Although it was evident that the railmotors ordered from Ford were not popular with passengers they had proved economical and reasonably reliable. Colonel Stephens was looking to further railmotors and is known to have bid for the Derwent Valley Light Railway Ford motors put up for sale in June 1926. He then advertised for second-hand buses, presumably with a view to conversion, in Motor Transport Magazine of 3rd January 192. Never having been particularly fond of the Ford make (production of which anyway ceased in May 1927), and probably receiving no response to his second-hand enquiries, Stephens sought out a new source for vehicles for the Selsey Tramway and the Kent & East Sussex Railway.
In December 1927 Stephens ordered a new pair, this time from Shefflex Motors Ltd of Tinsley, Sheffield. This company was an offshoot of Sheffield Simplex established builders of luxury passenger cars who had during World War I when Commer Cars were working at full capacity to meet demands for their military trucks, sub-contracted to manufacture lightweight 30/40 cwt Commers. When Commer returned to normal peacetime production, the contract with the Sheffield Simplex Car Co was ended, surplus stock was sold to R A Johnstone, an operator and motor dealer. Johnstone set up a production plant to build more and such lorries then built at Sheffield were marketed as Shefflex, a company set up in 1918. It was a low volume business manufacturing solidly made cheap and economical lorries sold locally. The lorry chassis chosen was therefore of a long, perhaps outdated, lineage thought production lasted till at least 1931.
The Selsey Set
Although the initial order was credited to the Shropshire & Montgomeryshire Railway, it is doubtful if the unit was ever intended for Shropshire. Traffic there had already dropped below levels that would have made new provision necessary, most likely it was a misreading of a Stephens' standard letterhead. The resultant 2-car unit was sent direct to the Selsey Tramway by February 1928, and was paid for by Stephens out of his own pocket, remaining his personal property.
On 14th December 1927 Shefflex had allotted chassis numbers 2058 and 2059 to the unit and added 6-spoke steel flanged wheels by Wagon Repairs Ltd. Though still rather primitive vehicles by latter standards, they were mechanically more sophisticated than the Fords. The engine had four cylinders of 3 5/16 inch (100mm) bore by 4 3/5 inch (120mm) stroke and cooling was effected by a three-piece cast aluminium and tube radiator. The patent gearbox included three forward gears and one reverse, the changes being effected by a combination of sliding gears and dog clutches. Behind the gearbox was a fabric to metal transmission brake, and there were fabric faced expanding brakes acting in open drums bolted to the rear wheel spokes. Riding was marginally better than that on the Fords with a firmer and more comfortable ride, being carried on semi-elliptical springs.
The bodies were built by W J Flear Ltd, of Durton Road, Sheffield and cost £143 each, with a further £15 for painting, varnishing and cushions. Whilst similar in general appearance to the Fords, each car was slightly longer at 16ft 8in over the frame, with a 11ft wheelbase, and had an increased seating capacity of 23. A rear facing bench seat was beside the driver and the remaining 5 rows of rexine cushioned seats were of the throw-over type. The body had the side doors with drop lights set back behind the driver. The main body had top-lights but only some opened; the centre one above the 3 piece windscreen, the front side ones ahead of the front doors and the middle of the rear three on each side, all hinged by their top edge to open outwards. The set was heated by the exhaust gases ducted through hot air pipes.
The single luggage rail on the roof was again installed, but in service they were rarely, if ever, used. The original livery is believed to have been dark brown with intricate gold (or yellow) lining out to the front, rear and side lower panels and a white roof. A much sturdier, though shorter, buffer bar than those on the Fords was fitted to each car in front of and in line with the bottom of the radiator, which featured a drop-pin coupler with coupling hooks on either side.
Like their Ford counterpart on the Tramway, alterations to the Shefflex set in service were minimal. However, sometimes a hybrid railmotor might be formed when a Ford would be coupled back-to-back with a Shefflex. The only external changes apparent during the sets life were that electronic gongs were fitted in August 1932 to give further nominal warnings at the numerous level crossings.
With only seven years' service to their credit, one might have expected the Shefflex set to have been transferred to the Kent & East Sussex Railway. However, operational policy there had changed following Stephens' death in 1931, with greater use of mixed trains. Therefore, soon after the closure of the Tramway in 1935, the two chassis, with their bodies removed for a fate unknown, and the 3 plank baggage trailer were towed to Chichester to be scrapped.
The Kent & East Sussex Set
The Kent & East Sussex Railway Directors, asked Colonel Stephens on 5th December, 1928 to ascertain the cost of a new railmotor. The Board meeting in October,1929 recorded that Stephens had personally purchased a new set for £750, and it therefor seems probable that the second Shefflex set entered service sometime earlier in 1929. Stephens was recompensed with £938 of the Company’s 4% debentures, which by that time were virtually worthless. The Shefflex Company had no gaps in its chassis number records to account for the K&ESR’s railmotor pair and none of the purchasers recorded by them have any apparent connection with Stephens.
Although only a short period since the Selsey set had been supplied the body was very different, although built by the same company, J. W. Flear, and for the same price. The Locomotive magazine in its 14th June, 1930 edition explained that new Ministry of Transport regulations allowed a larger body to be used on the same chassis. Although on the face of it such regulations did not affect rail vehicles, it would have altered the coachbuilder's general design, and the new body probably reflected these changed practices. The new bodies were completely different to anything which had gone before with and had a white-painted domed roof without luggage rails. The original bonnet was halved and the dash board forward moved 18”, with the driver’s controls being moved forward by a similar amount. There were four windows (each with toplights) on the front panel, two narrow ones on either side of the main pair of square ones. The driver’s boasted a top-hinged opening top section with a hand operated windscreen wiper. Front-hinged, outward opening entrance doors, with full-drop windows and railway-style leather straps, were provided on either side of the driver and of the five windows to each side, the first two and the fourth were of the full-drop type, also with leather straps, the others being fixed. Above each of the windows, the top-lights were horizontally centrally hinged for maximum ventilation. The sides, generously panelled with beading, curved inwards to the wide full-length wooden footboards, but the two pairs of brackets for holding destination boards on the waist panel each side, appear never to have been used. The design of the lower sides lends some credence to the rumour that these bodies were originally an order for Stafford road buses, for the curved outline of the rear mudguards can be seen. The rear lower panels also curved inwards like the sides, but other than that, the arrangement was similar to the Fords, with a fixed side window on either side of a sliding door. Narrow horizontal wooden footboards led from the front bulkhead over the front wheels, with minimal short curved metal mudguards attached to them. From the front of the chassis, two quite substantial metal bars curved down to a sturdy wooden buffing bar, slightly above axle level and just wider than the bonnet. A round slotted drop-pin coupling was fitted centrally and there was a coupling hook on either side.
The driving position was slightly to the right of centre, as on the Fords, but the driver sat higher, giving an improved view ahead. The steering column was not retained on the Shefflex; a handbrake to the rear wheels was on the left and a vertical hand-wound brake to the front wheels was on the right. A Klaxon horn was fitted, with the horn protruding through the car body, leaving the hand-operated push down rod inside the car. This could be operated by hand or foot, according to what was free at the time.
Seating is likely to have been for 22 passengers in each car on reversible-back seats with cushions of a Rexine type of oilcloth, filled with horsehair.
Probably carrying a brown livery to begin with, this unit was numbered 3 centrally on the lower side panels, with “K & E S R” in large capital letters on the panel above, probably in gold or yellow, with red shading. At some time after 1932, it was re-numbered “2” with the Company’s initials more widely spaced out, this time probably in plain yellow.
The Shefflexes were slightly more powerful than the Fords, but this advantage was largely cancelled out on the K&ESR by the larger, heavier body. The Locomotive claimed that “a speed of 30 to 35 mph can be obtained ", well above the statutory speed limit but probably necessary to keep time.
Poor maintenance and a reportedly indifferent gearbox seem to have given problems. At the time inlet and exhaust valves had to be ground in by hand and new piston rings fitted every few months or so, and big end bearings had to be continually re-metalled and hand-scraped to fit. This work, and the need to fill in driving turns, led to neglect by the locomotive fitter at Rolvenden and a period of poor reliability. Salvation came in 1935 when an ex-Tank Corps, driver made redundant when the Selsey Tramway closed arrived. He immediately rebuilt the set which was back in full service within three months, thereafter working almost daily until 8th March, 1938. It then joined the Ford railmotor in the sidings at Rolvenden and by September,1939, the unit was a reduced to chassis only. These were sold for scrap on the 8th August, 1940.
