A History of Motor Rail 5906 of 1934

By Paul Saddington

  • Works No. 5906
  • Make: Motor Rail
  • Type: 32/42 HP
  • Weight: 5 tons
  • Layout: 2 speed & forward/reverse mechanical transmission
  • Original Engine Type: 2RBL two cylinder Dorman oil engine
  • Original Engine No. CD27004
  • Gearbox: 2 speed Dixon-Abbott
  • Gauge: 2'0"
  • Owners: Martin Frodsham, Llangollen & Paul Saddington, Gloucestershire


The first 32/42 HP type locomotives were built in 1932 starting with works No. 5901 which was despatched on 22nd June 1932 to Joseph Boam Limited. These locomotives continued to be built until 1938.

5906 was despatched from the Motor Rail works at Elstow Road, Bedford, England on 13th February 1934 and was supplied to Joseph Boam Limited, Leziate, Middleton, Kings Lynn for work at their Middleton Towers sand quarry.

Little is known about the locomotive's working history. Contact has recently been made with a past employee of Joseph Boam Limited who used to work with the light railway. It is hoped to glean more information about the loco's early days including the reason for the "bash plates" at either end and the unusual "breadbin" style cab.

By 1940 the loss of imported sands for the glass container industry necessitated that an indigenous U.K. deposit be found. Redhill sands, with beneficiation were found acceptable and as a result a merger was made in 1951 between the Standard Brick and Sand Co. of Redhill and Joseph Boam of King's Lynn. The result of this merger being British Industrial Sand Limited (BIS).

In 1963 BIS joined forces with General Refractories of Sheffield and in 1969 became incorporated into Hepworth Ceramic Holdings.

The locomotive passed to the late Mr DC Potter at the Yaxham Park Railway, Yaxham, Norfolk. Yaxham's first narrow gauge railway line was laid in the station goods yard in 1967 for Mr Potter's Hunslet 0-4-0ST Cackler. It is more than likely that 5906 was involved in the building of this railway. In 1969 Cackler was moved to the Yaxham Park Light Railway (YPLR), which once ran for over ½ a mile in meadows beyond the station. It is thought that 5906 remained at the Yaxham Park Railway until 1976. Little is known about its use (or disuse) during this period. The Yaxham Light Railway have recently been contacted and it is hoped that more information on the loco's original acquisition will be forthcoming.

On 4th December 1976, the locomotive was delivered to the West Lancashire Light Railway, Hesketh Bank, Lancashire. By this time it was sporting a 2 DL 2 cylinder Dorman oil engine of the type fitted to the post 1938 32/42 HP 5 ton locomotives. It is not clear how this engine came to be in the locomotive. It is understood from Alan Keef Limited (the company that bought Motor Rail out) that this was a fairly common modification.

The BIS company name was changed in 1988 to Hepworth Minerals and Chemicals Limited.

The locomotive ran under preservation at the West Lancashire Light Railway where it received a replacement radiator of the type commonly fitted to 20/35 HP types after suffering from frost damage. This radiator is of the wrong hand necessitating the top hole to be blanked off and one to be made on the other side to keep the original pipe layout. The original top elbow was re-used. The radiator appears to be able to cope with the 32/42 HP engine well. A large drain tap was added to the bottom of the radiator to prevent frost damage in the future.

Further work was undertaken to the engine including replacing one of the wet liners and machining one of the piston ring slots to take two rings as it was getting a little worn. A full ring set was added at this stage. The locomotive received a coat of green paint to its bodywork, black to the frames and light grey to the inside of the cab.

The locomotive inherited one bonnet panel from MR No. 7955 type 32/42 HP which was scrapped for use as a brake van. A further bonnet panel was unsuccessfully built and scrapped shortly afterwards.

The locomotive was moved to the Butterley Narrow Gauge Railway Association in the mid 1980s where it ran under preservation for several years before the spigot bush wore causing the clutch plate to collapse. After a year or so in a siding in this state, the locomotive was moved to one of the co-owner's gardens in Barton-under-Needwood in Staffordshire.

The author has since been contacted by the Ex BIS employee and has gleaned the following information. The shape of the breadbin cab was more than likely due to the shape of the tight road bridge arch that the track passed through between the sandpit and the works. 5906 left BIS wearing No. 11, which it still wears today. However, it is thought that she was originally numbered 14. Apparently, a neighbour complained to BIS on a regular basis about black diesel emissions from a certain locomotive and so the works swapped the loco's numbers round to give the impression that the offending loco had been fixed.

Since this article was written, the author (and keeper of 5906) has moved to Yorkley in Gloucestershire, where 5096 gets the opportunity to run up and down a large garden out in the sticks whilst continuing to undergo restoration. Should you wish to visit us at any time, please contact Paul Saddington.

Needless to say, if you can add anything to the story of 5906, please do not hesitate to contact me (mail address).

Paul Saddington.