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GWR 111 "The Great Bear" and Surrounding Controversies

Discussion in 'Steam Traction' started by Osmium, Oct 24, 2021.

  1. LMS2968

    LMS2968 Part of the furniture

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    Yes, as they then formed the basis for rebuilding the Scots and Baby Scots.

    From what I've heard, the problems went deeper than the undersized original boilers. The Ivatt tanks were apparently better engines, despite being one class lower.
     
  2. Allegheny

    Allegheny Member

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    Should it have been rebuilt as a 2-8-2?:)

    Oops! Sorry - wrong thread.
     
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  3. Jimc

    Jimc Part of the furniture

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    Not convinced...
    282-Bear.JPG
     
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  4. Johnb

    Johnb Resident of Nat Pres

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    It’s self evident that the Great Bear was not a success, only one was built. Churchward’s normal practice was to build a prototype test it and then go for volume production with any modifications thought necessary. I believe even he admitted it was a failure but it was just about adequate so sensible to let it run until the boiler was life expired. The rebuild was more of an accountancy exercise as I understand that very little of the original loco was used
     
  5. Jimc

    Jimc Part of the furniture

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    To me that seems exaggerated. If you compare it with the Star rebuilds to Castles how much difference was there? The frames were cut in a different place and that's about it. These rebuilds were done instead of a heavy general, so the locomotive would be stripped down anyway. My guess is the motion components were mostly common with Stars and indeed Castles (all but the driving wheel connecting rod bearing were the same size I believe) so would be back in the pool, same with the wheels, all the standard boiler fittings etc. The boiler was scrapped, whereas a Star boiler would be back in the pool, but I imagine in both cases the cylinders would be discarded
     
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  6. Johnb

    Johnb Resident of Nat Pres

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    According to The Book of the Castles and Tuplin ( I know the good professor is not always a reliable source), little more than the wheels, bogie and splashes were used in the conversion. I think Tuplin said the front portion of the frames were used but they would have needed so much metal surgery that it’s likely that completely new ones were cut.
     
  7. Jimc

    Jimc Part of the furniture

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    Cook tells us in Swindon Steam that the 4300 to Grange/Manor conversions used about 50% of the components of the original locomotive (Swindon Steam p118). We know that those conversions did not involve reusing cylinders, boiler or frames. It would be interesting to see a cost breakdown of a steam locomotive of the 1920s/30s to see where the money went.
     
    Last edited: Oct 26, 2021
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  8. S.A.C. Martin

    S.A.C. Martin Part of the furniture

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    That, in and of itself, is not an indication of "success". There was only one rebuilt W1, one LMS turbomotive, one original form Deltic diesel, one Falcon D280, etc etc.

    The problem that this thread and others espouses is that when talking about railway history, we have pre-defined and very narrow criteria for "success" which seems to suggest that success is only measured in exceptional performances, not everyday work, and how many of a certain class were built. If we go on that narrow bandwidth then we may as well call Leader a success for a one off 480 ton test train done once and call Great Northern a failure for being one of a kind.

    Yes, for which it ran over half a million miles, in regular revenue earning service. That means as a locomotive it did the basic stuff asked of it - moving trains from one location to another, with minimal disruption and at acceptable margins to the railway company. That IS a success. Just because it didn't set the world on fire with its performances or ability does not mean it wasn't successful at the day job.
     
    Last edited: Oct 26, 2021
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  9. johnofwessex

    johnofwessex Resident of Nat Pres

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    It would be perfectly possible for a loco to be a great success, BUT if you dont have a job for it - the P1 being a case to point then you dont build more.
     
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  10. Jimc

    Jimc Part of the furniture

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    I think we're getting into semantics now. Is there just success or failure, or is there something in between?

    The Bear ran 500K miles in 16 years before being reconstructed ~ 30K per year. The French 4-4-2s ran over 750K in about 22 years - 35K pa. The longer lived Stars ran in excess of 2M miles over about 40 years ~ 50K pa. Castles seem to have done about the same. GWR locomotives seem to have tended to have a mid life upgrade which was somewhat greater than a normal heavy general, including new cylinders and the like. Some didn't - County 4-4-0s, for instance ran between 20 & 27 years at around 35K pa, but they were withdrawn as a policy change. Perhaps the fairest comparison is with the 47s, which ran about 40Kpa

    So the Bear ran a short lifetime and low mileage - effectively about a quarter of a normal lifetime - before being reconstructed and running another 29 years as a Castle - presumably at a normal Castle annual mileage, and that was about the typical lifespan for a reconstructed Star. Also worth noting that the Bear ran lower profile services. It wasn't even mixing link and link with the Stars.

    So my semantics say that it wasn't an abject failure, but by no means was it a success either.
     
    Last edited: Oct 27, 2021
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  11. S.A.C. Martin

    S.A.C. Martin Part of the furniture

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    Thank you Jim. I think the stats are rather telling. A mixed bag at best?
     
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  12. Jamessquared

    Jamessquared Nat Pres stalwart

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    Was the restricted annual mileage because it was notably unreliable, or because with restricted route availability, the opportunity to do large daily mileages wasn't there?

    (Fag packet: Paddington - Bristol and return is a bit under 250 miles, so 20k per year would require 80 days in traffic with a single Paddington - Bristol return journey - not a particularly high number of days).

