When I’m Sixty Four

When I’m Sixty Four

Celebrating 30 years since the impossible dream finally became a reality

By Trevor R Tuckley, Chairman, BR Class 8 Steam Locomotive Trust

Published in edition 454 (May 20 – June 16, 2016) Steam Railway


To those of us who have been around steam for most of our lives – in my case since school0535 on Crewe - Shrewsbury line (crop) during the 1950’s – it seems incredible that in May 2016 it will be thirty years since this unique locomotive was returned to steam. I remember seeing it passing my school in Wednesbury in the West Midlands along the old Great Western mainline between Wolverhampton Low level and Birmingham Snow Hill, during its transfer from Crewe to the test plant at Swindon. To me it seems only a few years ago that the possibility of taking the butchered remains out of Barry scrapyard and returning the locomotive to steam was being regarded as, an impossible dream.  I well remember thinking that the thing had not covered itself in glory during the few years when it ran on British Railways, so what was the point in pouring money into a relative failure when there were, at that time in the early 1970’s, many worthwhile causes looking for support?  Thank goodness there were a number of motivated and visionary individuals who did not share my narrow and uninformed viewpoint.

It was the late Colin Rhodes who provided the inspiration and motivation for re-building The Duke and on one of his visits to Barry he met, purely by chance, Hugh Phillips who just happened to run his own engineering business and who had access to photographs of every single drawing of the British Caprotti valve gear fitted to the Duke.   Also he was able to put Colin in touch with Tom Daniels, the man who designed the Duke’s cylinders and valve gear.  These two events were to prove crucial in enabling the small team then forming to move forward with confidence.  Having managed to raise the asking price of £4,500 the question then arose as to where to move the locomotive to in order to commence the re-build.

It has to be remembered that in 1974 the UK’s steam preservation movement was in its infancy and, given the general view that the re-building of the Duke was an impossibility, no-one was prepared to accommodate them. No-one that is, except the then Main Line Steam Trust who offered a place on the nascent Great Central Railway (GCR).  So it was that, after a journey by road from Barry, the Duke arrived at Quorn and Woodhouse on the 27th April 1974.  Having been eased on to the Great Central’s metals it was then propelled by steam locomotive ‘Barrington’ to Loughborough where it was housed within the skeletal structure which was to form Loughborough locomotive shed.  So began the long re-building process which was to take twelve years, during the process of which much new ground was broken.  New cylinders were cast (a first), new Caprotti valve gear was fabricated (a first) and new outside coupling and connecting rods were made (also a first I believe). Throughout the whole of the re-building the Great Central Railway not only provided a covered base for the locomotive but also provided many of the facilities, manpower and resources needed.  Many volunteers and staff of the GCR gave of their time willingly and, in their turn, members of the restoration team lent a hand with projects on the GCR.

photosThe full story of the re-build is probably only known to those individuals who took part.  What is not widely known is that, in the early stages, the only institution to offer financial assistance was the Science Museum, which gave a grant of £6,000 (a considerable sum at the time) towards the cost of the new cylinders and valve gear.  Quite right too I am tempted to say.  In later days Crewe Borough Council made donations and other kinds of help were forthcoming from a variety of sources. Engineering work to the value of approximately £65,000 was carried out free of charge and the true commercial cost of the manufactured parts would have been perhaps double. The total cost of the re-building was in the region of £100,000 – an interesting sum when compared to the £44,655 which the Duke cost new in 1954.  Finally, on the 25th May 1986 the locomotive steamed and ran under its own power for the first time since withdrawal in 1962.  Notwithstanding the fact the two rear sections of the coupling rods had not been completed, the locomotive, running as a 4-4-2-2, pulled a two coach train for members of the support group.

During the course of the re-build the assets of the original Preservation Society had been injected into a newly formed company, 71000 Steam Locomotive Ltd, which allowed funds to be raised through the sale of shares. In August 1976 a new charitable trust, 71000 (Duke of Gloucester) Steam Locomotive Trust Ltd was formed and a deed of trust was drawn up in March 1978 placing responsibility for the locomotive with the Trust for a period of 50 years.

After a year of running on the Great Central Railway the locomotive left for Crewe where it appeared at Crewe Heritage Centre, which was opened by the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh in July 1987, after which it was lifted at Crewe Works for retyring, courtesy of British Wheelsets.  The avowed aim from the outset had been to return the Duke to main line operation, in particular to see whether the changes made during the re-build had overcome the deficiencies evident during its career on British Railways.  However, before the locomotive could return to the mainline a bombshell was dropped on the team.  Paperwork relating to BR’s inspection of the interior of the boiler had gone missing and some of the advice given to the team during restoration was now at variance to new regulations.  If the ambition to run on the main line was to be achieved the boiler, which had only steamed for fifty days, would have to be gutted for internal inspection, then re-tubed.  In addition some mechanical strip down was required, including poppet valves and gear and a further unexpected stipulation was examination of the Timken roller bearings on engine and tender, which meant dropping at least some of the wheel sets.  The setback which this represented can only be imagined.  To the team’s eternal credit they decided, despite limited funds, to do the necessary work and the Great Western Society at Didcot offered their excellent facilities, the Duke leaving Crewe for Didcot in June 1988.  In addition to the re-tube all superheater elements were replaced in order to ensure maximum length of ‘ticket’ on the boiler. After much further hard work and various setbacks, 71000 passed the BR examination on the 8th February 1990 and at last the stage was set for a return to the main line.

