Goods Van G.1 Restoration

Built in 1872 by the Metropolitan Carriage & Wagon Co Ltd, Saltley Works, Birmingham as part of the very first batch of rolling stock delivered to the railway for the opening of the Peel Line the following year.  The Isle of Man Steam Railway Supporters’ Association agreed with the Department of Infrastructure / Isle of Man Railways to undertake the full restoration of G.1 back to working order, with a view to the vehicle then being used on the steam railway for demonstration purposes on special event days, photographic charters, promotion of Manx transport heritage, periodic display in the Railway Museum at Port Erin, and other appropriate non-intensive uses.

Photo: Castletown 1955 (Peco Publications / David Odabashian)

The Restoration Project

The Isle of Man Steam Railway Supporters’ Association agreed with the Department of Infrastructure / Isle of Man Railways to undertake the full restoration of Good Van G.1 back to working order, with a view to the vehicle then being used on the steam railway for demonstration purposes on special event days, photographic charters, promotion of Manx transport heritage, periodic display in the Railway Museum at Port Erin, and other appropriate non-intensive uses.  The image to the right illustrates the condition of the van prior to work commencing with much deterioration around the doorways after a lifetime of storage in the open air.  Latterly the van spent several years on the former goods siding at Ballasalla Station.

As the accompanying photo above and later photos below show, there was considerable wastage to the timber framing of this vehicle and severe rusting and wastage to many of the iron fixings and fittings; it required major restoration work to see further use on the railway and prompt stabilisation work to ensure its survival intact. Unfortunately there was no economic argument for any substantial expenditure to be made on the vehicle by the Isle of Man Government / Isle of Man Transport, as there were and continue to be pressing needs for the overhaul of service locomotives and rebuilding of carriage stock with which to maintain future day-to-day passenger services. The Supporters’ Association therefore took a lead role in the restoration project by raising the necessary funds and its member volunteers contributing project planning and management, technical drawing, recording, finish preparation and painting services, in addition to sourcing required parts and materials and assisting with the dismantling and re-assembly activities. The Association contracted out the majority of the required joinery, metal fabrication and component machining to local Manx businesses and tradesmen where requisite skillsets and capacity were available.   

Project Diary

Follow the restoration project in the series of photographs below (click images to enlarge) and on our Facebook page

Castletown Station Goods Yard, 1955

Douglas Carriage Shed, 2015

Braced & Ready To Transport, September 2019

Chassis After Body Removal, October 2019

Replacement Roof Sweeps, October 2019 

Body Planking In Progress, March 2021

Replacement Body Components, October 2019

 Dry Assembly Body Frame, November 2019

Plasma-Cut 'W'-Irons, November 2019

 Chassis Dry Assembly, December 2019

W-Irons & Spring Brackets, July 2020 

Wheelset No.1 & Axleboxes, October 2020

 Wheelset No.2 Re-profiling, November 2020

Completed To Return To Douglas, June 2021

Body Planking In Progress, March 2021

Planking Progress, March 2021

Replacement Door Framing, October 2019

Re-united with wheelsets, Douglas Workshops
July 2021

The Case For Restoration

Railways for the Isle of Man were promoted in the second half of the 19th Century equally for the conveyance of freight as for the carriage of passengers. The ability to move all manner of goods, livestock and materials by steam railway across the Island in a matter of an hour or so, firstly between Douglas and Peel (1873), then Castletown and Port Erin (1874), Ramsey (1879) and Foxdale (1884), directly contributed to the expansion of many towns and villages and an exponential growth in tourism, agriculture, fishing, mining and manufacturing on the Island. 

Goods Van G.1 was delivered to the Island in early 1873, before the Isle of Man Railway Company’s first line from Douglas to Peel opened on 1 July of that year. The ‘covered goods wagon’ (only later to be termed a 'van’) was used by contractors in the latter stages of construction of the line and is the only remaining example of its design type. It is the oldest surviving piece of railway rolling stock on the Isle of Man, pre-dating Locomotive No.1 ‘Sutherland’ and all other surviving Isle of Man railway vehicles. 

On these determinations, Goods Van G.1 merits conservation and recognition as an item of significant Manx and British railway heritage. The vehicle was suffering dry rot and much metalwork and timber wastage; therefore intervention to save this historic vehicle was time critical. 

