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The Friends of the
National Railway Museum

South of England Group
Vice Presidents: Sir William McAlpine Bt, FRSE, FCIT, FRSA; Richard Hardy




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Restoration of
GWR 2-8-0 No 4253

Charlie Masterson & Brian Atkins

10 February 2014

On 10th February, Charlie and Brian gave an illustrated talk on the work of the 4253 Locomotive Group. This is based on the Kent and East Sussex Railway which, while having plenty of experience in overhauling locomotives, had never tried to restore one from scrap condition. This is the challenge faced by the Group. But why a 2-8-0 on a line which is renowned for Terriers and Austerities? The reason is that once the connection to Robertsbridge is complete, bringing a link with the national rail network, the number of passengers is expected to increase significantly, and 5 or 6 coach trains are going to be the order of the day. A suitable locomotive will therefore be essential is double heading is not to be de-rigour. There were some who doubted that a 2-8-0 would be unsuitable for the line, but one was hired in from the Bodmin and Wenford Railway and proved that it had no problems. After all this GWR class was designed to handle coal traffic on lightly laid and sharply curved colliery lines.

After leaving BR service in 1963, No 4253 went to Woodhams yard at Barry, remaining there until 1987 when it was moved to the Pontypool and Blaenavon Railway but little restoration work was done there. In July 2011, the 4253 Group purchased the locomotive, applied sufficient grease and oil to allow Allely's to move it to its new home in the Garden of England. It wasn't all roses though, the locomotive was allocated space at the back of the locomotive shed with only limited working space. Nevertheless, the boiler and tanks were removed and a temporary tent built over the engine. This has allowed the team to virtually rebuild the whole of the front of the engine, including fitting a new buffer beam. The frames have been needle-gunned, the brake gear rebuilt including fitting new bushes as needed, and new sand boxes fabricated. The cylinders and pistons have been dismantled for refurbishment, although one took four weeks to loosen the cover before the piston could be removed – with relative ease.

The rear of the frame had suffered extensive corrosion damage due to water leakage from the tanks while in service. Most of this has had to be cut away and replaced. The frame stretchers have all been removed, cleaned and re-riveted back to the frames. Some of the items took a bit of persuasion to come loose, but a bit of heat and application of that well-know tooth-loosener, Coca-Cola, worked wonders! All the wheels were removed and each took a full day to clean before they were sent to the South Devon Railway for turning; all have now been returned.

Meanwhile after the boiler was lifted, some 300 man-hours have been expended on needle-gunning, but it is in surprisingly good condition, though the tube plates and the lower part of the outer firebox wrapper, on both sides, will need replacing. The regulator valve, superheater-header and steam pipes are all in good order. However, inspection of the inside of the boiler showed that BR operational maintenance wasn't all it should have been – some 25 barrow-loads of scale needed removal. A quote is now being sought for the boiler completion.

By now, it is apparent that quite a bit of the locomotive has been cut away, but that doesn't mean that this material has gone to waste. The Group has been very innovative in finding new uses for this, such as producing egg timers from old boiler tubes, and clocks from super-heater tubes, all of which are sold to raise additional funds. The exercise is very profitable – each boiler tube can be used to make enough egg-timers to buy ten new tubes.

The Group has also benefited from some unexpected donations. Swindon College were clearing out their old workshop stores and approached the Group to see if they were interested in a lot of “imperial” material as they were now metric. A trip with a lorry recovered steel plate, reamers, drills and associated tools, all bearing good-old inches marks. Dungeness Nuclear Power Station also donated a lot of Whitworth spanners of all sizes – it took a day and six people to move them.

Members of the Group are very hands-on. Work parties of a dozen people come in on Tuesdays and Sundays each week – different people each time. They have a good following of new volunteers, all being taught new skills by the old hands and are attracting several younger members. Indeed, the chief engineer of the project is only 28 years old – his other job is as a loco-fitter and driver on the KESR. Currently they have 210 shareholders, all of whom can join in with the work and newcomers are welcome. So far the project has spent about 180,000 out of the estimated 360,000 for the whole project, so even if you can help with the work, a donation would be welcome.

The bunker was removed and put aside in a nearby field. Here it was knocked apart as there was little of the old cladding which was recoverable. What was needed was the angle-iron framework. This was in relatively good order and provided the jig for the cutting and drilling of the new plates. Each of the inch plates was cut to profile, temporarily bolted back to the angle-iron frame and then riveted. So far 1400 rivets have been fitted and there are still a few hundred to go. The only original parts from the bunkers are the ducket, handrails and steps.

The side-tank geometry is complicated because of the need to accommodate the pumps and operating rods, with many of the plates bending through three dimensions. Replacement plates were delivered in July 2013, and were first painted in primer before rivet holes were, as for the bunker, copied from the original angle-iron. The job then started of re-riveting. This is progressing well. All the rivets are fitted using the traditional methods of heating cherry-red and then hammering from both sides – typically fitting well over 400 rivets in a working session. This begs to question of how to fit the final plate. Bearing in mind the baffles inside the tanks, and the complicated geometry, someone is going to have to go on a crash diet in order to get inside and, hopefully, out again after the job is done.

The pony-truck is now ready to be refitted. A connecting rod was donated from the West Somerset Railway; this had been partly machined wrong for their use but could be rectified for use on 4253, but they still need to source another for the other side. A vacuum pump was donated by a railwayana collector. They still need a few other items, a flue tube, safety valves and lubricators – so if you have any spare …..

As we heard in our February 2013 talk by Mark Yonge, progress on the Robertsbridge extension is moving ahead quickly. The challenge is which will be finished first to line or the loco to run on it.