Kenneth John Cook

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Important both as a recorder of what went on at Swindon: Cook (like Cox) both wrote a book and presented a key paper about Churchward to the Institution of Locomotive Engineers, but unlike Cox there are no back-up papers, although the book is indicative of what he was personally involved in at Swindon, namely improved locomotive lubrication and advanced workshop practice, notably the Zeiss optical apparatus for frame alignment which he introduced to Doncaster when he was appointed Mechanical & Electrical Engineer of the Eastern Region, and greatly assisted in creating an Indian summer for the Gresley Pacifics. An Appendix to his book, quoted from The Engineer neatly summarizes Cook's contribution and also shows that Swindon may have become a backwater in terms of design under Collett, but not in terms of manufacturing methods.

The late G.J. Churchward's locomotive development on the Great Western Railway. J. Instn Loco. Engrs,1950, 40, 131-71. Disc.: 171-210. (Paper No.492)
This is the most complete professional source of assembled data on Churchward design. In the discussion W.A. Stanier presented some anecdotal material (pp. 171-2) whilst H. Holcroft (pp. 173-82) added a considerable amount of extra detail.

An appreciation: Sir William and the Great Western Railway. J. Instn Loco. Engrs, 1965/66, 55, 247-9.  
A two part obituary: Cox contributed the other

Contributions to other's papers

Bond, R.C.
Organisation and control of locomotive repairs on British Railways. J. Instn Loco Engrs., 1953, 43, pages 219-20. (Paper No. 520)
K.J. Cook (219-20) was strongly critical of Bond's statement: that "The wide variations in mileage at which individual locomotives of the same class require attention in the works, to which reference has already been made, clearly preclude the use of average mileage between repairs as a satisfactory basis for determining when the locomotive should be sent to the works." That, Mr. Cook, suggested, was an illogical statement. Provided there were the fundamentals of accuracy of repair and close tolerances, for which basis accuracy was necessary, then the mileage basis should become and was the only really logical basis on which to make the preliminary selection. He was rather perturbed to see that so many engines of certain main line classes required general or intermediate repair at considerably less than 40,000 miles. He suggested it was due to the fact that there was fundamental inaccuracy. If the basis particulars of the locomotive were dealt with with real precision, then if the engine fell down before it ran to within a very close distance of the specified mileage figure there was obviously some definite cause. From his own experience he could say that where engines were repaired with basis accuracy and close tolerances, it had been extraordinary how closely they ran time and time again and right throughout the classes to their average mileage. In his view there were at least four reasons, three of which were quoted in the Paper, that could be put forward to suggest that mIleage was really the correct guiding basis for repairs. Mr. Bond had referred to the measure of making good wear and tear, and that measure was the mileage run; unit cost was expressed as cost per mile, and it is also stated that the costs of maintenance and mileage between repairs were related to design features as a guide to future policy and practice. He suggested that that was the simplest method in which to make the selection and the very first question, without exception, which was asked by the Shopping Control was: - what was the mileage since the last repair? If engines were accurately repaired he suggested that the mileage was the best and simplest method which could be used. Under "Provision of Spares" the Author stated: "At one works" — he was probably referring to Crewe — "where the trouble was particularly acute, the problem was met by building one spare set of frames complete with cylinders, dragbox and stretchers for each of three numerically large classes of locomotive, with outstanding benefit to the progress of repairs at a time during the late war when every locomotive was needed for traffic." According to English parlance he did not think that that was" playing cricket," as it affected days under repair and it did not appear that the argument that it had, been sound financial policy to provide spares to that extent held good!

