I Tried to Run a Little Railway Managing the Ffestiniog Railway 1991-1996
by Gordon Rushton
I Tried to Run a Little Railway Managing the Ffestiniog Railway 1991-1996
by Gordon Rushton
The Ffestiniog Railway Society Chairman sitting on Linda, looking serious - circa 1988
What I wanted
What the Board wanted
What we had
Oh what a lovely little railway!
Speaking ill of the dead
Of War and Peace
For they who only Volunteer
Wimmen & the rise of Parks & Gardens
Civil Engineering,Track & Signals
Having a Go
Any more for the Skylark?
Funny Old Boys
Decline & Fall
The Happy Return
WHR letâ€™s be frank; F&WHR Appraisal 1980-2020; Are you Uncomfortable?, FR Society - fit for purpose?
What we ended up with
elsh Highland Railway Renaissance is the book that describes in a fair amount of detail how the Ffestiniog managed to stand fate on its tail and have a second go at that once sad little railway. The strange part of that is the ringside seat I appear to have acquired right at the bit where it was all made to happen. It may still take a while for people to cotton on to the aspect of Greek tragedy in the whole affair, where one party gets what it most certainly doesn’t want, and the other party must endure everything that it fought against. My role wasn’t just to see this happen; I was to play a principal part in causing it, just by the visit of necessity. The WHR story is explained in ‘Renaissance’ but the Ffestiniog side of it certainly isn’t, including how the system ejected me, as were others after. So this is a book of self indulgence, but if you like little railways it is interesting self indulgence. There has been enough sugar coating, and even in Garraway, Father and Son, Allan never said what he told me he felt. Yet blame and complaint are unworthy negatives, and no one wants to read something like those political diaries full of nastiness. However there is room to know when someone was claiming one thing, but doing another. Does this mean that I am in any way disaffected? Not at all - I had the greatest fun after leaving the Ffestiniog, leading to quite the summit of my career, all doing things that I wanted to do. This show is about how the Ffestiniog Railway got through the first half of the 1990s - a short period, but one packed full of action. The Ffestiniog & Welsh Highland Railway has developed to be a bit more than a seaside ride now. The late Dan Wilson, former editor of the Ffestiniog Railway Magazine, was the master of the statement of the obvious - that wasn’t at all obvious, until he managed so elegantly to tell you that it was - called the Ffestiniog a seaside ride. There was indignation spewing out like water from the locomotive supply at a statement like this. Yet however upset people may have got, it was true, as well as unforgivably amusing. The pomp of the pretentious with grand titles was well suited to the Railway of times past. The way ‘the system’ treated lads, keen and kind, was disgraceful. One could have said they were mercilessly exploited, except that most came back for more. The objective was one of control, designed to breed like minds, to ensure there were few challenges to those who commanded the heights. Such a distorted system was secreted inside the most enticing little railway - always to be denied, like a Soviet indiscretion. The worst excesses were to be found in Boston Lodge. How people derived pleasure from such a system is difficult to know. Looking at it today, one can hardly believe that it was run that way, that the
‘management’ tolerated it, or that the Board and Trust knew nothing of it. To acolytes it was a barrier to be crossed. It was my pleasure not to defeat it outright, but to set it on the slide - to render it unsustainable by its own self-healing. That was fun, and the methods used are there to read inside. The problem was getting the people to step outside their cliques and engage with the public. There were individuals who when asked ‘How long’s the train?’ would answer to the prospective customer ‘Six carriages’, and think this hilariously funny. Yet the same people would work the whole night through to change the piston rings in a double Fairlie, so that it would be available for traffic on the morrow. Some few, who were volunteers in origin, upon joining the permanent staff, persuaded themselves that volunteers were a useless load of f***ers, and that the Society Board were just a load of t**ts. It was wounding, but I never found out what it was that caused the conversion - and if you ever challenged some of the negative stuff in the pub, even from the most argumentative and articulate detractors, it almost always melted away like snow, in a furnace of mutual interests. Perhaps all this was the sublimation of anxiety and challenge; today the Railway is more stable. It has a core of competence that is impressive to say the least. Boston Lodge’s work is extremely good, way above what one might expect, and the Carriage Works produces a stream of incomparable stuff, far ahead of any other heritage railway in the world. The railway has a large number of youngsters, boys and girls, all of whom seem very purposeful. The place is clean; the trains are comfortable. This railway compares really well with the most modern national systems I have visited. The scenery is of course superb on both lines, with views restored to much of the Ffestiniog. People seem to be enjoying themselves, and with a bit of marketing push, this outfit seems big enough to continue to earn surplus after surplus - let’s hope that this is so. It’s more than 60 years since the restoration began. I’ve been involved for 50 of those. The effort now is going in to making the Ffestiniog self-sustaining. This has to be right, as it certainly wasn’t that when I managed it. Yet the Society Board of those days was right on the next square, and most of the Company Board and Trust were thinking well ahead. Here are some stories from that time ‘on the cusp’, when it really could have gone either way. It turned on very narrow ground, but it all came good, though not for everyone. Gordon Rushton Milton Keynes 2017.
8 Trains and ships
It’s 25th June 1964 and Prince, hauling five cars, runs in to a fabulous Tan y Bwlch carpeted with grass. It’s all cute, clean, well run, and may give an idea why the FR was becoming so popular on its 7 mile run up from Portmadoc. I like trains. This is a lovely little railway, and could well have stayed at this length, living in reflected glory. Why it has expanded to over FIVE times this length is a question you may find an answer to in this book.
This picture offers a clue as to why it is fun running ships. MacBraynes’ King George V is reversing across Oban Harbour, from the Steamer Pier to the Railway Pier. Our train from Reading, full of Merrymakers is the reason. I like ships as well. If you’re going to have whims, have exciting ones. On this trip (fully booked) we ran to Oban, for ship to Tobermory, Staffa (Fingal’s Cave) and Iona (landing from boats). This was 1974, the KGV’s last season.
ate or fortune, I don’t know which; I was sent away to Rydal School, Colwyn Bay to be educated like a gentleman. Attending at about the same time was Dafydd Wigley - and look what happened to him. For me, I followed Lady Bracknell’s pronouncement on education - no effect whatsoever. Yes, indeed, I did work - and very hard. However, this was generally in Colwyn Bay No.2 Signal Box, tutored by the excellent Harold Aitcheson from Thatto Heath - a man who ignited a reverential respect for Lancastrians, that far exceeds anything that Yorkshiremen may aspire to. I also acquired an excellent working knowledge of how the railway runs; one that I have never forgotten. In those days Dr Beeching was implementing the foolish close and rip up policies that even then we thought were stupid - and now we know to have been wicked as well.1 Thus stating railways as a career choice was exposing yourself to ridicule and prolonged harassment from otherwise doting parents. It was possible by means of the splendid Derby Lightweight diesel multiple units to get self and bicycle to Blaenau Ffestiniog, there to scythe down the hill for the climb to Tan y Bwlch. In 1964 this was effected, and the result was instant amour. Here were people licensed to play trains, and they were doing so with pleasure; an 18 year old was quite capable of penetrating the veneer of professionalism, and extracting the story. Thus some volunteering was called for, whereupon the realities of life then dawned. However, those whom I went with, like Mike Jones, and those whom I met, like Adrian Shooter, were not in the least put off by the excesses of the volunteering system. All went on hold for exams and the end of school. For those who found that signalling through the Irish Mail was not an answer that figured in a Physics ‘A’ level paper, a few weeks labouring at a Liverpool dockside warehouse generated the impetus to just go and sign up with the railways. To ensure no posse headed me off at the pass, I did it whilst Control were away on holiday. British Railways, Liverpool Division were mildly surprised at my application, and I was allocated as a booking clerk to one of the Wirral Electric stations: Wallasey Grove Road. Alas the buccaneering life was nowhere to be seen, amid the slow ticking of the clock, the whining of traction motors, and the terror of making mistakes in giving change and accounting for tickets sold. These were all that prevailed. It appeared that people were no longer going to hand me money - apparently you had to work hard to earn this commodity; not only that, but to earn enough to do anything remotely interesting you had to 1 Please see Richard Faulkner and Chris Austin’s fine books on the subject, notably Holding the Line ISBN: 9780860936473, that tells of dark goings on.
be smart. After a hasty reappraisal I found myself at Port Sunlight Station, headed for the British Railways, London Midland Region, 1967 Management Training Scheme. I had managed to talk my way on to this graduate training scheme rather earlier than my new university-educated colleagues. I never knew that in fact people would pay you to learn all about things you were passionately interested in - but they did. Again, reality brought one to earth with a bump the earth was damp and hard at Warrington Central Freight Terminal, my first posting. I escaped to London for five years, and then to Sheffield, where I became Passenger Manager as though on an up escalator. Alas, it was a temporary position, and again reality was restored. Sensing that the awfulness of British Rail in the late 1970s was likely to become worse, I moved to Sealink, for a joyous five years in Southampton, the Channel Islands, and Normandy. Privatisation overtook my career, ripping out the railway connection, but I moved to the Irish Ferry Line, and found another up escalator to boost me to route manager with my own vessel, with the exhilaration of conducting a startup business - not rail, but as much fun as you are allowed. It was the return to reality after readying the Irish portion of Sea Container’s new high speed ferry business that caused a pause. Stena Line bought them out, and it was clear to me that unless you were Swedish, or very blessed, the future was bleak. I was neither, and looked for something else. My association with little trains was boosted in 1977 by Fuzz Jordan’s encouragement at Sheffield to become involved with the FR Society. He was mounting a sales stand in the Sheffield Merrymaker trains that I ran, and this was earning fabulous money for the FR. I rose from Society Director to Society Chairman by 1986. We determined to solve declining membership, the hostel shortage, and the relationship with the Company who had the cheek to tell us how we must spend our money. We stopped that, but relations between GM and Society went south - he was taking the money and cutting us out! Sad for him as money talks; he retired, I took over, and the Society has never forgiven me. I had five years - I rather knew it couldn’t last. I wanted to get the volunteers more say in what was happening, to involve young people in the running of the Railway, (a plentiful supply of resident old gentlemen, and drop outs needed dilution from a number of bright gems), and to try to solve the perplexing Welsh Highland Railway question. I was invited to resign in 1996, but by then the impetus for change was unstoppable. What came later on FR was much worse until it got better - but as it all came good by 2011, let us put that aside. Read all about it - play up and play the game!
Cuteness? Well, people say so. It is a very beautiful surrounding, and the locomotive can be heard coming when climbing the hill, but glides in when descending. The ‘S’ curve is appreciated and it is rather different and more developed in this 2010 view than it was in 1963. Look at the lovely great long train of rolling stock. How many other railways regularly run 12 car trains? Yes, it’s cute, and eight of the cars are now corridor connected.
Blue Linda was quite popular in the 1990s. I was never bothered what colour they were, thinking that it was more cogent what they could pull, and how much they cost doing it. Minffordd is a nice station, but even much caressed though the gardens are, it doesn’t see the business it did when during my tenure we ran the Minffordd shuttles - then it fairly buzzed (but people didn’t like running them). Cute - yes, definitely: pretty engine, colourful cars.
