helped by having an odd pair of buffers. Originally Cardiff Railway No 35, built by Kitson in 1908 and withdrawn in 1953. A cabside numberplate from this loco is now owned by the Great Western Trust

A lot of the research for today's blog came from the fantastic book written by Society friend David Maidment entitled Great Western 0-6-2 Tank Engines, Absorbed and Swindon Designed Classes. This is from publishers Pen and Sword in their Locomotive Portfolio series. They are all a fantastic read and are available in the shop at Didcot Railway Centre so why not pick one up as a memento of your visit? A good read and the profits go towards looking after our fantastic Didcot home. What could be better?

Part 2 next week when we go to such exotic locations as Brecon, Merthyr, Rhymney, The Taff Vale. In Part 3 we are off to Swindon...

*In 1923, as a half way house between post WWI nationalisation and the financial ruin of many of the small railway companies at the time, they were grouped together in a series of mergers to form what became known as the ‘Big 4’. This was the L.N.E.R., the L.M.S, the S.R. and, of course, the G.W.R.

**See my blogs Is Everyone All Whyte? and Is Everyone Still all All Whyte? (Both from June 2020) for more details.

***A single example of this class - No. 7999 (B.R. No. 69621) is owned by the East Anglian Railway Museum and at the time I write this, she is undergoing an overhaul.

****See the blog post ‘Return of the Little Warrior;&rsquo for more details.


The Pioneer's Progress - Part 2


For a second week in a row, your usual blogger gets to click the ‘on’ button on his kettle, engage mug, tea, milk & biscuits and put his feet up. We are joined once again by my good friend Phil Morrell who is continuing the race to get our pioneer locomotive, 14XX Class No. 1466, back on her feet and pulling trains once again. It's becoming quite the odyssey. So, without further ado, I'll let Phil take the helm for this week’s Going Loco...

Well, where do I start? It's been an eventful time since my last update and to put it simply, quite a lot has changed.* Many miles have been travelled, both metaphorically and in actuality! At the end of May No. 1466 became a complete rolling chassis. All the inside motion and other mechanical components - commonly known as the ‘bottom end’ - is finished. The plate work has had extensive repairs. Large sections of material being replaced in the water tanks where it had wasted away over the years and a newly fabricated coal bunker. Having seen the locomotive's chassis outside in the daylight for the first time on the 19 June, it looks fantastic and - as we got to see - it rolls beautifully...

Wagons loaded with boiler and associated parts - Photo: Phil Morrell

Since then, quite a few meetings and discussions between the GWS and a range of other parties have taken place about No. 1466 and completing her boiler overhaul. Admittedly, given that the circumstances are what they are in the world at the moment, it’s near impossible for any of our restorations to keep to a specific schedule** and this is nobody’s fault. In order for us to keep as close as we can to the aim of having No. 1466 back in steam as soon as possible, the decision was jointly and amicably taken by all parties to move No. 1466 to a second location to finish the job in as timely a manner as possible. The loco is finally on the move, just not in quite the way we expected...

Boiler being loaded onto flatbed at DFR Lydney JCT - Photo: Phil Morrell

The upshot of all this was that No. 1466 will now have its restoration completed by Ryan Pope and his team at West Somerset Restoration’s works on the West Somerset Railway (WSR). Making the decision was one thing - moving a semi-dismantled steam locomotive (even a small one like No. 1466) from one place to another is something else. It isn't a trivial task and the logistics have been variously described as ‘interesting’, ‘somewhat challenging’ and ‘keeping us on our toes’... The main conundrum? The fact that No. 1466's boiler is mostly in bits. Add to that the large sections of steel plate work that includes a new tubeplate, backplate and a new barrel section. There is also a whole heap of smaller components (nothing is THAT small on a steam locomotive really!) Then there's the rolling chassis itself... This all had to be transported by rail from the works at Norchard to the road loading point at Lydney Junction. This means that all the large bits have to be lifted with cranes into wagons, put into a train and trundled off down the line. From there it was all placed on to the loading pad to meet up with the low loader and flatbed lorries a few days later.

Loco 1466 and parts arriving at Lydney Jct being hauled by 5541 - Photo Phil Morrell

Only then could Hauliers S.A. Smith ;and R&A Commercials get to work. Loading the locomotive, its boiler and associated parts onto their lorries and transporting everything to Williton on the WSR. Not forgetting an extra-large hire van, loaded with all the additional parts, castings, fittings, cladding and various pipework that make up our locomotive. IKEA flat packed 14xx Class anyone? Despite all the challenges we faced (and believe me, there were quite a few!), the various plates were kept spinning over a period of 3 days. With the weather on our side, by 10pm on Wednesday 23 June, everything had all finally arrived, been un-loaded and come to rest, ready for Ryan and the team to do their thing! I would like to say a big thank you to Ed Freeman and his team at Western Steam Engineering Ltd. for all the fantastic work they’ve done on No. 1466 up to this point. They were also instrumental in helping us with the logistics of the loading up and the move from Norchard works to Lydney Jct. I now look forward to working with Ryan and his team at West Somerset Restoration in completing No. 1466 for a triumphant return to Didcot – Hopefully later this year - alongside No. 4079.

