Restoring 5552

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Great Western Railway 2-6-2T "Prairie" No. 5552 was completed at Swindon Works in November 1928. During much of it's 30 year service, it worked in the West Country, finishing on the Falmouth and Newquay lines in Cornwall. Withdrawn in October 1960, the engine was sent to Barry scrapyard for cutting up.

However, such was the volume of surplus engines and wagons in the 1960's, that the scrap men were kept busy cutting up the easier wagons, so the lines and lines of rusting locomotives were left, eventually becoming known as the "Barry Miracle", when the steam preservation movement took off in the 1970's and 80's.

5552 languished in the scrapyard for 25 years (nearly as long as it's active service), and was finally rescued by the Bodmin and Wenford Railway.

Arriving at Bodmin on 9th June 1986, the challenge facing the enthusiasts was enormous. Many parts, such as the tanks, were just corroded away, so new ones would have to be made from scratch, using the originals as templates. Other parts, such as the coupling rods were missing, and would have to be re-cast and machined.

5552 in Barry Scrapyard

A special shed was erected over the engine so that work could be carried out in all weathers, as the engine had to be completely stripped down and re-built.

For members of the Railway Society who live too far away to contribute physically to the restoration, other ways of helping were available, such as the "5552 club", a type of lottery where regular monthly payments were made, giving a chance for a prize, with a fair proportion of the income going to the restoration fund.

Every year whilst on holiday in Cornwall, we made a visit to the Railway to see how the restoration was progressing.


5552's boiler (behind "Alfred") at Bodmin General, 27th July 1989

The kids by 5552's front wheels
10th August 1994

The frames inside the purpose built shed
10th August 1994

Great delight ensued in 1994 when the new bunker was on show, having been rebuilt using new steel plate and many original fittings.

Finally, on 12th August 2003, the restoration was complete, and 5552 made it's first self-propelled movement in 43 years, out of the shed and into the sunlight at Bodmin General. For the first time in many years we did not go to Cornwall in 2003, otherwise we may well have witnessed the epic event!

Following trials, the Steam Gala in early September marked the official return to steam, and the Bodmin & Wenford News magazine a few weeks later gave full details and many pictures of this momentous occassion.

In a few month's time, I was to have the privilige and honour of driving 5552...