Locos on their travels and end of the line at the Abbey

Filed Under (Narrow Gauge World) by Andrew Charman on 18-02-2013

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Sneak preview of the cover to spot on the newstands later this week...

Welcome back to the blog – it’s been a busy few weeks which is why I haven’t updated this blog nearly often enough!

I’m writing this just as the latest issue of Narrow Gauge World comes off the presses, it’s out on Friday 22nd Feb and as usual crammed with fascinating features ranging from sugar cane in the Zambezi to new builds at Beamish and the product of a cartoonist’s fertile imagination at a London festival…

There is also, of course, all the latest news, at least the news up to the point when we went to press on 8th February! It’s a frustrating fact that quite big stories will always break within a day or so of my signing off the final pages – when you are editing a bi-monthly magazine, this can be quite frustrating!

So firstly we must congratulate the Lynton & Barnstaple Railway, which was one of three heritage railways, and the only narrow gauge one, to win a grant from a body called the Coastal Communities Fund. At Woody Bay they will soon have £150,000 to spend on rebuilding another heritage coach for the rapidly expanding line. The latest original carriage to be resurrected will be Coach 11, an all-third class vehicle later renumbered 2469 by the Southern Railway.

'Caledonia' on the Isle of Man Winter Photography event. Photo: Norman Dowd

Meanwhile on the Isle of Man the winter photography event over the weekend of 16th February mostly centred around newly returned-to-service ‘Caledonia’, the only 0-6-0T on the line and looking great in its original Manx Northern livery.

Meanwhile there are some interesting loco movements going on in the coming weeks. We are used to the Ffestiniog sending its engines on tour and of course this year as part of the Steam 150 celebrations its England tanks will be traveling far and wide – in the month of March for example you will find ‘Princess’ sitting on the platform of London Paddington station, and later she’s off to Dublin…

Ffestiniog Alco 2-6-2T ‘Mountaineer’ meanwhile will be coming out of storage to visit the National Garden Railway show in Peterborough on 27th April, where it will join  Leighton Buzzard De Winton 0-4-0VBT ‘Chaloner’ and ‘Topsy’, one of the oldest ever garden railway engines and we think on its first outing from the Ffestiniog’s Spooner’s Bar for many years. This show is well worth a visit – for more details have a look at http://nationalgardenrailwayshow.org.uk/

'Sir Haydn' pictured at Tywyn Wharf station on the Talyllyn in 2005. Photo: Ian Drummond/TRPS

Now it seems the Talyllyn is getting in on the act. Okay we know their locos have traveled before – especially to the neighbouring Corris, while ‘Dolgoch’ went to the Llangollen Railway last year – but now, Hughes 0-4-2ST ‘Sir Haydn’ is going to a venue not immediately obvious – the Great Central Railway.

The loco will be displayed in the yard at Quorn and Woodhouse station as part of the Great Central Railway’s Swithland Steam Gala between 26th and 28th April. Why Sir Haydn? Because just up the road from Quorn and Woodhouse, in Loughborough, were once the Hughes Locomotive & Tramway Engine Works, where the loco was built as one of three identical 0-4-0STs for the Corris Railway in 1878.

Apparently Sir Haydn, which is currently out of boiler ticket, will be visiting other venues later in the year – when we at NGW know where you will too.

Last rites for the Abbey Light Railway. Picture by Michael Chapman

Some sad news too – last weekend saw the demolition of one of those fascinating little private lines that add so much to the variety of the narrow gauge world. The Abbey Light Railway, near Leeds, has closed following the recent death of its owner, Peter Lowe. The three-quarter mile 2ft gauge line had been operating since 1974, but last weekend NGW correspondent Michael Chapman was present as it was dismantled, the rails going to a private line in Hampshire, the carriages to the North Ings Farm line and the diesel locos, for now, to the Welsh Highland Heritage Railway at Gelert’s Farm, Porthmadog.

