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Edward Thompson: Wartime C.M.E. Discussion 2012 - 2021

Discussion in 'Steam Traction' started by S.A.C. Martin, May 2, 2012.

  1. Hermod

    Hermod Member

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    The unanswered question in these almost 5000 post is how Thomson dared to make some of the Great mans inspired creations work..
    Will a new follow-on thread debating if Gresley really was great be worth reading after 5000 posts?
    Then I will have interesting/important reading for rest of my life.
    Can we have it please?
     
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  2. Fred Kerr

    Fred Kerr Part of the furniture

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    An appreciation of Gresley's work has to start from the view that Gresley was - basically - an innovator willing to look beyond the limitations od steam locomotive practice of the day hence his experiments with electrification (with EM1 Class 6700) following on from the work of Sir Vincent Raven, the development of 10000 (Hush-hush), his use of Bugatti body designs and Chapelon internal streamlining. Whilst Gresley constantly sought to improve his work (e.g. the A1 to A3 development and the creation of the A4 from the A3 design) it is the curse of innovators that improvements are often made by their successors as in Gresley's innovations improved by Thompson. Sadly much of Thompson's efforts have been defined as sacrilege in that the "improvements" were often seen as destruction / removal of many of Gresley's long held basics such as the conjugated valve gear and the main criticism of the rebuild of Great Northern despite the fact that Gresley himself was happy to modify basic elements if improvements could be made (e.g. replacement of short lap travel valves by long lap travel valves).
    As an avowed Gresley fan I would agree that Gresley is an engineer / designer par excellence whose reputation has perhaps been slightly exaggerated but that is NOT to declaim the worthiness of Thompson as both his successor and innovator in his own right. Sadly - to date - Thompson has been denied the credit he deserves due IMHO to ignorance of the operating situation which was part of his inheritance and the decisions he had to make which Gresley would have had to make had he been alive to do so.
     
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  3. S.A.C. Martin

    S.A.C. Martin Part of the furniture

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    So for those who haven't read the full quote, here it is:

    I met Dorothy Mather a few times over the course of my life through friends in the A1 Trust, specifically between 2008 and 2011 when I was attending Loughborough University, and Tornado was in her first few years into traffic. She was an excellent human being, and on those rare and all too short occasions I asked her questions, she was always civil and polite to me and gave me what I feel are reasonable responses where Thompson was concerned.

    She didn't like Edward Thompson, and at the heart of it was how Thompson treated Peppercorn in WW2 on becoming CME. He lent on Peppercorn heavily, ringing him up in the evenings to talk about work, sending him on trips away as his deputy, and the two men were at times almost inseparable. We know this because the board minutes show:
    • Every time Peppercorn went to a board meeting in Thompson's stead - not unusual, both Thompson and Peppercorn did this for Gresley too
    • A similar state of affairs exists for the locomotive committee minutes
    • We also have testimonies in the form of the various biographies and individual accounts of the persons involved
    • We also have Thompson's recommendation to the board as to who should succeed him
    I think that Dorothy Mather's point was that Thompson took a lot of the time that would normally be reserved for her. I can well understand why she would be aggrieved at that. I myself get aggrieved when the hospital takes up more of my wife's time. It is an entirely natural feeling, not entirely assuaged by the fact that in WW2, Peppercorn was doing his duty for his railway and his country, and my wife does her duty for the people of Great Britain in a similarly difficult time.

    I do disagree with her on a few things, however. Fundamentally because we have witness statements from Thompson himself in our cache of evidence that contradicts what she says. I'll go through this point by point so that you can understand better why I say that.

    This one is reported by Dorothy Mather and probably rings true, but we don't know the specific context it was placed in (but given the religious background of Thompson, and attitudes to marrying younger/older back then, I think we can probably assume there was a degree of disapproval and Dorothy is likely to be correct).

    The irony is that Thompson subsequently reported to the board on who he believed would be fit to succeed him. This hasn't been previously reported but will be in my tome and the relevant citations made.

    Whilst it is factual that Raven was Thompson's father-in-law, Thompson held affection for him but had no belief in Raven's engineering ability, even going so far as to quote to Brian Reed that "…Raven had very little engineering knowledge and according to E.T. scarcely knew the difference between an engine and a tender." - or words to that effect.

    So I would be very surprised if Thompson held it against Gresley that Raven didn't get the top job. It's not in his character and not in line with other things reported about his family.

    As my evidence quite clearly shows, this statement is entirely incorrect with no evidence supporting its view. If anything, we've proved the exact opposite with the Use of Engine Power document and associated availability statistics, and looking at each of the locomotive designs in their full context and with contemporary evidence.
     
