THE CONSTRUCTION OF THE WORKSHOPS OF
(from 1913 to 1919)
foundations and earthworks
French government gave the go-ahead for construction on April 16th 1913,
and because of the urgency of the situation, already, by the following
August, work was underway.
first task was to clear and drain the site and to construct the concrete
foundations for the buildings. Of a rectangular section and varying in
depth from four to six metres, they were built to be flush with the
finished ground level. The site was then backfilled to the top of these
footings with 240,000 cubic metres of suitable material. This was well
compacted to avoid any risk of settlement under the weight of the
machine tools and the loads from the columns supporting the rails of the
overhead travelling cranes.
Construction of the concrete foundations
the excavation for the foundations, various objects dating from
Gallo-Roman times were discovered, attesting to the long-standing human
presence on the site. These artefacts are now on display in the Rouen
Museum of Antiquities.
same time, the offices and the staff canteen, as well as a retaining
wall skirting the present rue de Paris, at that time known as the
Elbeuf to Rouen road or the Quatre-Mares main road, were built.
erection of the metal structure was just as difficult as the earthworks.
It was of entirely riveted construction with impressive dimensions for
the beginning of the 20th century. Delivered pre-assembled to the site,
the various sections were installed employing the methods of that time,
namely hoisting masts, winches, guy-ropes, and props. The structure was
going to have to be capable of taking loads resulting from the lifting
of locomotives weighing around 100 tons as well as coping with
simultaneous overhaul of considerable numbers of locomotives.
The erection of building C from the "Paris" side
The construction of the Quatre-Mares workshop is typical of the new
industrial architecture of the beginning of the 20th century. It
employed the most modern techniques and materials then available,
including, for example, riveted steel lattice girders and reinforced
concrete. It was in the forefront of industrial technology and
the outbreak of the Great War in 1914 and the consequent shortages of
men and materials, work slowed down. However, the need for workshops for
the construction and maintenance of railway locomotives was even more
pressing after the enemy occupation of the industrial regions of
northern and eastern France.
In 1915, with stalemate at the front,
the Germans decided to take over the railway workshops in the occupied
zone for the repair of their own rolling stock employed in the war
effort. So railway plants in Lièges, Namur, Antwerp and Brussels in
Belgium and Lille in France were all pressed into service by the enemy
who could also rely on three of their own important works in the Cologne
area, Cologne-Nippes, Oppum and Julïch.
contrast, the lack of substantial workshops made it impossible for the
British Army, which had come to France with its own railway material, to
satisfactorily maintain the locomotives. The Corps of Royal Engineers
therefore called for a repair workshop to be put at its disposal in
France. As Rouen was the bridgehead for the arriving British troops,
their choice fell on the Quatre-Mares plant, in spite of its unfinished
state. In January 1917, an agreement was drawn up with the Chemins de
Fer de l' État. Under its terms, the workshops would be taken over
by the British Army which would complete the buildings and install the
overhead travelling cranes. Track, machine tools, materials and
accessories, lighting and power facilities would also be supplied and
installed by British.
detachment made up officers and men under the command of Lt.-Col. Cole
RE quickly took over Quatre-Mares which became known as “Camp Locos’
Works”. Site operations started towards the end of February 1917. At
that time, the assembly shop, the store, the boiler shop and the
fitter's shops, the construction of which had been started by the
company Établissements “Haour Frères” of Argenteuil, were just
two unfinished skeletons more than 100 metres in length. As for the
forge shop, only the foundations were visible. Very rapidly, teams were
set up to create units designated as Railway Workshop Companies by the
military authorities. Working with the British troops were qualified
French personnel who were thus exempted from military service.
Paris-side gable ends of buildings A, B and C
began in the shops while the buildings were still under construction.
Qualified fitters, turners, blacksmiths and boilermakers, draughtsmen
and moulders mixed and poured concrete or erected columns, roof trusses
and joists. In April, machine tools started arriving from England,
followed closely by steam locomotive parts from Canada and the United
States. However, their assembly had to start at once in workshops still
in construction and without an operational overhead travelling crane.
July 1917, the first two locomotives were completed and entered service.
The workshops were beginning to prove their worth. However the
management had to demonstrate their ingenuity when confronted with a
lack of some equipment.
Bellis and Morcom 400 kW DC steam-driven generator sets supplied by
Babcock and Wilcox boilers were ordered in March. They began providing
electric power to the workshops in October of the same year. Up to then,
some machine tools had to be started by means of small temporary
internal combustion engines.
