By David Pinniger
Jack Wheldon’s “Charles Pooter” is one of the iconic 16mm loco designs from the early 1980’s. It was a generic industrial 2 foot gauge 0-4-0T designed to be a controllable and docile pot boiler which did not burn your fingers off like some of the Archangel engines. To this end, Jack designed an inner firebox to contain the heat around the boiler and which used the hot gases from the wicks far more efficiently. The first of the line, “Charles Pooter”, was certainly a success and with slip eccentric valve gear and ½” cylinders it was as Jack described, “a well behaved engine”. The name of the engine came from a gentleman who had ideas much above his station in life, and who was the main character in “Diary of a Nobody”, a book of gentle humour much loved by Jack.
The second engine, built in 1980, differed in a number of ways from the prototype. It had similar mechanical parts but was shorter and had a much more attractive cab. The engine was named “Lupin”, a name which puzzled me until I read the book and discovered that this was the name of Charles Pooter’s son. This engine became the prototype for the four MK 1 Pooters which followed.
Jack never sold “Lupin” but kept it as his own engine and, in his own inimitable way, Jack tinkered with it and modified it over the years. Originally painted chocolate brown, “Lupin” was rebuilt in the late 1980’s with a new boiler and larger cylinders as used on the Mark 2 Pooters.
At the same time, Jack repainted the engine in its current scheme of bright green with white lines. Jack was not superstitious and “Lupin” was numbered 13 in the Burbage Works series. However, “Lupin” always played up and Jack said that he had more problems with “this damned engine” than all the rest put together.
I ran the engine a few times on the Border Counties and on my Ambledown Valley line and “Lupin“ always behaved for me. On the last occasion Jack visited Cookham, he told me that he was going to leave “Lupin” parked on a siding at Bishops Amble just to teach him a lesson.
Very sadly, soon after in 1988, Jack died very suddenly and Jo Wheldon very generously gave me “Lupin” to keep. Since then it has run many miles on the AVR and other lines, including “Phurcombe Hall” the 16mm vintage track. It is a much loved engine and 30 years on is a very tangible working reminder of Jack’s many abilities and character.