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Halls of the Giants

Modern Workshops Where Locomotives are Built


[Due to the length of this article, the following bookmarks are provided with links to the various workshops described]

Crewe Works

Derby Works

Doncaster Works

Eastleigh Works

Gorton Foundry

North British Locomotive Co Ltd

Swindon Works

Vulcan Foundry

THE growth of the locomotive, beginning in the humble iron-works that fashioned “Locomotion No. 1” and other veterans of railway history, has necessitated vast and spectacular development in the machine shops whence emerge the giant engines of to-day.

In the early days of railways contracts for locomotives were generally placed with engineering firms specializing in steam-engine construction. Later, as the various railway companies rose in importance and resources, locomotive building and repairing became a part of their activities. Private firms, however, continued to build engines both for the British railway companies and for foreign countries. Some of the first locomotives built in England were destined for lines abroad - a notable instance was the famous “North Star”. This engine was constructed by Robert Stephenson and Co., for the New Orleans Railway of America, but the new owners were unable to accept delivery. The “North Star” was altered by the makers and sold to the Great Western Railway hauling the first train on that line.

One of Britain's most important railway centres for the construction of locomotives and rolling-stock is the Swindon Works of the Great Western Railway. The choice of Swindon as the site of these works is due to the advice of the famous engineers, Isambard Kingdom Brunel and Daniel (afterwards Sir Daniel) Gooch. Swindon was not only the junction of the then South Wales main line with that from London to Bristol, but was also the point beyond which the gradient changed, necessitating a different class of engine for the most economical working of both sections of the railway. The gradients make but little difference to the operation of modern trains, but the straddling by the works of the Cheltenham branch of the line gives a rather strange aspect to the passing trains.

Swindon's Erecting Shop

SWINDON’S ERECTING SHOP. The locomotives to the left of the picture are standing over the “pits” in process of construction. The express passenger engine suspended from the overhead travelling crane should be noted. On the right is a large Great Western tank locomotive on the electric traverser that runs on rails laid across the shop. The current is supplied to the traverser by two overhead cables, and the collector arms can be seen just over the tank engine’s firebox.

An express will appear “round the corner” of a vast machine shop and disappear majestically through the works yard. Tunnels under the main lines, however, obviate any danger to the workmen in the course of their duties. The locomotive works were finished and brought into operation on January 2, 1843. Swindon's population at that time was under 3,000; in 1935 it had risen to over 65,000, of whom some 12,000 are employed at the Great Western Works. The Works at Swindon cover about 310 acres, of which 65 acres are roofed. The locomotive shops are on the north side of the main line to Bristol; the great “A” Shop where the engines are erected is one of the largest workshops, under one roof, in Britain.

One of the first items of interest to be seen in the great Erecting Shop at Swindon is the replica of the Great Western's first locomotive the “North Star” - a link with the past, and an incentive to good craftsmanship by present and future generations of railway engineers

At Swindon

In this shop all types of the company's locomotives are built from the components supplied by the machine, boiler, and other workshops. Repairs also are carried out here, and the equipment for this work is so efficient that about 400 large locomotives can be reconditioned and overhauled yearly. An impressive feature of the Erecting Shop is the overhead crane equipment. When required one of these electric giants will be moved over a great locomotive. Chains are attached fore and aft, and the 100-tons load lifted as if it were a toy and carried over the tops of other engines to a new position in the shop.

These overhead cranes are used also to carry heavy components such as wheels, cylinder castings, and boilers from the foundry or shop where they are made to the building site of the engine for which they are intended. Lighter parts are carried from place to place by post-type cranes running by electricity on a single rail, and supported at the top by another rail overhead. These smaller cranes take up but little room in the shop and are useful for a variety of purposes. They give the impression of a man running with a parcel held by the string on an outstretched arm. Adjacent to the Erecting Shop are the Wheel Workshops, where 6,000 pairs of wheels are dealt with each year. All engine and tender wheels are built up in this shop, and this work has been fully described in the chapter, ”How a Locomotive is Built”. Wheel tyres, despite the fact that they are of the finest cast steel, show signs of wear in time, and new ones have to be fitted to the wheels.

The shops in which the locomotive frames are machined are full of interest. Here the huge steel plates are shaped with oxygen flame-cutters, and are afterwards finished on slotting machines that operate on eight or ten plates - about a foot of metal in thickness - at one time.

The Boiler Shop at Swindon contains some of the most noteworthy machines to be seen in the service of the engine builder. There are flame-cutting machines that cut the boiler plates to size, giant rolls that shape the cut plates, and huge hydraulic presses that mould and flange the plates under immense pressure to the required form. The boiler-riveting machines make a fascinating picture of effortless efficiency. There is no noise or fuss, just a quiet squeeze on the red-hot end of each rivet, and the seam along which they are spaced will be capable of withstanding a pressure of nearly 300 lb per square inch.

