Locomotives designed and built by Thomas Parker

The following is a brief description of several locomotives that were built by Thomas Parker. The information was kindly supplied by John Middleton, Ph.D., a mining engineer who has carried out research on the mine railways of South Africa, where he worked for a number of years.

Unfortunately little is known about the locomotives built by Thomas Parker, which are of great interest to locomotive historians. If anyone has any further information on the locomotives, perhaps from contemporary periodicals, please contact us by clicking on the link at the bottom of the page.

Locomotives exported to South Africa

In South Africa one of the key early influences was J. Hubert Davies who emigrated there in 1889 and quickly established himself in the engineering field. The company bearing his name went from strength to strength and survives to this day as a multi-faceted engineering concern. The first electric railway in South Africa was built under Davies’ auspices and was on the Crown Reef Gold Mine.

The railway was first mentioned in the South African Mining Journal (SAMJ) of 3rd June, 1893 in a report which stated that two electric locos were on order. On 9th September, 1893 the same journal reported that two 20hp. Elwell-Parker electric locomotives had arrived. By 24th February, 1894 trial runs were taking place, and by 10th March, 1894 they were in service. On 10th November, 1894 the journal reported that the locomotives were  working satisfactorily, and a similar installation had been ordered for Langlaagte Royal.

The locomotives operated on a previously horse-drawn 2'0" gauge railway, which was 6,000 feet long (approx 1.8 km), laid with 20 lb/yard rail, and with a ruling gradient of 1 in 40. It was electrified with a 500V DC overhead line. Each locomotive weighed 10,000 lb (4.5 tons), ran at a speed of 10 mph, and could haul 10 loaded or 20 empty trucks of 30 cubic feet capacity, each weighing 1.5 tons. They are recorded as hauling 600-700 tons per day.

It now seems fairly clear that the locomotives were probably built by the E.C.C. (initially the Electric Construction Corporation, becoming the Electric Construction Company in July 1893). Contemporary E.C.C. adverts record the supply of an electric railway to Crown Reef, which seems to confirm the company as the builder of the locomotives.

An article in the South African Engineering Journal for May 1904 described a locomotive built by E.C.C. but it is not certain whether this was the same or different to those at Crown. Contemporary photos show outside framed
4-wheel locomotives, with a complete canopy roof and waist high bodywork.

An advert for a Crown Mines E.C.C. locomotive. From John Middleton's collection.

The locomotives were clearly a great success. Hubert Davies soon built other electric tramways including a line for the Langlaagte Royal Gold Mining Company Limited which used an identical locomotive to the ones in use in the Crown Reef Gold Mine. It was in operation by 1896.

The 'British & South African Export Gazette' for February 1897 stated that the Wemmer Gold Mining Company Limited had ordered an electric locomotive from Hubert Davies that was similar to those working in the Crown Reef, and Langlaagte Estate Company's mines. It is possible however, that the Langlaagte Estate mentioned in the report should actually be Langlaagte Royal which closed in November 1896. Its locomotive, being virtually new, was likely sold to another mine.

The Transvaal Government Mining Engineers report for 1897 stated that seven electric locomotives were in use, which probably included at least four by E.C.C. / Parker (The two at Crown Reef and at least one each at Langlaagte and Wemmer). It would be nice to know how many were actually exported to South Africa.

A Thomas Parker Locomotive in the workshop:  'Cassiers Electric Railway 1899'. From the collection of Chris West.
The photograph opposite is from 'Cassier's Electric Railway' from 1899 and is captioned 'A locomotive built for the South African Gold Fields by Messrs Thos. Parker Ltd., Wolverhampton, England'.

The picture is in an article titled 'The Electric Locomotive' by George R. Mair. Unfortunately Mair does not give his sources.

The builder's plate carries the name Thomas Parker Limited at the top, with Wolverhampton at the bottom.

The following text from Mair's article may be of interest:

The position of the electric locomotive amongst the general mining apparatus is illustrated in the South Africa gold fields. The discovery of these fields is so recent that the equipments for working them naturally afford examples of the highest development in the special class of machinery required. In one of the first systems of mechanical haulage on the Rand electric power was adopted. Two locomotives of British make were installed at the Village Main Reef Mine, where they have been in operation for a number of years. While these machines are not used for underground service, their general construction is of the character employed for mine locomotives, and the results shown have been so excellent in this, the first plant in the Johannesburg district, as to warrant the belief that in the near future the electric system will be generally adopted on the Rand.

It is possible that  Mair is referring to the Wemmer locomotives which ran through the Village Main property. It is quite possible that the photo of the Thomas Parker locomotive might be the Wemmer locomotive of 1897 or another, yet to be identified.

