Gordon, the A0X Pacific of the North Western Railway

Another interesting article from UK Heritage Hub and Sir Richard Hatt - with Gordon telling his life story in his own words!

When UK Heritage Hub contacted me through my Twitter account and informed me they were soon to reach one year of publication, I was rather surprised - such excellent material can normally take several years for a publication to develop, but this webzine has successfully made a name for itself as the ultimate in heritage news, a speciality being placed in the wonderful world of British Railway lines.


They were quick to suggest I do something special for the webzine, something show stopping - and while all of my articles, of course, are of impeccable quality, it seems they wanted something more than their usual article on a specific engine of my railway. Donald and Douglas, our Caley 812s, were originally lined up for their article this month, but instead, we have done something very special indeed.


On the 15th of February I entered Tidmouth sheds one cold evening and sat next to Gordon, our eminent express locomotive - and told him that for the first time, I would allow him to give his life story to a publication. Gordon, naturally, was all too happy at the chance.


Gordon is a very particular locomotive with a very special history - but he is also very talkative in his old age. The result is this article, dictated by our express engine, has painstakingly edited and moderated by myself.  This is his story - this is the story of the prototype Gresley A1 Pacific!


- Sir Richard Topham Hatt

I was built by the world's finest engineer, Sir Nigel Gresley - as an experimental locomotive. I was a mere back project, it would be fair to say - I was first drafted in a recognisable form in 1915 - construction starting in 1920 and I was given numerous experimental changes, this continuing until 1922. I was designed with - and one shudders to say it - American ideals - but naturally, as one can tell by looking at me, I was given the usual addition of British grandeur, from my incredibly distinguished features I am most certainly a Gresley locomotive.


The first drafted design for my good self was essentially an extended Ivatt 'Atlantic' - however, my wheelbase is of the same length as the first A1 Pacific, 'Great Northern'. My wheels were of similar size, six foot eight inches, and the spaces between them were the same - thus, in simple terms, my wheelbase was that of an A1 and no doubt of it.


I was built as the first precursor to Gresley's excellent motive design of the A1, a 'stepping stone' of sorts, albeit an excellent one - and thus had a series of 'quirks' compared to my later buildmates, such as a somewhat inadequate boiler, four - yes, four - cylinders and a few reductions to certain vital statistics, such as heating surface, weight, etc...


Time went on and I was soon on trial on numerous stretches of the LNER's metals. I did not carry a number, nor a name, and despite looking splendid in my Apple Green livery I received little in the way of precious attention. As my trials continued, my kinks and issues were ironed out of me - my underpowered boiler was soon replaced with a 180lb one that is now unmistakable as that on the A1 Locomotives. I was largely kept Hush-Hush, with no one outside of the company seemingly aware of my existence! My fourth cylinder was not included in my redrawn plans and I instead carried the three that, once again, would soon be carried to the later thoroughbreds of the LNER. My firebox was increased in heating surface and I was soon resembling the handsome machine you see today.


"You," Mr. Gresley would say to me, "Are the finest example of passenger locomotive in the United Kingdom today." As time went on, I got larger and larger than the other locomotives in Doncaster - until I was practically 'complete'. I would watch in curiosity as other locomotives, looking very similar, if not identical, to me, slowly emerged from the masterful engineers. By 1922, I was completed, and Mr. Gresley approached me. "You are no longer needed by our company - you don't have a number, and giving you one would confuse our arrangements." I was horrified! Such a fine locomotive as myself, and I was to be pushed aside by the younger locomotives, of which I was the template. I had become friends with the engineers at Doncaster, and my younger brothers - but this was all to change. That night, I was left staring into the darkness, wondering of my fate.


It was a few weeks until I was approached by Gresley again. "We've found a buyer for you. It's not a large railway like us, you understand, but it's a pleasant enough railway, only young - but on a very nice island to the west called 'Sodor'.


I had never heard of the place. It was supposedly quite a length away - not even part of our region. It was a few days later a short, stout gentleman in a top hat visited the works to investigate the new engine. He walked around me, listened intently to the engineers and finally spoke: "A fine locomotive. Very handsome, perfect for us." This gentleman knew his engines, and a few days later I was sent to Sodor, with a spare boiler and firebox. I never learned of my price, but I hear the gent was a shrewd businessman - and I would soon know him as Mr. Topham Hatt - General Manager of the North Western Railway - a network very different from the Great Northern.


Sodor was a very different place indeed – it was smaller than the GNR, and a lot more restricted in terms of engines available - indeed, when I arrived there were two engines you would now recognise -an E2 Tank engine, whom was very rude indeed, called 'Thomas', and a veritable antique from the Furness Railway, 'Edward'. I was to be the chief - and at this point, only - express locomotive for the company.


The company was very small. I had a main line - about seventy miles - of which I would stop at only four stations - these being Vicarstown, the big station, home of the NWR's Headquarters and one group of engine sheds, Crovan's Gate, where we met the narrow gauge Railway - The 'Skarloey Line', and Tidmouth - the terminus of the main line. Tidmouth would later become the 'big station', shed and headquarters in 1925 after an agreement with the LMS on the Mainland, allowing us to travel to Barrow - meaning our Vicarstown 'Hub' was surplus.


By 1923, Grouping occurred on the main line, and we found ourselves with more locomotives as a result, mainly failed experiments or non-standardised locomotives - including James, our first main line mixed traffic locomotive, who came to be painted red after deciding to let some trucks run away with him, the cretin that he is, and Henry, whom was a failed attempt by the LMS at building an A1 - using failed designs. The result was engine that looked like me, without the grandeur, strength, steaming, or luxury. I and Henry...never got on very well as a result.