Babcock boiler coal hopper and chain grate stoker
August, a small makeshift pattern shop and foundry was set up in a
contractor’s yard south of the main workshop. The building was a crude
shed without proper ventilation. Power came from an old portable motor,
bought at its scrap price and patched up to work for just a bit longer
and it was a Ford motorcar which one day powered the blower. With lots
of improvising, replacement spare parts were produced on an as-needed
basis before complete repairs were undertaken. These were delayed for
some time because of the lack of overhead travelling cranes. Among
those, only three of a capacity of 8 tons in the erecting shop, and two
of 10 tons in the boilermakers’ shop, were working in October. It wasn’t
until February 1918 that the two 60 ton cranes were in service in the
Already by September 1917, however, the installation of equipment was
well enough advanced for the reception of the first locomotives for
repair and, in October, night shifts were introduced in the erecting
shop. Boilers of about 140 horsepower were ready to provide the
compressed air for the pneumatic hammers. That same year, 2.300 tons of
concrete for the foundation were poured and 553 cubic metres of ballast
were laid on the ground and for the tracks. Overall, 21,800 tons of
material were brought into QM, including 3,962 tons of locomotive parts
for final assembly. For the electric power requirements of machine tools
and the overhead cranes, stationary engines with a total output of 473
hp were installed and connected up to generators. However, in the
fitter's shop as well as in the wheel shop, except for the heavy duty
machines such as the wheel turning lathes and vertical lathes for the
steel tyres, which had their own electric motors, the machine tools
requiring less power were grouped together and driven by line shafts and
September 30th, a total of 34 locomotives had been assembled, tested,
and put into service.
October, the main buildings had been completed. The construction of
barracks and the laying on of water supplies for the Workshop Companies
was carried out in parallel to the construction of the workshops, their
fitting out and the assembly of the locomotives.
Erecting the first locomotives
end of 1917, not only had the workshops been built, but 135 new
locomotives assembled and five others repaired and put into service. The
wheel shop had assembled 74 wheelsets, the smithy had produced 72 tons
of forgings and the foundries 23 tons of copper and 225 tons of cast
iron. By December 31st, more than 11,000 tons of locomotive parts had
been handled in the yard. From no workers at all in February, the
workforce gradually rose to 1000 by the end of October and, during
November and December, on average, 1200 sappers and 300 German prisoners
of war were assigned to the plant.
layout for the works
Year 1918 was enthusiastically rung in by the night shift with a
two-minute long peal on the bells of American engines, celebrating the
prospect of reaping the rewards for all the hard work of the preceding
installation of the overhead travelling cranes was nearly completed and
the pattern shop, the foundries, the forge, and the machine and boiler
shops had come on stream. Between January 1st and May 9th, 1918, more
than 97 engines were assembled, before this work was halted, the
workshops having to concentrate on repairs and the manufacture of
replacement parts. In addition, the last German offensive of the war, in
April 1918, forced the relocation of Chemins de Fer du Nord
personnel and equipment to Quatre-Mares. This necessitated the wholesale
relocation of the erecting shop, boiler shop and forge. In spite of the
fact that it figured on the original plans, the forge shop was not yet
built so the forges were installed in a purpose made temporary shed
built on the site of the present wheel shop. It comprised two boilers,
four steam hammers, two pneumatic hammers, metal shearing machines, bar
cutting and bending machines, a total of 42 spring forging mills, the
materials for steeping and annealing the springs, the large furnaces and
other installations, together with the pipes and fittings necessary for
the compressed air, steam, and hydraulic lines.
Chemin de Fer du Nord
transfer of the erecting shop to the former boiler shop required the
excavation of new inspection pits. This operation began on May 15th
concurrently with the relocation of the boiler making plant and the
forging machines onto their respective new sites. One month later,
although the concrete of the new pits was still “green”, they were
already in use and the former erecting shop was placed at the disposal
of the Chemin de Fer du Nord. In less than four weeks, more than
800 trucks of machine tools and supplies were evacuated from their
Longueau and Asnières workshops to Quatre-Mares However, in addition to
locomotive building and general repairs to machines, the expansion of
the various departments made it possible to be of greater assistance to
the running sheds with a significant production of new spare parts and
repaired components. Production would continue for a few months after
The handover to the Réseau de l'État
not until the end of 1919, after the departure of the allied troops,
that the Réseau de l'État took over the workshops and transferred
its own machine tools and personnel from the locomotive section of the
Sotteville Buddicom workshops. The acquisition by the Réseau of
the equipment installed by the British greatly facilitated the
resumption of activities in the new workshops without interruption to
the repair of the locomotives.
Shield presented to the workshops by the "Royal Engineers"
on the occasion of their departure at the end of 1919
the years from 1919 to 1938, this basic equipment was supplemented by
the acquisition of many new machine tools.
translation by John Salter