For use with the Shefflex sets open baggage trucks were used, rated at a maximum load of 3 tons 10 cwt. for carrying light goods. The Selsey example was similar to the one that had been supplied to the Shropshire & Montgomeryshire Railway along with their 3-car Ford railmotor in the autumn of 1923 and used with both the Ford and Shefflex sets as required. It was of 3-plank construction, with external strapping either side of the centrally-placed bottom-hinged opening doors, and on either side of the slotted square drop pin couplings. The K&ESR truck, which was entirely different in all its constructional details from with the S&MR one, was built by Messrs Cranes of Dereham with pressed-steel disc wheels running on inside bearings, but had inside framing with five planks. This truck first appeared in an official photo of the Selsey Ford set when it first arrived there in 1925, after that units trials on the KESR, but disappeared soon after, only to appear later with the Sheffex set on the K&ESR .
On the K&ESR and sometimes on the Selsey these trucks were towed by the Shefflex units which then involved the inconvenience of it having to be run round at each terminus. Although the K&ESR also adapted its Ford units to tow their truck it soon fell out of regular use and seems to have become a permanent way trolley, lasting in that role till at least nationalisation.
A Great Survivor – Weston, Clevedon and Portishead Carriage No 7
Click on the images to see the larger pictures
Carriage No 7 is the last survivor of all the Carriages acquired by Colonel Stephens for his railways and in a few years she may be running again. Her history and survival is something of a miracle and of great interest.
Our Carriage started life as a Metropolitan Railway 'Jubilee' all-1st four-wheeler built by Cravens in 1892 for the then new extensions to Rickmansworth and Aylesbury. Quite why at this late date the MET were still building such carriages for such relatively long runs is a bit of a mystery but the railway, having bought nothing but rather old fashioned rigid 8-wheelers since the 1860s bought the first batch of Jubilees in 1887 (Queen Victoria's Jubilee year - hence the name) for the Circle line, and later batches in 1889 and 1892. Despite a short wheelbase, lengthened somewhat in later batches, the carriage was to prove well built and, as it turned out, very serviceable. After a few years the MET discovered its mistake and built some bogie carriages (now known as the Ashburys) and after a few more years, pushed by the American influence of its old rival the District, it introduced underground travellers to the joys of electricity.
Rapidly left with only its long distance steam services after 1905 the MET soon decided to dispose of much of its Jubilee stock. It found a ready market in light railways for this relatively new stock and most went for further use all over the country. The MET Stores Committee minutes for 16th July 1907 report the sale of seven carriages to the Weston, Clevedon and Portishead. The numbers of the carriages were given as 337,339,347,322,353, 354 and 355. No 322 was an 1889 built example and 339, 347 and 355 were from later batches, all being five-doored 3rd brakes. The remaining three, 337,353 and 354, were 1892 built 1st class four-door carriages.
On the WC&P it seems that these carriages were immediately formed into close coupled sets. They had always been equipped with suitably short buffers and they were, according to a contemporary press report, formed in at least one set of 3. This would imply 2 sets plus a floater or possibly 1 x 3 and 1 x 4. An internal passageway was apparently cut through the compartments on one side and most doors, except those each end, sealed. The remaining doors were equipped with sloping step boards with an elongated grab rail to help people climb from the railway's many ground level platforms. There was also a corresponding rail inside the lower part of the opening door to further ease boarding. To enable fare collection, crude communicating doors that could only be opened by staff with a carriage key were cut into the inner ends of the carriages in the set .This measure, seemingly so typical of Stephens' methods, was in fact carried out quickly, and was alluded to in the local press in September 1907 some four years before Stephens took over. It was certainly carried out before June 1909, when clear photos were taken showing the doors. At some stage, probably before WW1, the carriages were reformed into 3 x 2 sets with a floater. This was our carriage, No 7, at first numbered 14 which appears to have remained the odd one out which to facilitate interaction with the other sets suffered the indignity of crude doors at both ends to different designs; this difference may have been the result of the re-organisation of the sets.
At an uncertain date, perhaps even in Austen's time, the interior of No 7 was remodelled.
No 7 was now a largely superfluous 1st class carriage and was converted to a more useful summer overflow carriage. Benches of of bent wood were used to line both sides of the carriage facing inwards with two benches at each end. It is probable that these seats were from one of the 'American' carriages that had been experimentally converted to cross seats but they may have been made locally as copies of the 'American ' seats. Although the staff end doors were left clear of these 'new' benches they may well then have then been sealed off from the inside at that time or later, it is difficult to be certain, but they remained in the bodywork.
The Jubilee carriages lasted as sets with the spare No 7 until the closing of the railway in 1940. a attempt to use No7 as a railmotor trailer in 1921 was called off after one unsuccessful trail trip to Weston ;it was clearly too heavy for the Drewry railmotor to pull or stop.
In 1940 the GWR then took all the carriages, minus their passenger steps, to Swindon, where they were photographed, and put up for scrapping or sale. No 7 with two others ended up in nearby Shrivenham. Nearby Barrington Hall had turned it into a training camp for newly commissioned army officers. These men needed to buy new uniforms. These were supplied by military tailors who used the carriages as showrooms and workshops. It was a boom time for military ,and our carriage however ended up in Knapp’s farmyard where it was used by Walters of Oxford, a major military tailor for the final fitting. Later the carriage became a Social Club for the American Air Force. It then became a home for several families at least one family still live in the village. It had been converted into a mobile home and had all the original windows. It had their three piece suite, a cooker, a little combustion stove. It had a lean-to attached to it which had running water. The toilet was a bucket which had to be taken to Longcot Road to empty into a hole had to be dug daily. It was then used as a cobbler’s and its final metamorphosis was as an Antique Shop in the ‘60s.. The address was The Railway Carriage, Hornes Corner, Shrivenham.
Anyway, they had forgotten by all but locals for nearly twenty five years and more. In 1974, at a time of low ebb for the London Transport Museum collection after they had lost Clapham and lived in exile at Syon Park, there came an offer. A Mr Gould of Faringdon, clearly an enthusiast, asked 'Would they exchange an ex-Metropolitan Railway carriage body [in a property adjacent to the A420 at the East End of Shrivenham] for a platform seat for the lady on whose land it was?' A survey was undertaken and the swap was arranged at a nominal cost of £39.50 for a seat from Amersham Station and the carriage body was moved on 29th August 1974. There was then some inconclusive debate about how the body might be displayed. It was thought it would be best to cut it down to one or two compartments for restoration and part display. Fortunately this work was not undertaken, the body languished at Ruislip and subsequently Acton. It is no disrespect to the authorities there that they did not appreciate its significance as a light railway artefact.
The realisation that it was such a relic came about through one of the author's researches.
I was curious about parts of a door from an ex WC&P Jubilee carriage that resided in the Colonel Stephens Railway Museum .The pieces had come in 1992 from Mr D A Wright of Faringdon, Bucks, who had rescued them when a carriage body had been broken up at Shrivenham around 1980. They had 'come from a 1st class compartment in a composite carriage'. On the back of the piece from the top ventilator there was the number 337 plus a V (probably the individual door number). Now an examination of carriage No 7, courtesy of the LT museum, showed that most of the accessible doors also bore the MET number 337 And Mr Gould back in the 1970s had reported all three numbers in the Acton body and the derelict one nearby. However he positively identified it as MET No 353, with a badly decayed body at nearby Watchfield, carrying 337 on 4 door ventilators and 354 (yet another 1st) on one. Well it certainly was WC&P 7, but what was its MET number?
At that time (2004) physical inspection revealed much of interest although it could not be as thorough as wished because it was hampered by later additions of potentially hazardous materials. The interior had been stripped but the exterior walls were sound, and much interior detail on them, including three mirrors, survives. The rather crudely fashioned exterior iron grab handles fitted on the WC&P were all there, as was one of the interior walls. But most fascinating of all were the end doors. Measuring about 5ft high by 18" wide and clearly not meant for use by someone of modern build they were crudely fashioned. One was built from tongued and grooved board with, as a concession to the weather, simple wooden beads over the board joins. The other door was even lighter with a softwood frame exposed to the elements. A simple carriage lock was fitted to both to stop use by the general public. The door openings were simply cut and faced both sides with strap iron. These doors date from the carriage's earliest WC&P days as evidenced by a photo dated June 1909. It is amazing that they survived the intervening years.
The body was partly covered in badly deteriorated garden shed blue/green paint and, on one part, creosote that had probably been used in its time at Shrivenham. However the body had substantial traces of faded red on one end and fainter traces at the other. Examination showed that it is almost certain that the red was confined to the ends only and the body side livery was always varnished wood. The screwed on cast number 7 had disappeared since 1974 but its outline was still very clear.
