Variously referred to as the Utilicon or Autotruck, or other choice names, depending upon their running condition, the two “three-by-twos” owned by the railway have between them given nearly 40 years’ service.
Utilicon may be derived from “utility conveyance” and was a proprietary name given to a type of vehicle body that could be both a van and a passenger carrier.
Stanley A.F. West Ltd., the horticultural machinery supplier from which the railway bought its first one in 1982, advertized it as a “Piaggio Autotruck,” although there was little similarity with the Lister Autotruck other than that it was a three-wheeled goods vehicle.
The original requirement was for a truck that would be useful on sites and able to get into confined spaces. The first one did much of this “local work,” and with its four-speeds in both directions and an odometer that deducted in reverse, a day’s arduous work often showed little or no mileage.
As well as normal East Dartmoor district work, the vehicles had to be capable of covering the occasional long distance diagram. These have seen the little Tuscan workhorses reach such far-flung places as Kingswear, Plymouth, Bodmin, Bude, Barnstaple, Minehead, Taunton and Axminster.
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Many “off duty” scoutings are not intended to produce stories and photos but often do yield subjects of railway or transport interest.
There are some days, though, when a purpose is intended but the unusual opportunities that prompt the scout to rummage in his saddlebag for the railway’s Cybershot seldom arise.
An example of the latter was a long day spent in Dorset in July, 2018, starting with the 04.28 departure of the railway’s utilicon from Christow and followed by a series of train journeys.
Exeter (St. David’s) to Yeovil Junction
Thornford Halt to Dorchester (West)
Dorchester (South) to Moreton
Wool to Wareham
Holton Heath to Hamworthy Junction
Bournemouth (Central) to Branksome
Parkstone to Weymouth (Town)
Weymouth (Town) to Castle Cary
Castle Cary to Exeter (St. David’s)
Breakfast was taken in the delightful refreshment room at Yeovil Junction, which handily opens at six, before the scout rode the quiet lanes to Thornford.
There was time to look around Dorchester and Wool. Coffee and a bun were bought from a trailer on the trading estate that now occupies part of the vast World War I Royal Naval Cordite Factory at Holton Heath.
The line from Hamworthy Junction to Hamworthy was followed and then the scout crossed to Poole, rode part of the superb waterfront to Sandbanks and obeyed the instruction by walking, not riding, the near three-mile promenade to Bournemouth Pier. Then he rode to Boscombe Pier and back before making his way through the town he had last visited when there were trolleybuses (withdrawn in 1969) to find the station.
At Branksome, he chatted to two traincrew coming from the Bournemouth T. & R.S. Maintenance Depot, which occupies the former carriage sidings on the line towards Bournemouth West. Their mention of “9Fs” showed there was some regard for the old S. & D. They directed the scout towards the site of the old terminus.
Soon he found himself hurtling along the A338 Wessex Way and unknowingly passed over the site of some of the platforms and the goods shed, before cursing the madness of fast-motor roads and flinging his bike over the central barrier and a fence to escape the dual carriageway. Myopic motorists honked their horns, perhaps narked by the scout’s freedom.
The shell of Bath (Green Park) has been restored but there is nothing left of the southern terminus but a nondescript coach and car park. Even the Midland Hotel had closed six years earlier and was now the Midland Heights apartment block.
The scout then rode along busy streets to find Parkstone Station for the train to Weymouth, where there was time for a wander along the front and a bite to eat.
In 2017, the scout had looked forward to returning on the 17.28, the Saturdays-only Weymouth Wizard, because it was formed by an H.S.T. with bookable bike spaces and opening windows, but this year the crush of a lousy three-car D.M.U. about to labour on Upwey bank held no appeal.
The E. & T.V.R. utilicon arrived back at Christow at 20.45. Despite the scout riding 43 miles, covering 211 rail miles on nine trains and calling at 18 open or closed stations (excluding Poole Quay), with nine of them new to him, he took only one photograph.
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According to the British Standards “Glossary of Building and Civil Engineering Terms,” stop block(s) is “deprecated;” the correct term is buffer stop, described as an “assembly provided at the end of a length of track to limit travel of vehicles.”
One old superintendent did not quite take this view. A former goods guard always chuckled as he recalled the droll advice he was given when, not for the first time, he found himself on the carpet after putting a wagon over the blocks while backing off a long freight at Exminster:
“Hansford, the stop block is there to denote the end of the road; it is not a means of stopping trains.”
