Dunrobin - ten years on...

Dunrobin – ten years on…

It seems, to me at least, incredible that it is now ten years (this week) since Dunrobin arrived in the UK, following its long overland and overseas trip from British Columbia, Canada.

Here is the report on this blog, from that day:

Dunrobin Arrives!

To mark the occasion, I thought a blog post to reflect on where we were and where we are going was timely, as there are bount to be those wondering what happened to this project…

For an overview, this feature that I wrote for Heritage Railway Magazine is a useful starting point and I recommend this if you want to read a more detailed history.


Below: We begin the review with a photograph of Dunrobin – this is how I reported on the history of the loco after our December 2010 announcement of its purchase:

Dunrobin, a Sharp Stewart 0-4-4T built in 1895 for the Duke of Sutherland to haul his private train over Highland Railway lines (of which company he was a director). The engine was based at Dunrobin Castle in its own shed. A four wheel carriage (No.58A – the day saloon) was also based there and is also coming to Beamish as part of the deal. 
The engine was used until 1920 (though this information has still to be confirmed). In 1950, Dunrobin was purchased by Captain Howey and relocated 745 miles (along with 58A) from Dunrobin to New Romney, for display alongside the Romney Hythe & Dymchurch Railway, which Howey had created and owned at the time. Photographs show it en route in March 1950, with the trip being in-steam as far as Carlisle then worked at part of scheduled goods trains to Ashford, whereupon Dunrobin was prepared to undertake the final part of its journey to New Romney under steam once again. In 1965 (following Howey’s death) the engine and coach was purchased by a Canadian businessman, Harold Foster, for inclusion in a museum he proposed in British Columbia. Shortly after arrival in Canada, the pair were sold for $15,000 to the B.C. government, finding their way to Fort Steele, an open air museum which features a working railway.
Dunrobin was used intermittently, also visiting other fairs and events, including Sacramento in 1991 when it met our Locomotion No.1, last being steamed in 2005. In Canada it has been fitted with an air pump, steam generator and a buckeye coupling.
This photographs shows Dunrobin at New Romney, complete with a fine array of lamps and with 58A in tow.

Below: Once in Canada, Harold Foster found himself unable to retain Dunrobin and it was sold to the British Columbian Government for $15,000.  It was then overhauled at the British Columbia Hydro workshops, to enable it to take part in the Canadian railway centennial celebrations in 1966.  This photo shows the locomotive, stripped back to bare metal at the BC Hydro workshop, as it was prepared for its new role.

Below: Ex-works and ready for the tour ahead, Dunrobin and 58A are seen being tested on June 27 1966, on the BC Hydro sidings at New Westminster.  This photo is one of an extensive set (plus a scrapbook) recording Dunrobin’s life in British Columbia, kindly donated to the museum courtesy of David Davies.

Below: This superb photo was sent to us by Ken Cringan and shows the ensemble crossing the Niagara Canyon during the centennial tour in 1966.  Note that 58A is carrying appropriate words to this effect on its waist panels.

Below: In 1967 Dunrobin and 58A arrived at Fort Steele historic park.  Set in the Rocky Mountains, the park was centred around an abandoned town, complete with a 4km railway operating a dumbell shape and with engine shed facilities and workshops developed to support the railway operation.  This photo was taken in 1970 and was part of a collection donated to us from the estate of Ray Manning.

Below: Following news of the purchase of Dunrobin and its repatriation to the UK, we had a number of images, collections or cuttings sent to us to add to the archive.  Here is another of Ray Manning’s images, showing Dunrobin at Fort Steele (along with an ex BR Mk1 coach, purchased by the railway in 1969).

Below: After a lengthy period of negotiation (starting in 2009), we were able to announce Beamish’s purchase of Dunrobin and 58A on the 17th December 2010.  In February 2011 I travelled out to Canada to prepare the locomotive for its long journey back to the UK.  This was my first sight of Dunrobin, and despite the disfigurement of the air pump, its origins are clearly recognisable.  Incidentally, we left all of the air-brake equipment it was fitted with in Canada, as part of the purchase deal (which was $160,000).