Other Locomotives

A Thomas Parker locomotive was supplied to Broken Hill Proprietary in Australia in 1902. It has a similar frame to the South African locomotives, which is a distinguishing feature of Parker locomotives, as was the large size and position of the builder's plate. A number of standard gauge versions are known to have been used in the UK and can be seen in photos that appear in various Industrial Railway Society publications.

A standard gauge locomotive built by Thomas Parker around 1895. It worked at Henry Bruce & Sons Limited, Kinleith Paper Mills, Currie (off the Caledonian Railway's Balerno Branch). It was scrapped in the mid 1960s.  Courtesy of Richard Horne.

From 'The Engineer', 27th January, 1899:

Contractors' Electric Locomotive
Thomas Parker Limited, Wolverhampton, Engineers

Contractors' Electric Locomotives

Six contractors' electric locomotives for the Baker Street and Waterloo Railway are being made by Messrs. Thomas Parker, Limited, of Wolverhampton. Our illustrations show a general view and details of these locomotives. They have been specially designed to meet the conditions of Messrs. Burstall and Monkhouse's specification, which among other things provides that the maximum width overall should not exceed 3 ft. The result has been that space has had to be economised to the utmost extent, and an extremely handy locomotive produced.

No working parts are uncovered, though all portions of the machinery are easy of access, and there is a glass window over the commutator, by means of which the behaviour of the brushes can be observed. The current will be obtained from an overhead wire, from which it will be collected by a long contact roller bar, instead of the
more usual grooved wheel, thus permitting of a greater sideway deviation of the conductor wire without fear of breaking contact. The wire conveying the current to the switch passes down from the roof of the vehicle through one of the upright tubes placed at each corner of the footboard.

Each locomotive is fitted with a series motor, the armature of which is wound with Messrs. Parker's patented Eickemeyer coils, and connected by double helical gearing to both the axles. The locomotive develops 15 to 20 brake horsepower when supplied with current at an electromotive force of 200 volts, and it is designed to run at ten miles an hour on a level track. The gauge of the rails is 18in. The starting and reversing motions are controlled by one handle. This handle works a throw-over reversing switch, fixed at the top of an enclosed box, and is also geared to a resistance switch, the contacts of which are connected to resistance coils of platinoid inside the box.

A light iron detachable canopy or roof is fitted so that it can be taken off in case it is required to pass the locomotive through a small opening. The motors are entirely enclosed in the frame of the locomotive, to protect
them from dust and wet. Lamps, efficient brake and sand boxes, together with buffers which form part of the
drawbars, render these locomotives complete in every detail. A dimensioned outline plan and elevation of the locomotive are given, and the view above represents the locomotive in working order. It will be noticed on reference to these illustrations that the arrangement is very compact, and that the driving is intended to always be from one end of the locomotive, the controlling and brake handles and the two sand box levers being all accessible from one place.


One of the locomotives in use during the construction of the Bakerloo Line. Courtesy of John Browning.


From 'The Engineer', 31st May, 1901:

Standard Gauge Electric Locomotive
Thomas Parker Limited, Wolverhampton, Engineers

The accompanying illustration represents a new electric locomotive recently designed and built for Lowdon Brothers and Co., of Dundee, by Thomas Parker, Limited, of Wolverhampton. It is full gauge, 4ft. 8½ in., and is intended for hauling trucks from the main line into a goods siding. It is to be capable of taking 45 tons up a gradient of 1 in 100 at about four or five miles an hour, and lighter loads up the same gradient at correspondingly higher speeds up to a maximum of eight miles an hour.

In general construction the locomotive is very similar to that made by the same firm for working in the Waterloo and Baker Street Railway tunnels, of course, it is on a much larger scale. The smaller locomotive we illustrated. The present illustration shows how the driving motor can be lifted from its place for inspection or repair without taking the locomotive under a crane. In the roof there is a ring fastened to one of the supports. To this a set of pulley blocks can be attached, and the motor raised by means of an eye bolt on the top of the casing. Ordinarily speaking, of course, the motor is lowered down so as to be in contact with the gear wheels, and is, in fact, below the footboard, and the hole covered in with chequer plates.

The motor is of the 4-pole enclosed ironclad type, with carbon brushes. The armature is wound with Eickemeyer coils, as are all the machines made by this firm. The magnet yoke and the cover are cast together, with the joint on the horizontal diameter. The motor develops from 40 to 50 brake horsepower when supplied with current at 200 volts. It is made both water and dust proof, but lids are arranged so that access may be obtained to the brushes. As will be seen, the general design is quite simple. There are two buffers instead of the single buffer of the earlier and small locomotive already referred to. There are also sand boxes and powerful brakes. Hooks are provided at the four corners for rope traction. The frame proper is built up of a heavy cast iron body, with bearings for the countershafts cast on the underside. The bearings are provided with loose caps. On the cast 1ron body are bolted rolled steel plates, ¾ in. thick carrying cast steel hornblocks for the axle boxes. The gear is double reduction with two countershafts. The motor gears at each end of the spindle into these countershafts which are on the same horizontal line as the centre line of the axles so that the moving of the locomotive on the springs does not affect the teeth which are in gear with the axle gearwheels. The diagram below shows the arrangement and size of the wheels.

