Power Equipment, People and Places

A talk given by Mr. D.C. Plyer (Member) at Green Hills, Worthing on 14th March, 1985.

Mr. Plyer in his talk re-lived his career in railway engineering; from a ride as a school boy on a 762 mm gauge 13 ton saddle-tank locomotive on a privately owned line in Somerset, through the early days of diesel electric traction with Armstrongs and Crompton Parkinson and then at Davies and Metcalfe. There were other activities also interspersed. Most of his work was with d.c. power equipment and he referred to many interesting episodes, both technical and human.

The first part of his talk covered the narrative side and after the tea break he showed some interesting slides of locomotive equipment followed by a number of colour slides of scenes from continental journeys.

In 1924 Don joined the firm of Newton at Taunton. It had been founded about 1880 and made motors and generators. A catalogue dated 1902 was shown to us, it included pictures of a 150 KW 300 rev/min. generator weighing 3 tons for £1,000 down to small motors of 1.5.KW for about £29. Products of special interest included the so called “milking booster”, a heavy current 2 to 3 V motor-generator set for charging individual cells in a battery and also the axle driven generator for train lighting which had a third brush for output regulation and in which the whole brush system was free to rotate between pre-adjusted stops so it automatically moved to the position required for each direction of travel. Associated with train lighting generators was an automatic voltage regulator having contact-points dipping into mercury contained in non-spill pots, similar to non-spill ink wells. A small book describing the system was shown. Another product of unusual interest was a motor with shunt controlled speed range as great as five to one and used to drive suction pumps for the now obsolete pneumatic tube communication systems.

About 1927 Don was appointed as a service engineer. This involved him in a lot of travelling in South East England and gave him useful experience in the finding and correction of faults as well increased contact with people. Some installations he visited were in cinemas, some in country houses and a number of amusing situations arose and were recounted.

A major move, in 1932, to Armstrong-Whitworth in Newcastle brought him into the early developments away from steam locomotives to diesel electric traction. His work was particularly concerned with the design, manufacture, installation and testing of the diesel driven generators. Between 1931 and 1937 Armstrong produced 60 locomotives or passenger units, to 20 different designs, including the 70 KW 0-A-Q shunters and railcars powered by the Saurer engine, the 187 KW 0-6-0 30 t shunter with the 6 cylinder engine and the 600 KW locomotive using the 8 cylinder engine. The 70 KW railcars were destined for the 762 mm. Baroda State Railway in India and the low powered locomotives went to various sites in the U.K. One locomotive, at least was still in service in 1972.

The 187 KW power unit for railcars and shunters included a chain drive to the ancillary generator which had the radiator fan mounted on a shaft extension. On the locomotives the-chain drive included a free-wheel device, the purpose of this was to allow the ancillary generator to run as a motor from the battery supply (at a higher speed than when driven by the engine) when on the top-notch of the controller, so leaving the whole power of the engine for traction.

One application of the 635 KW engine was in the mobile power house trains of the Buenos Aires Great Southern Railway. Each power house had an engine-generator unit which supplied 10 traction motors – 2 on the power vehicle and 8 on 4 coaches of the train.

Armstrong began building the 8 cylinder 600 KW 700 rev/min. Sulzer engine and used it in several locomotives for U.K. and abroad. This was followed by the 895 KW 980 rev/min. engined locomotives, dogged by troubles partly due to the system of using an 82 KW auxiliary engine for starting up duties. Two 335 KW units were built, one for a 3 coach set for the San Paulo Railway, Brazil. This latter set could be hauled by the cable system up the Sierra Incline and so save considerable time compared with steam trains whose heavy locomotives had to be separated from their trains for the cable haulage. The other unit was for the Buenos Aires Western Railway, where it operated very successfully.

In 1937 Armstrong decided to withdraw from the railways field, partly because of pressure to use more of their factory and plant for armaments. The staff were disbursed and Don recounted later meetings with some.

After explanation of characteristic and performance curves of diesel-electric vehicles the speaker mentioned personalities of the newly formed Crompton Parkinson Traction Department which he joined. He described several diesel electric locomotives having power equipments by CP, including 20 shunters for Spain and l4 locomotives for the Commonwealth Railway of Australia. The latter had pressured engine rooms with filtered air to counter dust problems. Co-operation between Birmingham Railway Carriage and Wagon, Sulzer and CP continued with contracts for British Rail- under their modernisation plan. CP equipments were used on 46 locomotives of 865 KW and on 137 of 1700 – 1850 KW and then on 98 locomotives, having supply of train heating power at 750 V d.c., using the 8 LDA 28 Sulzer ll60 KW engine. They are nearly all still in service. CP also provided equipment for 29 Beyer Peacock Type 1 centre cab locomotives using the Paxman 335 KW engine.

In 1967 CP were taken over by Hawker Siddeley and their traction activities transferred to the Brush works at Loughborough. Don then joined Davies and Metcalfe to take part in engineering of brake and electronic equipment. He retired in 1972

After this very full talk there was time for only a short discussion. Questions about the origin of 4’8.5″ as a track gauge (Mr. Milway) about other diesel and electro-diesel locomotives on the Southern Region of BR (Mr. Jones) and about availability of other British engines (Mr. Smith) were answered by Mr. Plyer. Mr. Bailey gave an explanation of the policy of the LMS Railway Co. during the period of design and supply of the 260/300 KW 30 t shunters by Armstrong Whitworth and similar locomotives supplied concurrently by the English Electric Co using engines designed and built at their Willons Works, Rugby.

The Chairman expressed the appreciation and thanks of the members present for such a very interesting and well illustrated talk.