Daisy, Ex-BR reduced-capacity DMU Class 101

Sir Richard profiles the Ffarquhar Branch Line's Diesel Rail-Car, Daisy!

In 1961, our resident LBSCR E2 Tank Engine, Thomas, (NWR No.1) had his now much famed trip 'to breakfast' at the stationmaster of Ffarquhar's home. His front was badly twisted, and my grandfather (Sir Charles Topham Hatt, the second of the NWR's controllers) took this opportunity to rebuild the engine - in the meantime, of course, another engine was required by the Ffarquhar Branch to run passenger duties. The history of Daisy, however, goes back a few more years.


The new British Railways was increasingly indignant about the use of the steam locomotives they were replacing, and greatly wished to see our region standardised - they consistently told my Grandfather this would be more efficient, faster, cheaper, you get the idea! In 1955 they began trying to point us towards their new Diesel Multiple Units, the prototypes of which were being built in Birmingham. These two car units were lightweight, specialised units that were destined to spread throughout the branch lines being run by British Rail.


"They're nice enough." my grandfather replied. "But we don't have the need for a two car unit. It'd never be filled."

"We might be able to do something for you there.."


As it turned out, BR was considering the construction of single car units to 'revolutionise' the smaller, less substantial branch lines. My grandfather feigned interest, and phone calls continued every couple of weeks, much to his chagrin. After a long period of nagging from the Birmingham works, he gave in, and told BR and Metro-Cammell that if they built a single car unit he would allow it a trial period, on the Ffarquhar Branch Line, and give his thoughts.


British Rail were happy with this - it meant they didn't stand a chance of upsetting their home network, and Sodor was an excellent stomping ground with tight curves and rough gradients. Over the course of 1960 curious engines began noticing diesel facilities cropping up around Ffarquhar and Knapford, and in 1961, when Thomas had his accident and was sent to Crovan's Gate, Daisy arrived and took over his services for her 'trial'. Thomas was expected back in around a month, more than a sufficient period for the diesel to 'wear in' and a report to be written for BR's approval.


Toby (NWR No.7) and Percy (NWR No.6) were less than amused by Thomas's replacement. Daisy was boastful, rude, arrogant and lazy. She dubbed our branch line stock as 'rubbish', and the engine shed as 'smelly'. On her very first day, she blew a fuse when informed she was expected to take a milk van with her to Elsbridge dairy. The train was delayed, passengers and staff complaining Thomas's replacement was 'feeble'. The milk was sent with Percy's train instead, Daisy claiming it was 'fitters orders'. A lie, of course, but she felt she could now do the work she pleased, and no more.


The next couple of weeks were barely an improvement. She made fun of Toby's cowcatchers and sideplates, believing she knew how to remove a cow from the line without them - and promptly being proven wrong by a local bull. Toby fixed the matter.


As time went on, she proved ever-infuriating, and after a month or so of her being on the branch she still refused to take the milk van. The morning in question here, Percy and Toby swopped jobs, so an angry Percy would not have to take a special trip for the single van. Percy, still in poor temperament, bumped the trucks rudely, and stood for no nonsense. The trucks, used to seeing Toby at the quarry instead, were furious, and when Percy was to pin down his brakes at the steep gradients they gave him a push, and another, and another, culminating in Percy travelling too fast for the signalman to divert to a runaway siding, entering the yard where Ffarquhar stone was shaped, and crashed into another stone train, smashing an empty brake van and perching himself on a truck.


The branch line was now doubly incapacitated. Daisy was given a very severe talking to, and claimed she would change her ways - due in no small part to instruction from our tram engine, Toby. Thomas arrived home the next day with a straight footplate, higher water capacity and far wiser - and took Percy for repair.


Since then, Daisy, Thomas, and Toby are all regulars with passenger services. Daisy is a very well educated railcar, with as much knowledge as Toby had to give her. The milk is no longer taken with morning passenger services, much to her joy, but with increasing passenger numbers she rarely has chance to be lazy. She is, by some accounts, still sometimes rather indignant, and is happy to claim herself smarter than she is, but she is a reformed diesel engine, and a common sight on the NWR. She is popular with passengers, as she is comfortable and has all of the mod cons (or what was considered as such in the 1960s!) and is particularly comfortable on early mornings, where Thomas takes longer preparation. Even my grandfather had to admit 'diesels are enterprising. But when something isn't broken, why fix it?"


Indeed, it's by that philosophy steam engines have been running on the North Western Railway for years.


Daisy, as previously stated, is a one off. You'll never see a DMU Class 101 in a single car 'bubble unit' formation as her, but you'll often see a two car unit on heritage lines. There are some 41 cars preserved in the heritage industry, and while they'll never be the same draw as a steam engine with two carriages behind, they've a certain character to them, and are as important an asset as any steam engine will ever be.


This does not mean 'only' a 101 can stand in as Daisy, however. Indeed, many 'Daisy Spotters' send me letters and photographs of very similar looking first-generation units up and down the country.

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

Preserved Railcars.co.uk provides a look at Railcars like Daisy who still run on British Heritage Railways today - click the link to take a look!

Click the link above for relevant books and products about Daisy and the early British Railway Diesels!