Work of many kinds is produced from the Building Department yard at Christow, the smallest and only part of the station trading estate so far to have been acquired by the railway.

The main workshop building, the shell of a 1930s Great Western feed store brought in one piece from Ivybridge in 1993, is used to work on larger projects, while what should be the site office, a converted insulated 20 ft. container, provides a temporary, warm and secure workshop for the smaller jobs.

The site office is entirely adequate for a lot of work. Machines and furniture can be moved around on their wheels to make whatever space is needed. The Felder combination woodworking machine, weighing a ton, can be manoeuvred to suit different functions and workpieces.

Nevertheless, it will be a great benefit to the railway when the main building can be fixed up properly in G.W. style, with its sliding doors leading onto the platform on Scatter Rock No. 2 siding.

The E. & T.V.R. claims to have a wider range of abilities and a greater breadth of knowledge, relative to the size of its staff, than any other railway in the country. And, judging by the standard of some of the work turned out of bigger places with far better facilities, ample size and resources are no guarantee of quality.

The railway specializes in the classes of work that it needs to do for itself. This capacity is available also to other railway operators and those in the hobby railways who are discerning enough to realize that the expertise they want cannot be obtained cheaply.

Other more general work is also taken in, for which the railway is well equipped. Undemanding work is, however, best given to jobbing tradesmen, for the railway is unlikely to be able to price competitively in this field.

The station is something of a shop window. It is hoped, though, that "shoppers" will be able to differentiate between the work done and that yet to be done.

Along with the usual mix of small works and the endless round of maintenance jobs, the railway has the following projects in hand:-

Repair and alteration of "boiler end" of loco, D2269.>> Work in progress >>

Production of four pairs of new doors for covered wagons, 78642 & 78651.

Overhaul of FERRYVAN 889027.>> Work in progress >>

Repair and alteration of G.W. brake van for Mr. N. Dudman.

>> BEE 2309 >>
>> GANGCAR 194 >>

The following have been recently outshopped:-

BEE 2309 — commissioning of new autotruck.

GANGCAR 194 — rebuilding of motor trolley and trailer.

Four Permaquip trolleys ― general repair and conversion.

Secure site cabin fitted out as a temporary booking office, complete with repaired furniture.

G.W.R. platform bench.

B.R.W.R. Single Independent Disc ground signal.

>> Platform Trolleys >>

Platform trolley.

Repair and re-erection of the Christow pumphouse for use as an exhibition annex.

>> 1928 Pumphouse >>

Construction of motor trolley shed.>> Motor Trolley Shed >>

Repair and re-erection of Lamp Hut>> Lamp Hut >>

A store for the Building Department>> Another Trolley Shed >>

Running-In Boards>> Running-In Boards >>

>> Some of the Work on Show at Christow >>


BEE 2309

Commissioning work on the railway’s “new” autotruck, BEE 2309—done like most jobs, in many instalments—was completed in 2011. This vehicle replaced BEE 2247 which had been in service since 1982.

The new truck was supposed to have been supplied with an aluminium floor but came with the usual pressed steel plate, spot welded to the frame. On the model it was understood had been ordered, the aluminium floor was held down by the drop sides and could be lifted up to give complete access to the engine and underframe. The steel floor had only a poorly fitting hatch.

The fixed headboard and rack, and the floor plating, were removed. A new headstock and a detachable steel and plywood headboard, incorporating a full-width ladder rail, were made. A one-piece detachable plywood floor with aluminium edging was fitted.

Numerous other modifications were made to equip the truck for railway service. A letter was sent to Piaggio, translated into Italian, pointing out some of the design improvements made in a British workshop so that their production line could be altered. No reply was received.

The truck was delivered wearing Empire Green, one of the three colours available—those of the Italian flag.

Failure in traffic

The new truck had been performing well and commissioning work was in progress when an outright failure occurred, luckily only three miles from shed and at a refuge. Coolant pouring onto the road appeared to be coming from the pump. After being towed back to shed and dismantled, a complete seizure of the pump, driven by the timing belt, was confirmed as the fault.

