by Nick Hunt

Above: The finished snowplough wagon on the Nonsuch Light Railway. The
rocks in the wagon act as ballast to help the wagon stay on track as it ploughs
aside the snow.

In the darkling days of autumn a few years ago, the staff of the Engineering Department of the Nonsuch Light Railway were looking for a winter project. The initial idea came from a magazine article describing a snowplough, and while the magazine has since disappeared into the debris of the Engineering Department workshop and cannot be found, a search for further inspiration on the web turned up some wonderfully bizarre snowploughs, especially in Central Europe. It is from these influences that the NLR’s engineers developed a design for their own plough.

Now, it is worth noting that the ‘Nonsuch’ of the NLR derives from nearby Nonsuch Park, the former site of Henry VIII’s Nonsuch Palace, in the outer fringes of South West London. Snow is uncommon here, and so the Engineering Department decided that the snowplough should serve double duty as a way of removing other debris from the track such as leaves, twigs and so on – a nod in the direction of the ballast ploughs once used by many standard gauge companies.

Above: Construction is based upon a Brandbeight flat bed wagon kit. Note the
Brandbright guard’s van brake standard.

Construction is based on a Brandbright flat bed wagon kit, with additional wooden strips around the edge of the floor to hide the otherwise rather obvious plywood edges, and solebar detail from brass rivets and plastic card washers. Corner plates are from brass strip fixed with Peco track pins, while the simple brake gear is made from Cambrian shoes and hangers, and a piece of brass tube to link them. A Brandbright guard’s van brake standard adds a slightly eccentric flourish.

The main part of the plough is cut from a plastic gutter 90-degree corner piece, which forms the curves and provides a rigid foundation, with the bonus of having some likely looking ribs. The width of the plough has been extended on either side with brass sheet bolted to the plastic gutter with 12BA hex-headed steel bolts, while some brass angle soldered in place reinforces the top edge and hides the thickness of the gutter’s plastic. The plough is mounted onto the wagon with a frame made from sections of rail bolted and soldered together, adjusted to give the plough a suitable clearance above rail height. This clearance is set to allow for changes of gradient, which is especially important because the plough has a substantial overhang beyond the short wheelbase of the wagon.

Above: A view of the underside of the snowplough wagon, showing the plough
which is cut from household plastic guttering pipe corner piece. The picture also
shows the ‘brush’ added to help clear leaves and twigs from the line.

The rail frame that supports the plough also retains the pieces of rock that act as ballast to ensure that the snowplough stays on the rails when charging a deep snowdrift. This feature was inspired by an on-line photo of a Lithuanian plough similarly weighted; in the case of the NLR’s plough the Engineering Department was able to make use of waste material from the soil tip of the quarry served by the line. The quarrymen were kind enough to cut some of the slate slabs to size, using a hacksaw fitted with a blade intended for cutting ceramic tiles.

A length of brush from a device intended to draft-proof letterboxes is located behind the plough, sufficiently out of view as to be invisible in the picture. This is intended to provide a ‘belt and braces’ approach to removing leaves and twigs, although its efficacy is a little uncertain. The plough is finished in the NLR’s standard freight grey (from an aerosol of grey primer) with the plough and supporting metalwork in black. The Engineering Department is proud of its work but tends to reserve colour and decoration for coaching stock and locomotives, so the only hint of frivolity on the snowplough is the white brake wheel.
The pace of life on the NLR is slow, and over that winter the Engineering Department proceeded with the construction of the plough in idle moments between other more pressing activities, safe in the knowledge that snow comes to London only slightly more often than blue moons. So when, in early February, snow fell in some quantity, there was a mad dash to get the half-built plough to a usable state and to steam up what was then the NLR’s only locomotive (an Accucraft ‘Wrekin’ class named Raffles) in order to test it. The result was a strange scene: in the railway’s workshop the engineers were frantically cutting, drilling and cursing sections of rail to hold the plough, whilst outside the sun shone and the dripping of thawing snow could be heard. Happily the snow lasted long enough for the still unpainted plough to be trialled, although on that occasion it might more accurately have been called a slush plough. With much huffing and puffing, Raffles and the plough made headway through the drifts and cleared the track just before the snow melted of its own accord.

Above: A further view of the completed snowplough wagon.

Text and photos by Nick Hunt