Summary: The closure of Brush Falcon Works including the memories of an electrician working there on BR Class 2 diesel locos. . . . . . . .
The scene is the Duchess of Hamilton suite in the NRM on a dark December night when the Friends are gathered for the Christmas buffet and film show.
It’s hard to recognise everyone through their masks but our speaker and film show host is easily recognised. It’s Rob Foxon with some of his legendary collection of films to show.
One of his films showed construction of Brush type 2 diesel locomotives (later type 31 and variants) at the Brush ‘Falcon’ works in Loughborough. Rob reminded us that since 1865 the Falcon Works had been hard at it until, this year, the present owners, Wabtec, had decided to close it. The film was a sort of valedictory note to the story of Brush and it reminded me of another oral history recording in the archive.
As BR tried to work out the best future for diesel traction a number of prototypes were ordered, one of which was the Type 2 from Brush, numbered D5500 – 5519. This isn’t the place to discuss the pros and cons of the design and the variants thereto, but suffice to say that it was generally very successful and resulted in an order for 263, the largest order BR ever gave to a private manufacturer.
‘The locos were accepted at Doncaster and I remember we always left on Thursdays at 12 40. A lot of the Works turned out to see us go. They had a pride in what they had done, you see? It was a convoluted journey via Retford, probably because they were all Leicester or Derby crews who knew much of that route. We were instructed to stop and check the axle boxes after 20 miles or so on the early locos because there had been problems.’ Neville hesitated a bit, drawing from fragmented memory until he recalled they were all weighed at Doncaster initially but later at Derby and various other depots as the numbers turned out by the Works grew.
‘It was a long acceptance day but I usually got home on the last train on the Great Central route to my home at Belgrave and Birstall. I was often the only passenger by then – just me and the guard. I remember going to the General Manager’s office at Doncaster to collect my First Class ticket to get home. They were all hand written you see. ‘Make it out to Belgrave and Birstall,’ I said. What an office! It was all LNER blue, still, with all the trappings.’
We did some test runs from Doncaster to New England and back, getting up to maximum speed – 75 mph to start with and later, 95 mph.We had footplate inspectors on board so drivers were well behaved (!) and sometimes representatives of the engine manufacturers – Crompton, Sulzer, Merilees.’ It was a halting few minutes as Neville sorted out in his mind Type 2 and Type 4 reminiscences, but then he got back into his stride.
‘I remember one trip to New England. We’d just left Retford on the Up when a blue light came on – water too hot. I went back to take a look and realised the cooling fan wasn’t working. There was a hat trapped in it! Turned out the boiler inspector had lost his trilby. of many years standing and thought it must have fallen on the track. But there it was, trapped in the fan. I had to cut it out. They said I had 6 minutes before they would have to go and tell the bobby to stop trains coming behind us. I just made it.’
‘Didn’t he realise what had happened to the hat?’ I asked.
‘Probably thought he had dropped it somewhere else, or kept quiet about it’, he chortled.
As the later batches emerged from the works, arrangements changed as some new locos were stored at Syston North (Cossington) before being moved to depots other than Doncaster. By then the glamour and the excitement had gone out of it all and Neville moved on to other projects – ‘Kestrel’, ‘Falcon’ prototypes and others.
Neville thought of himself as a career railwayman and an electrician, though he never joined BR.His long career took him to work on other designs and to visit trade fairs in Moscow and in Germany, as well as work negotiating contracts with London Underground.He retired in 1995 with a lot of happy memories and some wonderful stories of the early years of diesel traction on BR.His stories fit perfectly with Rob Foxon’s film as a record on how the process of building and acceptance testing locos worked at that time.I imagine Neville sitting at the back of the suite in December watching the film and muttering his own commentary, full of humour but above all, an understated pride in his work and his contribution to the history of Brush and of BR diesel locos.
Sometimes known as ‘gurglers’ the Type 2’s came in many guises over the years and several are preserved, including the first, formerly D5500, in the National Collection. It probably has Neville’s finger prints somewhere in its control unit!