So this carriage is definitely WC&P No 7, although at first examination I concluded in all probability MET No 337 despite the Colonel Stephens Museum having a few pieces. However, LT Museum following their recent stripping of the carriage has concluded from evidence on the previously inaccessible carriage doors and, I understand, a marked door pillar that Mr Gould was right in concluding it was MET No 353. Even then careful stripping of the paint from one of these revealed WC&P No 12 painted over 353; clearly the WC&P was partial to swapping doors about.
After our investigations we very much hope that the knowledge that it had a longer light railway than MET history will ensure that the carriage was kept complete in its unique state. However it is in the good care of LT Museum and who can blame them if they want to restore it as a running example of their last remaining MET 4-wheeled carriage. I for one look forward to seeing it run and perhaps even riding in it.
Sources and Acknowledgements
The Weston, Clevedon and Portishead Railway, Christopher Redwood. (Sequoia publishing, 1981)
The Weston, Clevedon and Portishead Railway. C G Maggs( Oakwood Press ,1990)
The Weston, Clevedon and Portishead Railway. A Pictorial Record. Peter Strange ( Twelveheads Press 1989)
Colonel Stephens Railway Archive
London Transport Museum and staff, particularly Robert Excell and Tim Sheilds
London Metropolitan Archive and its helpful staff
Howard K Carey
Photos from the Colonel Stephens Museum , London Transport Museum , Author and the Colonel Stephens Society
Articles on Aspects of His Railways - Rolling Stock
'The editors intend that this section will have regular articles on individual Colonel Stephens Railways, how they came about and how they were run. The Museum is in being to promote interest and research into his railways. Should you wish to contribute original, suitable and well researched material we will be happy to consider it, just E-mail us.'
The list of Topics Articles is below.
12th October 2015
Although it was evident that the railmotors ordered from Ford were not popular with passengers they had proved economical and reasonably reliable.
23rd May 2011
Carriage No 7 is the last survivor of all the Carriages acquired by Colonel Stephens for his railways and in a few years she may be running again. Her history and survival is something of a miracle and of great interest.
20th April 2009
Holman Stephens passionately believed in light railways to serve the needs of rural communities and that to succeed they must be built and run at low cost. However, even the smallest conventional steam engines were expensive items to buy and run. Stephens on building his first independent railway, the Rye and Camber, told the responsible authorities that he wished to use ‘an oil motor on a bogie passenger car' to operate the service.
19th February 2009
In 1905 the railway technical press was filled with the latest development in economical transport - the steam rail motor (later called railcar). The Locomotive Magazine in that year carried news of a new railcar every month. Most of these were bogie carriages with a small engine conventionally built on the same chassis.
8th November 2008
Much attention is always directed in the Stephens’ cannon to the back to back railmotors derived from Ford and Shefflex road vehicles. However Stephens’ first effort at a petrol railmotor for the WC&P came from a very different, railway based, tradition, was very successful and, together with a second hand railmotor from the same source kept that railway going. Their success has perhaps been unfairly overlooked.
9th June 2008
Brian Janes attempts to unravel the mysteries of the Rolling Stock used on the Shropshire and Montgomeryshire.
11th November 2005
Through virtually all of the 19th century the BP&GV and its predecessor canal had only been concerned with transporting coal. But with the coming century something better was needed and eventually came with a reconstruction for passenger traffic under the able guidance of Holman Stephens.
5th August 2005
Amongst the varied selection of rolling stock acquired by Colonel Stephens for his lines were two carriages originally built by the London and South Western Railway for the use of the Royal Family.
29th July 2004
Both of the standard histories of this railway, excellent as they are in most respects, are somewhat thin in their coverage of the coaching stock. Slightly revised in October 2006 and November 2007
Updated on 8th October 2003 (First published on 29th August 2002)
Charles Judge has been researching the complex history of these railway coaches and has set out what he believes is a more complete picture than has been published before.Following the original publication of this Article which asked for comments , the author actually received some. This and subsequent correspondence has led him to revise it.
16th July 2003
Brian Janes writes about the origins and disposal of the three generations of wagon thought to have worked there.
10th July 2001
A short article on The Colonel’s Rail Lorry - a somewhat mysterious Machine.
The History Of Stephens' Characteristic Pioneering Railmotors
Click on the images to see the larger pictures
Holman Stephens passionately believed in light railways to serve the needs of rural communities and that to succeed they must be built and run at low cost. However, even the smallest conventional steam engines were expensive items to buy and run. Stephens on building his first independent railway, the Rye and Camber, told the responsible authorities that he wished to use ‘an oil motor on a bogie passenger car' to operate the service. This was a step too far for the internal combustion engine was less than ten years old and Stephens was unable to realise his ambition. A small steam locomotive had to be used.
Ten years later he returned with another innovation, a light steam railmotor. However it proved mechanically unreliable and increasing traffic and the First World War brought the experiment to an end. During the First World War petrol road lorry and bus development leapt forward and traffic on rural railways was under threat. To help counter this Stephens returned to the new technology. A first experiment was in October 1921 on the Weston Clevedon and Portishead but the vehicles were effectively hand built one-off products and therefore expensive; too expensive to adopt on cash starved independent light railways.
Stephens had begun experimenting on the Kent & East Sussex at some time before 1921 with a cheaper alternative using an Edwardian Wolseley-Siddeley car chassis that was adapted as a rail lorry and then as a bus. In using such adaptations Stephens was in the forefront of world practice, for only a few lines in North America and one French manufacturer were trying such things at the time. Little is known about the success or otherwise of this vehicle in service which, although single ended, was equipped with some form of reverse and a rear radiator. It was moved at an early date to the Selsey Tramway, where it certainly saw some use, and then about 1928 went to the Shropshire & Montgomeryshire where it saw little use. However, its body on another chassis continued in use as a light coach for use with the locomotive Gazelle till sometime during WW2, probably in late1942.
Never discouraged, Stephens then bought some cheap mass produced 1 ton lorry chassis (part of the Model T family) with bus bodies on them. To avoid the reversing problem, he used them in back-to -back pairs. This was a little wasteful in that the leading car had to pull the trailing car which, although out of gear, was an unnecessary deadweight, but obviated the need to have a reverse gearbox or turn the car.
The first set was delivered to the Kent and East Sussex some time in late 1922, being described and illustrated in the Commercial Motor magazine of 12 December of that year. Later, in September 1923, Stephens wrote to the same magazine saying ‘I have nine small steam railways under my control and am trying several forms of motor trains.... In a previous experiment I learnt, to my sorrow, that it is cheaper to have a car at each end than to put in a reverse gear.' Col. Stephens gave his reason for choosing Ford chassis as follows: ‘The motive units are the much despised 1-ton Fords; we chose this type, as we can always get spares without delay and for no other reason'
The units were built on the lorry chassis with the standard bonnet and mudguards retained complete with sidelights, although these soon disappeared. Two headlamps were initially fitted and it is thought that one could be shaded red for reverse running. Again these progressively disappeared usually leaving only one operational, which in the case of the K&ESR units was moved to centre of the roof. A light weight wooden buffer bar was positioned above and in front of the headlamps although the hight and style of this fitting varied over the years. There were no couplings at the leading ends until the second K&ESR set had its buffer bar lowered and couplings fitted to tow a trailer in the late 1920s.The units were connected by centre buffers with a single link and pin. The normal springing for contemporary road vehicles was retained without shock absorbers and with simple stops on the rear axle resulting in often excessive roll. They were fitted with pressed-steel solid disc wheels, probably supplied by Lynton Wheel and Tyre Co, Longford Bridge, Warrington; except on the Selsey motor which initially was fitted with cast steel 8 curved spoked wheels that were subsequently changed to standard on its leading axles. Later replacement disc wheels were probably cast steel and had three holes through the disc like later wagon wheels.
The bodies were very much too contemporary small rural bus standards built from Teak, reinforced by metal plates and with sheet metal covering below the waistline. Livery was that of the contemporary carriages on the lines and which was dark brown, and on the S&MR dark blue. All except the first carried a single luggage rail, with decorative scroll at the two front corners, which became notable for its lack of use. Of five-bay construction with large windows with an opening toplight hinged at their bottom edge to open inwards (originally not on the rear bay of the first railmotor), the opening door on the front panel on either side was set back very slightly from the front, leaving a very short window with a matching toplight at the front. The front and rear doors boasted droplights. Beneath the waistline the tumblehome curved down to a foot-board which ran the full length of the body. The front window was divided into three (two in the first) equal sections with toplights, whilst the rear end was of similar design but with a sliding door in the centre. There were reversible seats for 20 passengers made up of narrow wooden slats with backrests consisting of a 4in strip of wood attached to an iron frame that was itself attached to the base of the seat. The bodywork of the first and probably subsequent units was by Eton Coachworks of Cringleford, near Norwich, Norfolk and the whole set supplied by Edmunds of Thetford, Norfolk.
