PICTURES: Little engine Dorothea gets her builder's plate back
A last-minute rummage in a Welsh scrapyard, plus some clever sleuthing, led to 112-year-old steam locomotive Dorothea being reunited with her builder's plate – after more than seven decades.
"I could not believe it when I got a phone call from a man who said he'd found it," says owner of the veteran locomotive, Kay Bowman of the Launceston Steam Railway.
Dorothea was named after Dorothea Quarry, Caernarfon, where she entered service in 1901 and finished her working life in 1942. She was left to rust away in the North Wales slate quarry in a shed that finally collapsed around her.
During that time the locomotive, built in Leeds by the Hunslet Engine Co as No 763, was stripped of her brass name plate and builder's plate.
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Fast forward to 1970, and Westcountry steam enthusiast Dave Walker bought the remains, asking Nigel and Kay Bowman if he could temporarily leave the boiler and frames in their Launceston Steam Railway car park.
Kay, a "self-taught engineer" saw the restoration of this rusting relic as a challenge she would like to undertake – and Dave Walker agreed to sell it to her.
"I thoroughly enjoyed it – but I didn't realise how long it would take. I worked on and off out of doors during the winters for nearly 20 years," says Kay.
"Before I met him, my husband Nigel saw Dorothea abandoned at the top of the quarry when he visited it in the 1960s – and reckoned she wasn't worth saving.
"He cannot believe that umpteen years later he would be married to the woman who rebuilt it!"
The little locomotive was steamed and pulled a passenger train on the Launceston Steam Railway for the first time this year.
Then Kay got a phone call from a man who had traced Dorothea to her – and said he had the original brass builder's plate.
"He had been clearing out a garage for a friend and found lots of metal which he took to the scrapyard. But it was mixed metal and the scrapman wouldn't accept it unless it was separated out," says Kay.
"That's when he found the plate – it was within minutes of being melted down!"
The man saved the plate and, fired with curiosity about its origins, spent the best part of a day researching on the internet.
"Having found the engine number and where it was made he then discovered the locomotive it belonged to and traced it to here.
"He called and said: 'I have found this plate and think it is off your engine," says Kay.
"It was amazing. It was in perfect condition – just a couple of chisel marks where it had been taken off. The letter R was stamped on the back showing which side of the locomotive it came from."
When the locomotive was transported off the Welsh mountain the quarry manager gave Dave Walker an official works photograph of Dorothea taken in 1901 which shows the works plate on it.
"For it to have been parted and then reunited with the locomotive after all this time is absolutely amazing. I still can't quite believe it," says a delighted Kay.
The brass plate will be on display at the Launceston Steam Railway when it is open to the public for half-term week from tomorrow until Friday.