Oh What a lovely little railway! Prince and Palmerston lift 28 slate empties round Dduallt Tank Curve - this is what ‘slate days’ really looked like. Phil Brown collection
he Ffestiniog Railway is really cute. If you don’t believe that put this book down - it’s not for you. Or if you are associated, pull yourself together and remember what it was like when you first saw the FR ,1 and it entered your soul. The Railway depends on being cute; it has to be cute today to live, to compete in today’s world. No, it’s now not a ‘main line in miniature’ it really isn’t - it’s more a seaside ride. Of course people like James Boyd tell us really serious things about why the line was built, and it was the shiny pages of his first edition that I borrowed and read when I had flu that impelled my interest (otherwise it was hardly a fascinating read). Some realisations have since dawned. The slate industry really was among the first to ‘mechanise’. Slate was a ‘wonder material’ for roofing, with a 100 year life, light (in comparison with flagstones), better than wooden shingles, and efficient. It didn’t compare quite so well with tiles, but that’s another story. The concept of a wagon that could be packed with slate in the cutting sheds and would then progress to a ship’s side with two-tonne lots, almost intact and ready for export, was rather better than slate packed in mule panniers to tidal wharves, with up to 25% breakage. Man-pushed 2ft gauge trucks along cheaply laid tramways contained a practical principle for shifting slate. Balanced inclines and a narrow gauge tramway could be built economically to snake down to the sea, gravity worked, with the empties coming back up behind all those mules you were putting out of business. On the back of an envelope it was possible to work out that with suitable traffic from the quarries, in quite a short
1 If we’re in English - and we are - then it has to be FR. Certain minds think to appease users of an altogether superior and more ancient tongue, Welsh, that FfR should be used for Ffestiniog Railway. Yet it should be RhFf if in modern Welsh. In this book it’s FR - in English, RhFf if Welsh.
time this tramway could be profitable - especially if the slate industry developed in the mountains - and it did. Having got going about 1836, despite the intermediate incline before the Moelwyn Tunnel, the principle proved itself, and after more quarries opened the tramway was obliged to become a steam railway to meet the rise in traffic demand. It doesn’t take much consideration to reach the conclusion that as demand rose, converting the Festiniog from 2ft to standard gauge was never likely to be on. People might have been thinking forward, but not to that level of profit exclusion. They went to George England, and ordered steam locomotives at a rather economical price. These didn’t work very well in 1863 - but cuteness had begun. The pressure was on - they had to work, to bring the empties back - the mules simply couldn’t cope. After steam was introduced, gravity trains had an uninterrupted run - productivity shot upwards, as did gravity train length. Slate production rose steadily and ran FR right out of ability to carry what was offered. The introduction of the George England built, double Fairlie, Little Wonder assisted matters in 1869, but it did not prevent the London & North Western and the Great Western Railways from building branchlines to serve the quarries, in 1881 and 1883 respectively. The Fairlies were also cute, but not perhaps the Directors of the Festiniog Railway Company, who were unable to defend their monopoly. Events in the 20th century led to a period of long decline, ending in the closure of the Railway in 1946. There were crises, notably the First World War, where the valuable European export markets plunged in value and the wicked tile industry became efficient. The Festiniog had acquired most of what was needed by the 1880s. As the traffic ran down, so the railway was run as economically as possible, thus when it shut up shop in 1946, everything was put away,
12 Portmadoc - prosperous at first but then poor and remote when slate ‘left’
Ships were able to load slate direct from the stacks all along the wharf sides, in the western side, as far as the Britannia Bridge, and then on east side of the South Snowdon wharf at Harbour. In its heyday Porthmadog was a busy port, shipping right across the world by sail and steam.
people went home never to return, and that was that. Of course life in Portmadoc went on, and after ten years, those floating round with the idea of reopening cute railways found an intact but cobwebbed Festiniog, the rescue of which has been well documented. The bit we have lost, and are unlikely to see ever again, is the line to the ‘0’ milepost along the wharf on the western side of the harbour. Much business went on over there, with the tracks leading right down, almost as far as Borth y Gest. On South Snowdon Wharf, where the houses were built later, beyond Harbour Station, there were stacking grounds across the entire area. The port declined from its unsuitability to accommodate vessels that were rapidly increasing in size. Whilst in Tasmania, co-operating with fast-ferry builder Incat, boss Robert Clifford related the problems he had in getting roofing material for his house. He said it was slate, from Blanno something or other. Of course he was surprised that I was able to put him in touch with an immediate source of supply, but it served to illustrate just how far those little schooners from Portmadoc actually got. Alas, as bigger ships and steamships came on the scene, the port could not take them. Perhaps if WW1 had not so disastrously affected the slate market, enlargement investment would have been made - but it was not. Trade dwindled, eventually leaving the Ffestiniog dependent on what it could ship out via the merchants based in Minffordd Yard. They were using the Cambrian, but eventually, by the time deep decline set in, this had become the Great Western, that already had a Blaenau Ffestiniog outlet. These were deteriorating times for the Ffestiniog, and it is amazing that it eked out a living as long as it did. It is
equally helpful that it was disreputable enough to escape nationalisation. Thus it lay mouldering, waiting for the knight in shining armour - in this story along he came! In the 1950s the whole harbour area was effectively derelict, though in place. The dreamers will no doubt look at the map above, seeing the one-time possibility of running trains from a big station at Oakley Wharf, with ample space for locomotive and car sheds near Bron y Garth for both Ffestiniog and Welsh Highland Railways. Alas, it was never to be like this. The Festiniog Company was lessee of Harbour Station, and not much else. There was a wish, when it came up for sale, to obtain the whole of South Snowdon Wharf, adjoining Harbour Station, but alas all that could be afforded was the freehold of Harbour Station. The rest was out of reach, and houses were subsequently built on it, thus fifty years later, there was no choice but to fill in part of the Cob to gain space for a two-platform station. There are those who complain about how far away Portmadoc 2 is from what are called ‘centres of population’. Yet, today, it really does not take long to reach populated areas. In the 1950s, when the pioneers like Pegler, Smith, Broadbent, Routly, and Garraway came to look at the derelict railway, Portmadoc really was a remote and depressing place, and Blaenau Ffestiniog even more so. Yet there was a steady tradition, fed by that same Great Western Railway (though now British Railways, Western Region) of a massive number of people coming for holidays in the area. This was a marked migration, and it was obvious to Garraway that if they could get a cute little railway going for passenger 2 Portmadoc became Porthmadog in 1974. The spelling is shown before the name change where appropriate.
13 Not so lovely fifty years ago
Above Tanygrisiau in 1964 the track had lain here since closure in 1946, with very little happening. It lay for longer than that, for about thirty years in fact, until the railway reconnected with it from the south. But the Council had taken away Cwmorthin bridge!
traffic, then it could have every chance of attracting visitors to travel on it in the summer. But the winter? I do not think people today remember now what a feat of endurance a 1960s winter, Welsh Sunday was - especially under a leaden sky. There were so few cars crossing the Cob, that from Harbour Station you could hear one starting off from the Tollgate at Boston Lodge on a still day. And in Penrhyn, with the Jackdaws calling, the fragrance of bituminous coal rising from the numerous grates in operation in village houses, the FR rails yellow with rust, and perhaps the slight moisture drip from roofs from the fine misty rain that often fell, it was not to the pub you could go for comfort - they were all closed by the temperance movement. No, you should apply for uplift at the Bethel or Capel Fron, and after a few Sundays in this desert, one could easily see why being miserable was a tempting state. Of course the wicked English realised that trains were exempt from temperance, and soon wiped the yellow off the rails by running a proper train to Tan y Bwlch in the late 1960s, with a pint of the foaming (genuine cask) available for the asking from the rescued Lynton and Barnstaple Car No. 14 that was converted to a buffet-bar, followed by the gradual introduction of the corridor-fitted Barn carriages as the tap room. Now it didnâ€™t take too long before gentlemen in Portmadoc found out about the twisting little steam-hauled pub, that had exemption from the Sunday prohibition. There were stern-faced people in the town who attempted to stop this train - and, true, matters occasionally got out of hand with too much joy on board. However, the Constabulary, provided this was played right with their duty roster, were not above a light excursion on
a Sunday evening, just to keep the peace, and as the whole operation was very much above board - Festiniog is a statutory railway - the train continued. Of course it was all very useful in two ways. The rails were no longer yellow, and the proceeds from the train helped the Railway to grow. With all those happy Welshmen on board the singing was truly excellent, and the Railway made a lot of friends. Business was brisk, and soon the English volunteers were overwhelmed. So locals were recruited to join, and then there were far more locals on board than English volunteers. Among the rather sombre and occasionally disapproving buzz in the town about the â€˜Toy Trainâ€™ taking profit from the townspeople, there were a few eye-twinkling moments, when in the butchers or the greengrocers, your gaze met that of a regular Sunday evening commuter. Nothing was ever said, but the look was one of full support. Of course that very holiday industry meant that when volunteers had begun to respond to Garrawegian invitation to come and have a go at getting the Ffestiniog open again, there were places for them to stay, and that was most welcome in the winter. There was a big summer market for people wanting to take a ride, so leaflets round the caravan sites, the guest houses, and hanging cards in the shops opened the floodgates. From the day the railway began to run services again there was plenty of traffic. For example, the line was open as far as Tan y Bwlch in 1958, and weekdays in summer (24th May - 27th September), trains left Portmadoc at 10.40, 2.30, 4.30 and 7.30. At the high point 6,701 passengers were carried in a week, with a maximum of 810 in one day. Evidently the holidaymakers thought the Festiniog cute as well as the volunteers. There
Up and up, eventually a look down. The F&WHR does this for its visitors in great measure - you look down at cute scenery, out of this cute little train. People love it. Itâ€™s such a contrast from craning your neck to look up at mountains, or travelling through a green tunnel. Little engines, chuffing, clickety-click - all of this makes the Ffestiniog cute. This is the approach to Garnedd Tunnel above Tafarn Trip in 1992.
Just occasionally it snows, and when it does, then thereâ€™s cuteness in bucket loads. Here Mountaineer plays his normal theatrical role, snorting and spewing smoke and steam while starting away from Tanygrisiau with a short winter time train in 1992. The Ffestiniog is great that its size means that it never overawes the kids. All this amounts to being cute.
15 Hard knocks
Water fills Llyn Ystradau, where once the original Ffestiniog line went. The water has been used to generate power at peak times, and in the off-peak it will be pumped back into Llyn Stwlan, high above. The new track, or Deviation, was built by volunteers in the late 1960-70s, and connects back to the original trackbed at Tanygrisiau. There was much despair when the flooding was made inevitable, but no one gave up. The benefits have been good; the alteration in attitude of the Ffestiniog has caused hard-headed commercial success for a volunteer railway, to become the longest and most profitable in Britain.
were many who thought with confidence that what was needed was continued restoration, section by section, until Blaenau Ffestiniog was at last reached. Alas, it was not that simple - the Festiniog had a dark secret. What an easy time the Talyllyn Railway had of it - with a nice man handing them a rather decayed but still functioning railway, most of which worked. The Festiniog, looking good on the surface, suffered from a plan to flood part of the line for an electricity ‘pumped storage scheme’. There were ructions over this, and they have been well explained in various historical accounts - but my goodness, the outcome was a change of fortune. In one twist of fate the FR got rid of the Moelwyn Tunnel ‘wormhole’, and was able to expand its loading gauge not quite to Welsh Highland dimensions, but not so far behind. Yet this was a distant consequence that little affected ‘Getting Back to Blaenau’ - that was achieved in 1982. The prime effect was to lodge two important principles in Ffestiniog minds. Firstly, do not take no for an answer, secondly, always think in the longer term. So being part of a contentious and thinking Ffestiniog, it is interesting to see those railways that have extended to meet their goals, and those who prefer to stay as they are. There’s something to be said about the Talyllyn, that is expanded on later in the book. They found their extension to Nant Gwernol, and now seem to daydream comfortably. The Bluebell were as determined on East Grinstead as the Germans on reunification. They’ve done
that - and now have further demands. Good for them. The Kent & East Sussex are similarly determined, to reach Robertsbridge and connect it with Tenterden. Yet consider the Welshpool’s plump complacency, spurning offers and calls to restore the deliciously exciting street running section back to the old station site in town, as it would change the ‘original nature of the railway and compare that with the Bala Lake’s determination to get into Bala. The shock of losing the FR line to flooding led to a prolonged court case, ultimate compensation, and reinstatement to Blaenau, that appeared at first not to bring extra traffic - but it did. And later the immense row over the Welsh Highland born out of protectionism forced its reinstatement after 70 years of closure, together with the ‘life saving’ extension into Caernarfon. The renewed WHR did access new markets, like North Yorkshire Moors, and Bluebell; the new railway has revolutionised the Ffestiniog. This school of hard knocks has been a good one. Ffestiniog is still a cute little railway, but changed from the original. The passengers carried see the two railways as separate entities - and the difference in loading gauge to some extent preserves their separate identities. Their characters are quite different; their feel is diametrically opposed. The sceneries are not the same, and all this is earning the Railways increasing patronage. Festiniog is thinking long term, and so is likely to succeed in creating a truly sustainable, but still cute, 40 mile railway.
From 24th June 1978 until 25th May 1982, Tanygrisiau was the terminus of trains from Porthmadog. An immaculate Linda is the centre of attention, waiting to leave for Porthmadog on a 6 car train in 1978. The rough and tumble of the Deviation was over, the Building Back to Blaenau project is in progress.