Warning systems consisted of an electric horn on the steering column and latterly at least an exhaust whistle operated by foot which was connected to a tubular whistle by a length of wire, and normally held away from the exhaust pipe by a spring. A third device, a clearly visible klaxon, also appears to have been fitted to the S&MR set and may have been fitted to the others, but visual evidence is lacking. A foot pedal worked a band brake on the transmission and a hand brake applied a pair of cast-iron shoes to the front pair of wheels. It was customary for the conductor/guard to travel in the rear unit where he could apply the hand brake in an emergency. With their light design, wheel spin was a problem, so a sand bucket was placed either side of the driver's seat and an iron pipe, topped with a funnel, went through the floor to a shute in front of the rear wheels.
The driving position was soon set at a slightly lower level than the passengers (see below) and the steering column remained in place (minus the steering wheel) upon which was mounted the hand-operated advance and retard spark lever on the left and the hand throttle to the right. Foot controls were simple with three identical foot pedals, from left to right: low-neutral-high forward drive, reverse, and transmission brake. The hand brake when applied stopped the left-hand pedal at neutral as well as operating the brake shoes on the front wheels.
The petrol tank was originally under the driver's seat and filled directly. This had two disadvantages; the fumes leaked through the filler cap (this did not matter in thee road lorries which had open cabs but was unpleasant in the enclosed railmotor bodies) and it caused the seat to be mounted too high for some drivers ,who cold not reach the pedals. The fuel tanks were subsequently moved outside and strapped on the running board just to the rear of the entry door. The consequent lowering of the driver's seat caused the odd effect of the driver sitting far lower than his passengers.
The gearbox was the normal 3 speed Epicyclic Ford unit operated by the pedals described, but subsequent railmotors were fitted with the Supaphord Patented Auxiliary Gear Box which gave an extra two forward and one reverse gear, and enabled a better freewheel when the rear unit was being towed.
Sanding in slippery conditions was achieved by a simple ‘sanding chute‘ directing sand to the rear wheels and fed by hand by the guard from the floor of the coach.
The first Ford railmotor was allocated to the K&ESR and probably commenced normal service on Thursday 15 February 1923. Such was the novelty of these vehicles that even the recently born cinema pictured the phenomena. A Pathe News film is still available that shows the railmotor as it first entered service on the Kent & East Sussex Railway.
Some information is available giving service details for the first few months of service closing on June 9th, listing in passing service failures (although unfortunately not specifying the reasons) and the trains on which those failures occurred. The Railmotors appear to have been used during the trial period to directly replace steam services. They worked the 7.06 am train from Tenterden Town to Robertsbridge Junction returning to Headcorn at 8.18. On leaving Headcorn at 9.51 they reached Tenterden at 10.23, travelling on to Robertsbridge at 10.40 with arrival there at 11.22. Departing at 11.40 to Tenterden, on arrival at 12.25 they were relieved by a steam train for the reminder of the Headcorn run. This was the end of their Saturday turn. On weekdays they left at 3.50 for a Headcorn trip arriving back at Tenterden at 5.05. The daily weekday mileage given for this was 93 miles 14 chains which will have included an empty stock run from Rolvenden to Tenterden and return each day. Saturday workings omitted the Headcorn run so totalled 74 miles 6 chains (no Sunday trains ran).
The first failures occurred on 26th and 27th February 1923 when on both days the motors could only complete the first round trip to Robertsbridge. Two weeks later on 14th March a more serious in-service failure occurred when the set failed and was unable to do the last Headcorn run. It was out of service for two days, and then failed again the next day at Rolvenden on the first trip before it could complete the run up the bank to Tenterden. It did not work at all the next day (the 19th) and on the 21st did not start to run till the afternoon. Caution and perhaps traffic levels then dictated that it should not run over Easter (28th March to 6th April) as no entries were made. Although the railmotor then resumed its normal roster, oil consumption had been rising during the latter part of May and continued to rise reaching some 50% above previous levels. Enough was enough and they were taken out of service for a week commencing 21st April.
There might have been a myriad of reasons for individual failures but the problems of March and April seem to have been due to the carbonising of the engines. An analysis of the lubricating oil was sought from David Kirkaldy & Sons, Testing and Experimenting Works, 99 Southwark Street, London and a report dated 28th May 1923 stated "This sample is a light mineral oil of good quality though the flash point is somewhat low. It is of too low a viscosity for general use in petrol engines... and would only be suitable for those employing a splash system of lubrication. The addition of about 5% of non-drying fixed oil such as lard is desirable, tending to reduce the liability to carbonise in the cylinder."
A de-coke and change of oil seems to have done the trick. The set returned to service with one round trip on 30th April and settled down in regular service with petrol and oil consumption reduced for the rest of the trials, the records for which terminated on June 9th.
The railmotors having proved themselves they were then used to establish a new service pattern on the Railway that was shown in Bradshaw for July 1923. The set was used to supplement the existing somewhat minimalist steam services established during World War 1. In this it now followed the classic pattern of railmotor use by increasing service frequencies in an attempt to counter competition from road based transport. In the July timetable the railmotors were shown as working the 9.20am train from Tenterden Town to Robertsbridge Junction returning to Headcorn at 10.20. On leaving Headcorn at 11.55 they reached Tenterden at 12.35pm and travelled on to Robertsbridge at 1.20 with arrival at 2.10; returning at 2.25 (2.45 on Saturdays) to Tenterden. On weekdays they then substituted, as they had during the trials, for a previously steam service which left at 3.50 for a Headcorn return trip arriving back at 5.05. This finished their weekday service but on Saturday and Wednesday they finished with an evening round trip to Headcorn.
This augmented service was a bold and much needed marketing effort. Bus competition had been serious enough to warrant mention in annual reports as early as 1913. In that year 105,000 passengers were carried, by 1919 the figure had dropped to 85,000 and to 68,000 in 1922. With the coming of the railmotors the 1923 total train mileage leapt by nearly 25% to 84000 miles, marginally surpassing pre-war levels. The railmotors accounted for all of this and more. These high total mileages were maintained until in 1932 the railway went into receivership and services were cut to the bone. Initially therefore the Railmotors were not used simply to cut overall running costs but to control increased costs in the expectation of increased receipts. For the struggling Headcorn section however some savings were urgent and the motors continued to be used to replace obviously unremunerative steam runs.
A second railmotor set was delivered in April 1924, to the same general bodywork and mechanical layout as the S&MR one. The builder was Edmonds of Thetford and it cost £542/17/- and payment was by 12 monthly payments of £45/4/9. With the addition of this unit cost savings became increasingly attractive and the railmotors slowly took over more steam mileage, generally around a third of all mileage on the K &ESR at a little short of 30,000 miles each year. Indeed during 1926 with a prolonged coal strike and the General Strike the railmotors accounted for well over half the services.
Despite initial success the railmotors on the K&ESR had not been able to staunch the haemorrhage of passengers. Holding steady briefly in 1923 passenger numbers continued to decline and although they recovered slightly in the later 1920s they had by then reduced to half the 1919 levels. With the railway passing into receivership in 1932 the end of the experiment was in sight. Annual passenger numbers fell precipitately to 20,000. After a very few years the very light construction of the Ford railmotors told against them. And as usual with internal combustion machines at that date depreciation was rapid. Tellingly too the rapid technical progress and increasing comfort of competing buses told against them. As passengers deserted to the more comfortable and frequent buses and steam was needed to move the goods, railmotor mileage never again exceeded 14,000 a year.
Carrying the minor drawbacks of all pioneers the first set was the first casualty and seems likely to have fallen out of use in about 1931, and was withdrawn by July 1932 with one body sold on 30th July for £1/10/- ( £1.50) with the remaining one sold on 26th January 1935 for 10/- ( 50p). The second set soldiered on until 17th August 1937 but lingered on at Rolvenden with the bodies sold on 1st and 8th August 1939. The chassis lingered on for a while to disappear in war scrap drives.
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The success of the initial railmotor on the K&ESR prompted further action and Stephens put two further Ford railmotors into service on his other lines.
In 1923 a railmotor was introduced on the Shropshire and Montgomeryshire Railway.