Still more spectacular in their action are the large machine tools that fashion the big cylinder castings and other components of a modern locomotive. In planing machines the castings are moved backwards and forwards on iron tables, while steel tools cut into the cast iron and leave a smooth, accurately machined surface.

Apart from the immense shops at Swindon, where the heaviest of work is done, there are others in which numbers of light machines turn out the vast quantities of smaller components that are incorporated in a modern locomotive. There are automatic machines, fed with steel, copper, or brass rods, that turn their supply of material into nuts, bolts, firebox stays, screws, and a host of other items without which the engines could not be constructed. No reference to a modern locomotive works could be complete without mention of the Drawing Office, where the designers' ideas are interpreted to the craftsmen by means of blue prints, thousands of which are prepared in the course of a year, dealing with every part of the locomotives built in the shops.

The enormous workshops of the London, Midland and Scottish Railway at Crewe were entirely reorganized after the railway amalgamation of 1923 and rank among the largest and most up-to-date locomotive centres in the world. Crewe Works, although built on an area somewhat restricted in width, extend westwards from the town, for a distance of nearly two miles. Concrete roads connect the various shops, and the transport of materials is carried out by electric and petrol-driven trucks.

The South Erecting Shop at Crewe is an enormous building 910 ft long. The width of the building is 194 ft, with a height to the eaves of 35 ft. This shop is laid out for the operation of a belt or “processing” system, somewhat resembling the conveyer method of building motor cars by mass-production methods. The locomotives cannot, of course, be moved continuously in the way cars are moved in an automobile factory, and at Crewe they are hauled to a new position or “stage” at definite periods of time. The Erecting Shop has three bays, containing six tracks with engine pits and a seventh line running through the middle for conveying material. Each of these tracks or “belts” is divided into twelve “stages” or positions, which are successively occupied by the locomotives undergoing construction or repair.

At every stage point in the shop a large dummy clock is placed, with the words “Next Move” above it in bold letters. Below these words, the day of the week is displayed on removable boards and the time of the move is indicated by moving the clock hands. The engines are hauled from stage to stage by steel cables and electric cranes. The large Erecting Shop at Crewe is capable of turning out a hundred new locomotives a year, and of doing heavy repairs to some thirty or thirty-five engines a week.

In addition to the works at Crewe, the London, Midland and Scottish Railway has the shops at Derby, where the former Midland Company built its locomotives, carriages, and wagons.

The Derby Machine and Fitting Shop is 450 ft long, 250 ft wide, and is very well staffed. All machining operations on locomotive components are carried out in this shop with the exception of work on wheels and axles. The Machine Shop is divided into six bays, housing no fewer than 540 machines, the driving belts of which total ten miles in length.

All screws, pins, and rivets - some half million a year - are made by a battery of sixteen fully automatic machines. Steel bars fed into the machines emerge as complete articles ready for immediate use. The numerous brass fittings used on a modern locomotive are machined in a special brass-turning shop equipped with modern semi-automatic lathes. Assembly and testing of brass fittings are carried out in another department. Here also are tested and fitted the mechanical lubricators that ensure a constant flow of oil to the cylinders and valve-chests.

The preparation of cutting tools for machines in the various shops is done in a special Tool Room. The hardening of the tools is carried out by means of gas-fired furnaces fitted with temperature control. In this department, also, is a section where the gauges used throughout the Tool Room are manufactured. A measuring room is set aside for the use of the gauge department, equipped with instruments for ensuring the accuracy of the various types of gauges. One of the most interesting of the ingenious devices used is the thread projector, by means of which the profile of a screw thread is projected by a beam of light on to a screen. This has the effect of magnifying the gauge fifty times, so that any defects are immediately revealed by studying the profile.

Other shops are devoted to the production of cylinders and of frames. Frame plates are cut at Derby Works with the oxy-coal gas flame at a cutting rate of one foot per minute, and at a temperature of 2,000 degrees centigrade.

The Erecting Shop is 450 ft long and 150 ft wide, and employs a large number of men. There are three bays with accommodation for thirty-eight engines and fifteen tenders. New locomotives are completed here and engines requiring repair are stripped and entirely reconditioned.

The enormous number of parts that go to make up a modern locomotive is not generally realized. A 2-6-4 LMS passenger tank engine, many of which have been built at Derby Works, contains some 27,000 parts. The necessity for a progressive system of working will thus be apparent, and the building and repairing process is divided up into sections, each of which is carried out by a separate group of men. The Erecting Strop is well equipped with overhead electric travelling cranes. There are five 50-tons cranes, three of 35 tons, and two of 10 tons capacity.