1466 loaded ready for departure to WSR - Photo: Phil Morrell

So, the plan moving forward? Well - you guessed it! Get the boiler finished... Simple right? Well, once we have all the paperwork and agreements in place (which won't take long), work will once again resume on the boiler. As previously mentioned, our boiler needs a quite substantial amount of work. This will include replacing three-quarters of the backplate, sections of lower side plate and throat plate as well as a new front tubeplate, barrel section and an essentially new smokebox. This is on top of the usual stays and tubes of course. It's fair to say there is a considerable amount of work to be carried out to enable the boiler to become steam tight once again.

As with all locomotives, unfortunately getting these historic machines overhauled and back to an operational condition once again is rather costly. This is especially true in the current climate with material prices currently rocketing up. If, like us, you would like to see No. 1466 working once more and would like donate to the project, please follow the link to our Diamond Jubilee Appeal.

Any donation large or small is always very much appreciated and brings No. 1466 a step closer to being completed. More anon folks, so keep your eyes peeled for more updates along the way!

Thanks Phil! The one thing he doesn’t mention is the unbelievable mileage that he and a number of the team have racked up in order to make this move happen. Phil himself drove 1,325 miles in just four days in order to complete this task. On behalf of the Society and my fellow steam nerds everywhere, a really big thank you has to go out to him and the No. 1466 gang. An amazing job. I guess I’m going to have to do a Pendennis Castle update too now! In terms of distance travelled, the No. 4079 gang unhooked the tender and rolled it back 3 feet the other day.

Doesn't compare really does it?

*He's not kidding...

**No. 4079 Project Manager's hat on - your regular blogger TOTALLY concurs.


The Lampyridae* Legend

Well, haven't I been lucky? First I get to sit back and let you read Phil Morrell's write up on No. 1466's restoration (another update soon by the way!) but I contacted Sam Bee, who was one of the leading lights of the building of our replica broad gauge engine Firefly and he has come up trumps! So, without further ado, let's find out about the return to existence of a really historically important machine. Play it again Sam!

Firefly in action on Didcot's broad gauge demonstration line

The Firefly Project was the brainchild of John Mosse E.C.Eng. M.I.Mech.E., R.I.B.A. who had served in the Royal Navy for 20 years, his last ship was HMS BELFAST between 1950-1957 in the rank of Lieutenant Commander, as senior engineer aboard. On leaving the navy he retrained as an architect, living near Bath. One of his commissions was the renovation of the original Bristol terminus of the G.W.R. to the state we see today. One day he was standing all alone in that wonderful train shed when it occurred to him that one of the original locomotives would complete the scene.

John spoke to the manager Western Region, based at Bristol, who dispatched him to a meeting at Paddington. There, the person he was introduced to was Tom Richardson, who had dug out original drawings of the Fire Fly Class and expressed enthusiasm for joining the project. This was in 1984. Others were persuaded to give their support, including S.A.S.Smith sometime Locomotive Works Manager Swindon, and Sir Peter Parker. The Firefly Trust was formed to collect funds so that after some 5 years enough was in hand to make a start on construction; the committee included Tom Richardson, as above, Ken Gibbs and Alan Wild, both ex-Swindon men, Ken being a senior fitter and Alan a drawing office man.

Sam Bee, left, discussing paperwork with Major John Poyntz from the Railway Inspectorate during Firefly's official test - March 2005

Now John was familiar with steam, but driving big naval turbines, his knowledge of railway locomotives being rather limited he had done well to assemble the above team. After some heated discussion on specifications, drawings for the actual build were produced. A shed on the water front in Bristol was leased, labour arranged thanks to a Government youth training scheme, thus allowing the locomotive frames to be ordered and duly erected. Then disaster stuck within one week, the training scheme was withdrawn and the shed condemned as unsafe, reported subsidence meaning it was liable to fall into the harbour (it was still there many years later!). Help was at hand with an offer of space in the Works at Didcot. That is where the writer first saw the frames and wheels sets during a passing visit to DRC in 1990. With a great interest in early railway history I became hooked and joined the working team, then a little later invited onto the managing committee too.

