Monday, 4 April 2016

Farewell to the Planet's Favourite Prairie

5542 at Taunton in 1961

As mentioned in the last blog post, 5542, "The Planet's Favourite Prairie" (PFP) has now come to the end of her contracted stay on the GWSR.  With 35006 being about to enter traffic for the first time and Foremarke Hall being about to re-enter traffic, there simply isn't enough work for the PFP to do here.  I have had the privilege of firing (and even the odd bit of driving) the PFP and like everybody else here, I will miss her.  On a cold/wet winter's day, she was the loco of choice if you wanted to stay warm and dry.  Despite her diminutive size, she happily romps away with our standard seven coach trains and still has plenty of steam to spare to heat the carriages.  I was asked to check how many shovels full of coal it took to bring her into steam when I had my last turn on her on Sunday, by way of a  comparison with some of our other locos.  It took 24 shovels full, from start to the point that we were coupled up to the stock (there was nothing left on the pressure gauge from the running the day before either). The other locos that were mentioned to me took considerably more than that,  so she is not only beautiful, but economical too.  I can imagine many a chap reading this and looking wistfully across at their wives/girlfriends at this point and wishing that they were the same.

I had the pleasure of firing the PFP for an evening F&C shareholder's special on 18th July last year, and the following text is taken verbatim from the information provided to the participants on the day.

"5542 was built at the famous Swindon Works of the Great Western Railway, entering service at Gloucester in 1928. The class was designed for working rural
branch line trains, both passenger and goods. This “4575” class could be found
all over the Westcountry and Wales on the GWR system. 5542 spent much time
based at Taunton, where she was a regular performer on the Minehead, Chard
and Yeovil branches. As modernisation and branch line closure gathered pace in
the early 1960s, 5542, along with many other steam engines, was sent to the
scrap-yard. 5542 was consigned in 1961 to be scrapped at Barry, but was saved
from the cutter’s torch: in 1975 the West Somerset Railway Association, purchased the locomotive, intending to restore and operate her on the independently re-opened Taunton to Minehead branch line. 

The PFP at Barry Island scrap yard

A separate organisation (which became Locomotive 5542 Ltd) later took over the locomotive, and undertook a massive fundraising and overhaul project to return 5542 to steam. The engine has seen service on a number of lines. During 13 years of service, she’s passed the 1,000,000 miles mark, and continues to be a fine tribute to those that built her and have looked after her through her long, reliable life. In the later months of 2011 and into the spring of 2012, 5542 had a heavy-general overhaul in record time, and has since been regularly at work on the Gloucestershire Warwickshire, West Somerset, and South Devon Railways. A very popular Prairie!"

The PFP will be heading straight for the Dartmouth Steam Railway and River Boat Company for the summer (she will not returning for our gala in May) and after that she'll spend a while on the West Somerset Railway before heading to the South Devon Railway for her winter maintenance programe.  The last I heard, she didn't have any bookings for 2017, so if your railway is looking to hire in an attractive, usefully powered, yet economical loco, then 5542 might well be the right loco for you.

Nick Jones of the 5542 group has kindly provided me with all the previous photos appearing in this blog post, and the next five of the PFP in service during her post BR life:
At Toddington 9th June 2013

5542 & 5619 at Winchcombe, 30/12/08

The PFP is currently in her second ticket during preservation.  During the course of her first boiler ticket, she steamed on 857 days, running for a total of 57,068 miles (of which 187 days and 9,658 miles were on the GWSR).  In her second ticket, she is has now steamed for 518 days covering 24,407 miles (of which, 262 days and approx 16,605 miles were on the GWSR).

Here are a few photos of my own taken during both periods.
The PFP at Didbrook

The PFP on the South Devon Railway

At Castle Hill on the West Somerset Railway

With an autocoach and an equine friend on Stanway viaduct

At Bishops Lydeard on the West Somerset Railway

At Winchcombe during the Chicken Curve land slip era

Being disposed after a Santa Special
 By the time that you read this, she will probably have already left, on Saturday she was being cleaned up ready for departure:
Chris cleaning the PFP (photo courtesy of Donna Ludlow)
And finally, I leave you with this excellent piece of artwork created by the talented Donna Ludlow.


  1. Thanks for your kind words about the PFP, Ray. We know the loco has many friends on the GWR, and on the other railways she's visited since restoration. Knowing the enthusiasm that exists for 5542 amongst the heritage railway community makes all the effort of restoration and upkeep seem so worthwhile. My particular favourite has always been to see youngsters being captivated by steam locos, 5542 in particular. The enthusiastic support of young people, born since the everyday years of steam, is essential if there is to be any hope of what we've preserved being carried forward for the future.
    The loco arrived safely in the Paignton & Dartmouth later yesterday (Monday 4th April) and there's been much favourable comment there on the clean condition of the loco. It's a great credit to all the volunteers on the GWSR Steam Loco Department that she's been so beautifully kept.
    All of us involved in the restoration and operation of 5542 are pleased that the loco has had such an enjoyable few years stay on the GWSR.
    We hope that the railway will go on, from strength to strength; that Broadway will be re-opened as planned, and that 5542 will be paying further visits to the friendly line in The Cotswolds.

    1. Thank you Nick. I'll be visiting the Paignton & Dartmouth Railway in June and hope to see the PFP again then. I'm sure that she'll be back at the GWSR again sometime soon.

    2. Check Latest News on the GWSR website too with 5542 and the Devonian headboard.!.aspx
      Great record of this fine engine, had many, many happy hours on the footplate over the years.
      Ian Crowder