Buttons Index


Having worked down to Bournemouth with Alf we were relieved at the Central station and after a meal break we were booked to relieve an Up Weymouth train. The majority of these London bound trains normally had a portion attached to the rear thus strengthening the onward load to sometimes twelve and thirteen coaches. The actual rear portion had previously arrived from Bournemouth West and then had been shunted back into a siding alongside the locomotive depot, usually by the station pilot 'M7' tank engine, in readiness to be attached to the rear of the in coming Weymouth train. It was quite a unique piece of shunting, with all the passengers still remaining seated whilst it was executed, with great precision I might add.

On the day in question we were waiting for the front portion to arrive whereupon, not unlike Salisbury, water would be taken with the Bournemouth or Weymouth Fireman responsible for the pipe, whereas you would take the opportunity of shovelling forward as much coal as possible in the short time available.

34043 at Shillingstone
Bournemouth's 'West Country' No. 34043 'Combe Martin' seen here at Shillingstone on the Somerset & Dorset in 1959. Bournemouth's No's 34040 - 34044 were all fitted with brackets on their tenders that enabled the S&D's tablet changer mechanism, that were specifically designed for operating over the route, to be attached. (Photo J. C. Lester)

The eventual arrival of the train revealed 'original' Class 'West Country' No. 34043 'Combe Martin' at the head, one of 71B's best, or not as was the truth! Now it was common knowledge that three of the 'West Country/Battle of Britain' locomotives were not particularly good steamers, No. 34011 'Tavistock and No. 34065 'Hurricane', both 70A engines at that time and, guess the other one, No. 34043 'Combe Martin'.

Les Pitchell, who regularly fired to Len Rickard in the mid 1950's, recently told me that 'Battle of Britain' No. 34053 'Sir Keith Park' was another engine with similar problems. Despite all their expertise and endeavours he recalled they equally had the same experience on a number of occasions that they had worked on the locomotive. Interestingly No. 34053 was relatively an early rebuild in 1958, whether or not it overcame the steaming deficiency I don't really know as my records do not reveal any footplate trips on the locomotive.

Back at Bournemouth Central, after having arrived with just six coaches, the Weymouth Driver indicated to Alf in his lovely Dorset drawl 'Ers not a lot a good s'know', so we knew what to expect. The fact that another six coaches were being attached onto the rear as we spoke just made things 'better' in terms of the challenge ahead ! Soon whistles were blowing and we were away, Southampton and then Waterloo. Leaving Bournemouth Central, through the single bore but lengthy Winton Road over-bridge, is on a climbing gradient levelling out towards old Boscombe station then sharply dropping down through Pokesdown into Christchurch. In such as short space of time I always found that you could take stock of the condition of the locomotive, particularly when running non-stop to Southampton.

By the time you had crossed the River Avon girder bridge, where the old original branch line from Ringwood joined the now mainline, and were seriously into the bank climbing up towards Hinton Admiral you had a pretty good idea of things to come. With certain locomotives it was necessary to adopt a different firing application, particular those renown as bad steamers. Whilst Bulleid boilers, with their thermic siphons and large grate area, did not normally give any problems there were times when something extra was required and this clearly was one of those times! The good old, 'light, bright and tight' firing method needed to be employed, most unusual on a Bulleid for sure. Once over the top of the bank having passed through New Milton and Sway the locomotive was only eased once the speed had increased so the approaches to Lymington Junction was in truth the first respite in terms of heavy working and virtually continuous firing activity! Down through Brokenhurst at speed then again climbing again up towards 'Wood Fiddlely' crossing box in the heart of the New Forest. Up through Beaulieu Road station then dropping down through Lyndhurst Road station, across Ashurst crossing then brakes applied for Totton. During this time the locomotive performed reasonably well, however still not quite right despite all the extra endeavour. Over the bridge that crosses the River Test that flows into Southampton Water and the large dock area beyond, past the little loco shed on the water's edge at Redbridge we continued to climb until passing Millbrook before running into Southampton Central.

More water was taken to top up the 5000 gallon tender and the remaining coal was pushed forward against the tender's internal coal-door. Once away from Southampton, past Northam Junction and St Denys, the bank work really started. Somewhat overloaded with twelve coaches behind a Class 'West Country' 7P 5FA power rated locomotive requires far more extension in terms of the way the locomotive is worked, certainly in comparison with a class 'Merchant Navy' 8P rating. Regulator position and cut-off determine the progress that will be made, add to that boiler pressure and the scene is set! With a boiler maximum pressure of 250lbs there is a greater degree of leeway in terms of pressure that can be lost without undue affect on the performance in terms of steam being applied to the steam-chest. On the day, leaving Southampton, the fire, boiler pressure and water were right on the mark for the sustained heavy continuous working on the climb from Eastleigh to Litchfield Tunnel. Once into the bank there is no respite until Worting Junction is passed where the line drops down past Winkleberry Intermediates and Basingstoke.

The requirement to turn off the injector to maintain boiler pressure meant that there was continuous gradual loss of water level throughout the period climbing the bank it was balancing act between the two. At the top of the bank the pressure had fallen just below 200 lbs and the water level down to about half of a glass, this was quite exceptional in my firing experiences, bearing in mind the style of firing that I employed on the day. I can honestly say that I have never had a fire so continuously 'hot' whilst climbing the bank. My hands and arms were burning during each short round of firing, the engine's boiler should have been stuck at 250lbs such was the heat of the fire. As soon as the regulator was eased the pressure increased immediately so much so both injectors were used to hold her back. After passing Worting Junction the engine ran absolutely perfectly sitting on the red line all the way into London. I discussed this trip with Bert Hooker some time later as I couldn't understand what was really amiss. He explained that such locomotives could not produce the steam required based on the way that they were being worked irrespective of the firing methods employed. Once the demand for steam was slightly reduced then the boiler would respond accordingly. Where the majority of the same class could cope there were those few that could not due principally to their general condition despite the endeavours of the crews.

