When the railways started, the initial rules and laws of passage were based on those commonly used on the roads. The railway companies provided the track and locomotives, the transporter of the bulk goods provided both the goods and the carrying vehicle. The result was a large variety of private owner wagons. With few rules on design except that demanded by the railway gauge and couplings, wagons were mostly specified by agreement between the wagon manufacturer and the transporting customer. Wagons were originally based on an iron or steel frame, with the main bodywork made of wood. These original wagons had no driver operated train brakes and were equipped with independent hand-operated brakes, which could be pinned on steep hills.
The railway companies had no control over the maintenance or design of private owner wagons and many were poorly maintained and crude in construction. The trucks were expensive to build and many of the wagons were leased from the wagon builder, adding further complexity to maintenance. This led to frequent delays and breakdowns.
To try to resolve these problems the Railway Clearing House (RCH) introduced minimum standards for private owner wagons in 1887. Companies that were signed up to the RCH refused to allow wagons that did not meet these standards in their trains. New and stricter standards were introduced by the RCH in 1909 which required hydraulic buffers and oil-lubricated bearings as well as numerous other details in the construction of the frame, brakes, axles, and suspension that made the RCH's design the basis for virtually every British mineral and goods wagon for the next 30 years. Wagons that complied with the standards carried a plate saying 'RCH'.
The result was a cheap sturdy wagon which when damaged was easily repaired but had a limited life span. In the 1930’s the change was made to all steel bodies. In total it has been estimated that over 300,000 of these wagons were built.
We have a small but significant collection of rolling stock to complement the locomotives on display. These include mineral wagons, 'Tunny' wagons, Guards vans and of course the MGR wagons, which have a page all of their own. These form an important part of the history of the site and the reasons for its existence. Although it would be more suitable to keep them in the original dirty condition as they would normally be seen, damage and decay needs to be sorted if they are to be preserved for the generations of people to come.
Probably the most recognisable of all of the railway wagons, probably due to their abundance in early train sets, the 16 ton mineral wagon is a small open-topped railway goods wagon used to carry coal, ores and other mine products. Most of these wagons were phased out in the 1970’s when the transport of bulk minerals was changed following the reduction in demand for household coal and the development of merry-go-round trains with automatic unloading hopper wagons.
These wagons were built principally for ballast traffic. Trains of these vacuum-braked wagons would be used each week for engineering work around the railway. These wagons had a very long life and some are still used today on branch line work.
Some of the wagons were used to convey replacement parts for damaged point-work from the engineering workshops to the site of any minor mishap, running through of points, broken switch blade, or minor ballasting adjustments etc. In past times the option of attaching these vacuum braked wagons to the back of a passenger train heading in the right direction would save a special train movement. Obviously not applicable with Intercity 125’s of today.
British Railways wagons used for track maintenance were named after fish, such as "Tunny" and "Dogfish" These codes were telegraphese, somewhat analogous to the SMS language of today. These shortened names were much quicker to use and provided clear information on their purpose..
Bass - air braked engineers wagon ZDA
Catfish ZEV ballast hopper wagon
Chubb ballast/spoil wagon
Dogfish ballast hopper ZFV
Haddock - Sleeper wagon ZCO
Halibut YCA Ballast wagon
Hake ballast open air braked ZDA
Herring ballast hopper ZLV
Lamprey, Crab, ballast ZBO ZBV ZCV
Mackerel 17ton ballast hopper
Mermaid ballast wagon
Oyster Ballast plough brake van ZUO ZUP
Perch YEA YXA
Pilchard 20 ton Ballast and sleeper wagon YCO
Plaice ballast wagons ZCV
Prawn, Departmental bogie bolster C YNO
Salmon YMA YMO
Tunny 20 ton Ballast open - ZCO ZXO
To name just a few!
A fuller list with accompanying photographs may be seen by visiting http://paulbartlett.zenfolio.com/brdepartmental
Shock absorbing wagons were first built by the pre-nationalisation railway companies and British Railways continued to build them to its own designs. Certain fragile goods such as glass and bricks were susceptible to damage during shunting. The wagon body was connected to the chassis by means of springs on the outside of the solebars, thus absorbing more of the ‘shock’ of rough shunting than just the buffers. The trucks originally had distinctive white stripes on the sides and ends to indicate to the shunters that the wagons were shock absorbing and needed handling with greater care.
The Catfish and Dogfish were BR’s standard small ballast hopper wagons with nearly 2000 being built. Fitted with vacuum brakes many lasted into the 1990s. Conversion of some to airbrakes in 2000 extended their life but they were eventually withdrawn in 2006.
The Catfish had a shallow but fairly conventional looking hopper with a single chute discharging between the rails. At one end of the 14ft wheelbase wagon was a platform with a single door control wheel.
The Dogfish was a few inches taller than the Catfish and first appeared around 1956. It had three unloading chutes giving the ability to discharge ballast between the rails and to either side. As a result of this the end platform has three control wheels.
These wagons were built for the railway engineers' use. The later smaller, hand-brake-only, version of 15 Ton capacity was known as a "Tunny". This name has also been incorrectly applied to the earlier 20 Ton versions of which ours is an example.
The truck was equipped with a cover to protect its load. The bar would be raised to the vertical position forming a tent to allow water to drain off rather than collecting in a pool
One of the two shock absorbing dampers mounted underneath the wagon