    Last edited: Aug 5, 2021
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  4. S.A.C. Martin

    S.A.C. Martin Part of the furniture

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    Watch this space. My publisher has asked about other potential books and although my current research is Bulleid, I’d love to do a treatment of Gresley.

    Not because I’d be complaining - the complete opposite - his life and locomotives have given me great joy throughout my life. Why wouldn’t I want to write about that?

    Excellent post, completely agree.
     
  5. S.A.C. Martin

    S.A.C. Martin Part of the furniture

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    Unexpectedly, Tim Hillier-Graves, author of Thompson: His Life and Locomotives, has reached out to me via email, and we have had a few very pleasant exchanges. Now that I understand the development of his book better, much of what was written that I was querying now has context and makes sense. He's been very kind and has acknowledged my work done for The Railway Magazine article earlier this year, in particular.

    One of the things that has become clearer over time is that there was so many potential new sources of information from both Thompson himself and the LNER's archives. Tim has a contact who managed to copy some of Thompson's papers and photographs in the 50s and 60s. I had no idea these were still in existence until Tim's book appeared. It may yet be that between us, we have more or less covered all of the primary sources in the Thompson story that are still available publicly and privately.

    None of which, in my view, means we actually contradict each other. In fact, it's become clear that my focus on his time as CME has contrasted sharply with Tim's approach which was to focus on pre-WW2 and Thompson's background and influences. Our books may in fact compliment each other, which is both a relief and a blessing for those who'd like to learn more about this part of railway history.

    In retrospect and with the hindsight of context, I feel I was a tad harsh in my thoughts on Tim's work. It's now clearer to me that we were working towards different things, and that's been a good thing. A lesson learned for future work.
     
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  6. pete2hogs

    pete2hogs Member

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    I have a question which the knowledgeable who take an interest in Thompson's designs may be able to answer. It concerns the L1's.

    I know the original design for the L1's included larger wheels. And that the L1's as introduced with 5'2" wheels had a terrible reputation for knocking themselves to bits. I know Thompson reduced the diameter to allow the L1's to be 'mixed traffic', as it were, and this in itself is not an unreasonable decision - after all both the NER and the GCR had large freight tank engines. 4-6-2T and 2-6-4T respectively.

    My question is this. There is only a 6" difference in wheel size between the L1 and the extremely successful family of LMS/BR 2-6-4T's. And yet this is usually blamed for the (relative) failure of the L1's. But we know that the difference between a 6'8" wheel and a 6'2" wheel made little difference on express engines at speeds up to 100mph. The L1's surely won't have been expected to run faster than 80mph at the outside, so the smaller wheel should be balanced by the lower speed.

    So, was the decision over the wheel size wrongly blamed? Maybe it was inadequate bearings. I don't say this to criticise Thompson. Maybe the draughtsman kept the bearing size from the V1/V3 which would have had less piston thrust and better balance? We do know with hindsight how much back then was done according to precedent, and the only large tank engines designed through the whole of LNER history were the V's and the L1. OK, you can say Thompson was in charge, but can a man running such a department really check every detail? Gresley certainly didn't, hence the problems with the J39's.
     
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  7. S.A.C. Martin

    S.A.C. Martin Part of the furniture

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    I have underlined the issue which has been prevalent throughout this thread, through my research, and the writing thereafter.

    I do not, on the evidence I now have, believe that the reputation of the Thompson L1s is fair, and in future I will publishing further literature on the reasons why.
     
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  8. pete2hogs

    pete2hogs Member

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    Well, the reputation certainly existed. You don't nickname a class 'concrete mixers' out of affection. Was it justified? I don't know. But people who actually had the management of the class - and in one case was in a position to compare and contrast against the LMS equivalent because managing Neasden shed which had both - certainly thought they were problematic.

    What I was trying to do was find an explanation for the reputation. I personally like the L1's, I remember them from my extreme youth working out of Liverpool Street. Which, in circa 1960, was basically non-Gresley, except for the B17's which he had next to nothing to do with.

    Edit - Having said which, there were the Shenfield electrics designed under Gresley's supervision. I've said before, for me this isn't a competition, it's trying to understand why people made the decisions they did, and you have done a great job in illustrating how many decisions are affected by outside influences and, post WW1, made the idea of the all-powerful CME a nonsense.
     
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  9. S.A.C. Martin

    S.A.C. Martin Part of the furniture

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    I’m of the opinion that given the short stints at Neasden of the problematic batch of L1s, that the issues are largely overblown and that is borne out largely by the stats I have collated from various sources for the L1s.
     
