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The Great Bear locomotive 1908

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The Great Bear locomotive 1908

To qualify for inclusion in this book, a locomotive has to possess milestone status; it doesnt necessarily have to have been a rip-roaring success. The Great Bear probably falls into this category-for, as Britains first-ever standard gauge Pacific, it has an inalienable right to be counted among the 50 most iconic machines in history, yet, from an operational point of view, it was never really given a chance to become a great performer.

The Great Bear locomotive 1908

Great Bear locomotive 1908
TECHNICAL DATA
Introduced  1908
Builder  GWR Swindon
Weight (loco) 97  tons
Designer  Churchward

Boiler pressure  225psi

Cylinders (4)  15  x  26 in

Valve gear  Inside Walschaerts
Driving wheel diameter  6 ft  8,5 in
Tractive effort  27,800lb
Withdrawn (rebuilt as a Castle) 1924

No. 111 - which pre-dated Gresleys first entry into the Pacific field by no fewer than 14 years - was designed by Great Western Railway locomotive superintendent George Jackson Churchward as a response to ever-increasing train weights at the turn of the 20th century, although it has also been reported that the GWR directors were keen for publicity purposes to have “the largest locomotive in Britain”. Until then, the company had relied on 4-6-Os for its principal express passenger services and Churchwards design was basically an elongated version of a standard Swindon ten. The problem was that, at 97 tons (22 tons heavier than a Star) and with its great length, it had to be restricted to the Paddington-Bristol road - although it is known to have strayed as far as Newton Abbot and Wolverhampton on forays the civil engineer would not have authorised had he known about them!

It also turned out to be little better than the smaller Star class in terms of performance - all of which helps to explain why no more were built. Like the loco, the eight-wheeled tender was unique, but it carried no more coal or water than the standard six-wheeled versions. The Bear 1 was, however, by general consensus an impressive-loolring machine and it set down a benchmark for others to follow. It made its first trial run on February 4, 1908, and then settled down to a life of easy schedules that gave it no real opportunity to show its undoubted abilities in terms of power and speed. By 1924, it had run well over half a million miles and its boiler needed replacing, but there was no spare and it made little economic sense to build one, so the 4-6-2 was rebuilt as a Castle class 4-6-0 named Viscount Churchill, although it retained its 111 number until the end of its life in 1953. When, circa 1921-22, Churchward heard of Gresleys plans for a GNR 4-6-2, he is reputed to have said: “Why does that young man want to build a Pacific? We could have sold him ours!”

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