The case for restoring Goods Van G.1: 

Original Specifications

The original specifications for a covered goods wagon, shown on a drawing submitted by the Metropolitan Carriage & Wagon Co., Ltd., to the Isle of Man Railway Company for approval in 1872, states that it would be a "Covered Goods Wagon capable of being used as Third Class Carriage", but the order was amended for the supply of four ‘goods-only’ vehicles. The proposed small side windows, wheel operated brake gear, bench seats and side steps were omitted.

The early covered goods wagons (more generally referred to as ‘goods vans’) supplied to the Isle of Man Railway were built to carry a load of up to six tons with a tare (un-laden weight) in the region of three tons. The first nine goods vans were all of similar design, 14' 6" in length, 6' 6" in width, 8’ 11” in height and with a wheelbase of 8' 0". The vehicles had rudimentary hand brakes with a side operating lever pressing an oak block against a single wheel.  Suspension on the first four goods vans was by way of rubber blocks mounted above the axleboxes, a somewhat basic (cheap) design which was also used with the original 4-wheeled passenger carriages delivered to the railway in 1873. The rubber block suspension was found to be entirely unsatisfactory and was quickly replaced with coil spring suspension. This ‘improved’ design fared little better and was itself replaced by proper leaf spring suspension from 1876 onwards. Vans and wagons supplied to the railway after 1876 had leaf spring suspension fitted from new.

Early Livery & Identification

The original livery of the Isle of Man Railway goods vans and other types of wagon was noted contemporarily as being a pale grey on delivery; as repaints took place in later years, each vehicle took on slightly different shade of grey, latterly becoming much darker. The metal fixtures and fittings on the bodywork and chassis were painted black. The arched roof, formed from longitudinal wood planking, was overlaid with heavy linen cloth, its weave filled with white paint which quickly turned to a dark charcoal grey colour in service. No evidence has been found to show the style or existence of stock identification numbers applied on the goods vans and other types of wagon supplied in 1873, although that was customary practice for railway companies at the time.

However, after arrival of the first bogie carriages in 1876, an improved rolling stock identification system was introduced by the Railway Company. The Goods Vans were allocated the letter prefix ‘G’ with sequential numbers. This identification was painted on each side of the vehicle in large white letters and numerals with a black drop shadow. Tare and maximum load information was painted similarly along the solebar on each side of the vehicle.  A variety of shades of grey can be seen carried by vehicles during their working lives, G.1 will be returned to the paler varient with shadowed fleet detaling.

Use Of Goods Vans On The Isle Of Man Railway

Covered goods wagons (goods vans) were purchased for the conveyance of perishable and spoilable items on the railway which were unsuited for transport in open-top wagons. The Railway Company records indicate a wide range of products carried, including fish, meat and dairy products, grain, royal mail and parcels, drinks and, in some instances, even prize livestock as owners refused carriage by (at the time) open-top cattle wagons. 

There were nineteen goods vans in total used on the Isle of Man Railway, falling into three main types: 

The Vans In Traffic

This photograph taken at Port Erin in the late 1940s shows the three main types of goods van described and illustrates the various differences between each vehicle, notably the roof heights and ventilation detail on the van to the far right. The building on the left which now houses the railway museum was the Isle of Man Road Services bus depot at the time, and to the rear is the goods shed, home to today's souvenir shop and museum entrance.

One example of each type remains extant on the Isle of Man Railway:- 

* G.1, the oldest van, an original type, but in very poor unstable condition; 

* Gr.12, a Manx Northern Railway type, fully restored to running order in 1999; 

* G.19, the youngest van, of the later type, on display in the Railway Museum, Port Erin, but in poor condition. 

G.1 remained in regular use for the carriage of freight on the steam railway up until the short-lived Mantainor scheme in 1968, operated under Lord Ailsa’s tenure of the steam railway.   Fortunately, having been kept in relatively good condition throughout its working life, G.1 was earmarked to be retained by the Railway Company, whilst virtually all of the other surviving non-passenger rolling stock was disposed of in what later become known as the ‘Ballasalla Bonfire’ of 1974. G.1 was to see use as a permanent way department mobile store and mess room until 1989, when it was deemed unsafe to use out on the line. Having been stored in the open for long periods when used by the permanent way department, the condition of the timber deteriorated considerably in more recent times after several years in the siding at Ballasalla Station.