    On rebuilding: I've always understood that by the early 1920s the boiler was worn out and, being non-standard, conversion to a standard Castle made more sense than repair or a new boiler - especially given the other issues, e.g. with the trailing axle boxes. Presumably by then it was known that a Castle was perfectly adequate for the traffic on offer, and a bit more versatile. I think that matches your assessment of "not an abject failure, but by no means was it a success either." Certainly the GWR did better out of it than the LSWR did out of the various early incarnations of Drummond 4-6-0!

    Tom
     
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  13. MellishR

    MellishR Resident of Nat Pres Friend

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    Just on the matter of there only being one; wasn't it originally mainly a publicity stunt for which Churchward had little enthusiasm? The design, with a much bigger boiler than a Star but exactly the same cylinders was certainly not well proportioned.

    I agree that mileage corresponding to ~80 return runs per year between Paddington and Bristol doesn't look impressive. Can we find out any more about that?
     
  14. Hunslet589

    Hunslet589 New Member

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    In order to judge if something is a success or otherwise you need to be clear on the purpose for which it was built. To my mind, you have to remember that GJC was first and forward interested in boilers. This was the area that he first experimented in when he took over from Dean and only later moving on to revolutionise valve design - in the UK at least. The Bear was built only as a mobile test bed to find out if the claims being made of the benefits of a wide firebox held any water in the circumstances that applied to the GWR at the time. Hence the relatively low level of design effort put into a chassis to carry it. GJC did not set out to build a pacific and be first with that in the UK or anything like that. He was always the pragmatist and a 4-6-2 just fitted the needs of something to put under that boiler. It was never intended to be a prototype for anything.

    As it turned out a wide box did not provide much benefit under GWR conditions and the use was not repeated. Once Churchward had learned that lesson, he had no real interest in the loco and this is probably why he made the oft quoted comment when Gresley built his first pacifics. Ordinarily it would probably have had a very short life - Churchward was by no means a sentimentalist and would not have worried if 111 was withdrawn during his tenure. But by then the traffic department had found a niche for it (down to Bristol with a second line express around midday and back on a fast freight) - and the publicity department had latched on and were making the most of it. It is claimed that the loco repaid its building cost in revenue from Paddington platform tickets! So the loco was retained while it worked out the life of the boiler and only disposed of / rebuilt at that point.

    So - did The Bear teach Churchward what he wanted to know about large boilers and wide fireboxes? I would say yes and by that narrow criteria it was a success in that it fulfilled its purpose. Its later life was not spectacular it has to be said. But this was something for which it was never intended and it would be wrong to judge the loco on that basis.
     
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  15. Johnb

    Johnb Resident of Nat Pres

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    It was not meant to be an experiment, as I said Churchward produced a prototype of every type before committing to producing more, similar to the Deltic of which 22 further modified examples were produced. There was only one rebuilt W1 because there was only one experimental Hush Hush.
    As I said, the GB performed adequately but not better than a Star so didn’t go into production. It was probably used by the GW publicity department who could say, look ours is bigger than yours!
    I believe, on hearing of the introduction of the first GN Pacific, Churchward said; ‘why did that young man build that? We could have sold him ours.’
     
  16. Jimc

    Jimc Part of the furniture

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    Not to my knowledge recorded. But with no exchange boiler overhauls must have taken much longer than normal.
     
  17. goldfish

    goldfish Nat Pres stalwart

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    Amazed that we're on page 2 of a thread about the Great Bear and no one has used the word 'gopping' yet…

    ;)

    Simon
     
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  18. staffordian

    staffordian Well-Known Member

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    I think the key point is one which was alluded to by the OP but has not really been mentioned since. It was reluctantly built.

    Wasn't it the initiative of a publicity hungry board, rather than a request by the traffic department to fulfill a need? Something at which the GWR excelled, and in the same vein as the half baked streamlining which emerged from Swindon somewhat later, or the claim, on the dubious TE basis, of the power of a King.

    On that basis, it seems to me quite miraculous that it lasted as long as it did, so on that score alone, it must be judged a success of sorts.
     
  19. Monkey Magic

    Monkey Magic Part of the furniture

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    I agree entirely with this, the other points are success is also relative to what it is being compared with, also even a 'failure' is a success if it helps you to identify that something doesn't work and you can rectify it next time - a learning point that is learnt from.
     
  20. Jimc

    Jimc Part of the furniture

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    The trouble is there are a number of tales about the genesis (and demise) of the Bear, often contradictory. It seems to me there are many more opinions than there are facts. I'm not sure anyone actually knows. GWR minutes have a habit of saying "under circumstances represented it was decided" , leaving you wanting to shout "so what were the ******** circumstances then?" Holcroft, who was there, but very junior, says "What prompted such an advance on the 'Star' class was not clear, but it has been suggested that it was a matter of prestige, or perhaps an explaratory step towards a general advance in even higher motive power". Still the predominant theories, but I submit we know no more than Holcroft did!

    We do know, because we have a report from Holcroft, that a lot of time was spent on the boiler design, for all it superficially looks fairly simple. I just had a re-read of Churchward's paper "Large Locomotive Boilers" which came out a year or so before the Bear, and he talks much about wide fireboxes (which he had already experimented with on the Krugers) and about long boiler tubes due to the use of six-coupled wheels in front of the firebox. On the latter he says "Experience of long tubes appears to be quite satisfactory, and they certainly keep up the economical efficiency of the boiler when it is being forced to the limit of its capacity"
     
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