A British railway speed record - 108 mph was achieved early in 1935 by “Papyrus”, a “Pacific” type locomotive built by the LNER at Doncaster Works. The locomotive shops at Doncaster rank among the largest in England, and have been completely reorganized to speed up the output and to ensure the maximum of all-round efficiency in operation. Doncaster not only builds locomotives, but also maintains in working order many of the LNER locomotives. At one end of the shops is a transept devoted entirely to the building, repairing, and re-tyring of wheels. Beyond the wheel shop is an electric traverser, used for transferring locomotives or tenders from the track in one bay to that in another. On the opposite side of the traverser are the boiler repair shops and yard and the steaming shed for boiler testing. Adjoining the main shops are sheds where engines are stripped for overhaul.

The Progressive System

Doncaster Works, as well as those at Crewe and Derby, are organized on the “belt” or progressive system, both for the repairing and for the building of locomotives. We have described the building of a locomotive in an earlier chapter. The repairing and overhauling of engines has, under modern conditions, been evolved into a fine art. This is a necessary development, since speed and efficiency in engine repairing are two of the most important factors in locomotive operation. A locomotive not in service is an encumbrance that is not earning its keep.

A system has been perfected at Doncaster so that engines pass through the shops in a minimum of time. On entering the works yards, the locomotive’s ash-pan, fire-bars, and brick arch are dropped. Then the lagging and wheel splashers are removed, the firebox is inspected, and the stripping of the smoke-box is begun. The next stage is the final stripping of the smoke-box, and the release of the superheater elements. After this, the engine enters the stripping sheds where the coupling and connecting rods, valve motion, pistons, springs, and other components are removed. The superheater elements are also finally withdrawn. All the parts are then passed through chemical cleaning tanks to remove dirt, oil, and grease, before being inspected and noted for any necessary repairs. After stripping, the locomotive, still on its wheels, is hauled to the end of the works sidings nearest to the Tube and Boiler Shop, for the removal of the fire tubes.

Wheeling a locomotive at Doncaster Works

WHEELING A LOCOMOTIVE at the Doncaster works of the London and North Eastern Railway. This “Pacific” type engine, held at either end by an overhead electric crane, comprises the frames, cab, cylinders and boiler. After lowering on to the wheels the valve gear and motion work will be added to the locomotive.

The electric traverser then takes the engine in hand and transports it to one of the erecting shop roads. After hauling into this department, the wheels are removed for inspection and re-tyring, and the work of reassembly begins.

A separate department, the Machine Bay, is devoted to the fitting of axle-boxes and big ends and to the repairing of tenders. This bay is equipped with two 35-tons cranes running on a gantry throughout its length. The next bay accommodates some of the finest machinery in railway service. One of the machines is an all-electric planer capable of planing iron castings at the rate of 380 ft a minute. This wonderful high-speed machine is used for planing - many at a time - locomotive parts, such as horn-blocks, buffer castings, axle-boxes, slide valves, and similar components.

Another interesting machine is that used for boring locomotive connecting and coupling rods. Both ends of the rod forging are “trepanned” at the same time. This process entails the use of a hollow circular cutting tool that bores a hole but leaves a solid cylindrical block of metal that drops out of the cutter when the boring is completed. Since this block is not cut away, as it would be on using a very large drill, a saving of both time and power is effected.

After further boring, the rod holes are finished dead to size on a double-spindle grinding-machine. In addition to these machines there are whole batteries of heavy lathes, drilling machines, and other equipment. The machines are served with a gantry accommodating a 5-tons crane.

Adjoining the Machine Bay are the Erecting Shops for building new locomotives and for repairing those withdrawn from service for the purpose. The three main erecting bays are equipped with four 35-tons cranes and two of 45 tons capacity. Between the last two erecting bays are situated the coppersmiths' and boilersmiths’ shops, served by a 5-tons travelling crane.

The Wheel Shop is completely equipped with every modern device for the machining of locomotive wheels. The plant includes wheel lathes, axle lathes, tyre borers and heaters, crank-pin turners, a wheel press and a wheel-balancing machine. The Boiler Shop is equipped with the latest machinery for heavy construction.

The Southern Railway’s works, which include the Carriage and Wagon Shops in addition to those for locomotives, are situated at Eastleigh, Hampshire, on the London to Southampton line. The Eastleigh Works formerly belonged to the London and South Western Railway, and became the principal centre for locomotive and carriage construction on the formation of the Southern Railway in 1923. The locomotive works have been entirely reorganized, and with the closing of Brighton works, the demand on the Eastleigh shops has been increased. Over 1,000 engines have to be maintained, in addition to the construction of new engines.

The works cover an area of eighty-one acres, of which twenty-six are occupied by shops and offices. The Iron Foundry comprises two bays, each served by a 10-tons overhead crane and a 1-ton hydraulic wall-crane. In one of the bays is special plant for the making of castings on mass-production lines. The sand in the moulds is squeezed into place around the patterns by hydraulic pressure and, after the removal of the patterns, the moulds are placed on a moving belt. Moulds are filled while on the belt as they pass the cupolas and are then carried on to a "knockout-grid".  Here, after cooling, they are broken open and the castings are placed on a conveyer for delivery to the Fettling Shop, where they are cleaned.

