The big surprise in the last few weeks has been the giveaway of the L&SWR T3 locomotive No. 563 by the National Railway Museum. This follows on from the disposal of a North Stafford engine last year.
No doubt the railways that have benefited from these giveaways are ecstatic about this new policy, and perhaps the S.V.R might be gifted a Dean Goods or perhaps 'City of Truro', who knows, but there is a worrying side to this policy. I think it is a sign of 'dumbing down' of the museum where exhibits are put aside or disposed of to be replaced by 'hands-on', 'educational' or 'interactive' displays to use modern parlance - in other words computers and toys.
I agree that youngsters prefer playing with computer games or running about making a lot of noise, but that is not what the National Railway Museum (or any other museum of its of stature) should be about.
The Kidderminster Railway Museum, for example, is not likely to be the world's most exciting place for a ten year old. What it does do is provide a sanctuary for an excellent collection of railway artefacts and has an important archive available for serious study. It safely holds important heritage material for posterity.
To a much greater scale the National Railway Museum should do this too.
So why are precious exhibits being disposed of, rather than put out on loan? And what will happen to lowly items of little use to a preserved railway? Items like a wagon turntable, perhaps. Will they be consigned to the scrap man as was the fate of the famous Newcastle crossover?
In addition a 'preserved railway' is not necessarily the safest place for all railway artefacts. Even the Severn Valley have committed a few deadly sins over the years. Dare I mention cutting up G.W.R pannier tank 3612 instead of swapping the good spares it contained and then selling it on, as was the happy fate of its sister 4612.. Then there was the GWR Road Motor Depot building here at Kidderminster...
Which brings me to another important point. Unfortunately, younger people do not seem to be attracted to volunteering on the S.V.R as the young people of the 1970's were. Indeed, most of the volunteers are still the people of the 70's.
The 'Friends' seem to be even less able to attract volunteers from the younger generation - who seem to particularly dislike the idea of picking up a paintbrush or a screwdriver.
Without wishing to be morbid, we are not going to go on forever so need to make future provision for the artefacts in our care, namely the lorries, the carts and our container.
At the AGM I brought up this point and we decided to attempt to find a suitable custodian for our precious collection for when the need arises.
Any members with ideas or suggestions should get in touch with me, please.
This does not mean that the 'Friends' are about to wind up. Not a bit of it! There is still much to finish and new jobs waiting to be tackled. And I, for one, have no intention of sitting at home staring at the four walls while I still have an ounce of 'go' in my body.
Fifty Shades of Grey
The G.W.R container restoration project is moving forward quite nicely. It is a long job, however, as our methods are completely different to the Great Western's back in 1931. All parts would have been mass produced and would have come together for assembly by a group of experienced workmen who would have completely built the unit before it was painted and lettered.
In our case we have been removing pieces of timber one or two at a time, leaving the bulk of the container assembled to retain what little structural integrity it had left, and cutting and painting new pieces before fitting them. All timber has to be treated with woodworm killer and three coats of paint prior to assembly. Where steel strapping goes on it is painted with a final coat of gloss so that any part so covered has maximum weather protection in case rainwater gets between the parts if the container goes outside at some stage. Additionally a bead of 'Roof and Gutter Sealant' is put along the top of mating surfaces to prevent water ingress. This sealant never completely hardens so can take up shrinkage and expansion of the wooden planks and continue to form a seal.
Obviously in Great Western days the container was a workaday object with a relatively short life expectancy so all this fiddling about would have been deemed unnecessary.
As we do not yet have a tin of finishing G.W.R Wagon Grey paint every time I need a bit of gloss I mix up some black and white to a rough approximation of the correct colour. It doesn't matter as it is only to protect the hidden places mentioned above. But here and there every shade of dark grey is visible giving a rather patchy finish at present.
In my last article I explained that we had constructed a new frame for the floor. This frame was not originally painted, but we have applied primer, undercoat and two coats of gloss for protection if the container has to stand outside on the ground at some time. The underside of the floor planks had the same treatment and are made from Sapele. The original planks were from a similar red hardwood.
The next stage was to replace all four corner posts and replace the planks at the back. The corner posts were Sapele once again but instead of using expensive Pitch Pine for the planks as was originally used, we decided to try Idigbo which is knot-free, looks similar, but has a yellowish oil which protects it against the weather to a certain extent. (Ordinary Pine is a joke. It has more knots than Stevie Wonder's knitting and is about as weather resistant as cardboard.)
It is necessary to paint Idigbo with a stain sealing primer to prevent the yellow oil bleeding into the subsequent coats of paint.
The back was re-planked first and the steel cross-straps were refitted. For the first time the container regained some of its rigidity. Some of the steelwork had new material welded in but this was only near ground level where the rust had set in badly. The remainder was exceptionally good.
The right hand side was next to be tackled, the planks being replaced three at a time as with the back to retain rigidity. Each plank was treated and painted beforehand. The lifting straps at the sides are in good condition but the diagonal bracing straps which were bolted onto wooden spacer strips were not. Rain had run between the straps and spacers causing severe rusting to take place - the very problem we are trying to prevent with paint and gutter sealant.
Unfortunately the straps were a special shaped section with radiused edges made to neither imperial nor metric sizes. Notably the magic letters GWR appear every two feet or so suggesting the material was rolled in-house. Rather than replace these straps with new material of the nearest available size a great deal of time, welding rods and grinding discs have been used up resurrecting the original straps.
The first of the cross bracing strap has been refurbished and fitted along with new spacer strips and the new internal lining ply sheets have been screwed to the inside back and first side, and the whole lot bolted and screwed together. So far so good!
Dozens of slotted screws are needed - not a single pozidriv screw will be used. All the bolts needed are imperial - mostly ½" Whitworth. Also, they are generally unslotted countersunk head, a type no longer manufactured. In order to replicate them, we purchased imperial hexagonal headed bolts and heated the heads up red hot and Bob and I forged them into a countersunk form in a specially made die. I finished them off on my little lathe.
I do not like to think too much about the cost or man-hours of all this work. However it is very pleasing to see the container gradually coming back to life. It represents such an important and revolutionary step in the history of road, rail and sea transport that its restoration and long term survival is well worth the trouble and expense. Very few early containers now exist. Ours survived over sixty years of farm use only because its owner carefully re-covered the roof and tarred the sides to protect them.
Scammell Mechanical Horse
On May 12th to 14th the Mechanical Horse Club had their event on the Severn Valley Railway and seven Mechanical Horses and their later derivatives, Scarabs and Townsman lorries and trailers attended.
This time we displayed 'the Friends' 6 ton Scammell and its (unfinished) pole carrying trailer and brought them out with the others into the S.V.R car park.
The unit had been exceptionally good, starting easily now that we seem to have acquired the 'knack' and in order to attach the trailer we had to extricate it from its storage area by pushing it backwards and forwards by hand and ending up on the hardstanding outside the diesel parts shed.
Here the unit was backed down to pick it up and a problem arose. The undercarriage had not been retracted for 40 years and despite having been well greased during restoration refused to go up. Much levering with a crowbar, and pulling with a chain hoist eventually freed the mechanism allowing it to couple with the unit.
The show was a great success and much favourable comment was received about our display and it was only afterwards when we had put the trailer back temporarily outside the diesel parts shed that the engine on the unit died and refused to start again. The unit was over fifty yards from its home in the bus garage so Steve managed to push it part way with assistance from the S & T Department but the final reverse into the shed is uphill and we had to resort to taking turns cranking the handle with the unit in reverse gear. As the engine now has good compression this was absolutely exhausting and well and truly knocked our confidence in its reliability.