McClean, H.G. American experience as a guide to main-line diesel locomotive applications overseas. J. Instn Loco. Engrs., 1958, 48, 98-9 (Paper No. 582)
This paper was a sales pitch for General Motors: Cook responded by querying the price of fuel noted by the Author referred to coal at £2 per ton and diesel fuel for the same years at 9.7d./gal. It was of benefit to compare costs of fuel on the same basis, and 9.7d./gal. worked out at about £1- per ton (presumably £10+) per ton. That was an interesting figure, giving a ratio of slightly over 5/1, weight for weight, for the price of oil against the price of coal, and it was of interest to note that that ratio applied not only in the USA but in nearly every country in Europe. This probably had some bearing on the American desire to utilise a lower-grade fuel; and in fact if it were possible to do so the Americans would, he believed, like to use coal. In spite of this being the Diesel Age, they had put a great deal of effort in recent years into developing a coal-fired gas turbine. That, however, did not detract from the value of the Paper or of the American development of the diesel-electric locomotive, which had undoubtedly swept the field.
From the interesting paragraph lettered C on p. 68, it could be deduced that American practice had gone round in a circle in connection with the formation of locomotive units. Initially, it was stated, the biggest trains were usually involved, using four-unit locomotives, but the train size and locomotive size had tended to become smaller, and three units and two units were being used. That had given rise to a difficulty. With four units, two A and two B, the A units had a driving compartment at one end, the other end being occupied by the heating boiler, while the B units had no driving compartment. Because of the changes made in the number of units, the American railways had not been able to dispense with turntables. Frequently when making a turn-round the driving compartment was at the wrong end, and the locomotive had had to be turned. That emphasised the value of the design being developed by British Railways, with a driving cab at each end. It might have its counterpart in the development of the general purpose locomotive on the American railways, which presumably could be driven in both directions. It did not have a cab at each end, but the body was probably narrower, to give a lookout in both directions; but, with certain developments in view, that was not so convenient or efficient as a cab at each end.
The cost figures which the Author had produced, and in particular the incidence of the seven-year cycle, were extremely interesting, but there was one point on whjch Mr. Cook would venture to take the Author slightly to task. In comparing the cost of the steam locomotive with the diesel, the Author took 1950 as a typical year for comparison. When Mr. Cook and others had had the pleasure of meeting the Author in Chicago in the autumn of that year, they had been unable to get out of him any costs for a steam locomotive; he had said: “The cost is the same as the diesel, but if you want one you cannot have one, and there is no such price.”


Swindon steam. London: Ian Allan, 1974.

"A Machine of Precision"

It will probably come as a surprise to readers to find that the above title, in quotes, refers to the steam locomotive, the old-fashioned "Puffing Billy," that is now, at long last, to be displaced on the railways of Britain by modern electrics and diesels. Yet such was the title of Mr K.J.Cook's Presidential Address to the Institution of Locomotive Engineers, delivered on September 21st. The myth of a primitive machine dies hard where the steam locomotive is concerned. Prior to the war of 1939-45, when Mr Cook was Locomotive Works Manager at Swindon, there was a considerable body of industrial opinion that regarded the railway workshops as a collection of antiquated establishments quite incapable of making any contribution to the needs of precision manufacture of war material. Industry in general and officialdom in particular had no idea of the wide range of manufacturing capacity needed on a great railway.

Mr Cook told of the astonishment of the productive Ministries when they found what could be done, and how one official exclaimed, "You have the finest tool-room outside the aircraft industry." But in what way is precision built into a steam locomotive, and why should such attention to manufacturing and main tenance problems be given when the machine itself is so soon to be superseded altogether? As Mr Cook said in his opening remarks, some might nowadays consider that with any paper dealing with the steam locomotive "Senile Decay" might be a mere appropriate title! But as we have pointed out on several occasions since the announcement of the British Transport Commission's plan for the modernisation of British Railways, the changeover period is going to be a very difficult one, and there is much that remains for the steam locomotive to do before its final demise.

It is interesting to hear Mr Cook's opinion that the technique of constructing and maintaining steam locomotives on British Railways is now at the summit of accuracy. He speaks from a very wide experience, not only of his long and distinguished service on the Great Western, but more recently from his present position as Chief Mechanical and Electrical Engineer of two Regions of British Railways simultaneously, the Eastern and the North Eastern. As he emphasises, the economical criterion of locomotive performance is the cost per mile in similar conditions of operating, and towards this one of the greatest contributory factors is the mileage run between heavy repairs. In carrying out a heavy repair the dismantling and erecting costs are fairly constant whatever the mileage, and a higher mileage enables their costs to be spread and to produce a lower overall figure. The peculiar and unique basic mechanism of the ordinary steam locomotive, in which the power is transmitted through two, three, or more axes, the centres of which are partly fixed, but are subject to considerable movement relative to their locations and to each other, invites the question as to whether basic accuracy in construction is really desirable; there might be a temptation to indulge in slack fits, and methods of alignment that have a touch of the medieval. On the other hand, the greater the initial accuracy the lower will be the maximum stresses set up in components; initial tolerances in working parts can be reduced, and this, of course, reduces the hammering effect in bearings and the rate at which wear and slackness develop.

