It’s just black sooty stuff…

Filed Under (Narrow Gauge World) by Andrew Charman on 15-07-2012

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It looks a lot more innocuous than it actually is...

Firstly this week I must say how excellent the news is concerning more locos coming back from Stateside. We don’t know much yet, only that former Dinorwic Hunslets ‘Michael’ and ‘King of the Scarlets’, and Peckett ‘Liassic’ formerly of the Portland Cement Co, are on their way back from Canada, to go to an as-yet unrevealed collection.

These three were among the locos purchased in the 1960s by Charles Matthews of Ontario. They had been stored in a barn ever since, with efforts to view them heavily discouraged, as reported in my feature on the Dinorwic Hunslets in Narrow Gauge World 80.

Propethic words - sort of, in NGW 80

It’s quite weird really – ever since I wrote that piece, and suggested in it that there was little apparent hope of the exported engines coming home any time soon, some six of them have done, or are just about to do, just that! Perhaps I should try the same angle on other narrow gauge subjects – so I reckon there is no hope of Lynton & Barnstaple 2-6-2T ‘Lew’ ever being found in South America. Oh and North Wales Narrow Gauge single-Fairlie ‘Gowrie’ was definitely scrapped and definitely won’t be rediscovered. Okay?

Shouldn't that be rather more alight?

Hot and Welsh

As mentioned last week, I’ve been having a footplate battle with coal recently. No doubt experienced locomotive firemen will scoff at the following, but this still reasonably green fireman has suffered a slump in his footplate prowess, due to – Welsh coal!

The unitiated might be surprised to learn that coal is different. In the past on the Welshpool line we’ve used a lot of Russian coal. It’s a bit like rocket fuel – shovel it in and it immediately provides heat, and if your pressure gauge is falling it will usually immediately reverse and start heading up again. The problem with Russian coal is that it burns very smokily, which of course its not really the best thing these days…

Then there is Welsh coal, which burns very clean. It also burns very hot, which is of course a good thing, except that if you are not careful, it can burn the firebars… Welsh coal, however, comes in generally very large lumps, and when you shovel it into the firebed, it takes a good 10 minutes or more before it does anything.

And that’s where I’ve been going wrong. Firstly, not putting it on early enough to ensure that when it starts to burn, to produce the steam we need, it’s not several minutes after it’s needed…

A watched clock...

But Welsh coal has one other weird aspect. When it does start to burn, each lump expands, opening up like a flower. As a result, you can think you have a lot bigger fire in your firebox than you actually have. My second mistake…

After four firing turns that depressed me with their issues, a couple of weekends ago I finally cracked it. I returned from lunch to find that the somewhat more experienced fireman who had been babysitting my engine for me had put in it one of the biggest fires I had ever seen. The lumps were virtually falling out of the firehole door.

“That’s mad,” I thought, “how will I control it?” And of course, it proved just right – I had my best trip for several weeks, and learnt another lesson. This firing lark, it’s not as easy as it looks you know…

The Corris Railway - going places...

Exciting times in the Dulas

Last weekend found me in the Dulas Valley, the home of the Corris Railway, working on a feature due to be published in Narrow Gauge World 83 at the end of August. I’ll tell you a bit more about this next week – let’s just say for now that the Corris, decried by some as a tiny little line that goes nowhere much, is actually just moving into an era of great excitement, with three major projects all on the go at once…

Another Quarry Hunslet goes home – but this time just for the weekend…

Filed Under (Narrow Gauge World, Uncategorized) by Andrew Charman on 02-07-2012

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Sisters - visitor 'Alice' (left) with Dinorwic-based Hunslet 'Elidir' at Gilfach Ddu.

First thing I must do in this blog post is apologise for the lack of one over the past couple of weeks. It’s been a pretty manic time on all the magazines I have an involvement with, as well as in my ‘other’ career driving and writing about new cars, so sorry about that.

This past weekend, however, was totally narrow gauge, starting with a visit to the Llanberis Lake Railway’s annual Gala. The Lake line has its own legion of fans, but also a few detractors – I suppose because it’s first and foremost a commercial line, built in the 1970s as a tourist attraction,  not with enthusiastic volunteers struggling to restore worn-out track and the like.

And of course the railway was built on the trackbed of another line, of rather rare provenance – the 4ft gauge Padarn Railway. Doubtless some would rather have seen that line preserved instead, but it was gone long before the 2ft gauge project came into being.

Looking the part - Elidir by the Vivian quarry incline.