The controlling gear is placed in a box at one side and fastened to the hand railing. The starting, stopping, regulating and reversing switches are all operated by one handle. Quite near by is the brake handle so that both are within easy reach of one driver. The complete weight of the whole locomotive is 12½ tons. The current is collected by a trolley arm, which does not appear on the engraving. An ordinary tramcar trolley base is fixed on the locomotive footplate and rises through a hole in the roof.

Locomotives in Australia

The following reports from various newspapers were sent to John Middleton by John Browning of Brisbane. They tell the story of the installation at Broken Hill Proprietary Mine, New South Wales.

The Barrier Miner, Saturday 25th January, 1902


Electric Trains Underground.

ARRANGEMENTS are now proceeding for the introduction of electric tramways underground at the 650ft. in place of the present horse traction, and for this purpose an engine and dynamo are being installed on the mine. The cables are now being laid, and operations will be started in a few weeks. At present 52 horses are being used for truck work at the 300ft. and other levels to the 650ft, and these are being sent up and down every shift, each horse working eight hours daily. Provided the new system proves a success at the 650ft., it will also be extended to the other levels. Mr. O'Neill, of J. A. Newton and Co., Melbourne, is superintending the installment.

The Barrier Miner, Thursday 6th February, 1902


The Electric Installation.

IN connection with the electric traction at the Broken Hill Proprietary's 650ft. level, the overhead trolley wire is laid, and men are now making copper connections across the fishplates, with the object of reducing the resistance of the rails which carry the return current.

Driving is proceeding at the 650ft., and the connections at that level should be made in five or six weeks.

The electric locomotive specially built for the company by Thomas Parker and Co., Limited, Wolverhampton, to suit the undulations underground has arrived on the mine. It is of 15 h.p., and is capable of hauling 25 tons at a speed of five miles an hour. It is understood that pending the completion of the 650ft. drive this locomotive will be run on the dump in place of horses to take out tailings.

The Advertiser, Monday 17th February, 1902

BROKEN HILL, February, 16

Some interest was taken on Saturday in the trial run of the electric motor, which is at work at the Proprietary mine's principal dump. The result was most satisfactory, the motor drawing eight full trucks of tailings with ease. It is expected that next week the system will be in full working order.

The Barrier Miner, Wednesday 26th February, 1902

The Broken Hill Proprietary

New Processes and Economies

The electric locomotive is now regularly removing tailings from the old mill, and has drawn at one time as many as 16 loaded trucks. This locomotive is capable of doing the traction work of both mills if wiring was laid; as it is, it does away with the services of eight or nine horses.

The connections have been made at the 650ft. level, between McBryde and Patterson shafts, and also with Patterson and Delprat shafts, thus making through communication from Delprat shaft to Block 11. A station plat will be excavated at Stewart shaft, and when this is done the work of laying the electric traction and cables and bonding the rails will be completed.

The Barrier Miner, Tuesday 11th March, 1902

The Broken Hill Proprietary.

The installation of the electric traction plant at the 650ft at the Proprietary will be completed on Saturday next. The length of line laid is about 2500ft., giving communication with Delprat and McBryde shafts and the workings on the south boundary of Block 11.

The electric locomotive which has been running lately on day shift with tailings from the Proprietary's old mill on a trial of strength yesterday evening took out 25 full trucks. From appearance it could readily draw from 30 to 35 trucks if required.


The Register, Wednesday 19th March, 1902


March 18. The electric locomotive had a trial run yesterday at the 650 level on the Proprietary. It travelled from McBride's to Patterson's and then on to Delprat's shaft. Although the track was not quite completed it ran very satisfactorily. Afterwards it conveyed a rake of twenty full trucks at the rate of five miles an hour from McBryde's to Delprat shaft, returning with empties. Mr. T. Mars, a local electrician, supervised this installation for Newton and Co., electrical engineers, of Melbourne.

The Thomas Parker locomotive at Broken Hill Proprietary. Courtesy of Richard Horne.

