On the morning of Saturday September 23rd a group of members were fortunate in being able to visit the workshops of the South Devon Railway in the company of the retired general manager Richard Elliot. Without doubt we were all surprised to discover the extensive engineering facilities at Buckfastleigh. Sixteen engineers are employed full time working on not only their own rolling stock but also those of other preserved railways within the UK and some 'one off' jobs for the mainline operators, British Rail.
The size of the presses, lathes etc. was larger than many of us had ever seen, being able to handle and machine wheels up to 7 feet in diameter and rebuilding boilers and running gear using traditional skills and the latest technology. This independent railway is the only one in the UK holding full engineering accreditation to British Rail standards. Expertise has been developed in particular re-tyring steam engine wheels, yes re-tyring! At Buckfastleigh, steel wheel tyres are heated by propane torches to expand the tyre to close tolerances before being placed onto the unheated wheel onto which the tyres, when allowed to cool, contract. This enables the wheel to run safely for many further miles.
Richard gave us a very interesting tour of the workshops, which were not staffed at the time of our visit so background noise was minimal so we could see and hear from Richard in detail about current projects including the work which they had for the next succesor to Tornado (Tornado being the first mainline steam engine built in the UK since the early 1960s).
Agricultural diversification is encouraged to maintain the viability of farming businesses but this heritage diversification which was born of necessity to preserve its own rolling stock has proved to be a success. Today this enterprise, which is a separate company fully owned by the South Devon Railway Trust, opened our eyes as to the commercial possibilities of being paid to maintain heritage machines.
If only I had their skills!
Many thanks to Michael for arranging such a great trip, fairly local on a fine day.