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Quainton News Archive - Quainton News No. 20 - Summer 1974

Our Preservation Neighbour

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Stephen Hicks - Smokescreen at Bicester
J R Fairman - Marchwood, 92 Waggoner, 18th April 1974

Stand on the platform at Quainton Road, find a friendly crow, point him in a westerly direction and ask him to fly for eight miles and then land at the nearest preservation centre. Before you set him on his way you should tell him that when he arrives he will find himself at the Arncott Railway Workshops of the Bicester Military Railway. This railway was built in 1941 to serve two Ordnance Depots, one at Graven Hill near to the town of Bicester and the other at Arncott. Large loops of rail track circle the depots and a single track main line links the two sites and is connected to the Oxford to Bletchley line of British Rail just south of the erstwhile Bicester, (London Road) station.

The locomotive running shed of the Bicester Military Railway is at Graven Hill near the exchange sidings and houses the diesel locos used in the normal work of the depot. The main line to Arncott is controlled by electric token block whilst the siding complexes at each of the two depots traffic is directed from central control cabins. At Arncott are the main workshops responsible for the overhaul and repair of the whole fleet of locomotives and stock of the railways and depots operated by the Army Department at their numerous sites. One of the most attractive sections of the main line is where it passes through the village of Ambrosden and crosses a road near the church by a level crossing.

When we directed our pet to Bicester we said that he would be going to a railway preservation centre and we should now mention this aspect of the site. Although there are many items of rolling stock which are worthy candidates for preservation the most important is a Hunslet built 0-6-0ST steam locomotive rather like our own Juno of the Ivatt Trust. The Bicester engine is 197 and it is called The Sapper [Note 1]. It was built in July 1953 and carries the maker's number 3797. Some of its life has been spent in store at Longmoor or Bicester but The Sapper saw active service between 1958 and 1960 at the depot at Kineton in Warwickshire. It is retained in full working order and on a number of occasions has been in steam in recent years to work special trains round the depots, often for visiting railway enthusiasts.

Our photograph was taken late last summer when 197 was being prepared for its last outing of the season in connection with a programme by Radio Oxford. Since 1946 the Bicester Military Railway has been run by civilian staff and one of their number is our member, Stephen Hicks. Stephen is well known for his work on the restoration of the Beattie tank but he is employed by No. 1 Railway Group, RCT as a crane driver and his duties include the job as fireman on The Sapper. He must be the chap responsible for the splendid pall of smoke from 197's chimney!

The last regular working of steam at Bicester was in 1966 but 197 maintains the tradition of steam on our Military Railways with 198 Royal Engineer [Note 2] at Long Marston and 92 Waggoner [Note 3] at Marchwood. A beautifully clean external condition can soon be obtained by polishing the paintwork preserved by the time honoured mixture of oil and paraffin and when The Sapper is brought out of hibernation to work a special train its olive green livery and white tyres are a joy to behold. Stephen hopes to have his steed on operation at the end of April for a reunion celebration and looks forward to the time when civilians can once more have the opportunity of coming to visit Bicester and seeing Army steam preservation at its best.

[1] - No. 197 Sapper moved to the Kent & East Sussex Railway, Tenterden, Kent, in 1977, remaining in Army ownership until 1979. Now numbered No. 25 Northiam , she has been in service at the K & ESR since.
[2] - No. 198 Royal Engineer moved to the Isle of Wight Steam Railway, she is currently operational. After Army ownership she was owned by Royal Corps of Transport Museum Trust until 2001 when ownership transferred to the National Army Museum. In 2008 ownership transferred to the Isle of Wight Steam Railway.
[3] - No. 98 Waggoner had a similar history after Army use, but spent time at Museum of Army Transport, Beverley, before transferring to the Isle of Wight Steam Railway in 2008. She is currently operational.

The text in this Quainton Railway Society publication was written in 1974 and so does not reflect events in the 40+ years since publication. The text and photographs are repeated verbatim from the original publication, with only a few minor grammar changes but some clarifying notes are added if deemed necessary. The photos from the original publication are provided as scans in this internet version of this long out of print publication.

Our Preservation Neighbour - Quainton News No. 20 - Summer 1974

Text © Quainton Railway Society / Photographs © Quainton Railway Society or referenced photographer
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