Frankly, tank engines are a bit of an indulgence, but the way we run the panniers, with a couple of decent railtours you can bring in more than enough - and if you’re not running them too much, you’re not wearing them out.” So says Bob Meanley, Tyseley chief engineer and the man who, since BR rid itself of the last 0-6-0PTs in 1966, probably has more experience of running them on the main line than anyone. “For short haul, of course, it’s what they’ve always done.” Which is also just what Tyseley normally does with its duo of Nos. L94 (7752) and 9600; a spin through the ‘back yard’ to Stratford here, a ramble around the East Midlands there… and with a water carrier, all well within the abilities of these rugged little machines. Not that they haven’t done more ambitious stuff - over the years No. 9600 has run to Princes Risborough, whizzed along the Dawlish sea wall, and even taken empty stock to Peak Rail. Then there is Dennis Howells’ post-war Hawksworth ‘souped-up’ version (No. 9466), which Bob describes as being “in a slightly different league, easier to fire and with more water in the tanks.” Yet as wonderful as they are, that doesn’t mean panniers are top of the list of potential main line ‘tankies’ - it’s just that they happen to be what we have. At this point, perhaps your mind is drifting back to a BR ‘4MT’, or even to the National Railway Museum’s LMS ‘Tilbury
Tank’ No. 42500 (as once mooted during Steve Davies’ time as director). Stop there - for Bob has another candidate. Given his office looks out over what was once 84E, it’s maybe no surprise that Tyseley’s man has something more coppercapped in mind; something that once rattled round the Western with start-stop suburban trains; something that has the same sized driving wheels as a ‘Manor’. “I guess other than a ‘4MT’ 2-6-4T, the ones everyone thinks of are a ‘51XX’ or ‘61XX’. Compared to a pannier, they’d laugh at it.” “A big ‘Prairie’ is as reliable as anything else Great Western, you’ve got 2,000 gallons in the tanks, and three to four tons in the bunker.” The 5ft 8in diameter driving wheels (not only ‘78XX’ but also BR 2-6-4T-sized) stand more than a foot clear of the little 4ft 7½in ones on an 0-6-0PT; they’re also 5in bigger than the 5ft 3in of that other new main liner, Standard ‘4MT’ 2-6-0 No. 76084. It’s something the ‘Large Prairies’ used to good effect - as anyone who rode home with them in West London or the West Midlands would know. Even so, ‘Large Prairies’ are still tank engines, not express runners - so what about lubrication? “You’re not really constrained by that, to be honest. A ‘5101’ has the same axleboxes, cylinders and sight feed lubricator as a ‘Hall’, with very slightly less power, so I think you can say there are no worries in that department. “They’re very, very capable engines.” There’s an obvious ‘but’. With all such things, Bob points out that you need “to have something within your gift that’s actually within its ability to do.” Yet it’s not hard to envisage a ‘Large Prairie’ on, say, something like the ‘Shakespeare Express’, or a local in the South West. Sounds good to me…
A big ‘Prairie’ is as reliable as anything else Great Western BOB MEANLEY
One of the most remarkable sights of main line steam in the 1990s was Mike Little’s sprightly ‘14XX’ No. 1450, which ran a series of ‘Dawlish Donkeys’ on the Great Western main line in Devon. On April 4 1998, the Collett 0‑4‑2T emerges from Horse Cove tunnel with its pre‑specials trial run.