From time to time all the toys came out. This pleased everyone, and it also made some money. Here’s Minfford Station in 1986 in the celebration of 150 Years of Ffestiniog Service.
Of War and Peace
espite the best of intentions human organisations do not stay as they are for long - take the church as an example. And so too the careful machinations of the 1950s Festiniog Railway, designed to interlock neatly, to bring smooth function and harmony within the delicate mechanisms of the Ffestiniog Family. Whilst the personalities placed in position remained in place the keen disappointment felt by the early Society supporters, who were thwarted in their ambition to run the Railway, was mitigated by the steady progress made in extending services, and filling trains with ever more passengers. The Society Chairman made sure that the Society Groups, influential and important in providing volunteers and performing vital tasks, were kept aware of their critical roles. The integrated nature of all that was happening, and the pressing needs that the Company had, made sensible talking a priority. Everyone knew what was needed in pursuit of the great goal of re-opening the Ffestiniog railway in full: it was in the Ffestiniog Railway Magazine. I was elected to represent the Sheffield Group to a Society Board in 1977 run by Bill Broadbent. Sheffield were from the organised exertions of Fuzz Jordan, offering considerable sums of money to the Company for them to dispose of in pursuit of the central aim of reconnecting the railway to Blaenau Ffestiniog. A bit like the restoration of the Welsh Highland Railway 25 years later, the reopening to Blaenau’s time had come. There was an offer to fund a joint station in the town centre, to extend standard passenger trains from the old North Station, to a site corresponding to the old Great Western Station, and to bring the Ffestiniog tracks in parallel, to permit exchange of traffic. This all happened between March 1982, when the BR trains first ran, and 25th May when the FR resumed service to Blaenau Ffestiniog.
The Ffestiniog Railway ran once more to Blaenau Ffestiniog - bliss! The job was now done - people breathed a sigh of relief, and then the problems started. There was no rich inflow of traffic, though that from the Conway Valley Line was steady and dependable. Many of the volunteers (notably those who liked building little railways) had departed for pastures new, and the general excitement of the whole affair ebbed. There had been a concern expressed by the Board that had led to the arrival of a Chief Executive, Dick Wollan in 1979. Allan Garraway was hardly impressed about the new help that he ‘needed’. In time he was edged out (not by Dick Wollan) and pensioned off in August 1983. Perhaps few would have minded too much about this, considering he had been there for over 25 years, but in this regime sentiments were not managed sensitively. Allan was hurt and resentful at his ousting, and this robbed him of the pleasure he should have enjoyed returning in future years - it was markedly difficult to get him to visit the Railway thereafter. It wasn’t what was done, it was how John Routly managed it that caused heads to turn. Worse by far was to come, certainly for John Routly eventually - but in the short term for the Society. Dick Wollan was PLU 1 - unfortunately he was a speech fountain. A lovely man, he was replaced in September 1983 by David Pollock, to whom the same epithet certainly did not apply. Dick was appointed a Vice-President of the Ffestiniog Railway Society - a splendid honour for his four-year, three-day week. David Pollock in his nearly ten years of service changed matters radically in response to the challenges that faced him. He was enjoined with the first task of 1 A ‘super’ chap : he played fly-half for Newport at Rugby Football; he was an Officer in the Royal Indian Engineers; he maintained strong links with Jesus College, Oxford - need I go on? Yes, he was a very nice guy - that’s not forgotten.
24 The Arrival of a Great Man
David Pollock, GM, stands granite-like, next to 47 645 at Blaenau Ffestiniog on the occasion of its naming as Robert F. Fairlie Locomotive Engineer 1831-1885. Next to him stands Bill Broadbent, and next to him Dick Holton. Then come Mr and Mrs Leonard Heath-Humphrys. The great and the good had attended by invitation of Cyril Bleasdale, Director Inter-City. It was a nice day out, perhaps the gravity of the occasion dampened spirits?
consolidation, as this was uppermost in the minds of the Directors. They may not quite have explained to him the concomitant feature of how on this railway everyone was convinced that they would be able to run it better than he could, and that the givers of free advice would all have the tenacity and lucidity to express this whenever they thought it was merited - and indeed some of them were right. Most FR Co. Directors were used to this already, and cannot be blamed for failing to see the tendency replicated within the ‘lower orders’ 2. David Pollock was most certainly a Great Man, as an Engineer with a first class honours degree, and a past Managing Director of Westinghouse. So as far as Board Chairman John Routly was concerned he was most definitely a ‘Top Person’ - as John Routly so clearly espoused. David Pollock was well aware that the Ffestiniog required a great amount of selling the ‘splendid product’ to the public, and as he had boosted the sales and profits of Westinghouse Brake and Cable during his term of office, so he was well qualified. He introduced solid and sensible engineering and financial policies aimed at consolidating the organisation. Under his leadership the engineering improved markedly, even leading to the heady but careful process of buying new - previously never condoned if you could spend hours 2 The problem was that to drive to volunteer one needed a car. Those with the income to own a car included a lot of bright people with good jobs. Whilst they may be volunteering to get away from ‘work’, it didn’t stop inventive minds churning!
and hours bodging something to fit. Yet his lights were dimmed by the constant fight against forces outwith his control, trends that had external drivers that were difficult to influence, like the unreadable effects of both economic ‘boom and bust’, unpredictable weather, soothsayers who were horribly well informed, and large numbers of ‘unauthorised’ people who insisted on ‘doing things’ on his railway for free 3. In the 1980s the market share of the Railway continued to reduce. The effect of repeated cycles of boom and bust left their mark, as did changing British holiday habits, like choosing to venture abroad, which flattened summer demand. Yet increased car ownership was boosting traffic in the early and late season, but the decline overall exceeded the increase, probably from the steady growth of competition. A seaside ride such as the Ffestiniog Railway had always to compete with the growing numbers of other tourist attractions. There was the normal fluctuation from moderate or poor weather, where figures in the high season were boosted; whereas hot weather would increase the attraction of the beach and so reduce the demand for a train ride. Then there were ‘the others’. The Ffestiniog had generated some 3 Everyone knows that if you do something for free then you have a special licence that allows you to gift things that other people don’t want, even when the recipient has said so. It takes a special diplomacy to discriminate advantageously to obtain what you do want, without giving offence. Garraway knew about how to handle this - Pollock did not.
25 The INCA scheme
The Push-Pull, 6 car diesel train was a direct result of the INCA project. It was what David Pollock believed the FR needed. It was economical to run, both in season as the ‘Early Bird’ and out of season for coach tours, even without a terminal loop, as it was reversible. However, relying on a superannuated shunter as the train engine was a problem, as it ate transmissions when run at maximum revs. The whole train is now scrapped.
400k journeys to Dduallt in 1973. By the middle 1992 this had dipped below 300k. Llechewedd Slate Caverns, Oakley Quarry, Portmeirion, Llanberis Lake, Snowdon Mountain, Conway & Caernarfon Castles were drawing from the same visitor pot. Though more attractions made North Wales a more attractive destination, the increase in holidays abroad more than offset this. Some of the new establishments had the same ‘under cover’ facilities as the train ride, increasing competition for poor weather traffic. Indeed, starting with the 1986 passenger volume, in 1994 it was again back to that level. In the intervening 8 years the maximum in 1989 was only marginal. Overall, train volumes were not growing; the Ffestiniog Railway was largely an end in itself, and not a means to an end. Its limitation was that it didn’t get you anywhere much; journey purpose was limited: people travelled on it just for the ride 4 . The Great Man’s Westinghouse magic was it seems not quite transferable. Costs therefore had to be reduced. The engineering made great strides under David Pollock. He was clear about removing ‘bodge’ and trying to instil preventative maintenance and professionalism in standards of repair, aimed at increased reliability, and with it reduced costs. It became increasingly clear that 4 The exception to this was arrival/departure by British Rail Conway Valley Line. Reductions in service here later dropped the 10% of traffic at Blaenau towards 3%. Despite massive prompting, and a big ERDF grant to develop Blaenau, the FR in 2017 tends to be Porthmadog-centric.
a capital injection was desirable to build some of the things that the Ffestiniog needed. This led to the INCA scheme, about which more later. However, there were those who believed that costs could be driven down to compliment improvements in method, and this had a bearing on people like myself in the hierarchy of the Ffestiniog Railway Society. My association with the Society had strengthened when the Sheffield Group put me up for election as a Society Director in 1977. The successful election was at the Society AGM at Porthmadog that year, and I remained a director until becoming Managing Director and then Society Chairman in 1986. It required an immediate closer association with the Railway, placing me in the frame at an interesting time. The people who had built the connecting Deviation Railway in the 1970s had come to the conclusion that the Railway managers were duffers, (though this is strenuously denied in some quarters). They set to work on their new railway as independently as possible, with the quiet agreement of the Company Board, and the mild discomfiture of Allan Garraway, the General Manager at the time. Separation meant that when the Deviation was complete, most went elsewhere, and so of their new thinking, little permeated into the FR proper. The new General Manager was rarely to be seen at weekends, when volunteering was at its height. He did not understand the power of volunteering,
26 Tatty Railway needed to raise its game
Some remember the 1980s with nostalgia, but after getting to Blaenau the Railway was tatty and needed brightening up to compete with all the other attractions that were opening, as well as many urgent outstanding repairs and improvements. Here a drab and inelegant Mountaineer is refreshed from the dreadful old Minffordd water tank by Fireman Rob Holton. Car No.19 carriage trails behind, looking rather less than its best.
and with this change of culture, management viewed the independence of volunteer operation as counterproductive. It challenged the neat and sensible order of things in a proper ‘top-down’ system. I thought the risks this ‘new system’ sought to protect from were less than the opportunities that could be grasped by a little ‘out of the box’ thinking. The existence of a fossilised system below the surface, presided over by warring factions protecting their empires remained hidden from the Great Man. This was a contributory factor as to why, when the pioneering phase had drawn to a close in 1982, there were other more appealing things to do elsewhere for some of the volunteers. So it was an excuse invented to explain this, to say that there were people who liked to build railways, and who once the job was done, went elsewhere. It was not the case after the completion of the WHR in 2011, where there was a much greater planned re-deployment, and it shows how much the organisation and thinking of the Ffestiniog had advanced in the intervening time. Things were not going very well financially in 1983; some £22k interest had been paid to the bank, and an operating loss for the Ffestiniog Railway of -£23k was shown. Seven staff redundancies were thereafter announced. Then the staff, previously critical of the ‘verbis non factis’ - ‘words not deeds’, Society Directors, suddenly discovered new friends, and were asked for help via the Union. When the request for a meeting
with the Ffestiniog Railway Society was reported to the next JIC 5 meeting it was agreed that we could talk with the staff, within guidelines. When the Society did so, they were criticised harshly by the GM on report back, for interfering. As Society Managing Director (Chairman from 1986), I got the blame, and was not forgiven when resentment led quickly to a movement from within the Society that ‘Pollock must go!’ This arose from an overheard and resented remark that ‘there must be something wrong with them’, referring to people who gave their time free. As a marketing professional I obtained and read Arthur Lambert’s customer surveys - they made interesting reading, as did the Wales Tourist Board visitor attraction figures. Ffestiniog needed to ‘up its game’ to regain market share. The redundancies administered a dose of realism; the income now stood at £500k per year, but the costs were too close behind. The Society was asking the JIC why we were not using more volunteers to moderate the costs? The Company was getting professional engineering skills, but the Society wanted to offer more generally to reduce the costs. However David Pollock was successful in 5 The Joint Interests Committee (JIC) was a quarterly meeting of Trust, Company and Society. It comprised the Chairman (Trust and Company), a Trustee, the General Manager and the Chairman and Joint Director of Society and Company. It was a powerful and most useful forum where things were 'sorted' most effectively.
