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Ransomes & Rapier
45 Ton Steam Breakdown Crane RS1083/45

The steam crane at Horsted Keynes - Derek Hayward - 21 February 2012

The steam crane at Horsted Keynes, having just been moved from Kingscote to facilitate the overhaul (Derek Hayward - 21 February 2012)

latestLatest news of the overhaul

The railways in Great Britain used to be far busier than they are today, as the industry used to carry a wider range and a vastly higher percentage of the commodities which were transported nationally. There would be regular shunting of passenger and parcels carriages coming in to a yard to make up the outgoing services. Goods trains had to be formed up or re-marshalled to allow individual wagons to reach their required destinations by the quickest available service and to dispatch empty wagons to stations where they were required.

Much of the goods shunting was "loose", where a locomotive would propel a vehicle or vehicles up to a sufficient speed, then stop, leaving the wagons to roll down the sidings under their own momentum. Shunting staff would switch the points ahead of the wagon(s) and run after them to apply the handbrakes. Some yards (like Norwood Junction) had a slight man-made gradient on the approach to sets of sidings known as a "hump". This gave the wagons a slightly more controlled approach speed (This should not be confused with the more modern, remote-controlled hump marshalling yards like Temple Mills (Stratford) and Tinsley (Sheffield)).

Collisions and derailments frequently occurred; injuries did too but were, thankfully, less frequent. Another contributory factor was that the track in yards would have been at least, secondhand and generally had the minimum amount of maintenance. The overwhelming majority of derailments and other incidents did not involve passengers and occurred within yards or sidings clear of the running lines. These were known to be "Inside Clear" by railway staff.

If, say, Hither Green yard was obstructed by a derailment, some additional traffic would have to be diverted to Norwood Junction causing congestion and delay. These, all too frequent, derailments had to be dealt with as quickly as possible. Clearing any blockage of running lines was, however, a far greater priority and until fairly recently, the railway industry had to provide its own recovery service. Hand-operated jacks and towing gear were carried on tool vans which were strategically located at certain locomotive depots. Additionally, some sheds also boasted a steam-powered breakdown crane.

The crane boiler would be kept alight at all times unless it was under maintenance. One of the volunteer crane drivers (usually a Cleaner grade) would be rostered each shift to check the fire. The cranes were manned by members of a volunteer gang who would either be taken off-shift when working or called at home out of hours. These cranes were often called upon at weekends to assist with programmed bridge replacement work for the Civil Engineering Department. However, the driver and crew would be from the regular Motive Power Dept. roster.

The situation in 1960 (as an example) saw the larger part of the Central Section of BR's Southern Region (south of Redhill) covered by a 36 Ton capacity steam crane based at Brighton loco shed. The London area was served by a similar 36 Ton crane at Bricklayers Arms and a 15 Ton crane at Stewarts Lane. The Tonbridge to Redhill line was covered by a 36 Ton crane based at Ashford. Parts of the western side of the Central were covered by cranes at Eastleigh (36 Tons), Nine Elms (45 Tons) and Guildford (45 Tons). Each of these cranes had at least one tool van while independent tool vans were based at Fratton, Norwood Junction, Redhill, Three Bridges and Tonbridge.

These large cranes are rated by their maximum lifting capacity. At that time, the 45 Ton crane was the largest available on the national network and our crane is of this rating, this being what it can lift when the jib is in a near-vertical position. The capacity is rapidly reduced (ultimately to about one ton!) when the jib is approaching maximum radius (at a more gentle angle to the ground). The lifting capacity is also severely reduced if the crane has to work "unpropped" or to travel while carrying its load.

Steam crane

RS 1083/45, Richard Salmon

History of Our Crane.

RS1083/45 is one of two cranes ordered in 1942 by the Ministry of Supply for the LNER, as replacements for two LNER cranes (951515 and 941600) which were previously requisitioned by the WD in 1941 and sent overseas. It was supplied as part of Ransomes and Rapier Ltd. (Ipswich) works order F4991-3. The other replacement crane became ADRR95214, now preserved on the NYMR.

Our crane was delivered in 1943 and allocated to Gorton, it carried various LNER numbers - 951516 (with match wagon numbered 951676), 122, then (DE)330122 (the LNER kept renumbering cranes in a rather confusing way). It was transferred to BR(E) stock in 1948, and was renumbered RS1083/45 at some point, but was still lettered "No.122" in 1958.

