62 92 Squadron No. 34081 Loco. Feb 2018

The visiting speaker at our February meeting was Steve Lacey, a member of the ‘Battle of Britain Locomotive Society, who related the story of the preservation of a main line steam locomotive.

The locomotive in question, named ’92 Squadron’ and numbered 34081, belongs to the ‘Battle of Britain’ class of locomotives which were a scaled down versions of the ‘Merchant Navy’ class of ‘Pacifics’. Both classes were designed by O.V.S.Bulleid, the then Chief Mechanical Engineer of the Southern Railway, and incorporated several innovations including chain driven valve gear and the provision of electric lighting.

34081 was built in 1948 and was in service with the Southern Region of British Rail until 1964 when it was withdrawn from service as part of BR’s plans to end steam haulage. 34801 was then towed to the main locomotive scrapping facility at Barry where it remained exposed to the elements for about 8 years. In 1973 a group of enthusiasts bought the locomotive and tender for £3,850 with a view to restore it to its former glory, and in 1976 it was transferred to the Nene Valley Railway site at Wansford where the restoration process began. Fortunately the boiler was in reasonable condition and a group of volunteers were able to undertake most of the other work needed. In December 1997 the locomotive passed its steam pressure tests and in early 1998 started to haul trains on the Nene Valley Railway lines. 34018 was also loaned to other preserved lines and in 2008 whilst serving with the North Norfolk Railway it suffered a major breakdown but it wasn’t until 2010 that it could be moved back to Wansford. Because of the extent of the work that was needed it was decided to carry out a major overhaul which involved breaking the locomotive down into its various main components. Apart from the boiler, which had to be sent away to a specialist firm for repair, most of the other repair and refurbishment work was again carried out at Wansford by a team of volunteers.

Eventually all the bits and pieces which had been lying on the workshop floor were put back together again and the final coat of paint applied. 34081 passed its boiler inspection in January 2017 and returned to service for the second time on the Nene Valley Railway.

As part of his presentation Steve showed a number of short videos illustrating the different stages in the restoration work and the skills needed to handle heavy pieces of metal and fit them together perfectly. ’92 Squadron’ is now based at Wansford but will undoubtedly be loaned to other preserved railways from time to time, however it hasn’t been fitted with the equipment which would allow it to run on the main lines.

The total cost of the restoration work was £295,000 but it would have been much higher without the hard work of the volunteers. However the cost of building a replica ’92 Squadron’ from scratch would have been in the millions which shows one of the advantages of recycling even if it is on a very large scale.