So, you want to become a locomotive restorer?

01 March 2023
As part of World of Railways heritage railway volunteer interviews, Howard Smith speaks with Callum Storey, the third generation in a family with strong links to railway preservation to discover what this role requires.

Last month, the UK celebrated National Apprenticeship Week (Feb 6-12, 2023). While the Rail Operating Companies are recruiting new apprentices into present and future careers for the railways, it got me thinking about such roles for the future of heritage railways, too.

A number of larger heritage railways have had apprenticeship schemes in place for years – some more so recently through government grants – helping secure skills and prepare for future development. In contrast, it's common for smaller concerns to still rely on volunteers dedicating spare time and energy – two things that aren't always hand-in-hand across age groups.

With a view to encourage more into volunteering at their local heritage railway, as part of a new mini-series on World of Railways, we'll be interviewing heritage railway volunteers to see what they do, what their jobs entail, and their thoughts on what it takes to volunteer at a heritage railway.

I begin the series with Callum Storey...

Callum Storey locomotive restorer

Howard: What got you involved with the heritage railway scene?

Callum: I have always had an interest in steam, it runs in the blood. From a young boy, growing up I was surrounded by steam locomotives. My family has a repair and restoration business in Northumberland where I'm from. My grandfather, Ian Storey was the owner of 'Black Five' 4-6-0 44767 George Stephenson for 40 years, until recently – longer than British Rail owned the locomotive when it was in service!

My father, Mathew worked for my grandad and as a young boy in the holidays and weekends of school I would come down to the business workshop to look at ongoing jobs. The family has been well-known throughout the heritage railway world, and my grandfather is heavily involved with the North Eastern Locomotive Preservation Group at the North Yorkshire Moors Railway, being chairman of the group for years. We have great relationships with many locomotive owners, railways and enthusiasts all over the UK.

Working on locomotives in different states of mechanical repair, Callum has learnt most of his skills through 'hands-on' learning and practice.

My grandfather was initially the Chief Mechanical Engineer for the newbuild A1 locomotive 60163 and helped source drawings for the locomotive with his experience and input being valued.

H: Please explain what your role is and what it is that you do?

C: I operate machines from lathes, milling machines to horizontal borers. My fitting, fabrication and welding abilities were also strengthened through college. I gained qualifications in different practices of welding. Being a part of a team of engineers maintaining steam locomotives and rolling stock is priceless and has been essential to my skill set.

Callum Storey welding locomotive

Welding to code requires learning, patience and skill. Callum now has gained qualifications in different welding techniques.

With the opportunity to work on different locomotives, restoring each of them gave me a sense of achievement when seeing them running after repairs were carried out. Knowing that people travelling behind the locomotives were enjoying themselves and that I had a little part in making someone smile makes it all worth while.

Callum Storey heritage railway volunteer

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A view inside a locomotive boiler during the process of re-tubing, where corroded pipes are replaced with new ones.

H: What do you most enjoy about your role?

C: I love the sound, the smell and the size of the locomotives. It's always been a factor in my interest growing up at a young age. Finding yourself in a frozen field on a still day, listening to the exhaust beats of a locomotive a mile down the line when its working hard – there’s no better sound!

Over the years my experience and knowledge that I have gained has been irreplaceable and thoroughly enjoyable. I have been in this line of work for nearly 15 years – lots of hard, heavy work, but rewarding. 

Meeting other people who show the same enthusiasm and passion in their work on steam locomotives is brilliant. The effort that is put into the work shows, as does the relationships between workers.

J94 0-6-0ST Callum Storey

Callum carried out a full restoration to NCB No. 60 – the first steam locomotive supplied to NCB No. 2 (Mid-East Durham) area after nationalisation of the industry in January, 1947. Built to a modified loading gauge, this resulted in the rounded-cab for working down the narrow-bored tunnel to Lambton Drops (coal staithes) at Sunderland.

H: How did you get to where you are?

C: I knew one day I'd work for the family business and keep the passion for my work. I started working for the business and had already learned so much from watching my grandfather in the holidays when restorations took place. I had a head start since I knew all the parts and could name everything on a locomotive. The mechanical side of the work that I did had to be to the finest quality – tolerances are very small when making parts for locomotives! To learn this skill I did an apprenticeship with the family company, having a day at college a week until I gained my level 3 in mechanical engineering.

H: Is your job full-time, or part-time? 

C: My job is full-time and depending on what types of restoration or repair work comes through the door, I can also work late hours. I've worked on many different locomotives, from full restorations to manufacturing individual parts for them. All work carried out is always done to the requirements and tolerances from the customer, generally following original locomotive works drawings. However, in instances there are sometimes no drawings to go off and work has to be fabricated on sight with the locomotive.

Callum Storey

Callum has worked on hundreds of locomotives, with restoration work varying from full restoration to component repair or refurbishment. A small selection of his work is listed, below:

  • LNER A4 Pacific 60007 Sir Nigel Gresley Superheater elements manufacture and supply
  • LNER A3 No. 4472 Flying Scotsman – full boiler stay supply
  • LMS 'Black FIve' 44767 George Stephenson – multiple restorations and family locomotive experiences
  • BR Standard Class 4 76084 – full restoration from Barry scrapyard condition
  • Hunslet Works No. 3686 (NCB No. 60 Austerity 0-6-0) – full restoration
  • Hudswell Clarke Works No. 1243 Richboro 0-6-0 – full boiler restoration
  • NER Class T2 (Q6 No. 63395) – superheater elements manufacture and supply
  • NER Class P3 (J27 No. 65894) – boiler rewelding and mounting
  • NER Class E1 (J27) – new boiler tubes
  • Peckett and Sons Works No. 1970 Jackie Milburn – new boiler tubes
  • BR Standard Class 4 75029 The Green Knight – superheater elements manufacture and supply
  • LMS Black Fives: 45407 – boiler stays manufactured, superheater elements manufacture and supply. 45212 – superheater elements manufacture and supply
  • 44871 – superheater elements manufacture and supply
  • 45428 Eric Treacy – superheater elements manufacture and supply
  • S160 No. 2253 – superheater elements manufacture and supply. Boiler Stays supplied. Side rods – new bushes machined and fitted. 5820- Superheater elements manufacture and supply
  • BR Standard 4 80104 – superheater elements manufacture and supply, 80105 – superheater elements manufacture and supply
  • LMS Hughes Crab No. 2765 – superheater elements manufacture and supply
  • SR S15 No. 825 Flue tube manufacture and supply and superheater elements manufacture and supply
  • BR Fairburn Tank 4MT No. 42073 – superheater elements manufacture and supply and No. 42085 – superheater elements manufacture and supply


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