RITES OF PASSAGE FOR A MODEL RAILWAY - 23: SNOW PLOUGHS, Clearing The Permanent Way In Winter

Snow plough on the Stainmore route at Barras (now under the widened A66 Scotch Corner-Whitehaven road)
Snow plough on the Stainmore route at Barras (now under the widened A66 Scotch Corner-Whitehaven road) | Source

Located where?

Winter struck hard in the early days of the railways. The further North you went the harder it struck. The highlands - not only Scotland - might be cut off for days, weeks even. At first the ploughs were independently operated, and only in the later 19th Century were owned directly by the railway companies. This was so in the North East of England, where large parts of the company's network ran through or over moorland and mountain (the Pennines, the Yorkshire Dales and the North Yorkshire Moors, Yorkshire Wolds, Durham Fell and the Cheviot Hills on the south side of the Border, the North British Railway operated on the north side). The Midland Railway's Settle to Carlisle route could be sub-Polar and much of its network in the Midlands ran through hilly country that before the railways came was cut off for weeks at a time because the roads were treacherous.

In Scotland of course things could get really hairy, moreso in the east and the far north to Inverness. Many of the glens were isolated away from the sea-to-sea route of the Great Glen (south-west to north-east), with deep drifts that threatened the livelihoods and lives of those who made a living on the land. Foul weather at sea meant the more obvious way around was not an option. And with canals frozen, the railways became the lifeblood of the nation. Goods, if not passengers, had to get through!.

Even in the normally milder south-west winter could be hard on those who lived on the high ground in the centre of Devon/Somerset and the hilly southern Midlands around Herefordshire or Gloucestershire.

The snow plough was all that kept many and their animals from starvation, whether as a separate vehicle or as an attachment.to the locomotive's buffer beam.

Restored Percy Main plough in 'Locomotion' at Shildon
Restored Percy Main plough in 'Locomotion' at Shildon | Source
Plough under restoration on the turntable at Pickering (NYMR)
Plough under restoration on the turntable at Pickering (NYMR) | Source
(L)NER Snow ploughs in store
(L)NER Snow ploughs in store | Source
Back-to-back WD 2-8-0's with outward-facing snow ploughs in the North Eastern Region BR
Back-to-back WD 2-8-0's with outward-facing snow ploughs in the North Eastern Region BR | Source

Visit the National Railway Museum's offshoot at Shildon near Darlington and see the North Eastern Railway's Percy Main snowplough at first hand, along with restored railway rolling stock not seen at the York National Railway Museum. Visit the workshop and see wagons or locomotives and other railway vehicles under restoration. Take a walk or a brakevan ride along to Shildon where Timothy Hackworth's soho works lets you step back in time...

Modelling the scene

If you're a serious modeller you might think of investing some time in the creation of a snow plough or ploughs from scratch, or maybe even locating a proprietary model on the Net. There are not many generally available for the British outline modeller, and scratch-building might be the best way around the problem.

The north Eastern Railway built ploughs on the chassis of redundant tenders, some four-wheeled, mostly six-wheeled. This was from the consideration of weight, as locomotive tenders were by nature heavy vehicles.

I bought a book recently through my membership of the North Eastern Railway Association (NERA). Published through the NERA David and Claire Williamson put together a very good book on the subject, titled simply 'RAILWAY SNOWPLOUGHS IN THE NORTH EAST', ISBN 978 1 873513 88 0. It's available through the Sales Officer, Janet Coulthard, ph 01325 480009, e-mail: sales@ner.org.uk. or in writing from 15 Woodside Drive, Darlington, DL3 8ES, County Durham, England. Cost is £12.95 post free to members, postage added to non-members. This book is not available through Amazon.

With the aid of a six-wheeled tender body (taken from a redundant Bachman LNER tender, not a lot different to a later NER one) I hope to build a snow plough for my own Thoraldby layout. Even if I don't actually model a snow scene, it wouldn't look out of place in a corner of the motive power depot. The drawings, photographic images and numbering sequences in this book will be useful.

Away from North Eastern metals...

