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Wash and Brush Up (1953)


Main image of Wash and Brush Up (1953)
35mm, black and white, 25 mins
DirectorTony Thompson
Production CompanyData Film Productions
SponsorBritish Transport Films

Railway maintenance staff demonstrate their work.

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Originally made for internal British Rail staff training, Wash and Brush Up depicts the various stages in the disassembly and cleaning of a typical steam locomotive (a Class 5 numbered 73020), a process that should be carried out after every twelve to sixteen days of full-time service. However, the film has transcended its original instructional purpose to offer considerable scientific, technical and historical information about how steam locomotives worked, as well as a substantial nostalgia quotient for train buffs.

Wash and Brush Up describes, step by painstaking step, exactly what happens to a steam locomotive when it's temporarily taken out of active service and transported to "the shed". The film shows by means of animated diagrams why regular cleaning is necessary - ash piles up in the fire box and the tubes, preventing the fire from burning properly and the heat from getting to the water, thus causing the engine to burn more coal than necessary. This last point could have been made by a present-day environmentalist, though the rationale at the time would almost certainly have been economic.

Once the train is in the shed, a team of specialists take care of each relevant part. The names of the various jobs - shed turner, fire-man, fire dropper, boiler smith, examining fitter, washer-out, tube sweeper and bar-man - also give some hint of the processes that come into play as the engine is cooled and substantially disassembled so that its component parts can be cleaned and inspected (sometimes from the inside of the engine itself), while the commentary explains why each stage is necessary.

Unusually, Wash and Brush Up wasn't made by the regular in-house British Transport Films team, but was commissioned from Data Film Productions, a company that specialised in heavy industrial subjects such as the coal and steel industries (they also produced the National Coal Board's long-running Mining Review newsreel). The film's combination of close-up technical detail and simple but effective animated explanations of how each part of a steam engine contributes to its overall performance is much more characteristic of Data's output.

Michael Brooke

*This film is included in the BFI British Transport Films DVD compilation 'Reshaping British Railways'.

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Video Clips
Complete film (25:19)
Complete film (25:20)
British Transport Films