Below: Ten years ago, May 20th 2011, Dunrobin touches down on UK rails, following shipment across Canada (via the USA for part of the journey) to Halifax, then by sea to Liverpool.  It was then road-tripped to the Severn Valley Railway’s Bridgnorth workshop for an assessment of its condition to be made, prior to tendering its full overhaul.  As you can see here, given the position of the low-loader ramp, the locomotive was never on UK rails, outside, until dismantled!  The journey was fairly event-free, but had incurred an enormous additional cost against the original quote when it was realised by the contractor that access to Fort Steele, by rail, would not be possible.  By then we had to swallow this, but had the true cost of shipping being known right from the outset, we may have followed up other leads and perhaps Dunrobin would still be in Canada today.

Below: Work on dismantling the locomotive began straight away, with a view to preparing it for asbestos decontamination at the earliest opportunity.  here the tanks have been removed, prior to a tent being assembled around the locomotive for the decontamination to take place.

Below: Once the assessment work had been completed, we were now reasonably well informed as to the condition.  However, there were some nasty surprises still awaiting us.  One of these was the very poor condition of the cylinder block.  Whilst some views were held that it could be repaired, we needed a locomotive that had no Achilles heel and would be both reliable and offer longevity of operation at Beamish (as it will seldom travel away from the museum – we need to recoup our investment!).  Therefore a new block was designed for us by David Elliott (of A1 fame) and a lengthy process of procuring a new casting begun.  This used polystyrene as a pattern, the idea being that the internal spaces, for which cores are prepared in polystyrene, are created by the hot metal destroying the core as it enters the mould. This led to some contamination on one of the halves, resulting in the need to recast that side of the block (the assembly being two halves).  Yet more expense was incurred, as a new polystyrene pattern was needed to enable this.  This work set the project back quite a period of time, and had to fit around other demands placed upon the contractors working for us on this element of the project.

Below: The boiler was known to be fairly life expired, so at least there were no particular surprises here, though we were worried the original copper firebox might not be repairable.  Fortuantely it was!  Work on the boiler has been extensive, again to build longevity into the locomotive’s future working life.  The inner firebox is seen here to the right of the inverted boiler.  Work included new outer firebox wrapper plates (seen here above the white-marked weld lines on the firebox), a new boiler barrel, new tubeplate, new stays (girder, side, palm and longitudinal), re-bushed outer wrapper holes for the stays and a new foundation ring, to name the main elements.  It is probably around 80% new in terms of material, with the upper section of the outer firebox, the inner firebox and the throatplate being the only original components of any size to remain.

Below: The inverted inner firebox, complete with new girder stays (seen here beneath it, but when complete, these will be at the top when the assembly is inverted).

Below: The new foundation ring being adjusted to fit.  The amount of work expended in preparing the components for re-bushing, tapping, drilling, riveting and assembly can be quickly grasped in this view.  The work is repetetive (on a huge scale), heavy and dirty.

Below:  Another nasty surprise awaited us with the mechanical restoration.  Having swallowed the cost of a new cylinder block, inspection of the coupled wheels (often called driving wheels) revealed cracks following removal of all of their paint.  These cracks were so extensive that the only sensible option was to replace the wheel centres.  At this juncture, replacing the leading axle also seemed sensible, similarly the stub axles on the crank axle.  This also meant the thick tyres, with lots of life in them (fitted in the 1970s and which were to be re-profiled to a UK standard) were also scrap.  Another £150,000 was therefore required (and was authorised) to replace these components.  Here the wheels are seen following the grim discovery.  Notice the frames on the lifting jacks behind.  These had received extensive attention to some old repairs, making good these and re-rivetting hangers and hornguides.  The axleboxes have also received extensive restoration, similarly the valve gear and coupling rods.

Below:  The brand new driving wheels in 2019.  Only the centre section of the crank axle is original – but at least we have achieved our aim of longevity for the restored locomotive as these items will not (I hope!) require replacement in our lifetimes.

