An incident at Tan-y-Bwlch: August 1966
In 2014 the Ffestiniog Railway Society celebrates 60 years of incorporation, and has been inviting members and friends to contribute their stories of their first involvement with the railway.
In 1966 my mother chose North Wales for the family summer holiday - this could be Sunday 7 August 1966. As there was a memorable occurrence on the day, the event was shared with the FR discussion group some years ago but sadly they were unable to provide an answer. This was the first year my sister didn't holiday with us, and Mother was keen to find a venue that would provide an interest for me.
From our guest house window (run by a delightful Mr and Mrs Owen, and now part of the BT car park) one could see the Cambrian Coast line, and of an evening a BR 4MT Standard tank heading southwards with the late afternoon pick-up freight.
And we did well. Driving up the Aberglaslyn Pass was an old railway track bed and bridges. It seemed highly unlikely that a railway could ever be restored through the pass but there were embankments, tunnels and rusty girder bridges, as well as a well-built stone bridge on the approaches to Beddgelert that didn't appear to connect to any of the other remains. This wasn't the mystery it might have been to a 13-year old boy as I'd read my neighbours copy of the 'Railway Magazine' which in 1964 had provided an article on the old Welsh Highland Railway.
Our first night staying in Portmadoc, we walked down to the Festiniog Railway Station and I had been very impressed with the trident signal out on the Cob. The tracks might be narrow - rather similar to what we knew well in Southport, where the Lakeside Miniature Railway ran for nearly a mile on the 15 inch gauge - but the trident shouted 'main line'. Great news that it will be back in 2014!
We went down to Towyn, Aberystwyth and Welshpool and sampled the delights of early railway preservation.
My first journey on the FR was a Sunday in early August 1996. It was wonderful and primed the pump for a life long interest.
In many ways the journey was typical. The sun shone. The carriages glistened. 'Linda', driven by General Manager and Driver Allan Garraway who 'chopped them off' at the front end, resulting in an on time arrival at Tan-y-Bwlch, the extent of the line at that time.
This sequence starts with 'Linda' running into Tan-y-Bwlch with the morning up train from Portmadoc. Behind the locomotive is one of the Welsh Highlands - either 23 or 26. Everything appears to be normal, and the fireman does not look unduly concerned, looking ahead, with the train staff held in his right hand. As the loco passes the old station building he will jump off and put the staff in the instrument to allow 'Prince' to follow with the 'B' set of the day.
I should add that I do not appear in any of the photographs, as this is my first journey on the railway, and I am in one of the bowsiders, facing the engine on the valley (engine) side. The photographs are all taken by my father, J. G. A. Wallace who was waiting for the train at Tan-y-Bwlch. Remarkably he photographed all the staff on the station except for staff on buffet car 14 and in the Bunny Hutch, as he also photographed Bessie Jones.
In 1966 'Linda' ran some 4,824 miles, beating 'Prince's' 4,095, whilst 'Blanche' only managed 2,783. 'Merddin Emrys' was technically serviceable for the 1966 season but had been kept in reserve, only coming out for her last week in service with the original wagon top boiler at the end of the summer season. According to the Festiniog Railway Magazine it only ran 206 miles, which equates to just 14 round trips. In July he'd had a loose eccentric fixed and some tubes replaced followed by a trial run to TYB to prove its fitness as reserve engine.
'Linda' rolls to a standstill at the water tank at Tan-y-Bwlch. The train consists of the Welsh Highland coaches 23 and 26, two bowsiders, the recently built 24 (to be re-numbered 104), Buffer Car 14 (ex-Lynton & Barnstaple 15/Southern Railway 6993); and (out of site) Observation Car 100.
To the left of the parked cars is the sales hut, which was named the 'Bunny Hutch', and when services were extended to Ddaullt, the 'Bunny Hutch' also moved up the line. In 1968 it was - after a day in the car park at Portmadoc - where I was assigned for my first week volunteering in 1968.
And now we can see what the passengers were so interested in. For here is Driver and General Manager Allan Garraway, having removed the brasses, now levering off the coupling rod from the fireman's side of the locomotive. Clearly something is amiss, such that the bearings are presumed unfit for further service, and the locomotive is in danger of being declared a failure.
The staff could be heard discussing various options. 'Prince' is in steam and will in due course arrive at TYB with the first afternoon train, there being two sets in operation. 'Blanche' could be steamed but this will take time, and anyway, the GM has a cunning plan...
Driver Garraway, having completed his running repairs, edges 'Linda' out onto Creuau Bank. Note that the fireman's side remains a cause of concern, as unusually the driver has adopted a right hand position to drive the locomotive, whilst the fireman is walking alongside the loco having already set the road for the loop.
Although built with a right-hand driving position, part of the work carried out at Boston Lodge to suit 'Linda' and 'Blanche' to Festiniog conditions had been the conversion to left hand drive.
And here's the solution. AGWG has gently eased Linda over the top points under power - presumably having taken great care not to slip her by the water tank - and then has rolled down the loop, before again gently approaching the train with 'light' regulator. We have to presume that they arrived at Portmadoc safely, as sadly I left the train at this point, but not before 'Prince' had arrived with his afternoon working.
Guard Alan Heywood is obviously considering his options given the possibility his driver can't make the locomotive go.
However on the notice board is a reminder of who won - and by how many goals - the 1966 World Cup.
I have checked the FR magazines for mid and late 1966, but there is no reference to this incident.
Finally, 'Prince' arrives with the second train of the day, which would have been the 'B' set of the time. This would have consisted of Observation Car 11 (old brake third number 4) and Buffet Car 12 (old brake third number 5).
Photograph J K Wallace, c. 2015, All rights reserved
Finally a photo of a couple of models retained from the days when I had a layout based on the Ffestiniog in the 1970s utilising the GEM (George E Mellor) models. These were 5.5 mm scale running on 12 mm track. They made into nice looking models, but failed from poor mechanics as they featured unbushed axle boxes in a whitemetal chassis. Worse, the Mark 2 Fairlie, as shown here, was in effect a 2-4-2, with the motor driving the inner axles (next to the cab) and the leading axles and cylinder blocks being mounted on a pony truck. The cylinder block then levered the powered axles off the track, so its haulage of the accompanying whitemetal coaches was severely limited. Effectively, the model could haul maybe two coaches whereas the prototype could comfortably handle twelve.
This model was bought from fellow Festiniog volunteer Merfyn Jones who built the kit in the 1970s. Merfyn had worked for GEM, and this model was painted by the man who made the display models for George Mellor.
The coach is a splendid model of car 105 built by Steve Sullivan, and is - as far as I know - Steve's only venture into 5.5mm, as he is still an active 009 man. Steve plus layout featured recently in the 'Railway Modeller'. Steve's 009 model of buffet car 103 appeared in the 'Model Railway Journal' some years ago.
Sorry about the track gauge, but I've perched them on the down Copy Pit line on my current OO layout - needs must!