Welcoming back ‘Caley’ No. 419
Flagship – stop and think about that word for a moment.
It implies something impressive and imposing, the biggest and most powerful of its kind – yet in the railway sphere, it can be used to describe something that’s exactly the opposite.
It’s by no means as over-used as the word ‘iconic’ – but in today’s preservation era it becomes attached to locomotives that would never have merited such a label in their working days. The railway press and preserved lines alike can be heard to call even the lowliest tank engine a ‘flagship’ because a quirk of history now makes it something special.
Almost certainly, the Scottish Railway Preservation Society was the first to describe Caledonian Railway No. 419 as such. Beautiful and graceful though it is, especially when adorned with the ornate ‘Caley’ blue livery, it is merely a medium-sized 0-4-4 tank engine which spent its life on suburban passenger trains, branch lines, banking duties – and ended it shunting coaches onto ‘Duchess’-hauled expresses.
Yet it is now a priceless piece of Scottish railway history – not only the last survivor of a once 92-strong class, but one of just three ‘Caley’ engines in preservation – and when it lines up alongside another of those engines, 0-6-0 No. 828, at the Bo’ness & Kinneil Railway in November, it will serve as a shining reminder of the proud pre-Grouping era.
Rags TO RIChes
Such a life story has parallels with that of its remarkable designer, John Farquharson McIntosh – a man who rose from humble beginnings, and overcame disability, to reach the top of his game.
Starting his career in 1860 as a 14-year-old apprentice with the Scottish North Eastern Railway, he became a fireman in 1865 and a driver in 1867, the year after the SNER was absorbed into the ‘Caley’. But an accident at Bervie on April 12 1876 put an end to his footplate days, as he lost his right hand and part of his arm.
Undaunted, he continued to climb through the CR ranks as a locomotive inspector and a foreman, becoming chief inspector under successive locomotive superintendents Dugald Drummond and Hugh Smellie, and then deputy to Locomotive Superintendent John Lambie. When the latter died suddenly in 1895, McIntosh was promoted to the top job – and to crown his career, in 1911 he received the Member of the Victorian Order from His Royal Highness King George V on board the Royal Train at Perth.
As an ex-footplateman, wrote O.S. Nock, McIntosh understood what his crews wanted – designing big-boilered, free-steaming locomotives that could be driven hard for mile after mile on punishing banks like Beattock.
The ‘439’ class of 0‑4‑4Ts, of which No. 419 is the last survivor, were hardly his ‘flagships’ – that title would go to his most famous masterpiece, the ‘Dunalastair’ 4‑4‑0s, or perhaps the beefy ‘Cardean’ 4‑6‑0s – but nonetheless, No. 419 makes a worthy memorial to the man and his work. Along with the Strathspey’s No. 828, it gives us fine preserved examples of his passenger and freight designs, and once another ‘flagship’ of the ‘Caley’ is added to the list – the beautiful ‘Single’ No. 123 – it creates a reasonable cross‑section of locomotive history for a company that disappeared almost a century ago.
The 92 examples of the ‘439’ class built from 1900, up into LMS days in 1925, were very much among the workhorses of the CR, being designed for passenger work, but at the secondary end of the scale.
The earliest records of No. 419 show it at Glasgow’s Polmadie shed during the First World War and working suburban passenger trains out of the city’s Central station – hard graft no doubt, but perhaps not as hard as its next duties before the 1923 Grouping, allocated to Lockerbie shed for banking duties on Beattock’s ten gruelling miles at around 1‑in‑74.
After spells at Ardrossan and Edinburgh Dalry Road under LMS auspices, the nationalised era meant the engine (now numbered 55189) was transferred back to Polmadie for empty stock workings, before it ended up at Carstairs as station pilot – attaching and detaching portions from expresses at this major West Coast Main Line junction.
