Historic Fry's locomotive reunited with piece of its past

Published on: 07 Aug 2015

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Volunteers restoring a former Fry’s factory steam locomotive to its former glory are celebrating after getting their hands on vital piece of the vehicle’s past.

The little Sentinel Shunter engine has now been reunited with one of its original brass nameplates 51 years after it was removed from the side of its cab by scrap dealers.

The team working on the project at Avon Valley Railway in Bitton had to act quickly after receiving an unexpected tip-off that the item was going under the hammer in Warwickshire in June.

Eric Miles, a former Fry’s engineering apprentice who tracked down the rusting engine in 2009 after a five-year search, and fellow volunteer George Colbourne travelled to the railwayana auction with fingers crossed they would be returning with the plate at the end of the day.

The pair weren’t the only ones interested in the lot but after a nail-biting few minutes they saw off rival bidders, securing the plate for £492.82 – a mere snip with some of the other plates in the sale given price tags of £25,000 to £35,000.

Mr Miles said: “I give talks on the project and a man at one of them showed me an auction catalogue with the nameplate – if he hadn’t we would never have known it was for sale.

“I’d taken enough money to the auction that no one else was going to get it. We fixed it back on using the original holes and it looked as if it had never been taken off after all that time.

“We will use the plate as a pattern to cut replicas and now we would like to find the other one.”

The Sentinel Shunter is on show at Avon Valley Railway’s Bitton Station as the restoration project progresses and, with shiny royal blue paintwork, its decades as a rusty, neglected wreck are a fading memory.

Its boiler is currently in the workshop for welding, riveting and new tubes and the volunteers hope to see it running along the restored line next year at the attraction’s gala days, with “Fry’s” and “Somerdale” emblazoned on its sides once more.

The engine was used at the chocolate factory to move trucks and wagons along the site’s two miles of railway tracks, before being retired in 1956 and sold on several times.

Mr Miles said: “It took four to five years to locate the engine so it was a long haul. Everyone believed it had been scrapped but I said until someone says they cut it up I will keep looking for it.”

The volunteers are also compiling a photo archive of the Sentinel’s history and are appealing for anyone who may have a photo of the steam locomotive crossing the road from the factory site to Keynsham Station to get in touch. Contact George Colbourne on 0117 986 2858 or Avon Valley Railway on 0117 932 5538.

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