Here is an interesting observation of the overall situation surrounding these three locomotives, No's 34011, 34043 and 34065 to consider. All three were 'original' Bulleid engines and were never re-built, equally all three were early withdrawals from traffic in 1963/64 compared with others in the class.

Did their reputation have any bearing on the outcome of their eventual early demise or was it sheer coincidence?

Copyright 2007 © James (Jim) Lester - Nine Elms - Southern Engineman

Postscript to "Black Sheep Pacifics" article from Jim Arkell
I was intrigued when I read the article - 'Black Sheep Pacifics' by Jim Lester. The three original lightweights mentioned, just happened to have been the subjects of a number of modifications in the mid-1950's. These three were selected for some reason, and they all carried the same set of modifications which were known as Exp 15 (which if I recall correctly included changes to the valve gear and steam chest amongst others).

I've known for a very long time that 34043 was a poor steamer. It had a certain reputation on the S & D, where it spent much of its time - it was a rare beast in London. Though it was said to pull well, and in its early days at Exmouth Junction it was reputed to be one of the best. It was no surprise that it was the first one to be cut up. Which incidentally was done behind the back of the Assistant Works manager of the time, John Click, who had given instructions in 1963 that none of the withdrawn pacifics were to be dismantled without his express permission. It was cut up when he was on holiday, and he didn't find out until the 1980's. None of the others were cut up until he had left Eastleigh for Derby.

It seems evident that these three had become a test bed for various trials. I notice Exp 31 is also mentioned in connection with them. Similarly MN's 35012, 35013 and 35020 seem to have been chosen for a number of tests.

I think it would be a good idea to gather this kind of information, and of engine performances etc, while there are the people still around who can tell the stories. Good engines, bad engines etc. I remember 34053 being mentioned several times as being a bit poor in its latter days, as on your site. Similarly 34009 not being all that special, and others. 35023 was the MN that had a new firebox fitted in 1962, and it did a high mileage in the last couple of years compared with the others. I also remember it was known as 'the pram' but I've no idea why it was given that nickname.

Here is a list of some of the modifications:

E44422 West Country - Exp 15 (34011, 34043 and 34065).
West Country (34063-34064 and 34066-34110).
Arrangement of valve operating gear, March 1953.
Alterations to March 1962

E44423 West Country - Exp 15 (34011, 34043 and 34065).
Merchant Navy - Exp 16 (3 engines).
West Country (34063-34064 and 34066-34110).
Operating shaft for piston valve (outside cylinders), October 1951.
Alterations to April 1962

E44424 West Country - Exp 15 (34011, 34043 and 34065).
Merchant Navy - Exp 16 (3 engines).
West Country (34063-34064 and 34066-34110).
Driving arm for piston valves (outside cylinders), October 1951.

E44425 West Country - Exp 15 (34011, 34043 and 34065).
West Country (34063-34064 and 34066-34110).
Bracket for valve operating shaft bearing, June 1952.
Alterations to December 1957.

E44426 West Country - Exp 15 (34011, 34043 and 34065).
Merchant Navy - Exp 16 (3 engines).
West Country (34063-34064 and 34066-34110).
Bearing plate for valve operating arm, November 1951

E44427 West Country - Exp 15 (34011, 34043 and 34065).
West Country (34063-34064 and 34066-34110).
Exhaust chamber cover for outside cylinders, November 1951.

E44428 West Country - Exp 15 (34011, 34043 and 34065).
Merchant Navy - Exp 16 (3 engines).
West Country (34063-34064 and 34066-34110).
Valve rod (front left hand), November 1951.

E44430 West Country - Exp 15 (34011, 34043 and 34065).
Merchant Navy - Exp 16 (3 engines).
West Country (34063-34064 and 34066-34110).
Bearing bush for valve operating shaft, October 1951.

E44431 West Country - Exp 15 (34011, 34043 and 34065).
West Country (34063-34064 and 34066-34110).
Bearing bush for outside cylinders (exhaust chamber cover), November 1951.

E44435 West Country - Exp 15 (34011, 34043 and 34065).
West Country (34063-34064 and 34066-34110).
Alteration to outside cylinders, November 1951.

W11407 Merchant Navy (35012, 35013 and 35020 for trial).
West Country (34011, 34043 and 34065 for trial).
Modified automatic steam chest drain valve incorporating a stainless steel seating, February 1957.

E44702 West Country/Battle of Britain - Exp 15 (3 engines).
Arrangement of mechanical lubricator driving gear, March 1952.
Alterations to May 1953.

E46203 West Country/Battle of Britain - Exp 15 (3 engines).
Lubricator driving rod, September 1958.

E46204 West Country/Battle of Britain - Exp 15 (3 engines).
Lubricator driving rod, September 1958.

E46488 Merchant Navy - Exp 16 (3 engines).
West Country - Exp 15 (3 engines).
Arrangement of cylinder cock lever retaining catch, July 1952.

Jim Arkell

Ron Petrie has written:
In memories the article that Jim Lester wrote about 'The Black Sheep Pacifics', there was a postscipt by Jim Arkell at the end of which he said 35023 was refered to as the pram, and did not know the reason why. Any steam locomotive that gets a reputation of being sluggish, and requires a bit more regulator or cut off, causing the fireman to shovel more, gets the honour of the title, 'The Pram' - you have to PUSH IT.

As a matter of interest it was this locomotive that Bert Hooker and Rocker Dedman had on the 09:10. 15/10/66 special Waterloo to Exeter as far as Salisbury. I wonder how much coal Rocker shifted?

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