27 Taliesin 2000 - learning how to fundraise
Looking forward to a better scheme: Taliesin was old Ffestiniog Railway locomotive legend, as it had been scrapped by 1937. Authority said it was no good - and that’s why it was scrapped. Several vital bits were found - worn out. It became clear that it was scrapped because it was knackered. As a ‘passenger’ locomotive, in the 1930s they couldn’t afford new. Whatever, the FR has got it again, and it’s a rebuild; the reversing lever attests to that.
turning round the finances, and the deficit position was addressed in October 1987. There was an ingenious Offer for Subscription, where in exchange for a minimum payment of £250 in 4% Debenture Stock, repayable by half in 2007 and the remainder in 2012, the subscriber had the right to apply for £1 of Ordinary Stock. Each further £250 of Debenture Stock subscribed earned the right to another share. That is to say, subscribers could obtain stock in the Festiniog Railway Company: a rare example of a Statutory Company; the oldest railway company in the world, for £250, and with it went the rights of a shareholder. The scheme paid well, though it was not fully subscribed; the issue raised over £250k, enough to settle the overdraft and other borrowings, but the money had to be paid back. 6 It so happened that the FR Co., as a statutory company, could go direct to Brussels for a slice of Eurofunding. Access was guarded, but it took only the threat of Company applying to be invited in to the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) Committee. A £430k matched funding project was created by David Pollock called INCA (INcreased CApacity), for three new coaches, a new Double Fairlie locomotive, car sheds, Ina -Baguley Diesel, and building 6 It fell to Andy Savage and myself to manage the ‘pay off ’ in 2007 - as we were raising FR money now. Many generously agreed not to ask for the settlement back. So it had been an effective way of shifting the debt 'forward'. We later found much more inventive ways of raising money.
improvements, thus allowing the Ffestiniog to attract more custom. This project gathered pace and it took a slice of the Debenture money as ‘matched funding’. Andy Savage and myself wondered why we were borrowing from people and having to give the money back, when our volunteers or Sponsor might have have given it to us, but we had to wait for our opportunity. In 1989 we were able to prove our point. There was the consumption of a duty-free bottle of Remy Martin brandy on one mildly insane evening in Milton Keynes, where my sums showed that if 250 people paid £10 each month for five years FR could afford outright to build a new locomotive we fancied. Andy worked out that we could assemble the necessary support machinery to raise the money, design the locomotive and then get it built in Boston Lodge, thus the Taliesin 2000 project was conceived. We found a lot of support for it. Fuzz Jordan 7 summoned the right publicity with his team from Sheffield to get about with a carefully concealed crowbar, persuading people to sign up. However, John Routly said clearly and discourteously that the Railway did not want the locomotive, and that we should desist. We did not; he was irritated, and so ordered us to stop, as he wanted the Debenture issue to be subscribed. It was politely explained that calling ‘stop’ was not in his power, but perhaps he would like to say why it was that the Company was refusing such a free gift. He 7 Society Finance Director, and a gifted, qualified accountant.
28 Trouble at’t mill
The Society was co-operating greatly with the Company as this very important picture shows. It depicts the first steam train into Blaenau Ffestiniog of 23rd March 1982, headed by Blanche, driven by Dave Yates, and the Society Chairman is taking the picture of the Company Chairman, right at the summit of the achievement of reopening the Ffestiniog Railway - something John Routly had worked hard for with all his energy for thirty years.
appeared confused, having thought in some way that FR Co. was to pay for Taliesin. Once disabused of this notion he reversed course and supported the scheme with good grace. We had David Pollock’s support straight away - he got the message at once. Fuzz did a wonderful selling job, and the project not only funded Taliesin, designed by Mikey Guerra and built largely by Roland Doyle and his volunteers, but also some vintage vehicles as well. No money needed to be paid back; the amount raised was much more than for the Debenture issue, and at a fraction of the cost. The locomotive was a valuable addition to stock, and has since become something of a celebrity. It seemed that David Pollock might have misunderstood the loyal contribution that Festiniog Railway Society volunteers were making within the organisation. Perhaps he was prepared to accept time from individuals, but not from the Society claiming to represent them. On the other hand the FR Company Board was pleased to talk, nay even negotiate with the Society; there were committees set up for this purpose. Maybe David Pollock felt that the actions of the Society and its Chairman were eroding his position - and that assertion may indeed be fair, but he had a tongue in his head, and committees to use it in. The nub of the matter was in receiving his view that the conduct of the Railway was no business of Society; the General Manager ran the railway, so the Society should
not meddle. It was reported by the managers to Society Directors, whom they had known for years, that the GM had expressed the view that those who could not be paid allowed no sanction, no control - thus they could not have a managerial role. This was the Bishop of Rome whispering to Cardinals that he didn’t believe in the Trinity. If this view was held, then considerable affront was being offered to many who had given time and money to rescue the Ffestiniog, and were also giving generously to restore and sustain the railway, so that it could employ staff. 8 It wasn’t easy to be sure what was true and what was not, as volunteers in the know were aware of some covert stirrers within the permanently employed staff, who rather than explain their views, thought they were invisible behind the scene, each egging the heretical notions on like Beelzebub. Whether it was a bigger game on their part to cause conflict, or whether it was an attempt to hobble the influence of volunteers was unclear. Whatever, it made vital contributors unhappy at a time when the Railway needed all the help it could get. The volunteers affected made it clear to the Society Board that they expected action, which meant that as elected Society Directors, it was up to us to lead that action, or be voted out. 8 These were often large sums: FRS to FR Co. 1981:£43k, 1982 £29k, 1983 £20k, 1984 £15k - for no say? FRS soon bridled at this and the reason for the declining cash amounts was the Society choosing to spend on its own, directed projects as trust drained away.
29 Who was dependent on whom?
The Per Way Gang, paid staff gather before the first train back to Blaenau in March 1982. Of course it was their efforts too that allowed the railway to reach its goal again - they with their volunteers carried out the work. So there was cause for them to celebrate. Fred Howes, the Boss, is in the middle of the group. There was a proper guard for this train - it was me.
Cool reflection indicated a certain irritation that here was an organisation receiving considerable sums in hard cash (up to 10% of passenger income some years), and enjoying thousands of hours of ‘free’ volunteer work, excluding the effort put in on and off site on important items, like for example renewing the vital water tanks, and with a couple of departments reliant on volunteers and 1/3 of the total waste oil fuel for the whole railway was obtained and collected free. In return the General Manager was reputedly freezing volunteers out - when ‘we‘ had set the thing up in the first place. Anger grew - and I was in the hot seat. It may be better to reverse time a short way to understand better the next bit. The Society in the late 1970s had fallen from grace by a number of unfortunate happenings. The Ffestiniog Railway Magazine was generally acknowledged to be one of the best produced within the heritage railway sector. It pleased the members immensely, and fed them quarterly with fresh news from the line, policy pieces from the Company, opinion from the Editor, historical pieces from people who really knew what they were talking about, and news and views from all the Groups. It thumped the tub about active support for all projects, and it was trying to be inclusive: persuading younger members to visit, and older members who could not to support these, or to offer financial help. The Editor was Dan Wilson, a man who had a highly skilled way of getting
across innovative thinking in an entertaining if slightly irreverent fashion. One had to read Dan carefully to understand where he was coming from - his words were open to misinterpretation from time to time, so tolerance was required. He was an excellent lateral thinker, given to oblique references that rewarded those who thought about them. Dan was well in to offering a right of reply, and stoking up a bit of mildly contentious debate in the correspondence columns to any who responded or objected. Occasionally Chairman Routly would remonstrate about some imagined slight, and be mollified by clearer explanation of what Dan had written. However suddenly matters got out of hand. There were some stand-up rows at the JIC about a number of Magazine issues. The Society Board generally supported Dan, although there were a few doubts expressed privately about the wisdom of some of his forays. Relations between the Company directors and Society became strained after the problems with Bill Broadbent’s (The Company Director on the Society Board) handling of the Society AGM in 1978, which led to his not being re-elected to the Society’s Chair. There were accusations voiced that his acting as the FR Temporary Chief Executive was a conflict of interest and he was ousted as Chairman by Gordon Caddy. Following this, for the next five years it was suspected that the Society Board was not only being left out of important decisions being made by the Company
30 The Society tries to order its affairs under new management
Patricia Layzell Ward
Board, but that they were being rubbished as a load of incompetents. Unfortunately at the same time the membership numbers were falling significantly. A few on the Society Board banded together to improve matters. Gordon Caddy retired as Chairman in 1986 and Gordon Rushton was elected in his place. The three main priorities were agreed as: 1. To establish better links with the Company, so to be at the centre of decision making and taking the initiative, thus being too valuable to ignore 2. To raise more money, and to spend it mainly on Society projects, like the new hostel at Minffordd, 3. To turn the membership decline in numbers round, to exceed 6000. This strategy was becoming successful but Dan Wilson was now accused of mounting sniping attacks from the Magazine upon the body corporate . At first the reactions and prejudices of the Company were argued down by the Society. The Company pointed out that the FR Magazine was being taken as Company policy by a large section of its readership. Dan held the view that the Magazine was a professional publication and should follow the ‘publishing code’, a somewhat nebulous web of gentlemen’s agreements and behavioural practices which guaranteed Editors some rights. It was clear that the Magazine didn’t rely on the income from a cover price to exist, and that the Editor reported to the Society Board, who were accountable to
The picture of Dan Wilson is by Patricia Layzell Ward, of Dan, doing his telecoms stuff in the 1960s. He did a lot of that, along with Norman Pearce, and very good it was too. You could engage him on the subject if you liked, and you’d see the depth of his knowledge and interest in the subject. Of course there were lots of other things you could engage Dan with. Yet it was his writing that was the really good bit. He developed a style that people said was slightly offbeam. It might have been to a Daily Express reader, but not if you had your wits about you. His attitude was penetrating to say the least. He wrote of the WHR: ‘I joined the old WHRS in 1961 and sent a donation, I was so keen on the idea. A response from Stanley Chadwick thanked me for my support for the project to open “part of ” the Welsh Highland. This had the immediate effect of making me feel that I had sent the money to the wrong people.’ He had great fun with the more imperious pronouncements of John Routly, calling him Chairman Rau-at-Lee. The joke was delicious. He was impish and naughty, but unfailingly entertaining. His standard response to complainants was an invitation for them to argue their case. Yet there came a time when his restlessness spilled over into the extreme. This wasn’t satire, it wasn’t downright rudeness, but it was on the wrong side of prudence for a dignified little magazine representing the oldest railway company in the world. Dan’s response was that the FR is a seaside ride, and must not get to thinking Trans-Siberian style. He bolstered my nervousness with the occasional mild harangue, but only once did I get a blast, accusing me of selling out to Rau-at-Lee. It was not possible to bridge the gap between us, to persuade Dan that one has to hold back, to refrain from hitting hard - even when truth is on your side, because the strategy demands it. That was the good thing about Dan. He was no surrender-monkey. After he was no longer editing the Festiniog Railway Magazine Dan moved over to the Snowdon Ranger, where he and Dr Peter Jarvis got up to some fair old mischief. Again, Dan approached too close to the bounds of propriety for the mandarins in charge and they most unwisely lost him from that publication. When I left, I got a most amusing note from him, entirely free of rancour, but pithy and to the point. He had been pleased when I had been appointed to the GM post, and he was sad when I left it. This was of course because he liked things unconventional, and above all he liked the generally liberal idea that little railways ought to be all-embracing, to give ‘everybody’ a go. Dan died at 71, far too early. We are deprived of his mature works - very sad.
the Members, and therefore he should do as asked. The Editor found this logic unacceptable, and although all on the Society Board agreed on the principle that though the Company had no right of interference, in respect of matters of fact and reputational ‘harm’, flexibility was required. Dan agreed to communicate better with David Pollock and it was fervently hoped that he would form a trusting relationship with him. Alas Dan felt that ‘harm to the Railway’ was one of those matters where cases should be argued. David Pollock was bemused. He thought that the Society should stand no nonsense, and that Dan should be sacked if he did not conform. His instinct on volunteers was being confirmed. Dan was unwilling to budge from the stance that the FR Magazine had a right to say what it liked, and that its responsibility was that of satisfying its readers only. The damage this ‘argue your case’ stance was having on the influence we were trying to court was severe. Editors and journalists may form the view that the ‘truth’ has ascendancy, without realising that truth is not an absolute. Flexibility and enthusiasm were not Dan’s engines of creation. He had got into the groove of a dash of sensationalism and a remarkable lateral thinking approach - which is very attractive and was much appreciated by the readers. To go ‘over the top’, in order to get reaction was not acceptable. There was an exchange in the Magazine about the failure of the arrangements for a Special train for the Steam
31 The Great Magazine Disaster
Blasting off the page at you in the Spring 1990 FR Magazine is the little mine - the word ‘wastrel’. Oh dear, what a pity. Of course it was meant as a joke, perhaps in bad taste, but a joke nevertheless. So why did the Great Man decide to tender resignation as President of the Company - for all love? There is a niff of collusion here from the Great and the Good - they had been seeking a remedy for the turbulent priest-Editor for ages - this offered it. The comment had sat there for quite a while before being noticed. Someone ‘told’ Alan Pegler and suggested he should be outraged - I found out who it was subsequently, but shall remain silent.