We’ll be reporting in full on the event in the next edition of NGW but Michael tells us it was a very sad occasion – you don’t expect to see lines disappear into oblivion these days…

To end on a happier note with two dates for your diary, 6th-7th April and 18th-19th May. These will see two of the major events we at the Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway have come up with to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the line’s reopening by enthusiasts. I’ll tell you more about that next time…

Extremes on the footplate and other adventures

Filed Under (Narrow Gauge World) by Andrew Charman on 19-09-2012

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The Earl

The Earl at Gala, seen from Joan's footplate and behaving itself rather better than it did for me later.

Okay, okay, my supposed weekly blog has been silent for a few weeks. It’s been a busy few weeks! And at least I now have plenty to talk about…


It kicked off at the start of September with the annual Gala of my ‘home’ railway, the Welshpool & Llanfair. My busiest day was the Saturday as I was rostered as a fireman on two trains, our Kerr Stuart ‘Joan’ at lunchtime and The Earl on the last, double-headed train of the day, with the prospect of returning in the twilight. They proved very different trips!

Joan, in its first full season for more than 20 years, was proving a very free steamer… Rather embarrassingly the safety valves kept lifting all the way to Welshpool, and on arrival there we had a 90-minute layover, but Joan refused to sit quietly on the loop without popping her valves. So Steve our footplate guest, an experienced steam man, suggested he knock a big hole into the centre of the fire, which he duly did. Ten minutes later, Joan pops her valves again…

So I was feeling pretty good when I took over The Earl to head back to Welshpool in the evening, where we would meet up with Joan for a double-headed return. There was no waiting around this time, a quick turnaround before coupling up, though I did just about have time to hoist out some clinker I’d spotted forming on the grate.

The moment we left Welshpool, us leading with Joan coupled behind, I could tell I was in trouble. No lifting valves here, instead a pressure needle sinking depressingly down the dial. Roger my driver and I dived into the firebox looking for more clinker, with little luck, and he communicated to Joan’s crew Simon and Elizabeth that they would need to do rather more work than planned.

We weren't required for the Gala after-dark photo shoot...

Simon enjoyed talking about it for days afterwards, how his engine pulled a train and pushed my loco home as well, but I arrived at a darkening Llanfair feeling rather down at my lack of firing prowess. Then we were told we weren’t required for the after-dark photo session and could put The Earl to bed. To the pit, drop the ashpan door, to find that when the locos were ashed out at lunchtime because of all the extra running, The Earl somehow missed its turn. The ash was up to the firebars, the poor old gent couldn’t breathe. I felt somewhat better…


Africa comes to Shildon

One week on from the Gala and I was at the National Railway Museum’s ‘Locomotion’ outpost in Shildon, County Durham, representing the W&LLR at a Sierra Leone Festival. Our Hunslet no 85, which was repatriated from the West African country in 1975 along with four carriages, is currently resident at Shildon, and NRM head Steve Davies has a special interest in Sierra Leone, having set up the country’s railway museum in 2005 while posted to the country as an Army officer.

Steve Davies looks on as the Deputy High Commissioner for Sierra Leone speaks – no 85 in the rear.Preservation in Sierra Leone faces many challenges, not least unscrupulous scrap metal thieves. Artifacts of the once extensive 2ft 6in gauge system still remain but they are disappearing fast. Most recently, for example, hopes of having an iconic steel curved viaduct declared a heritage item have been dashed by it being cut down and removed by the scrap men.

The Shildon weekend served to raise awareness of the fascinating Sierra Leone system and the efforts to ensure it doesn’t pass completely into history. Hopefully the result will be increased support for the Sierra Leone National Railway Museum (the only other national rail museum apart from our own NRM) – they certainly face challenges on ensuring the museum continues, let alone flourishes.

Sadly this last weekend did not see me at either of the major narrow gauge events, the Ffestiniog’s Quarrypower or Leighton Buzzard’s Quarryfest. You’d think when my in-laws got married they might have realized that 60 years on their surprise diamond wedding party might clash with another important event! Rest assured though, we had correspondents at both events and coverage will be in the next issue of Narrow Gauge World, out on 26th October.