Tyre turning on a powerful wheel-lathe

TYRE TURNING on a powerful wheel-lathe at the Southern Railway works at Eastleigh, Hampshire. A high-speed steel tool is shown cutting a wheel flange for an electric power-bogie. The modern machine accomplishes this work with ease; the heat generated turns the steel blue as the cuttings are removed from the wheel.

The used sand from the moulds is not thrown away, but, after falling through a grating on to an elevator, it is passed to a magnetic separator that removes any small particles of iron that may be left in it. After passing through a screen, a cooling hopper, and also a grinding mill the sand is aerated, and returned to hoppers over the moulding machines for use again.

The three cupolas serving the foundry have an output amounting to 90 tons of molten metal a week. Castings in non-ferrous metals such as gun-metal, manganese-brass, phosphor bronze, and similar alloys, are produced in the brass foundry with moulding machines operated by pneumatic and hydraulic power. Metal is melted in two oil-fired furnaces with a capacity of 30 cwt a day. There are also several coke-fired pot furnaces for small castings. The total output of the Brass Foundry is about ten tons of castings a week.

A Pattern Shop supplies all the patterns for use in both the Iron and Brass Foundries. Eastleigh also manufactures its own fire bricks for locomotive firebox arches and for furnace linings. The kiln attached to the brick shop holds 10,000 bricks, and two kiln loads are produced each month.

The Forge is equipped with one 3-tons and three 35 cwt steam hammers. Light forgings are produced by a forging machine served by an oil-fired furnace, and a similar furnace is used for the heat treatment off forgings. The output is about thirteen tons of forgings a week.

Among the interesting machines at Eastleigh works are those used to reclaim the oil from engine drivers’ and cleaners’ cloths. The oily rags are placed in a large perforated drum, which revolves at high speed inside a casing. As the drum whirls round the oil is flung out through the perforations, and is collected for further use. The dry cloths are then ready for re-issue to the locomotive staff.

The supply of electric power for the works is obtained from Southampton Corporation mains. The alternating current, at 6,600 volts, three-phase, 50 cycles, is transformed and converted o direct current by two 500 kW rotary converters. The supply to the shop is on the three-wire system. Auxiliary current supply is obtainable from a 125 kW mercury-arc rectifier, and the hydraulic pumps and air compressors are supplied with electric power at 440 volts AC direct from a transformer.

The Boiler Shop consists of two bays, each served by a pair of overhead travelling cranes-one of 30 tons, the other of 20 tons capacity. This shop is equipped with machines for cutting and punching boiler plates. A special machine will plane the edges of plates up to a length of 30 ft; it is fitted with hydraulic rams for clamping the work in place while this operation is carried out. Plates are rolled to a curved shape in 12 ft vertical bending rolls, while flanging is accomplished by a 300-tons hydraulic press served by an oil furnace for pre-heating purposes.

There are a number of large and small radial drills and a 75-tons hydraulic riveting machine. The Boiler Shop also houses two sets of air-compressors and a pair of hydraulic pumps with a capacity of 65 gallons a minute at a pressure of 1,500 lb per square inch. Outside the Boiler Shop are two travelling gantry cranes of 25 tons and 10 tons capacity for handling boilers, plates, and castings.

The fire tubes of a modern locomotive require periodical renewal, and a special shop is set aside at Eastleigh for the reconditioning of tubes on the Southern Railway's engines. After removal from the boiler, the tubes are de-scaled and the damaged ends are cut off. Tubes are then restored to their original length by welding on additional pieces in a hydraulically operated electric butt-welding machine. One end of each tube is then belled, and the other swaged in hydraulic presses for re-insertion in the boiler. Super-heater flue tubes are de-sealed and then have a copper end pressed and brazed on. The Tube Shop is equipped with gas fires for the coppersmith’s use, tube bending presses, and other machines, and can deal with as many as 1,500 tubes a week.

Mass production at Eastleigh WorksA Millwrights’ and Electricians’ Shop is set aside for the maintenance of the works mechanical and electrical plant, and part of the shop is used for electric and oxy-acetylene welding. There are, in addition, portable welding sets for use throughout the works.

MASS PRODUCTION.  A corner of the turret lathe machine shop of the Southern Railway’s works at Eastleigh. These machines make large quantities of bolts, screws, pins, and a variety of small components which are used in the building modern locomotives. The lathes are driven by belts from overhead line-shafting.

The Smiths’ Shop is equipped with six steam hammers ranging in size from one quarter to half a ton. Locomotive and tender springs are made here, and the shop also contains grinding machines with dust- extraction apparatus and white-metalling and case-hardening plant. Another special shop is that used for the mass production and the finishing of many of the fittings and components of the locomotives.

The Machine Shop is divided into five sections. One contains planers, slotters, and shapers; a second is equipped with heavy duty lathes. Turret lathes for the mass production of special screws, bolts, and pins are in a third. The fourth section contains a complete range of both large and small drilling machines. In the fifth section are housed the heavy machine tools such as frame slotters and drillers, large planers, and horizontal boring machines.

