Wardale joined British Rail in 1967 as a mechanical engineering sandwich course student, graduating from Portsmouth Polytechnic with First Class Honours in 1971. He then worked for BR until leaving in 1973 for the South African Railways to follow his vocation of steam locomotive engineering. Working in the steam locomotive section of the SAR’s CME’s department from 1974 to 1983, he constantly promoted proposals for making improvements to the existing steam fleet to enhance its performance and efficiency. The oil price increases of 1978 provided the impetus to put these proposals into practice, and for the next five years he worked almost exclusively on all aspects of steam locomotive development, including design, inspection, tuning-up, testing, and putting modified locomotives into regular service. A number of projects involving a variety of classes, from branch line engines to large mainline 4-8-4’s and 4-8-2 + 2-8-4 Garratts, was completed, the most notable being the extensive rebuilding of 25NC Class 4-8-4 No. 3450, the famous “The Red Devil”, so named because of its bright red livery after rebuilding.
This locomotive demonstrated significant advances in performance and efficiency compared to standard SAR steam practice, but the work came at a time when the phasing out of steam traction had already reached an advanced stage, and was too late to stop it continuing. Wardale therefore left the SAR to join the American Coal Enterprises’ (ACE) team in the USA in 1984, charged with developing classical Stephensonian steam traction for export to developing railways. Unfortunately ACE failed to secure its start-up capital, but in 1985 Wardale was part of a small delegation from the UK invited to China by the Chinese National Railways to discuss improving its QJ Class heavy freight 2-10-2’s, which were then still being manufactured. As a result of this he became the Technical Consultant to the Datong Locomotive Factory in 1986, and produced the full design for the necessary modifications to this class. However this work also came too late, for during the course of the 3-year contract at Datong the Chinese Railways’ policy changed from one of continued reliance on steam traction to one of phasing it out as quickly as possible. Although the design work was completed it was therefore not possible to put it into practice, practical work being limited to a certain amount of component testing.
Wardale left Datong in 1989 and has since, amongst other pursuits, written a critically acclaimed book, The Red Devil and Other Tales from the Age of Steam, describing his work on steam locomotives in South Africa, America and China.
David completed the Fundamental Design Calculations for the 5AT in 2005 and continues to support the project with technical advice. He now lives in semi-retirement in Scotland.