Below: The overhauled bogie, complete with first coats of paint.  The cast pedestal that locates this, mounted between the frames, was cracked and required repairs.  The locomotive is vacuum braked originally, and the work to complete it will entail re-fitting this system and discarding the remnants of the air brakes fitted in Canada.  Fortunately the vacuum fittings had survived and numerous components have been overhauled in readiness for re-fitting.

Below: The tanks and cab-sides were not in good shape, so new ones were made (remember that word longevity!), the work being contracted to the Ffestiniog Railway.  The tanks are seen here in 2019 awaiting the day they can be refitted to the locomotive.

So, what next for Dunrobin?  Well, work was suspended in March 2020 due to the Coronavirus pandemic. The SVR had to close its workshops and, without an income, we had to cut our cloth accordingly and reduce expenditure.  A large capital project like this, albeit one that we had committed to funding entirely from our own resources, inevitably had to be paused.  This is frustrating but there is light at the end of the tunnel as we have now received a grant of £150,000 to complete the work and are presently waiting for the SVR to allocate it a place in their workstream – bearing in mind they have the same challenges as the rest of us in working through a pandemic in a safe and responsible way.  The work underway had been chassis-focussed, with the aim being to install the new cylinder block and wheel Dunrobin, before completing the boiler (which is very nearly finished) and final assembly, fitting of brakes, painting and testing etc.  We hope to establish a timetable for this soon, and then look forward to a return to steam in the next two – three years – by which time this project will have taken a decade and a half to realise!  Such is the nature of working in large (expensive!) heritage projects though.  Never believe the lines ‘the boiler is believed to be in good condition’ when you read them!!!  It does amuse me to read my own observations on this blog, somwhat optimistically estimating completion in 2015/15!

Below: With Dunrobin came 58A, the Duke’s saloon, built for him by the Highland Railway at Lochorm works in 1909.  This arrived onto UK rails a few days before Dunrobin (they had to be unloaded from the ship, clear customs and, in 58A’s case, it was turned to suit our operation at the museum), being unloaded at Beamish on the 18th May 2011.  This view shows it following unloading and shunting clear by then-resident LNER Y7 No.985.  It still bears the BC Centennial Train lettering and a lighter shade of green thatn it would carry after restoration.

Below: The restoration of 58A was limited to inspection/necessary repairs, overhauled drawgear and a repaint.  This was completed in February 2018, and the coach entered service here at the museum.  Since then it has been in use throughout the 2018 and 2019 season plus the little bit of 2020 season that we operated the station during.  It is already showing some signs of regular use, and will therefore receive further work (not least to the roof) before a return to service at some point in the future.  Rowley Station requires a refresh itself, and the trackwork that was planned for 2020 still remains to be completed, so it may be a little while yet before 58A is in service again.

Below: Two views of 58A following its restoration and repaint – looking stunning in the February sunshine.  The day it can run with Dunrobin once again is certainly one to look forward to with a great deal of anticipation – perhaps not least because of the long road to accomplishing that feat and the considerable investment it represents.

A word on the cost might be useful here.  I estimate that, when Dunrobin and 58A stand at Rowley Station ready for their first passengers, we will have spent around £500,000 on the project.  It should be remembered that this includes purchase, shipping, restoration and also some additional facilities that were build to sustain them, not least the water tower and inspection pit at Rowley.  When compared to the annual expenditure on hire fees for visiting locomotives, then the project will break-even after around 12 years operation.  The work carried out will be repaid by the expectation of a higher degree of reliability and easier first-overhaul (at ten years).  What we wanted to avoid was having to take the locomotive out of service for a prolonged period of time to repair something that would have more readily been tackled during the initial restoration.  It is easy to forget that Dunrobin is 126 years old now, and so whatever we can do to sympathetically inhibit the march of time on the locomotive’s fabric, will be to the benefit of those opreating and maintaining it towards its 150th year in 2045…

If you do want to read more about the project, a search under ‘Dunrobin’ on this site will bring up all related posts, with key milestones also being under the heading ‘Dunrobin’ to the top left of the screen.