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Bulleid's Irish Connection - The Turf Burner Experiment.

Today, turf (or peat) may seem a most unlikely candidate to power railways; but in recent Irish history, at about a third of the price of imported Welsh steam coal, its cost and availability made such investigations worthwhile.

As far back as 1848, different Irish railways experimented with turf as locomotive fuel - trials showing that 100 tons of turf equated to between 43 & 47 tons of coal (depending on moisture content), but despite a relative cost saving of 10%, no railway ever adopted this as a sole or major use of fuel.

However, as WW2 began to bite, Ireland's 'Great Southern Railway' (GSR) found itself unable to replenish supplies of imported Welsh steam coal, and had to experiment with fine anthracite to keep its fleet of 500 steam locomotives active.

This became critical in 1942 and despite the use of thousands of tons of turf mixed with the coal and reducing train loads, they suffered from serious problems using very fine anthracite coal, that seemed to fuse into a solid mass of clinker, causing many failures.

The railways struggled on using turf to bulk out the coal available, but the winter of 1946/7 proved very problematic, very cold with heavy snowfall resulting in a severe restriction on the import of U.K. coal, exposing their dependance on this fuel.

This resulted in the Government asking Sir James Milne (former GWR General Manager) to review the transport infrastructure in the Republic of Ireland, and Bulleid was brought in as one of three technical assessors of the 1948 Milne Report.  Bulleid made a good impression on senior staff at the recently formed CIÉ, and when he resigned his post as CME from the Southern in 1949 he became Consulting Engineer to the CIÉ, and a year later Chief Mechanical Engineer.  Córas Iompair Éireann ("C I É") was an amalgamation of the GSR, tramways and canals, which was nationalised in 1950.

The CIE had already decided on dieselisation of the system, though how this was to be achieved was still being worked out when Bulleid arrived.  Implemementing a wide ranging modernisation, Bulleid questioned whether the railway could afford so many expensive diesels and fuel costs; so with 'Leader' still freshly in mind, he gained permission to work up a new design for a steam locomotive to run exclusively on the available supply of the local fuel - turf.

Early experiments in burning turf involved mixing with coal in traditional locomotive boilers.  Bulleid realised to use turf as the sole fuel, much more research was required to make the process more efficient, and he oversaw trials of turf hoppers, water pre-heaters and induced draughting, using an old 2-6-0 locomotive as a driveable testbed.

There were a number of new design proposals, and with G.J. Click on the team, employed much that was learnt from 'Leader'.  With dieselisation, the typical power unit was around 1000 bhp, and Bulleid wanted his turf burner to be comparable in power.  The design emerged for a 68 feet long 0-6-6-0, with a capacity of 2700 gals of water and 8½ tons of turf.  The plain and rather ugly external casing hid the complexity of hoppers, blowers and pre-heating piping required to extract the most energy from the turf.

The locomotive was built an Inchicore, welded throughout, with fabricated cylinders.  The boiler was central, the water carried at one end, the turf hopper at the other end, and between, two cabs with duplicated controls.

The bogies were of much lighter construction than 'Leader', with a similar external chain drive; but simplified to 2 cylinders per bogie, with Walshaerts valve gear - no sleeve valves and no oil bath - but in true Bulleid style had 'Boxpoc' wheels of 3' 7" diameter (as the tenders wheels of his pacifics).

Named in Bulleid's style of adopting the wheelbase - 'CC1' - rode well, but in common with Leader, suffered high oil consumption.  As turf was lighter than coal it kept alight for longer and reportedly caused many lineside fires, though these were often reported on days when 'CC1' was not in use !

It might be easy to assume that despite it's gawkish looks, 'CC1' was a cut-down 'Leader', but that would ignore the considerable changes made in this locomotive to handle the very different requirement to burn turf.  But lessons were learnt from Leader, notably in respect of the working area for the fireman, although visibilty must have been poor.

Did it work ? Yes, and quite well.  But in proving the concept of turf burning, it was recognised that a redesign was required to ensure a locomotive robust enough for everyday routine service.

Given the poor state of Ireland at the time, it is testimony to the Inchicore works that they turned out this quite complex design, and made it work.

When Bulleid finally retired in 1958, aged 75, and companion John Click returned to the U.K., the opportunity opened to abandon further testing.

With well over 100 diesel-electric locos in service - the result of Bulleid's wider role as C.M.E. - and difficulties of the war years receding, there was no future for this very non-standard high maintenance experiment.  So 'CC1' was officially withdrawn in 1963, and broken up.

The world has moved on, and maybe this rather ugly machine has been somewhat overlooked.  The design successfully achieved what it set out to do, burning a rather poor fuel to good effect.

As things stood when originally conceived, it may well have proved a valuable asset in allowing the use of local fuel resources - so perhaps this composition of technologies should be considered in quite a positive way.

Ernie Sheppard has prepared a most interesting publication on the background, development and history of Bulleid's final steam locomotive design - 'Bulleid and The Turf Burner'.

( this is available from : Kestrel Railway Books )