Published: 20th Jaunary 2016
On January 12 steam was raised for the first time in the replica Lewin 0-4-0T Samson being built by Beamish museum. The pressure was taken up to around 55psi, sufficient to reveal where attention was required to various fittings. No significant issues arose and an official steam test was anticipated by the end of January.
The new-build loco forms a flagship project at Beamish’s developing Regional Heritage Engineering Centre and is destined to be used on the 2ft gauge industrial rail system being progressively developed around Beamish’s colliery area.
Construction of the replica locomotive effectively commenced in late 2012 when the frame plates were ordered from a contractor while patterns, including crucial items such as the cylinder block and flywheel, were prepared at Beamish along with various jigs.
The original Samson was built in 1874 at Stephen Lewin’s Poole Foundry and was one of the first, if not the first, locomotives built by the firm. It was supplied to the London Lead Company and worked over a mile-long tramway between Cornish Hush lead mine and a crushing plant at Whitfield Brow near Frosterley. The mine seems to have ceased production by 1883 and the company was wound up in 1905 when the locomotive was apparently sold, probably for scrap.
The locomotive design bears similarities to an ‘overtype’ traction engine with a crankshaft, flywheel and valve gear all mounted above the boiler. Lewin built other locos to this pattern including a pair (named Hops and Malt) for brewers Guinness. The original was 1ft 10in gauge (the replica will be to a more common nominal 2ft gauge) and apparently weighed 2 tons 12cwt. The wheel diameter and wheelbase of the replica differs from the original locomotive to enable increased water capacity and improved rail head clearance. Samson has only one injector, there being a mechanical pump driven from the crankshaft as typically found on traction engines and in the past sometimes employed on locomotives.
The majority of the construction work has been undertaken at Beamish’s Regional Heritage Engineering Centre under the guidance of Dave Young. The profiled main frame plates were delivered in April 2013 and following drilling and trial assembly Samson was deemed to ‘officially exist’ in July 2013 when the major components were hot riveted together in a day-long effort - 64 rivets heated with an oxy-propane torch in the midst of a heat wave! With the core of the locomotive considered complete, Samson was given works number BM2, Beamish Museum 1 being the museum’s Steam Mule.
Following delivery of a tube to form the boiler barrel the overtype engine was built up on top as castings were produced and machined. The engine unit (including crankshaft, eccentric sheaves and straps, slidebars, connecting rod, flywheel and cylinder block) turned for the first time on May 16 2014 using compressed air fed to the valve chest, and was described by Beamish’s Paul Jarman as, “running beautifully from the start and only needing small adjustments.
The frame components were sent to Statfold Barn Railway in September 2014, followed in October by the coupling rods (profiled from steel blanks rather than fabricated to achieve an authentic Victorian appearance) and spur gears (which impart drive to the wheels) after machining at Beamish. Blank wheel centre castings procured by Beamish, enabling assembly of the wheelsets, were also forwarded to Statfold.
These components formed a rolling chassis by June 2015, Statfold having machined the wheels and fitted tyres, added the axles and made and machined the crankpins and collars as well as giving some attention to the axleboxes. The rolling chassis traversed the 2ft gauge line at Beamish on September 6 2015, towed by Hunslet 0-4-0ST Edward Sholto.
With the engine complete the boiler barrel shell could progress into becoming a pressure vessel. Boiler components, including tubeplates, backhead and inner firebox, to be added to the barrel were supplied by Israel Newton. These were riveted to the barrel at Severn Valley Railway’s Bridgnorth boiler shop in late August 2015 and the boiler passed its official hydraulic test on December 3.
On returning to Beamish the boiler was placed in the frames and fitting components, including the overtype engine, commenced. The pipework was largely complete by Christmas with boiler cladding being produced. Other components fitted included the fire hole door plate, into which the lettering ‘David Thomas Young Builder’ is cast, reflecting the central role of Beamish’s Dave Young in construction of Samson. With the locomotive now having been test steamed finishing tasks will be undertaken with Samson expected to be completed and in steam for April events at Beamish.
The original Samson did not have a tender, but for service at Beamish one will be employed to provide a reserve of water and coal and accommodation for fire irons etc. The tender is being constructed utilising components from a dilapidated lead mine tub for which new wheels have been cast, based on the original tub wheel design. It will also form the first wagon in a lead mine train to run authentically behind the loco.
The nearest station to Beamish is Newcastle from where buses run direct to the entry to Beamish. Newcastle is served by trains from literally across the UK between Aberdeen and Penzance. Buses also run from Durham and Sunderland stations.