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Newt gaurds van cum parcel van

Whittlecreek and Eaton St Torpid Heritage Railway's flat-bed wagons have an assortment of loads. But look rather odd without a brake van on the end. Even though the chassis are visibly fitted with air brakes…

So, when progress with the Bulrush dining car seemed to be going even more slowly than usual the management felt the need for a 'quickie' – a model which could be put together in a matter of a few hours. To fill the need for a brake van they decided to 'unground' a grounded coach body. Which, in reality, had never really been grounded, just put to one side for the time when building scenery rather than rolling stock might come to the fore. It was removed from the early LGB model of a third-class coach when the chassis was repurposed to improve the running of the Houmont Ostrich Polo team transport.

So a new chassis was needed. A continental-style dropside wagon (known to cognoscenti as 'DR Niederbordwagon 40055') has a similar chassis. So instead of resurrecting the fairly complex balcony-end of the third-class coach, the handrail of the Niederbordwagon was retained. Everything bar the coach roof and the chassis itself had already been painted Regulation Grey. So after some gluing and filling then a touch more paint things were in running order.

But the model looked decidedly underwhelming. Not least because the third-class coach model didn't have glazing in the windows – perhaps this was based on the prototype. So, to make it look more like a parcel van – indeed a rather jury-rigged parcel van – four of the windows were boarded up using lollipop sticks (the Jackdaw Works has a seemingly unlimited stock). The other windows were glazed with some already rather scruffy acetate sheet.

The all-important red tail light.

Because the railway's operational activities are mostly seen at dusk, a working rear light was essential. As the Lazybeach Special guard's van already has a traditional-shaped oil-burning red light, this time a modern-ish electric light seemed more appropriate. And if there was electric for the red light on the exterior then there could be an interior light too. Out came the box with battery holders, 10 kΩ 'pots', small switches, LEDs and suitable wire. After a bit of soldering these came together well. Rather than hide the battery holder in a false roof, as has been done with all other coaches so far, a large carton will sit on the floor of the parcel van (makes sense, doesn't it?) which can hide the holder for two AAA batteries.

But, as you have no doubt realised, Whittlecreek and Eaton St Torpid Heritage Railway locomotives have no facilities for generating electricty. So how 'in the real world' would these two lights be powered? Well, getting somewhat up to date, how about if they look like they're solar-powered? After checking the size and appearance of photovoltaic panels supplied for caravans and camper vans a suitable dummy was added to the coach roof. As the roofs of models are mostly what's seen then this adds a modicum of whackiness to any otherwise conventional vehicle (by the standards of Whittlecreek and Eaton St Torpid Heritage Railway).

Although later LGB models of coaches include well-detailed hinged doors (even the door latches work!) the third-class coach does not have an opening door – there is simply the minimum of moulded-in detail to suggest where the door is. So the management in their infinite wittiness decided that there needed to be a sign instructing all and sundry to KEEP DOOR SHUT. After all, if the door were to be left open, there is a risk of birds nesting inside or even a swarm of bees seeking sancturary (although, truth to tell, neither of these are mentioned in the risk assessment section of the operating procedures).

Because of the frequency of crepescular operations at Whittlecreek and Eaton St Torpid Heritage Railway, as a concession to health and safety the edges of the steps were outlined in white paint.

The railway's Regulations require operating handles to be painted bright red. So the revelant part of the manually-operated brake was so treated. But some wag (or someone with an overly-literal way of thinking) decided that the handle of the door was also an 'operating handle', so this too is in the same shade.

Because the vehicle is fairly pedestrian in appearance, it needed a bonkers name. The Great Western Railway's guards vans were known as 'Toads'. This nickname was derived from the GWR's telegraphic code for a brake van. Many 'species' of Toads were designed and built between 1894 and the early 1950s. Although this is strictly more a parcel van than a brake van, it will be used more like a brake van. So perhaps it could be a Frog? Or a Salamander? Or, for those who know their amphibia rather better than most, a Caecilian. But 'Newt' appealed most.


During an ever-more rambling email 'conversation' with Ian the topic of the railway's genii loci or guardian spirits arose. As it would.