British Railways snow plough - note the difference in design to the NER ones
British Railways snow plough - note the difference in design to the NER ones | Source
Diesel locomotive with snow plough attachment at Eastfield (Glasgow or Hampshire?)
Diesel locomotive with snow plough attachment at Eastfield (Glasgow or Hampshire?) | Source
Great Northern Railway 2-6-0 with snow plough attached under the buffer beam - hard winter weather could strike anywhere between the Home Counties and Doncaster on the GN main line or out in Lincolnshire between the Fens and the Humber
Great Northern Railway 2-6-0 with snow plough attached under the buffer beam - hard winter weather could strike anywhere between the Home Counties and Doncaster on the GN main line or out in Lincolnshire between the Fens and the Humber | Source
Southern Railway Wainwright 0-6-0 sports a hefty plough here - even in the gentler southern shires winter could strike hard, especially in eastern Kent
Southern Railway Wainwright 0-6-0 sports a hefty plough here - even in the gentler southern shires winter could strike hard, especially in eastern Kent

From reality to model

A few instances in the ongoing construction of NER snow ploughs can be listed here:

Ploughs No.4 and 5 (Diagrams U28, U29). This pair were completed in November, 1888 with a shorter 6-wheel 12 ft wheelbase underframe and shorter body than their predecessors, Nos 2 and 6 (Dgm U27). A drawing of May 1888 confirmed 'length of body to suit underframes', underlining re-use of old frames. No 4 was allocated to Alston over a long period of time, No.5 being a Waskerley allocation between 1895 and shed closure in 1940. No.4 was the only plough not to have been furnished with a stove (!) Structure was of timber, the blades tapering from an overall body width of 8'-6" and compartment length being 6'-9", total body length of No 4 being 25'-10" and 26'-10.75 over headstocks (dumb buffers).

A steel loop below buffer level served for towing purposes when needed. Ploughs were sometimes coupled 'nose-to-nose' with steel bars between to protect them against accidental damage.

A change in design was marked to a 6'-3" + 6'-3" wheelbase and locomotive-type buffers, ploughs 13 and 14 (Dgms U32, U33) were outshopped in July, 1901. No 14 is thought to have started with a longer front overhang (11'-3"), as No.13 but at some time before No.14 left the drawing board received a fully panelled rear-end, keeping its half-height side door. The veranda styled rear also made for a more restricted cabin length of 4 feet, the stove being sited in the space below the 'prow'.

A single double-ended plough, No.17 (Dgm U28) made its way out of the drawing office at York, a conversion of a shunting truck in December 1907, itself a converted goods wagon in April 1902. In plough form dumb buffers were added, the original type removed. It had sets of steel wire brushes at both ends. Entry to the body was afforded by a large hatch in one side and hinged to drop down flush against the body. Another large door gave access to the brake gear.

Moving on two years, four steel ploughs, 21-24 (to Dgm U20) were rolled out from Gateshead Works with 24'-2.5" X 3'-2..25" X 1" thick frames. Screw hand brake, heating and cooking stove and tool lockers were provided. Screw couplings were fitted for faster running. Removable centre buffer heads replaced the dumb buffers the wooden ploughs had.

Details and technical specifications for these and other ploughs are in the book RAILWAY SNOWPLOUGHS IN THE NORTH EAST mentioned above.

A few scale versions

Flangeways' model British Rail (post 1968) snowplough at pre-livery stage (right) and finished (left)
Flangeways' model British Rail (post 1968) snowplough at pre-livery stage (right) and finished (left) | Source
Genesis SP2 4mm snowplough scale kit for Airfix/Hornby ex-LMS 4F 0-6-0
Genesis SP2 4mm snowplough scale kit for Airfix/Hornby ex-LMS 4F 0-6-0 | Source
NER model Wood Snowplough (Percy Main, as at Locomotion, Shildon, see above)
NER model Wood Snowplough (Percy Main, as at Locomotion, Shildon, see above) | Source
One for our cousins across the Pond: model Rock Island snowplough
One for our cousins across the Pond: model Rock Island snowplough | Source

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10 comments

billybuc profile image

billybuc 16 months ago from Olympia, WA

I do wish I had started this hobby when I was younger. Now I'm inundated with farm animals and no time on my hands...but....

This may sound strange, but I never think of major snows for the British Isles....and I would venture to guess most Americans feel the same way. We think of fog and rain for your country, but snowstorms? Not so much. Very interesting but then I expect that from you.

Have a superb week, my friend.


alancaster149 profile image

alancaster149 16 months ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire) Author

It's 'early bird' Bill (never usually get the columns of comments you do).