Champagne launch for Firefly, April 2005

Famous Railway Artist Terence Cuneo came to name the locomotive at Didcot. He produced a painting emerging from Box tunnel and kindly handed the copyright to the Firefly Trust to enable the raising of funds; the original is now with John's son.

The NRM’s replica 3rd class broad gauge coach being rebuilt at Didcot, March 2005

To put the Fire Fly class locomotives in perspective, they were the Castle class of the 1840s, if you will, fast and reliable, all 62 of the class. We had ‘63’ chalked on the frames of the latest member of the class! The first class designed by Daniel Gooch and delivered between March 1840 and December 1842, they were a development of the Star class, 12 of which had been ordered from Robert Stephenson, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, as a stop-gap. It is probably little known today that 21 similar engines with smaller wheels were introduced at the same time to cope with the steeper gradients west of Swindon, the Sun class. Thus it is an iconic design which enabled the G.W.R. to establish itself with some panache and thrash the Narrow Gauge faction at the subsequent gauge trials, which I trust explains why we built it, she is of historic importance. But of course the BG track at Didcot needing something to run upon it was an added incentive.

John was rather authoritarian, which put some people off joining the team. That changed, the workforce expanded, with about 10 of us from various walks of life but most with engineering expertise. We had great support from the GWS, with free run of the workshop and machine shop, as well as occupation of our corner of the workshop, in exchange for an agreement to operate the completed locomotive at DRC.

Victorian costumes in abundance on Brunel's 200th birthday, 9 April 2006

It was necessary to make modifications to ensure compliance with the modern construction standards of that time. The original design was remarkable and we kept to it as much as possible, doing our best to hide the modifications from public view or make them unobtrusive. This included a frame cross member just ahead of the firebox to which the inside bar frames are attached, instead of directly to the firebox at rear and cylinder block at front. We added a blower, ash-pan damper and modern type cylinder cocks. Braking was described by Brunel as “tolerably useless”, not good at 60 mph with 100 tons behind; it consisted of wooden brake-blocks on one side of the tender only, later changed to cast iron, operated by the handbrake, and the reason for the invention of the second ‘brake’ whistle to alert the brakesmen in the carriages to apply their handbrakes.

Sam Bee and Kevin Dare, 13 April 2009. In the early days of railways the footplate crews wore white uniforms

We obtained authority from HM Railway Inspectorate to keep to that layout provided vacuum braking was applied to the tender brakes and piped to the carriages. So Fire Fly itself has no brakes! Gauges for vacuum pressure and boiler pressure are unobtrusively mounted within the back of the haycock cover, the boiler does not have the original haycock, being of standard round top design, built by Isreal Newton, boilersmiths. The regulator valve is mounted in the small dome, present on some but not all original Fire Fly boilers as the regulator was in the haycock. Water feed is by GWR pattern injectors in place of the mechanical force pumps of the original. Finally, the safety valves are modern, the main one at rear is a single valve of standard Swindon design in substitute for the original Salter valve, which is no longer allowed on a new design of boiler, as also the lock-out type valve at the front of the boiler barrel, which we replaced with a Ross-Pop valve of suitable size and able to be accommodated within the original design of brass housing.

Firefly in action at Didcot alongside the second new build replica of a mainline locomotive, 60163 "Tornado" during the latter's visit to the Centre in 2009

Much help and guidance was provided by paid staff and locomotive department volunteers, not least Mick Dean. And it was Mick and myself who sallied forth early in 2005 on the test runs with Major John Poynts, all proving to be well.

Meanwhile the NRM had been persuaded to transfer their two BG carriages to Didcot. They were constructed in 1986 for Iron Duke to pull and have vacuum brakes. They were overhauled in the C&W works ready for operation. The track too had been fettled. Thus we were ready for operation in spring 2005 and had a grand gala opening, with the good and the great present.

To our delight the Heritage Railway Association awarded the project their annual John Coiley award.

The NRM's replica Iron Duke alongside Firefly on the broad gauge lines at Didcot

We then operated throughout each summer until the boiler ticket expired in 2015. During that time we acted as a unit of the locomotive department. I was tested on my ability to wash out a boiler, as learnt over my years at the Bluebell Railway and subsequently carried out all the washouts and preparation for the annual visit of the boiler inspector, carrying out maintenance too but calling on the Works staff as needed. After Iron Duke arrived from the NRM we coupled on Fire Fly to shunt it into the train shed. The first time two Broad Gauge locomotives had moved coupled together since the 19th century. And you all missed it! A most enjoyable 10 years. Subsequently we handed the locomotive over into the care of Great Western Preservations for safe keeping.

