Chronicling the development of my Cambrian and Narrow Gauge 4mm scale model railway

Driven by steam, not emotions


In the company of giants

Ok, so I’ve broken a promise and it’s only post 2. I said I’d talk about the plans in this post but I’m not. I’m going on a gentle meander off topic.

I don’t like it when emotions get in the way of the facts. Let me explain. In railways emotions tend to run high but sometimes this clouds and distracts from what would otherwise be really interesting. Here are 2 examples for you.

A locomotive in the Southern Hemisphere was under overhaul. It was discovered that the loco which is the prototype of its class actually has its frame numbered 5. Was this another Albert Hall / Rood Ashton Hall? Some members of the custodian organisation were worried that if they had to change the number of the loco it would damage its reputation and appeal.

Frankly that’s rubbish. It’s the only 1 of its type left so its appeal is there whatever. Rood Ashton Hall still has plenty of appeal despite its name change and the publicity from the name change gives it a place in preservation history that would otherwise not be there. In this case it led to a statement being put out by the custodian organisation decrying those that were investigating why it had a different frame. Which has led to the interesting truth being ignored.

Cast steel frame with integral cylinders, smokebox saddle and air brake reservoirs

Cast steel frame with integral cylinders, smokebox saddle and air brake reservoirs

So was it a masquerade? Actually no. It always had that frame. What appears to have happened is that the frame no.1 was cast just before Christmas of one year and the remaining 5 at the beginning of the next February. Why the delay? The emotionally driven custodian organisation members decided they were on holiday for a month – that is normal for places where January is summer. But the frame was cast in the USA. Where it’s winter. The drawings give the answer.

There are 2 modifications to the drawing for the frame. 1 in mid January and 1 just days before the next 5 frames were cast. Whatever the fault in the original design was, the drawing isn’t clear. However, loco 5 which it is thought got lumbered with frame 1 suffered a hydraulic incident and blew the end of its cylinder off and was never the same again. So that’s why loco 1 has frame 5.

Presumably the railway were told frame 1 was dodgy and rightly decided putting it on the prototype wouldn’t look good if it failed. Why did they get frame 1 at all? Because WWII had just started and the US were busy not being in the war but supplying the UK with all they needed and frames for steam locos in countries that weren’t war-torn came 2nd in the pecking order. That’s a presumption but it makes sense. This great story hasn’t been published before because emotion brushed it under the carpet.

City of Truro

My second example is City of Truro. Did it do 102.3 or 99mph? It raises so many emotions in people especially the GW v LNE brigade but actually it shouldn’t matter. 100mph is an arbitrary boundary decided by us humans for no reason other than it is three figures not two. I bet you couldn’t tell the difference between 99 and 102mph anyway.

What is important is to acknowledge the engineering of the time that produced a loco that was capable of getting anywhere near that speed. And whatever you think of the GWR, at the time they were streets ahead of any other company. OK so they went off the boil in the 30s and 40s and we are left with locos with no grease lubrication and 134 oiling points (Castles), no seats for the crew and right hand drive. But a Castle, as a senior driver told me on the NYMR, would pull Grosmont village up the hill to Goathland.

So City of Truro, as the photo at the top of this post depicts, shares its place of honour in the company of giants.

Do I ever let emotions get in the way? Yes of course I do. Why isn’t a loud American loco running on the Ffestiniog? Why won’t East Riding of Yorkshire council protect the Beverley-York railway line? But I try to decide what’s important based on fact not emotion.

So let’s forget the politics , keep the emotion driven claptrap in check, and enjoy the stories and marvel at the engineering brilliance that we have been fortunate enough to retain to educate our future generations.

Oh and I’ll leave liveries for another time…


Author: Chris H

Having now officially reached middle age, I am a rolling stock engineer and have worked in many different locations including a 7 year spell in Sydney, Australia, where I arrived with a suitcase and left with a wife and a son. I am now based back in my home county of Yorkshire where I juggle full time work, being a Dad to two rascally mini-mes, and trying to fit in railway modelling, assisting the GWR 1014 County of Glamorgan project, and visits to the top left hand corner of Wales. In addition to my heavily railway themed life, I am interested in rugby, cricket, reading crime novels, falconry, and medieval re-enactments.

2 thoughts on “Driven by steam, not emotions

  1. Identities … now there’s a thing. I think the Rood Ashton / Albert Hall switch has been explained (although I can’t remember what the exact explanation was) but who actually cares what a loco, or anything similar, is called or numbered? Enthusiasts certainly do, but I’ve never been convinced that the operator of said equipment is actually that bothered. While they do need to know that locomotive X has a unique identity it is really only for accounting (jobs charged to loco X) and operating purposes (loco X working the 10:45 today) but once the thing goes back to works, is dismantled for overhaul, and then put back together how much of the pre-overhaul locomotive X remains?

    I reckon London Transport had it right with their fleet of Routemasters. A bus is made up of two major components: body and chassis. Each was given a number, and when they were built the numbers sort-of ran in sequence, with chassis 6 carrying body 6, and so on. The vehicle as a whole was given an RM (or RML, RMC, etc.) number and it was this number that was used in day-to-day operations.

    A Routemaster can be split in to these two components quite easily and in their heyday this was part of the standard overhaul process at Aldenham Bus Works. The body would go down one line, and the chassis down another. Chassis overhauls took longer than body overhauls and it was purely coincidental and extremely rare that a body and chassis would be reunited with each other on completion of their respective overhauls. However, the body and chassis numbers remained constant and fixed.

    Now the weird bit: The RM numbers. Let’s say that RM1234 arrived last week at Aldenham for overhaul. We can go back to 1963 if you like and say that it was made up of chassis C1234 and body B1234. It was taken in to works, split apart, and marked as “under overhaul” and at that point RM1234 would cease to exist in effect. Meanwhile, chassis C1223 and body B1277 have completed their overhauls and have been put together and painted, but it needs an RM number for that finishing touch. And what one would it get? RM1234 would certainly be a contender!

    I’ve simplified this a lot, but I hope you get the way it worked. And as one who spotted 2740-something of LT’s 2761 Routemasters all I can actually say is that I saw 2740-odd Routemasters all carrying a different number.

  2. On steam locos it is invariably the frame that carried the identity and IIRC that was why Rood Ashton Hall was so changed. However, as we know, most locos carry a variety of identities on their components and certainly most GW locos and the NGG16s carry an amazing array of numbers. Of course it gets really cloudy when we do talk about articulated locos. Livingston Thompson has bits from most if not all the Ffestiniog double Fairlies.

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