Some time ago, Nick Thompson one of the directors from Southern Locomotives Ltd (SLL) invited me to Herston Works at Swanage to assist with the restoration of their locomotives. SLL own five Bulleid Pacifics and a BR Standard Tank. Restoration is primarily undertaken at Herston Works adjacent to, but not rail connected, to the Swanage Railway. The Swanage Railway also use the facility to carry out overhauls on locomotives.
On the day I arrived with Nick, Herston Works contained the only surviving N Class locomotive 31874. Alongside it was SLL’s un-rebuilt Battle of Britain locomotive 34072 257 Squadron. The third locomotive was U class 31806 which worked the Swanage branch under BR (Southern Region) control in the 1950’s.
As we were getting our kit together, Project Consultant for SLL, Willie Bath arrived. I hadn’t seen Willie since I was Secretary of British Railways Standard Loco Owners Group. He attended a couple of our meetings many years ago. We were coordinating arrangements with the National Railway Museum over access to drawings for Bulleid and BR Standard locomotives. We were also sharing information about wooden patterns used for casting inter alia non-ferrous fittings for steam locomotives, that were stored at the remains of Swindon Works.
Having signed in and donned overalls, we made our way towards the back of the workshop to view the magnificent sight of 34072 nearing the end of its overhaul. This locomotive was built in Brighton Works and entered traffic in June 1948 at Dover Marine where it would be allocated for around 10 years. Today it sported a 72A Exmouth Junction shed plate in recognition of its time allocated there in the late 1950’s to the mid 1960’s. After withdrawal in late 1964 it went to Barry scrapyard. It was purchased for preservation by SLL 20 years later. It took only 6 years for it to be restored to working order after which it worked at a number of heritage railways until it required another overhaul in 2002. With other priorities for SLL, such as the completion of one of their other Bulleid Pacifics 34053 Sir Keith Park, 257 Squadron was stored until 2012 when the overhaul commenced.
Our task today was to work on the new tender for 34072. This was located in the Goods Shed adjacent to Swanage station. Nick and I were joined by Chris Worby as we gathered together tools including hand grinders fitted with flap discs before the drive over to the station.
The Swanage Railway is one of the best heritage lines in the country. This accolade is further enhanced because in the last few days, through services to Wareham have commenced after an absence of 45 years. As we entered the Goods Shed, the distinctive beat of English Electric Type 3 engine (Class 37)was heard accompanied by a rumbling of the train as it ran into the bay platform alongside the Goods Shed. Then there was another distinctive sound, a Sulzer engine. The train was arriving topped with the EE Type 3 and tailed with a BRCW Type 3 (Class 33) D6515. This was a through service arrival from Wareham which is currently loco hauled until the Class 117 DMUs are brought back from Arlington Fleet Services at Eastleigh Works. I referred to these in my blog of my visit there where I was shown around by two former colleagues and Directors of Arlington Fleet Services Barry Stephens and John Campbell. D6515 (Tops number 33012) is owned by the 718 Loco Group. This was formed by a number of Eastleigh drivers in the mid 1990’s to purchase Class 33‘s. Given its booked working today, it is clearly main line registered.
Down to work
Now down to some work! Our job was to remove the mill scale from the rear end of the tender tank. Mill scale forms on the surface of steel plate when it is being hot rolled and is primarily formed of iron oxide. The problem with it is that if it is not removed then after a period of time it can de-laminate from the parent steel surface. Obviously any paint that has been applied on top of the scale will drop off and accelerated corrosion will be the result. We donned face masks, goggles, protective glasses, gloves and hats before Chris, Nick and I took on a section each of the end of the tender. This is a brand new tender tank and will look superb behind 34072. It has had attention to the frames and running gear and once fully painted will have a long term future behind 257 Squadron.
Now, removal of the mill scale might seem a tedious job. That’s because it is! However, in the periods between attacking the scale with a flap disc, we enjoyed lots of camaraderie and banter. Although I had met Nick on a number of occasions, Chris was a new friend. It really is great fun meeting up with new people with common interests and a common aim. We are fortunate to be involved in preserving valuable part of our heritage. It is a satisfying and rewarding experience to get involved in whatever capacity with railway heritage activities. If you’ve never volunteered or circumstances have dictated that your involvement has lapsed, then I urge you to try give up a small amount of your spare time to lend a hand. There are so many jobs that you could assist with. I have witnessed many times over the years that I’ve been involved the immense satisfaction felt by volunteers.
Taking a well earned break!
After an hour or so of frantic scale removal it was time for that most important activity of all – drinking tea! As if on cue, there was another rumbling outside the goods shed. This time it was the unmistakable sound of a steam locomotive arriving at the station. When it ran round its train and buffered up to the stock, we decided to finish our tea outside watching the spectacle that is a steam locomotive. I enjoy watching it being watered and have a mischievous hope that one of the footplate crew might get wet.
The engine in this case was SLL’s 80104 masquerading as long scrapped classmate 80146. The significance of the long departed locomotive was that it worked the last steam hauled train from Swanage on Sunday the 9th June 1967. This was an RCTS Special and as 80146 hauled the train away from Swanage station, it was banked in the rear by 34089 602 Squadron which had brought the inbound working. We watched the fine sight of the standard tank depart with its rake of BR (Southern Region) green liveried coaches before getting back to some more scale removal.
Lunchtime came around quickly. Downing tools and removal of PPE, we returned back to the mess room at Herston Works for food and more banter. Over lunch I spoke to Bailey who an engineering apprentice with Swanage Railway. It is so encouraging to see Bailey’s enthusiasm for his engineering career and he is to be applauded. Alongside him was Geoff Reber. He’s a retired electronics engineer and longtime resident from Woking. A volunteer for SLL, he was wiring up the front lights of 34072.
Lunch over, it was time to return to the Goods Shed. The building also contains Class 08 D3551 TOPS number 08436. A fine job is being made of it being repainted in British Rail Maintenance Limited black livery with red lining. It has also received some modifications and cab floor repairs. This loco was built in Derby Locomotive Works and outshopped in October 1958; initially allocated to 61B Aberdeen Ferry Hill. It remained on BR(Scottish Region) until the early 1970’s. It was reallocated briefly to 36A Doncaster before transferring to 40B Immingham. Some years later it was allocated to Barrow Hill now the site of the Barrow Hill Roundhouse Heritage Center. However, prior to withdrawal in 1992, it went back to Doncaster and was used in the Works. After withdrawal it went to the South Yorkshire Railway but was then moved to the Swanage Railway and has been there for a number of years.
More to see
By late afternoon, it was time to pack up but there was just time to view the Standard Tank arrive in the glorious sunshine. The Swanage Railway does a marvellous job of capturing the ambience of ‘The Age of Steam’. The footplate crew were suitably dressed in bib and brace overalls complete with grease top hats. No sign of yellow vests which so detracts from the hard work that’s been done to recreate the steam era.
On our return to Herston Works there was just time to view 34072 again. The smoke box door was receiving a coat of black gloss while Geoff Reber was continuing to wire up the front lights. I also had a chat with Swanage Railway machinist Ron Neal a founding member of the Mid Hants Railway. He has had published a book illustrating the first forty years of that heritage line following closure by BR.
I thoroughly enjoyed my time working with Nick and Chris and meeting the other SLL volunteers and Swanage Railway engineering staff. I shall certainly be going there again.