Steam Railway feature sample
Here’s a sample of one of the many fantastic features you can read in this month’s Steam Railway magazine.
99 Not out: ‘S15’ No. 506
99 years after it emerged from Eastleigh Works in 1920, Urie ‘S15’ 4‑6‑0 No. 506 has returned to steam. Report by TOBY JENNINGS
Urie ‘S15’ No. 506 is a survivor, and a tenacious one. Every time in the past that it was thought to be dead, it has been brought back to life again.
Back in 1964, it seemed as though this engine was determined to dodge its appointment with the scrapman. Even when it was saved in the following decade, the lesser engineering abilities of that early preservation era seemed at first to render it a ‘no-hoper’ restoration. And even during its most recent overhaul, its owning group admits that it sometimes sincerely wondered if the job could be done.
Yet here it is for all to see. ‘S15’ No. 506; a tribute to its largely forgotten designer Robert Wallace Urie; a tribute to the combined skills of the Urie Locomotive Society and the Mid-Hants Railway; but perhaps most of all, a tribute to a preservation spirit that won’t lie down and die… any more than this engine would.
The steam locomotive, we say, is the closest mankind has ever come to producing a living machine. Each one, even within a supposedly identical class, has its own distinct character, foibles and moods, even from one day to the next. And so, when No. 30506 was set the task of towing three fellow ‘S15s’ to Barry scrapyard, and then facing the oxyacetylene torch itself, it was having none of it.
Richard Flann takes up the story. A fireman at Feltham shed from 1962 until it closed in 1967, he was among the guests at No. 506’s official relaunch at the MHR on June 2 – 55 years after he wielded the shovel on what was supposed to be its last journey.
Together with his regular driver, Harry Doody, he booked on around 9am on June 18 1964 to prepare No. 30506 for its sad duty – dragging sister Urie 4-6-0 No. 30499, and close Maunsell relatives Nos. 30841 and 30847, to South Wales for scrap.
But, he recalls: “She was in a pretty poor state – she’d been withdrawn and fired up for that day to haul those engines to Barry.
“We got the train together and set off from the shed to Feltham West Yard, which is only three-quarters of a mile, and right from the start she was saying ‘I’m not well!’
“As soon as my mate opened the regulator, there was a ‘whoosh’ from the superheater flue tubes” – a sound which, as enginemen know, is a sure sign of a blowing superheater element.
“I’d started off with the full boiler pressure of 200lbs/sq. in – but when we got to the West Yard it was down to 80lbs!
“I looked into the firebox, and it was like Niagara Falls – there was water leaking from the stays, the tubes, everywhere.
“I got the fire nice and hot to close up the stays a bit, got her back to full pressure, and as we set off through Feltham she was as happy as Larry – but as soon as we put any load on her, the pressure started falling and the water was dropping faster than I could put it in.”
At Staines, his driver decided to throw in the towel: “When we got to the outer home signal, he blew the whistle to go into the loop, then went to the signal box. When he came back he said, ‘We’ll try and get her back to Feltham’ – but while he’d been away, I’d got the fire bright, and all the way back the safety valves were lifting as if she was saying, ‘I’m not going for scrap!’”
Ironically, the Maunsell ‘S15’ that took the convoy on from Staines, No. 30824, came back afterwards, only to be cut up at Cashmore’s of Newport the following December – but when No. 30506 was finally towed away from Feltham, it still went to Barry and thus eventually into preservation.
It was not the only time that Richard and Harry took charge of an ‘S15’ for its last trip – for they were rostered on the last Maunsell example in BR service, No. 30837, for its farewell railtour organised by the Locomotive Club of Great Britain on January 16 1966.
Richard remembers: “Harry was a smashing old boy, but he was always a stickler for keeping the footplate clean – so I’d sweep up after every round of coal I fired.
“But coming down the bank towards Witley, the tender was trying to overtake the engine and bringing the coal down for me – shaking it all over the footplate!
“When we got back to Waterloo there were spotters all over the place taking photos, and we got a ten bob tip each from the organisers – about 50p in today’s money!
“We went out to the pub after finishing – I had a pint and a cheese roll, bought Harry a pint and a pack of cigarettes, and I still had change for another pint that evening!”
That was the last trip for No. 30837, which was scrapped at Cashmore’s in September 1966 – but it was far from being the last time that an ‘S15’ would ascend the Mid-Hants ‘Alps’…
Read more on pages 68-72 of Steam Railway SR494 – on sale now!