UK HH Article - Percy

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One of the most popular engines on my railway is far from a glamorous tender engine built by one of the big four - he is, rather, a typical example of an industrial tank engine from the early half of the twentieth century. Four small driving wheels, two small cylinders, and a saddle tank painted in a lined livery of green and red.


I am of course talking about the resident freight engine on the Ffarquhar Branch Line, a small engine built of many parts from the industrial locomotive manufacturers of the United Kingdom..


Percy arrived on Sodor in 1933.  This was during the now infamous 'engine strike' of the NWR, when the larger main line engines - that's right, engines - refused to work with the belief they were being poorly treated in the expectation of them shunting their own trains since Thomas had left to run his own branch line. Edward began working as pilot at the big station, but he was soon needed elsewhere and grew tired of the name calling, being dubbed a 'scab' with 'black wheels' for, in the big engines minds, 'tender engines don't shunt'. The only other solution was a new tank engine.


Percy was purchased second-hand at a locomotive dealers whom promised he was 'like new', with 'some previous owners'. He was a strange little engine, somewhat like a 'Swindonised' Trojan from the Avonside Locomotive Company.


From what one can attain of Percy's pre-sale history, he spent roughly ten years of work 'on hire' for his company at numerous industrial railways shunting trucks on flat gradients from one siding to another. This ranged from dairies, to docks, to quarries. It was a fairly mundane career, little of interest and little in the way of challenges for him. He did, however, show great obedience towards all of his owners, and his enthusiasm was very rarely lost for any work - no job was above or below him.


When he was between work during the Spring of 1933, whispers were heard of a stout gentleman from an island railway off of the coast was due to visit, hoping to make a purchase. The engine dealers, eager to please, polishing each engine and lining them up inside their workshop, were quite sure one of their larger locomotives would be out of the door for a very tidy sum.


Imagine their surprise when the stout gentlemen - my great grandfather - strolled right up to the little green engine hidden behind them and decided there and then he was perfect for the job. Percy was purchased for a relatively small sum - and he travelled to Sodor to act as the new station pilot.


Percy, when briefly in Crovan's Gate for inspection, was found to be built of Hunslet parts as well as those of his Avonside Origin - like many industrial engines, it seems his components were switched for practical purposes, rather than worrying about consistency. The result is Percy has no definite counterpart on the Mainland, and is in more ways than you could guess, a complete 'one-off' - a mix of parts and histories.


Regardless of this, Percy proved to be a very reliable little engine. He got right to work, and if the engines laughed or sneered, he'd give them a look at his biggest talent - extremely loud noises! When working in an industrial environment and contesting for attention in his dealer's workshop, Percy learnt how to stand his ground by whistling very loudly and letting off steam in an incredibly noisy manner - this proved a fine foil for the larger engines and his cheekiness became legendary, surpassing even that of our other tank engine, No.1 - Thomas.


The big engines soon grew tired, once again, of having to work in such circumstance - so my great-grandfather decided it was the last straw and shut them up in Tidmouth Sheds until they saw sense. The NWR's main line and Western Branch Lines were to be staffed instead by Thomas, Edward and Percy - an unusual set up. Trains were reduced, were slower and stopped at more stations, but passengers had no other choice!


While Thomas and Edward ran the main line and smaller branches, Percy would work Thomas' branch line and shunt in the harbours. This experience proved invaluable to the little engine, and when the larger engines finally surrendered and agreed to go back to work, Percy was kept by the NWR - and became the official pilot engine for Tidmouth Station and dockside, and a common sight in the yards, where his cheeky, pleasant personality, strong sense of wit and a great sense of responsibility for even the simplest of jobs was invaluable.


However, for what he had in cheekiness and wit, Percy's downfall was his naivety. He had never been on a full railway network before - he was so used to being one of three or four small saddle tanks in industrial yards and sidings, it was quite the new experience to him. He learnt quickly enough, of course, and made good friends with Edward and Thomas, but his first foray onto the main line proved troublesome.


When the larger engines agreed to work again, he worked for a few days at Knapford, shunting the trucks there and arranging them, something long overdue while the larger engines refused to. During this activity, he had to cross the main line to access another siding for 'Down' goods trains. The signalman, of course, was in control of the points at Knapford Junction - Knapford Junction 'box' being one of the largest on the main line. Percy and his crew, I'm sorry to say, forgot to whistle to remind the signalman he required access back onto the line, and the signalman quite forgot about the little green engine waiting to go 'home'.


Gordon was thus told the line was clear - and within two minutes Percy saw No.4 hurtling towards him. What happened next was a combination of Gordon stopping quickly and Percy, his driver and fireman jumping clear with his regulator full and reverser all-back, starting with equal haste.


Percy thus ran, backwards, through Crosby Tunnel, past Wellsworth, up Gordon's hill (slowing him considerably), and eventually, at the will of a signalman, the exhausted little engine was diverted into a siding and bunker-first into a bank of earth, nearby Maron station.


Percy remained cheeky - but gained a healthy dose of respect in the right places for Gordon and the ways of the main line of a railway network.  Tidmouth became his home, where he played station pilot until 1955, wherein he was relocated to Knapford Junction and Harbour to assist in the reworking of facilities there. During this stage of work, the Ffarquhar Branch Line was relaid on an easier gradient, leaving the Line stemming off in two parts from Toryreck - the passenger side veering to Dryaw, whereas the goods side, stopping at Toryreck's dormant lead mine and crossing straight to the harbour, was given to Percy, to assist with growing freight traffic from the now burgeoning Ffarquhar Quarry, Elsbridge Dairy, the local farms and new traffic of uranium from the depleted lead works.


Percy is now, for the most part, 'anchored' at the Ffarquhar Branch Line with Thomas, Toby and Daisy. He's often seen at Tidmouth, too, where he often carries his goods trains to be taken by the fast freight services. He's a plucky little engine - rarely ill or broken down - and will happily work at anything given to him. He even ascends to passenger services should Thomas be unavailable, and often arrives at Tidmouth to assist in shunting and providing 'pilot' between his regular trains.


Percy is not a glamorous, fast, or even very powerful engine, but he makes up an integral part of our network - the railway wouldn't be the same without him. He's an essential 'workhorse' - indispensable.


Percy, as previously mentioned, is a 'mixed' design - and as a result you'll be troubled in finding a perfect likeness to him on the Mainland's heritage railways. The very closest, in my opinion, is the GWR No.1340 'Trojan', built from an earlier, but very similar, specification to Percy in 1897. This lovely little engine can be seen at the Didcot Railway Centre.

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

Poor Percy is an engine whose origin is very much unknown, but links to Avonside have been found – and so, it’s only fitting that we link you to a page which whill tell you more about his counterparts who were built there.

Click the link above for relevant books and products about Oliver and other GWR Tank Engines