Other equipment in the Machine Shop includes a battery of special turret lathes for the production of copper stays from bar material. Each machine turns out fifty completed stays an hour. Oxy-acetylene flame-cutting machines, and profiling and grinding machines are also included in the Plant.

The Tool-Room includes every type of appliance for the making of tools, jigs, and gauges used in the works; it is equipped with lathes, drilling machines, shapers, universal milling machines, and grinding machines of all types. Gas-fired furnaces are used for tool hardening and tempering, and the equipment comprises appliances for air-, oil-, or water-cooling of tools. Another special shop is the Fitting Room, provided with benches and marking off tables for the assembly and fitting of engine parts. A special magnetic detector is used for the detection of flaws in iron or steel components.

Some of the heaviest and most important machinery at Eastleigh is to be found in the Wheel Shop, where great lathes are installed capable of turning locomotive wheels up to a 7 ft 6 in diameter. Here also are tyre-boring machines, quartering machines for the drilling of crank-pin holes, gas-fired heating pits for fitting tyres to wheels and for the assembly of crank axle parts, and hydraulic wheel presses. All machines in this shop are driven independently by electric motors.

Eastleigh’s Erecting Shop, for repair work, is divided into two bays, one for large and one for small engines. The large locomotive bay is served by two 50-tons overhead travelling cranes. The smaller engines are dealt with by two 30-tons cranes.

Reconditioning is carried out systematically, locomotives entering at one end of the shop for stripping, after which the components are passed through a bath of boiling caustic soda large enough to take a complete engine bogie. The stripped frames are then moved up the shop for squaring, straightening, and other reconditioning processes. Reassembly of the locomotive is then proceeded with, and new components are incorporated where necessary. The completed engine is finally placed on a valve-setting machine; valve-timing is as important on a locomotive as on a motor car. Finally the engine is taken to a weighbridge, with a capacity of 120 tons, for the adjustment of the load on each wheel.

The special equipment in the Erecting Shop includes appliances for the fitting of axle-boxes, riveting fixtures and racks for bogies, and a test bench for vacuum ejectors and lubricators.

New engines are built in a third bay. A fourth is used for repairing tenders. Other departments include a metallurgical laboratory, paint shop, stores, and a fully equipped ambulance room. Transport between the various shops is effected by petrol trucks fitted with lifting tables. The number of workmen employed at Eastleigh is about 1,400.

Established in 1830, the famous Vulcan Foundry at Newton-le-Willows, Lancashire, is one of the oldest locomotive works in Great Britain; its early story is linked with some of the greatest names in the history of railways. The founder of the firm was Charles Tayleur, and in association with him were Robert Stephenson, William Kirtley, Sir Daniel Gooch, and other engineers who played so important a part in the development of the locomotive.

A Famous Foundry

Sir Daniel Gooch, Brunel's famous assistant and later the Locomotive Superintendent of the Great Western Railway, served his apprenticeship at the Vulcan Foundry, which he joined on January 28, 1834. Subsequent development of the firm was in the hands of Edward Tayleur, Dupré, Samuel Sanderson, W. F. Gooch (younger brother of Sir Daniel), and Sir William Collingwood, KBE, who died in 1928.

The Vulcan Foundry now stands in eighty-seven acres of ground, thirteen and a half acres of which are occupied by the covered buildings housing the plant and machinery. The works are situated on the west side of the LMS main line, about four miles north of Warrington Station, and employ some 2,500 men.

The equipment is modern in every detail, and all types of locomotive are constructed throughout for any gauge, British or foreign, at the Vulcan Foundry. The Drawing Office - where the locomotives really “begin”, occupies a floor space of 6,367 sq ft. Here are employed some fifty draughtsmen and tracers, who prepare the drawings and blue prints for the engineers in the various shops.

Woodworking may not, at first sight, appear to enter very largely into engine building, but the Vulcan Pattern Shop is 180 ft long and 39 ft wide, and employs fifty men. Here are made the wooden patterns used in preparing moulds tor castings in the foundries. A joiner’s shop, the same size as the pattern shop, is used for the making of all timber fittings for locomotives and the huge packing cases for shipment.

There are two foundries, one for iron castings, the other for non-ferrous metals - brass, gun-metal, bronze, white-metal and similar materials. The non-ferrous foundry can turn out some eight to ten tons of castings weekly. The iron foundry has a capacity of 80 tons per week, and comprises two great shops, one 40 ft and the other 49 ft wide, with a length of 315 ft each. Each foundry is provided with electric overhead travelling cranes and also hydraulic cranes of various types. The moulding sand is supplied to the moulders from an electrically operated overhead bin that travels along the side of the foundry. The packing of sand around the wooden patterns is accomplished by shaking the moulding boxes in special “jolting” machines. Molten metal is conveyed through spouts in the foundry wall from cupola furnaces outside to ladles under the cranes. The filled ladles are lifted by the cranes and poured into the moulds.

