Recalling some articles I’ve read in the railway modelling glossies in recent years, the other evening I was thinking about some of those ‘locomotives that might have been’ stories that evoke such interesting responses from readers.
For instance someone had modelled an imaginary Great Western ‘Cathedral’ Class Pacific – and very nice it looked too – but presumably the GWR already had all the four-cylinder 4-6-0 power it could possibly need for its toughest passenger train operations.
As I was browsing my desktop recently, I came across some very interesting but unlikely answers in response to another GWR question that someone had posed – “Why didn’t GWR locomotives utilise smoke deflectors?”
Apart from the fact that they would certainly have spoiled their looks, my immediate off-the-cuff answer would have been that the sharp blasts from the four-pot ‘Castles’ and ‘Kings’ lifted the exhaust smoke and steam high enough to avoid such contraptions – but then, I realised, the two large cylinders of the British Railways ‘Britannia’ Pacifics gave equally sharp blasts, yet these locomotives still wore deflectors.
Perhaps the coal most of them burned was so much dirtier than the efficient Welsh steam coal that allowed relatively smaller fireboxes to be fitted to several GWR classes?
I well remember a much-anticipated main line steam trip from Carlisle along the Settle line behind No 5029 Nunney Castle, and telling my brother that the locomotive would be so sure-footed it would simply fly up the line. How wrong I was. The coal that had been issued was nothing like good enough, and the locomotive simply choked to death. What a shame!
Sometimes I doodle my own ‘classes that might have been’, and thinking about Hawksworth’s two-cylinder GWR ‘County’ 4-6-0s, with their high steam pressure of 280lb and 6ft 3in driving wheels, I wondered just what a sensational locomotive a three-cylinder version with, say 6ft 8in drivers, would have been.
They could have been named after rivers – Avon River, Teign River, Tamar River, Tone River, Thames River, Dee River…yes, even Mersey River (the GWR served Birkenhead after all) but I might just have left King’s Sedgemoor Drain out!
I was still dreaming when I suddenly realised that I never saw or heard of a three-cylinder GWR locomotive in my life, and naturally started wondering why, because after all the LMS ‘Rebuilt Scots’ must have been the equal to any ‘Castle’ (angry replies on a postcard, please!).
Seriously, though, was it simply because anything a three-cylinder engine could do, the GWR’s four-cylinder locomotives could do better? After all, even Gresley himself learned something about efficient valve operation from that railway, and we all know what happened when William A Stanier moved from the GWR to the LMS!
If that little lot doesn’t get the readers’ letters coming, I don’t know what will, but before signing off, I’d like to add a final thought for modern-image modellers. I haven’t deserted you – and in fact I embraced your particular era(s) with equal enthusiasm.
Once upon a time, as a young locospotter at Winwick Junction, on the West Coast Main Line, in 1957 I witnessed with great excitement the first-ever English Electric Type 1 (Class 20) Bo-Bo heading south ‘nose-first’ in gleaming condition, with bright red buffer beams and big white marker discs, after being outshopped from the late-lamented Vulcan Foundry.
Better still, at that same spot I saw one of the original North British A1A-A1A ‘Warship’ diesel-hydraulics going by on delivery to the Western Region, complete with its big red-backed nameplates that also carried the ‘Warship Class’ legend. How short their working lives proved to be!
One last thing: just before we broke up for the 1955 Christmas holiday, when I was still a pupil in short trousers at Beamont Junior School, our English teacher Mrs Watson, normally a stickler for accuracy and a strict disciplinarian, got into the spirit and showed us a picture of a beautiful big diesel locomotive called ‘Deltic’.
Her son, she said, had played a part in its design and construction, and she told us proudly that it was the most powerful diesel-electric in the world.
Some months later, I was walking beside my great-grandad and his Scottie dog Nip when we paused as usual on the hump-back bridge spanning the Euston-Liverpool line near the village of Aston in Cheshire and waited for the next train to come along. This time it was no ‘Princess Royal’, ‘Scot’ or ‘Jubilee’, but ‘Deltic’ itself that breezed by on the Up ‘Red Rose’.
What exciting times they were, and although I haven’t even mentioned the word ‘model’ yet, it’s obvious that such wonderful memories were the catalyst for all the railway modelling that would transpire much later in life.
Pete Kelly, Editor