The firm in Darlington that supplied the truck had closed down. Fortunately, Robin, the former boss, had taken on the Piaggio business as a sideline and was able to provide parts. But this was late July and the factory in Tuscany was preparing for its August shutdown. When the new pump arrived, the timing belt in stock was found to be the wrong one. It was mid-September before the truck went back into service.

Either it was a faulty pump or the timing belt had been over-tightened during factory assembly; the checks that had been made were looking for slackness and the tension was assumed to be correct as it was. The tell-tale sound of impending failure was like stone chips hitting the frame (probably coolant being expelled through the bearings), which is not much use as an indicator when it’s the season for dressing the roads.

This has greatly burdened the operating costs; the material cost of the repair was not too great but many service station tools had to be obtained. The diesel Ape is more expensive to buy and maintain but uses much less fuel than the petrol one. Whether this will be enough to tip the overall costs in favour of diesel is yet to be determined.

From Naples to Newton Abbot

Can it run on olive oil?

Rinaldo Piaggio's ship-fitting and coach-building firm, founded in 1884, turned to aviation in 1914. During the Second World War, the huge plant at Pontedera, Tuscany, manufacturing military aircraft, was razed to the ground by allied bombing.

In the post-war reconstruction of Italy, Piaggio saw the need for cheap motor transport and invented the all-enclosed motorcycle made from pressed steel—what became the "scooter."

The Vespa (Wasp) was developed into the goods three-wheeler, the Ape (Bee) in about 1947, from which the railway's modern example is descended.

Still offered today is the simple two-stroke petrol engine, which from the late 1970s has had lubrificazione separata and electronic ignition for greater reliability. But higher performance has been achieved with a Lombardini single-cylinder diesel made especially for Piaggio. Both engines drive through an integral five-speed gearbox.

The diesel is more expensive to buy and maintain but uses less fuel; the railway’s has so far turned in an average of 86.3 miles per gallon.

These trucks are designed to carry ¾-ton in addition to the driver and a passenger. A variety of bodies is available from the manufacturer, including a box van, hydraulic tipper and dust cart.

The railway's new model, delivered in December, 2007, replaced one introduced in 1982, which remains serviceable but is confined to shed. Much preparatory work and modification had to be done to fit the new one for railway service.

Unlike in the home market, where Italian authorities, utilities, tradesmen, roundsmen, vendors, growers, etc., buy the Ape because it is the most suitable for the job, Britain has very largely shunned them and carried on using vehicles which are often much larger and more expensive than is necessary.

If a builder, for instance, who only really needed a ¾-ton capacity for local work replaced his Transit or Cabstar with one of these, then he would occupy half the road space and save three-quarters of the fuel.

And could it not be such small trucks or vans as these that in future radiate from stations collecting and delivering parcels and light goods traffic?


(PWM 2831 & Trailer No. 755)

Describing the work on the railway’s Type 27 trolley as a factory rebuild, as what the factory would have done had the trolley been returned there, to distinguish the class of repair, is somewhat hypothetical, for Wickham’s would actually have had no option but to condemn it as beyond economic repair.

It is hard to believe that such a vehicle was still in service with the nationalized railway. Dear old British Rail could scrap locos and rolling stock prematurely, writing off enormous capital sums, yet allow a forty year-old wreck to carry staff on rail at a time when new substitutes were available and the safety regime was tougher. It is also a wonder that a non-standard 1949 trolley should have been kept when newer types were scrapped or sold to private railways.

The trolley must have suffered several severe collisions; even the roof was crushed. Frame and body sections were broken and buckled. The front wheels were so out of round that the trolley hopped along the track. The sand boxes had been smashed; springs had broken; bearings had failed; many parts were missing; every remaining part needed attention. Almost at a glance, a Wickham inspector would have seen enough to make his unsentimental pronouncement.

So the railway has carried out an uneconomic repair, but the result is what the factory would have achieved, which is a trolley as near to new as possible with another 10-15 years of useful life.

The trolley was broken up on the track into pieces small enough to carry. Some heavy parts were straightened by eye while the torch was to hand. Later, the frame was cut and welded to restore its shape and strengthening plates were added. The rest of the trolley was reduced to its component parts and every one repaired and, or, modified, or replaced. New bearings, springs and bushes were fitted; journals were built up to take metric bearings; the chain and driven sprocket were replaced.