And in truth, we have quite a bit to be grateful to the Llanberis Lake Railway for. Its creation provided a safe home for a some of the Hunslets that had formerly worked at the vast Dinorwic quarries that loom over the line, and the line itself has remained a very visible connection to and reminder of the extensive railway system those quarries employed.

The line’s headquarters at Gilfach Ddu, Llanberis perfectly complements the adjacent Welsh Slate Museum, set up in the former quarry workshops. And the general environment of a working railway has helped to retain many quarry features that could have been swept away by other schemes. Big features, such as the now fully-restored Vivian Quarry incline above the station, and smaller but no less insignificant items such as the former Padarn Railway water column – built entirely from slate, still needing restoration, but still there.

Julian Birley, the most public recent convert to the joys of Quarry Hunslets, eyed the water column, jokingly suggesting it should be transferred to that other home for the little locos at Bala.

Julian was present because the Gala was themed around his loco ‘Alice’ – one of the most famed of the Dinorwic engines because it was the last to be rescued, back in 1972, and from one of the highest levels at the quarry. After that it had its boiler removed to go on another loco and wasn’t itself restored until 1984.

So Alice made a sentimental journey home over the weekend, and as a today rare cabless-Hunslet certainly looked the part in the quarry environment, especially when running up and down with the rake of slate wagons that Julian has assembled to run with it.

Alice owner Julian Birley was delighted to meet the loco's former owner Alan Cliff.

As for Julian, he seemed to have a good time. He met for the first time the Reverend Alan Cliff, today known for his Jack the Station Cat books but in the 70s the owner of the then kit of parts that was Alice. And the current owner couldn’t help taking the regulator of his loco, despite being very smartly attired in a tweed jacket and the Welsh weather dumping quite a bit of precipitation on him as the train was halfway down the lake route…

I enjoyed my trip on the line, my first for at least 15 years, and my day. The only shame was that there were not that many fellow enthusiasts around. Perhaps they were put off by the weather , or competing attractions such as the Talyllyn’s Have-a-Go Gala? Whatever, it was a shame. Like at the Vale of Rheidol further south the management of the Llanberis line have recently begun to make serious efforts to appeal to the enthusiast market – they even ran a photo charter on the Friday evening – and they deserve to be supported.

Scene from a different era - Elidir takes a turn with the slate wagons.

I mentioned it was a narrow gauge weekend.  Sunday found me back on my own line, firing and continuing what in recent weeks has been a bit of a battle between me and Welsh Steam Coal. Space precludes me telling you more about that now but you’ll get the full, traumatic tale next week…

Oh and by the way – the new edition of Narrow Gauge World hit the streets on Friday. You wouldn’t expect me to say anything different but there really is lots of good stuff in it. Look for it at your newsagents, if they don’t have it ask them to get it for you, or to make sure of your copy why not subscribe? Details are on this website. Talk again next week…

How many locomotives?

Filed Under (Narrow Gauge World) by Andrew Charman on 04-06-2012

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Statfold Cavalcade

Highlight of the day - the cavalcade of locos, a dozen of them all in steam!

I’m writing this week’s blog 24 hours after one of my definite highlights of the season – the Statfold Barn Open Day. Don’t know Statfold? You should! Quite simply, it is narrow gauge heaven…


Graham Lee is the man behind Statfold. Seems he made his money in seed oils and has used it to create the biggest publicly accessible narrow gauge collection in the country. There’s several display sheds and a huge workshop complex with enough machine tools to make any heritage railway Chief Mechanical Engineer weep. Why so much hardware? Well the Hunslet Engine Company is now under the wing of the Statfold operation and will build you a brand new Quarry Hunslet if you want – and have the money…


Bagnall Isibutu, Statfold

Bagnall 'Isibutu' attacks the grade in style on the Statfold running line.

And there’s one heck of a railway complex, involving 2dt, 2ft 6in and a bit of standard gauge, with an out-and-back line of mixed 2ft and 2ft 6in gauge, leading away from the farm and into the fields. On here at open days a series of trains are hauled by locomotives from the collection, anything up to a dozen in steam together, constantly swapping between trains.

You can’t just turn up to visit Statfold – the place stages three open days a year, which are strictly advance-apply ticket only. I had been forced to miss the first one in March due to being part of the organization of a Garden Railway show, and I knew I would be unable to attend the September event for family reasons, so Saturday was my only chance. And everything about it was brilliant – well, almost everything…

Regular visitors to Statfold’s open days know that there is always something new, and often a surprise. Always something that was unveiled only a year or so earlier as the latest rusty acquisition is revealed in pristine paintwork after a full, and rapid, restoration.