We have our moments. Sometimes the whole of the North gets blanketed in snow, as far down as the Midlands. Sometimes even the milder south-west gets it, and now and then London and the Home Counties. It doesn't usually last long, although every now and then perseveres, with the railway network grinding to a halt (modern stock isn't heavy enough to mash the snow).

The fog is lessened these days since the Clean Air Act several decades ago; we still have mists, though. Sometimes we have snow AND mist - dangerous for drivers, especially for those who insist on using mobile phones (cellphones to you) while they're driving.

I have my book writing besides the railway modelling, so I'm a bit behind with the actual model-MAKING.

(Here's where the 'however' comes in): it doesn't take long to lay a section of track then ballast it. Pointwork takes a bit longer. Still, it's rewarding when you've got so far and watch your locos run over it on test, back and forth. The same goes for stock, which you can also buy ready made as well as build your own. It's satisfying to see it run in formation. And you'll still have time for your chickies.


aethelthryth profile image

aethelthryth 16 months ago from American Southwest

Okay, those snowplows are pretty funny-looking, but not as funny-looking as some of our stuff in the Old West such as the Galloping Goose!


alancaster149 profile image

alancaster149 16 months ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire) Author

Hello Aethelthryth, I included a Rock Island Railway snowplough for your benefit (not yours personally, but you know).

Glad you liked this. What exactly was the Galloping Goose - was it a snowplough or something else? There were some that looked even funnier, like the double-ended ones built on the underframes of open goods wagons.

Come back soon.


aethelthryth profile image

aethelthryth 16 months ago from American Southwest

Sounds like the same idea. The Galloping Goose was a part-car, part-train engine which was cheaper to use on small railroad spurs in the mountains. For the funny name if nothing else, it is one of the more popular engines at the Colorado Railroad Museum. http://coloradorailroadmuseum.org/train-rides-home...


alancaster149 profile image

alancaster149 16 months ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire) Author

We had 'auto-cars' on various railways in Britain, a bit like tram-cars ('street-cars' in the US), powered by an engine more likely to be found in a lorry. Some, like Sentinel railcars (and their yard shunters) had 'coffee-pot' type coal burners to power them. There are some under preservation here, one of the best known at the moment being the 1903 North Eastern Petrol-electric Autocar, find under: www.electricautocar.co.uk


annart profile image

annart 16 months ago from SW England

That's some snowplough, the one at Sheldon, and your photos are superb! I love trains, real or model. I was the only 8-year old girl I knew who had a model railway, which gained me respect from my male cousins! I've always loved travelling by train too, though these days the fares are prohibitive. We have some good restored steam lines in our area of Somerset and Devon.

Yes, the moors of the north and south were always difficult to pass in those days; even now they can present problems though lately in this area it's been more due to floods than snow!

This is a fascinating hub; you present a good mix of history and train enthusiasm along with your information and marvellous illustrations.

Ann


alancaster149 profile image

alancaster149 16 months ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire) Author

Ann, if you book online about four-six weeks ahead of your travel date you get your tickets much reduced. Local fares can't be booked however.

I've read about rail travel on Dartmoor. They had a 'bubble car' (single diesel railcar from the 50's) after their GW Railmotor - see ROPfaMR 24: 'Autocars, Autocoaches and Railmotors'). They also had some sh*** weather in winter when the wind was out of the north-east, I understand.

By the way it's Shildon - on the route of the Stockton & Darlington Railway. It's also where Timothy Hackworth established his locomotive and wagon workshop. The wagon workshop became a works, which was closed down finally in the 1980's. There's a lot to see at 'Locomotion' (ECML to Darlington, local to Shildon), the overspill of the National Railway Museum.

Seen my layout on ROPfaMR 'Thoraldby'? There's a lot of work in that, over a fifteen year span and it's still not completely finished.


annart profile image

annart 16 months ago from SW England

Amazing! Sorry about the typo - Shildon! My new computer keeps changing words and I don't always notice - that's my excuse anyway!

I know these things take much time and dedication.


alancaster149 profile image

alancaster149 16 months ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire) Author

Altogether now, shall we let 'er orf? (Howls, whistles, shouts of get 'em orf!) OK, you're absolved.

Mind you, it's conditional: you have to visit all 291 of the other pages, minus the ones you've already left comments on. OK?

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