The Locomotive Magazine reported the introduction of this railmotor set in its issue of 15th September 1923:
'For passenger service a three car motor train ... has been put into traffic by Col H F Stephens, on the Shropshire & Montgomeryshire Railway (Shrewsbury to Llanymynech). These interesting adaptations of road motors for rail service are arranged back to back, with an intermediate dummy car in the centre, giving accommodation in all for sixty passengers. Light passenger bodies have been fitted on the motor car frames; the usual steering gear dismantled, and flanged wheels fitted to solid axles. A sliding door at the rear of each body provides access to the centre car. Centre drawpin connections are used for coupling the cars. The train maintains a good average speed, the economical rate being about 25 miles per hour, but it will run faster. It will climb gradients of 1 in 50 with 9 chains curves quite easily, and manages long stretches of 1 in 130 and 1 in 150 without overheating. It is early to give figures at present, but on trial the train ran 50 miles on 7 gallons of petrol with three cars, or working as a two-car unit just over 1½ gallons of petrol for 18 miles, the load being made up with bags of coal, etc., to the full complement of passengers. When running the gear of the rear car is placed in neutral.'
The railmotor although identical with the second K&ESR set had an intermediate third passenger trailer. There are very few photographs showing the set running with the trailer and it seems to have proved short lived in service not only because of limited haulage power but with falling passenger numbers steam stand-ins for busy market days probably rendered it useless in normal service . The trailer remained on the books till 1930 but ended up on the Selsey which was at least relatively flat. There is however no hard evidence of its use there.
Initially the railmotor seems to have been used to supplement the existing, mixed train, steam services to provide a better service but passenger numbers had been falling after the boom years of 1920/21 and with the General and coal strikes and intense bus competition this could not be sustained. Steam mileage fell by one half with the railmotor mileage increasing to double its 1925 level by 1927. Although the published traffic statistics are a little unclear, it would appear that only one mixed steam service per day remained thereafter ( excluding the occasional shuttle by Gazelle on the Criggion branch). The railmotor appears to have been asked to sustain three round trips a day during this period, possibly the reason why the Wolseley -Siddley and the Ford rail lorry were drafted in from the Selsey Tramway though they were clearly of limited use. Some services were operated by one of the Fords, coupled to the rail lorry. This would have enabled services to be maintained when one of the powered cars needed overhaul. Despite a sustained level of railmotor services in 1927, 1928 and 1929 passenger numbers were in very steep decline and fell from 50K in 1923 and 28K in 1926 to 11K in 1931.
An entry in the Directors' Minute Book for 23rd September 1930 recorded that the railcars had been de-railed and badly damaged, and that the line was being entirely worked by steam. A further entry on 26th November recorded that the railcar driver had been dismissed and that the Railway might dispense with railcars altogether. It is perhaps significant that the intermediate trailer was withdrawn during 1930; it may simply have been surplus to the line's requirements by this date. The Directors ultimately decided not to dispense with the railmotors and they had returned to service by March 1931 when it was reported that they were using more petrol even though they were running fewer services. This led to further consideration of their future and it was decided on 29th April 1932 to discontinue their use and to dismiss the railcar driver, named as Sid Nevett. Mixed trains would operate all services from 30th April. However, a falling off in the Criggion stone traffic and a shortage of serviceable locomotives led the Directors to relent at their meeting on 28th November 1932 when they agreed to allow the railcars to run 'if necessary'. Nevertheless railmotor use was dramatically reduced in 1932 and 1933.
Regular passenger services ended on the S & MR in November 1933 but the railmotor remained available for occasional excursions and the limited services that ran on bank holidays and was much photographed on this work. However a surviving train register shows that the unit was in addition used regularly from December 1934 on what we must assume was parcels or milk services. Operating on ever weekday till January 1935 and thereafter on two or three days each week till early August but then mechanical troubles seem to have interceded and operation became increasingly infrequent finally ceasing on 30th July 1936. In 1934 & 1935 mileage was around 2,500 but in 1936 this dropped to 200 . It did not work again. Gazelle and its ‘new' trailer had become available to meet the need for occasional light services in June 1937 and the railmotor lay derelict till broken up early in the Second World War, probably late 1941.
The Selsey Tram
Probably the line most affected by the introduction of railmotors was the Selsey tram with its incredibly light track and relatively frequent services. The first railmotor to arrive was the Wolseley-Siddeley which according to newspaper reports seems to have entered service on 11 March 1924 and at least initially operated singly. The Selsey's own railmotor, with some minor changes from the earlier railmotors and cast steel spoked wheels, arrived by the beginning of July and was to prove the last of Stephens' Ford railmotors. It enabled a slight enhancement of services with an extra 2 services each day and relegated steam to one mixed train a day, except at peak periods .This pattern, with a suitable reduction in winter months, continued for the rest of the line's existence. In many ways these railmotors epitomised the Selsey in its last decade, for good or ill. Reliance on the one motor and the unreliable Worlseley-Siddeley did however cause considerable pressure on reliability, which was soon reportedly poor, and it was not unknown for the railmotor to be split and operate as a single - a somewhat hazardous proceeding which probably persisted until the arrival of Stephens Shefflex railmotor at the beginning of 1928.
As the Selsey became progressively run down the Fords seem to have become the secondary railmotor, even though joined by the Shropshire and Montgomeryshire middle coach at some time probably in 1930. There is doubt that this supplementary coach was ever used and it had disappeared before the Tramways closure in January 1935. The 2 unit Ford railmotor remained however even though it was reported as poor by the Southern Railway authorities in their 1934 report, and at closure and after standing around in increasingly poor condition was sold with the railway a year later. The successful tenderer then lifted the track and seems to have scrapped the underframes. He finally offered for sale the remaining bits of the railway, including the railmotor bodies, on 30th June 1936 but their fate is unknown.
The success of the railmotors on the K&ESR prompted further action by other operators with consideration given to use on a Welsh narrow gauge line and a close copy put into service on the Derwent Valley Light Railway in Yorkshire, a railway with close personal connections with Stephens. These railmotors entered service during 1924, equipped with rather superior bodywork. When severe bus competition prematurely terminated their use there is anecdotal evidence that Stephens wanted them for the East Kent Light but in the event they were sold to the County Donegal Joint Railways in Ireland where, re-gauged, they pump-primed a series of very successful railcars that kept the railway open till the late 1950s.
The Railmotors in service
Stephens had good cause to be pleased with the railmotors in the early days. Capital costs were low; reliability and high daily mileages seemed possible and indeed so proved. Average petrol consumption was very good particularly when it is considered that the second unit was always being hauled. Other costs would also have been favourable: one member of the crew was saved, and with no engine preparation needed overtime was no doubt cut on the loco side. Economies could be made and the service supplemented, and if comfort was cut for the passengers then they were certainly no worse off than using the contemporary competing road bus services.
However rapid road vehicle development soon changed this dramatically and bus technology improved by leaps and bounds leaving the Ford railmotors technically obsolescent well before the 1920s were out. Nevertheless lack of capital for replacements did not lead to their final withdrawal from service until the late mid to late 1930s.
Colonel Stephens was always enthusiastic about the development of these railmotors although he always designated them experimental. They were however regarded by the operating staff with some trepidation, as their mechanical shortcomings were a constant source of difficulty.
Monty Baker, observer of the Kent & East Sussex in his boyhood and an employee in the Thirties, recalled how difficult a job it was to get from Rolvenden up the bank to Tenterden on a frosty morning or if the rail was at all damp. Only one pair of the eight wheels was powered and on many occasions slipping was so bad that the journey to Tenterden was abandoned; and after a check that no passengers were waiting, the first journey of the day to Robertsbridge would start from Rolvenden.
The Tenterden bank problem was replicated on the S&MR where Shrewsbury Abbey station was the terminus principal station on the line with an immediate1 in 47 gradient outwards. A driver on that line, Clifford Gill, recalled that around 1930 on Shrewsbury Market days these railmotors would have both cars full of passengers and their shopping, so he used to get a young porter to assist in getting the railmotor moving. Shortly before leaving the Abbey station, the porter in the rear car would start the engine, press the reverse gear pedal and open the throttle; thus both cars' engines would be working flat out up the gradient. Nearing the first station where the gradient eased off, the porter would turn off his unit, and get off at that station, presumably walking back.
With no self starters, drivers very quickly learned that having mastered starting, one did not stall it, as this meant setting up all the controls again and leaping off the platform, ducking under the buffer beam, cranking the starting handle, and climbing up on the platform again. This was often repeated several times, with various alterations of ignition and hand throttle positions, before it restarted.