And check back here soon – the next Blog will appear rather sooner than this one did!

Tinkering in the park

Filed Under (Narrow Gauge World) by Andrew Charman on 07-08-2012

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Chaloner passes one of the several traction engines awaiting restoration.

Welcome to the Blog, and this week I took a break from Olympic fever (which, yes I’ve been enjoying as much as anyone else) to spend a very pleasurable day in new territory for me, at the Great Bush Railway.

This is a line that many might not know, effectively a private line running around a couple of fields, known as Tinker’s Park and located at Hadlow Down in East Sussex.

The line owes its origins to enthusiast Claude Jessett, who built a ride-on steam railway in his garden more than 50 years ago. Then in the 1960s he acquired some 2ft gauge material from a local brickworks, and what became the Great Bush Railway began operating in 1967.

Today the line runs for a distance of around a quarter of a mile, from a neat little station with run-round loop and raised platform, through a twisting course boasting both some complex trackwork and impressive gradients, to end effectively on the opposite of the field from where it started but several feet lower.

Sam Domingos sits outside the shed with its kink in the middle, and is joined by one of the line's several i/c locos.

Avid collector
Before he died in 1986 Claude had amassed quite a collection of transport items including several traction engines, many in need of restoration, with the intention of establishing a museum. After his death a registered charity, the Claude Jessett Trust, was formed to preserve and restore the collection, and the volunteers of the Trust have been making solid progress ever since, with the railway at the core.

Notable on my visit was a nice new display building recently erected, with three 2ft gauge roads leading into it, and definitely a more substantial alternative to the existing steam shed, which as well as being somewhat Heath-Robinson I noted has an interesting kink in its middle – not many sheds you can say that about!

Chaloner tackles the steeply-graded sharp curve - note the lump of aircraft fuselage in the background...

The Trust is clearly making a lot of progress but a trip on the line reveals just how big a challenge they face and how enthusiastic a collector Claude was.

The bushes either side of the line as well as various sheds dotted about the park are chock full of an amazing variety of rusting machinery, mainly traction engines and bits of traction engines, though I also spotted what appeared to be bits of a tank, a searchlight, and the fuselage of a plane – stored in two bits on two parts of the site! Must admit I was quite taken by the sad-looking model traction engine, around four-inch scale, in amongst it all.

The occasion of my visit was the annual Steam Gala, which saw resident Orenstein & Koppel 0-6-0 ‘San Domingos’ joined by visiting celebrity, 0-4-0 De Winton vertical boiler ‘Chaloner’, dating from 1877 and more normally found at Leighton Buzzard. Watching these two working hard, particularly on the spiral-like climbing curve behind the display sheds, was seriously entertaining.

There were a couple of miniature train rides, traction engines in steam and giving rides round the fields, vintage vehicles on show and a wide selection of model railways in the display sheds, all making for a grand day out.

Steam of all sizes at the Tinker's Park Gala.

I had a highly enjoyable day and I am looking forward to going back again some time – the Great Bush Railway is another deserving of an in-depth feature in NGW, as soon as I can find space – I need more issues!

Meanwhile, should you wish to check out Tinker’s Park, the next and final open day this year is on 29th September – you can find more details on the website at www.tinkerspark.co.uk

Vlad’s back…
Meanwhile at the Welshpool & Llanfair we are beginning to gear up for our own Gala on 1st-2nd September and hopefully this week will see a major component of the planned entertainment coming back into the limelight.

Our Romanian Resita 0-8-0T has been out of service for well over a year having a major overhaul which has included correcting some significant issues such as an out-of-line cylinder…

Just as I headed south it emerged from the paint shop, in a shiny new black paintjob, for its final test trains before entering service this week. I could be firing it later in the week… I’ll update you on progress next time.