It was 10.25am on Wednesday 14th March 1990 when, after a brief wheelslip, the Duke lifted its fourteen coach (507 ton) train out of Derby station and began to accelerate rapidly.  The crew on board that day – driver Ben Taylor, fireman Fred Shelton and inspector Harry Leyland – were old hands at putting steam locomotives through their paces.  The Duke went round the Derby-Sheffield-Derby circuit at a speed almost on a par with the timetabled InterCity Diesel 125 (280 tons and two power units) and the ascent of Heeley Bank (five and a half miles of 1 in 100) showed a locomotive transformed.  No longer a maximum evaporation rate of 34,000lbs per hour as on Swindon Test Plant in 1955, but now 45,000lbs per hour ‘on the road’ with more in reserve.  The emotions of all those who had kept faith and toiled so long and so hard can only be imagined.  Only they know how hard the slog from 1974 had been – the ups, downs, highlights and disappointments, not to mention the bitter blow of having to strip the boiler just as the end had seemed in sight.  Theirs was the triumph, the glory and theirs the place in UK steam history and folklore.

Throughout the 1990’s the Duke re-wrote the record books across the UK.  From the Northern fells to the Devon banks the story was the same, a locomotive utterly transformed and more than meeting its designer’s intentions. The corrected faults and changes such as the Kylchap draughting and double chimney were allowing the locomotive finally to demonstrate its full potential.  The only sadness was that Robert Riddles, the locomotive’s designer, who had been such a friend to the team working to re-build his ‘magnum opus’, had not lived to see his hopes for the locomotive fulfilled.

The Duke’s boiler ticket expired after seven years and it was back to the workshops for a heavy overhaul, this time funded with help from the Heritage Lottery Fund.  Once again therestoration_140 volunteers put in long hours and, when funds ran short the HLF was again approached and, thankfully, agreed to extend help to see the job completed.  However, shortly before the first trip back on the main line a serious rift developed between the trust and the owning company. The wording of the trust deed was such that the trust was able to take total control over all matters concerning the Duke. The passage of time highlighted internal divisions within the trust and this began to be seen with a steadily deteriorating atmosphere within it and this unhappy state of affairs began to be reflected in the performance of the locomotive on the main line where there was a falloff in the reliability of 71000, including failures in traffic.

The worsening internal relationships within the trust saw valuable members begin to leach away and this, coupled with the poor reliability of the locomotive, had a deleterious effect on the trust’s finances. The problems within the trust became more widely known and it was general knowledge that there was serious disharmony within the members of the management team. All of this finally culminated in the trust finding itself unable to fund the ongoing needs of the locomotive and, in September 2013, it asked the owning company to take back responsibility for its asset, which it duly did.  This then left the original trust with no raison d’etre and it duly folded.  At that point there were some 350 members contributing, on average, £53 per annum, including Gift Aid. On day 1 of the new trust, in December 2013, 150 members had transferred their membership.  Currently there are 270 members (and increasing all the time now that a secure future for the Duke can be seen) contributing an average of £180 per annum including Gift Aid.

From the outset the emphasis within the new trust has been to function within proven business disciplines. There is a management structure in place where each member of the Duke Management Committee has clearly defined responsibilities and accountabilities. Cash flow forecasts ensure that the trust’s finances are on a sound footing and are under constant review as the overhaul progresses.  Alongside this has been recognition that the engineering needs of the locomotive are now best met by partnering with professionals.  The days of enthusiastic amateurs doing their best on a financial shoestring are long gone, and indeed arguably have no place on today’s heavily regulated and contractually inter-dependent main line.

The new trust is delighted to have partnered with Tyseley Locomotive Works not only for the current heavy overhaul, but also for the ongoing rolling maintenance programme.  Their proven record and focus on excellence gives enormous confidence for the future. The jointly agreed programme to have the Duke back on the mainline by the end of 2018 is on schedule. To have the locomotive within Tyseley Works, with its boiler having been lifted from the frames on 6 April 2016, along with the funding in place to meet the cost of the overhaul in just over two years, from a standing start, is no mean feat of which everyone associated with the Duke should be immensely proud.

JG0204-Duke-Embroidery-logo-GILL-v1If you would like to be part of the Duke family and join this exciting adventure then you can do this either by going to our website www.theduke.uk.com/membership or writing to The Membership Principal, BR Class 8 Steam Locomotive Trust, Folgate House, Folgate Road, North Walsham, Norfolk, NR28 0AJ and we will send you an application form.

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