125 celebration in 1988. Dan’s error, as Editor, was in not seeing the real offence that would be taken by British Rail, and how that could bounce back upon the Festiniog Railway Company. How unwise it was of him to publish without at least consulting either the Society Chair or the General Manager. Unfortunately he hadn’t a relationship with the General Manager which encouraged him to do this, and he was imbued with the need to allow right of reply which guided him away from prudence. He even failed to bring up the matter as a safety measure at a JlC meeting just before publication, despite cordial reporting by John Routly of a forthcoming meeting with John Prideaux, the Head of InterCity and a big Ffestiniog Friend. Naturally, this exactly coincided with publication. The FR people unbeknown, ran into a hail of criticism that threatened the outcome of the meeting and the co-operation between organisations. It was only by John Routly swearing that he knew nothing of it in advance that the matter was allowed to drop by BR. The row from Special Trains Chief, David Ward was also considerable and affected Alan Pegler. The Society was accused of backing the Magazine’s point of view. This time the reaction was such that the Company Board asked for joint Editorship of the Magazine, which was easily countered but it made the Company say ‘no’ when the Society wanted things. But much worse, their irritation was so intense that they saw the Society Board as being irresponsible and incapable of ensuring
that the Magazine Editor acknowledged and observed his responsibilities towards the Festiniog Family. The fact that the Company Board was playing an Old Testament role over defining what was ‘good’ for the Railway didn’t go unobserved. Nevertheless, the opinion was paramount that the blame lay at the door of the Editor, not for being unskilled but for being dogmatic and insensitive to the wider issues. Dan was rusticated for two issues. He then proposed reinstatement with a column at the back of the Magazine. The Chairman of the Society would write the column at the front, giving the ‘party line’. This arrangement was instituted with relief by all. The compromise allowed the retention of the unique Wilson style but not in an area where controversial musings could be taken as being official. Here this part of the affair ended. Magazine 128 brought an endorsement to one of the correspondence items that AIan Pegler was a ‘wastrel’. In a fairly short time AIan Pegler, decided he had to resign 9 as President of the Society. There was no qualifying remark, and Dan’s letter of mollification and apology merely tried to justify the use of the word 9 There are grounds for justifying this accusation for those who wished deliberately to be unsympathetic over AP's handling of Flying Scotsman in USA. This further endorses the imprudence of employing the term. Dan probably was being 'endearing' as he claimed - but this was far too oblique for this forum with his record. There was acute sense of humour failure. He departed thence - a loss to all of us. But who made him complain?
32 The Society emboldened
The good thing about PWay was that the staff (Gwynedd Hughes (L)) worked well with the volunteers (Alastair Stirling (R)), in whom there was trust. The structure of the jobs had to be highly organised around train running and taking possessions. Here on the Cob on a sunny day in the 1990s there is bolt tightening going on. The flat-bottomed track originally went flat on jarrah sleepers. Later baseplates were introduced. You could do a lot.
as an ‘endearment’. Dan ‘decided’ to resign instead, I disguised the blood on my hands as red ink, and his departure stilled further action. In due course Peter Johnson took over. It was unstoppable, silly and sad. The Society managed to raise membership to some 6000, after major effort on everyone’s part to make it so. The political turmoil surrounding the rows with the Company threatened the growth of influence, but it was considered that more say in what the Society donated funds were spent on was justified. This was a bit like asking HM Treasury for hypothecated tax revenues - there was a polite but firm refusal. Thus the Society decided to become a Trust, and to spend its own money. In 1981 donations were £50k and in 1982 £30k - both considerable sums. So the Society began to place its reserves in its own projects, the foremost among them being a new Minffordd Hostel for the considerable number of volunteers, many of whom were the younger elements who could not afford bed and breakfast accommodation, and needed subsidised accommodation 10. Although the new railway had been built well to Blaenau Ffestiniog, Fred Howes (Civil Engineering Manager) had an expensive manpower bill 10 Routly didn’t get the volunteer dilemma any more than Pollock did. Save money by using more volunteers in the season. They use the subsidy to stay in a B&B. Some get the dosh from Mummy and Daddy, but many who cannot are excluded. Answer build a great big hostel: they get it cheap and have a brilliant social time, vols go UP. That’s what we did.
to tend to the maintenance of the old bit, consisting of long stretches of bullhead track that demanded considerable resources to keep it good and much expense to convert to ‘fit and forget’ flat bottomed rail. There was always the threat that a piece of the 150 year old infrastructure would misbehave. Here more than anywhere was the classic dilemma that to be of use, volunteers needed to know what they were doing. Fred was in a clinch that the only way for him to be sure to achieve the results being required by the new financial stringency was to use his paid workforce to get the job done, but he didn’t have the required resources for this. However the continued use of specialist groups who had supported Permanent Way since the 1960s, gradually overcame his problems, and such volunteer help was supported by the Society, who gave it a public platform to encourage others to join - and they did. The specialised work of civil engineering even meant that qualified volunteers would act as supervisors over the paid staff - quite right where the job demanded. Likewise, the Society supported volunteering at Boston Lodge, and also made it possible for junior members to reach the place by their travelling up for the weekend with Society groups. Projects that emerged from these individual and group visits gained monetary backing, specialist engineering expertise, and ‘homework’ contributions from within the Society Groups - it was obvious that keeping the Society in
33 Society - Company politics
Andy Savage (L) was a major support in gaining the Society influence with the Company. Andy Putnam (C) on the balcony of Van No. 2 (later rebuilt) was the staff principal at Glan y Pwll and Leonard Heath-Humphrys (R) was the instigator of the Society and had to watch the brainchild thwarted for control of the railway. We are going off to ‘do’ things with the Colonel (at the front), we often stayed at the Galn y Pwll hostel, crude but effective.
close support was helpful to the Railway. That close support was again offered at JIC given the more stable conditions that followed Dan’s departure. The Society now gained rapidly in power and influence with the Company, but more trouble was brewing. It was said clearly by many that getting people to do ‘unpopular’ jobs was not possible unless you paid them. At Convention in the autumn of 1986, the Society had been challenged to ‘put up or shut up’, and apropos of this the new FRS administration had offered a Ten Year Plan, which led directly to a number of confrontations, where the Society had previously been commanded by the General Manager not to interfere. By 1990 the Plan, and the money it had raised, the growing membership figures, and the increasing number of volunteers, led an advance straight in to the management suite. The Society posed the question of ‘who is the customer?’. The FR Co. response was that the volunteer workforce should conform to the Railway’s needs via the employed Volunteer Co-ordinator. Indeed there was a sensible section of conformance, here for Traffic Volunteers, like guards, drivers, firemen, signallers, controllers. But the Volunteer Co-ordinator was a 1982/3 administrative invention. Volunteers could co-ordinate projects within the departments, and a VC wasn’t needed. Despite David Pollock repairing the finances, to be self-sufficient, the Railway required the radical enhancement of the contributing workforce
that the FR Society supplied. FR Co. was asked to accept that there were two customers on the Ffestiniog Railway: those who paid to travel on it, and those who paid to work on it. Both needed encouragement, with as much effort to the working customers as to those travelling. There was indrawn breath at such radical thinking; it advanced the concomitant notion that the paid staff were ‘working with and for the Society’. The ‘Great Engineer’ was stuck, he and his managers needed volunteer help and assistance to make the books balance. Of course the Company and Trust had been set up with joint directors, and these had changed over the years. The balance needed attention. If the Society chose as ‘partner’ to have more say, then it was in fact entitled to this - like it or no. This was in line with the old-standing tenet ‘The Society proposes the Company disposes’. Then there was a tactical mistake. At the 1989 FR Society AGM John Routly declared that the FR Co. was expecting £50k from the Society as matched funding for the INCA project. Yet the whole tenor of the carefully organised and pre-consulted AGM included an address announcing the Society appeal for funds for Minffordd Hostel, directly to support the ‘young’ volunteer effort longer term. Andy Savage wrote John Routly a direct letter reporting that Society members had taken it that the Company Chairman was telling the Society at its own AGM how it must spend its own
34 The Society asks the Company to conform
Steam Railway, Issue 130, February 1991 Steam Railway became heated over the scurrilous affair of FR attempting to ‘Buy to Shut’ the FR trackbed. This is what I was walking into as the new GM - it was going to be rough; it was. There was a slight failure of aim as the FR Co. wasn’t a member of the ARPS - that was the FR Society (and I was Chairman of that). However the matter had got out of hand from the FR Co,’s silence. That was being put right, but it took time.
money; this missive shocked Routly. Andy reminded the Chairman that the FR Co. depended upon the FR Society to be active in supplying FR Co. with resources that they very much needed to run the business. The Company Chairman was reminded that the General Manager was an employee. 11 The number of members in the Society was rising: there was renewal of young people volunteering on the railway and joining the Society; a new hostel being built to increase the number of affordable beds to succour intelligent, able but impecunious students. The hostels at Penrhyn, Minffordd Yard and even at Glan y Pwll were all active and well filled, managed by the Society. Routly gulped but he and Pollock were snared - the Grand Plan was working. The second reason for Chairman Routly to conform to Society wishes was the obligation arising from the Society Chairman putting a huge amount of effort into helping the Company Chairman to recover from the PR disaster of the Welsh Highland Railway. Need, not obligation is a more effective way to govern strategy 11 The FR Co was able to recruit footplate volunteers, and paid, temporary staff (although they were exploited). This may have lulled some into believing that the 'Soc. was a 'busted flush'. Not so, as the organised volunteers, able to bankroll and complete complex and useful projects, were valuable. In addition the pool of senior, expert, technical advice available (with funding) at a moment's notice was unmatchable for an impoverished little outfit like Ffestiniog. Now when FRS growled - FR Co. listened.
and policy making, and the decisive factor was the Welsh Highland. Unfortunately, FR Co. Board, without Society knowledge or approval, had taken the action of trying with a higher bid to buy the WHR trackbed anonymously from under the Gwynedd County Council, and it came out by ‘mole’. The affair had gone sadly wrong as no clear reasoning for the actions taken by FR Co. were offered. 12 It may have been that the 64 Co. were thought by some to be talentless dullards that had been toiling for thirty years ineffectually to open a competing railway. However to attempt to gazump them in secret gifted them an unnecessary fillip, with a real complaint. It created a cause célèbre and the scandal of the Festiniog Railway Company attempting to buy the WHR trackbed in order to ‘shut’ the railway polished the turd for the likes of Steam Railway Magazine, who relished a vigorous and controversial cause to boost circulation. Popular support was strongly against the FR Co., and the Society members disliked this immensely. By default the situation became serious, and seemingly quite outside the ability of John Routly to correct, as he was operating under the impression that deliberately saying nothing would make the fuss go away - alas the 12 To anyone with thirst for knowledge about how the FRCo's cock-up over the Welsh Highland was turned to a blistering success, then the story is told 'warts and all' in WHR Renaissance, by Gordon Rushton ISBN-13: 978-0957145603, Adlestrop Press.
