J & A Brown No.21 / 23

Richmond Vale Railway Museum


A train on the railway tracks

Description automatically generated with medium confidence

Front view of J&A Brown No.23 displayed in the guise of ROD 2004 at the Richmond Vale Railway Museum on 16 February 2020.

The Air Compressor mounted next to the smokebox is prominent in this view – these were used in ROD war service,

but were removed by J & A Brown whose trains relied instead on the loco steam brake, plus the brake van.



Kitson & Company Ltd, Leeds



Builder’s Number & Year

Kitson & Co 5201 of 1918 (No.21)



Wheel Arrangement




No. in class

521 built for British Army ROD.

13 purchased as war surplus by J & A Brown


During World War 1, the British Army’s ‘Railway Operating Division’ (ROD) selected the Great Central Railway ‘8K’ class 2-8-0 as a robust, reliable, and modern freight design suitable for mass production and deployment to France and Belgium, with 521 units subsequently constructed by five companies including the North British Locomotive Co, Kitson & Co & the Great Central Railway’s (GCR) Gorton works. The Great Central Railway 8K design has an interesting history, with the first being constructed by the GCR at Gorton during 1911. The 8K design was an evolution from the earlier GCR 0-8-0 class 8A built by Kitson & Co via addition of superheating and a pony truck.

ROD 2-8-0 disposal in UK

At the end of hostilities, the ROD locomotives returned to the UK. Most were eventually sold to local railway companies after several years of storage, including 100 purchased by the Great Western Railway in 1919 (20 units) and 1925 (80 units) and numbered in the 30xx series. The London, Midland & Scottish Railway (LMS) purchased 75 units as late as 1927, ostensibly for their tenders. Interestingly, 30 of the LMS engines were then resold (sans tenders) to China, becoming class KD4.

At the 1924 Grouping, the Great Central Railway became a constituent of the London & North Eastern Railway (LNER) which perhaps explains why LNER obtained the greatest share, with 273 units progressively added to their existing fleet of 130 GCR Class 8K locos and becoming LNER class O4. Various rebuilds and improvements over the years saw the O4 branch into eight sub-classes, with locos in original condition being identified as class O4/1. 58 of the LNER machines were further modernised from 1944 with a standard LNER 100A boiler, Walschaerts valve gear and new cylinders to become class O1. Only one of the GCR 8K / ROD family survived into preservation, being 63601 which was built by the GCR in 1912 as their Class 8K loco No.102. Being an older example in largely original condition (LNER class O4/1), this locomotive was selected for the National Collection and is now based on the preservation-era Great Central Railway, Loughborough.

In a final testament to the suitability of these rugged and reliable machines, 92 ROD / GCR 8K locos were requisitioned during 1941 from the LNER for Second World War service in the middle east, being used in Egypt, Palestine, Syria and Iraq.

J & A Brown’s ROD locomotives

When J & A Brown needed additional motive power for their private railway linking Pelaw Main and Richmond Main collieries to Hunter River loading staithes at Hexham, their eyes turned to the British Army ‘Railway Operating Division’ (ROD) 2-8-0 locomotives stored as war surplus, with the first three (Nos. 12 – 14) purchased in 1925. Entering J & A Brown service in 1926, they proved successful in heavy coal traffic over their main route through the Sugarloaf Range and across Hexham swamp – a line approximately 16km long and including several trestle bridges and three tunnels. Ten more ROD locos were subsequently purchased via several transactions to 1927. Interestingly, the last 10 ROD units were delivered as crated cargo on the maiden voyage of J & A Brown’s new collier ship the SS Minmi, which subsequently joined the fleet of ’60 milers’ shuttling coal from the Hunter River loading staithes to customers in Sydney harbour.

Colliery output declined during the Depression years and so the 10 additional ROD locomotive were progressively reassembled and placed in service as rail traffic demanded, with the last (No.24) not being reactivated until 1933. In practice a maximum of 10 were in service at any one time, with others awaiting repair or providing spares.

J & A Brown already owned three chunky 2-8-2T locomotives built by Kitson & Co to a design based on the earlier Class 8A, and the 13 ROD locomotives enjoyed a close likeness to these tank engine cousins, while also benefitting from the interchangeability of many parts!

The thirteen locomotives purchased by J &A Brown were:



Notes & Disposal


 North British 22213 of 1919

ROD 2123. Scrapped at Pelaw Main shed in 1968.


