Brierley Hill engineers’ vital role in rebuilding locomotive

A Brierley Hill engineering firm has become the latest West Midlands firm to take part in the £1.5 million project to build a steam locomotive that will become a national war memorial.

Patriot cylinder block
Paul Hill at Harco Engineering with the Patriot cylinder block

The Staffordshire-based LMS-Patriot Project aims to have the steam loco, to be called The Unknown Warrior, running next year in time for a dedication ceremony in 2018, on the 100th anniversary of the first Armistice Day.

It has made use of casting companies, pattern makers and spring manufacturers to reproduce the components to build the first new Patriot loco for more than 80 years.

Most recently Paul Hill, a jig-borer at Harco Engineering in Brierley Hill, has been machining the main cylinder block for the loco.

He has just put the finishing touches to the 1.5 ton piece of special cast iron, which will shortly be heading to Llangollen, where the locomotive is being assembled.

“It’s been a labour of love,” said Paul. “It’s involved following design drawings that are nearly 100 years old, based on old-fashioned ideas that still work today. I’ve really enjoyed it.

“It’s been a mix of traditional engineering work and the latest hi-tech measuring techniques to make sure everything is absolutely accurate - there’s no room for mistakes.

Paul, who is also a retained fireman based at Wombourne, said: “The fact that it is going to be a war memorial makes it extra special. My grandad was a former PoW of the Japanese and I’m going to get a great feeling when I see it in the future, knowing that I worked on it.”

Harco director Karen Hughes said: “It’s a real showcase job for us. We’re very pleased to be working on the project.”

David Bradshaw, chairman of the LMS-Patriot Project, said: “The next step is the two smaller side cylinder blocks, which I imagine will also be done at Harco – they have done a very good job on this one.”

old Patriot class locomotive
One of the old Patriot class locomotives. All were later scrapped.

He added: “Much of the work on the Patriot has been done in the West Midlands. Without the region’s engineers the project would not have been possible.”

Other firms involved recently included Bannway in Stourbridge and Premier Patterns and Castings in Smethwick, which made a one-off polystyrene pattern for the cylinder - at a fraction of the cost of a normal wooden pattern – so it could be cast at a foundry in Preston.

Premier director Richard Irwin said the technique was now attracting attention from other locomotive rebuilding projects, including one in Denmark.

Mr Bradshaw said the next milestone would be the Warley National Model Railway Exhibition at Birmingham NEC in November, when the locomotive – now almost 75 per cent complete – will go on display as one of the event’s central attractions