Here is a modern photograph to show the important work of tending the flowerbeds at Minffordd goes on, and on, and on. It’s a continuous business that has gone on now for over twenty-five years. Of course it will never stop, so if the Railway is to look nice, then someone has to keep the effort going - and someone does! It all goes to show that running little railways is a dimensional task - the heroes are not just those who shovel the coal into the firebox.
could survive unscathed from the basilisk stare of Eileen or Pat when discrimination was detected. Best of all, a vital generator of new, younger volunteers arose - Kids Week. There was a problem of what the families did with their younger children. The question was whether activities could be devised that were safe and productive for much wider age groups to enjoy. This interesting story and its results are dealt with in detail at the end of this chapter. There was resistance to Eileen becoming a volunteer Head of Department, and despite the influence she evidently commanded, and the potential of what could be done using her methods, during the Pollock era, she was excluded from important managerial meetings that were held on a regular basis. Despite backing by the Society, and by individual Board and Trust members, there was neither official acceptance of methods and achievements, nor unbending of the notion that volunteers could not sign purchase orders. This lack of official sanction exposed a vulnerability to those strange people who saw volunteering in general, and Parks and Gardens in particular as some sort of threat. Eileen was also frustrated by instances of snide sabotage behind the scenes, where a train arranged suddenly became impossible at the last moment. My fellow directors could not believe that this was happening at first; it seemed so counter-intuitive, but it was unfortunately true. She and Neil ran such a well-
organised operation (where everything worked - and there was NO down time) that the carefully organised and acknowledged resources promised were easily spotlighted, and the non-performance clearly identified with certain individuals, deny it though they may. Despite this, the Railway management continued to reject stories of non-performance, and David Pollock (unfortunately) supported his managers. Matters were put down to short-term exigencies, mistakes, things overlooked - but there were a couple of clearly defined instances of malicious acts designed to frustrate the operation of important special trains, but well documented: on the record. Yet, despite machinations, the flexibility built into her system meant that it all still worked, and it did so for two reasons: careful and painstaking organisation, and the participants wanting to make it work. The organisation was ‘in depth’, all tools in position, materials procured, job sheets for all work, evening’s entertainment laid on. Everyone knew what they should be doing, and at the appointed time it was possible to come on site and get on with the job, rather than mooning about, waiting interminably to get started, which had so often been the case in the past when building projects were offered to volunteers. Eileen’s people wanted to make it work because everyone was made welcome; people’s ideas were taken note of, and work was pre-arranged for all,
66 Kids Week - for the future
In 2005 there is a massive turn out at the end of Kids Week on 6th August to ride from Porthmadog to Tan y Bwlch on the Train of the Future to celebrate the achievement and enjoy a trip behind Prince. The FRCo. Chairman Michael Whitehouse is there, as is the President Alan Pegler, the General Manager Paul Lewin, Eileen Clayton, Tricia Doyle, drivers, operators, and the kids themselves. It has all come a long way, and looks to the future.
Staying with Eileen in 1991 did not prevent her having clear views about me which she was quite willing to express. She thought me fat, indolent and in need of proper care - no doubt she was right. Living with the Claytons meant eating a lot of vegetables, and one foodstuff that appeared with regularity was a dish called motorboat soup. This made its presence felt normally within twenty minutes or so of consumption: the effect was reliable, and marked weight loss ensued. Furthermore, I became aware of obscure machinations in the cafĂŠ whenever I asked for a cake to go with my coffee. Any direct glances fled, and a strange chill descended after the request was put, perhaps akin to the effect of one testing (Hoffnunglike) the famous echo in the reading room of the British Museum. Appeals fell on deaf ears, no cakes apparently could be delivered, despite their evident presence; I continued to lose weight. Of all of the projects that needed to be solved it was the gradual closing in of the legislation around working with children that was the most threatening. Thereâ€™s a problem today that the state seeks to try to protect the vulnerable with an increasing ring of law and regulation. Whilst undoubtedly devised with the best of intentions, this has unintended consequences. Presenting hitherto straightforward activities involving children of all ages with a mountain of certification to climb can mean that they are left with nothing, as people do not want to
go through the rather onerous CRB checks to prove that they are suitable citizens, nor to be responsible for onerous penalties for breaking the law. Thus the dangers are banished by prohibition - no activity means no risk. The problems over the regulation of extra-mural activities with schools can leave the children bereft, with the legislators smug that their rears are protected, and the dangers appearing somewhere else rather than on the manipulated accident statistics. Authorityâ€™s simple assumption is that more protection is better. This does not acknowledge that we cannot keep our children 100% safe - and to try sends them the wrong message. Worst of all, such actions, if not tempered within the law, mean that everyone is disadvantaged. We tried very hard to observe the rules responsibly so that the young people and the railway were not both disadvantaged - many today do not do this and we are the poorer for it. Breeding indolent computer jockeys is bad enough. For example legislators and campaigners, and the lawmakers and enforcers, do not understand the true depths and range of the Internet. The cat left the bag long ago. We are better equipping young people with the means of learning this, rather than seeking to offer well-meaning but ineffective protection. In the 1990s ideas arose from the growing need to provide activities tailored to the younger kids that were
67 Penrhyn and the achievements of the kids
The place was dowdy until Parks and Gardens gave it a ‘real station’ feel. Kids laid a platform with recovered ‘big railway’ earthenware tiles, they put in a raised flowerbed to separate the parking from the platform, and adults comprehensively restored the station to its 1870s appearance, incorporating the 1960s hostel extension when they did so. It was a magnificent triumph, not even dulled by the springtime grass growth! E Clayton in background.
travelling to Wales to be with their volunteering parents. It was clear that 12 year olds have all of the intelligence needed for responsible and complex tasks, except that they lack any experience and body strength. It proved to be possible to train older teenage kids, who would in a team run by an adult willingly assist the youngsters, and everyone would get fun out of this. The remarkable result was the incredible ability of the 12 year olds to absorb the lessons they were learning and to put their new experience to work in an impressively effective manner. The rate varied; really bright kids caught on astonishingly quickly. Generally, with parents present and within earshot, it was possible to task children down to five or six with useful jobs that they would willingly perform. They may be less willing to work with their parents, but only too happy to co-operate with peers. Whereas in the garden it was strictly ‘no deal’ for brothers and sisters below ten to participate, except under duress or a ruinous reward system; put trains into the scene, and a bunch of other kids, and you were ‘on’, and all with a 0% accident rate. There was a team competition in fence panel painting. My team won, but we were disqualified when it emerged that I had bribed the team with Mars Bars - they were happy. One of the delightful stories concerned a bright young chap of 13, who had carefully and skilfully learned the correct method of laying the recovered platform tiles that were being placed at Penrhyn
Station. He tactfully and expertly supervised a small group of assiting tile-layers, some five-times his age. Under his supervision they completed an impressive area of platform, and it was done correctly. The older volunteers were happy to listen to his instructions and to follow them because he was so obviously the master of the subject, and because he was competent enough to hand over his knowledge to them in a manner that they found acceptable, in terms they could understand. The feasibility of joining groups of kids in a sort of summer camp, with qualified supervisors, proved itself. This led to the Kids Weeks on the Ffestiniog Railway. Eileen and her colleagues started this, and the achievements were considered beyond belief, until carefully examined. Any primary school teacher could tell you this would work if organised properly - and that’s what the P&G Team did - organise properly. The tasks were useful: the modular construction of metres and metres of iron railings - now unobtainable in its Victorian form; an astonishing creation of flower beds and raised, brick structures that provided proper station boundaries full of blooms during key tourism times sprung up. It was impossible for the visitors not to notice. At Penrhyn Station (see Chapter 5 pictorial heading) the boundary between car park and track was a large, raised, brick flower bed. P&G had already used old GWR diamond platform bricks (recovered from Cardiff Canton by Andy Savage) to make the platform continued on Page 70
This is Tan y Bwlch in June 1964, with the Bluebell timetable proudly displayed on the wall of the gently decaying station buildings. There are litter bins, it’s clean and a bit further down a grassy lawn begins, but charabancs and many cars will come. There are no constraints, you may wander at will. There are to be 144k journeys on this little railway this year and up to five trains daily in High Summer (which is soon). Three locomotives work, with two trains, and a ‘scratch’ third. Life is exciting.
Jump to 1989. Matters got rather out of hand here in 1960-70s, and the place bears the scars of that period. There’s now a wooden fence (always bad for maintenance) there’s a footbridge, the car park’s there, but slightly more disciplined, and the public are constrained. The summer peak isn’t quite the peak it once was, and as the railway now runs to Blaenau; Tan y Bwlch has lost the fervour of a terminal station that it had in 1964. It is no less charming - but it is less visited. There are double the number of trains now, but then the traffic has also more than doubled.
On 2nd April 2011 Earl of Merioneth blasts Blanche into Tan y Bwlch with a failed afternoon train. The Earl was removed from the returning Snowdonian. The view from the footbridge shows the development at the goods shed end of Tan y Bwlch, where an attractive cafe and childrens’ play area has taken the place of the sidings. It is a ‘brown’ station, decorated in heritage brown and cream, and the P&G have been at work on the fence, and on making the cafe smart. It’s a really nice place to be, normally quiet and very sylvan.
On 8th July 2010 Merddin Emrys glides quietly in to the station with an afternoon Down Train. Plenty are waiting to join it. The old signal has been replicated and the station building has been totally refurbished. This was a major affair, as all its wrongs were put right, and it ought to be good for another 100 years. The fence is looking good, and since this picture a replica of the old footbridge has been reinstalled - so now the place has two bridges. One hopes that someone will demolish the old, failed 1960s signal box that was never needed.
70 Wooden buildings - need careful restoration for longevity
This is the buildings version of the Curly Roofed Van. It is a delightfully Ffestiniogesque waiting room hut at Minffordd, lost in 1956, so present in living memory until it succumbed to decay. Now it has been returned with immense improvement to its surrounds. The number of people who will wait therein is likely to be small, but to all who see it, the magnificence just gently adds to the railway experience. Better than a bus shelter then?
look really excellent, providing a safe, well-drained and non-slip surface.- it looked very good. Station gardens everywhere soon offered splashes of colour, boundaries and neatness along the railway. Tan y Bwlch had the ‘team treatment’ to its wooden paling fence though this one has safety considerations, to protect wanderers from the arrival of Up trains, but it remains high-maintenance. Whereas at Porthmadog the slow entry of trains, and statutory access requirements suggested the removal of wooden fences, but the renewal of metal ones. The intelligent Parks & Gardens Team were on hand with careful consideration of what was necessary, and what could be provided. It was a boon to the new GM. The in-depth restoration of wooden buildings, vital to the look of the Ffestiniog Railway, but rotten beyond any economic repair was undertaken. Restoration here was about understanding lessons long forgotten about waterproof footings and sound roofs - these were the foundation for the astonishing longevity of these Victorian buildings. Demonstrated in practice these lessons silenced the ‘let’s build it modern’ brigade, who had favoured metal boxes and breeze blocks. Of course these were relevant too - when large, shorter-term structures were needed for important jobs like carriage sheds. The Parks & Gardens touch was to crack the problem of historic building restoration, and then to mastermind it with kid-power, so that those youngsters
when grown up themselves would value and protect that restored heritage. That is subtle strategy. Once it all caught on, support was forthcoming from all parts of the Railway and Kids’ Weeks became an annual institution. It is of course a mammoth organisational task, taking many weeks of patient work to set up. It must confirm to regulations, but has proceeded without accident, and of course there is a solid and deeply satisfying outcome. The children, once they have been on Kids Week and have enjoyed it, just come again and again, eventually volunteering through teens and twentys - it secures a sustainable future. The more mature outcome is the general spread of the European reputation of the Ffestiniog & Welsh Highland Railways as a place where young adults can come to work as volunteers. Not only is the work fun, but those from abroad learn English, and they also learn about another proud culture to appreciate, Welsh. Kids Week here gets the attention because it showed such startling innovation and lateral thinking in a strategic sense. Yet the general process of Parks & Gardens amounted to much more than this. It was clear that the way that intelligent organisation could be applied was in structured working parties, carried out at regular intervals. This was a simple extension of the currently existing groups system. This was the way for more distant supporters to reach the Ffestiniog and enjoy a working weekend. The team would set off from
71 Megabash and Gigabash
FR Co. The tradition of Megabash and Gigabash lives on. Lots and lots of work is carefully programmed and meticulously organised by people like Trisha Doyle and Adrian Grey, and loads of others. During the selected weekend, with good organisation a huge amount of work gets done. Here are some of the 2016 Megabash volunteers and staff, having a group photo outside the old loco shed at Boston Lodge, with a favourite loco in the background.
far-distant places on a Friday night, arriving at one of the Railway’s hostels late in the evening. The following two days were busy with a maximum effort, with the show being collapsed on Sunday afternoon for the journey home. A lot could be done if well organised, and the group system still prospers today. It was clear that if the jobs were pre-organised on the Railway, and the group turned up on a Saturday morning to waiting jobs, then productivity could rise further. Fred Howes on Permanent Way was a specialist in this area and had been for years. He refined the activity by using his own staff to prepare the site, among their other jobs, during the week. The really ‘heavy’ stuff would be done across the weekend, and a ‘finish off’ would be conducted by the staff the following week. It was quite possible to have a ‘running project’ over many weekends, using the same principals and different area groups. Fred was a master at this. A variation was working parties lasting a week or more, where major works were done - civil engineering or track. So good was the expertise that when Welsh Highland came to be built, apart from the first 3 miles to Dinas 6, the rest of the 22 miles of track was laid with lots of activity by volunteer gangs, notably the last 12 miles. 6 It may have been that Messrs Hart and Schumann did not feel that volunteers could handle this ‘experimental’ first stretch. Or was it that such strong guarantees had been given that the Ffestiniog would not be affected by WHR that they did without? Whatever: when the volunteers got going the fishplates flew!