For some reason, as yet undiscovered, this trolley was built with front stub axles, an uncommon and unwise practice with railway vehicles. A solid, through axle would have fouled the engine sump. A cranked axle beneath the sump would have fouled A.T.C. ramps. So why was the engine not raised? Why was not an axle split horizontally around the sump fitted?

The challenge for the railway was either to correct a flawed design (Wickham’s must not have continued with it) or somehow to connect the stub axles. The hubs depend for their restraint in a vertical plane on a parallelogram arrangement which describes a small arc easily taken up by the slack in the suspension bushes. The radius rods were finely made and in good condition. In a crude attempt to lock up the suspension, B.R. men had fitted opposite diagonal braces. All these did was to transmit shock and twisting action to frame members, which then split or fractured.

It was decided that the challenge was to make the original design work. This has yet to be proven in service.

An attempt was made to turn the very worn Wickham wheels but this was abandoned in favour of fitting new Fairmont wheels, using conversion discs to take up the difference in centres and the number of studs. The Fairmont wheels have less float and only 1° of conicity.

The major weakness in the rebuilding process was the engine; Wickham's would hardly have sent the trolley out with a reconditioned Ford side-valve. The railway looked at fitting a two-cylinder Lombardini diesel but the space available seemed to crave a Ford to go with the existing clutch and gearbox, themselves integral with the direction box.

This is not as bad as it sounds. The Ford E93A, introduced in 1938, still has engineering support and can be fully reconditioned, thanks to its enthusiast following. It will run on unleaded petrol. The engines were meant by Ford to be service-exchanged at around 30,000 miles and the trolley had a reconditioned unit. The application is relatively undemanding.

After trying to get the engine rebuilt locally, a replacement was obtained from a Ford "Pop" specialist. This was fitted with an oil bypass filter and electronic ignition. The railway has the other engine to send away for reconditioning if necessary.

The trolley was outshopped with riveted aluminium plating, additional glazing at the front for close track inspection, halogen and L.E.D. lighting, dual arm wipers (designed specially by Andrew at Britax), p.v.c. side curtains and overall cover, and a sprung coupler.

The trolley was not built with running boards. The railway considered that they would be incongruous and unnecessary. As it is, the trolley has a compact width of 5’ 9”. Any man who is not fit enough to get onto the trolley from sleeper level should not be on the track.

The unsprung trailer which completes unit 194 was finished in 2006. It needed new bearings, side rails, plywood flooring and repairs to the solebar ends. A ratchet brake mechanism from an old platelayer's trolley found burnt up at Uffculme has been modified to act on one wheel. New draw eyes were rodded together to spread the load to both headstocks. The two-foot coupler enables longer timbers to be carried on the trailer.

The trolley had a dowel beneath the driver’s seat and two aluminium cradles beneath the rear seat for stowage of the turntable. Original parts were measured up at Buckfastleigh and an “Improved Wickham Turntable” made at Christow. The turntable centre has a captive disc, floating on grease, on which the beam rests. The ends of the rails are articulated, so that when turning the clips are folded out of the way and when stowed the rails do not overhang. It has been tested up to 17 cwt.; the trolley weighs 16 cwt.

Design knowledge can be made available to Wickham owners. Prices can be quoted for new parts or for various grades of repair.

D. Wickham & Co. Ltd. was a general engineering firm which progressed into railcar manufacture as part of a diverse business.

Perhaps best known for its lightweight trolleys, some of its 11,723 rail vehicles were passenger-carrying diesel multiple units.

Like many British factories, much of Wickham’s output was for overseas administrations. Of the home market, there was much demand from mines and government ministries. Sales to British railways were quite small: the G.W.R. and B.R. Western Region altogether ordered 413 trolleys and trailers of various types between 1929 and 1961.

The trolley latterly stationed at Christow was a Type 17 (Wickham No. 4993) produced in May, 1949, only four months before the railway’s Type 27 (No. 5009) which came here by way of Oswestry, Neath and Exmouth Junction.

Wickham works plates can still be found on dilapidated trolleys at private railways around the country and on vehicles in many far-flung corners of the world. Even in a lonely shed on Dartmoor, at the end of a narrow gauge track on the military ranges, resides a Wickham target trolley (No. 3284, built 1943).