 North British 22209 of 1919

ROD 2119. Scrapped at Hexham in September 1973.


 North British 22161 of 1919

ROD 2070. Scrapped at the ‘Fodder Shed’, Wallis Creek in 1966.


 North British 21866 of 1918

ROD 1889. Scrapped at Hexham in September 1973.


 North British 21867 of 1918

ROD 1890. Scrapped at Hexham in September 1973.


 North British 21886 of 1918

ROD 1909. Scrapped at Hexham in September 1973.


 North British 22038 of 1918

ROD 1980. Remains scrapped at Pelaw Main shed in 1968.


 North British 21918 of 1918

ROD 1941. Scrapped at Hexham in September 1973.


 North British 22042 of 1918

ROD 1984. Preserved by Dorrigo Steam Railway & Museum


 Kitson & Co 5201 of 1918

ROD 1615. Preserved (as No.23) at RVRM.


 Great Central, built 1918

ROD 2002. Scrapped at Hexham in September 1973.


 Great Central, built 1919

ROD 2004. Scrapped at Hexham in September 1973.


 Great Central, built 1919

ROD 2003. Preserved by Dorrigo Steam Railway & Museum

J & A Brown’s locomotives swapped parts over the years and indeed No.14 and No.18 were reduced to parts donors at a relatively early stage, with their chassis stored at the ‘Fodder Shed’ for many years. Ultimately No.14 and Kitson 2-8-2T No.11 were cut up in 1966 to release loco springs as spares for their remaining sisters.

Following the closure of Pelaw Main and Richmond Main collieries in the 1960’s, the railway across the Sugarloaf Range was truncated to the shorter trip across Hexham Swamp to Stockrington Colliery in the foothills. The last of the ROD locos in J & A Brown service was No.24, withdrawn in June 1973, joining the eclectic mix of steam locos dumped near the Hexham loco shed. Somewhat ironically, the RODs were outlived by two of the earlier Kitson 2-8-2T locomotives Nos.9 & 10 which returned to service to handle the remaining Stockrington Colliery traffic, shunting at Hexham and delivering coal to the coal washery. Four ex-South Maitland Railways 2-8-2T locos later joined the running shed at Hexham in addition to the Kitson 2-8-2T’s.

The webmaster has poignant memories of the steam railway operations at Hexham because family holidays involved driving past on the way to the mid-north coast. Being approximately half-way on our journey – and my father having an interest in steam locos - a stop at Hexham was always part of the trip! We would first enjoy an ‘OAK’ milk shake, followed by a detour over the NSWGR railway crossing to the extensive nests of Richmond Vale Railway sidings. As circumstances permitted (including less patient family members) we would head to the steam loco running sheds! Early 1970’s visits were greeted by 10 rust-streaked ROD 2-8-0’s, together with several other locos, which had tragically disappeared by Christmas 1973 - to the heartbreak of this young enthusiast - while the two Kitson 2-8-2Ts could still be found shunting the washery or returning from Stockrington Colliery. I later learned of the fate of the RODs and other locos stored at Hexham; Coal & Allied (successors to J & A Brown) generously donated one ROD locomotive for local preservation (No.21 but apparently numbered 23 at the time) while tenders were invited in 1973 to dispose of the other machines, prompting enthusiasts to scramble to save as many as possible. While the oldest and most historic locos were saved, including Avonside No.2, No.3, No.4, Mersey Tank No.5 and ROD Nos.20 & 24, alas seven ROD locos were sold to scrap merchants Sims Metal. These seven locos were crudely cut at Hexham in September 1973 with the butchered remains loaded to bogie wagons and railed to Mascot for further reduction.

J & A Brown No.21 or 23?

Most authors state the locomotive donated by Coal & Allied was No.21 but to my knowledge it has always been known in preservation as No.23. Brian Robert Andrews provides some insight, stating in his authoritative work that No.21 finished its days with running number 23 for some reason. While the J & A Brown fleet exchanged parts over the years, a locomotive unusually takes its identity from the frames and so it would be interesting to know more about this apparent renumbering.

