Dogfish DB983103 pictured in January 2012, Richard Salmon.
DB983103 is an example of a 24-ton vacuum-braked Ballast Hopper Wagon to diagram 1/587, designed by British Railways and codenamed 'DOGFISH'. The wagon was designed specifically for the use of the Civil Engineering departments to carry new track ballast from quarry to worksite and to drop it at a controlled rate over track which was to be machine-packed or 'tamped'. It has three independently controlled chutes, one on each side and one in the centre. These are operated by large handwheels mounted at one end of the hopper, a platform with guardrails being provided for the operator. All Dogfish were built with vacuum brakes and carried the 'DB' prefix to their numbers from new.
1,249 of these wagons were built between 1959 and 1961 by, variously, British Railways' Shildon Works, privately owned wagon builder Metro-Cammell and, as in this case, Charles Roberts. DB983103 is one of 310 vehicles built between April and December 1957 under lot 2939 by Charles Roberts and Company Ltd. at their Horbury Works, near Wakefield in Yorkshire. Initially it was allocated to the Scottish Region and was based at Inverness.
But why a Dogfish?
The exact origin of the BR practice of allocating 'fish' names to civil engineering vehicles is unknown. When railway operations messages were conveyed by morse telegraph or teleprinter, if the number of words in a message could be reduced, it could be transmitted more quickly. There were lists of code words for certain regular instructions and also for wagon type and capacity. The Great Western Railway favoured fish names for engineering wagons, and this may have been the origin. However, whatever the reason, if one refers to a 'dogfish', any railwayman will know that one is not referring to the similar 'catfish' or 'trout'!
And what is a dogfish?
The term 'dogfish' usually refers to a type of shark belonging to the order Squaliformes or to one of its constituent families; one of these families, the Squalidae, being known as 'dogfish sharks'. The Spiny Dogfish (Squalus acanthias) is found in many parts of the world, especially in shallower, temperate waters. The males mature at around 11 years of age, growing up to a metre in length; females mature in 18-21 years and are slightly larger than males, reaching up to 1.6 metres (about 5' 2"). In Britain this and other dogfish are sold in fish and chip shops as 'rock salmon' or 'huss'.
Civil Engineers Wagons Volume 1 - British Railways: 1948-1967 by David Larkin
Published 2011 by Kestrel Books, ISBN 978-1-905505-23-4
This book may be available from the Bluebell Railway's shop
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