Tree Nails 2 The Wrecker 1928

By Dennis French

Our article on the use of TREENAILS in the railway industry has aroused a certain amount of interest locally.

A recent enquiry to the National Railway Museum in York for any information on treenails was disappointing in that despite the evidence we gave they were adamant that treenails were never used on the railways, only in shipbuilding.

In fact the treenail illustrated in the previous article was found in the old goods yard at Gargrave station.

Apart from possessing a 9.5mm film of the 1928 film, “The Wrecker” our main interest in the film lies in the detailed preparation of the famous crash on a level crossing and the mention of TREENAILS.

This was a Gainsborough Film, produced by Michael Balcon and directed by G.M. Bolvary, starring Carlyle Blackwell, Benita Hume and Pauline Johnson.

Its theme was the rivalry between a bus company and the railway, in which the former did its best to wreck several trains.

The highlight of the film was a spectacular crash staged at Salter’s Ash crossing, Hill Farm, Lasham on Sunday August 18th, 1828, for which a complete train consisting of a Stirling 4-4-0 locomotive No A148 and six bogie coaches was bought from the Southern Railway.

This crashed into a Foden steam lorry left broadside o the crossing by one of the villains, the wreckage being set on fire for further scenes. The locomotive was painted grey and the tender lettered “United Coast Lines”. The lorry was supplied by Wrights Contractors of Alton, and driven on to the crossing by Mr Fred Turner, who was seen in the film making a dash for it.
In order to make the crash as spectacular as possible, five tons of ballast, with a charge of dynamite, was placed in the lorry, and the track immediately after the crossing undermined in order to make sure of derailment.

Mr Percy Goddard, one of the railway gangers on duty that day, recalls in detail the procedure.
“We undermined the track on the lower side to a depth of two feet, each sleeper being kept to a true level with a wooden support. All fastenings on every chair that side were faked, the TREENAILS were shortened so as not to engage the sleepers, spikes were cut off to match and dropped in the holes. The fishplates at either end of the thirty-foot length of track were in the normal position but held in place with very fine wire. The original bolts were cut in half, put in their proper positions and fixed with tar. Fine wire mesh netting was spread over the cavity to support a thin layer of ballast.”

After rehearsing for several hours up and down the track with the train and across the level crossing with the steam Foden wagon, everything was ready for the final masterpiece.
The Foden wagon was placed on the track. The engine of the doomed train was in charge of driver J.Brown and fireman Goodwright, both of Guildford.

At about 1p.m., the director gave the signal – “let her come”. The regulator was opened up with full steam ahead. The driver shouted to his fireman to jump, and then he himself left the footplate. In sixty-five seconds it was all over. Rushing down the incline on a gradient of 1 in 50 the train reached the point of impact at 45 mph. There was a terrible explosion which could be heard a mile away. Smoke and sparks shot fifteen feet into the air. After ploughing up the track for 120 yards the engine fell on its side – a perfect wreck, the whole train had left the track except for the last pair of wheels.

The above account of the crash was extracted from the booklet “The Basingstoke and Alton Light Railway” written by Edward Griffiths in 1982.

If anyone has any information on the use of TREENAILS in the railway industry please get in touch with us.