Mining Museum at Freemans Waterhole

The picturesque community of Freemans Waterhole was the site of a fascinating mining museum established in the 1970’s. The location intrigued me – although surrounded by mines and a gateway location to the Maitland coalfields, to my knowledge there had never been a colliery there. None-the-less, an impressive purpose-built brick building was constructed and housed many animated cut-away mining dioramas, showing (from my childhood recollections) the evolution of mining techniques from the Industrial Revolution through to adit, shaft and open cut mining techniques. These models were obviously the fruit of someone’s love and labour – even at a young age I was impressed by the effort to build the models, and the maintenance required to keep them functioning. Outdoor exhibits included various mining equipment, a poppet head salvaged from a nearby colliery, and J & A Brown loco No.21 / 23 with four 4-wheel hopper wagons and a Brown’s brake van. I believe the mining museum later closed and the mining exhibits moved to the Richmond Vale Railway Museum, but I don’t know what happened to the models. Further information about the mining museum and the fate of its models and other exhibits is welcome.

Richmond Vale Railway Museum

The locomotive and train displayed at Freemans Waterhole was obtained by the Richmond Vale Railway Museum (RVRM) in the mid-1980’s. My recollection is that is arrived in early 1986, as seen in the photo below showing the loco sitting on the road receival ramp at Richmond Main Colliery. Planned restoration to operation commenced circa 1988 with the boiler removed for assessment, but progress stalled due to financial constraints - principally the need for extensive boiler renewal. The chassis and tender were then stored out of public sight for many years while the boiler sat in the workshop area.

After many years of dismantled storage, the focus of restoration changed to static display and in 2016 the locomotive components were cleaned, reassembled, and repainted for display in time for 1918 Armistice centenary memorials. Interestingly it has been restored as ROD 2004 (corresponding to No.23) so it would be interesting to know if any identification was found stamped on the frames. The loco also sports a Westinghouse air compressor mounted next to the smokebox, as per wartime ROD duty, but this equipment was removed in J & A Brown service. The restored ROD 2004 is a great credit to the efforts of RVRM volunteers and it has found a fitting home at its old stamping ground of Richmond Main colliery.

Railways & Locomotives of the Newcastle Coalfields

The Newcastle coalfields were home to an incredible array of antique steam locomotives and varied railway operations, offering much interest to ferroequinologists – indeed the area was central to my own induction to the hobby. Many fine books featuring the steam railways of the Newcastle Coalfields have been published over the years. One of the best that I have encountered is ‘Coal, Railways & Mines – The story of the Railways and Collieries of J & A Brown’ by Brian Robert Andrews, which covers the 13 ROD locomotives in detail and with generous illustration.

A picture containing train, grass, outdoor, track

Description automatically generated

Front view of J & A Brown No.21 / 23 displayed in ROD guise at the Richmond Vale Railway Museum on 16 February 2020.

The Westinghouse air compressor mounted next to the smokebox is prominent in this view – in practice these were used

in ROD war service days but were removed by J & A Brown whose trains relied on the loco steam brake, plus the brake van.

A train on the railway tracks

Description automatically generated with medium confidence

Both hoppers show evidence of ember attack from the recent bushfire, as seen in this image of 16 February 2020 courtesy of Nick Prinz.

My observation of the fortunes of the RVRM since 1986 suggest this site comes under bushfire attack roughly once per decade.

A train on the railway tracks

Description automatically generated with medium confidence

A scanned photo image showing No.21 / 23 as newly arrived at the Richmond Vale Railway Museum.

My recollection is that this photo – taken on the road receival ramp - was taken in February 1986.

My visit to the RVRM of 23 April 2006 found the chassis and tender of No.21 / 23 stored away from public view, in company with the two Kitson tank locos.

The boiler was stored in the workshop area while opportunities for restoration funding were pursued.

My young son also makes a cameo appearance in this first generation (2 Megapixel) digital camera shot!

Flash back to May 1979 when J & A Brown No.21 / 23 was plinthed at Freemans Waterhole, together with 4 non-air hoppers and a brake van.

The museum here had an interesting collection of coal mining equipment and artefacts, including a fine series of working models in the adjacent building.



Preston, R. G. ‘The Richmond Vale Railway’

published by the New South Wales Rail Transport Museum, 1989.


Oberg, L. ‘Locomotives of Australia - 1985 to 2010’ (Fifth Edition),

published 2010 by Rosenberg Publishing Pty Ltd


Andrews, B. R. ‘Coal, Railways & Mines – The story of the Railways

and Collieries of J & A Brown’, published by the Iron Horse Press, 2004.


Wikipedia entry for ROD 2-8-0 locomotives, retrieved 15 August 2021.


Wikipedia entry for LNER Class O4, retrieved 15 August 2021.

Page updated: 8 September 2021

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