GWR Steam Railmotor and Trailer Project

Reminiscences on Auto Trailer No. 92 and Electric Bells

by Great Western Society member Richard Parry

I’m not sure exactly how, or by whom, or in fact when, trailer 92 was discovered. I'd like to think that it was me, but after some 40 years, I am open to correction. Unless you knew Cardiff pretty well, you would never have found it.

I think that it was me, as prior to 1969 I was the founder member of the then South Wales Group of the GWS, which met in Cardiff, so there wasn’t much in the way of old railway vehicles around that I didn’t know about. I had always been mildly interested in auto coaches from when they were in service on the Cardiff – Penarth branch, and was involved in a half hearted attempt to save a former steam rail motor in Swansea, but more of that later.

92 was located off a road called Rover Way which was an industrial road leading to Cardiff Docks. It was positioned at 90° to this road, with the rear end on to the road. It was painted in ‘battleship’ grey, and the casual observer would have had difficulty spotting it. It had painted on the side ‘Welcome to the Ponderosa’ alluding to Bonanza, a popular TV programme at the time. Consequently 92 became affectionately known as ‘The Ponderosa’ after it was moved to Didcot. It was situated in the yard belonging to the Slag Reduction Co. which was I believe a subsidiary of the GKN steelworks at East Moors, Cardiff, and responsible for the tipping of waste from the blast furnaces onto the foreshore of the Bristol Channel in land reclamation.

I can’t remember who actually organised the purchase, but suspect it may have been David Rouse, a Society member who was responsible for the acquisition of a number of carriages in the early days of the Society; alternatively it could have been Peter Lemar. Nevertheless whoever it was asked me to organise a heavy lift to move it from where it lay onto the nearby docks railway complex. B.R. inspected 92 for onward rail travel; they condemned the couplings as being too weak.  I didn’t know at the time but all couplings had a number and the number rating was too low and they would only move it on condition the couplings were changed.  At the time we were involved in the restoration of Dean Third coach number 1941 at the Canton Carriage sidings, and we enjoyed a very good relationship with the shed foreman.  He gave me two of the correct numbered couplings (on condition he had the old ones back to keep his stores in order) and a spreader.  These almost took the floor out of my car!!! Together with Alan Cox a Society member who at that time was a wagon lifter at the Cambrian Wagon Works in Cardiff, we managed to change the couplings successfully.

I approached a firm called Sparrows which was based nearby, and arranged to meet their representative on site, and the lift was arranged. This consisted of two mobile cranes, which would lift each end simultaneously. To prevent damage during the lift, two horizontal bars were fabricated to stretch the lifting cables away from the body. The lift started in the morning, and immediately disaster struck. The ‘stretcher’ on the cab end, which was being lifted first, bent like a banana, and the steel cables snapped into the side of 92 smashing the window and damaging the roof rail. Everything was suspended while new ‘stretchers’ were made. The damage caused and the new ‘stretcher’ can be clearly seen on the photo on the web site.

It seems amazing now that a vehicle which hadn’t been on the rails for some years was allowed to travel on the main line, I don’t think it would happen today!

I took a complete set of slides depicting every part of the move.  The shot on this web site looks suspiciously like one of them. I later passed these onto the Society. I would add they weren’t very good quality (over-exposed). Although Peter Lemar is credited with the photo on the web site I’m pretty sure he wasn’t there on the day. On the other hand it could have been a press photograph. As I say it’s nearly 40 years ago, and sometimes I have job remembering what happened a week ago!!!

Auto Coach Bell

This came out of Auto Trailer No. 200 which I found in the autumn of 1964 (I think). I photographed the trailer in a siding alongside Landore Signal Box, just outside Swansea, and the date on the slide is Apr 65 which would have been when the film was processed. It had not long come out of service on the Porthcawl Branch as evidenced by the litter inside which included some old tickets and handbills regarding the closure of the branch for the winter. This had been the case for a couple of years; the branch only operating a passenger service during the summer months. It closed in either September or October 1964, never to re-open.

The interior was totally complete including the ‘tipping seats’, but with a couple of broken windows. At this time I knew the Society were looking for an auto trailer to go with 1466, and I wrote in about this coach. I received no reply or interest, and it was announced in the GW Echo for winter 1964 that 231, a BR built trailer, had been acquired. I think this was a political decision and there was a need for a vehicle that could be put into use immediately. 200 would have needed a bit of work doing to it, not a lot, but the Society had very little in the way of facilities at the time. If you think about it if 200 had been bought then, think how much work would have been saved!!

Now here’s a conundrum. There is a photograph of the interior of 200 on page 64 of Great Western Coaches by Michael Harris. Auto trailer 200 was a conversion of steam rail motor No. 58. Harris goes on to suggest that the last of the steam rail motor conversions were withdrawn by 1959, and a few survived in Departmental use. 200 however soldiered on in passenger use for another 5 years after. It was definitely not in Departmental use as it still had all its original seating.

I wrote to BR to see if it was for sale. In those days BR would actually reply, and they told me it had been sold to a scrap dealer at Briton Ferry. I tracked it down only to find it had been ‘torched’. It was just a pile of scrap, and the only things I managed to save, were the bell, and weight nos. 32 from the rear. I later gave these to Peter Lemar and I believe he still has these on his garden gate, it being his house number. The bell, of course, has been passed to the Society for use on the Railmotor Project.


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The Steam Railmotor Project
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