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Adding Character

Giving absorbed locomotives the GWR look!

ROD 2-8-0 number 3016 at Swindon Works after receiving the initial GWR post-war treatment. Photo: Mike Peart’s collection.

The Great Western Railway (GWR) was renowned for using brass and copper adornments on its locomotive fleet. One such group of recipients were the 2-8-0 freight locomotives which became known as the “R.O.D.s” as they were used by the Railway Operating Division (ROD) of the Royal Engineers during the Great War. Their origin was as a class of over 500 locomotives built to a 1911 design by John G Robinson who was Chief Mechanical Engineer of the Great Central Railway. As the locomotives were needed urgently in wartime, building took place at three separate plants of the North British Locomotive Company Ltd around Glasgow; Nasmyth Wilson & Co Ltd at Salford; Kitson & Co Ltd of Leeds, and Robert Stephenson & Co Ltd at Newcastle upon Tyne.

Many were shipped to France and saw war service there. Following the war, a mixture of new and loaned locomotives was bought (for £1,500 each) or hired by the Great Western Railway from 1919 onwards. One hundred were acquired at first, but they were soon whittled down to a core of 50 of the best and most usable locomotives. These were modified and all 50 survived to work through the Second World War. British Railways inherited 45 of them from the GWR on nationalisation in 1948, and the last was scrapped in 1958. Of the original 100, it was decided that the remaining 50 should carry on in service until they needed major repair, when they would be scrapped instead.

Bristol ROD 2-8-0 number 3048 working a Class 8 (H) unfitted freight train towards the end of its days. Withdrawal came in 1956. Photo: Mike Peart’s collection.

One hundred years ago this month in July 1922 it was decided by the GWR powers that be to “Great Westernise” one of this ROD class which had been bought by the GWR in 1919. The chosen one was locomotive number 3017 had been built by the North British Locomotive Company, Glasgow in April 1919 and was bought by the GWR in July that year. The make-over consisted of repainting the locomotive to the standard green GWR livery, changing the safety valves and fitting a GWR brass safety-valve cover, and casting the letters GWR into the brass cabside numberplates as if to say, Well, it’s not really one of ours, and we know it doesn’t look like one, but….” 3017 then worked until withdrawal in October 1956 achieving the highest mileage for the class at 761,945 miles.

These hard workers had two 21 x 26 inch cylinders and a boiler pressed to 185 lbs. The driving wheels were 4ft 8 inch diameter. In the class survivors, the original [economy] steel fireboxes were replaced with copper fireboxes and the locomotives were eventually re-boilered and fitted with superheaters. The GWR locomotives only had steam brakes and, thus, could only be used on unfitted freight trains. They were used mainly in South Wales, the Midlands and Bristol divisions.

Some of the tenders attached to this class lived on after the locomotives were scrapped. They were converted as sludge carriers to transport away the material filtered out by the locomotive depot water-softening plants in hard water areas.

A former ROD 2-8-0 class tender in use as a sludge carrier at Southall motive power depot (81C) in 1962. The water in this area was particularly hard. Our railway office kettle there looked as if it had been plastered inside! Photo: Mike Peart.

None of this class survived into preservation in the UK, although there are a few static examples in Australian museums. However, parts do live on in this country. Some examples of the GWR type of brass safety valve cover, when they were sold by British Railways for scrap, are now in use as piano stools and coffee table bases!

Mike Peart

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