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Frederick Mills (1898-1949)

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Frederick Mills (1898-1949) was Chief Mechanical Engineer of the Western Australian Government Railways

1898 Born in England.

He served for six years as an apprentice fitter-and-turner with R. and W. Hawthorn, Leslie and Co and after passing the necessary examination was admitted to the drawing office during his apprenticeship.

He served in the Royal Air Force and on de-mobilisation became a draughtsman with Armstrong Whitworth. While working for his two British employers, Mills participated in the design of locomotives for export to railways throughout the world.

In 1926, on the recommendation of Armstrong-Whitworth, he was appointed Designing Draughtsman for the Western Australian Government Railways (WAGR) and emigrated to Western Australia.

During 1928 Mills was handed the responsibility for designing the first Garratt type of locomotive built in Australia. The design was similar to the M class supplied by Beyer, Peacock and Co, but the lengthening of the firebox required work to be done on the re-distribution of weight and the pivots.

During the 1930s, Mills submitted plans for a new 4-8-2 locomotive class to assist in Western Australia's failing railway system. They would become the WAGR S Class, the only locomotive to be completely conceived, designed and built at the Midland Railway Workshops. Despite his insistence that their construction constituted essential war work, production of the S Class was postponed, and it wasn't until 1943 that the first three of an eventual total of ten were placed into service. The S class was to prove one of the more controversial of Western Australia's locomotives; suffering from a variety of early problems due to Mills' implementation of some bold new ideas. However, despite numerous complaints from various railway unions they eventually became solid performers.

In 1939 he relieved the Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Western Australia. He was a Member of the Institution of Engineers Australia, the North East Coast Institution of Engineers & Shipbuilders, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers and the Institution of Locomotive Engineers. As a graduate of the second of those worthy bodies, Mills won special prizes for his papers on locomotive boilers and steam locomotive design and construction. He published in the engineering press several articles on locomotive and rolling-stock design and read papers before the Institution of Engineers.

1939 The James F. Lincoln Arc Welding Foundation of the United States conducted a worldwide competition for papers on new applications of electric welding. Mills won the £1,000 first prize in the Railway Locomotive section for his design of a welded engine frame. In 1940 he was appointed Chief Mechanical Engineer.

During World War II the WAGR, like other Australian railway systems, was facing severe economic crisis. The problems in Western Australia, however, were exaggerated by a succession of State Governments having provided little for the railways, meaning that they had not yet recovered from the effects of the Great Depression. Approximately half of the WAGR's locomotive fleet dated back before the turn of the century, and by 1943 a quarter were out of service pending overhaul.

In 1942, Mills was seconded to the Federal Government to lead a team tasked with providing a design for a new standard-class narrow-gauge locomotive; the result being the Australian Standard Garratt of which 25 were used by the WAGR from a total of 57 locomotives built. The class were all withdrawn within fifteen years.

1949 June 22nd. Died.

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