By Keith Skillicorn
In 1863 the first of the little George England tank locos came to work on the Festiniog Railway. Whilst everyone knows them in their current modified form with the saddle tank and full cab, it may come as a surprise to some that they began their lives in a very different form.
Robin Gosling was one of the earliest commercial manufacturers of models for the 16mm narrow gauge market. He did, however, have a very detailed and meticulous approach which was very much at odds with commercial pressures. His locos were exquisite pieces of model engineering. As a result of this, unless anyone has information to the contrary, it is a widely held view that he only completed eight of these model locos in the late 1970’s/early 1980’s, and even they differed in some detail respects. It seems that Robin was unhappy with repetitive batch manufacturing.
The loco in question was originally supplied to Frank Howell, passing in more recent times to me. In 1975 the advertised price was £225, though by 1985 this had risen to £1065.
The loco is beautifully built, incorporating such features as an internally meths-fired Smithies boiler with wet-lag backhead, sprung axleboxes, water and meths carried in the tender (with a hand pump and chicken-feed supply system respectively). Valve gear is slip-eccentric, operating small D slide-valve cylinders.
The working boiler pressure is 60 psi. The ‘wooden’ cover on the tender top is actually fabricated from clear Perspex, a favourite material of Robin’s. This is close to a finescale model, reflecting the prototype’s diminutive size. The cab is neatly laid out, and the design of the prototype makes for excellent access. There is a small displacement lubricator situated below the deckplate in front of the smokebox. Worthy of note are the round section driving and coupling rods.
It could be considered something of an understatement to describe the performance of the model as ‘lively’. It takes a lot of practice, but having overcome the initial desire to open the regulator too far (it needs very few degrees), the loco becomes very controllable, even when running light. It will throttle down to walking pace with the blower cracked open, and providing that you are prepared to top the tender levels up very frequently (due to the limited capacity), you can keep the model in steam all day if you wish.
It is beautiful to look at – in many people’s eyes by far the more attractive when compared to later incarnations, and runs so well that one could liken it to a watchmaker’s creation. Altogether something to cherish and enjoy.