The Smithy at the Vulcan Works is 419 ft long and 44 ft wide; it is equipped with eleven steam hammers, besides forging machines, power saws, and blacksmiths' forges. Heavy forging is done in a shop 210 ft long and 45 ft wide, equipped with steam hammers of 1, 1½, 3, and 5 tons. An important process in this shop is the annealing, in a special gas furnace, of all forgings.

One of the largest shops at the Vulcan Works is the Boiler Yard, a great covered hall with a floor space of 8,350 sq yds, arranged in three bays, one of which is 63 ft high and equipped with double tier overhead cranes. There are more than thirty cranes of all types in the Boiler Yard, varying in size from 2-tons mechanical cranes to 25-tons electric overhead travelling cranes.

All plate-cutting, rolling, drilling, riveting, and welding is done in the Boiler Yard, which is equipped with the most modern machinery.

Boilers, after staying and riveting, are brought from the Boiler Yard to a Mounting Shop (195 ft by 56 ft), for the fitting of internal steam pipes, regulators, domes, safety valves, fire tubes, and other parts to complete the boilers ready for their steam tests.

In addition to the great machine halls where the heavy work is done, there are many shops where special processes are carried out. There are grinding shops in which locomotive parts are finished dead to size by high speed abrasive wheels. A case-hardening shop accommodates furnaces that harden the wearing surfaces of steel components, leaving the centres tough yet ductile to withstand the stress imposed by high speed.

A Giant Wheel Press

Automatic machine and light turning shops deal with such items as copper and steel firebox stays and the numerous fittings that are required for a modern locomotive.

Special shops are allocated to wheels, axles, and axle-boxes. The wheel shops are over 460 ft long, and apart from the great turning lathes the equipment includes a huge 200-tons hydraulic wheel press.

Double-ended lathe for turning wheels

THE DOUBLE-ENDED LATHE for turning wheels is an essential part of a locomotive workshop’s equipment. The wheels and crankshaft shown in this picture belong to a two-cylinder 2-6-0 locomotive under construction at the Belfast works of the LMS, for service in Northern Ireland. The wheels revolve with the slotted face-plates, and the turning tools are held in the massive slide rests on either side of the workman.

The Erecting Shop at Newton-le-Willows is 502 ft long and 56 ft wide. It is so situated that finished parts for locomotives under construction can be supplied from their respective shops with a minimum of trouble. There are two lines of track, with engine erecting pits, running the whole length of the shop, and a central track used for wheeling locomotives and for preparing them for steam tests. The overhead electric travelling cranes that serve the Erecting Shop are operated at two levels. Two 50-tons cranes on a runway 38 ft above the floor can be moved for one-third of the length of the shop. At a height of 25 ft above the floor level, two 35-tons cranes are capable of movement along the whole length of the shop.

Adjoining the Erecting Shop is the Paint Shop, 187 ft long, which is provided with all the necessary equipment for modern methods of spray painting. The paint store and mixing machines are in this shop, which is steam-heated to maintain the constant temperature required for a first-class finish.

The Power House at the Vulcan Foundry generates electricity for the whole of the works, and also provides compressed air for the pneumatic tools and hydraulic power for the presses in the wheel and boiler shops.

From Gorton Foundry, Manchester, locomotives are sent out to all parts of the world, and these include the famous “Beyer-Garratt” engines. The firm of Beyer Peacock and Co Ltd, as founded in 1854 by Mr Charles F. Beyer and Mr Richard Peacock, and the works at Gorton cover a total area of twenty-three acres. The roofed shops occupy between seventeen and eighteen acres, and when working at full capacity give employment to over 3,000 men. A large two-story building houses the general offices, and another building is equipped with modern electrical tabulating machines to serve the costing and statistical departments.

The Iron and Steel Foundries at Gorton occupy one large building, 400 ft long and 120 ft wide. The Steel Foundry is equipped with two 10-tons furnaces and a 2-tons electric furnace. Beyer Peacock and Co Ltd, is the only locomotive firm in Great Britain with its own steel foundry. A Brass Foundry is set aside for the production of axle box castings, foot-plate fittings, and similar work.

The Forging Shop is provided with five steam hammers including one of 7½ tons. For heating the forgings before they are hammered into shape, the shop is equipped with gas-fired furnaces, and with others heated by oil fuel. In addition, the shop contains annealing and case-hardening furnaces.

The Smithy at Gorton comprises four bays, each 120 ft long and 40 ft wide. Here are steam and electro-pneumatic hammers, sawing machines, plant for forging nuts, bolts, and rivets, and the usual array of blacksmiths' hearths.

Forging a connecting rod at W G Bagnall's works

UNDER THE HAMMER. Forging a locomotive connecting rod in the Smithy at W G Bagnall’s works. The man at the right controls the blows of the power hammer, while the men with the chains lift or lower the heated billet of steel as necessary. The man at the extreme left manipulates the large tongs as the hammering proceeds.