The Barrier Miner, Wednesday 14th May, 1902


The electric traction plant lately installed at the 640ft. will this week be put into regular service and will run over approximately 5500ft. of track already laid, including cross cuts extending from Delprat shaft to nearly as far as Block 10 boundary. The plant comprises a small electric locomotive, developing about 15 h.p and on a level track runs at about eight to 10 miles an hour. Its maximum width is 3ft., the working parts being all covered over, but easy to get at. The motive power is obtained from a continuous generator at 220 to 240 volts, put down for this purpose, developing a power sufficient to supply two or three locos of the same size. It can easily handle 20 trucks or more, if wanted, whilst one horse could not conveniently draw more than five or six full trucks. Should this principle be extended throughout the mine, on surface and underground, and this is more than probable, although it is too early yet to compare cost with that of horse traction, it would throw over 100 horses out of service, and would relieve the workings of the trouble and many disadvantages of animal traction. About 15 horses are employed below surface each shift, and these have to be caged up and down at every change, which entails considerable expense and loss of time, beside which they make a mess of the track ; and unless the ventilation is complete they foul the air.

Mr. F. Mars, engineer and part proprietor of the local Electric Light and Power Station, who supervised the installation of the Proprietary's plant, supplies some details of the work. He explains that the current at 220 volts is collected from an overhead trolley wire by a roller rubbing contact, which allows ample sideway deviation on the trolley wire for any irregularities of the track. The track gauge is 18in. The rails weigh about 24lb. per yard, and one rail of the track is electrically bonded throughout and used as the return circuit. Bonds of 7-14 S. W. G. cable 15in. long, the ends being sweated into ½in. brass thimbles, are fitted into holes drilled in the rails at each end of the fish- plates and expanded tightly therein. The trolley wire is suspended 6 ft. 9in. from the rails by insulated "hangers" sweated on to the wire and bolted to Oregon pegs driven into holes drilled in the crown rock of the drives. The hangers are spaced 20ft. apart on the straight track, and 6ft. to 8ft. apart at the crosscuts and curves; both the trolley wire and rails are fed from the generator (on the surface) down 650ft. of shaft by 19-14 S. W. G. cable, which is of ample size at present. The overhead wire has switches arranged at each crosscut leading into the ore faces, to enable these sections to be cut out of circuit in case of damage caused when shooting down the ore, otherwise the whole track would be unworkable until repairs could be effected. The whole of the plant for this installation has been supplied from Messrs. Thomas Parker, Limited, of Wolverhampton (England), by Messrs. J. and A. Newton, of Melbourne.


The Barrier Miner, Saturday 17th January, 1903

Electric Traction Underground.

For about nine months the Broken Hill Proprietary has been using electric traction in the place of horses at the 650ft. It was, however, found that the locomotive used was cumbersome, and there was at times some trouble in negotiating the short drives and curves; so it was decided to replace it
Kalgoorlie. The Western Argus, Tuesday 19th January, 1904

The electric locomotive of 15 h.p. has been removed from the 600ft. level, where it has been working for some time, to the surface, at the Broken Hill Proprietary, where it is now taking the place of horses. Recently it started with a rake of from 20 to 25 trucks, and has been found to answer admirably.

Sydney Morning Herald, Monday 8th February, 1904

The electric motor continues to work satisfactorily resulting in considerable economy, many horses having been displaced by the motor.

Mines are dangerous places, and people do occasionally get hurt. The following newspaper reports are of accidents involving the Thomas Parker locomotive.

The Advertiser, Wednesday 18th February, 1903

BROKEN HILL, February 17

Thomas Matheson had a peculiar experience at the Proprietary mine last night. Just before the afternoon shift knocked off he was carrying some steel bars along a drive at the 640-ft. level on block 11, when his burden came into contact with an electric wire. Matheson received a severe shock, which prostrated him for some time, but afterwards he appeared sufficiently recovered to go home when the shift knocked off. After reaching the surface he was again overcome by the effects of the shock, and was removed to the hospital.


The Barrier Miner, Sunday 30th April, 1905


Charles Partridge, employed on the Proprietary mine, was working on the dumps on Saturday evening when he caught hold of a live electric wire and received a bad shock. Three of his fingers were severely burnt. Partridge was removed to the Hospital in the ambulance.


The Barrier Miner, Monday 6th March, 1908


At about 6 o'clock last night William Gourlay, a motor boy employed on the electric motor at the Proprietary mine, fell off the motor and had his ankle badly crushed by the trucks. Gourlay, who is 17 years old, was conveyed to the Hospital.


The Barrier Miner, Friday 10th March, 1908


At about 6.30 last night T. B. Radbone, a motor boy at the Proprietary mine had his leg broken through being run over by the motor. Radbone, who is 19 years old, was working on the electric motor drawing trucks out over the dump. He jumped off the motor and fell, und it passed over his leg, which was broken just above the knee.

A final view of the Thomas Parker locomotive. Courtesy of Richard Horne.

A Thomas Parker locomotive that worked on the Cheddleton Hospital Railway in Staffordshire. Courtesy of Mark Cornwell.

I must thank John Middleton for supplying the fascinating information about the Parker locomotives. If you have any other information about the locomotives, or can add to this section, please send me an email. Anything you can add will be most welcome.

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