Original “Perth” builder’s plate donated to Pete’s Hobby Railway

Short Version

Transport Heritage NSW

Pete’s Hobby Railway wishes to acknowledge with gratitude the donation by Transport Heritage NSW of an original builder’s plate once carried by our Fowler steam locomotive “Perth”.

Detailed Version

Traditionally, a builder’s (or manufacturer’s) plate is attached to a new locomotive and shows the builder, in this case, John Fowler & Co. Limited, a sequential number (8766) and, in most cases but not with Fowler, the year of construction, together sometimes with the location of the manufacturer’s workshops – in this case, Leeds. Normally, there are two builder’s plates for each locomotive, one being placed on either side of the cab or other suitable location.

Tender-type locomotives may also carry separate, but simpler builder’s plates on the tender, as do items of rolling stock, both passenger and goods. In the case of American locomotives these could be attached to the sides of the smokebox.

Other manufacturers may attach them above the driving wheels, such as with many Beyer Peacock locomotives (New South Wales Railways Z12 class for instance). Articulated locomotives, such as the NSWR AD60 class Beyer-Garratts, carried the builder’s plates on the main centre frame supporting the boiler … which created identification problems as these boiler frames were swapped between locomotives as they passed through the Workshops for overhaul. A whole book could be written about builder’s plates, their design, interpretation and placement on items.

While most would identify a locomotive (or other item) by its builder’s plate, others (in the case of locomotives) would say that it is also the frame that identifies a locomotive. This is difficult when a locomotive receives a new frame (and sometimes, as in the case of a number of NSWR C32 class in the 1950s, a new boiler) – although in some cases, parts of the former locomotive may be transferred across, such as the cab and numbers. These reframed 32 class went on to exchange overhauled boilers in subsequent years. Then, again in the case of the NSWR at least, there were instances where locomotives swapped identities as they passed through the Workshops. An engine on entering the Workshops for scrapping would be found to be in far better in far better condition than the class member adjacent which had come in for overhaul, and so for book-keeping purposes, the two simply swapped numbers.

PHR’s Fowler locomotive “Perth” is an excellent example of this, as has been covered in previous Progress Reports (22, 46, 47, 48 & 54). Not only does it not have its original main frame but that of another engine, it is fitted with a replacement new boiler of a differing design to the original, while many of the individual parts (rods, motion, etc.) carry stamped number impressions revealing they have been sourced from other Fowler locomotives.

When I first came across “Perth” at the Colonial Sugar Refining Company’s Victoria Sugar Mill near Ingham in North Queensland back in 1965, the locomotive was still proudly carrying its original builder’s plate (at least on one side!) as evidenced in the photograph below.

Image 1: “Perth”, as photographed on-shed at CSR’s Victoria Sugar Mill on Saturday 20th November 1965. Careful examination will show the builder’s plate attached to the cab-side, with its yellow background.

Some fifteen years later, when I acquired “Perth” as a result of a public tender process, the locomotive was devoid of builder’s plates. Accordingly, I had two made up, using an original from another John Fowler locomotive.

Image 2: One of the duplicate builder’s plates I had made for attachment to locomotive.

Late last year, Transport Heritage NSW, when advising of the forthcoming 6th Annual General Meeting subsequently held on Saturday 30th November at Thirlmere, gave notice of a recommendation to de-access a collection of 54 builder’s and number plates from locomotives etc. that were not part of the railways of New South Wales. These had been part of a collection from a deceased Estate and had been bequeathed to the Museum. Presumably, others from locomotives etc within the State were to be retained. The Collection had been discussed by the Museum’s Collections & Curatorial Committee, from which recommendations were made as to disposal should the proposal be approved by the Membership. An illustrated list of the various plates was provided by Email to the Membership for prior consideration.

While many of the plates were from Queensland Railways locomotives, one which caught my eye was a builder’s plate from PHR’s “Perth”. Obviously, it didn’t say from which locomotive the plate originated, but I recognised it immediately. Accordingly, I registered an interest in the plate, should the proposal by approved by the Membership at the Annual General Meeting. This was acknowledged by Andrew Moritz, Chief Executive Officer, and said in part: “As part of the deaccessioning process, the Board’s Collection & Curatorial Committee had identified the builder’s plate as belonging to your locomotive and recommended that, should deaccessioning from the collection be approved by the Membership at the AGM, the plate should be offered to you so that it can be returned to its rightful place on the locomotive”.

The motion was carried by the Membership. Then, in early March I received a parcel from Transport Heritage NSW, in which was the builder’s plate from “Perth”.

Image 3: The original builder’s plate, at one time attached to “Perth”.

A close examination of the original and duplicate plates will disclose a difference in the font of the numbers. If my memory serves me correctly, this was because the original style of font was not held by the person who made the duplicates for me.

As indicated at the commencement of this Progress Report and on behalf of Pete’s Hobby Railway, I am most grateful to receive the builder’s plate which will be duly attached to the locomotive on completion of the restoration project.

SM Loftus

2 thoughts on “Original “Perth” builder’s plate donated to Pete’s Hobby Railway

  1. Peter, what a great little story and how fortunate that original maker’s plate has again found its proper home. Full marks to all concerned.

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