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National Railway Museum

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




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The job of the Curator

Anthony Coulls
Senior Curator of Rail Vehicles, NRM

12 September 2011



We were pleased on 12th September, to welcome Anthony Coulls, Senior Curator of Rail Vehicles at the NRM. Anthony described himself as a railway enthusiast first and curator second. He has been a long term supporter of the Talylln railway, having 20 years footplate experience there. He spoke without a script, around photographs of items in the collection under the care of himself and his assistant curator, Bob Gwynne. He started by emphasising that the Museum has to compete for family attention at the weekend, so it is important that the exhibits are interesting, and that normally means working. The NRM's interests are not just at York and Shildon, but spread over more than 17 places where items are on loan. Currently there are more locos from the National Collection in operation or undergoing maintenance than ever before, some 12 currently running with a similar number under overhaul. It essential to have the people with the necessary skills to repair and run the locomotives and rolling-stock. Unfortunately these people are nearing retirement so the Museum has had an apprentice programme for some time.

To emphasise that the collection is not just about locomotives, Anthony started by looking at one of the recent restoration projects; a narrow gauge contractors side-tipping wagon. Heritage railways don't have such items because they were transient (rather like wheel-barrows) and don't carry passengers, so don't earn money. The NRM is restoring one as part of a display of work of railway contractors. The message is that the NRM is about the train in total, not locos in isolation.

The NRM is also not just a steam engine museum. EMU preservation is, arguably, at the same place as steam was 40 years ago. Unless we keep some, future generations will criticise us for not taking action. A 4VEP coach is a recent additon and was selected from those stored at Shoeburyness on the basis that it was the one with the roof in best condition, and therefore least likely to have suffered corrosion. The EMU collection will be accessible by visitors, as with supplies of ex-NSE moquette, people will not be irreparably damaging the seats by sitting on them. One day the Museum will take possession of a HST, and even modern freight locos, so it needs to make similar provisions for spares to ensure that they can, when the time comes, be restored and maintained.

Anthony then looked at some of the items which are of current interest, starting with the replica Rocket. This has had a new boiler installed which more closely follows the original design and is working well. Anthony notes that “folks never stop grinning” after travelling behind Rocket, even though they are standing in an open coach in the rain and getting covered in black spots.

Anthony still believes he has the best job in the world, but that view can be tested when something major goes wrong. An example was in 2006 when the middle engine of Green Arrow was virtually destroyed. Anthony showed a photograph of the bent bits. Without the spare V2 connecting rod there would have been no chance of restoring it. The moral is that while we should run the locos we also need to look after them. He paid tribute to the support he gets from his “hands-on” boss, Steve Davies, in supporting the team, showing Steve crawling all over the new copper firebox, the biggest ever made in preservation, for Flying Scotsman at Ian Riley's works at Bury. This is an example of how the NRM uses others to work on its collection. Another was the Rhodesian Railways combination day and sleeping carriage, obtained from David Shepherd, restored at a works in Appleby to an extremely high standard.

Another example of the high standard of restoration work is the Duchess – where over a mile of gold-leaf lining was used on the streamlining. At the forthcoming York LMS gala it will be rolled out with a LMS brake, also in Coronation livery, to give an impression of how a full rake would look. While we should not rule out anything, he noted that if the Duchess every runs again, it will be difficult to maintain it in its streamlined state – with closed-in running gear, no running footplate and sand-boxes hidden half-way up the engine. The gala will also demonstrate Steve Davies's vision of one museum with two sites, the experimental shuttles providing the link to Locomotion.

As previously noted, some 70+ locomotives and rolling-stock are currently on loan. An example is Woolmer, now on loan to the Milestone's Museum at Basingstoke. It came from the Museum of Army Transport, and it restoration was the first such project undertaken by the apprentice programme. Woolmer has connections to Hampshire, having worked at Longmoor, so it was the obvious choice for a loan to Milestones, as was noted in Briefing 57. Anthony recommended a visit and noted that, as part of the agreement for the loan with the NRM, entry is free to members of the Friends.

Anthony then reviewed the current state of various locos. Cheltenham is currently under overhaul at Eastleigh. It hadn't really been restored properly since the 1960s but the surveys have shown that it doesn't need a great deal of work, and should be complete next year. E5001 was also intended to go to Eastleigh for some 3rd rail running at the site, but these plans have been put on hold for a while. Meanwhile it has been paired with a “Night Ferry” coach to represent these BR services in the 1960s. Anthony is confident that, when the time comes to try it on power from the 3rd rail, everything will work. However, it would not be suitable for main-line running without a lot of costly updates. Similarly, the NRM's Deltic, No 55022 King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, has completed its restoration and is about to head off to the North Yorkshire Moors Railway for running in, the results being awaited before deciding whether to spend more money to get it on the main-line.

On liveries, Anthony acknowledged that there have been criticisms over the repainting of City of Truro. However, he pointed out that its current livery is historically accurate; the previous one was a “special” put on when it was preserved. In its new livery it is in demand from preserved railways. The repainting of the Crab into LMS crimson was a major step. The livery represents the condition the engine would have been when out-shopped. Strangely, there are no photographs of the engine in this state, although there are ones of sister engines No 13001-3, all being slightly different!

The NRM has the first production version of a Merry-Go-Round Hopper. The FNRM North-East Group has now purchased the last Merry-Go-Round Hopper which will make a good pairing with the first one, allowing comparison of the detailed changes made during their production.

The Stirling Single, currently on loan to the Railway Children Theatre Company at Waterloo, will return early next year. Meanwhile work is in preparation, as funds permit, to renovate the Stirling tender to replace the current, non-authentic one. The original pattern tender, having end up as a sludge tank, has been moved to Locomotion for assessment; some original GNR paint has even been found below all the grime.

The next loco likely to go through restoration into running order is the LMS 2-6-4T No 2500. The intention is to have it running with a rail-mounted water tank, enabling it to handle the future York-Shildon shuttles and York-Scarborough runs, without the need for either turning or re-watering. Another engine which Anthony has his eyes on is Wantage Tramway No 5 Shannon, which has been on loan to Didcot for some time. The money raised by Steam Railway's appeal should allow careful restoration into working order for use on short sections of isolated track, as part of the Museum's outreach work.

Flying Scotsman is now back a Bury undergoing further work. The cracks in the horn-blocks had, apparently, been there for some time but it was only when loaded onto/off the low-loader that these became obvious. They have now been welded up. Further work will ensure that the loco is in the best state it has ever been. There isn't yet a clear date for finishing the work but hopefully this will be in time for the rescheduled Barrow Hill line up of LNER Pacifics next Spring. Ian Riley's team and the NRM staff have been working 12 hour shifts in order to progress the work. No additional fund raising is being sought, the money coming from existing funds.

Winston Churchill was moved outside in June as part of the Station Hall shunt. While it looks good from afar, close-up inspection reveals a good deal of corrosion around the smoke deflectors and on the tender. This seems to be coming from under the paintwork. With the missing “borrowed” parts from the cab, there is going to be a good deal of work necessary. All asbestos has, however, been removed, so the way is clear to start. Anthony wanted to lay to rest one issue – the provenance of the current paintwork. In the records there is a receipt from BR Derby for repainting the engine, the date being well after it hauled the 1965 funeral train. So our fund raising campaign work doesn't need to worry too much about possibly destroying a historic livery, and Anthony wished us well in generating the necessary funds.

Ian Harrison thanked Anthony for this fascinating insight into this important aspect of the NRM.