And there you have it folks - a truly massive achievement condensed down to a few paragraphs. We'd all love to see the broad gage operating again. Both the track and the rolling stock need work to make that happen but it's not beyond the realm of possibility. We really need to get our 50 ton breakdown crane sorted first as this will make Firefly's overhaul so much easier. Until then, come and marvel at the determination and grit of the original G.W.R. of the 1840s and of the Firefly Trust who have done so much to bring history back to life for future generations.

*The Lampyridae are a family of insects, of the order Coleoptera, commonly called fireflies due to their use of bioluminescence during twilight.


Yorkshire Gold in a Didcot Mirror

No 29 in action on the North Yorkshire Moors Railway - photo couresy of Philip Benham

We are sometimes lucky to get interesting locos visiting Didcot Railway Centre. There have been a myriad of different machines over the years. The first was No. 4079 Pendennis Castle when the society held its first open day at Taplow in 1965. She was made a permanent part of our collection in 2000 and thus she no longer counts as a visitor! This year we are lucky enough to have a very unusual visitor in the shape of the lovely ‘Lambton Tank’ No. 29 from our friends at the North Yorkshire Moors Railway (N.Y.M.R.). The ‘Lambton Tank’ has a number of facts about her that we can match with locos in our collection so let's hold up the Didcot mirror and see what reflects back!

The ‘Lambton Tank’ (more accurately named either Lambton Colliery Railway No. 29 or Lambton, Hetton & Joicey Collieries No.29 - after some mergers in 1910) is named after its original home, the Lambton Colliery* in County Durham. Coal had been extracted from the area as far back as the 1600s. It became a big industry by the 1780s and was an early adopter of railway type technology. As far back as the 1730s, horse drawn tramways were used to move coal. In 1819, a private tramway was purchased and added to the system. This provided a link between their system and a line that once ran between Bournemoor and Philadelphia. This got them access to the River Wear which in turn got them access to the Port of Sunderland.

Although it began using steam locomotives in 1814, some sections of the route were too steep for the early engines and so the wagons had to be hauled up and down them by stationary steam engines that used a rope and a massive winch. By the 1860s there were over 70 miles of track in the system. Running rights for trains to pass over it hauled by engines of the North Eastern Railway were now in place and this secured the transport of Lambton coal to the rest of the world. By the 1880s steam locomotives were used throughout, the rope worked inclines being removed.

Didcot Mirror #1 - Working in a Colliery.

Several of our engines have links to working in a colliery and coal traffic but two have history close to the industrial life of No. 29. No. 1340 Trojan who worked at the Netherseal colliery at Burton-on-Trent, Derbyshire during WWII. See my blog post Return of the Little Warrior (16/04/21) Pannier Tank No. 3650 also saw out its final operational years with Stephenson Clarke Limited who were a private colliery operator at Gwaun-cae-Gurwen in South Wales. The first ever Going Loco blog from (27/3/20) features this very subject!

3650 in the ownership of Stephenson Clarke PD fuels Ltd at Gwaun-Cae-Gurwen open cast pit - from a slide by R.Monk, 21 April 1966

The older and smaller 0-6-0 locomotives on the line were beginning to struggle with the increasingly heavy loads on the railway by 1900. As a result, a programme of modernisation of the fleet began. They turned to Kitson & Co. of Leeds, West Yorkshire. They specified an engine type that was synonymous with the coal industry. The 0-6-2 wheel arrangement was used extensively in the Welsh Valleys, and by the London, North Western Railway on their appropriately named ‘Coal Tank’.

Lambton No 29 with a demonstration goods train on the NYMR - Photo courtesy of Ray Brown

Didcot Mirror #2 Built By Kitson & Co.

The Kitson company that built No. 29 in 1904 also built No. 1338 in 1898. See my Cardiff Connection Blog (14/05/21) on this engine for details.

At just under 60 tons, this engine was quite a beast! A 165 psi boiler, two inside 19 inch diameter x 26 inch stroke cylinders, slide valves operated by Allen straight link gear and 4 foot 6 inch driving wheels made for a potent package. It had a Tractive effort** of 23,500 lbf. To give that context, that's about the same power output as No. 2999 Lady of Legend! Ok, she won't go as fast as No. 2999 but this engine didn't need to!

Didcot Mirror #3 Tractive effort

No. 29 has almost the same Tractive effort as No. 2999& Lady of Legend. Is that cheating? It is a bit I suppose! How about this one then:

Didcot Mirror #4 Allen Straight Link Valve Gear.

This method of operating the valves on a steam locomotive wasn't common in the U.K. but, just like No. 29, No. 1363 has this same system. I have written about No. 1363 twice. The Big 13 - Lucky For Some? (24/04/20) and 1363 - Survivor Extraordinaire (12/06/20).

