Some items have been lost forever and only memories and photographs point to their existence. Here are some together with the history of what they were for and why their use was discontinued.
Oil fired steam locomotives
The availability of coal became a severe problem towards the end of the Second World War. The bad winter of 1947 also had an adverse effect on coal stocks. Coal had deteriorated in quality and increased in price by about 25% as the government labelled the best coal for export only.
The Great Western railway researched and began a programme where they converted coal fired locomotives to run on oil. The conversion was initially carried out at Swindon works where heavy freight engines 2-8-0’s and then five Castle class locomotives, numbers 100A1, 5039, 5079, 5083 and 5091 were fitted with oil burners and tanks.
The initial success prompted the government to sponsor a programme in which 1200 were earmarked for conversion. By 1948 after the railways had been nationalised, 93 engines had been altered but the rising cost of oil and insufficient foreign exchange to pay for the additional costs (thought to be £300,000 per year) forced an about turn and all of the locomotives reverted to coal within a year.
Burning oil had some advantages apart from the ease of lighting, a burning rag under the oil atomizers was all that was needed. There was less need to blow-off steam when an engine stoked up for a heavy climb was left waiting as the fire was controllable, much like turning a gas cooking burner up and down to make a saucepan boil. The fire was always ‘clean’ with no dirt or dust. The fireman also had much more time to assist the driver as a lookout for signals etc.
As part of this conversion process, engine sheds around the country needed the infra-structure to deal with this different fuel. Barrow Hill had a fuel oil tank and pumping station built in the yard. This structure was demolished to make way for the new workshops.
The workshop area may be glimpsed only if the door has been inadvertently left open. This area has not disappeared completely as it still houses some machinery used by the restoration projects. It is not open to the public however.
The shape of the building and the strange construction of the roof give some idea of the activities once performed inside.
The roof shape suggests that much ventilation was needed and this points to the fact that it originally contained a forge, some form of powered hammer and an anvil. There a few details of the equipment once located inside, it was obviously not considered particularly photogenic by the people who worked there at the time. The floor and walls offer little help to the archaeologist either. This complex facility was needed because of the variety of locomotives that needed to be serviced. Few parts were interchangeable and spare parts were nearly non-existent.
Most items that needed repair or replacement were fabricated on site. Little evidence is left of this apart from the original lifting hoist located above the door which would move the red hot metal from the forge to the hammer and the anvil. It is possible to see the four large bolts on the wall inside the Roundhouse which holds it in position, although it can no longer be used.
The white building to the left of the Deltic shows the conversion of the redundant facility into a garage.
Lost forever but in reality a plain, utilitarian building that was barely used for it's original purpose.
Once standing proud, the remnents of the crane now lies towards the gates on the right of the yard. Too heavy to lift by the scrap man, it remains to remind people of what once was.
One of the earliest pictures we have of the building which housed the oil tank and pump.
If we look at a film of a recent steam locomotive engineering workshop we might get an idea of what processes might have been involved.
This was the last remaining locomotive in Zenica, Bosnia which had it's last ride on February 12th, 2015 when it was officially shut down and removed from service.
Obviously spare parts were non-existent and broken sections had to be repaired or remade.
Video from Doug Brooks, Even Further Rail, who specialises in videos of the last days of steam in China and Bosnia, chartered steam on the Eritrean railway and surviving Empire Steam from Burma / Myanmar.
A fleeting glimpse can be seen of the yard crane in this photograph by Les Elson. Taken on 13/09/1964
Section being added too!