Donald and Douglas, Caledonian Class 812

Read what Sir Richard had to say about the NWR's ever-versatile, hard working twin engines, Donald and Douglas!

In 1959, the North Western Railway had evolved to the point it was rapidly growing every year. While the mileage of the railway stayed roughly the same the traffic did not, and it was at this point that my grandfather, Charles Topham Hatt had reached five years of being controller, and had shrewd business sense indeed, increasing the NWR's size and stance - and importance to British Railways.

 

By 1959, of course, the existing fleet was being stretched considerably, and the NWR needed a goods engine. It is here at Donald and Douglas came in...

 

The two engines were built for the Caledonian Railway at the St. Rollox Works in Glasgow, and gave a very long and very illustrious career for the Caledonian, then the LMS, and eventually British Railways. It was in 1958 my grandfather filed for a transfer request - A Caley 812 - No.57646 on the Scottish Region, was chosen quite at random - he was informally known as Donald by his crew.

 

Unbeknownst to British Railways, Donald was inseparable to one of his brothers, 'Douglas', No.57647, whom was built at the same time, simultaneously to Donald, and was forever within the same region as him - their drivers were related by one family, and their fireman by another - this rather incredible coincidence gave way to opportunity.

 

The Scottish Region was known for being rather daring compared to those in England. They were a hardy bunch, and to leave Douglas at the possibility of scrapping, well, it was nonsensical! Both engines and crew were smart enough to know the class could be withdrawn any time due to their age, and a plan was hatched as the group decided to go against all regulation and make for Sodor together.

 

You can imagine my grandfather's surprise as both engines arrived lacking numbers, with both parties remembering neither. It was an embarrassing tangle for him, although both could prove useful, the NWR had not the finances or time to unravel such a mess, and, unaware of the motive for Douglas being saved from scrap, he warned if he discovered which was not meant to be there, they would be travelling home. Until then, he was forced to keep both of them until he could find out.

 

Donald and Douglas were given numbers (9 and 10) but no nameplates. Both engines worked hard, but bad luck proved against them - things started bad enough when one of the engines - Douglas - shunted a coach full of passengers - a coach destined to travel on the Ffarquhar Line, into the yard at Tidmouth, quite by mistake. The passengers were furious, as was my grandfather. The twins swopped tenders, to give the impression Donald was the locomotive in the yard and Douglas was already at other work, but my grandfather was smart enough to see through the ploy and reprimanded Donald severely for the trick.

 

Things got worse when a signalbox was crashed into at Tidmouth, again due to a mistake of judgement and slippery rails. Donald was now in need of repair, as were the points and the signalbox between Tidmouth and Knapford - thankfully not one of paramount importance, but it delayed our services temporarily regardless of this.

 

Douglas was next found on banking duty, assisting a very grumpy James, who now had to take Donald's freight duty. The trucks and brake van conspired to foil James, whom had been rather headstrong that morning, when climbing the hill. Douglas proved very powerful for banking, and managed to give an effort so hard said brake van was crushed to splinters. Even Edward's reasoning was insufficient to change my grandfather's mood, and he left thoughtfully, lost in consideration of whom to rid himself of.

 

Winter soon arrived, and it was a bad one. Snow was deep, thick and impossible to shift...Unless you were Donald and Douglas. They, and their drivers, had learned a lot in Scotland, and they revolutionised Sodor's snow issues at once. My grandfather was on Holiday, and was quite unaware of how impeccable their performance had been - they saved a snowed-in Henry and cleared the lines from coast to coast - and their work ethic was gaining favour.

 

The 'home' engines of the NWR had grown fond of the twins. They had become known as very pleasant and efficient, and all were very impressed. It was when my grandfather returned Percy was presented against his will as a deputation - despite only Edward being sure of how to pronounce it!

