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Vice Presidents: Sir William McAlpine Bt, FRSE, FCIT, FRSA; Richard Hardy




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A PERSONAL VIEW OF 4472

Roland Kennington

13 September 2013


Unfortunately, our planned speaker for the September meeting, Paul Kirkman, director of the NRM, was ill and unable to attend. By lucky coincidence, Roland Kennington was planning to attend the evening and he quickly agreed to step into the breach, giving an impromptu, and unprepared talk of his experiences with No. 4472 Flying Scotsman. It was a fascinating talk which kept the packed audience's attention for an hour and a half.

Roland started by congratulating the Museum for the fantastic year and the Great Gathering in particular. He paid tribute to the past director, Steve Davies, for his work in creating the foundation for this. He noted that Dr Tony Marchington, had always wanted an A4 in his collection and he did get a price quoted for Dwight D. Eisenhower - $3M – rather more than he wanted to pay. The owners of Dominion of Canada didn't give a price as they were not interested in a sale. That left the UK-based A4s. Only Bittern seemed to be a possible purchase. In 1978, Roland had seen it while it was stored at Wilton Colliery. Since then it had undergone restoration and changed identity to Silver Link. After time on the NYMR it moved to GCR where it was currently stripped down. Throughout this time it was owned by Geoff Drury, and Tony Marchington started to put pressure on him for a sale. He first got him to come down to Oxford, but negotiations got nowhere. Roland was working for Tony Marchington at the time, so he asked Roland to try. Roland found Geoff Drury very pleasant unless discussing Flying Scotsman – he hated the engine! Roland tried five or six times to negotiate a deal and finally got an offer of a sale for 265k. But it was in pieces, scattered over seven different locations and GCR also needed to be persuaded to release the bits from their care. Roland and ten volunteers went to GCR to collect the bits and return them to Southall, where the rebuild was to take place. He was pleased that he managed to account for all the pieces, with the exception of one nut – it had become hidden in his own toolbox.

According to Peter Townend, A4s never suffered from cracked frames (unlike A3s), but inspection of Bittern proved it to be the exception, as there was a crack by the left hand cylinder which was almost through the plate. When Roland took Peter Townend to see it, he still considered it to be extremely unusual.

Tony Marchington sold Bittern in 1999 to Jamie Hoskins, who took the parts to Ropley on the MHR. Roland warned Jamie to be careful when welding the frames and must have got the message across, because he was then employed as a part time consultant to oversee the work. His relations with the MHR team were good throughout the restoration and Roland continued his two-days-a-month oversight until the restoration was complete and the loco was returned to Southall for running in.
Back to Flying Scotsman, which has played a big part in Roland's life. He first came across the engine in a professional capacity in 1985. At that time it had just come out of Carnforth after an overhaul and was expected to be operating specials from Marylebone, in the company of Mallard and other locos. Roland wasn't a novice in working with steam locomotives, having worked on Sir Nigel Gresley two year earlier. Out of the blue he got a call from George Hinchcliffe asking whether he would be willing to take the job of chief engineer on Flying Scotsman, followed up on 23 December 1985 by another call from Bernard Staith – so it was serious. Roland was at that time the production engineering manager at an engineering firm in Bedford but, after some serious consideration he decided to take the post.

It may have been pure coincidence, but at the same time the locomotive was engaged on a test run to Hellifield from Carnforth. It had successfully done the outward run and had stopped at Wennington so Ray Towell, who was in charge of the tests, could ring control and tell them everything was OK. A BBC film crew happened to be in the area and asked if they could film a run past, which the crew obligingly did. Unfortunately, the inspector and driver were so happy at the successful trial that they didn’t notice that the trainee fireman had left the injectors on and the boiler was overfull. There was a big bang as a combination lever broke. They managed to hobble back to Carnforth on one cylinder.  On 5th January Flying Scotsman was due to haul a 50th Birthday Train out of Marylebone for its then owner, Sir William McAlpine, and it was not an option to miss that. A call came from Ray Towell to Roland to see if his company could make a new one. The problem was Roland's company was about to go on Christmas shut-down. Roland thought that he could organise the repair by welding, something the BR inspectors were not keen on but would accept as a short term measure. Roland organised the welding and the engine duly hauled Sir William on his birthday train. But it was clear the Flying Scotsman was not steaming well. On 5th May the engine was on a return trip from Stratford-on-Avon when the engine began losing power on the climb at High Wycombe. Ray Towell went along the footplate to the front while the engine was moving to see if he could find out what the problem was. He did - there was only four beats. It got back but when Roland had the front left cylinder head taken off, he found the piston head bent at an angle of 10 degrees – the piston having worn itself in against the cylinder bore. There was the remains of a 5/8” bolt in the cylinder which was the cause of the damage. In addition the centre cylinder was heavily rusted due to a lubrication failure. Roland had the left cylinder re-bored, cleaned up the centre cylinder and replaced the centre big-end brasses. By mid-1985 it was back in service and did a 650 mile run from Marylebone to Sheffield, Carnforth and return without problem. From then it was running regularly on the main line.