Horse manure for plugging radiators was a vital part of the emergency equipment carried at all times, this also included the spanner which tightened the band drives on the gearbox of the Fords. The terrific vibration on the radiators caused them to leak a lot, and whilst ample provision was made for carrying a good supply of petrol, an even greater supply of water was necessary. Especially when towing the special parcels trucks overheating and boiling over was a particular problem and thus extra water was vital. The petrol can prominent in many photos was an old one used for carrying water and was always kept in easy reach.
Monty recalls that passenger accommodation was poor, the seats were made up of narrow wooden slats, covered initially by strips of thin carpet tied to the seat with tapes but they usually fell off. Passengers who were brave enough to tolerate the cold (there was no heating on the Fords), usually carried an extra item of clothing to fold up as a cushion. It was known for one driver to conjure up a mat that he had hidden under his own seat, for an elderly lady passenger, or a particularly pretty young one. Even this basic accommodation got worse with age and when the S&MR railmotor was on its last legs on 27th July 1931 Mr V. R. Webster took a trip from Kinnerley Junction to Llanymynech in it of which he later wrote:
‘The motion was nauseating and there was a list on the side on which I was sitting....From the sundry openings in the floor boards, where the gear lever went through, there issued a constant stream of dust, bits of grass, dead flies, dandelion "clocks" and the like, all of which circulated around the inside of the car with great velocity and a goodly quantity of which I later found in my hair, pockets and turn-ups of my trousers.‘
Whatever their many faults these lightweight railmotors were a characteristic feature of the Stephens Railway of the Twenties and Thirties. As a unique feature of the British railway scene these were a pioneering and innovative effort to save costs on rural branch lines. But instead they have come to be seen by many of a later generation as oddities. Certainly in their later years this was probably a correct view but in their own way they showed what self-contained powered railmotors could do to save money and provide a convenient service.
Colonel Stephens' Railmotors, Stephen Garrett & John Scott Morgan, Irwell Press, 1995
Colonel Stephens Railway Museum Archive
National Archive, S&MLR Board Minutes, RAIL 621/1-2
Tin Lizzies on Rails, Monty Baker, The Tenterden Terrier, No 67 Summer 1995
Colonel Stephens- A Celebration, K&ESR, 2006
The Selsey Tramway (two volumes), Laurie Cooksey, WSP, 2006
The S&M Ford Railcar, R S Carpenter, British Railway Journal No 63, WSP
The Diaries of V R Webster Part 17, British railway Journal No 72.WSP
Click on the images to see the larger pictures
In 1905 the railway technical press was filled with the latest development in economical transport - the steam rail motor (later called railcar). The Locomotive Magazine in that year carried news of a new railcar every month. Most of these were bogie carriages with a small engine conventionally built on the same chassis. Originally envisaged to increase frequency and reduce costs on routes that competed with the then current arch enemy - the electric tram -there were exceptions. Tucked away at the end of an article on the latest batch of rail motors in the Locomotive Magazine of March 1905 there was a description of an experimental machine designed to be used on rural light railways. And she was very different from all the others too; a four-wheeled machine owing far more to road steam lorry practice than the blending of conventional locomotives and carriages that the others represented. Holman F Stephens was again innovating to try and keep down the cost of operating a rural light railway, and the Kent & East Sussex now acquired its 6th item of motive power when delivery was effected in March 1905.
The railmotor craze had started a year or two earlier. Soon after his appointment as General Manager of the London and South Western Railway, Sir Charles Owens came to the conclusion that material economies might be effected by running a powered single coach where the traffic did not call for a train of six or seven 4 or 6 wheeled vehicles hauled by an ordinary locomotive. The line from Fratton to East Southsea, the joint property of the London and South Western and the London, Brighton and South Coast companies was selected for the purpose of an experiment. In 1902 Dugald Drummond the chief mechanical engineer of the LSWR was requested to "take the subject into consideration" (nobody TOLD Drummond), and to devise a rail motor. The design produced at Nine Elms Works was ready for use in the following April and the first of two cars began regular working in June 1903. Even before this the Great Western Railway asked to copy the design. This was agreed and the GWR made the very sensible decision to substantially enlarge the boiler unit. Both railways immediately claimed a very appreciable reduction in the cost of haulage, without "the withdrawal of any accommodation required by the public". The other railways poured out designs over the next three years with very mixed success. Some persisted and met with modest success continuing services until World War I, but others quickly succumbed to poor performance and/or passenger discomfort. Only the GWR and the Lancashire and Yorkshire really persisted beyond this.
Matching the Railmotor craze at this time was the enthusiasm on the road for the steam lorry and in particular the then modern relatively lightweight 'Undertype' lorry with high speed geared engines and vertical boilers. Historic trials in Liverpool in 1899 and 1901 had proved the economy and practicability of the steam lorry, and a seminal book published in 1906 claimed "During the past fifteen years considerable progress has been made in high-speed engines, and reliable data are now available which prove beyond all doubt that this class of engine can be relied on-prophecies to the contrary notwithstanding-and that greater signs of wear in a given period are not more observable than in ordinary slow-running engines. The advantages of 'high speed' (in economical use of steam and power/weight ratio) are practically acknowledged by the majority of makers who run their engines as fast as they consider prudent."
The Sentinel lorry of the period had a classic Undertype configuration with a compact tube boiler mounted ahead of the front axle, an engine having cylinders with 6in bore and l0 in stroke slung amidships under the framing. It attained engine speeds of 300 revolutions per minute geared down through a chain drive to the rear wheels. Such speeds allowed a far more lightweight unit than railway locomotive type mechanisms but they tended to be more complicated and needed sophisticated gearing and lubrication, with all the moving parts running in a bath of oil.
There was another problem too. The early years of the twentieth century saw many makes of Undertype steam wagons come and go; and with hindsight all of them suffered from inefficient boilers. Many went well enough when supplied with sufficient steam but on hills they stalled because of the inability of their boilers to produce the required volume of steam quickly enough. Locomotive type boilers came back into fashion and weights increased until Sentinel perfected its designs in the early 1920s and the lighter vertical boiler made its come back. The Undertype could be a difficult wagon to design and maintain but it had one great point in its favour; if the failings in boiler design were cured, its compact design took up very little load space.
Stephens with his advocacy of a modern and cost effective approach to rural transport would have been very aware of all these developments and must have wished to try them. We can be fairly sure that he was actively involved in the design of the new railcar and took a particularly proprietorial attitude to it when it appeared. The firm he turned to build the Carriage portion was his current favourite R & Y Pickering of Wishaw near Glasgow who were predominantly wagon and carriage builders with no knowledge or experience of steam machinery. They took Stephens order under the name of the Kent & East Susex Railway on 8th August 1904 noting that 'they to supply Engine and Boiler' and it was dispatched to Robertsbridge on 10th February 1905. The new railcar's mechanism purchased separately from Messrs Hutchinson and Company some months before the railcar was delivered. Messrs Hutchinson and Co was not a lorry or crane manufacturer although there was a Hutchison and Company, Boilermakers, 25 Mair Street, Glasgow in the 1905 Glasgow trade directory. Unfortunately we have virtually no record of the mechanical components of the Railmotor. We only have the bare details and a photograph of the interior to guide us. It had a pair of 5 ½ " (5" in K&ESR records) cylinders with ordinary (Stephenson) link motion, supplied with steam by a vertical multitubular boiler, and driving a layshaft connected by Reynolds Patent Silent Drive Chain to the nearest axle. Later secondary sources claim a piston stroke of 9", a boiler 2' 10" diameter by 5' working to a relatively low pressure of 1401bs. The photo of the cab interior shows a classic steam launch cylinder unit mounted transversely on the right hand side, supplied by a classic launch type vertical boiler on the left, driving a centrally mounted chain geared drive with Renold's Patent Silent Driving Chain.
Although these basic units were far from modern design by road standards, and may indeed have been second hand, as a whole the rail motor was set up with considerable affinity to steam lorry style with relatively high speed unit with gearing and boiler mounted across the front. Amidships it carried a small quantity of water (quoted later as 150 gallons, perhaps enough for ten miles) to counter balance the weight of the power unit. However I doubt this was a satisfactory distribution of weight. Without a decent load in the passenger accommodation this distribution would have resulted in a very bouncy ride which would have got worse as the water was used up. In addition there would probably have been an imbalance between the we4ight of the Boiler on one side and the other cab machinery. An under slung lorry unit between the wheels would have vastly improved the weight distribution and consequent ride. Stephens was never good at designing track worthy vehicles.