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, www.statfoldbarnrailway.co.uk

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…”

Timeless scene set to disappear?

Filed Under (Narrow Gauge World) by Andrew Charman on 20-05-2012

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Snaefell and Manx meet at Laxey - could this scene be about to change?

One of the highlights of last year as far as this narrow gauge enthusiast was concerned was the chance to spend a few days in the Isle of Man – without doubt a Short Axle paradise.

Some will confine themselves to the steam railways but I find the tramways equally fascinating and one enjoyable day saw us combine trips on the Manx Electric and Snaefell Mountain Railways. The two meet at Laxey station, in evocative surroundings framed by high trees filled, when we were there, with constantly calling crows lending a surreal, slightly dark atmosphere to the place.

The open space atmosphere if Laxey is unique...

It’s a unique experience but one, we now hear, that could be about to change. Narrow Gauge World’s Isle of Man correspondent Norman Dowd has alerted us to a planning application that has been submitted as part of a project to ‘regenerate’ Laxey. These are not minor changes – track will be realigned, some will disappear including the current mixed-gauge siding, there will be some new track, and a whole host of tree felling.

Much of the work, we are given to understand, is being done in the name of safety, and shunting of trains will no longer take place within the station limits.

Enthusiasts will greet this news with much concern, as Laxey is today effectively the same as it was a century ago. But one also has to remember that the Manx tramways are not heritage lines run by enthusiasts – they are part of a daily transport system in the hands of a government authority. We can make our misgivings known, but we can likely do little about it.

We’ll obviously be bringing you the latest news on this development either in this blog or in the next issue of Narrow Gauge World at the end of June.

The return of Joan has added a new element to the Welshpool & Llanfair scene.

A fun firing afternoon

Having passed out as a locomotive fireman in August 2010 I’m still fairly new to the game (with a lot to learn, some of my drivers would have you believe!). Until last Sunday, I hadn’t had to acclimatise to a ‘new’ locomotive.

However that chance arrived when on signing in for my F2 turn (F1 lights up and takes the first two trains, F2 takes the last and puts the loco to bed) I was told that our newly-restored 1927 Kerr Stuart ‘Joan’, employed on a driver experience train earlier in the day, would be rostered on the last service running.

This was special for me as since moving to Llanfair Caereinion in 2007, Joan was the first restoration I had played a small part in, and I’m just a little proud that a couple of quite complex bolts I made are now in the loco’s motion.

So having had a look at the manual the previous evening (yes, we have instruction manuals for our locos!) I joined the F1 on the footplate so he could point out where the relevant bits were, such as the injectors, the blowers… Then I awaited my turn with a mix of nerves and anticipation.

I need not have been nervous – Joan is a wonderful loco and right now is steaming very freely indeed. For almost the whole of my trip the pressure sat exactly where it should be, just shy of the red line.

Nothing seemed to faze it – only climbing the last major bank towards Welshpool did it drop back a bit more than I wanted, and when I opened the firehole door there was a big hole right in the middle of the fire with the bars showing! A couple of lumps in the hole, and up the needle went again…

Those familiar with our line will know that coming back from Welshpool the challenge is all in the first mile or so, the 1 in 29 Golfa bank. Often a stop is necessary at the top, at Golfa Halt, for a ‘blow up’. So imagine how pleasing it was to storm up the bank, injector on all the way, and on arriving at the halt have Phil my driver say “happy with that,” blow the whistle and carry straight on!

So a good day – if my future firing turns this season are to similar form, I’ll be a happy fireman…

Alice with the train of slate wagons acquired and restored by Julian Birley.

Alice in Llanberis-land

Finally this week, a date for your diaries. The enthusiastic team that runs the Llanberis Lake Railway have been in touch to tell me of their Gala event on 30th June, 1st July, which will see the return home of former Dinorwic Quarry Hunslet ‘Alice’ – now owned by current man in the news Julian Birley (I’m not going to say the word Pen**** this week!).