It wasn't long before Henry got himself closed up in a tunnel for being a troublesome brute and even I found myself in disgrace when I stalled on the hill after being given the indignity of a good's train, only to be saved by our antique - Edward. Something I do not wish to study into.


My life on Sodor went rather well, all told. My Great Northern shape was not only great by name but also by design - I was the pinnacle, the ultimate of locomotive design at the time, and turned heads as the flagship locomotive of the North Western Railway.


By the 1930s, I had been well established, but on one particular morning I have to admit I was in a terrible mood. I had been making some strange clanking noises lately, and one could go so far as me requiring some overhaul work. It was pointed out by the other engines, which, of course, I made little attention to - jealousy is such a horrible thing! I was out there to provide the finest service yet, and as we approached the hill, I began thundering with all of my strength.


As we began to climb, I felt a strange offness about my cylinders. Then, it happened - My valve gear broke free of itself, the main connecting rod suddenly shearing through my running plate, scraping the paint from the underneath of my boiler - my remaining valve gear complicating itself in the tangle. The train was going nowhere, and I was left in terrible pain.


Thankfully, my boiler had not been damaged, but you can imagine the remarks from the other engines. The Fat Contro-...that is, Sir Topham Hatt (Nice save there! - Ed) was soon there to assess the damage, and, when I was cool, I was moved back towards Wellsworth. I was told, simply, an overhaul was too costly for the young NWR, and for now, I was to remain in the sidings for a few weeks. My valve gear was replaced, my cylinders fixed and my running plate straightened, but Crovan's Gate, the NWR works, were not capable of a full overhaul as of yet, and I simply had to continue until enough capital had been raised - much reduced in my capabilities.


In 1935, Mr. Topham Hatt had been in talks with one Mr. Stanier, who took Henry away and rebuilt him as a near completely different engine, resembling a Black 5, an admittedly fine design for mixed traffic work. I was immensely jealous, but from what I understand, Stanier had owed Hatt a 'favour' - I'm unsure what for, of course, but regardless, Henry was very pleased with himself. It was then in 1939 I left the North Western Railway. I had been told I was due a major rebuild. Imagine my surprise when I passed Crovan's Gate and went to the mainland, until eventually I reached Crewe. Mr. Hatt, whom was now managing director of the railway, had been into another piece of bargaining, and I was to be given underparts very similar to Henry's - I was to be a hybrid of two fine locomotive designers - something fast and efficient.


My middle cylinder was removed, and my A0 cylinders replaced with larger, more powerful pieces of equipment. My Gresley valve gear was replaced by Walschaerts, and my running plate was given a custom design far smoother and more elegant than that previously fitted. My wheels were replaced, as were my underframes. I was even given rectangular buffers, something quite unheard off! I came out a touch slower, but more powerful and reliable than ever, and ever since I have given premium service. Crewe was a nice place, but no Doncaster works...


Numerous small, unimportant events took place over the years, things that, of course, were not of my fault...birdstrikes, sliding into ditches, unbalancing turntables, taking industrial action, nothing of note, of course, but of far more importance was my pulling of the Queen's Coronation train in 1953, and my trip to London in 1956, where I was met with a gigantic crowd as 'the famous engine in the books'. I was very popular there, and gave the top link expresses on the mainland a run for their money, and no mistake! You can imagine my horror when, rather than the beloved Kings Cross, the station I arrived at was St. Pancras. I eventually found out all of these stations existed in London, but I went on for many years believing London's big station had changed!!


And of course, in 1967, the decline of steam, I found myself very upset. I had been told I was one of the only surviving LNER Pacifics that I had been used to design. Steam was dying on the mainland, and we were all worried the same may eventually come to us. It was a wakeup call. To cheer me up, Sir Charles Topham Hatt, (The second controller in the Hatt name) organised Flying Scotsman to visit the island. He was looking splendid, with a second tender to aid his running. We spent a few days reminiscing about Doncaster, and it was here the realisation eventually came, as our controller told the world: "We shall be glad to welcome all who want to see, and travel behind, real engines."


To our railway, we were not disposable, and steam would always be at work on the North Western.


In 1986, I had to take a railtour from Barrow to Carlisle due to a broken down diesel - In my place, a HST called 'Pip and Emma' took the express. Naturally, the railtour passengers were delighted at having such a fine locomotive pull their train - however, Pip and Emma made more of an impact then I had expected... The Hatt family continued to control our railways as the years went on, and the departure of one was always saddening, but in 2006, when our current controller, Sir Richard Hatt, came into control of the NWR, changes were afoot.


Our 'old ways' are still in place, but Sir Richard has taken the time to streamline our services. In 2010, Pip and Emma returned to the island, and this time, had been purchased, to run the express services directly from Sodor and Barrow all the way to London. My trains had always lost time as they needed to swop trains at Barrow, as I did not have sufficient running power or permission to run regularly on the mainland. Pip and Emma had effectively deputised me - but I didn't mind! I now make more trips per day, stopping where required, and I no longer get as tired as I used to. I am an old engine now, some ninety years, and I'm no longer as sprightly as I used to be. We all come of this age, of course, but I am expected to give decades, perhaps even another century of fine work. I am the original locomotive that 'built' the NWR, and by no small degree one of the most famous in the North Western Railway's stock roster.


I am immensely proud of my work, and remain immensely proud of our railway.


Gordon the A0X Pacific

in his own words, Tidmouth Sheds, 2013

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

Simon Martin and Sean O'Connor's paper on Gordon's development and his contribution to the Gresley A1 and A3 Pacific classes of locomotive - written for The Real Lives of Thomas Site.

The LNER Encyclopedia gives further information behind Gordon's class and basis!

Click the link above for relevant books and products about Gordon and the A1 / A3 Pacifics!