By Simon Hudson
Here we have another rather rare and special beast, and one with an interesting personal connection to us here at The Steam Workshop! She's a huge 5" gauge Fowler 0-6-0 tank loco, 'WildFowler'. Back in December 2016 we offered the un-rebuilt model for sale, with the two options of buying her in that form, or with a general light overhaul and re-paint into Fowler lined out brown. A customer was found almost immediately for the re-paint and so work commenced. Sadly, due to a change in circumstances, the customer had to withdraw from the project,..... so we advertised her again and again, almost immediately she found a new 'sponsor'! Quite rightly too as in our view this is a bloody lovely thing! The photos below are how she came to us. (and this web link will take you to our previous listing for the model pre rebuild.)
So,..... to the prototype. Built in 1926, Fowler's works number 16991 was built new for the Nocton Estate Light Railway (NELR). This was a 23 mile system of 1' 11 1/2" gauge that served an 8000 acre potato farm in Lincolnshire. Initially the railway began just after the end of the first world war using army surplus track purchased from a depot in Arras, France. The Fowler was intended to run the 'main line' part of the system, with the littler 'Lister' engines running down the many spur lines into the fields to prepare the trains. Ultimately it seems that the big Fowler proved too heavy for the track and she was sold on.
The model was built by Walter Fidler of Burton on Trent MES. Sadly Walter passed away in 1955 leaving the loco substantially finished but missing it's bodywork. Walter was a friend of my granddad Geoff Nicholson, who I remember mentioning him a few times over the years before he too passed away. Until recently a photograph of a rather lovely, but unidentified narrow gauge chassis that had passed into my ownership had been a mystery. The discovery of Granddad's obituary for Walter from the May 1955 Model Engineer, (Walter even making it to the cover) in which the photograph is re-produced has cleared up that chassis mystery nicely, as well as giving a really interesting look at the Fowler just before it was finished. We've included the ME article below,..... it even turns out Granddad helped Walter make the castings for the engine as well! We already had a big soft spot for this engine here at SW because it's just generally a pretty cool looking thing, but finding out these lovely bits of history has certainly added to the feeling of satisfaction at our being able to restore her to her former glory! I'm confident that Granddad and Walter would have approved!
So, to our re-build. The strip down commences!
All the body work was stripped off the locomotive, and then all the paint was removed. The individual parts were then all water jet bead blasted to bring them up to a lovely finish, ready keyed for paint. Water blasting was used in preference to dry bead blasting as some of the platework is large flat sheet areas that would have been susceptible to warping if the process was done dry.
The body was then finished and locally repaired and filled wherever necessary so that a nice finish could be obtained when the paint went on...... this is Jenny, my mum here in the photos, Geoff's daughter working on the tanks.
The boiler. This was a pain, as we wanted to keep the model as much of a restoration as possible, rather than a 'new' model. Plus the original boiler was really nicely made, with nice flangeing, riveting and,.... it was certainly substantially built. But,.... when we hydraulically tested it, it proved to weap a little too much for our liking on various tubes in the firebox. After a couple of preliminary attempts to repair the weaps, we took the decision to completely re-tube the boiler, and make a new front tube plate to enable that to happen. The original tubes were burned out, and then the front tubeplate was hacked out,.... the barrel then being skimmed up on the milling machine to create a fresh, clean copper surface for the new tubeplate.
Then we cut and flanged up a new tubeplate (the first photo shows the new tubeplate disk and wooden former). The new tubes were expanded to fit tightly in the firebox end. The whole thing was thoroughly cleaned and then we silver soldered up the lot.
The photos below show some of the stages in the process as well as the hydraulic and steam test of the finished boiler in the works.
So then we sprayed up the bodywork in our own version of Fowler brown. The lining is all painted on of course, and we have been inspired on this lining by the 2' Fowler 'Saccharine' at Statfold barn.
Then she started to go back together.....
And finally here is a little film of our test steaming and delivery to her new owner, plus a gallery of photographs of the finished model.
Thanks for looking!