Alice will be haul passenger trains, on her own and with the Llanberis locos, and also demonstration slate trains with proper Llanberis wagons. The organizers also promise that the Vivian Quarry incline will be in action, which opens up some pretty rare photo opportunities…

Sounds like a great event and I hope to be there – you can get more details at the website here

A milestone…

Okay, finally finally. The railway I’m trying so hard not to mention this week has run its first passenger train – for the full story, have a look here

See you next week…


Coal on the Rheidol and a Hunslet triple-header

Filed Under (Narrow Gauge World) by Andrew Charman on 13-05-2012

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Now that is a smart locomotive...

Apologies, the blog is a little late this week – it’s been a busy week!

First, an important piece of news, and very welcome too. The Sittingbourne & Kemsley Light Railway will reopen over its full length, including the iconic Sittingbourne concrete viaduct, on Sunday 27th May.

It should have happened at Easter – but with all the dramas this line has endured in recent times, forced to close entirely for a couple of seasons, a last-minute hitch was sadly not a surprise. It wasn’t the railway’s fault either – contamination discovered in a lineside building just a couple of days before services were due to start.

Thankfully the issues have been resolved, and on the 27th, Sittingbourne viaduct station will welcome trains for the first time since 2008. Full details are on the website, http://www.sklr.net/ and if you can, go along and support the SKLR – after all they’ve been through, they really deserve it.

Back on the lumpy stuff

Coal-fired Rheidol at Devil's Bridge

I mentioned last week how my good lady had decided that for a wedding anniversary day out we should ride the Vale of Rheidol and it was a very enjoyable day. I’ve always regarded the Rheidol as a bit of an enigma. It’s a line that has always been run as a purely commercial operation – no volunteers, trains only when there are passengers, no special events, especially those aimed at enthusiasts…

There are signs, however, of change at Aberystwyth. There’s a big new workshop going up, which will eventually have a raised viewing gallery in it. The intermediate stations are being restored to their original appearance, with the buildings, gardens and the like returned. There’s a Facebook site and a Twitter feed, and a few weeks ago the Rheidol even ran a photo charter…

As I said, we had a great day, especially as the rostered engine was ‘Llywelyn’, and from this season Llywelyn burns coal – proper fuel… It’s a long time since I rode this line, and it’s easy to forget just how spectacular the top half is, as it clings to the side of the mountain. Especially as the views are now opened out, thanks to a welcome programme of tree-felling.

Yup, lots of happening at the Rheidol, and on the trip I had a brainwave – wouldn’t it be good if the Rheidol and the Ffestiniog did a loco swap, Llywelyn and ‘Lyd’… After all it’s often been said that the two types of loco were close relations…

Two Bishops for the price of one...

Hugh in a threesome…

You thought I’d get away without mentioning the world ‘Penrhyn’ for the first time in weeks. Sorry… Friday saw me in Porthmadog, along with it seems many ‘names’ in the narrow gauge world, for the rededication of Hunslet 0-4-0ST ‘Hugh Napier’. The loco, which formerly worked at – you guessed it, Penrhyn quarry, had been under a very slow restoration over many years at the National Trust-owned Penrhyn Castle, until last year the Ffestiniog took over the job and finished it.

Friday’s event was certainly a time for celebration, with a rededication ceremony and blessings by the Bishop of Bangor and Bishop of Uganda (Bish two was staying with Bish one). There were original Penrhyn drivers present and Julian Birley, new owner of Pernhyn Hunslet ‘Winifred’ (see my previous post here), was quite overcome when one of them happened to say; “I used to drive another Hunslet, called Winifred…”

A triple header on the Britannia bridge...