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  10. bluetrain

    bluetrain Member

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    Optimal wheel size will be influenced by what work the locos undertake. I believe that the majority of L1s were used for suburban passenger duties on the GE section. The numerous GER passenger tanks mostly had smallish driving wheels:
    - 4ft 0in for the small J67/69 0-6-0Ts.
    - 4ft 10in for the N7 0-6-2T.
    - 5ft 4in for the F4/5/6 2-4-2Ts.

    Elsewhere, the ex-NER G5 0-4-4 and A6 4-6-2 passenger tanks had 5ft 1¼in drivers. So Thompson had plenty of precedents within the LNER for a mainstream passenger tank with smallish drivers doing the sort of work that the L1 would undertake.

    The L1s were concentrated in ER areas that were among the first to be fully dieselised or electrified. That appears to be the main reason for their early withdrawal. There was no scope for redeployment elsewhere, as other regions had the highly regarded and more numerous LMS & BR standard 2-6-4Ts (which also had lower axle loading and higher route availability than the L1s).
     
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  11. Spamcan81

    Spamcan81 Nat Pres stalwart

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    You can only glean so much info from statistics. Some people who worked them are still around so how about asking them what they were like on a day to day basis? A friend of mine fired them and said that whilst they’d get the job done, they’d shake you to bits and he would have preferred a B1 on the job if given the choice.
     
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  12. S.A.C. Martin

    S.A.C. Martin Part of the furniture

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    You're quite right that the stats only go so far. I have interviewed a couple of people who worked on the L1s and much of the issues we have seen with Thompson's designs are largely austerity manufacturing after he had left as CME, that were then rectified with relatively simple fixes (e.g. better welded tanks).

    I've no doubt they clanked - enough video exists where we can hear this! Ultimately the bottom line has to be whether they did the jobs asked well enough to warrant being in service.

    Mileages and availability suggest the class has a reputation that is somewhat undeserved for poor reliability. Anecdotal reports suggest they were not well built in production batches. That's a different thing from the original design somehow being inadequate (which the prototype assuredly wasn't).

    The wheel diameter argument against the Thompson L1s has never had any basis in reality and Bluetrain's post above gives a good indication as to why.
     
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  13. pete2hogs

    pete2hogs Member

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    It's certainly a valid point that by 1960ish BR was overstocked with passenger tanks due to mass introduction of DMU's/EMU's and the L1's were likely unwanted elsewhere (that is, off the former LNER). Not necessarily because they couldn't do the job, but other lines would prefer their own as a rule.

    I don't know as their reputation was just about reliability - they might well have run their mileages but have been unpleasant to work on. I used to believe the small wheel argument, but quite recently I realised it doesn't make sense. Which is why I was asking, I thought politely, if there were any other reasons to explain the reputation, which certainly did exist.
     
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  14. meeee

    meeee Member

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    All designs are bad. It's just a question of how bad.

    Its worth remembering that design is the easy part of engineering. Manufacturing and manufacturing systems are the hard and often overlooked part. It is often more difficult to get the second bit right than the first. If you've suffering skills shortages, and all your manufacturing equipment is clapped due to wartime restrictions. The best design in the world will come out as a bag of nails.

    Tim
     
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  15. 30567

    30567 Part of the furniture Friend

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    But was that equally true of the Fairburn tanks which were manufactured at pretty much the same time?
     
  16. Fred Kerr

    Fred Kerr Part of the furniture

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    2 important points that may be related :

    1. Thompson's B1 locos built around the same time were reportedly "rough riders"; since they were built around the same time as the first 2-6-4 wheel arrangement within the LNER was the metal quality part of the problem ? Remember that wartime and post-war steel production was badly affected hence the possibility of a lower quality being produced.

    2. The Fairburn tanks were a progressive development of Fowlers original design of 1927, improved in 1934, improved by Stanier in 1935 with taper boiler and subsequently both improved by Fairburn in 1945 and modified to become the well-loved Standard Class 4 design.
     
  17. paullad1984

    paullad1984 Member

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    Hardly the first 2-6-4t in the lner, GCR & metropolitan contributed some.
     
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  18. Spamcan81

    Spamcan81 Nat Pres stalwart

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    Beat me to it. Class L1, later L3, from the GCR and L2 from the Met - basically a modified Maunsell design.
     
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  19. Fred Kerr

    Fred Kerr Part of the furniture

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    Apologies - should have written first 2-6-4 design built by the LNER BUT the question of steel quality rather than inherent design fault still applies IMHO. I recall that the SR "Rivers" were tested on LNER tracks to prove that their rough riding was due to SR trackwork rather than any inherent design fault hence prepared to accept that the Thompson L1s had no faults in that area or that poor trackwork was in any way at fault.
     
  20. MellishR

    MellishR Part of the furniture Friend

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    Given the history of pony trucks on other LNER classes, might the version used on the L1s have been less than ideal?
     

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