The new loco was No. 4263 in Kitson's order book but it was numbered No. 29 when it arrived at the Lambton Railway. The railway ended up with a few 0-6-2s that were very similar to No. 29 from various sources including Robert Stephenson & Co. and some ex. Taff Vale / Great Western machines as well. It spent the majority of its working life operating trains between the pit heads near Philadelphia and the coal staithes at the Sunderland end of the line.

Didcot Mirror #5 The 0-6-2 Wheel Arrangement

The 0-6-2 wheel arrangement was a Welsh favourite. It was so common on the railways that when the GWR absorbed railways in the area, they designed and built their own! Our example is 56XX Class No. 6697 of 1928.

No. 29 continued in service until almost the end of the County Durham coal field. The coal industry was nationalised in 1947 and the National Coal Board commenced closures of sections of the system in the early 1950s. With the end of the local coal industry in the late 1960s, the writing was on the wall for No. 29. In a move typical of the nationalised industries of the time, she returned to traffic from a full overhaul in October 1968 and was withdrawn from service and placed in store at Philadelphia on the 15th February 1969. Tax payer’s money at work...

Didcot Mirror #6 The ‘Unwanted’ Class 14

This almost wanton consumption of money wasn't restricted to the National Coal Board. British Rail ordered a whole heap of brand new diesel locomotives off the drawing board which either didn't work or were designed for a task that no longer existed. Our Class 14 No. D9516 was built as one of 56 of its class in 1964. They were all withdrawn by 1968...

Fortunately, No. 29 came to the attention of some volunteers from the N.Y.M.R. Along with No. 5 (one of the Robert Stephenson & Co. 0-6-2s of 1909), the ‘Lambton Tank’ was purchased and made its way to the nascent N.Y.M.R. It has been in service with them on and off ever since. The biggest challenge she faced was in October 2014 when cracks were discovered in her cylinder block. This needed complete replacement but this redoubtable survivor was repaired and was running again by 2019. We are now lucky to give her a holiday and the full ‘Didcot Experience’. So, if you'd like a new perspective on this fascinating machine, come and see her operating up close. She will be with us until the August Bank Holiday - to see when she's due to run, check our Locomotive Roster.

Didcot Mirror #7 Robert Stephenson & Co.

Ok, at bit of a stretch but hear me out! No. 29s ‘sister’***, No. 5 was built in 1909 by Stephensons. This company merged in 1937 to become Robert Stephenson & Hawthorns. In 1944 they became part of English Electric. In its various forms, this company and its parent built No. 1 Bonnie Prince Charlie in 1949 AND the traction motors fitted to Class 08 No. 08 604 Phantom.

Crikey - all this linking stuff together is hard work! Thanks to Harry Pettit and Graham Hukins for top suggestions! There has been a fair bit of mental gymnastics going in here to make this work... It's addictive though. I think I realise why these silly conspiracy theories get started. Now, if I can just link Alpha Centauri, the lifting shop at Didcot and my sandwiches from last Saturday, I think I can prove they were abducted by aliens. I won't be a minute...

*Named after the nearby Lambton Castle. The Lambton Family that lived there were a major part of the organisation.

**A measure of an engines pulling power. See my blog ‘Working This Out is a Real (Tractive) Effort’ (12/02/21) for a full explanation.

***Possibly more of a close cousin or perhaps a ‘sister from another mother’ as they share a very similar design but weren't built by the same company?


Luxurious Saloons? Super!

The Great Western Magazine of January 1932 included this photo showing the interior of one of the Trollope saloons

The G.W.R. always saw itself as something special. It had a way of doing things that set it apart in many ways from its contemporary railway companies. They always tried to make it look that way too. They often catered to people of considerable means or, to put it another way, the completely rich! We have a few vehicles that come under this remit in the collection at Didcot. In the first of an irregular, occasional and when your blogger remembers(!) series on the luxury passenger vehicles in the fleet, we will today take a look at the Super Saloons.

The short-lived Torquay Pullman hauled by a Castle class locomotive. Photograph - A L P Reavil

Taking people to and from ships was a staple of the G.W.R.'s business from day one. In fact, allied with Brunel's great ships, the idea was to offer a complete travel service from London to New York. An idea too far ahead of its time but you can't fault the ambition and foresight...

Post WWI, with the emergent nouveau-riche of the period, this dream sort of came to its zenith. Although the original intention had been to offer this type of service from London to Bristol*, Plymouth became the focus of the traffic. In doing so, there was always the desire to cater to the first class passengers off the ships. The master of luxury travel in the U.K. at the time was the American Pullman company and this is where the majority of the railways went for their most luxurious trains. It was run on a sort of ‘franchise’ basis. Pullman supplied their own cars** and staff and these were used by the various railway companies. The G.W.R., being the G.W.R. however, wasn't convinced. They had always had high standards of vehicles in first class and considered that their level of luxury was luxury enough.