The "Economical" or "Motor Trolley" System of Maintenance was introduced by the Great Western Railway on some single lines to dispense with the numerous local gangs, to save manpower and to facilitate occupation of the line.

The system was brought into use on the Teign Valley Branch on 1st April, 1935, with the establishment of an eleven-man gang at Christow and the stationing here of two petrol motor trolleys.

The trolleys were kept in a hut at the end of the Up platform and were lifted on and off the rails by hand. One was used by the ganger for his daily inspection and the other by the gang to go to the site of work, a trailer being provided for the conveyance of tools and materials.

These trolleys could only be run on the line after withdrawal of a Ganger’s Occupation Key from one of the Key Boxes located at the signal boxes and in huts along the line at approximately one-mile intervals, and released by the signalman in the controlling box by means of a Control Instrument. When the Ganger’s Occupation Key was withdrawn, the Electric Train Staff for the relevant section was locked in the instrument, and vice-versa.

The system dispensed with the need to provide lookout men, as no train could enter an occupied section without the Train Staff, and enabled trolleys to be run off at intermediate places to allow the passage of trains.

The system could also be used in the case of any operation which would interfere with the running of trains and in an emergency, such as an earthslip or failure of the works, when the withdrawal of the occupation key would afford the necessary protection.

Some branches, such as the neighbouring Moretonhampstead, had the same control system in place but were not equipped with motor trolleys.

The Open Road

There were times, it has to be confessed, during the course of a long, drawn out job, when a moment was taken to sit in the driver’s seat and dream of what it would be like to motor off along a pair of rails that appeared to converge in the far distance. There were times when it looked like it would never happen. If it ever did happen, it was imagined that it would be great fun.

In 2011, the West Somerset Railway was persuaded to take the trolley to see if it would prove useful to the Permanent Way gang. The General Manager had always wanted to ride over his line in “one of those things,” so it was assumed that there would be a few Teign Valley friends’ excursions in the course of a year which would be the reciprocal favour.

       However, the only use it ever saw in a year’s stay at Dunster was as part of a brief training session, when, with the driver and five West Somerset men, the trolley made a test run to Blue Anchor and back. For he who had dreamed, it was one of those rare cases of anticipation being matched by the event.

The Flying Pig

It would not do to overstate the importance of these humble vehicles in the overall scheme, but in fact their contribution and prominence, on the lines where they were stationed, is hardly recognized at all.

On this branch, the trolley would have been seen in a siding or on a run-off somewhere from any train taken during working hours, with the gang about its work nearby. Normally, the trolley would be the only movement seen on a Sunday, the men gleefully making time and three-quarters. For the longest-standing resident here at Christow, the sound of one of J.A. Prestwich’s (JAP) engines and the return of "The Flying Pig," as it was dubbed, marked the approach of four o'clock.

Yet most of the heritage railways which profess to recreate the look of times gone by make no attempt to demonstrate the Motor Trolley System. Most trolleys are kept by individuals in pursuit of a hobby akin to messing about with cars. Though many trolleys survive, most are not looked after; some are shoddily repaired; others are decrepit; few run regularly.

The West Somerset Railway, which was maintained between Bishops Lydeard and Blue Anchor by a motor gang, does not even have a trolley. When the E. & T.V.R. Gangcar was foisted upon it, the vehicle sat at Dunster for a year, moving only once. It had been hoped to use the remaining home run-off under the bridge at Williton, which is due to be removed, but no-one was really interested.

Above, the Christow gang trolley is seen outside its shed opposite the signal box. This trolley was a Wickham Type 17 (Works No. 4993, B.R. Nos. B178/PWM2815), the most commonly produced. It had side-facing bench seats and a JAP engine. It was turned out of the works at Ware in Hertfordshire in 1949, only four months before the one that resides today at Christow.

The standard shed, roughly-built out of sawn sleepers, had two “roads” with a small store at the far end. A permanent way man can just be seen opening the double doors. The shed also housed the small ganger’s inspection trolley, but the identity of this is a mystery. The “four-foot” outside the shed was filled in with timbers. Unlike the Type 27s, the 17s were light enough to be lifted at one end and so could be bumped around to face the shed; the collapsible turntable was used at run-offs. Its trailer was left outside the shed at this end and at the other was a small stocking area where maintenance materials were kept.