The Pattern and Joiners' Departments are housed in a large building, adjoining which are other buildings used for storing the many thousands of patterns required by the foundry for different types of engine.

The Boiler Shop, one of the largest in Europe, is 600 ft long and 175 ft wide divided into three longitudinal bays and one riveting bay. The main bay of this shop has two crane gantries or runways, placed one above the other, The upper gantry accommodates travelling cranes of 50 tons capacity, and the lower carries 10-tons and 5-tons cranes. A middle bay has a single gantry with a span of 50 ft that carries cranes of 20 and 10 tons capacity. The third bay is provided with 10-tons and 5-tons travelling cranes.

The three boiler shop gantries lead into the Riveting Bay, which is high enough to allow the lifting of the longest boiler shells to a vertical position between the arms of a large riveting machine.

Adjacent to this bay and alongside the railway are large sheds for the unloading and storing of plates. Locomotive tenders also are built in the Boiler Shop, and a special section of the department is set aside for the hydraulic and steam testing of boilers before they are passed to the engine-erecting shop.

One of the largest machine shops at Gorton is used for the preparation of locomotive frames. This shop is 305 ft long and 75 ft wide, and has a single overhead gantry equipped with 6-tons and 20-tons electric cranes. Both plate frames, as used for British engines, and the “bar” frames associated with American locomotives, are machined in the framing department. “Bar” frames, as their name implies, are composed of bars of rectangular section, usually comprised in one large steel casting. The machinery is all of a heavy type, and includes large slotting, drilling and planing machines.

There are numerous machine shops, including those accommodating the automatic plant for the making of boiler stays and other components. A special department is devoted to the machining of locomotive cylinders. This shop is 160 ft long and 42 ft wide, and is equipped with a gantry and a 10-tons crane for handling the cylinder castings. There are two modern planing machines in the cylinder shop, the larger with a stroke of 12 ft, and the equipment also includes batteries of boring and drilling machines.

Another important department at Gorton Works is the Wheel and Axle Shop, which occupies a building 250 ft long and 42 ft wide. The shop is equipped with heavy lathes for turning axles and wheels of all sizes. Other modern machinery in the department includes a 450-tons hydraulic press for forcing wheels on to their axles.

The Erecting Shop, where the finished locomotive parts are sent for assembly, is provided with a central track having a pit throughout its length. Locomotives are built up, on their frames, on either side of the central track, which accommodates the wheels. On completion, the frames, with cylinders, boilers, and other components, are lifted on to the wheels and the engine is run out of the shop to the steaming shed for testing.

The Gorton Paint Shop is a lofty building 220 ft long and 55 ft wide, with three inspection pits running its entire length. The shop has a central track with multiple-gauge rails to accommodate locomotives built for railways abroad, and is equipped with two 50-tons travelling cranes. Adjoining is the packing department, where locomotive parts, even the largest, are packed for shipment overseas.

Other special departments include the Coppersmiths’ Shop, where both copper and steel pipes are prepared, in addition to the thin sheeting used for covering locomotive boilers. Another shop, 220 ft long, is set aside for storing jigs, chucks, and gauges of every description for use in the various machine shops. This department also contains a number of machines for testing the strength and hardness of the materials used in locomotive building. There is also a well-equipped chemical laboratory for carrying out analyses of tire raw materials used. Research work is also conducted here to determine the correct treatment in the manufacture of iron and steel and other materials used in locomotive manufacture.

An Internal Transport System

Gorton Works are supplied with electric current by Manchester Corporation at 6,500 volts, a proportion of which is transformed to A.C. at 220 volts and the remainder to D.C. The internal transport system at Gorton is highly efficient, and the works are laid out with concrete roads, on which run petrol-driven trucks. There is also a mobile petrol-electric crane, a 5-tons steam travelling crane, and two shunting engines, one of which is equipped with a crane.

Neilson, Reid & Co, Dubs & Co, and Sharp, Stewart & Co, three famous firms that have played so important a part in locomotive history, now comprise the North British Locomotive Co Ltd, with headquarters in Glasgow. The Hyde Park and Atlas Works, formerly Messrs. Neilson Reid and Sharp Stewart respectively, cover an area of nearly thirty-four acres, of which some fifteen and three-quarter acres are occupied by buildings and workshops. Dubs & Co’s Glasgow Locomotive Works, now known as Queen’s Park Works, occupy twenty-two and three-quarter acres, including nearly thirteen acres covered by buildings.

The hydraulic press in the forge at the Queen's Park Works, Glasgow

Most of the buildings of the three works have been reconstructed since 1907, and are of steel with glazed roofs giving ample light and liberal headroom. The workshops are so organized that, if necessary, the special process shops of one department can be put at the disposal of another. Employment would be given to over 5,000 men if these shops were worked to their full capacity of 350 locomotives a year. The Forge, which is situated at Queen’s Park, covers an area of 20,400 sq ft,and is served by three overhead cranes of 3, 7, and 10 tons capacity. The equipment includes ten steam hammers varying in size from 30 cwt to 2½ tons.

