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Moving the Goods - 8 - Livestock & Birds

Evan Green-Hughes, Kelsey Media, August 2016, £7.95

Book review

Moving the Goods - 8 - Livestock and Birds

This is a 100-page "bookazine" of pictures and captions, and a few pages of text. Modellers will be disappointed because hardly any of the vehicles are identified (or are wrong) and little is said about the traffic and how it was operated. Readers seeking historical information should beware because of the sheer volume of errors. Correcting the errors and misinformation would take many pages so I shall confine myself to some examples.

p.4

- Here is the first captioned picture in the book and from the start, alarm bells ring. It shows 60136 Alcazar with a train of NPCS at the head of which are two cattle trucks (not identified but BR-built LMS and SR designs) and is captioned as "cattle and animal traffic was ... often allocated top link power... with a mixed train of cattle wagons and bogie vans". Where does one begin? There is no evidence of top link haulage for cattle and animal traffic; this is not such a train; and it is not a "mixed train". It is a conventional ECML parcels train comprising bogie vans - and vanfits - to which a pair of fitted, or through piped, cattle trucks was attached. Beyond the loco name and number, the information in this caption has simply been made up; alas, many more follow.

p.6-7

- Some examples from the first bit of text will help set the scene. Reference is made to "swilling out of cattle wagons" - a derisory and wrong term for what was actually legally required hygienic cleansing to guard against highly contagious and destructive foot and mouth disease. Using "whitewash", it is stated, a mistake that recurs. Whitewash is a paint designed to cover coarse surfaces and has no disinfectant properties. Aggressive limewash was used. And that was only until 1924. No mention is made that - for most of the period covered by this book - phenol solution took over (also enforced by Parliament).

Another quote: "Three standard sizes of cattle wagon were specified with separate rates for each but many companies rather than build three designs, settled on the principle of building trucks with moveable partitions...this practice continued well into the 20thC". It's another example of fabrication. Three different RATES were employed, but not all were used or even made available, and the practice of fitting partitions was patchy at first. Indeed, the LNER had to force its inherited companies in Scotland to fit them in wagons that could only accommodate two of the sizes anyway, and there was reluctance across Scotland against Large cattle trucks. You can see some of this on p.93 (unnoticed by the author, whose caption is unlikely anyway). As the years passed the designs were progressively scaled up, from Small to Medium and then Large. This modernisation caused the oldest wagons (ie. the smallest ones) to be eliminated. It wasn't a uniform process because some companies were more far-sighted and wealthier than others.

Traffic for hunting is mentioned as "much loved by the gentry" (it was actually open to all classes with no regard for the type of horse; "for the landowners" (it was for the Hunts and ran from their kennels); the hounds were in "cattle trucks" (no, hound vans were built); and going to "shoots" (eh??!). It's poppycock and the composition of the trains and how they operated is not described.

p.10

- it is stated that in the racehorse trains, the grooms were "sometimes accompanied by the owners" (certainly not - nearly all trainers and owners lived in different parts of the country and the latter took the limo or travelled 1st class on the day of the race). Nothing is said about how horseboxes were got to the races. Or how horses for other purposes were worked. To simply say that it happened without saying how is not really much use.

p.10

- picture of an GWR autocoach with two siphons on the rear is captioned as "carrying livestock". Er, no, these siphons were built for milk traffic, hence they could be placed on the rear, and you can even see the milk churns. All through the book the author opines that GWR siphons, especially the bogie ones, were for carrying livestock. In fact they were general service vans used for anything from milk, parcels, newspapers, as through parcels vans with expresses, and so on, yet caption after caption imagines that livestock was being carried.

p12

- turn the page and there's another parcels train, hauled by an A4, with an ex-GWR bogie siphon which the author states was "conveying small livestock". It's actually another picture of an ECML parcels train rostered for a Pacific and the bogie siphon, far from carrying "small livestock", had become popular for carrying newspapers.

p.15

- does not show "the 0550 stopper taking a breather" but the 5.50am at its destination, with a bogie van rostered for early morning parcels post from London, and transferred or sent on to Derby, in this case using a SR-design Van B. None of this is mentioned, only the assertion that the van "would be used to carry small animals or birds", for which there is no evidence. Long distance through vans like this were a staple on the railways until segregation into dedicated parcels and mails traffic, yet picture after picture attributes them to "carrying livestock".

