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A web-site by Rob Speare


The story of No 35021 'New Zealand Line'.

A while back I came across a photograph of a Merchant Navy class loco I hadn't seen before, and being the curious sort, I tried to find out more about it. 

The loco had been on display at a Sutton Model Engineering club exhibition, and I learnt that the loco had been built by an ex Nine Elms fireman, giving it particular kudos. 

Further, it was started in 1948, in the year of Railway Nationalisation, while new Bulleid's Pacifics were still being constructed and entering service, making it the earliest model of a Bulleid pacific I've heard of. 


 Russell's loco.

The builder was Russell Coffin, one of the firemen working at the very the end of B.R. steam, giving the Bulleid Pacifics a good thrash before saying a sad farewell to them.

To quote part of a letter from Russell :  "During most of my firing career I was lucky with the drivers to whom I was a regular mate, and had several who worked on a day and day about basis, that is driving and firing on alternate days.  I learnt a hell of a lot that way.  Of course once I got into the Top Link as a fireman the drivers were much older and not inclined to tackle any graft on the shovel.  Fred Batho and I had MN No. 35021 ('New Zealand Line') as a regular engine, so we kept the footplate fittings all polished and the cab spotless.  A real pleasure to go to work.  Happy Days !"

He stayed on the railway as a driver on the electrics - but was also a lifetime member of the Sutton Club.

Russell learnt his modelling skills from his father who was an engineer, and built many models including stationary engines and scale railway signals.

We can perhaps safely assume it was his respect for the original Pacifics with all their complex workings, and his time and fondness for 35021 in particular that drew Russell to build his fine model.

Whilst the M.N. was not built to works drawings and there is some slight simplification, his loco is a true Bulleid in miniature with three cylinders and chain driven valve gear.  However, Russell dispensed with an oil bath, a good squirt around with an oil can before a run was found to be adequate.

Russell Coffin was also a keen photographer, and he took many photographs towards the end of steam which capture the atmosphere of the day in a way a heritage railway just cannot.  Some of his photographic collection has been published by Jim Lester, himself an ex S.R. Nine Elms based fireman, through his web-site about Nine Elms shed.  For a link to Russell's photos - click here.

I am especially grateful to the late Jo Milan, and other members of the Sutton Model Engineering Club who supplied these wonderful photographs for us to enjoy.

Some Exhibition notes for 35021 by the late Russell Coffin.

Originally intended to be a model of a 'West Country' class, this 3 ½" gauge locomotive was commenced in about 1948.

The driving wheels were partly cast, and partly fabricated.  The construction of the frames and other parts of the chassis progressed satisfactorily, and the tender was soon completed.

Owing to a move to another house, work stopped for some years until the workshop was re-instated.


As no working drawings had been used, it was realised that the commercially available cylinders were really well over scale width, so it was then decided to convert to the larger and wider 'MN' class.

This meant lengthening the frames to take the larger boiler.

Two more house (and workshop) moves delayed the project even further, so it was decided to wait until retirement, in 1986, to complete the model.  This took till September 1989 - 41 years after it was started !


The valve gear follows the Bulleid chain driven pattern, modified in detail to facilitate assembly - with 12" to the foot fingers - in the very confined space available.

That took me some time to work out, but resulted in a number of sub-assemblies that could be dropped in, so to speak, and then connected by simple pin joints.

Like the prototype, the chain used is a Morse inverted tooth silent rocker type - it came from America, via a friend, but is probably now out of production.  It is seven plates wide, about 7/32", and has a pitch of 3/16"; and apart from a slight adjustment once a year, has given no trouble at all.


The boiler has a combustion chamber with vertical water tubes, 4 super heater flues and a grate area of 25 sq. inches.

Water feed is by one axle driven pump, and one injector - no hand pump is fitted or has ever been needed.


As a matter of interest the builder was a Top Link fireman on the 'real' one for several years - it was allocated to 2 pairs of loco men as a regular engine, and in service gave every satisfaction.

The model was therefore built 'from memory' plus a few rough sketches, and reference to photographs.

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Editor's note : A lovely man, and what a great life, going from top-link firing during the legendary days of the end of Southern region steam, to having the fantastic skill to make such a brilliant model...

Russell's loco in now in the safe hands of a fellow club member, has passed a recent boiler test, and could be in steam again very soon; a testament to his fine workmanship.