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GWR Four-Plank Open (Dia.O21)

‘Standardisation’ is a word often used in association with the Great Western Railway but it didn’t just apply to locomotives: the GWR used the same underframe from its ‘Iron Mink’ van under a new open wagon too.

So having announced the ‘Iron Mink’, we thought it rude not to produce what became the Diagram O21 open wagon too.

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The GWR’s open wagons evolved from simple, archaic one-plankers to this more contemporary looking four-plank design in just 16 years. The number of body planks increased, buffers replaced wooden dumb buffers and, in 1886, the steel underframes from the new ‘Iron Mink’ was also used under a new four-plank, 10 ton capacity body.

The GWR built thousands and thousands of four-planks with either single-sided lever brakes or DCI brakes (with minor detail differences) until a fifth plank was added to the design in 1902. In 1927, the Board or Trade ‘Either Side’ brake regulations came into force and resulted in over 18,700 single-sided four-plankers being given an additional lever brake and shoe. These wagons finally appeared in the diagram book as Dia. O21.

Despite being built in huge numbers, these wagons remained in the shadows for all their lives. They kept the railway moving but never grabbed the headlines and it’s difficult to track when they finally disappeared from the network.

If it were not for the GWR 813 Preservation Fund, it’s likely that the Dia. O21 would have slipped unnoticed into history. It managed to acquire the final three survivors (Nos. 41277, 52137 and 52243) but only No. 41277 is anything more than a rusting underframe. This vehicle was saved from Sharpness Docks in 1984 where it had apparently lain since being withdrawn in the 1930s. Restored in the 1980s, it’s based at the Severn Valley Railway where it requires a full overhaul to bring it back to its former glory.

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