It was during Mr C.B. Collett's time as Chief Mechanical Engineer of the Great Western Railway that the practice was introduced of optical alignment of cylinder centre lines, and the precision setting of horn centres relative to each other, together with the length of coupling rods and the throw and angle of crank pins. With this magnificent tool available Swindon works were able to precision-build and precision-repair locomotives, with the excellent results in road performance that became so well known before the war of 1939-45, and are continued to-day. As Mr Cook remarks:

"If and when the steam locomotive fades away in this country, itwill not be on account of any decline in the excellence of its mechanism." But a number of factors have combined to bring a point in the history of this country at which the steam locomotive must decline, and in considering the changeover now forecast it is only natural to have doubts about the capacity of the railway shops to adjust them selves adequately to the new skills required. It is in this respect that Mr Cook's address is so reassuring. In referring to several special tasks carried out in railway shops during the war he is almost certainly drawing upon his own experience at Swindon; but no doubt parallel cases could be found at Crewe and Derby, at Ashford and Eastleigh, and at the two great works now under Mr Cook's direct control – Darlington and Doncaster. The quest for mechanical efficiency continues, and just as the railway shops turned with facility to new and unaccustomed items of production during the war, so equally to-day Mr Cook believes they will be able to turn to any alternative mechanism for railway use. Of the shops that have made the steam locomotive a machine of precision he concluded "If, for example, it is necessary to chase a tenth of a thou. round the plungsr or bore of a diesel engine fuel pump or injector, that tenth can be found in a locomotive workshop on British Railways." We have no doubt of it. But we hope that the possession of that ability will not lead British Railways to assume that since steam locomotives are built in its workshops the appropriate place to build diesels will also be in those shops. There are great and growing export markets for diesel locomotives. Only the private locomotive building firms can enter them. It would be of great assistance to those firms in retaining their export markets and entering new ones were they able to count confidently upon a flow of orders from British Railways, able to stress to prospective overseas customers how much experience they had gained at home, and able, possibly, to lay themselves out, having an assured market, for high production.

Editorial in The Engineer, September 30th, 1955.

Biography (J. Instn Loco. Engrs, 1955, 45, 245-6)
Kenneth John Cook, O.B.E., was born in Somerset, educated at King Edward VI’s School, Bath, and entered the Swindon Locomotive Works of the Great Western Railway in September, 1912. His apprenticeship was interrupted by war service from 1915-19 in the Mechanical Transport Section of the RASC in France and with the British Salonika Force, and was not completed until 1921. During his apprenticeship he pursued his technical education at the Swindon Technical College, first at evening classes and later through the three years’ course, also interrupted 1914-15 and 1919-21, of the GWR Day Studentship Scheme, attaining first place throughout each year and in 1921 winning the GWR Chairman’s Prize. He entered the Chief Mechanical Engineer’s Drawing Office in 1920 and after a period in the Experimental Section was appointed Technical Inspector in the Locomotive Works in 1922, Assistant to Works Manager the following year, Assistant Works Manager in 1932 and Works Manager in 1937.
His period of managership of the Locomotive Works included the whole of World War II, throughout which he was also ARP Officer for the Swindon area of the GWR and Liaison Officer with Swindon Civic ARP Authority. This period brought with it great changes in production with the low priority accorded locomotive construction in the early years of the war, and consequent turnover to the manufacture of a vast array of stores for all branches of the fighting services, many of an experimental or development nature, and later, when locomotives were again adjudged to be of paramount importance, the swing back to this work. He served on the Somerset and Wilts. Capacity Panel; later on the Wiltshire District Committee of the South-West Regional Board for Industry, and was Chairman of Electricity Load Spreading Committee for North-East Wiltshire.
After 25 years in executive position in the Works, including ten years in charge, he was appointed Works Assistant to the Chief Mechanical Engineer in May 1947, Principal Assistant in January 1948, and on 1st January 1950 Mechanical and Electrical Engineer of the Western Region of British Railways. In July 1951 he was appointed Mechanical and Electrical Engineer of the Eastern and North-Eastern Regions with headquarters at Doncaster and accordingly transferred his activities to the eastern half of England; the title of the position being altered to that of Chief Mechanical and Electrical Engineer on 1st January 1955.
He was appointed an officer of the Order of the British Empire in the King’s Birthday Honours in 1946. He was elected a Member of the Institution in 1946 and in the following year became a Member of Council. In 1948 he was elected Vice-president. He was awarded the Institution of Locomotive Engineers Award in 1951 for his Paper “The Late G. J. Churchward’s Locomotive Development on the GWR” and recently the Institution of Electrical Engineers Paris (1881) Exhibition Premium jointly with a fellow author for a Paper on the electrification of the Manchester, Shefield and Wath Line of the Eastern and London Midland Regions of British Railways.
He has held the office of Churchwarden in the Parish Churches of Swindon and Doncaster.