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Fort Dunlop - Erdington

Industrial Locomotives (38) Colliery Locomotives (8)

The industrial railways of Warwickshire ranged from private lines associated with industrial works such as Austin Works to quarries and cement works such as Southam Cement. This meant that whilst many lines were built to standard gauge others, mostly located at quarry or cement works, were narrow gauge.

The Dunlop Rubber Co. Ltd. established their works on a 40 acre site purchased from the Birmingham Tame and Rea District Drainage Board in 1916. A connection was made with the Midland Railway Birmingham to Derby Line at the east end of Bromford Bridge Station and several locomotives were employed to move the raw materials required for tyre manufacture and coal for the boiler plant. Originally no engine shed was provided, although in the late 1960's one was under construction, but never completed. The company changed name to Dunlop Co Ltd in December 1966 and in 1985 the site was split up into the different organisational divisions and then disposed of. The large tyre plant was acquired by Sumitoma Rubber Ltd in 1985 and three years later all rail traffic had ceased.

Locomotive Type Manufacturer Date Acquired Disposal
No 1 0-4-0ST Kerr Stuart & Co Ltd, California Works, Stoke-on-Trent 1918 (New) 1922
No 2 0-4-0ST Andrew Barclay, Sons & Co Ltd (Caledonia Works, Kilmarnoch) 1918 (New) 1966
No 3 0-4-0ST Andrew Barclay, Sons & Co Ltd (Caledonia Works, Kilmarnoch) 1920 (New) 1961
No 4 0-4-0ST Peckett & Sons Ltd, Atlas Locomotive Works, Bristol 1928
(ex R.H Neal & Co Contr Railway built 1907)
1953
No.5 0-4-0ST Peckett & Sons Ltd, Atlas Locomotive Works, Bristol 1948
(ex Morris Motors Ltd built 1943)
1966
0-4-0ST W.G.Bagnall Ltd, Castle Engine Works, Stafford 1965
(ex F Watkins Ltd built 1941)
1971
Dunlop No 7 0-4-0ST Peckett & Sons Ltd, Atlas Locomotive Works, Bristol 1966
(ex CWS Ltd Irlam built 1951)
1971
No 6 0-4-0ST Peckett & Sons Ltd, Atlas Locomotive Works, Bristol 1967
(ex CWS Ltd Irlam built 1951)
1971

Peckett 0-4-0ST 'Dunlop No 5' is seen at the Dunlop Rubber Company's Erdington works on 10th April 1965
Ref: misc_indust034
HA Gamble
Peckett 0-4-0ST 'Dunlop No 5' is seen at the Dunlop Rubber Company's Erdington works on 10th April 1965
Bagnall 0-4-0ST 'Dunlop No 6' is seen at the Dunlop Rubber Company's Erdington works on 22nd April 1967
Ref: misc_indust035
HA Gamble
Bagnall 0-4-0ST 'Dunlop No 6' is seen at the Dunlop Rubber Company's Erdington works on 22nd April 1967
This 0-4-0ST locomotive No 5 was a Peckett W4 class locomotive originally built for Morris Motors Ltd at Cowley
Ref: misc_indust108
Anon
This 0-4-0ST locomotive No 5 was a Peckett W4 class locomotive originally built for Morris Motors Ltd at Cowley

Paul Smith wrote, I came across your site today as I was looking for any Bromford Tubes information and spotted the pictures of Bromford Lane station and the captions beneath. In 1966 I was an apprentice at Fort Dunlop just down the road from Bromford Lane, and spent many a happy evening at the tube factory. The attached article was written by me a few years ago for the society magazine to which I belong, the West Lancs Light Railway, as a matter of general railway interest. You also may find it of interest.

This is a Standard Gauge story, but so what! Back in the heady days of September 1966, just after the last time England’s footie team had won anything, I found myself in lodgings in the Erdington district of Birmingham. I had recently left school, and had just started a four year sandwich degree course in Mechanical Engineering. I was employed by Dunlop U.K.Tyres Ltd, and my first session was to be five months in the Engineering Apprentice training school at Fort Dunlop, which still exists, and can be seen from the M6 on the left hand side about a mile south of spaghetti junction. At that time, Dunlop’s had an internal standard gauge railway system, and had at least one Peckett 0-4-0ST and a similar loco of unknown origin operating the system. One of the first things I spotted when wandering round the works, was a short siding containing two derelict loco’s, another Peckett, and a Barclay, both 0-4-0ST’s. A quiet word with the Plant Engineer and I was the proud owner of the works plates off these two, which I still have, (Peckett 2046 of 1943 and Barclay 1604 of 1918), for the scrap price of brass. Yes, I obtained them legally! The Peckett also had a smaller cast iron plate, the type that I had never seen before, denoting that it was registered to run on the GWR, No. 260. I was lucky, as these two were reduced to small chunks within a couple of months, and carted off to be made into razor blades or some such.

My other railway interest at Dunlop’s was the building of a crude two cylinder Walschaerts valve gear mechanism (forward gear only) as a joint project with two other apprentices. The drawings were scaled off a drawing in an old driver’s handbook which my dad had, but it seemed to work. We ran it on air and calculated the brake horsepower by using a brake band and a spring balance on the flywheel; it came to just under 1hp, if I remember right. I tried to build a gas fired boiler for it out of a piece of four inch diameter copper tube, but this failed miserably. The mechanism, however, lived on, and I saw it several years later inside a Perspex cover (to avoid trapped fingers), and an on/off air control valve. (If any readers of this article work at Fort Dunlop, I would be interested to hear if the model survives).