The former Scatter Rock Macadams’ quarry had closed in 1950 and the railhead works seen in the background here were disused. The sidings remained until 1957 and were used latterly by Laporte Chemicals for loading barytes from Bridford Mine being sent to Luton. The steel-bodied minerals seen beyond the signal box are berthed beneath a high platform from which the mine lorry could tip. Wagons had to be thoroughly cleaned for this traffic and the wagons have their doors dropped, suggesting this work is being done.

Platform Trolleys

Who among men of a certain age has not sat on a battered old trolley at the end of a sunny platform or quietly played with the handle to test the brake?

Made redundant at Exeter Central, the trolley at Christow was bought from British Rail on 10th August, 1977, for £5.40. It was carried unquestioningly by four men from the edge of the Down platform across to a covered wagon on a trip working standing on the remaining through line and later unloaded in the Transfer Shed at St. David's, where it was repaired and repainted in the project's unofficial store. Before it was taken to Longdown, the trolley was wheeled over Red Cow Crossing and up the ramp of No. 1 platform to be weighed outside the Parcels Office. Its fake "Carriage Free on Company's Services" label was spotted by a zealous young manager who caused a "please explain" memo to be sent. Of course, it was easily explained that there had not been a train to Longdown for nearly 20 years.

This one is the survivor of around six that the railway has possessed and the only one whose body was not badly rotten. If left in the open, the conventionally jointed softwood frames of these trolleys were extremely vulnerable: rainwater would get under the boards and into the joints and eventually the frames would succumb to wet rot.

While working on this one again, nearly 40 years after it left Central Station, it became obvious that the practice was to make new bodies and use turntables, axle bolsters and ironwork recovered from old trolleys sent back to Swindon.

The picture comes from a booklet on Swindon Works published by B.R. in 1957. On a bench behind the joiners can be seen a stack of six trolley bodies. It was long taken to be a contemporary photograph but much more likely is that it was a G.W.R. pre-war shot; it is doubted that any new trolleys were made after the war so the ones found today must all be at least 80 years old, with parts possibly dating back to the 19th century.

The trolleys were extremely heavy and poorly designed. They ran on cast iron wheels with plain bearings which were seldom oiled; some had solid-rubber tyred wheels which had "NOT TO BE OILED" marked on the handles. The automatic brake acted on the rear wheels and a clumsy mechanism connected them to the handle, which would spring back if let go. Nevertheless, the trolleys were such a common feature of stations that if none had survived someone would by now be building them just as they were.

To make the Christow trolley more useful on ground less perfect than the polished asphalt of busy platforms, new rubber tyred wheels with plain roller bearings have been fitted. And to make it more durable, the boards were sealed with liquid rubber in 1977, a product then new to the trade. Not having shown any signs of aging, this treatment has been repeated.

To replicate the one often seen in photographs of Dulverton, a canvas hood was made by Gray's of Exeter in 1978 at a cost of £18.20 and fitted to a free-standing, collapsible wooden frame made at Longdown. This sat on the boards within the edge rail and was the best that could be done at the time. Its replacement is a one-piece tubular frame which is slipped onto spigots welded to the half-round capping.

For years the one at Dulverton was the only one ever seen, but recently another was spotted in a photo of the Down platform at Witham. There must have been more but they were certainly scarce.

In later years, some trolleys at the big stations were fitted with couplings to enable them to be hauled by petrol or battery electric tractors and trolleys. Parts taken from a trolley found at Taunton Loco have been fitted for demonstration purposes; the rear coupling pin to the complete trolley and the front coupling eye to a handle and axle assembly.

The E. & T.V.R. attends to the detail of these small objects with more care than many of the so-called preserved railways.

The Great Western General Appendix of 1936 contains several pages of instructions relating to platform trollies (sic).

On automatic brakes, it states:-

The Station Master must depute a suitable member of his Staff TO BE RESPONSIBLE FOR MAINTAINING THE BRAKES IN AN EFFICIENT CONDITION.

The man appointed must test the brake on each trolley twice a week ...

