MAKING A ‘MIKADO’
Prince of Wales rolls out as 2-8-2
THE TIME HAS COME FOR THE TRUST TO TACKLE THE DIFFICULT PARTS OF THE PROJECT
It was a grey, drizzly Tuesday morning in Darlington. All was quiet inside Hopetown Works, the headquarters of the A1 Steam Locomotive Trust, and there was certainly no outward indication that the day would be the date of a minor, albeit significant, piece of preservation history.
Rolling out of the works – just a stone’s throw from one of the stations on the pioneering Stockton & Darlington Railway – was Britain’s first new ‘Mikado’ in half a century, ‘P2’ No. 2007 Prince of Wales. As the imposing locomotive rolled gracefully into the cold light of day for the first time it did not take an enormous leap of the imagination to hear violent hissing of steam from the drain cocks, or smell the wisp of smoke issuing from the austere chimney.
It may have not been in steam – or even close to completion – but the moment Prince of Wales emerged under a leaden sky was akin to newsreel film of similar locomotives being outshopped from the likes of Doncaster, Crewe or Swindon. On those occasions, particularly those celebrating the introduction of a new and innovative locomotive design, the tracks would be lined with well-wishers, rapturously welcoming this new creation into the world.
There was no such pomp and ceremony in Darlington, however; just a few members of the trust – including chief engineer David Elliott – and Steam Railway, which was exclusively invited to witness the event.
What was so special about the day then? Aside from being able to appreciate No. 2007 outside the confines of Hopetown Works, it was also the first time the locomotive had been placed on all its wheels, the leading wheelset having been fitted earlier in the month.
It was also the first time the ‘Mikado’ had been fitted with one of its Prince of Wales nameplates which, combined with the temporary number 2007 painted that morning on the bufferbeam, created an impression of what the world can expect in or around three years’ time.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. It may look virtually complete, but the images you see are a mirage; they give a false impression of progress. The boiler is just a shell, and the pony truck is a wooden mock-up. If anything, September 18 was a major turning point in the ‘P2’ project. The ‘easy’ work – in so far as building any locomotive from scratch is easy – is over. Now the hard work really begins. The time has come for the trust to tackle the difficult parts of the project, namely the boiler, cylinders and motion. The former are at least known quantities. The boiler is being built to the same Diagram 118A pattern as that fitted to Tornado, and fabricating cylinders in the 21st century is not the daunting challenge it was 20 years ago. Both components still represent major work however, and should not be underestimated.
The motion, however, is a big step into the unknown. Nobody has manufactured Lentz poppet valve gear for a steam locomotive in preservation to date, although the success the BR Class 8 Steam Locomotive Trust has had with the similar Caprotti valve gear fitted to No. 71000 Duke of Gloucester proves that even this is not insurmountable.
But there is a long way to go before No. 2007 steams. The ‘P2’ project has made base camp. The summit beckons.
But as statements of intent go, this was a big one. The locomotive standing on the concrete apron outside Hopetown Works, with its inimitable semi-streamlined front end almost challenging the gathering clouds to rain on its parade, says to the world: “This is what we want to do, this is what we will do, and this is what we are doing.”
It has taken just over four years from cutting the frames to where Prince of Wales is today. In another four, the 2-8-2 will be out on the main line, thrilling crowds in the same way as its predecessor Tornado did a decade ago. By then, the A1SLT will have already sunk its teeth into its next project, the ‘V4’ – parts of which are stored only a few feet from No. 2007’s stable in the works, another sign of the trust’s confidence in its abilities to carry out such projects. No doubt Steam Railway will be back here, or at the trust’s proposed new headquarters in Whessoe Road, in ten years’ time to witness the roll-out of No. 3403.
But that is all in the future. Prince of Wales is here: an example of what 21st-century preservation is capable of. Now it is a question of raising the nigh-on £2 million to finish the job.
Sir Nigel Gresley would have been proud – an almost externally complete ‘P2’ No. 2007 Prince of Wales outside Darlington Hopetown Works for the first time, on September 18.