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Oliver Bulleid

Last Giant of Steam

Oliver Vaughn Snell Bulleid was born in Invercargill, New Zealand on ?, the son of immigrant parents from the west of England. Upon the death of his father the family returned to England where the he had a somewhat unsettled early life either living with relatives or away at boarding school.

Eschewing his families desire for a career in ??? he signed up as a premium apprentice at the Doncaster works of the Great Northern Railway under H.A. Ivatt, whose youngest daughter he later married. His time at the Great Northern was interrupted twice - firstly by a spell abroad with the British Board of Trade and later by army service in France during the First World War. He was finally to end up as assistant to Nigel Gresley.

In 1937 he was offered the post of Chief Mechanical Engineer on the Southern Railway, taking over from the ailing Richard Maunsell whose own assistant was also in poor health at the time. Under Maunsell, who in fairness was ill for some time, steam on the Southern had not kept pace with developments on other railways. Bulleid's first task was to take the existing locomotive classes in hand. He achieved good improvements with the Lord Nelson 4-6-0's by altering the blast arrangements and fitting larger valves in line with current practice. Less improvement was obvious with the Schools class 4-4-0's which were in pretty good shape anyway and the King Arthur 4-6-0's were left more or less untouched.

In the meantime Bulleid setup about making his own mark. Setting himself a target of hauling a 600 ton London to Dover boat train at a start to stop average or 60 mph (way beyond the requirements of the traffic department), the end result was the Merchant Navy pacifics which entered service in 1941. Sadly his old chief, Gresley, was too ill to attend the launching of the new engine and died only a few weeks later. Next came the ugly but powerful Q1 0-6-0 freight class. In 1945 Bulleid produced the West Country/ Battle of Britain pacifics - a scaled down version of the Merchant Navies which could operate on over 90% of Southern track.

The three designs already mentioned embodied many innovations and and novelties, but produced workable locomotives that lasted until the end of steam on British Railways. Bulleid's attempt to fight of the looming threat of the diesel came in the shape of the Leader - a loco with two 6 wheeled power bogies and a cab at each end, in effect a diesel layout powered by steam. Only one was completed and it never hauled a revenue earning train.

Although best remembered for his steam designs, Bulleid played his full part in other areas of motive power, having a hand in the design of the Southern's first diesel and electric locomotives as well as EMU and loco-hauled coaching stock. He produced Britains only double-decker trains - EMU's for the Dartford to London commuter service. Many of his designs championed the use of welding of which he was a strong proponent and considerable innovator.

Bullied left Britain following the nationalisation of the railways and moved to Ireland where he oversaw the wholesale dieselisation and modernisation of the state railways. Interestingly he produced a scaled down Leader type loco, again with two power bogies, using peat as the fuel, with fan-assisted draught.

If you want to find out more about Bulleid and his engines the follwing books will start you on the way.

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