So Parks & Gardens were well aware of the value of resident organisers and working party weeks. Thus the regular appearance of the Mega-Bash, where many people concentrated on pre-arranged tasks, with preparers and finishers cutting the projects some slack with a good start and a careful finish. Big things got done at Mega-Bash: areas of undergrowth were cleared; tons of scrap were moved; a complete year’s bulb plantingout was achieved in one go, with all tubs refurbished; exterior building repainting was done in one go. These were things that the Garraway Railway could never stretch to from it’s obsessive absorption in getting and keeping the shaky show on the road. To the Pollock Railway the fruits were undeniable, but the response was somehow grudging, as though to be thankful would offer weakness that would lead to a bid from a rival power. For me the activity was wonderful, as it answered the things that the core had no resources for. It increased the ‘reach’, and it gradually banished the Tatty Railway, bringing order, tidiness and respect from our visitors, and most of all succession. The combined effort in the 1990s rose in ambition and scope until the Gigabash was reached. Eileen by this time was a Departmental Head, with her own budget, and a responsibility for buildings as well as employed staff. Gigabash changed the whole face of the organisation. It was a massive drive on an area of neglect and great things were achieved. It was
72 Porthmadog Station
Hugh Napier puffs past the Victorian Train - getting ready during my time, all splendidly achieved after. Behind is the excellent canopy, that was made possible at this level of glory only by the attention of Parks & Gardens. It was on its way to being a bodge job, until taken in hand with advanced corrosion protection, a splendid valance and really appropriate paintwork. Even in the new station, no one can conceive of being without this canopy.
the culmination of co-operation between the entire Railway and the Parks and Gardens and resulted in the building of station canopies at Porthmadog and Blaenau Ffestiniog, complete station re-signage, the repainting and internal refurbishment of Boston Lodge workshops, the establishment of tidy, effective and replenished stores at Boston Lodge, the re-fencing of Porthmadog and Tan y Blwch stations, refurbishment, maintenance and upgrading of electrical wiring in all buildings. The list continues on. In the yards: no bramble was safe; no wagon of scrap was allowed; Minffordd Yard emerged from years as a scrap heap; space was found at Boston Lodge (though not for long). It was clear that this style of resource could be pointed at the areas of main earning capability. Harbour Station grew like Topsy 7 and was short on passenger amenity as well as potential earning capability from the large throughput of people. It was clear that expansion was possible there, but the capital sums involved to do this were not available, because the returns were needed on things like new carriages, reliable locomotives and sheds to keep the stuff in . In this respect matters have changed little from today. It was possible to use the resource of Buildings, Parks & Gardens to effect improvement. The old Goods Shed was an obvious candidate for making into a bar or even a restaurant, but 7 Harriet Beecher Stowe - Uncle Tom’s Cabin - but of course the 1869 Spooner model Topsy is in Spooners at Porthmadog.
the space was defended strongly by the Curator of Relics Michael Seymour. He would shout about the invasion of the Barbarians the moment anyone trespassed upon his space. Yet it was obvious that for the space involved a museum was inappropriate, whereas earning money was - furthermore it was vital. Alas he overdid things, speaking unwisely in terms that were unsupportable, and it became possible to use the space to make a bistro/pub bar. Artefacts that could not be moved out like Locomotive No.1 Princess, were incorporated into the new bar. But there was fun to be had with those that could be moved out and some anecdotes arise. The Tale of the Flying Bench is told later, but there was also the hearse van in there. This unique vehicle was shown (minus one of its top-corner urns) in a mildy macabre display. Aside from liberating the Flying Bench, Car No.7, the hearse went to Boston Lodge for check and overhaul, as we had a job for it. Dear volunteer, the much loved Maggie Warner, who lived next the Railway at Penrhyn died. As a mark of respect and love for her we took her ashes to Tan y Bwlch for scattering in a fine ceremony. The first funeral train for 45 years ran in 1991, hauled by Prince, with carriages for mourners. Everyone agreed they’d far rather have Maggie, but it was a good send off. Perhaps it was poetic justice therefore in 1999 when the hearse van was used to convey Michael Seymour’s ashes for solemn scattering on the Railway he loved. The vehicle has been moved
73 Buildings and Eurogrants
Baldwin tractor Moelwyn using the Glan y Mor car sheds for their proper purpose. The INCA grant provided the sheds in the early 1990s to allow carriages to be stored under cover, and to provide a safe, comfortable and easier environment to work in for Arthur Brooks, who did carriage maintenance. Unfortunately it was not possible to provide ‘working storage’ for more than 10 cars - but that was better than nothing, and a place to start from.
into the museum in Gelerts Farm. It will no doubt run again - the temptation is far too great.8 The booking office, the shop, the restaurant, the bar the kitchen were all extensively altered, and the electrics were overhauled by Buildings, Parks & Gardens. Outside a station canopy was designed, fabricated and erected, and the toilets were overhauled. The whole face of Harbour Station was improved, even the signalling ground frame surrounds were planted with bright flowers in slate-walled beds, and the fencing was upgraded. It was a wonderful transformation that improved the station’s ability to earn as well as increasing its appeal, and similar happened at Blaenau. If the previous regime thought that overfeeding the Parks & Gardens monster was one way of making it go away they were wrong. The discovery of the century was the un-British notion that the whole activity was scalable. The system could and would expand to embrace any job it was given, provided the scope for organisation and planning kept pace with resources, and all was balanced properly for the enterprise in hand. The ‘temporary’ hostel in Minffordd Yard that we built all those years ago had passed it’s ‘sell-by’ date before we got it! Even with a replacement roof it was showing its age with bits of wall panelling falling off. When the groups used to use it during the winter it 8 Dan Wilson recommended the Ffestiniog market grand funeral arrangements for its members, and then collect their legacies!
managed to retain a modicum of cleanliness. However, it was being used by long-stay volunteers, challenged by the dreadful economic situation, who became rather prickly when invaded, or even swept out at weekends by paunchy, long-time volunteers in large motor cars. In the summer, the place was becoming inhabited by youngsters, who enjoyed their freedom in every way, making straight-laced group visiting volunteers feel like gooseberries and keeping insanitary kitchen and loos. For many years the Society project had been running to replace this lump of decrepitude with a purpose-built new one. The Society had to fight quite hard against a mild ‘let them eat cake’ Company philosophy from all those who already had second houses in the area - or stayed at Portmeirion. This lukewarm response from the Company, had caused a ‘run-in’ at the 1989 FR Society AGM (See Chapter 3). The whole enterprise had lurched into action with the greatest efforts applied by Society directors, notably Andy Savage and myself. Designs were in, the site was chosen, and by the time that I moved from being Society Chairman to Company General Manager the work had started. The ultimate aim was for three modules, two for patrons and one for a live-in Warden. The free-living style of the decrepid hostel was not to be allowed to last. Its descent to be a pig sty inhabited by numpties was now actively discouraging groups from staying there, and this was affecting the volunteer input - it was
Of course it had to be slate - Welsh slate, but nothing else would have done anyway - they were pushing on an open door. This building had to go for planning, however, the reception was not hostile, it was understood just why it was needed. Minffordd Hostel was not covered as within the statutory duty, so it needed to follow the planning rules correctly; it was well designed and executed. Corners were not cut, and all was achieved.
The whole thing was a real millstone for as many years as it took to raise money for it, design it and build it. It sucked in resources, but the immense results of achieving it to full capacity has laid down a human resources development that just pays back again and again. In fact those that use it today hardly give it a second thought - and why should they, it wasnâ€™t built for that? The work site manages to remain neat and tidy, with materials properly stacked and some machinery at the ready. Soon the first-stage roofs will be on and interior fit can start. This view is from 1993.
75 Minffordd Hostel getting urgent. Any cleaning arrangements made for the old Minffordd Hostel never prospered; the nice old ladies that fancied a bit of extra cash never imagined that they needed the characters of Soviet gulag guards to be effective. The place stank, with piles of dirty washing-up, insanitary ablution arrangements and smelly linen. From time to time we would go in there in a group, and to survive, upon arrival a massive clean up was required. The established inhabitants, objected to their filth being interfered with, and did not think we had any right to make any comment on the perfection of their lifestyles, despite the fact that the place was owned and operated by the Society. This was entirely counter to the rose-tinted glasses style of volunteering. The insanitary youths who argued so fervently against any initiative to get them to reform are now pillars of society - they know who they are; so do I. The lessons to the Society were clear. So far, under the groups system, hostels had worked excellently at Penrhyn and Glanypwll.9 Thus the importance of the new place having a live-in Warden, despite the expense. Some Society Board colleagues did not understand this. Yet finding the money and the workforce to build all this was a major problem. The first module, with a measly 16 beds for a massive ‘start-up’ expenditure, 9 This was run by Andy Putnam - if you were difficult, or insanitary, the remedy was simple, you were thrown out, and you didn’t get back.
wasn’t impressive value to a Railway that needed reliable locomotives and new carriages for example. There was harumphing from the Company, and from some within the Society, but not from Eileen and her team. They were ever-present and willing to help. The breakthrough came when the notion arose that we could apply for a Eurogrant for this building - why hadn’t we thought of it before? Thus the replacement hostel at Minffordd grew suddenly from one module to three, as we found an ERDF grant to help it along; it was a miracle. Pat Macgregor’s excellent administrative work meant that the FRCo. never put a foot wrong in our claims. Some of the cost was deemed ‘ineligible’ - it was put in the ‘pending‘ tray. So we got a rebate of £54k for the items judged ineligible; that in 1995 was a budget lifesaver. Parks & Gardens finished and equipped the Hostel with the greatest success. It was entirely fitting that young people should work in the very building that they would find so useful to stay in later. The Hostel was therefore brought to a magnificent conclusion, with an eventual four modules of eight, one module of ten, and a live-in Wardens flat. Ben Rosen was appointed Warden and his imposing presence makes even the most rebellious think again. The Warden’s regime of muscular kindness has made staying in the wellequipped complex extremely pleasant. It has become a suitable residence for all who wish to go there - and that’s exactly what it was built for.
Minffordd Hostel - the finished article, and outside there is the Society Chairman, Howard Wilson welcoming folk, but the origins of this beautiful building and the hard work that went into it has been forgotten - Festipedia has shameful lack of detail. This book puts the record straight. This was a magnificent achievement largely by volunteers, from design to final fit, and that it could have commanded a Eurogrant says a lot for the skill and dedication that went into it. Much of that was down to Andy Savage, Neil and Eileen Clayton and the Parks and Gardens teams.
NGG 16 No.87 Firebox gets attention - a huge locomotive 76 to be dealt with in this tiny works, but a superb job was done: no bother!
Merddin Emrys in the modern exemplary neatness of Boston Lodge. - It used to be worse!