THE HYDRAULIC PRESS in the forge at the Queen’s Park Works, Glasgow, is capable of exerting a force of 1,500 tons. A white-hot ingot of steel can be observed on the anvil, ready for shaping by the descending ram of the press.

A special shop is devoted to the flanging of boiler plates at the Atlas Works, and covers 37,800 sq ft. There are two 10-tons overhead cranes and the eight hydraulic presses range in capacity between 144 and 800 tons maximum pressure - sufficient for the heaviest plates.

The frame and axle-box shops together occupy over 92,000 sq ft, and are served by fourteen overhead cranes capable of lifting five to thirty tons. The slotting machines in these shops can finish many frame plates at a time, as they have a stroke of 27 in. Plates up to 42 ft in length and 5 ft wide can be accommodated in these machines. The frame shops are also equipped with planing and milling machines, for surfacing both plate and bar frames.

Steam hammers at Queen's Park Works, Glasgow

STEAM HAMMERS at Queen’s Park Works, Glasgow. There are ten of these hammers, varying in weight from 30 to 50 cwt. Despite their size, their action can be regulated with precision. The force behind the blows and the rate at which they are delivered can be adjusted as required.

Equipment in the wheel shops includes machines such as lathes capable of turning wheels up to 8 ft in diameter, and hydraulic presses of 200 tons capacity for pressing wheel-centres on to axles. There are also boring and quartering machines, and several heavy duty cranes.

The Cylinder Shops comprise a floor space totalling 57,200 sq ft, and are equipped with batteries of boring, facing, and planing machines.

In the Boiler Shops are seen some of the most interesting devices used in building modern locomotives. Here are great levelling and bending rolls capable of dealing with plates up to 12 ft wide and 1¼ in thick. There are also hydraulic riveting machines with arms 17 ft 6 in long, by means of which large boiler shells can be riveted complete. Special horizontal drilling machines mounted on columns 11 ft high are used to facilitate the drilling of boiler shells.

The Boiler Shop at Hyde Park has an area of 56,500 sq ft, and is served by six overhead cranes of various capacities from 10 to 40 tons. The Queen’s Park Boiler Shop (36,200 sq ft) is equipped with six cranes of 15 to 40 tons.

The company’s Machine, Turning, and Fitting Shops, where locomotive components are made and finished ready for the Erecting Shops have a total area of about 226,800 sq ft, and are well equipped with appropriate types of machine tools, and are served, where necessary, by overhead cranes. The Erecting Shops have an area of 35,600 sq ft at Hyde Park, and 63,000 at Queen’s Park, and the “pits” are arranged across the bays, and are served by overhead cranes of 90 tons capacity, running above cranes of 15/30 tons capacity.

In addition to the foregoing, there are many large shops for tank and cab construction, brass founding and finishing, tool-making, and boiler mounting. There are also pattern shops, tool rooms, paint shops and store departments. Most of the shops are equipped with hydraulic power at a pressure of 1,500 lb per sq in, and compressed air is available for the pneumatic tools at 100 lb per sq in.

The oxy-acetylene and oxy-coal gas flame for cutting metals has been considerably developed during the post-war era, and is now very largely used for mass production of details cut from plates or slabs in automatic machines where the flame is guided to template. The cut edge has a fine finish, and the form cut is to accurate dimensions.

The foregoing will give an idea of the immense size and efficient equipment of British locomotive works, but it is, of

course, impossible to include in one chapter a detailed description of every locomotive works in Great Britain. Similarly, it has not been possible to include other works of the principal British railways such as those at Horwich, St Rollox, Darlington, Stratford, and Ashford.

Since its inception the locomotive building industry has been a nation asset. Its reputation both for design and quality of material and workmanship is world-wide.

Radial drills at work on four locomotive frames

RADIAL DRILLS at work simultaneously on four locomotive frames in the shops of the Hunslet Engineering Company, at Leeds. The drills are worked by independent electric motors, and the arms can be raised or swivelled by power on their supporting columns. The drill heads can be moved along the arms, so that holes can be drilled in any position in the plates, which are to be seen above, resting on the slotted tables.


You can read more on “How a Locomotive is Built”, “Locomotive Accessories” and “The Story of the Locomotive” on this website.


FOUNDRY WORK. Craftsmen at the Stafford Works of W G Bagnall Ltd are preparing the sand moulds into which molten metal will be poured in the making of castings (top picture). Below is part of the iron foundry shop at the works of the Vulcan Foundry Ltd. Note the overhead electric travelling cranes and the hydraulic crane in the centre of the shop. To the right is the travelling hopper for delivery to the moulding boxes, a row of which is seen in the foreground.