Best of all though was a Hunslet triple-header, as Hugh Napier headed the Ffestiniog’s Penrhyn girls ‘Linda’ and ‘Blanche’ from Porthmadog to Beddgelert, where we all had a nice lunch – this job is tough sometimes…

I always come away from these events with one overriding impression – the FR/WHR knows how to do marketing. BBC, ITV, newspapers, other magazines besides ours, politicians, you name it, they were all there. Impressive…

So quite a week, and I finished it today with a firing turn on ‘my line’ the Welshpool & Llanfair, on our newly-restored Kerr-Stuart 0-6-2 ‘Joan’. But this entry is already far too long, so another time perhaps… See you next week…

More homecomings, and progress at a former home…

Filed Under (Narrow Gauge World) by Andrew Charman on 04-05-2012

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Gently does it - Ogwen arrives at Beamish (Photo: Paul Jarman)

It seems impossible to write of any narrow-gauge happenings without mentioning the word Penrhyn at present, and yes that name is going to feature again this week!

In my last blog I reported first-hand from the arrival at the Bala Lake Railway of ex-Penrhyn Hunslet ‘Winifred’, following 47 years exile in the United States. Well as fully reported in issue no 81 of Narrow Gauge World, currently in the shops, Winifred was not the only ex-Penrhyn loco coming home, as Avonside ‘Ogwen’ and Barclay ‘Glyder’ were included in the repatriation masterminded by enthusiasts Julian Birley and Graham Morris.

Glyder to the fore ready to be put safely into a display shed (Photo: Paul Jarman).

On Tuesday attention switched to the Beamish museum in County Durham for the unloading of the two locos – their new home is appropriate as both were bought secondhand by Penrhyn, having previously worked for the Durham County Water Board on such jobs as reservoir construction.

I wasn’t able to be there this time, although I am looking forward to a visit to Beamish later in the year, on a family holiday (don’t tell the family…). So I’m grateful to the museum’s Keeper of Transport Paul Jarman for the pictures reproduced here. Paul told me that to get them into their new home the museum laid one of the shortest narrow gauge lines in history!

Both locos will be on display for the year but are likely to eventually be restored to their Durham condition. Beamish is working on a significant expansion of its narrow gauge line and we will be looking at these developments in the next issue of Narrow Gauge World due out on 29th June.

Track now emerges from the Coed-y-Parc loco shed out of the picture at right.

Track now emerges from the Coed-y-Parc loco shed out of the picture at right. (Photo courtesy PQRS)

Making tracks

Meanwhile, at Ogwen and Glyder’s former home, much progress is underway. I reported on the project to restore a section of the much-liked Penrhyn Railway in the current issue of NGW, no 80. Within days of my visit things were a-changing, as the diggers came in, flattened the site and made it ready for tracklaying to begin.

As you can see here, progress is quite rapid, and the team is hopeful of staging an event, with a visiting steam engine of suitable Penrhyn provenance, later in the year. Obviously we at NGW will be following progress closely and I’m looking forward to riding that train…

Heading north - at right is where the former 'scrap line' used to be. (Photo courtesy PQRS)

Meanwhile I can heartily recommend you check out the project’s website, which you’ll find at www.penrhynrailway.co.uk, for more news and pictures of the work underway. I would also recommend signing up for membership of the supporting Society – it’s not expensive and they produce a gem of a little magazine full of interesting and useful historic material.

Visiting the Vale

This weekend sees my 23rd wedding anniversary, and the other evening I was given cast-iron evidence that I married the right girl (as if I needed it). “What are we doing for our anniversary?” she said. “What do you want to do?” I answered. “I’d like to ride the Vale of Rheidol…”

No, I don’t know why my good lady has a sudden urge for that particular line but I’m not complaining, haven’t been there for a while and will look forward to a visit.

Meanwhile there is plenty going on in the narrow gauge world – for example Galas this weekend at the Corris (with Talyllyn no 3 ‘Sir Haydn’ guesting) and in Porthmadog, the official opening of the South Tynedale extension a week later. Lots to see and you can bet Narrow Gauge World will have representatives at the big events ready to bring you all the news and pics in our next issue. Don’t want to miss out? I recommend a subscription, available from this website…

See you next week on these pages, or hopefully at a narrow gauge trackside somewhere…