7 1/4" Gauge Wisbech and Upwell Steam Tram

For a while I’d been hankering after a new project. Something small, different and fun. I flicked through a few engine books and magazines looking for inspiration until I spotted the very thing; a 7 ¼” gauge steam tram based on the Y6 engines thatchugged up and down the Wisbech & Upwell railway in the fens, as well as in a few docks on the east coast of East Anglia. This type of loco was made famous by Rev. Awdry as “Toby the Tram” in his “Thomas the Tank Engine” series of books.

The particular loco that I’d stumbled upon in the magazine was something a little different, in that it was powered by a 3 ½” gauge “Betty” chassis and “Maisie” boiler! A chain around the “Betty” driving axle took power down to the 7 ¼” gauge chassisbeneath. Genius! The chap who built it brought it to an open day at the track several years ago, where I was lucky enough to have a drive. A project similar to this was just what the doctor ordered!

My original plan was to use a long-abandoned 2” scale Burrell Scenic boiler and something like a “Simplex” chassis as the power unit, but this was not to be. My initial enthusiasm was about to fizzle out, that was until I found a “Pride of Penrhyn”steam wagon for sale in the club. A few measurements were taken and I deducedthat it could be used as the power unit in the tram. The project was back on! Once again this was a project in my usual style; build what you want however you want then hide it away with bodywork! Anyone who has seen the steam waggon andelectric shunter I made will understand!

I found as many photos of these tram engines as I could, as well as making contact with and visiting the chap who had made the engine I was using as inspiration. He furnished me with the same GER general arrangement drawing that he used to create his engine. These were a great help in getting the overall dimensions sorted, as well as the buffer beams, side skirts and bodywork details.Everything else in the motive power department was going to deviate wildly from the original!

A simple 7 ¼” gauge 0-4-0 chassis was made from steel box section and bar. The axles run in ball race plummer blocks, as does the countershaft. The “POP” steam wagon was disembowelled, removing the engine/boiler unit. This power unit had a new sub-chassis built around it that was then mounted in the railway chassis. The engine has retained its second shaft complete with high and low gears; this would be a two-speed railway loco! Plus the engine could be run out of gear, so could tick-over, warm up, pump water etc. Lots of chains and sprockets take power from the twin cylinder overtype engine to the wheels. A pair of brake blocks with asimple screw mechanism work on the front wheels only, as there is insufficient room to get a pair acting on the rear axle. This brake is only really meant for parking, but it will no doubt help slow the train if applied whilst in motion.The main brake will be on the driver’s wagon.

The buffer beams were made to match those of the full-size loco as closely as possible. Buffer assemblies were made using LBSC’s simple arrangements with an M20 threaded section on the back of the buffer stocks passing through the beams with a nut on the inside; very quick and very simple. The buffer heads were made in the usual fashion.

The full size loco had side skirts, which were required by law for any locomotive working on a tramway. These were made of steel sheet and plate, together with the steps. As of this moment I haven’t started on the cowcatchers (also a lawful requirement on tramways), but these I imagine will be formed and riveted as per original. I’ll get around to these when I know the thing actually works!

With work progressing nicely on the loco, my thoughts turned to a wagon from which to drive it. Some of you may remember the “Hornby on steroids” trainset I made comprising about a dozen wagons and an electric loco, all in 7 ¼” gauge. Thiswas all sold off at various times over the years, which was a bit of a nuisance now, as I could’ve done with one of the open wagons to use for this project! I was fortunate enough to be able to buy one of the wagons back (funny how life works sometimes!) and this was to be the basis of the driving wagon. I then fitted it with a large stainless steel water tank, and one of the original tanks from the “POP” lorry which also contained the hand pump. These were piped together, and the attachments were made for connecting to the loco. The hand pump has a high pressure quick connection as this would have to sustain the pressure of the delivery from the pump against boiler pressure. The other connection simply feeds a manifold on the loco supplying the mechanical pump and injector. The tanks were covered over with a sheet of well-painted MDF, with cut-outs for the water filler and hand pump access. A small baking tin was then found (good old Poundland!) for use as a coal tray. I had already made a seat and footrests for the wagon, as well as brakes. The latter just need adjusting and the wagon is ready to use.

At this stage I decided to throw a fire in the loco it to see what would happen. Aside from a few tiny leaks from fittings such as the whistle, steam was raised happily, and the engine was soon ticking over. I then engaged a gear, and with the engine propped-up, I set the thing going and joyfully watched the wheels going around, too! The mechanical pump worked well, as did the hand pump, thus showing the water arrangements between wagon and loco were ok. The injector needs fiddling with, but what’s new?!

Now that I know the thing works, preparations will now be made ready for the hydraulic and steam tests, which will hopefully include a track test. The loco has two gears, so it’s bound to work in at least one of them!

Written by Kev B