P Class 0-6-0T No 178 also as Pioneer II
Class Introduced: 1909
Designer: Mr H Wainwright
Built: 1909 - Ashford Works, South Eastern & Chatham Railway (SE&CR)
Total Number Built: 8
Numbers Carried: 178, A178, 1178, s1178, 31178
British Railways (BR) Power Classification: 0F
British Railways (BR) inherited such an array of tank locomotives that by the 1950s members of the P Class could be seen at a variety of unfamiliar locations towards the end of their careers.
No 31178 was no different and in July 1953, bearing her newly acquired 0F classification, was assigned to Bowater Paper Mills Ltd serving their standard gauge exchange sidings at Ridham Dock, Kent. Covering for a privately owned locomotive under overhaul, she remained until early autumn.
Following a short spell at Chislet Colliery, Kent a further relocation occurred towards the end of 1955 with a move to Bricklayers Arms for use at the Deptford Wharf branchline - it is not known whether any duties were performed, as following authorisation for use of diesels, she returned to Ridham Dock in January 1956. Transfer to Stewarts Lane in September proved to be the final move under BR stewardship, replacing No 31557, which had been withdrawn from traffic.
The same fate inevitably followed, however she was sold out of service in June 1958 to Bowater Paper Mills Ltd and a return to familiar territory at Ridham Dock. A comprehensive overhaul was undertaken on arrival along with application of a simplified version of Mr Wainwright's ornate passenger livery. It was at this time she was also christened Pioneer II (colloquially referred to as "Pioneer the Second") which was embellished on both tank sides in semi-italic block capitals.
Early in 1969 cylinder damage was identified that was deemed so severe that repair would prove uneconomical - two diesel locomotives were obtained which ironically were members of the very type that had seen the P Class eventually disappear from their dockland strongholds. Despite the purchases, that same year it was announced that the railway operation would cease in the autumn - this it did and in October the deeds of the Sittingbourne and Kemsley Light Railway were duly handed to the Locomotive Club of Great Britain (LCGB).
Standing derelict at Kemsley Mill, Pioneer II was superficially cleaned and displayed with the two aforementioned diesels - a move to Kemsley Down museum as a static exhibit was known to be pending. However, learning of this, the Nuthatch Line Preservation Society (NLPS) swiftly approached the owners intimating that they could return the locomotive to working order. Sale was concluded swiftly and relocation occurred the same month.
Given the expected enormity of the project, only a tentative approach to restoration commenced in the early 1990s - it was apparent that almost all components were life-expired, either requiring considerable work or the manufacture of entirely new parts. The cylinder damage was so profound that it necessitated the removal of the entire casting followed by designing, manufacturing, and fitting of a plug to fill the void caused by the damage when last in service - completed in the summer of 1995, it is believed to be the first such repair in preservation.
Some fifteen years later, Pioneer II returned to steam in February 2010 - due to the complexity of Mr Wainwright's livery, the simplified version was deemed a logical first choice before a return to No 178. Rechristening followed in May when officially returned to traffic, thus signalling the end of a groundbreaking overhaul.