34072 257 Squadron

257 Squadron was built at Brighton Works and completed in 1948 as one of the first of the batch produced under BR ownership. The locomotive was allocated to Dover Marine shed, principally to work the Continental Boat Trains to London. One of its main duties appears to have been the Night Ferry. It also worked on local services between the Kent Coast and Charing Cross and on one occasion it worked over the Tonbridge to Redhill line, believed to have been a first for a Bulleid light Pacific.

The electrification of the Kent coast lines in 1958 saw many of the steam locomotives transferred away from the area and 257 Squadron was moved to Exmouth Junction, in February 1958. This was the Southern Region’s main shed for the West Country and 257 Squadron would have worked trains to Salisbury, Plymouth and to the Southern Regions many destinations in North Devon and North Cornwall.

It moved to its final allocation, Eastleigh, in June 1964 and was withdrawn from there in the October 1964, having run a total of 698,843 miles in its working life of just over 16 years.

The locomotive arrived at Woodham’s scrapyard in March 1965 where it quietly rusted away for the next 19 years until it left in November 1984.

In 1984 the group who were working on Port Line decided that it would be a good idea to purchase one of the remaining unrebuilt Bulleid Pacifics still at Barry scrapyard. This decision was made at a time when Port Line was a kit of parts with many years work still to be done. However it turned out to be a far sighted move as by the time Port Line was finished in 1988 the few Bulleid Pacifics remaining at Barry were in a virtually unrestorable state. In 1984, 34072 was duly delivered to Blunsdon where it remained until it was moved into Swindon Works.

In autumn 1987 the group restoring the locomotive were given the use of the former Swindon Works weighbridge (then owned by Tarmac Properties) to complete the restoration of Port Line. During this period some initial work was done in stripping 257 Squadron ready for a boiler lift.

A significant development occurred in 1988 when the site was visited by a group of Tarmac directors. They were shown round the weighbridge and the virtually complete Port Line when one of the group asked how we were possibly going to restore the rusting wreck in the corner of the yard. Our engineer, explained that Port Line had been in much the same condition when purchased and he also went on to explain the significance of the name, 257 Squadron. A chance remark that it would be most appropriate if the engine were restored by 15th September 1990, the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Britain, resulted in a fax a few days later requesting details of how much would be needed to meet this target.

Once figures had been worked out, Tarmac offered an interest free loan repayable over five years once the locomotive had been completed. This was an offer that seemed too good to refuse although there was no doubt as to the enormous task ahead, particularly as the five year restoration of Port Line was the fastest Barry restoration at that time.

The Tarmac loan made it possible to employee three people to work full-time on the locomotive with volunteers assisting at weekends. The restoration commenced in the Weighbridge at Swindon and although there were still some extensive machining facilities on the site these could not be used which meant that a lot of the work had to be sub-contracted out. At one stage we were asked to vacate the weighbridge and move into 19 Shop in the old works.

Network South-East requested that 257 Squadron take part in a Battle of Britain celebration at Folkestone in September 1990. The intention had been to operate a shuttle service between Folkestone Harbour and Central but this was rejected by BR on the grounds that the locomotive was too heavy and an appearance and naming ceremony at Folkestone station was arranged instead.

By early 1990 it looked as if the September deadline would be missed but with frenetic activity including working through the night in order to prepare for the locomotive’s first steam test the following day in the presence of the BR boiler inspectors. Arrangements were made to borrow a number of parts which were not going to be ready in time including and by the end of August the locomotive was virtually complete.

If the problems of early 1990 weren’t enough one final blow was yet to come. Arrangements were made to move the locomotive to Derby for weighing followed by a loaded test run to Sheffield. After this the locomotive would then move to Folkestone. However, late on the Friday afternoon before the move to Derby, the Western Region Civil Engineer had other ideas and would not allow the locomotive out of Swindon on the grounds that it was out of gauge. After a number of frantic telephone calls arrangements were made for a transporter to take the locomotive to Folkestone the following Wednesday.

Even the move by transporter was not without difficulties. The locomotive was required to wait on the hard shoulder of the M25 as there was an accident ahead. Unfortunately, the passing motorists who slowed down to look at the engine managed to pile into one another and it took the best part of two hours to sort out the 20 vehicles involved.

257 Squadron finally arrived at Cheriton, the site of the channel tunnel terminal, at about midnight on the Thursday and was left on the transporter until the following morning. In order to speed things up, the boiler was lit up while still on the transporter before being winched off onto the rails and towed to Ashford.

The test run took place on the main line to Folkestone and Dover albeit with an electro-diesel pilot. There were no problems despite the fact that the locomotive had only previously been tested on 75 yards of track at Swindon. A few days later produced another first as 257 Squadron steamed into Folkestone without a diesel pilot looking immaculate. The re-naming ceremony was carried out by Air Commodore Peter Brothers, a former 257 Squadron pilot and the event was attended by a number of other former Battle of Britain pilots for whom, no doubt, the highlight was the flying display as a lone Spitfire made a number of passes over the station. Later that afternoon, 257 Squadron hauled a short train to Dover and then back to Ashford, completing a memorable and triumphant day.

Since its restoration in 1990, 257 Squadron has operated on a number of preserved railways but it has not yet been possible to operate the locomotive on the main line again.

In 1992, 257 Squadron moved to the Swanage Railway, initially to be used for Firing and Driving courses until 1993. At the time the railway was suffering some financial problems and it seemed unlikely that they could afford to hire and operate the locomotive but by the spring of 1993 matters had improved and an agreement was reached with the Railway to operate 257 Squadron for that summer. It proved a highly successful attraction, particularly to the enthusiast as Bulleid light pacifics were regular performers on the Swanage branch, and the locomotive has continued to operate at Swanage.

In 1995 the locomotive acquired a newly built tender, using the frames of a tender frames purchased from the steelworks at Briton Ferry, to replace the one from 34023 Blackmore Vale which had been loaned by the Bluebell Railway. The tender attached to 34072 when it was sold for scrap in 1965 had been sold elsewhere prior to the locomotive being purchased for preservation.

Some 12 years and 4 months after returning to traffic, 257 Squadron was finally withdrawn with serious firebox problems in 2003. No other locomotive in preservation has operated for so long in one continuous spell and it was a tribute to the team and volunteers who restored it that its first career in preservation was so successful.

After several years open storage 257 Squadron was moved into Herston works on the Swanage Railway, awaiting its turn for overhaul. With the completion of Sir Keith Park in 2012 work on 257 Squadron began in earnest. By mid 2016 the work was well advanced but there has been delays on the work on the boiler undertaken by Adam Dalgleish Engineering Ltd at Stockton.

The boiler was returned to the frames in November 2016.

The last of the air-smoothed casing was fitted back on the engine in April 2017. This allows painting to commence and leaves only final detail jobs such as the cab windows and conduit for the lighting to be completed.

It was planned to have the locomotive back in service in order to participate in a rededication ceremony at the end of September 2017 but this had to be delayed as further hydraulic tests were required.

A fire was lit in 34072 in November 2017 and the steam pressure was brought up to about 120psi as part of the first steam testing of the locomotive.

After final commissioning work was undertaken and the locomotive underwent load tests in August 2018 before returning to traffic in the following month.

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