Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Tiny Locomotive

Tiny - the only original widegauge locomotive in the world
South Devon Railway
March 2010

We recently attended a family wedding in Torquay and the following day the extended Ahab Clan were treated to a backlot tour of the South Devon Railway by my sister's friend, John.

Tiny, the last broad gauge locomotive in the world

I am always struck by the unusual and this backstage pass gave ample opportunity to poke my nose into all sorts of steam railway bits and bobs.

My interest was captured by the steam Loco "Tiny", not because of its diminutive size but because it is the sole surviving broad gauge locomotiove in the world. Maybe this needs a bit of clarification for those not particularly into trains. When the UK's railways were in their infancy Isambard Kingdon Brunel was at the forefront of design and construction and he decided to build the Great Western and other West Country railways to the broad 7'0" gauge rather than the 4' 81/2", which later became the UK standard. This broad gauge track gave a smoother ride and allowed creater load carrying capacity, but also demanded bigger bridges, tunnels etc. Whilst a broad gauge became the standard on the continent, the UK's railways all ended up narrower and the 7' 0" was obsolete by 1892, a bit of a Betamax vs VHS of the 19th century.

So with the demise of the broad gauge tracks the locomotives that ran on them were scrapped, all apart from Tiny who was kept on as shunter in the local dockyards whose internal rail networks was also kept at the original 7' width.

The details for the buffs

Tiny was built in 1868 and was gainfully employed till 1927, serving as a stationary water pump in Newton Abbot Station in her last years, before being placed on a plinth in the station where she remained till 1980.

Tiny finally moved to the South Devon Railway where she hasd a cosmetic renovation, but alas can no longer raise a head of steam.

John, our charming host.

So, that is Tiny in a nutshell, the last surviving relic of an abandoned industry standard. In a way it is a case of the first being the last the the least becoming the greatest.

I bet that when the Great Western Railway took over the South Devon Railway in 1876, no one though that the only rolling stock to survive would be Tiny. Gt Western had a policy of using numbers rather than names and allocated Tiny 2180, the very last number in the register!


Bill Rodgers said...

I liked your "Betamax vs VHS" analogy. It shows you understood both battles and results. Definitely, an interesting bit of history.

Captain Ahab said...

A fascinating snippet of railway history.
Railways per se don't excite me, but I am captivated by the engineering they employed.