No.44611 as restored, October 2004. Richard Salmon
Details and photographs of the restoration work are here.
At the "Grouping" of 1923, most goods were still carried in open wagons, protected by a tarpaulin where necessary. Goods vans such as this were designed to carry goods that required greater security and/or protection from the elements.
Built in the Southern Railway's workshops at Ashford (Kent) during week ending 26th. December 1931, 44611 was one of a lot of 450 covered goods vans to diagram 1429 and order A640 built at an average cost of £142 each. Although the body was a standard SR type (developed from a SECR design - see SECR No.15750), this batch of vans utilised ex-LSWR wheelsets, bearings, axleboxes and springs. The 4 inch diameter journals on the ex-LSWR 9x4 wheelsets necessitated a restricted load of 10 Tons. Later versions with standard 4 1/4 inch diameter journals could carry 12 Tons. Fitted with a handbrake only, its tare weight is 6 tons 17cwt. 0q.
Throughout the 1950s, British Railways significantly increased the number of vacuum braked goods vans in its fleet through both new build and conversion of older unfitted vans. However the riding quality of older vehicles with a 9 feet wheelbase (such as 44611) necessitated a reduction in maximum speed and made them less viable for conversion.
During the late 1950s and early 1960s, British Railways' market share of freight traffic steadily declined. Public confidence had been shattered by a national rail strike in 1955, the first since the General Strike of 1926. There had been changes in road regulation allowing lorries to travel at speeds in excess of 30 m.p.h. on trunk roads. More lorries were appearing with the more efficient diesel engine. The first stretch of the M1 motorway opened in 1959.
S44611 was found to be surplus to requirements and on 10th October 1962 British Railways sold and delivered the van to Stacey & Co., a firm of wood flour millers at Langley (Bucks). It was modified by them with an end door and tailboard for use as a mobile store, this use continuing even after the main line rail connection had been severed (see the 1980 view, right, by Martin Allen). 44611 was purchased from the company by Martin Skrzetuszewski for the Bluebell Railway, arriving on 9th May 1980.
Initially, the tailboard was removed, the roof repaired and the vehicle was repainted, subsequently being used for the storage of locomotive spares at Sheffield Park. When it was no longer needed for this purpose, it was moved to Horsted Keynes and stored in the up yard sidings. The view below (by Graeme Pettit) shows it in this latter location.
44611 was overhauled by a team of Bluebell volunteers at Horsted Keynes during the summer and early autumn of 2004, with funding from the profits of the previous Christmas' mince pie sales plus a substantial donation of good quality used timber. Details and photographs of the work are here. New doors were made for the van. The timber of the floor and lower parts of the body-sides was completely replaced, and the roof re-covered. The biggest work was on the north end, where the door had been cut in the end. The restoration to SR condition included replacing a missing steel end pillar with one from another scrapped van, fabricating a new steel end-ventilator hood, and also replacing a buffer casting of incorrect pattern with one from a scrapped wagon.
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