 

Now, it is here I shall detail what was happening 'behind the scenes'. My grandfather had contacted British Railways to explain the issue - he had two engines instead of one, one not authorised to travel to Sodor and being unrecorded in any of his paperwork. British Railways replied with a statement going no two ways about saying they were modernising and if Sodor preferred they could jolly well keep both. The NWR, of course, was part of British Railways at the time (The North Western Region) , so there'd be no two bones about it - if Sodor required two engines, they might as well have them.

 

The deputation, to the engines, seemed to have fallen on deaf ears, but rather, it sealed the deal. One cold morning my grandfather asked what paint Donald and Douglas would like, completing the notion that the NWR now had two extra engines on their books - this time, with nameplates and all. However, he very promptly pointed out he did not enjoy his engines trying to interfere with his decision making and shan't have it again, something that, thankfully, has stayed true to the next two generations of controller!!

 

Donald and Douglas chose NWR blue as their livery - as carried by Gordon, Edward and Thomas, and are similarly proud of it. The NWR blue is a touch darker than that used by the Caledonian, but it's this association that chose them the colour, and it has remained ever since.

 

Since then, they have also assisted in the construction of the 'Little Western' in the 1960s, and of course Douglas was bold enough to save one of our 'Westerns', a 14xx by the name of Oliver, whom was lined up for scrap. Once again, Douglas's crew proved very shrewd, even somewhat sneaky, and by forging papers they took Oliver as 'scrap' to Crovan's Gate from British Railways, where he was promptly overhauled and put in service, setting up the NWR with two 'Western' locomotives and a branch line decorated in the GWR style to boot. The Little Western is now a particularly big draw for enthusiasts and tourists, something that would never be possible without our Scottish Twins.

 

Since their introduction, goods traffic - and 'odd jobs' have been transformed by our Scottish Twins. They're never set in one place, often travelling on the Wellsworth Branch or Little Western, the latter so often they have a turntable especially for them in place. They are a common sight on Gordon's Hill, as banking engines, or as station pilots at Tidmouth. You'll often find them at Crovan's Gate, too, assisting in stock movements - or at Barrow-in-Furness, sorting out goods at the exchange sidings, or...well, you get the idea!

 

By the 1990s, they were quite overused, prompting my father to try and find an austerity tank engine to take a load off of their wheels. 'Wilbert', from the Dean Forest Railway, visited in 1992 - he made quite an impression, and everybody was impressed, but for whatever reason, something my father never told me, the attempts to get an engine like him fell through.

 

The result is Donald and Douglas have never been deputised - however, since I became controller in 2006 things have changed. We now have Pip and Emma, our HST, running our express services, meaning James is now suitably in place as a multipurpose engine, far more than he ever used to be. This has effectively reduced stress on the entirety of our system, and will ensure Donald and Douglas will be out of service as little as possible!

 

Of course, as they had such a long career on British Railways, they can be very negative as to modernisation - they, for a long time, had terrible prejudice against diesel and electric traction. BoCo, of course, managed to change those opinions, but they remain strong willed against new ways. It never gets in the way of their work ethic or manners, but they are stubborn, headstrong and have more 'sticking' power than you could ever expect. They enjoy a 'laugh', and love to tease their shedmates, but it's all well meaning, of course, and their jest has become expected by the entire island!

 

They are now over one hundred years old, but they just keep on going! Donald and Douglas are ultimately two of the finest examples of multipurpose locomotive I have come across. Other than themselves, their classmate, No.828, can be found on the Straphspey Railway in wonderful CR blue livery and all the trimmings. She's a beautiful specimen, and the railway is truly worth a visit. Something to bear in mind if you're ever up in Scotland!

Find out more about Donald & Douglas and their origins on the internet's definitive Awdry Railway Series website - The Real Lives of Thomas The Tank Engine.

The sole survivor of Donald & Douglas's class on the British Mainland, based in the Highlands of Scotland at the Strathspey Railway - take a look at the site for her fascinating history!

Click the link above for relevant books and products about Donald and Douglas and the Caledonian Railway!