Past and Present: A ‘West Country’ storms the Highlands

Ian Lamb reflects upon one of the highlights of the British Railways Locomotive Exchanges of 70 years ago – the foray on to Scotland’s Highland Main Line by air-smoothed Bulleid Light Pacific No 34004 Yeovil.

At the end of the Second World War, Stanier’s ‘Black Five’ 4-6-0s dominated the Highland Main Line between Perth and Inverness. However, as part of the 1948 Locomotive Exchange Programme carried out by the newly formed British Railways, they were about to be challenged by an interloper in the form of Southern Region’s ‘West Country’ Pacific No 34004 Yeovil.

No doubt the locomotive was proudly prepared at London’s Nine Elms depot for the ordeal of its long journey north – but, rather embarrassingly, it had to leave its tender behind!

This was no penance on the part of the Scots for a ‘foreigner’ daring to cross the border and face the wrath of these unruly Highlanders, but simply a practical one because Southern Region tenders were not fitted with water scoops. A standard LMS one would fit the bill, although aesthetically this did nothing for the fine lines of the Bulleid Pacific!

During its barnstorming foray into Scotland, ‘West Country’ Light Pacific No 34004 Yeovil was pictured at Aviemore in the company of the line’s staple Stanier motive power.

There was plenty of time for the crew to get used to hauling this strange encumbrance while working its passage over the almost 450 miles between London and Perth. ‘Bully Beef’ may well have been the staple diet for the Scottish soldier in wartime, but surely sending a ‘Spam Can’ to that part of the world was rubbing salt into the wounds?


Stanier and Gresley were formidable adversaries when building the best engines for the harsh Scottish terrain, but it was to be the latter’s assistant – Oliver Bulleid – who designed a locomotive that could more than challenge his illustrious predecessor, and Yeovil certainly did just that!

Nationalisation was very much in the air by the end of 1947, so a series of locomotive exchanges was proposed to determine the need and type of standard designs to be built under the direction of R A Riddles. The Exchange Trials would begin on April 19, 1948, and 13 locomotive types would be tested.

As far as the Southern Region was concerned, several of the top-link loco crew had little interest in participating in the Locomotive Exchanges as they considered their existing work quite hard enough without going to Scotland or other far-away places.

For the full article, see the July edition of Modelling – available now!

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