After getting past the unrepeatable suggestion that railways would have genii locomoti there was a consensus that if the genii loci needed to get about then their best option would be to use the railway's rolling stock. Travelling, of course, in the guards van.

To ensure that any 'commuting' genii loci would feel at home there clearly needed to be a small shrine in their honour inside Newt. While waiting for inspiration as to the most suitable sort of shrine, the management opted to settle for a quick fix by adorning the inside with icons of St Christopher and St Eligius.


Most people are aware that Saint Christopher is the patron saint of travellers, as his hagiography describes how he carried the infant Christ across a tricky ford. Indeed, his name means 'Christ bearer' in Greek. The fact that Saint Christopher lived about three hundred years after Christ is, of course, not a problem to those whose faith is more secure than the management's.

There is no patron saint of railways. But by common agreement the patron saint of coachmen and coachbuilders has been upgraded to the role. Indeed Saint Eligius is the traditional patron of all smiths, metal workers and craftsmen. His patronage of horses and the people who work with them stems first from his patronage of smiths and craftmen, but also from his having left a horse to a priest at his death. The new bishop liked the horse, and took it from the priest. The horse became sick, but recovered immediately when it was returned to the priest that Eligius had chosen. There is also a legend of Eligius removing a horse's leg in order to more easily replace its shoe, afterwards putting the leg back in place. In some places horses are blessed on his feast day, the 1st December.

As horse-drawn cabs were replaced by motorized ones, and stables were supplanted by garages and petrol stations, Saint Eligius's patronage was retained.

The Whittlecreek and Eaton St Torpid Heritage Railway's gift shop hopes to have stocks of fridge magnets depicting Saint Eligius for the 2020 tourism season.

Note that Saint Pancras is not the patron saint of British railways as he already has rather a lot on his salver as:

  • the champion of oaths and treaties
  • patron saint of children
  • and, last but not least, patron saint of Germany.
Furthermore, Saint Pancras is often invoked against false witness and perjury, headaches and cramp. A busy after-life indeed!

But had Whittlecreek and Eaton St Torpid Heritage Railway been in Scotland then the patronage of St Rollox might have been invoked (thanks Nigel). Although some wag remarked that St Rollox sounded like the patron saint of oar-powered vessels.

For those not from Glasgow and therefore unlikely to be hitherto aware of the existence of St Rollox then it might be worth mentioning that this name is the local pronunciation of 'St Roch's loch'. Saint Roch (also spelt Roque and Rocco) was specially invoked against the plague and a patron saint of dogs, invalids, of falsely accused people, bachelors 'and several other things' (presumably unmentionable in polite company?).


Those more acquainted with the protective deities of iron workers have suggested invoking New Orleans Hoodoo's Joe Feraille, his Haitian brother Ogou Ferrai, and their Yoruba ancestor, the metalworking god Ogun (thanks again Nigel). For Classically-inclined devotees there is the Roman smith-deity Vulcan and his Greek ancestor Hephaestus. Which then brings us to St Dunstan who is the undisputed Christian patron of blacksmiths. His vita includes tweaking the nose of Old Nick with his smithing tongs…

So there is a real risk of the the shrine becoming a pantheon. In which case a mere parcels van might not be big enough and a pantechnicon would be needed instead.

And were America a more Catholic country then maybe the canonisation of 'Casey' Jones would have been completed by now. 'St Casey' would be railways' own martyr saint. (Thanks yet again Nigel).

Once smiths get involved then fabbro ferraio are never far away. Probably just as well a certain upmarket car maker is Italian not British, else the overly-effluent would be driving around in showy Smiths not flaunty Ferraris. However an icon depiciting the marque's prancing horse will be included in the shrine.

To ensure Japanese visitors to Whittlecreek and Eaton St Torpid Heritage Railway feel they are being protected, the management have procured a statuette of Jizo Bosatsu. Although now especially associated with children – notably children who die before their parents – Jizo is the protector of all beings in the six realms of Buddhism. This makes him the protector of expectant mothers, women in labour, children, firemen, travellers and pilgrims.

More information on Jizo.

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