Throughout this time it remained allocated to Gorton, and was transferred to the L.M. Region in 1960, still at Gorton. In 1965 it was transferred to Newton Heath, where it remained until withdrawal on 1st. July 1981. At the time of withdrawal, it carried the number ADRR95215.

The unit comprises the crane itself, a match truck to support the jib and two "Stokes bogies" (the small weight-relieving trucks found either end of the main crane unit). These support some of the weight of the crane when it is travelling to and from site in order to reduce the axle-loading. When the crane is working, the full weight of the crane is returned to the crane unit or "carriage". Four heavy outrigger "props" are contained within the carriage. These are normally extended fully and screwed down against wooden packing, lots of which would have been carried in the tool van and possibly on the jib runner. This gives the crane its maximum "block base" and allows it to work at its full rating. The crane can propel itself, although only slowly. All the power comes from the two cylinders on the body sides via a series of gears and dog-clutches.

To all practical intents and purposes, ADRR95214 and ADRR95215 were identical to six cranes supplied by Ransomes and Rapier in 1940, the only significant differences being in the configuration of the jib runner tool lockers. These six cranes were ordered on the Government account for the GWR (4) and SR (2) as a war precaution and they were designed for use anywhere in the UK or abroad. A 15 ton axle loading and an envelope that conformed to the British Composite Loading Gauge allowed them to run anywhere in the UK, including through London if necessary.

History on the Bluebell Railway.

ADRR95215 was sold from Newton Heath (Greater Manchester) to the Bluebell Railway for £6250. It arrived at Sheffield Park between 5th. and 7th. November 1981. The crane was in good working order when made redundant at Newton Heath, but unfortunately insurance regulations required all steam parts to be totally dismantled for inspection merely because ownership had changed.

The crane was initially returned to service during 1985, with its first public engagement being the 25th Anniversary cavalcades on 13/14 July 1985, where it self-propelled through the station at Horsted Keynes as one of the Cavalcade exhibits. It worked for the length of its 5-year boiler certificate, the boiler being inspected and certificated for a further 5 years in 1990. During the years that the crane was in operation, work was performed for most departments. Among the jobs that were undertaken were:
Removal of signal post on Freshfield bank
Erection of balloon water tank in Horsted Keynes down yard
Removal of huge tree bole (post hurricane) from the crushed remains of the PW hut in Rock Cutting
Lifting of carriage underframes at Horsted Keynes, working in conjunction with the hand crane
Assisting with the installation of the track layouts at both ends of Horsted Keynes station
Lifting track from platform No.1 at Sheffield Park
Dealing with a derailment
Locomotive lifts.

The strengthening work on New Road road underbridge at Horsted Keynes required the crane to lift hundreds of tons of concrete in 5 ton bucket loads to form a concrete bridge over the existing bridge, as a suitable concrete pump was unavailable at the time.

Following the expiry of its boiler certificate in 1995, it was moved to Horsted Keynes where one of Stokes weight-relieving bogies was overhauled.

Regrettably, the perennial difficulty over siding space raised its head at that time and the crane was moved to Kingscote in 1999, where no work could be carried out on it until it was moved back to Horsted Keynes in February 2012. It had been envisaged that a new siding would be laid allowing the crane to return to Sheffield Park, but the Woodpax development now seems to have precluded this.

When this crane was purchased by the Bluebell Railway, steam or diesel powered breakdown cranes were based at Brighton, Stewarts Lane, Ashford, Wimbledon and Eastleigh. An ex-breakdown diesel crane was based at Horsham in connection with substation and other power supply work. When this page was written in 2007, there were hardly a handful of railway breakdown cranes on the whole national network, with the one covering "the south-east" being based at Old Oak Common EWSR depot on the former Western Region. In 2012, cranes were based at Bescot (West Midlands), Knottingley (West Yorkshire) and Wigan (Greater Manchester), with one spare to cover maintenance/repair

It is hoped that, even if the railway breakdown crane is considered to be one of the dinosaurs of the railway business, our example can at least be returned to public view in order for its story to be told to generations! To this end an appeal was launched in 2012, and the crane moved from Kingscote to Horsted Keynes.

To facilitate grant applications, ownership of the crane has been transferred to The Bluebell Railway Trust.
More details of the Appeal and restoration plans are available here.

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Valid HTML 4.0 Transitional! Photos© Derek Hayward and Richard Salmon.
Text © Martin Skrzetuszewski; additional research by Neil Cameron and Roger Cooke (ESR).
Page created by Nick Beck, 14 November 2007, and updated 09 July 2014.
Last updated by Richard Salmon, 3 February 2021
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