Corpet-Louvet, Statfold

With odd valve gear, and rather old - the Corpet.

In March the ‘new’ loco was former Bressingham and before that Penrhyn Hudswell Clarke ‘Bronllwyd’, restored to the original condition in which it worked for Surrey County Council’s Highways Department before 1934. We pictured it in the last issue of Narrow Gauge World, along with the new roundhouse-style arrangement around a turntable created in one of the display sheds.

This time the loco in question was 2ft gauge Corpet 0-4-0 with odd Brown Valve Gear that reminds one of the Snowdon Mountain Railway locos. It’s an oldie this one, dating back to 1884 and I believe purchased in unrestored form from a Spanish collection.


Ex-Fiji Hudswell Clarke on arrival at Statfold.

This ex-Fiji Hudswell-Clarke is Statfold's latest acquisition.

And yes, there was a new acquisition. Sitting on the traverser outside the shed was Hudswell Clarke 0-4-0ST, one of the mere two members of the ‘Kanaka’ class, built in 1914 for the Lautoka sugar mill on Fiji. No doubt it will soon be under restoration in the workshops, likse former Penrhyn Avonside ‘Marchlyn’, repatriated by Martyn Ashworth last year. At the September 2011 open day this loco was on show just as it had been purchased, riding around Statfold on a wagon, but now its restoration is rapidly approaching completion – possibly ready for September this year?


Yes, perhaps you are wondering – I said almost everything was brilliant. The one sour note was provided by certain members of the ‘enthusiast photographer’ community who seemed to think that the event had been staged for them and their cameras only, and who really made this clear at the cavalcade of locos that climaxed the event.

As I went through a gate and started to shut it, one guy in particular, with a tiny video camera on a huge tripod, snapped “DON’T shut the gate!” He and a couple of his ilk then haranged some other visitors who had innocently walked into their shot, and to cap it all the ‘Gate Guardian’ then shouted; “I am making a video so please don’t talk!”


Statfold, in the garden

Statfold is really a paradise for the narrow gauge fan...

If this was a photo charter and these guys had paid for privacy, it would be fine, but this was an open day, raising money for charity and allowing lots of narrow gauge enthusiasts to have a fun day. One fellow standing behind me summed it up, turning to his wife and sighing; “these are grown men…”


A minor irritation though – it was a superb day, as it always is at Statfold, and I’m so sorry I’ll miss the 15th September event. Numbers are strictly limited and if you want to go you need to pre-book a ticket – there’s a booking form on the website,

Meanwhile, we’ll be carrying a report and more pictures in the next issue of Narrow Gauge World out on 29th June. To ensure you get your copy, you can subscribe on this site. See you next week…


It’s not about the money, money…

Filed Under (Narrow Gauge World) by Andrew Charman on 28-05-2012

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Puffing Billy, Australia

Puffing Billy has a cash injection, but it's not enough... Photo: Michael Chapman

Hi to all – a fairly short column this week as it’s been quiet for me on the narrow gauge front, a week where my ‘other job’ – driving and writing about new cars – has been taking precedence.

There is, however, always news around the narrow gauge, and one item just passed on to me by regular Narrow Gauge World correspondent Michael Chapman caught my eye. Calling up the news section on the website of Australia’s Puffing Billy Railway revealed that the line has been granted $4.4 million from the Victoria State budget.

Firstly we say congratulations to the Puffing Billy – we reported back in NGW 79 on how the line was seeking cash to enable it to progress in the future. Among several good reasons why the line needs the money, one of the surprising things that came out of that piece is that it doesn’t currently have a cafeteria on site – remarkable…

But it’s the comment in the news item on Puffing Billy’s website that really made me sit up; “Although it was not nearly as much as we had hoped for, in the words of both State bureaucrats and State politicians – it is a start.”

Now I know that to compare different railways in the same country can be unfair, so comparing them on opposite sides of the world is likely very unfair. But $4.4 million? According to the ‘App’ on my smart phone that currently equates to around £2.75 million. And if Powys County Council or even the UK Government suddenly told us at the Welshpool & Llanfair, “We’re giving you £2.75m from our budget,” it would be party time at Llanfair…

Dinorwic Quarry Hunslet Jonathan

Quarry Hunslet 'Jonathan' - still being cared for at Lytham. Photo: Colin Foote

Jonathan – still at Lytham

You learn something every day in this business. The Travels of the Dinorwic Hunslets piece I wrote in NGW 80 was generally well received, but I was surprised to get a note from one Colin Foote, who took issue with my assertion that the loco ‘Jonathan’ (formerly ‘Bernstein’), which had spent the 1970s owned by Jim Morris and displayed at the Lytham Motive Power Museum, had ended up on the West Lancs Light Railway. “Not so,” said Colin, “Jonathan is still at the Lytham museum.”