On the same page, the caption to the colour picture states that "the owners of race horses were always prepared to pay a premium for a quick service and so horses boxes were often attached to passenger trains". I have never heard of a premium for attaching to a passenger train. The reason for such working was because horse temperament varied, timing was crucial, and the railways themselves desired speed, not least to avoid watering and feeding en route. They were responsible for the animals and in the early days, quite a few cases went to court against the railways: they learned. Something about the actual picture - the train and the horse boxes - would have been helpful, but there is not a word.

A fundamental problem is that the author reveals little about the traffics. For example, young livestock was conveyed long distances for distribution at market, then matured, returned to market, often by train until the roads took over, and then sent in bulk over relatively short distances (because fatstock loses weight) to abattoirs. Irish fatstock was slaughtered on landing, at Holyhead and Birkenhead, for example, and the picture on p.78-79 claiming to be an abattoir train would actually have been carrying young "store" cattle for distribution in English markets. The role of the markets and manner of rail service was key, and useful to modellers, but is not described. Nor is there anything about farmers going to distant markets to stock up with young cattle, and having it delivered, by cattle special, or by through goods, pick-up goods, even by passenger train. What, after all, was the point of fitting automatic brakes? Ah, we'll come to that! The prime market for books like this is modellers and for them, vehicles, operations and their scale, matter.

Given that the title of the book states "& birds" the text dwells on regulations for day-old chicks and poultry and there is no mention of actual routes or carriage; the only illustration shows a couple of boxes.

The traffic in homing pigeons (my correction) is not described and the author seems unable to understand the difference between pigeons being trained individually on short runs, hence the appearance of isolated baskets (not "crates") on country stations, and sent in bulk by Homing Pigeon Specials. Several illustrations of trains claiming to be carrying pigeons are ordinary parcels workings, for example, 73018 at Kidderminster and 6864 at Banbury. Statements that the traffic in BR days tended to be carried in "steel-sided vehicles" behind "the best locomotives" is yet more nonsense.

p.50

- claims to show a horsebox but it's actually a prize cattle van. It's not the only such mistake.

Much that follows is in the same vein, including the blithe statement that "cattle trucks could be run at express speeds, hence the XP". Oh, dear... XP requirements were only met by some cattle trucks - those with, among other things, AVB and 10ft or more wheelbase, and they were not to exceed 60mph at any point. To go faster, a wheelbase of at least 15ft was required: cattle trucks did not qualify.

When it comes to the vehicles, there is a dedicated chapter, but it's thin and offers very little, or is wrong:

p.70-71

Race special

- the picture is captioned as a "race special" with "an assortment of horse boxes" and shows perfectly what is wrong with this book. The author clearly has no idea whose vehicles are in the train, nor why, and his idea of a "race special" is fiction. What this picture actually shows is the 9.30am Newcastle-Swansea and every single vehicle can be described along with its likely load and destination. Even the day of the week can be deduced. It's one thing to tell porkies about a picture, failing to recognise and describe it is the other side of the coin.

p.72-73

- captioned as "three bogie vehicles typical of those used for small animals or birds" is whimsy. In fact there are two Gresley bogie vans and a 4-wheel milk van, and they comprise a short parcels working at a time when many were very short.

p.74-75

- all three pictures misrepresent. The one of a "former LNER" horsebox actually shows the BR design of 1954. The picture at Doncaster of an "ancient short-wheelbase" horse box actually shows a relatively modern long-wheelbase NER design built until 1923, with features ignored by the LNER but embraced by BR. The cattle truck picture does not show automatically braked vehicles the fitting of which was nothing to do with "avoiding injury" (where does the author get this nonsense?) but to allow them to run with passenger trains and long distance through goods, fitted, or partly-fitted. Both trucks in this picture are manually braked but with a through pipe. Note also that the truck on the right (it's ex-M&GNR) still carries its "N" non-common user designation, a long standing practice which affected operations and is missed by the author.

Conclusions

This book was written by somebody who shows insufficient knowledge of the subjects covered. There is almost nothing about the actual vehicles or traffic except in a superficial way that says little, and with multiple errors, much is misrepresented. This book should not be used a source.

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