Avon Valley Railway restore the Sentinal Shunter

By Anita Jaynes on 25 March, 2014

The fascinating story of an historic locomotive – from working life, to retirement, ruin and now restoration – is being told in a series of online videos.

The volunteers lovingly returning the Sentinel Shunter to its former glory have created the short films which follow the little engine on its 86-year journey from daily service at Fry’s Somerdale chocolate factory in the 1920s to the 1950s to narrowly escaping the scrapyard in the decades that followed.

Former Fry’s engineering apprentice Eric Miles tells viewers how he refused to give up his five-year search for the locomotive, which was built in 1928, finally tracking it down and bringing it home to the West Country in 2009.

Now in the care of Avon Valley Railway, the team’s aim is to restore the Sentinel to how it would have looked in its heyday on the tracks at Somerdale – and now the public can see how work is progressing in the films published on YouTube.

In the first film, “The Somerdale Shunter”, Mr Miles explains how he was amused to see such a little engine “pottering about” at the factory site when he arrived for a job interview, where he was offered the apprenticeship.

He said: “It wasn’t long before I was around the back of the workshops, flagging down the loco and persuading the driver, a chap called Gladstone Hendy, to let me ride on the footplate up to the Keynsham crossing.

“So that was my first encounter, riding on the footplate of the engine, and that’s one of the reasons I decided that, if I could find it and recover it, it would be a nice thing to have because now the factory’s gone we’ve got something of the old factory left to remember it all by.”

Five films have been put together by the team. The first three – “The Somerdale Shunter”, “The Hunt” and “Return to Somerset” – are all available to view now.  The finishing touches are being made to the next two instalments – “How the Sentinel Works” and “Restoration Update: Winter 2013” – which are expected to be online soon.

During restoration, all the locomotive’s panels, fittings and pipes were removed and several new panels manufactured for the cab and coal bunker as well as a new cover for the engine.

Painting and reassembly is now well under way before the team remove the boiler for inspection to see if it can be repaired or needs to be replaced.

John Lanchester, commercial director at Avon Valley Railway, said the team was delighted to be able to share progress on the project.

He said: “The Fry’s Sentinel’s story is a remarkable tale of survival, with the best years of its life spent in the West Country – first at Somerdale and now here at Avon Valley Railway.

“Watching the Fry’s Sentinel being transformed step by step from little more than rusty metal when it arrived back to a gleaming locomotive is a fascinating process and one we are keen for the public to share in these new videos.”

The films can be viewed online by visiting youtube.com and searching “The Somerdale Sentinel Story”.

For news and events at Avon Valley Railway, including Easter Eggspress services and Diesel Gala in April and Family Fun Weekend in May, visit www.avonvalleyrailway.org.