A Rare R-353 Yard Switcher?

Author: John Faulkner
Date: 24 July 2010
Related Model: 0-4-0 Dock Shunter

The history of the R.253 Dock Authority Shunter and similar R.353 Transcontinental Yard Switcher are well documented by Pat Hammond in his books “Story of Rovex” Volumes 1 & 2. However, there is at least one variation of the switcher that appears a mystery. In my collection I have a 1959 vintage black R.353 Yard Switcher that further research has proven futile.

First a bit of history behind the model; in 1957 Tri-ang Railways announced the introduction of a small inexpensive diesel shunter locomotive (R.253) based on the motor chassis designed for the Transcontinental Series of diesel units. The model was of a free-lance industrial locomotive design similar to those in use in private industry and for dock area shunting movements. Initial models were molded in black and heat printed with the logo “Dock Authority” on the bonnet and the No. 5 being printed on the cab-sides. It survived in this form until 1962 when it was replaced with the more commonly found red variation.

In 1959 it was decided to modify the model for the Transcontinental Series and was released as R.353 Yard Switcher. A simple deletion of the buffer inserts and different colour scheme were all that was in order to change the model. It was announced and illustrated in the 1959 Canadian price list as being released as part of the R3U “Dockside Special” freight set. It was not available as a solo model until the following year, 1960. This is where the confusion arises as to what appearance the first R.353 models debuted.

Referring to the 1959 Canadian illustrated price list; the picture indeed shows a black No. 5 “Dock Authority” shunter, minus buffers (but with the buffer hole inserts very evident). However, it describes the model as being a yellow livery (see pictures). This is the way it was believed to have been released according to Pat Hammond in Volume One of “The Rovex Story”. By 1960 the Canadian illustrated price list indeed confirms the shunter as being yellow in both the aforementioned train set and the release of solo R.353 model (see pictures).

The R.253 Dock Shunter soldiered on in various guises in both British and export catalogues until 1974, while the R.353 was discontinued after 1967.

Now to the mystery model; In 1982 I was in a train shop in Toronto, Canada and came across a used unboxed Yard Switcher. My interests, at that time primarily focused on British models; but I was already taking a keen interest on collecting older models and the Tri-ang Transcontinental Series were still available in many cases new and boxed. I brought the switcher home, put it in a box and didn’t think anymore about it until 1993 when I read the first edition of Pat Hammond’s excellent books where I was surprised to find no mention of the existence of the black Yard Switcher.

Is it a rare model or a pre-production prototype? As can be seen by the photograph of the actual model; it is identical to the early R.253 British version minus buffer stock and with the buffer hole inserts embossed into the mold, but not drilled-out. As it is dated by the early Mark II couplings and modified body to suit, the model has to be the original 1959 release of the R.353 used in set production only. Unfortunately even Pat Hammond’s excellent work does not break-out production numbers for the early R3U “Dockside Special” set. Even if it did, where the models used indeed yellow, as described or black per the standard British model minus buffers? Is it a one-off pre-production prototype that got released into the public or just one of many misidentified by the then current catalogue? Either way, with the R3U set being unique to Canada and resulting production volume would have been low; this is undoubtedly a rare variation of a common locomotive.

The mystery of how this discrepancy came to be may never be solved, but by way of this excellent Hornby web-site I ask that other enthusiasts share their knowledge and any other pictures they may have that might bring this subject to a conclusion would be most welcomed.

If you would like to contact John, use the comments page of this website.

Image Notes

1st Image - R3U “Dockside Special” set from 1959 Canadian Illustrated Price List illustrates a black locomotive but describes a yellow livery. Note the Mark II couplers.

2nd Image - R3U “Dockside Special” set from 1960 Canadian Illustrated Price List showing R.353 in yellow with the new Mark III couplings.

3rd Image - The model in question, appears to be unique.

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