No 9111 King George on display at Paddington when new

This notwithstanding, the G.W.R. still gave Pullman a chance to prove themselves. A seven coach set was leased in 1929 but it wasn't successful and the lease was terminated in 1931. There are many reasons why this didn't work - the biggest of which was of course the Great Depression. Despite the economic downturn, Chief Mechanical Engineer Charles Benjamin Collett tasked the coach designers at Swindon with having a go at building a better Pullman coach. As a result of the G.W.R.'s broad gauge history, their vehicles could be built wider than the vehicles of any the other U.K. railways. The plan that was drawn up was 61 feet 4.5 inches (18.707 m) long and 9 feet 7 inches (2.92 m) wide. In order to assist in going round curved track, the end doors were placed on short sections at each corner that were angled inwards at 30 degrees from the coach sides and the ends were of a bow shaped design. This did limit their sphere of operations but as they were only ever intended to run on the G.W.R.'s main routes, that wasn't an issue.

There were only 8 of these vehicles built which were completed by 1932 under lot No. 1471 to diagrams G.60 & G.61. They were all named after members of the royal family thusly: No. 9111 King George, No. 9112 Queen Mary, No. 9113 Prince of Wales, No. 9114 Duke of York, No. 9115 Duke of Gloucester, No. 9116 Duchess of York, No. 9117 Princess Royal and No. 9118 Princess Elizabeth. The thing that made them luxurious of course was their interiors. The first two were built under diagram G.60 and this denoted that their interiors were designed and built by the prestigious furniture makers Trollope & Co. These two have beautiful French-polished light-coloured walnut, with book-matched burr veneer panels on the interior sliding doors. The ceilings are also a thing of great craftsmanship, looking like it's been borrowed from a stately home! The problem with this sort of work is that it is REALLY expensive and the craftsmen at Swindon known as the ‘Saloon Gang’ were tasked with fitting out the other 6 under diagram G.61. These coaches featured French polished dark English walnut, with gold-leaf hairlines outlining the panelling. In all the coaches the seating is amazing. They comprise fold down tables that connect to the coach walls and plush, free standing wing-back chairs. These were arranged with an average of 26 in the main saloons and 4 in the private Coupé. There was a toilet fitted at each end of the coach.

One of the saloons converted with a kitchen, 9117 or 9118, being stocked with refreshments at Paddington station in the early 1960s

In 1937 the coupé and one lavatory were removed and a small kitchen fitted in their place in Nos. 9117 & 9118. This was due to the fact that a non - super saloon kitchen vehicle had to be used in the super saloon trains which kind of wasn't the point! The kitchen preserved in No. 9118 is amazingly still completely intact and as it was when fitted. The only type of coach that wasn't built was a brake coach with a guard's compartment. These were usually provided by a pair of full brake^ vehicles. Due to their higher than normal weight, they were used more often as either as one or two added to a train of regular vehicles or as an exclusive train of 3 saloons and two or three full brakes for the passenger's luggage. To travel on the Super Saloons, you had to buy a full first class fare and then pay a 10 shilling supplement. To put that in a modern context, a first class fare from Paddington to Plymouth today is £194.00. 10 shillings from 1935 in 2021 is worth about £25. So our hypothetical modern Super Saloon fare is £219 for a one way ticket. The average 1935 wage in modern money is very roughly the equivalent of £500 per month...

Three of the saloons on the back of a Newbury Races special, photographed at Langley in 1962 by Mike Peart

The move of the boat traffic from Plymouth to Southampton lightened their workload so, as well as the Ocean Liner Express duties, they became regulars on dining trains to Newbury Races and as private hire vehicles. They were always kept at the bottom end of the Carriage Shed at Old Oak Common. This was close to the offices (and therefore the eyes) of the coach inspector who ensured that they were maintained in immaculate condition ready for special journeys at a moment's notice. This is how they saw out their service. They lost their names when repainted into the British Rail Crimson and Cream livery in the early 1950s and they were eventually withdrawn in the B.R. version of the G.W.R.'s. Chocolate & Cream livery in the early 1960s with the last Super Saloon Ocean Express being run in September 1962.

