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Platform trucks and trolleys

Many model railways are oddly devoid of clutter, the real railways of today see little beyond the limited amount of luggage people carry with them but up to the 1980's there was usually a pile of something, even on a passenger platform.

To move things about the early lines made extensive use of the wheelbarrow. The sketch below (left) shows a typical passenger station platform luggage barrow dating from the pre grouping era, similar equipment remained in use at some outlying stations into the 1930's. This particular example was branded 'WELSHPOOL' on the sides but I believe other Welsh railways used essentially similar barrows and there are at least two preserved examples. The large diameter front wheel allowed this barrow to be used on gravel and other rough surfaced platforms. The wheelbarrow dates back to about 1222, invented by the Chinese it took several hundred years to reach Europe. The single front wheel is ideal for working between the rows of rice in paddy fields but does allow the barrow to tip over if the load is not evenly distributed. Quite early on platform barrows were being built with two wheels, somewhat less manoeuvrable but a lot more stable. The basic wheelbarrow design evolved into a range of multi-wheeled trucks and trolleys for passenger luggage by the mid nineteenth century, often these were quite elaborate contraptions, the example shown below right is the Midland Railway standard design which featured distinctive curved timber runners, I suspect this elaboration was in part to make these useful items less attractive to thieves.

Fig___ Passenger luggage barrows

Sketches of early luggage barrows

The barrows intended for use in the goods yards tended to be rather more basic, by far the most common was the simple two wheeled 'sack truck'. Most people will have seen a sack truck, they remain in widespread use today, and they were not confined to the movement of sacks. One point to note is that all trucks and trolleys used in goods yards would be marked with their tare weight, on the 'sack trucks' this was typically written on each side in white lettering as high as the timber would allow, a typical inscription would be 'Tare 2-11' for a sack truck. I do not remember seeing such markings on passenger station trucks, but that may simply be my faulty memory, and the lettering may have been smaller.

Fig___ A shows a typical design used mainly in goods yards and sheds (sketched from a photo showing an LMS original), this still features the larger wheels required for moving on uneven surfaces and hence has quite long legs at the other end so it would lay flat. Fig___ B is a sketch of the standard British Railways design, a red painted item with small (six inch diameter) steel wheels and correspondingly smaller feet at the handle end. Such small wheels could only be used on a suitable surface such as tarred macadam or smooth flags. These two wheeled barrows were the mainstay of goods handling equipment inside the sheds.

Another common piece of equipment was the three or four-wheeled trolley, again older versions tended to have larger wheels than the more modern types (which are almost exclusively four wheelers). These seem to have been much more standardised, I believe solid rubber tyres were added in the later 1930's, and they are mainly associated with passenger stations and parcels depots. These four wheeled trolleys were regularly used for handling milk churns on country station platforms, mail bags on passenger stations and moving sundries (small packages) about in larger depots. The example shown in Fig___C is a BR era type, the double-loop handle replaced an earlier wooden T shaped handle in the 1970's. The handle serves both for steering and also, when upright, applies a simple brake. A metal double-hook was often fitted at the rear, onto which the handle of a second trolley (wooden or metal) could be hitched. A man could pull two of these, even when piled with parcels, but with the introduction of small electric trolleys and later platform tractors longer trains of these trolleys could be moved about the place.

Electrically powered trolleys were invented at a railway station in Philadelphia (USA) in 1906 and arrived in Britain shortly before the First World War. These would not be seen on a branch line platform but all the major passenger stations and larger goods depots had them. Early types were often rather complicated looking machines (see Materials Handling - Introduction) but Fig___D shows a type in common use on the railways, docks and in industry from the mid 1930's to the end of the 1960's. The driver's left foot is raised as he has taken it of the 'dead man's pedal', cutting power to the motor and applying the brake. This type was taken out of service in the 1970's because of health and safety legislation. They were replaced by small three wheeled or later four wheel tractors with a seat and steering wheel, first seen in the 1930's but mainly confined to larger stations.

The four wheeled trolleys used for parcels and mail bags often had simple timber frames added to each end. Just because they were intended for mail traffic did not mean they were not used for luggage when not required for their main duty. Fig___E shows a mail bag trolley dating from the mid 1970's, it has pneumatic tyres and was purpose built with raised ends. By this time 'luggage trolleys' and platform porters were becoming rare so they were not used for other duties in between the mail or parcels trains.

Fig___ F shows the last British Railways purpose designed trolley, christened the BRUTE for British Railways Utility Trolley Equipment. The BRUTE was a wire caged trolley about six feet long, six feet high and four feet wide. There were several variants on the basic design but the most common type had three sides made up of an open wire mesh, one of the ends had a metal plate recessed into it, presumably for carrying a card label. The fourth side (one of the longer sides) was closed off by a two-part blue plastic cloth sheet. The lower section was about three feet high, above this was a gap of perhaps six inches and then the second sheet which was about a foot high.

When new they were painted blue but those I remember were plain dull metal. BRUTE trolleys could be moved about by hand or hooked up to form a train, hauled about the platforms by small electric tractors (similar to golf carts but with a single seat for the driver, only a few had a twin seat at the rear). There were also some motor tractors of similar size, first seen in the mid 1930's at major stations, but by the 1960's everything I can remember was electric.

The BRUT was intended as a universal platform trolley but the older wooden four wheeled flat trolleys remained in use into the 1990's. My local small suburban station (Heald Green) had a sack truck and a wooden four wheeled trolley right up to the end of parcels services in 1981 and there were two wooden four wheelers still in use at Stockport station in the later 1990's.

The distinctive designs used for barrows and trolleys mean they can serve to establish both time and place on a model railway. ScaleLink/Shire scenes offer a useful range of luggage trolleys in N, they have SR/LSWR platform trolleys (three types) LNER/GNR trolleys, plain 'platform trolleys', BR type platform trolleys and an etched metal kit of the Brute. Roxley Mouldings offer the MR barrow as an etched brass kit in OO and other types are available from several manufacturers.

Fig___ Trucks and trolleys

Sketches of sack trucks and trolleys

The lower illustrations show a passenger station porter using a sack truck for a range of loads.

G The simple sack truck was used to carry surprisingly large loads, the case in the sketch is not the largest such box I have seen moved in this way but in model form a larger case would look unrealistic.

H shows a typical load, in a goods shed the pile could be even higher.

I shows how not to do it, this heavy packing case would be easier to handle if it had been placed on edge to move the centre of gravity closer to the axle on the truck.

J shows one option when moving a case that would otherwise be too wide to fit through a doorway. Even longer cases were handled in this way.

K shows how a barrel would be moved, in all the photographs I have seen only one barrel is moved at a time.

Some Brutes were painted red and used for the Red Star Parcels service, these were however rather rare. The picture below is taken from a larger picture on Wikipedia which carries a specific public domain licence allowing it to be used. The page address is

Fig___ Red Star Brute parcels truck

Photo of a Red Star Brute parcels truck

I was curious about the fate of the BRUTE with the end of many parcels and mail services so I posted a question on uk.railways newsgroup, some of the more interesting comments included-
Built in their thousands at Swindon in the mid 60's - arguably the last new build railway vehicles from G **s Wonder*** Rail*** works - and that was essentially a road vehicle!! - Roger Curtis

In 1967 I recall a young calf waiting in one on Reading station, en route from the West Country to Tonbridge. BR still conveyed unaccompanied livestock then. - Peter Masson

Several stations had signs on the platform - 'BRUTES are not to be left unattended beyond this point'. Tonbridge and Shrewsbury are two very diverse examples that come to mind. - Bill Hayles

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