16 August 2023
David Holmes, Trustee of the 2874 Locomotive Trust, explains its big restoration project, the importance of heritage skills, and a special model commission.
Image: David Holmes (right) with the Dapol team.
Restoring old steam locomotives may have always seemed a strange past time to many, especially back in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Had those original small teams not started on that long road, the UK wouldn't have the amazing preservation scene, now would the UK’s heritage lines be so well-populated with working locomotives.
The UK's industrial heritage is a vital part of the UK and an excellent earner for its tourist industry. Recent figures published by the Heritage Railway Association show that the sector adds £600M to the UK economy each year, directly employs 4,000 people and supports over 22,000 volunteers. The railways provide a cornerstone visitor attraction in many locations and attract more than 13M visits each year.
Restoration is expensive in materials and man hours. Fortunately, often those man hours are in many cases teams of volunteers working on their favourite project. Locomotives are usually owned by some of those volunteers in a number of guises, but they cost more than the owners ever takeout. A well-known locomotive owner and record producer once said, “What do you call a billionaire who owns steam engines? A millionaire... What do you call a millionaire who owns steam engines?... Broke!"
The reality is that with a boiler certificate lasting at most 10 years and other parts getting ever older, owners struggle to even cover the costs of overhauls. The 2874 Trust is an educational charity using the restoration of ex-GWR 28XX, No. 2874 to help preserve and develop heritage engineering skills. It's an important facet if the industry is to survive, and not just for railway locomotives. We encourage young people to become actively involved.
2874 left Swindon for the first time at the end of November 1918 and was one of Mr G. J. Churchward’s 2-8-0s. It was a successful and innovative heavy freight locomotive. Like many of its class, it served the GWR and BR well hauling heavy freight trains over the network with little to trouble. One member of the class hauled an impressive and at the time record-breaking load of in excess of 2000T.
Only the few...
No. 2874 stand out because many of the class were modified in the 1930s by the then GWR Chief Mechanical Engineer, C. B. Collett, with inside steam pipes swapped for external. The taller Churchward chimney and safety valve bonnets were replaced with the more common lower version and the porthole windows removed from the cab spectacle plate.
Only three of the class, 2873, 2874 and 2818 (the later now back home in The GWR Steam Museum at Swindon) remained as built with the internal steam pipes. 2818 is a static exhibition with no plans for it to run again and 2873 is being used as a donor for other projects, leaving 2874 the only locomotive likely to run again as built. This has given us the marvellous opportunity to restore 2874 as closely as possible to how it was originally designed – a testimony to George Jackson Churchward, its designer.
Money, money, money...
The 2874 Trust has a need to raise funds and thus far we have been extremely fortunate with grants for specific elements of the restoration. We would like to offer our grateful thanks to The Rowlands Trust, The Garfield Weston Foundation, The Pilgrim Trust, The Swire Trusts, The Veronica Audry Trust, The Summerfield Trust, The Reed Foundation, The Medlock Charitable Trust and Ecclesiastical Insurance. And, of course, the National Lottery Heritage Fund for funding our major training and skills development work.
The work we have managed in a little under six years (including the time lost to Covid!) includes complete refurbishment of the wheel sets, new plate work on the running boards and cab, cylinder and valve boring, axle box refurbishment, new front and rear drag boxes, a new smoke box and a number of other remedial tasks. This means we will soon have a rolling chassis. We are now looking at what work we need to carry out on the boiler. Our intention is to restore the boiler on site using a mix of volunteer and paid specialist labour with the exercise being used as a heritage engineering skills training task.
The recent announcement by British model railway manufacturer Dapol to produce the 28XX and later derivatives, was a great testimony to this amazing class of locomotives, but its support for The 2874 Trust by announcing a model of 2874 with a generous donation for each one sold is, I think, the type of support that only comes once in a lifetime. So, “thank you, Dapol” – your support and generosity can't be applauded enough.
Visit the 2874 Trust website for updates on its restoration project and model commission.