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4115, 5227 and 2861 – do they exist?

Does 4115 still exist or has it died?

Time for a bit of philosophy. When does a locomotive exist and when does it cease to exist?  In the case of big prairie No 4115, together with 2-8-0′s No 5227 and 2861, it’s not entirely clear.  All 3 are now defined as ‘donor locomotives’ for the new-build Churchward 2-8-0 ‘Night Owl’ No 4709 and, after the dismembering of the carcass (I do like emotive anthropomorphic language but, ok, dismantling and removal of the reuseable bits), a lot of the redundant items, like side tanks, bunkers, cab etc,  are going into Didcot’s parts store.

I guess these may see the light of day again in other guises but it does rather look as if the Barry 3 have died (some will say they have been ‘sacrificed’) to become disembodied lumps of metal in the parts department rather than fully paid up members of the locomotive department.  I can’t really see that anyone will ever get it together to restore the bits of what was 4115 into the big prairie tank that ‘she’ (dont start me on that debate!) once was and the same presumably applies to the other two as well. So, to all intents and purposes they do not exist any more. How does that sound?  It’s a sad feeling, isnt it?  Can’t help it – it is.  It’s a male thing of a certain demographic.

But when do a load of parts become an engine anyway and isn’t the act of giving an identity to a loco a bit arbitrary, anyway?  Everyone at Tyseley thought that they had preserved 4983 Albert Hall but a look at the frames shows that it was actually 4965 Rood Ashton Hall.  Bristol Castle became Windsor when they needed an appropriate engine for the royal train in 1952 and identities changed regularly in the old days.   It’s the frames that have always been used to establish identity but that is really just custom and practice and we know that almost everything else at Swindon was interchangeable and many of our preserved locomotives are very largely not what they were.

Even so-called restorations are often mostly new builds.  How much of elderly 2-8-0 No 2807, for example is original 1906 Swindon metal?  I asked the team who look after it that question and they reckoned – not much.  Does the Ffestiniog’s new Taliesin count as a rebuild because the reverser and toolbox are original? Or do you have to have the frames?  All of them?  And how much newly applied weld on those is allowed? And what happens if you have a complete preserved engine and you decide it should have new frames?  Does it then become an overnight ‘replica’?

Are we actually preserving the past or recreating it? I know many of us are after the rosy glow of feeling that the engine they are paying to restore is actually the one of their boyhood memories but it really isn’t.  It’s an illusion. It’s new, it’s a recreation and we should get used to it.  A few are original, like 4003 Lode Star, the Dean Goods and 4073 Caerphilly Castle but they are stuffed and mounted, which doesn’t make people happy either.  I tend to feel that steam engines are only given life and exist as ‘beings’ when they are in steam anyway and it’s hard to be as emotionally connected to an engine at the NRM or STEAM as when, say, Nunney Castle blasts past you at speed, making your heart go faster with excitement. The Duchess in Birmingham museum is like a piece of taxidermy, completely lifeless. It exists as a construction of metal but it has no essence of ‘Duchessness’. You need 46233 going up Shap for that.

Then there is the issue with name plates:  it seems ridiculous to outsiders, with all the fuss about whether the B17 plate ‘Manchester United’ is a fake or not, that ‘genuineness’ is construed to mean: ‘did the original engine carry that particular bit of metal called a nameplate before it was scrapped or saved?’  In the case of ‘Clun Castle’, for example, the replica plates have been on the engine far longer than the originals were but, whereas the replicas have little value, the ‘real’ ones will fetch 5 figures at auction.  And this does seem to matter to people who buy them even though their wives would probably prefer the replica on their wall at home because it’s nice and clean (sorry, bit sexist that).

It’s all a matter of perspective.  Value and identity are both entirely created by us so I guess it doesn’t really matter a jot whether the kit of parts that used to have a number – 4115 -  is used to create new engines with new numbers in the future. But for some people it really, really matters.  Funny, isn’t it?

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3 Responses to “4115, 5227 and 2861 – do they exist?”

  1. I’m reminded of Trigger’s broom in Only Fools and Horses! I agree that it can be difficult to define a loco.

    Sorry to bring up a southern topic, but I remember that upon hearing a recording of one of his rebuilt pacifics, Bulleid claimed that it wasn’t the sound of his machine. And it was a fair comment, so even keeping many parts can mean a change in identity!

    As for these donor loco’s, I’d argue that they have been sacrificed, but at least its been for the recreation of a proper running locomotive doing what it was designed to do. This is so much better than the fate of being stuffed in a museum, in my humble opinion!

    Posted by Dave | February 6, 2012, 5:22 pm
    • Couldn’t agree more with the last paragraph, Dave. I’m not much of a purist, really. I’d have Lode Star, and the Dean Goods restored and in steam tomorrow, if I could!

      I also confess to having a real soft spot for Bulleids of both styles. Great childhood memories of them around Dorchester

      Posted by howard | February 6, 2012, 5:30 pm
  2. The “frames provide the identity” is an enthusiasts myth. Its clear that to the GWR the identity was largely an accountants concept. The first Dukedog kept its identity as a Duke, even though precious little other than cab and various fittings could have been from the parent locomotive whilst frames and so on were all from the Bulldog. Some Star conversions to Castles retained their identity as Stars, others were given new identities as Castles. It all depended on whether the money needed to come from the new locomotive budget or the rebuild budget. Those locomotives died when they went to Barry.

    Posted by JimC | November 6, 2013, 9:23 am

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