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RITES OF PASSAGE FOR A MODEL RAILWAY - 23: SNOW PLOUGHS, Clearing The Permanent Way In Winter
"Make way for the ploughs!"
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.
North Eastern Railway snowplough restoration
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: firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.
North Eastern Railway Association
- North Eastern Railway Association.
Website for NERA, the North Eastern Railway Association
Away from North Eastern metals...
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.