With this weekend being the 50 anniversary of the end of steam traction on British Rail Southern Region the railwayblogger is delighted to bring you a guest post by Simon Shutt from the General Steam Navigation Locomotive Restoration Society. Over to Simon:
Doesn’t it seem like a crime that the only UK steam locomotive to bear the word ‘steam’ in its name hasn’t made steam in over 50 years? This is something the General Steam Navigation Locomotive Restoration Society plan to change. Launched in January 2016 the society has gone from strength to strength and purchased the Class 8P locomotive 35011 General Steam Navigation in July 2016.
The society aims to restore the Merchant Navy to her original as built condition complete with air smooth casing and Bulleids unique chain driven valve gear. Retro-converting a Merchant Navy has long been debated since the days of Barry Scrap Yard with 11 of the 30 members of the class surviving the cutters torch. General Steam Navigation went to Barry in June 1966 with most of her running gear missing and critically no crank axle. This has put GSN in a rather unique position compared to her sisters as the cost of restoring her to either rebuilt or original condition are fairly similar.
When Oliver Bulleid became the Chief Mechanical Engineer of the Southern Railway he needed to replace the rapidly aging Lord Nelson and King Arthurs on the Southern Railways fast express services. He came up with the Merchant Navy class. Built during the darkest days of World War 2, the class incorporated a number of new developments in British steam locomotive technology. They were among the first to use welding in the construction process. Coupled with thermic syphon’s in their fireboxes and Bulleids unique chain-driven valve gear, the Merchant Navys were amongst the most modern and technically advanced steam locomotives in the world. They gave the Southern Railway a class powerful enough to take on their rivals.
In the late 1950’s, British Railways controversially decided to rebuild the entire class into a more conventional design. Within four years, all the Merchant Navy’s were rebuilt before being withdrawn less than six years later. In the preservation era, the Southern Railways express locomotive development is well represented but with one serious gap. The lack of an original condition Merchant Navy is the key missing link in British express locomotive development and it is something the General Steam Navigation Locomotive Restoration Society intends to rectify.
The society has made a great start to the restoration of the locomotive with the purchase of several components such as a boiler manifold, cab oil trays and sump oil pump. The society’s first component was a whistle for the locomotive which was expertly machined by one our members. The gentleman has now started work on GSNs next component namely a full set of Klinger valves to mount on the newly purchased manifold. Work continues on the locomotive at her current home at Sellindge in Kent with the removal of the tubes from the boiler well underway and preparation for the locomotives move in the near future being carried out. The society’s manpower is based within the South West of England which is over 150 miles from the locomotives current home. With a new home in the area being sought where the locomotive can be successfully restored to main line condition. 35011 was allocated to 72A Exmouth Junction shed during the 1950’s and worked services over the West of England main line between Waterloo and Exeter St David’s.
It also worked with special dispensation a Locomotive Club of Great Britain enthusiasts special over the Somerset & Dorset line on 1 January 1966 a month before it was withdrawn from service.
The Crank Axle
“Cranking up the pressure” is the society’s main fundraising appeal for 2017 to replace the locomotives missing crank axle. When General Steam Navigation was withdrawn from service in February 1966 she was placed in storage. In April 1966 fellow Merchant Navy 35026 Lamport & Holt Line was discovered to have a flawed central axle. To keep her in traffic, it was decided to give her to GSN. General Steam Navigation was then transferred to Eastleigh works where the task of fitting 35011s crank axle into 35026’s frames was undertaken. It was then that GSN was fitted with a new spare trailing wheelset from a West County class so she could leave for Barry by rail.
Ever since Barry it has always been known that a new crank axle would have to be made for her if she was ever to return to steam. When the previous owner agreed to swap axles with Braunton he simply exchanged a plain set for another plain set. The wheelset with this flawed axle has now been transferred to the South Devon Railway’s engineering workshop in preparation for the work to recover the wheel pans and build a new crank axle suitable for an original condition Merchant Navy.
The cost to create a crank axle for GSN is approximately £25,000. The entire project to restore 35011 to the standard required on both heritage and mainline standards is expected to cost around £1,000,000 but until we get her dismantled and the boiler stripped we will not know just how much. This is where the society needs your help, whether by joining our society for £10 a year, donating time or money or even purchasing shares in the locomotive. You can find out more information on our website www.35011GSN.co.uk and together we can put the steam back into General Steam Navigation.
Thank you Simon for this post on a very exciting project to restore 35011 to its original condition. With this being the 50th anniversary of the end of BR(SR) steam why not make it memorable and help fund this and/or any other southern locomotive projects. Certainly to see a Merchant Navy in original condition is certainly something to savor.