By 1993 its main-line ticket had run out and it was in need of a heavy overhaul but the pressure to make it earn its living was still there, so it was put into service on the UK preserved lines. This was no period of relaxed running though – Tysley, for example, ran a series of driver training experiences for 31 days, each day running from 07:30 to 23:00. It went to Ian Riley's works for some attention and they managed to get the tubes water-tight so it could keep going. But when it moved to the Llangollen Railway it was finally declared a failure.

The came a bit of good luck. A senior manager at Babcocks had heard of the problems with the boiler and offered the company's service to give it a re-tube. They knew their stuff and did an excellent job. While this work was taking place Roland persuaded them to have a look at the smokebox. This had never been right, being a replacement gleaned from a BR Standard locomotive, cut and riveted to an approximate fit. The company offered to make a new one but were looking for something to get some publicity – hence was born the idea of putting a double chimney and smoke deflectors. The owners agreed to this on the basis that it would be put back into original LNER condition at the next overhaul. The work had cost Babcock a lot of money, but they managed to get some 60k back through charging a voluntary contribution of 1 from footplate visitors. Once the overhaul was done, it went to the Dart Valley Railway, but while the boiler was good, steam was still coming from the bottom front end. It was then sent back to the Llangollen Railway to complete its contracted work there.

The problem with the inside cylinder was still there but it kept going. Then in 1995 it failed at the Llangollen railway when a derailment led to a crack in the back-head plate of the boiler. It turned out that the metal in that area had worn down to 1/16”. Back at Southall, Pete Waterman, the then co-owner, told Roland not to bother doing any work as he wanted to put the locomotive on static display at Crewe. But Roland turned a deaf ear to this and stripped the engine down anyway, so that when Pete came to visit he was left with a fate accompli and instructed Roland to carry on.

When Alan Pegler had bought the locomotive, he had also purchased a set of spare cylinders. Unfortunately, the middle cylinder block, which was desperately in need of replacement, had been languishing in the outside at Carnforth ever since with a lot of corrosion damage. Roland had the facings re-surfaced at Ruston's of Lincoln. This involved the removal of 1mm on one side and 1.5mm on the other. To make sure the cylinder fitted snugly between the frames, Roland had shims laser cut from stainless steel to match each facing. This, and the cylinder then needed to be fitted to the frame. The 93 bolt holes of the frames and cylinder didn't line up and many needed reaming- some were nearly half the diameter out. All were fitted and, subsequently, there was never a problem with them during running.

Between the 1994/5 overhaul and when Roland left the operation in 2004, the engine ran 200,000 miles. Much of this was on VSOE services in the South, a punishing operation involving a lot of rapid acceleration and braking with heavy loads, and 15-16 hours in service. The then owner, Tony Marchington, pushed hard to get the locomotive out and running. As an example of the pressure they were working under, the running in tests were done on three successive days, the 21 to 23 June. For the first, a run to Didcot, the engine started at 02:40 and returned at 05:00 (check). The second was a run to Westbury, out at  01:38 and returning at 06:50. The third was a loaded run to Westbury, out at 01:30 and return at 06:38, most of the time operating at 82 mph. The engine then went straight into service on the steam specials. This was very different to procedures at Doncaster, when an engine would be put on light duties for a while to allow for running in.

Roland was not contacted by First Class Partnership when they wrote their recent report. While that report calls for overhauls to be done to a high standard, Roland argues that is what happened for the last overhaul. He would be quite happy to talk to the NRM and fill in any gaps in their knowledge of the engine's recent preservation history.