Now we all know, don’t we, that the Lytham museum closed many years ago, and I gently explained this to Colin in my reply. To which he replied that I was quite right, the museum had been closed many years, but Jim Wild still owns the loco, keeps it at Lytham, and the picture Colin had sent me (reproduced here) and which I, to my shame, thought dated from at least the 1980s, was actually taken a week ago!

Well I never. Colin adds that both loco and track are serviceable and Jonathan is regularly steamed – he’s promised me some pictures next time it happens…

Ffestiniog Railway double Fairlie

Merddin Emrys gets away from Tan-y-Bwlch on Sunday 27th. Photo: Andrew Charman

Support the lines

On the way home from a ‘car weekend’ today me and Mrs C fancied an ice cream and supporting the lines whenever we can, we popped into Tan-y-Bwlch on the Ffestiniog. We found double-Fairlie ‘Merddin Emrys’ simmering at the head of its train, and when said train pulled out virtually every seat in every carriage was occupied. On a day when one might think the beach would be the obvious destination, this was a gladdening sight indeed.

See you next week – I will be reporting on the second Statfold Barn Open Day of 2012 and when Henry at Statfold sent me my ticket he promised me “lots of surprises…”

Good things come to those who…

Filed Under (Narrow Gauge World) by Andrew Charman on 28-04-2012

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Penrhyn Hunslet 'Winifred', back in Wales after a 47-year exile.

It has been an interesting couple of days. Yesterday I was invited to see the return home of a very Welsh loco, after 47 years hidden from view, in a warehouse, in America. We were disappointed, but today, as the lead picture shows, former Penrhyn Quarry Hunslet 0-4-0ST ‘Winifred’ is settling into her new home at the Bala Lake Railway.

Most will now be aware of the efforts of Julian Birley to bring Winifred and two other Penrhyn engines home from Indianapolis, where they had been since being sold out of the quarry in 1965 – the full fascinating story is in the new issue of Narrow Gauge World, out yesterday.

Even playing with his Hunslet 'Alice' could not calm Julian's nerves...

I was among a select group invited to Bala yesterday (Friday 27th) to see Winifred’s return, neatly escaping preparations for my son’s 21st birthday party in the process. When I arrived, a crane was in position, Julian on the footplate of Bala-resident quarry Hunslet ‘Alice’ that he now owns, but also looking a bit like an expectant father as he constantly scanned the horizon searching for a 20ft lorry with a container on the back.

Scheduled arrival time was around mid-day, and by then I had been joined by colleagues from the other heritage ‘comics’, and the local news from the BBC and ITV. By 1pm, we were beginning to get a little worried. Julian’s mood was likely not helped by Bala Lake manager Roger Hine producing a post office red docket he had found suggesting that Julian’s ‘large international parcel’ had been returned to the depot…

Then came a fateful phone call – there had been a problem with the lorry – Winifred was still on Southampton docks, at least seven hours away….

The TV crews contented themselves with interviewing Julian, but we all felt sorry for him as he looked completely crestfallen. For me, however, it was a perfect excuse to escape the debris of son’s birthday and go back this morning!

The Penrhyn lining is still clearly visible...

By the time I arrived, it was all done. Winifred was sitting on the rails, coupled to fellow Hunslet ‘Holy War’. And very good she looks too – as previously stated, in exactly the condition she left Penrhyn in 1965, with the smart lining showing through the grime of almost a half-century of storage.

Roger Hine told me that they plan to give her a wash this weekend, to see how smart she can look. Then the loco will be displayed throughout the summer as Roger, Julian and their team analyse its condition and consider options for restoration, with retaining as much originality as possible the prime consideration.

It will be good to see her in steam

Meanwhile the focus switches to Beamish, where Avonside ‘Ogwen’ and Barclay ‘Glyder’ are due to arrive on Tuesday. Hopefully I’ll bring you more news on those two soon on this page. Meanwhile as I’ve said, the full story of their repatriation is in the new issue of Narrow Gauge World, on sale now and also featuring an in-depth analysis of the Penrhyn Railway restoration project, the coal-firing conversion of ‘Lyd’, lost lines in Mongolia and lots more.

Check back soon for more narrow gauge news and thoughts, and welcome home Winifred…