This buffer stop was last painted in 1984, after it was recovered from van Geest’s siding at Heathfield. Fifty pounds were paid for the stop and 64 ft. of track (32 ft. was once a standard rail length).
Friend of the railway, Keith Ettle, a renowned modeller, calls it a “long-stop;” its end brace rails are certainly more acute than later types. Its weakness is that the brace rails are not continued alongside the running rail to add strength. What must have been a severe collision long ago has buckled the rail on one side, giving the assembly a characteristic tilt.
The chaired sleepers were brought to Christow on the railway’s half-ton autotruck, five at a time. The rails were loaded, one at a time, onto the autotruck, taken up the ramp and left on the Teign Valley bay platform; this was the only occasion the vehicle ever carried 32-foot wide loads.
A local firm wanted £40 to forklift the buffer stop onto a lorry and so the Christow gang went with blocks, light rails and 45 gallon drums, and jacked up the whole thing. Two drums and a rail formed a bridge so that the lorry could reverse beneath it. The ballast was ramped so that the lorry would pick up the load as it reversed.
Remarkably, after the lorry had berthed alongside the bay and the rails had been slid over, the buffer stop arrangement worked perfectly and a greater time was spent loading the bits that had been used. And all for a saving of £40 (£130 today).
Another collision occurred at Christow in 1997 when the railway’s brake van had just been put on rail. The brake was applied only lightly because it was intended to push the van with the engine, uncoupled, down the severe gradient. The driver didn’t see the van run away but the crane banksman reported that it “went down the track at a considerable rate and jumped up in the air.”
It was later found that the fish bolts had sheered and the blocks had moved six inches. The simple remedy was to couple the van to the blocks and pull them back with the engine.
The van had new brake blocks which had not had chance to bed in because they had never been used while the wagon was in motion.
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A new 11kV overhead line was installed a few years ago across the Teign Valley formation at Horrowmore Farm, between Longdown and Christow. Strangely, it was done as if the railway had been still there or it were intended to put it back, and Network Rail staff were on site, demanding the usual precautions, like extensive earth matting around the poles positioned outside the former boundaries.
It may be that a legal document was found in Western Power Distribution’s files that required the permission of the railway authority be obtained. Was it that Western Power couldn’t take it as being obsolete and that Network Rail, when consulted, didn’t have the sense to waive it?
No explanation of this has so far been unearthed by the scout, who will continue with his enquiries.
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Taking the high road out of Crediton, the scout rode as far as Chenson No. 3 Crossing, before taking the bridleway through the woods from Chenson No. 2 to Hawkridge Cross. From there he returned via Nymet Rowland, Down St. Mary, Copplestone, Coleford, Colebrooke and Yeoford (38 miles).
It was only after riding on from Hawkridge Cross that the scout remembered once regularly buying butter from Hawkridge Farm, part of whose large complex he had passed through.
After taking lunch in the perfect peace of the churchyard of little St. Bartholomew’s Church in Nymet Rowland, the scout continued, pausing on the overbridge at Colebrooke Mill to peer at what remains of the former Southern main line.
The E. & T.V.R. scout, having on occasion sent a few photographs to the esteemed elders of the Cornwall Railway Society, in time rather got into the habit after his outings of submitting a short story, often under the general heading of “Route Learning” or “Route Refresher.”
Keith Jenkin, who must be the Duchy’s most senior webmaster, became accustomed to receiving these scouting season dispatches and eventually bestowed upon the E. & T.V.R. the honour of its own section, now complete with index, on the huge C.R.S. web station.
This outlet for the stories and discoveries that find no place on the railway’s more formal web pages, and some of the many library photos that would never otherwise be seen, has made the case for an appendix to teignrail dot com, one that can be edited by the junior clerk.
Though he is too kind a man ever to admit it, Keith will be relieved not to be burdened with sudden loads of photographs accompanied by long-winded captions, references and links. However, his adherents, if they are interested, will be able to continue following the Teign Valley’s forays into the field.
If any reader wishes to see what went before and gave rise to this appendix, the C.R.S. Teign Valley section can be found here. Many more contributions were made but these will be lost in the monthly archives, though these are well worth exploring, as are all the other sections on this splendid resource.
The Teign Valley must extend its gratitude to the C.R.S. for setting this previously unimagined course; in particular, Keith must be thanked for his endless patience, often under trying conditions.
The E. & T.V.R. scout, having on occasion sent a few photographs to the esteemed elders of the Cornwall Railway Society, in time rather got into the habit after his outings of submitting a short story, often under the general heading of “Route Learning” or “Route Refresher.”. Read more