On December 29 1962, it became a victim of a mass steam cull when the Scottish Region withdrew 200 locomotives – thought to be the largest number to be discarded in one go. Steam Railway’s historical consultant Richard Strange confirms: “It was certainly spoken of as being unprecedented at the time.” And there the story of the ‘Caley’ tank would have ended, had it not been for one ardent enthusiast of railways north of the border. The fledgling SRPS had No. 55189 in its sights for preservation, but struggled to raise BR’s asking price of £750 (around £15,000 today) – and it was only thanks to a generous donation from Worcestershire farmer W.E.C. ‘Ted’ Watkinson that the locomotive was secured in March 1964.
Mr Watkinson is best known for saving the oldest surviving ‘Black Five’ at the end of BR steam in 1968 – ex‑Perth engine No. 5025 – but also bought a complete train of LMS coaches to go with it. However, with plenty of other surviving ‘Black Fives’, his role in saving the ‘Caley’ tank is arguably his most important contribution to railway preservation, Scottish or otherwise.
He went one better by also putting up £500 to restore No. 419 to its original CR blue livery, which was done in the summer of 1964 – ironically at the Cowlairs Works of the ‘Caley’s’ rival North British Railway – before it arrived at the SRPS’ first base of Falkirk shed the following April.
De FACTO FLAGsHIP
From its first public steaming at Falkirk in the autumn of 1971, No. 419 has remained the SRPS ‘flagship’ – appearing on the society’s letter heading and representing the organisation at the 1975 ‘Stockton & Darlington 150’ cavalcade at Shildon.
In 1982, the 0‑4‑4T travelled the furthest south it had ever been, to take part in the Bluebell Railway’s centenary celebrations – giving rise to the incongruous sight of this quintessentially Scottish machine double‑heading with a similarly revered veteran, LSWR ‘Adams Radial’ No. 488!
Closer to home, its sole return visit to genuine ‘Caley’ metals in preservation was to today’s preserved Caledonian Railway in the summer of 2002, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the last train on the Brechin branch – an especially appropriate engine to do so, since the ‘439s’ worked on the line in steam days.
At the time of the Bluebell jaunt, it was painted in the Caledonian’s more austere plain black, and it ended its last ‘ten-year’ boiler certificate in 2009 by carrying BR lined black as No. 55189 for the first time in 45 years. Now, however, following its latest overhaul in preservation, it once again looks very different.
The ‘Caley’ lined blue applied to it throughout its preservation life so far has been the darker shade favoured by St Rollox Works (as currently worn by No. 828), but it now wears the lighter variant used on engines overhauled at Perth.
It might be seen as ‘just a coat of paint’, especially after an overhaul that has taken nine years and suffered setbacks along the way (including the theft of its axleboxes) but on a pre-Grouping gem like this, it’s the all-important finishing touch.
UNDERDOG HAS ITS DAY
On November 3/4, the memory of the ‘Caley’ will be celebrated like never before, with No. 419 making one of its first appearances to form the centrepiece. For what SRPS director Mark Ashmole describes as “the one and only time for a generation”, the freshly outshopped locomotive will be joined by its McIntosh counterpart from the Strathspey Railway – ‘812’ class 0-6-0 No. 828, and the only two surviving operational CR coaches – in a bright and vibrant reminder of those far-off days.
Short of bringing the ‘Single’ out of Glasgow’s Riverside Museum – or even returning it to steam – there could surely be no finer tribute to the great ‘Caley’.
McINTOSH UNDERSTOOD WHAT HIS CREWS WANTED – LOCOMOTIVES THAT COULD BE DRIVEN HARD FOR MILE AFTER MILE
Resplendent in its new light blue livery, McIntosh 0-4-4T No. 419 poses with Caledonian Railway coaches at Bo’ness on October 2. With thanks to the SRPS shed and operations staff for setting up the cameo.
The LMS continued production of the sturdy Caledonian 0-4-4Ts after the Grouping, with a slightly larger version. One of a batch built by Nasmyth Wilson of Manchester in 1925, No. 55261, prepares to leave Carstairs with a local train to Lanark on September 17 1956.
During its visit to the Bluebell Railway, No. 419 pilots another Scottish-built veteran – Neilson-built LSWR Adams 4-4-2T No. 488 – up Freshfield Bank on June 26 1982.
Fresh from its previous overhaul, No. 419 prepares to leave Bo’ness with the ‘Caley’ coaches on March 31 2001.