Who would have wanted to be in the shoes of the man, one of whose trolleys had rolled off the platform onto the main line just as the signalman pulled off the back board for the fast?


D 2269 — work in progress

The new cab on the industrial shunting loco under repair will have a single door leading from an end platform. A long way ahead of the rest of it, one of the original doors has been repaired for exhibition purposes.

The loco was involved in an emergency services' exercise at Exmouth Junction which went wrong. A deliberate fire got out of control and damaged one side of the cab; the old door on the right still has charring. The sliding window and door droplight were replaced.

Of course, it would be that the door in the best condition was the wrong "hand" and so it had to have its stiles remoulded as opposites. The internal boarding is only 5/16 in. thick and so the tongues and grooves are very delicate. The new boards have a lovely figure but it remains to be seen whether they will warp.

Label: Diesel Mechanical, 0-4-0 Shunting Locomotive


FERRYVAN 889027 — work in progress

Label: FERRYVAN 889027


1928 Pumphouse

Label: The 1928 Pumphouse


Lamp Hut


Motor Trolley Shed

Of all the motor trolley sheds that once stood beside the line, which are glimpsed but never remarked upon in numerous photographs, as far as is known only one remains in the West Country. The three-road shed at Yelverton, abandoned in 1964, was in ruins when photographed in 2012 but enough was left from which to take some basic measurements.

Two door bolts and a bit of cover strip have been used on the railway's recreation, which stands not far from where "The Flying Pig" was shedded beside the Up Main, opposite the signal box.

The original sheds were made from sawn sleepers. The frame members were 5" x 5" and cladding boards were 9" x 1", four being got from a sleeper. The framework of the new shed is 4" x 4" and 4" x 3"; any greater than this would have been a waste of timber and an infringement upon space. The roof pitch is 3½°, perhaps noticeably flatter than the originals' 6°, but the shed will accommodate a later Type 27; most of the older sheds would only have been built for the smaller Type 17s.

When the timber has settled it will be finished in black drab to replicate tar.

Nesting boxes have been made in the front corner. It has already become home to mice, which are chewing anything left on the ground made of plastic.

Shelves will be installed in the stores section and the shed will be the centre of a branch Permanent Way depot.

It is hoped that this building will cause people to dwell upon the mostly unsung work of the old boys who turned out in all weathers to keep the track in good fettle, without which the branch trains, always in the lens, would not have run.


Completed by the railway and Culver Sawmills in January, 2019, was another trolley shed, adapted for use as a Building Department store. It differs from the first one in that it has a 6° roof pitch and diagonal bracing only in the clad "unit." It takes no support from the neighbouring wall. A line of rails was set in the concrete with a view to it being connected to a two-foot layout.


Running-In Boards

The last of the exhibits to be completed for the Pumphouse annex to the main exhibition in the Temporary Booking Office were the running-in boards, on permanent loan to the railway.

The dimensions of the frames were guessed from the few close-up views known, one being the camera pausing on the Downside board on the B.B.C. last-day film. It had been decided that they should be two inches deep but the sawn timber gave 2¼in. so it was left at that, the thinking being that the extra strength would be useful in restraining the badly distorted steel panels; presumably this was caused when the enamel was kilned. The timber is meranti and the finish is Dulux's Ultimate Opaque, a kind of coloured wood stain with a claimed ten year life outdoors. The Christow board was taken to be scanned and the letter colour was found to be a close match to a Dulux shade.

The panels would likely have been captive in their original frames, but the new ones allow their release. If the owner should decide to reclaim the panels, then the frames would be used to make fakes.

The boards are resting on brackets in the Pumphouse and it is hoped to take them back to their proper places for photographing.

Enough timber has been machined to make another "Christow," and it would not have taken much more to have provided for Ide, the shortest station name in the country.

The boards are mounted on lengths of 70lb./yard double-headed rail, last rolled in the 19th century. Actually, they are made of larch which was passed 18 times through the machine on eight different settings to get the rail profile.

The story of how the running-in boards were saved and how they came to be returned to the Teign Valley:

>> Signs Come Home >>

A clip from the B.B.C. last-day film, which includes a scene shot on the Down platform at Christow, can be seen here.

This item is one of three on the railway's YouTube channel playlist, "B.B.C. Spotlight."