The railcar body itself was a basic example of the Edwardian coachbuilder's art. A 17 foot wheelbase 4 wheeler, 30 foot over the buffers ( 24' over headstocks) and with a body 27' 1" long, 9' wide and 10' 9" high it looked handsome but like the later petrol Railmotors passenger comfort was minimal to non existent. Adjoining the engine room was, logically, a smoking compartment with 11 seats, then a non-smoking compartment for 20 and after that an intermediate vestibule open to the elements both sides, a guard’s compartment claimed to seat 6 and stand 4 with 12-14 milk churns and baggage. The guard’s compartment also contained basic driving controls with a form of steam shut off, a whistle cord and a gong to signal the driver. This all seems a little improbable in the space provided and if ever loaded like this on market days it would put modern tube travel in perspective.
The steam railmotor clearly lived up to its experimental label. High engine speeds stressed the crankshaft and two new ones were made in the first three years, new connecting rods were needed in 1909 and a new ,smaller, pinion wheel was supplied in the same year. indeed enquiries for anew marine engine was made in January 1906 but were not pursued. From the start the Hutchinson boiler was shown as inadequate and after only 2 years it was replaced, in July 1907, by a new, considerably larger, one from Messrs White Bros, Stratford. The London trade directory for 1907 lists a Messrs White Brothers, Engineers and Machinery Merchants, Princes Wharf, High Street, Stratford East London but no further details are known. It seems likely that this boiler was second-hand.
The boiler change and associated work seems to have changed the appearance of the vehicle in several ways. The chimney was shortened and a large safety valve appeared on the roof to join the already prominent hooter. This hooter incidentally appears to be all but identical with that fitted by Stephens in about 1912 to 'Gazelle' which she still carries. The rail motor also appears to have a single acetylene lamp in mid cabin with some sort of associated container on the front of the guards end. The new boiler was also almost certainly the cause of a piece of work which Rolvenden probably carried out and should have been, and probably was, ashamed of. Two ugly doors were inserted in the driver's end next to the boiler with strap hinges of such crudity that later commentators, with some justice compared them with garden shed doors. However practical this might have been its appearance was the cause of some unjustified ridicule of the whole rail motor concept. The boiler also required a new feed pipe to be somewhat crudely plumbed in from the water tank. On a brighter note she probably also changed her identity at this time from her original designation of coach No 16 to the more dignified engine No 6. This increase in status seems to have been achieved simply by repainting the middle body panels from ivory to brown and painting on it K&ESR No 6. This gave a less flamboyant but no doubt more practical finish. Interestingly the internal vestibule was not repainted but kept its middle panel painted ivory until the end.
Mechanically the Railmotor might have settled down to service but conventional wisdom supported by the lack of photographic or written evidence suggests she never entered revenue earning service. However our first photograph of the Railmotor with its second boiler taken in the 1908-1911 period shows it displaying a Robertsbridge Junction destination board. Routine repairs such as re-tubing commensurate with regular use are given in the rolling stock register for 1909, 1910, 1911 and 1913. The public timetables for the period 1908-1914 however do show potential diagrams around sundry Tenterden -Robertsbridge Junction short workings, and the castle side siding at Bodiam was installed in 1910 and specifically authorised for railmotor use. Further Bradshaw in August –September 1909 and September 1913 show specific services footnoted for a ‘Motor Car’ and the footnote continued into mid-1914. There is no doubt therefore that she did enter regular service, albeit somewhat intermittently. Perhaps therefore she was at least as successful both mechanically and as a traffic machine as the contemporary railcars of the larger railways.
Substantial body repairs were evidently called for and probably carried out in June 1913. These involved the replacement of cracked side panels near the boiler and replacement and alteration of the beading on the guards end panels. It seems likely also that the guards end was substantially altered at this time with the old three window layout replaced by a more practical two window arrangement. At this overhaul too she probably lost her smart ivory and brown livery to adopt the then usual overall brown. Despite all this work the experiment was coming to an end. The Railmotor seems to have come to the end of its operational life sometime around 1914, following failure in service at Wittersham Road. It was certainly recorded as non-operational in 1915. The widow of Nelson Wood, a long time K&ESR employee and petrol railmotor driver reported to researchers in the 1970s that her end had come directly as a result of failure to generate sufficient steam to surmount that enemy of all under powered trains, Tenterden bank. One wonders how many times this had occurred before and why this event should have finally brought its service to an end.
No 6 did not "go gently into that good night". She was clearly a favourite child of Stephens and she was kept in good repair throughout the period of government control. She had become sufficiently well known in technical circles for Kyrle Willans one of the principal originators of the use of Sentinel engine units into locomotives and railcars, to refer favourably to her conception and she survived in good order well into the era of these her moral successors and cousins. The heyday of these successful machines in the mid 1920s saw the Pickering carefully stored in Rolvenden sidings and when her panelling deteriorated she was extensively repaired. Her old single long side panel on her most photographed left side was replaced with two new ones, complete with matching beading, and two other panels here were replaced. Did the Colonel have plans to replace the Achilles heel of old fashioned and worn steam plant with more up to date units like the Sentinel which by then was reliable, relatively cheap and probably available second hand off steam lorries? We know from photographs that a couple of the latest Sentinel locomotives were tested on the Shropshire and Montgomeryshire in 1927. Did this raise, even for a while, his interest sufficiently to get repairs done with the available scarce funds? Did the availability of the third petrol railcar, the Shefflex Set, bought in 1929 blunt or finish off any interest? We do not know.
With the Colonel's death in 1931 maintenance ceased and the Railmotor visibly dissolved at various Rolvenden locations over the next ten years, finally being writtennof and broken up in 1943. According to W H Austen jnr. her frame lives on as the steelwork in the base of the Rolvenden water tank. But as with so much about this elusive vehicle we may never know the real truth.
The WC&P’s Drewrys
Click on the images to see the larger pictures
Much attention is always directed in the Stephens’ cannon to the back to back railmotors derived from Ford and Shefflex road vehicles. Although sometimes granted pioneering status they are often derided for faults of passenger comfort that originated in their lightweight, road based construction. Interesting as these railmotors are they were to some extent forced on Stephens by cheapness of first cost and availability of spares. However Stephens’ first effort at a petrol railmotor came from a very different, railway based, tradition was very successful and eventually led to the purchase of a second hand railmotor from the same source. Neither of these railmotors attracted the interest of the later motors perhaps because Stephens did not make wider use of Drewry cars, probably on the grounds of first and spares costs, and their success has consequently been unfairly overlooked.
The Drewry Company (it had various legal titles over the years) was a pioneer design and sales company for lightweight railway vehicles which used a variety of companies, principally the Baguley companies, over the years to construct its designs. Drewry was particularly successful in selling lightweight and fairly reliable petrol trolleys from the Edwardian period and produced a standard range. By the end of WW1 they had moved into producing larger machines of greater than 20 hp using Baguley engineering and expertise. Stephens was an early customer, having somehow inveigled the neccessary money from the receivers of the Weston, Clevedon and Portishead, ordering a railmotor on 15th February 1921.
The Small Drewry
The new railmotor, nominally a Drewry, was constructed by Baguley and carried their works number 1252. Recorded by some sources as delivered in October 1921, works records show it as actually delivered in April 1922. This disparity may be explained by a peculiarity of the order that the car had to be approved on its completion by the Engineer of the Royal Automobile Club or his deputy – a condition certainly imposed by Stephens to cover his lack of internal combustion expertise by using friends at his usual London luncheon venue. And it may well have been wise and fruitful, for works records show that the Railmotor was modified to comply with ‘regulations for petrol cars in public service’.
The railmotor was based on largely standard mechanical parts with a water-cooled Baguley engine which had four cylinders, each with a bore of 4" and stroke of 5". It was capable of developing 25 hp, having a three-speed gear with the final drive by inverted tooth chain to one of the axles. Reverse gear gave all three speeds and there were controls at each end, although the brake and gear levers had to be removed from the cups into which they fitted. The four wheels were 2' in diameter and were of chilled iron, as opposed to the normal steel, by British Griffin. The wheelbase was a little longer than customary at 108 inches, the weight only six tons and the maximum speed about 25 mph on the level. The petrol consumption was stated by the makers to be 16 mpg 'on easy grades', which worked out at a running cost of about 6d per train mile.