A special journey for two of the saloons with Great Western Society members boarding them at Reading to travel to the AGM at Bristol in 1966. BR arranged for the saloons to be coupled to the rear of the 9.45 am from Paddington to Bristol for members to ‘road test’ them and decide whether they were to their liking for preservation. The fare charged each member was a 2nd class day return

Out of the total of 8 saloons built, remarkably 5 have survived. Nos. 9111 & 9116 are restored and in service with our friends on the South Devon Railway. We have Nos. 9112, 9113 & 9118. Our trio is the subject of a very long term restoration project. Reaching Didcot in 1976, by the end of the 1980s time had started to catch up with them and they were all out of service with us by the early 21st Century. The restoration of No. 9113 is a fair way along. As a ‘standard’ (!) super saloon, this one was chosen to be done first. Next on the list will be No. 9118 and its kitchen, leaving that exciting and very complex interior on No. 9112 as the final serving. It represents quite a challenge! It is hoped that in the not too distant future, visitors to Didcot will be able to marvel at the incredible craftsmanship^^ and period design of No. 9113 Prince of Wales and get just a small taste of what life for the 1930s equivalent of today's ‘one percenters’ was like.

The Great Western Society’s Vintage Train at Paddington with saloons 9118 and 9112 in the mid 1970s

Pretty cushy if those chairs are anything to go by...

Jessica Raine and David Walliams filming Partners in Crime in No 9112 at Didcot in 2015. The scene was set in Paris, hence the SNCF antimacassars on the seats

 *This is where a goodly proportion of the money to build the G.W.R. in the first place came from.

**The Americans use the word ‘Car’ to describe the vehicles pulled by locomotives on the railway. Passenger Cars = Coaches and Freight Cars = Wagons in the U.K.***

***The fact that one of the initial investors in the London Underground was an American means that on their trains, the passenger vehicles are called cars and not coaches. I don't know if that's relevant or even interesting, but it is true...

****Yes - the Paignton from the Paignton and Dartmouth Railway! A.K.A. Where blue kings like to go on a summer holiday.

^A passenger coach shape on the outside but with luggage / parcels / newspaper / other similar stuff storage spaces instead of seats and a guard's compartment inside.

^^Not forgetting of course the incredible restoration talents of our Carriage & Wagon department. They create exquisite art with timber while the loco department use wood to light fires...


There is a large part of our restoration of rail vehicles - be they locomotive or carriage and wagon - often overlooked but it is obvious when you think about it. The wheels. They are literally and figuratively the foundation of every restoration. There is however a lot to a wheel. Let's roll out...*

We'll start with a bit of anatomy. Every rail vehicle will have at least two wheel sets. This will comprise of an axle with a wheel on each end. There are the hubs in the middle then the wheel centres. The tyre is on the outside and in most cases in the steam age, these were replaceable. Strange but true! We’ll talk more about that later.

A restored Mansell wheel under coach 290 at Didcot

The wheels themselves are a work of engineering art. There are many types of wheel. The simplest being a disc. Most coach wheels in the collection are of these type. There are outliers here in that there are also the beautiful Mansell wheels. These have steel centres and rims but a hardwood section** in between. The idea being to use it as a damper to reduce noise - particularly in 4 and 6 wheel coaches. These had a far more rigid connection between the wheels and suspension and the body of the vehicle than a more modern vehicle where the wheels are on separate little trucks called bogies. Anything you can do to reduce the vibration and noise is a good thing. There are other oddities such as the Bulleid Firth Brown, which have a number of cut outs to reduce their weight. These are synonymous with the Bulleid Pacifics and the Q1 Austerity 0-6-0s of the Southern Railway.

Duke class No 3253 Pendennis Castle, sporting Mansell wheels on the bogie and tender

The other main type is the spoked wheel and this is the type we see on the majority of U.K. steam locomotives. The idea is obviously older than the railways as it was seen on horse drawn vehicles for centuries beforehand. The process for making them was fascinating and through a remarkable set of images we can show you how they were made. The photographer was a guy called Walter Nurnburg. He was born in 1907 and after art school in Berlin, he moved to London in 1933. Although declared an enemy alien in 1939 - having all his cameras confiscated in the process - he ended up joining the British army in 1940 and was invalided out on medical grounds in 1944. His style of photography lent itself to industrial subjects and he found a living in this area post WWII. He became fully British in 1947 and at his death in 1991, he had also been a teacher of photography in the Guildford School and the Polytechnic of Central London and received an O.B.E. for his life's work.;

In January 1948 he visited the newly nationalised Swindon Locomotive Works. This album of photos was discovered by our provider of photographs, Frank Dumbleton. He told me that:

“There was an album of his photos in the publicity office at Paddington and one day when I was in there I was given the album, otherwise it would have gone in the bin


In doing so, he preserved some absolute gems. We even have the names of the guys working too!*** The first image shows pattern maker Mr. A. A. Taylor constructing a wooden pattern for a large driving wheel. This is where all large metal castings start. The wooden pattern is made to a very high level of precision and is in fact a small amount larger than the finished item. This is to take account of shrinkage. When metal is heated, it expands and if it is heated to the point of becoming a liquid, it’s done a fair bit of expanding. As a result, the measuring instruments in the pattern shop were scaled. A separate set for making things in brass, cast iron, steel. Different metals expand different amounts. A mould made of special casting sand is made around the pattern and the pattern is lifted out leaving the negative space to be filled by the molten metal.