Another railway job at Dunlop was making some small parts for Tony Hills’ ex-Pen-yr-Orsedd Quarry Hunslet ‘Sybil’, towards the end of the session when supervision slackened off. Yes, I was doing ‘foreigners’ in my first year of employment! I had met Tony in October 1966, at his then home at Woodbine Cottage on the Coventry road, near to where the NEC is now. All he had then was Sybil and the De Winton. Anyway, back to the story.

I had brought my bike down to Birmingham to get to work on, and so after tea on fine evenings I used to cycle round the area to see what was what in the way of gricing opportunities, although we didn’t call it that then. I ended up one day at Bromford Bridge, where Bromford Lane (the A4040 ring road) goes over the Birmingham-Derby main line. I was still ‘spotting’ at this time, but interest was waning as steam declined. Several evenings were spent at Bromford Bridge, where there was a derelict station platform, and after locking up my bike, I would wander along the main line track side towards Birmingham, and climb over the fence into Metro-Cammell’s Washwood Heath works and have a look round. I was not stopped once. Imagine trying to do that today.

Anyway, one evening I was stood on the platform back at the bridge, and suddenly heard a commotion behind me. I had seen the interchange sidings behind the platform fence, with bolster wagons sitting there full of steel tubes, but thought nothing more of it. But now was evident the motive power that shunted the sidings, in the shape of another ubiquitous Peckett 0-4-0ST, which had crept out from under the road bridge and promptly derailed itself on a set of points. A quick reversal with full regulator and much graunching and dust flying saw it back on the rails. The crew noticed my interest, and it wasn’t long before we were chatting, and then the inevitable invitation to the footplate. For the next two or three months, you can guess what I was doing after tea, in all weathers! The works was owned by Stewarts and Lloyds, known locally as ‘Bromford Tubes’ and was their main tube manufacturing plant in the midlands, producing, amongst other things, lampposts of all shapes and sizes. The interchange sidings consisted of four or five loops, fully floodlit for night working, as the steelworks was a 24-hour operation. They and the works were shunted by the above mentioned Peckett, and an elderly Avonside, both of which, sadly, I made no note of the identification. The night shift crew of three made me most welcome, inviting me into the weighbridge hut for the strongest mugs of tea I’ve ever had, and lengthy discussions between shunts on the chances of Aston Villa beating Man. U. or Liverpool in next Saturday’s match, while we waited for the phone to ring advising us of the next shunt. The only name I recall was one Bill Picket, an elderly Brummie with a grizzled face, not far off retirement, and I used to gently take the mickey about ‘Picket’s Peckett’.

It wasn’t long, however, before I was driving, firing, coaling up from an ancient wooden wagon, learning to use the injectors, (Bill called them ‘jiggers’), and keeping out of sight of Authority in the shape of the night foreman. To be in control (sort of) of a few hundred tons of bogie wagons with a small 0-4-0 and only a steam brake, is something else, I can tell you. I would whistle cheekily at the main line loco’s thundering past next to the sidings, getting waves (and other hand signals!) back from the ‘real’ drivers. We went into the various mills and heat treatment departments, sorting the wagons as required, and then propelling them over the weighbridge (controlled by colour light signals to enable each wagon to be stopped and weighed), and out onto the interchange yard. They taught me how to use a shunter’s pole, for coupling and uncoupling three link couplings, but the pear shaped centre link variety were the worst.

I was also introduced to Pole shunting. For the uninitiated, this is a dodge to try and save time when the stock you want to shunt is on an adjacent track, and you can’t be bothered setting back and coming up the right road, especially if it’s a long way to the points. A stout pole, more usually a straight log, (but definitely not a shunter’s pole!), is wedged between the corners of the buffer beams of the loco and wagon to be shunted, at an angle dependant on the length of the pole, and the distance between the tracks. The wagon is propelled forward in this fashion, but you have to make sure the pole is always in compression, otherwise it will fall down. I always stayed well clear when these antics were attempted, and it inevitably ended in a pile of splinters, as the planks they used were totally unsuitable for the job. Anyway, we had a few laughs.

The regular night shift loco was the Peckett, with the Avonside day engine bedded down for the night in an adjacent siding. As it was early evening whenever I went down to the works, there were always a few pounds ‘on the clock’ on the Avonside, as it were. One evening, the crew decided that a particular shunt would be performed more quickly with a second loco on the job. “You take the Avonside, Paul, and follow us down, buffer up when we are clear, etc..etc..” I can’t remember the rest of the instruction, but any way it was quite dark when I got the whistle, and yours truly followed down with the Avonside with maybe 40-50 pounds on the clock, to buffer up to the required wagon. About thirty feet away from the wagons, on went the steam brake – nothing! With such low pressure, the brake was virtually useless, if it was any good in the first place, and not having any time to grab the hand brake, we hit those wagons with a bang that must have been heard a mile away. They shot off down the siding, further than they should have, but fortunately came to no harm. I hadn’t realised the reason behind the lack of brake power at the time, and I don’t think the crew did either. They must have thought I was pretty useless after all they had taught me! The Avonside was quickly and quietly put back to bed and we heard no more about it.

All good things sadly come to an end, and when my course at Dunlop’s finished, I said my goodbyes to Bill and his mates, promising to look them up if I was ever in the area again. I did, four years later, but steam had been replaced by a Rolls Royce Sentinel diesel by then, and a crew I didn’t recognize. The whole works has gone now, another casualty of the decline of British manufacturing. Happy days.

Industrial Locomotives (38) Colliery Locomotives (8)