The body was an enclosed (unusual till then) ‘tramcar’, which was 19' long and 8' wide; was of three-ply wood panelling covered with thin steel sheeting; and the windows were of the 'drop' variety. There was a centre gangway with wooden-slat seats on either side which gave accommodation for thirty persons, and there was room for another twelve standing. Lighting was by acetylene but electric lights seem to have been provided by 1927. Doors were on either side at each end, with steps to give access from track level. The roof, which was only 8' 3" from rail level (making it much lower than a normal railway carriage), was railed around so that luggage could be carried on it; access was by a ladder at each end, a virtually unused feature it shared with Stephens later railmotors. The vehicle had the normal Drewry inside suspension but, unusually, full standard gauge pattern buffing and draw gear which emphasised the low height of such cars. Originally the petrol tank was inside the car body, but for safety reasons was later replaced by a horizontal cylinder above one buffer-beam. The exhaust-pipe rose to above roof-level and there was a whistle hinged to it and held at an angle by means of a spring. This was operated by pulling a wire inside the car which effectively joined the whistle to the end of the exhaust-pipe.
The railmotor was painted in what was the probable standard Drewry livery of dark green with yellow lining and on delivery had the company's title in a smart garter on the sides. In the 1930s this was replaced by the initials 'WC & PR'.
A very similar car was later supplied by Drewry in 1927 to the Eten Railway in distant Peru.
Limited seating for other than the quietest days was soon apparent and to give the railmotor more versatility extra capacity was needed. A photograph shows 1252 coupled to the former Metropolitan Railway four- wheeled coach, number 7 that the WC&P used as a spare for its usual fixed sets. This was a not a practical arrangement and it is highly unlikely that it was used in public service for the Drewry, which was too light to have braked the heavier coach (c10 tons) as it did not have continuous brakes.
A purpose built ‘tramcar’ trailer was therefore ordered from Drewry in November 1922 and delivered in March 1923 and the two worked happily together without continuous brakes. Described by its builders as ‘enclosed’ it was in fact of a semi enclosed type with open sides protected by waterproof curtains and seated 24, a figure which seems often to have been exceeded at peak times. Curtains proving inadequate, the opening side were filled and side windows provided sometime after 1929. Like the railmotor, the trailer was painted green with yellow lettering, but by the closure was in plain dark green. After withdrawal the body is reported to have become a summerhouse in a garden at Chiseldon, near Swindon.
Later it became apparent that the addition of a goods trailer would enable the railmotor to handle the extensive milk churn traffic. A small wagon, No19, an ex MR three-plank drop-side wagon, was adapted for use with the railmotor.
However like the earlier coach the wagon proved too heavy for the limited haulage and braking power available and a special wagon was ordered from Cranes of Dereham to run with the railmotor instead. This was delivered on 21st September 1925. It had a capacity of 3 tons 10 cwt and was fitted with a three-plank body measuring 12 ft x 7 ft with sides 18 inches high. Screw couplings and side-buffers of normal height were fitted.
The railmotor with its trailers was so successful that by 1927 its mileage exceeded that of all the steam locomotives put together; which were now only needed at peak periods and for goods traffic. The summer timetable now only required the railmotor and one steam engine, the latter being used on the trains which ran through to Portishead and were therefore normally mixed because of the quarry traffic. For the same reason it was necessary to use one steam engine in winter.
Neither this nor the later railmotor were without hazards .The large railmotor was prone to slipping when the brakes were applied, particularly under wet conditions, and it was on such a day that the 3.55 from Clevedon to Weston, a train regularly filled with home going schoolchildren. On approaching Worle the car was travelling too fast to pull up. The brakes were applied but they failed to grip, and the railmotor sailed into the first crossing gate. This turned out to be not properly secured and it swung across the road, which fortunately was clear at that moment! Another drawback of the railmotors, a complaint common to contemporary road vehicles, was the propensity of the radiators to boil over. Indeed, under very hot conditions it was not unknown for the radiator to need refilling at every station, although leakage no doubt played its part, a problem also dealt with in traditional form: a handy patch of cow dung mixed with water added to the system soon did the trick.
The Large Drewry
Meanwhile elsewhere the Southern Railway was seeking economical solutions to providing services on some of its minor branch lines. As a result, in April 1927 the General Manager instigated a review of operating these services by steam or petrol-engine railmotors. To test the latter a Drewry railmotor was ordered. There is considerable variation in reported dates of order and delivery. The Drewry Board minutes record that it had been ordered in March 1927 but Bradley (probably based on Southern records) gives June 1927. Whatever the original order date, R E L Maunsell took a personal interest in the deliberations and specifications, even over quite minor matters, seem to have changed over the months. It took till August 1927 for the Southern to harden its requirement to a four wheeled car to seat 25 and to include a guard's compartment to carry milk churns. It is an interesting speculation whether Stephens, who was friendly with both Maunsell and his General Manager, was informally consulted for his experiences during these deliberations.
The order was finally placed on 13 December 1927 for what the Southern designated a 'branch line car'. A four wheeled car with full railway buffing and drawgear, it was to carry 25 third class passengers and had a separate compartment for 28 milk churns. With a body length of 31ft and a wheelbase of 20 ft the body was far nearer normal railway practice than the earlier car, for Drewry had by then adopted a more conventional approach and suspension, radiator type and body reflected this. It was rather large for its 50hp engine, which gave a great deal of trouble in service, particularly due to vibration. Transmission was through a three-speed gearbox, and there was an electric headlight at each end, a direct reflection of the alteration made in 1927 to the WC&P motor. Delivered on 21 May 1928 it had a seating capacity of 26 and weighed 10 tons 17 cwt.
Even after all the design deliberations it failed to please. Bradley reports that at first much trouble was met from the gearbox, but the problems actually centred on the engine which was of an outdated and inadequate Baguley design.
Bradley records that the Andover-Romsey services were taken over and worked quite satisfactorily until the extra traffic created overwhelmed the railmotor's capacity. By July 1928 he reports that it was working between Reading and Blackwater, and then in April 1929 the Appledore-New Romney-Dungeness services. But these dates seem to be, in part at least, wrong and more research is needed into the services and periods worked. During 1929 serious engine problems were encountered to the point that Drewry staff recalled that they were authorised to offer a new engine of Baguley build. However records show the original engine was modified and reconditioned at Andover in 1929. This clearly indicates that the railmotor was still on the Romsey service at that date.
Because of these problems, the Southern did not immediately take the railmotor into stock - or pay the £1850 due for it. These difficulties with the larger Baguley engines seem to have been a major factor in precipitating a split between Drewry and Baguley which occurred in March 1930 after six months notice had been given. Eventually, after the split, Drewry, worried about its reputation with the poor performance of a car so much in the public eye, fitted a Parsons M4 engine (an unusual choice of manufacturer for Drewry) which developed 64 HP from 5’’ x 6’’ cylinders which it was claimed cured all the troubles. The date of this change and another recorded change to the internal arrangements that resulted in a reduction to 22 seats is uncertain. Bradley records that a major breakdown occurred in February 1930 and when returned to traffic from Ashford Works the railmotor had been up-rated to 64 h.p, and the passenger complement reduced However records show a new water pump fitted in August 1930 and the Southern did not take final delivery from Drewry, and pay their bill, till mid 1933 which suggests a later date for the engine change.
Having now paid for the railmotor the Southern and having a reputedly reliable unit now clearly lost interest in this machine. No doubt W H Austen through his Southern contacts had noted this, with the result that in July 1934 it was noted at Bristol en route for service on the Weston, Clevedon & Portishead Railway, a sale for £272 having be negotiated –a bargain for him and a big loss to the Southern. The railmotor then seems to have settled into a quiet revenue earning existence quite different from its development period on the Southern.
As was customary for Austen little effort was made to alter the railmotor’s appearance and its Southern livery was largely retained and even its number 5. The words ‘SOUTHERN RAILWAY’ were painted out and ‘W.C. & P’ painted over. It kept this livery until the final winter of the line when all lining disappeared. The larger railmotor’s seating accommodation was less than that of the original Drewry but it took on that vehicle's duties to a large extent and it was not uncommon to see the passenger trailer car attached to No. 5.
When traffic ceased in1940 the Great Western Railway purchased the Railway's rolling stock. The larger railmotor was marshalled in a train of WC & P carriages and travelled to Swindon on its own wheels. The original railmotor and the trailer travelled to Swindon on well wagons. The body of the larger railmotor was purchased by a Swindon girl’s school for use as a pavilion but the other vehicles were broken up for scrap.
The Railway Products of Baguley-Drewry Ltd and its Predecessors. A Civil & R Etherington, IRS, 2008
Locomotives of the Southern Railway Part1, D L Bradley, RCTS, 1975
The Weston Clevedon & Portishead Railway, C Redwood, Sequoia Publishing, 1981
Colonel Stephens Railmotors, S Garrett & J Scott-Morgan, Irwell Press, 1995