Once the wheel was cast and machined, the axle would have been pressed into place. This involved a press with a huge amount of force behind it as the fit is incredibly tight. A large square key way was cut into a section of the circumstance where the wheel and axle meet and a square ‘key’ was driven in to prevent it turning. This was done with a really serious two man air hammer and we have one in the works at Didcot. We call it Mjollnir...

The next job would be to fit the tyres. Unlike your Goodyear or Dunlop products, the local garage can’t put their’s on - it needs heat and lots of it. A special circular forge with burners all the way round was employed to expand the steel tyre to a point where the wheel casting will drop into it. It then cools and as it does it contracts, gripping the wheel. The above picture shows shrinkers Mr. J. Barnard, Mr. H. Phillips and Mr. H. Barkham, fitting the Gibson ring to a wheel after shrinking on the tyre. The Gibson Ring being the locking ring for the inside of the wheel. Once the tyre was worn, it would be thick enough to be put back into the lathe and turned again to restore the flange - important as it keeps the vehicle in the track! When the tyre got too small, it was cut off and a new one fitted. There were two profiles of flange. The thick one was the standard and used on most wheel sets. There was a thin profile too and this was used where a long wheelbase might cause wear round tighter corners. An example is the middle driving wheels of the G.W.R. 4-6-0s.

Here we see a rather unimpressed fitter Mr. B. Morkott, building a Castle class crank axle. He just wants to get rid of Walter and get on with his job by the look of him! He is using the super strong press to push together the components for the inside crank on an axle. If you have cylinders between the frames, as many G.W.R. classes did, the piston transmits its drive through this crank. The bits sticking up are to prevent him pushing the bits too close together and the big section he has his hand on is the counterweight for the mass of the connecting rod. The stub axle sticking up will eventually get a wheel on it.

Here we see fitter, Mr. A. E. Kirk, balancing a wheel. The wheels can be many tons in weight - a front crank axle driving wheel set for a Castle is about 5 tons. All that rotating mass needs to be well balanced. If it wasn’t, the vibrations could do serious damage to the locomotive. The machine that Mr. Kirk is using is the one used to measure the vibrations and to tell the fitters where to add balance weight. This is the same job as is done with a car tyre only a lot bigger. And yes, that is an unguarded loco driving wheel spinning at high speed within 2 feet of his left ear...

Mr. F. Austin, also a fitter, is melting lead into a wheel balance weight. If you think about the way a loco driving wheel works, there are a lot of forces acting upon it. The weight of the wheel isn’t the whole story. If you have a connecting or coupling rod connected to it, this too creates an imbalance. This is why there are the large balance weights on the driving wheels of steam locomotives. There are often different size weights depending upon what parts are connected to them. A smaller weight usually means that it’s just a coupling rod. A larger weight could mean that it will have connecting and coupling rods on them. The bigger the offset masses are, the bigger the counterbalance needs to be.

So there we are - wheels. A seemingly simple thing with many facets to their construction, operation and maintenance. Today we employ even more technology in the use of ultrasonic and magnetic particle testing to look for cracks in wheels and axles. Back in the day this was done with a hammer and a good ear. Tap the wheel and it rings true, no cracks. If you get a dull ‘thunk’ type noise, the vibrations of the hammer blow don’t travel round the wheel easily and get filled as they can’t make it over the crack. Time has moved on but the techniques used to make these wheels remains the same. No. 2999 Lady of Legend, No. 1014 County of Glamorgan and No. 6023 King Edward II all have at least one set of new wheels under them. All made in the traditional way, checked with modern techniques and enjoyed by as all just the same as the originals!

The original rear driving wheels of 6023 King Edward II were cut after a derailment at Woodham Brothers Scrapyard at Barry necessitating the casting of a new pair as part of the locomotive's restoration

6023 complete with new wheels recreates a timeless scene in the Engine Shed at Didcot

*With apologies for the pun and to Optimus Prime for borrowing his catchphrase.

**Usually Teak. Due to the hardy nature of the wood, the segments were often reused as flooring after use in wheels.

***I wonder if any of our readers have relatives in these pictures? It would be amazing to find some!



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