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A web-site by Rob Speare


Building "Anchor Line", a Merchant Navy pacific in 3½ inch gauge

words by the late Len Gillett.

I suppose the attraction of building my Merchant Navy originally came from travelling behind them in the late 1940s journeying from Waterloo to Salisbury, while stationed there in the R.A.F.

The only drawings available were a set for L.B.S.C's. 3½ pacific that he named 'Pamela'.  This design was based on the rebuilt version of the Merchant Navy class, with two cylinders and outside Walshaerts valve gear.

These drawings gave the correct dimensions for the frames and all the details to be able to produce the chassis.  Brian Haresnape's book on Bulleid locos helped a lot with other details, as it did also with the casing around the boiler, the cab and the tender.

For the cylinders I used a set of slide valve castings as sold for L.B.S.C.'s 'Hielan Lassie' which gave me the correct three cylinders.  Not wanting to get involved with chain driven valve gear, I decided that Stephenson's valve gear would be the most suitable, especially as at that time Martin Evans was describing Stephenson valve gear for his 'Torquay Manor'.

By scaling down the 5" gauge dimensions, I was able to fit the outside cylinder eccentrics on the crank axle, and the inside cylinder eccentrics on the rear axle.

The outside cylinder valve gear passes through the frames to the crossheads supported by bronze pads, making a very robust fitting.  The driving wheels were from A.J. Reeves castings of the Bulleid Firth Brown design.


When it came to making the boiler I followed the 'Pamela' drawing, but this turned out to be a mistake.  I later found that the M.N. boilers were shaped to make them narrower at the top.  When the time came to make the top of the casing, I found that it would not go down low enough as it fouled on the top corners of the boiler.  The consequence of this is that the completed engine is ½" taller than it should be.  It was either live with that, or make a new boiler.

Originally the boiler was to be fed by two injectors, but I found them to be too temperamental, so I fitted an axle driven pump and dispensed with one of the injectors.

To look correct, the chimney diameter needed to be much larger than specified for 'Pamela', this meant that I had to make a multi-jet blast pipe with 5 nozzles to spread the exhaust to fit the chimney.

To make the nameplate for "Anchor Line" I first had to build an engraving machine, using an old vacuum machine motor to drive it.  A wooden template was made to the required shape with plastic letters cut out and afixed.  The flag emblem in the centre was also made of plastic, copied from a menu card that I had saved from a voyage made a few years earlier on an "Anchor Line" ship.

A lot of time was then spent going around these shapes with a fine pointed engraving tool to produce the required result on a piece of brass sheet.  A second nameplate was then made for the opposite side of the loco, not forgetting to turn the flag emblem over so that the flag flies to the rear of the engine.


The engine and tender were completed by late summer 1978, the engine weighing in at 42 kgs and the tender a further 12 kgs.

Up to 1994 I had steamed the engine on 67 occasions, mostly passenger hauling at either Northampton or Peterboro tracks. On one such occasion it performed for 7 hours on Northampton's track.