Chapter 6 Boston Lodge
he 1990s was the time that EEC grants became the ones to aim for, as North Wales was in an Objective 1 area, with vast ERDF (European Regional Development Funds) available upon application. The local councils were not particularly supportive of the Ffestiniog Railway’s aspirations in this respect. They were interested in other things, and the Railway had had generous investment in order to get back to Blaenau Ffestiniog at a joint station. However, it was discovered that as a Statutory Company, the FR had the right to apply direct to Brussels. The effect of this news was like the fox in a hen-coop. The Railway managed to be included in a scheme sponsored by the National Programme of Community Interest, working with the Wales Tourist Board. The INCA (Increased Capacity) scheme was already running as set up by David Pollock, to offer four new carriages, a new double Fairlie (David Lloyd George), sheds to keep them in, but there was the potential for lots more. Pat Macgregor was the able administrator of the scheme. When schemes were not 100% funded we had to find the balancing sum. The subsequent claims’ paperwork load was onerous but Pat Macgregor’s excellent administration safeguarded FR against all comers. Her work was accurate. As less scrupulous organisations in countries elsewhere milked the system, more rigorous checks were imposed. Moreover as time went on the ‘matched funding’ requirement rose. Thus, once committed to a scheme, you were obliged to raise cash for it in a given time and also to spend within that timescale. This tended to cement the Company more closely to the Society, as the Society had the ability to provide donations for matched funding. Normally funds
passed via the Trust. Life sometimes became scary, but during the 1990s the resources were made available to impel the Railway to new heights of sophistication in grabbing grants - full advantage was taken. The sum of money being paid to me as General Manager caused problems. I tried to square this by working harder than anyone else, otherwise I was in the ‘don’t do what I do - do what I say’ mode. The seeds of later problems were inherent in this misjudgment. It tied me too long and too intensely to the railway, kept my nose far too close to the ground, and many of the employed staff felt the attention to be oppressive. From feedback it was clear that the volunteers took a different view, and decided that as important customers themselves they needed to be listened to. As major contributors, they had suffered, and it was time to reverse that trend. When being wise after the event I see that I made the mistake of being partial, to volunteers sometimes communicating to the paid staff in a manner of rather breathtaking and forthright directness. Andy Savage and Eileen were exercising a moderating influence to these policies, by trying to point out the necessity of my being consistent and fair, alas, it is difficult to fix notices to a fast-moving object. There were three major problems that faced any manager trying to run the 1990s Ffestiniog Railway. The first was that the business was on a razor’s edge. The wages bill in 1991 was a horrifying £611k, for an income of £1.1m. And we had people harbouring the ‘expertise’, especially on the technical side, who were unwittingly committing the Railway to pursuing old technology projects with old methods. Many were irritatingly unwilling to adopt the method of extending their range
78 Changing the policies
Could anyone under 30 be permitted to drive one of these? Indeed so, as more recent practice has demonstrated. In fact young people can be trained better to acquire and uphold the modern methods needed to keep locomotives like this operating well. The impact of a number of younger and more able drivers is considerable, it raises the game for all volunteers, and that’s good for locomotives and workforce. EoM dep Porthmadog 2005.
by means of inventive volunteers who would happily assist them (and update them). There were excellent skills on hand, carefully acquired over a lifetime’s work. There was an oft declared concern that the expertise for steam would be lost unless heroically sustained at Boston Lodge. This was true to a point, but the sustenance ought to be more to do with giving younger people experience, and allowing them to innovate ways to emulate the requirements with modern methods. A bright youngster could acquire the technical skills to handle an oil-fired locomotive in about three weeks or so, from then on it was experience that counted. The time taken to be able to conduct a train safely along the 13 mile line, and look after the welfare of the locomotive, did not require years of learning and hundreds of trips. In fact those who took years to qualify acquired the bad habits of existing employees, and harboured a distaste for new methods that were less costly and more caring for the machines in their charge. The FRCo. was paying staff in areas were people would do the jobs like this for nothing. So their useful, hard-learned expertise was being wasted on tasks that people could easily learn to volunteer for, when it would have been better used to teach others more complex practical skills that the paid staff has acquired by experience. Staff numbers needed to be reduced; the volunteers needed to be empowered, and the costs saved could then be ploughed back into paying the valuable, employed
staff a decent wage, and for buying some of the things that were vitally needed. This policy represented risk to many and was seen as a threat. Reality says today that technology twinned with the inquiring mind will solve problems. The skills of the steam age were indeed waning, but then computerisation delivered universally affordable ‘one offs’, which saved the show. At that time we were on the cusp of radical change - and this change was taking place at great speed. Today we have become used to the pace of change slowing somewhat. In 1990 this was not the case, new technology was rejected decisively by many people who did not understand it. The experiences of running steam have now been improved by each generation, as technology impacted upon them. The epithet ‘If you want a job doing, best do it yourself’ was still in favour in the 1990s. My rejecting that dogma was taken as not appreciating the skill of those we employed - which was not the case at all. Reality was that the ‘inflexible’ were trying to reject the ‘inevitable’. The second core problem, obvious over the years of volunteering, was the lack of appropriate mechanical equipment available to do jobs. This was strange, as it was easy to see that the volunteer ‘project system’ proved that people could and would themselves acquire the mechanical equipment needed to perform tasks rapidly and efficiently. Not only did the volunteers posses the potential to bring new technology to Boston
79 Getting rid of politics
A complex and valuable machine like this could not possibly be entrusted to a volunteer - could it? One can see the immense worth that the instrument commands by the state of it. Replacing such a machine with something better in the 1990s was easy - loads of scrap machine tools were going for the cost of transport. The installed machines were elderly. The obstructive attitudes were about control, position and status, not machines.
Lodge, they were also able collectively to acquire new kit. 1 This was a pan-Railway potentiality. Yet old and outmoded equipment was kept away from volunteers as they were ‘unqualified’ to use it and they may ‘damage’ it. This was silly - the Railway really needed so many tasks to be performed. The workforce was available, the money was there, but instead productivity was squandered by ‘quill pen’ methods - despite continual prompting and polite offerings of ways of doing things better. This was like ‘experiencing what Great Grandpa experienced’, and the thrill it gives people. But this was a serious engineering concern, playing a vital part in running a railway of marginal profitability. Improvement was essential and vital to the staff’s interests. Of course circumstances were quite different in Parks and Gardens. They had a skill in getting what they asked for, and it had interesting results. They rapidly began to outperform everyone else; their productivity rate was impressive. My new office was repainted 1 It was as though to remove the perceived 'threat' from volunteers, the only way to work was to let them have their own project that they could fund and manage themselves. Yet although this worked splendidly, it was divisive and prevented those on the project from exchanging valuable lessons with the paid staff. Worse it tended to isolate paid staff from the resources and technical developments that the volunteers were seeing in modern industry, developments that could come to Boston Lodge and offer security and range to the work there for example, allowing contract work to outside bodies. It was not a sensible strategy and has since melted away.
in a couple of days by 12-year-olds, and it was done beautifully, with no paint spilt. No one outside P&G would believe it - they thought I was making it up. The outdoor department had been asked, and asked, and asked, to do this job. The response was that they had no time, and we could not afford a contractor to do it. This was but one problem solved, but these problems appeared elsewhere. Inventive proposals cut no ice - instead of celebration, there was a sort of fatalistic hostility. It was really frustrating. The third problem, already briefly alluded to, was that the politics within the hierarchy encouraged Heads of Department to spend too much of their time defending their positions rather than helping each other out. Often ‘firefighting’ came first, not customers, visitors and volunteers, and the Railway’s public face was tatty and unkempt. So there was no difficulty at all to decide what needed to be done after 25 years of close contact with the FR. The volunteers needed empowering; the management and staff needed to be welded together as a team, and the Board needed to receive a realistic appreciation of issues and potentials, in order to lay down practical and sustainable policies. To get costs down, volunteers had better to be integrated into the business. Decent places were needed for them to stay, and excellent organisation was required to persuade them to give of their best at things that had to be done. Most important of all we needed
80 Giving ‘good value’
Exchanges between loco crew in situ and visitors on the ground are most important. Albeit the crew has to have finished their duties beforehand, but the public are generally interested, and it adds a high-value, friendly flavour that’s long remembered. Of course there are those few who enter the elevated state of enginemanship, and then overlook the value of conversing with mortals. That’s a pity, it loses important value to be gained at no cost.
to encourage the project system, as it was potentially of great value, and it empowered the volunteers. The movement to make the railway attractive was by now underway, after the long and austere struggle to reach Blaenau. There was opposition to this, and ridicule offered to the Parks and Gardens concept, but the recipients most likely to benefit would be the paid staff - so why not support it?. Some technical departments seemed to have difficulty in opening their minds to this, and there was a clique of individuals on the footplate who felt themselves challenged by initiatives from outside their small circle. This needed attention. Initiatives were needed on a wider scale than just expanding Parks and Gardens, especially an improvement to customer quality of service. David Pollock had pursued a high fares policy - a very good idea - but only sustainable longer term through giving perceived good value for money. FR was hardly doing this, with scruffy trains and peeling paintwork. Worse still, one of my vocal pub critics thought it acceptable to wilfully misunderstand questions from the public and to offer humiliation from the misunderstanding for sport. Now here was someone sawing away at the branch he was seated upon, while failing to realise that his efforts were between him and the tree. There was a gleeful achievement for some in discomfiting the general public. This brainless, counter-productive, and negative activity was sometimes viewed by acolytes as offering
the right ‘macho’ stance for them to gain acceptance - a way of winning spurs. It was done to sniggers from associates, and to some it was compelling. Some others within the hierarchy reinforced this behaviour when they immediately unhooked the locomotive and headed for the headshunt, out of the public view. The locomotive did need water, and sometimes fuel, so that’s understandable, but then to place it on the train at the last moment before departure, with no response to those who delight in taking photographs, and avoiding eye contact and being rather surly to those around is entirely counter-productive when not under pressure from late running. These malfeasances formed in Boston Lodge, and to that place with a baleful and critical eye we now go, bearing in mind that today it is transformed with achievement and full of stout fellows just bursting to please. Then it was anything but - it was a railway Mordor, where denizens like Tolkien’s Orcs did not treat incoming volunteers with welcome and respect. So to get on, being in the drinking partnership, and joining the clique mattered more than competence, trustworthy service, or a sunny disposition. The ‘hard men’ were the sort of stuff and nonsense one met on the 1970s state railway. Eileen and myself were determined to defeat this culture. The problem was my lack of patience. This was a slow burn, but my fires of reform, lit over years of frustration, made rather more
81 Old attitudes have now changed
Fitting NG/G16 No. 87 in to the Old Erecting Shop was something of an achievement. It goes to show how far Boston Lodge has come that they accepted the challenge to overhaul this huge locomotive at all. The job was prodigious; it involved much boiler work, and it was conducted with skill, such that the output locomotive has run reliably since this photograph was taken in 2009. The shortage is of capital money now, not spirit or expertise.
steam than was wise. Boston Lodge is the oldest railway workshop in the world, with its first parts built in 1811, as a stable and smithy for the Cob construction tramway. Popular legend has it that the place grew and flowered steadily over the years, into the temple of ordered excellence and steady achievement that we see today. However what is not popular legend is that it also had some of the most primitive ideas and working practices surviving into the early 1990s. The place had been gloriously intact when the pioneer preservationists arrived to restart the railway. Also lurking somewhere in the dark corners of corners were the old attitudes that caused Colonel Stephens such grief. They were preserved as well as the manifest untidiness and awful planning and use of space 2. Until released to their own, new, purpose-designed facility in the 1980s, carriages had a hard time, confined to a tiny space with which people like John Halsall and Fred Boughey did wonders in the gloom during the 1960s, trying to offer a carriage fleet large enough to sustain the rising passenger demand. The magnificent output of locomotives and other technical items belied the look of the place. To be fair, 2 Nothing was ever ‘thrown away’ - at least that’s what it seemed like. There were various bits of old locomotives and machinery liberally distributed everywhere. For example, one could choose from select remnants of Taliesin in 1995, and that had been scrapped 60 years earlier - so it’s a rebuild, not a replica! (Joke!)
some of the problems arose from insufficient space for the locomotives, as well as awful conditions in what passes for a running shed. Today matters are shifting decisively in the right direction; the requirement for looking after the massive NG/G16 Garratt locomotives and the volume of work have seen to that. The working practices of the 1990s later changed, and all is improved, but for me then, Boston Lodge was full in my face as General Manager, with the challenge of improving them. The inventive and enterprising Allan Garraway make-do-and-mend policy of the 1950s was vital to the interests of the railway, though the scenes of dereliction of the 1940s and early 1950s persisted in part until the changes forced on the place in the 1990s. External observers were charmed but incredulous that such a midden could produce working mechanical objects. For years things altered only in line with the immediate needs of the locomotive and carriage fleet; robust scavenging and scrounging was the foundation for any project to receive credibility. Such a policy inevitably meant an immense 30 year hoard of ‘things that could be useful’, sustained by an ‘anything is welcome, bring it to us’ invitation. The combined effect of these procedures made for a sort of scrapyard-cum-mechanical alchemy workshop; a mixture of the old and not so old, shrouded in mystery. This was held in place by a subtle blend of chums, resolved to ensure long apprenticeships for volunteers,
82 Boston Lodge - not a good working environment
Blanche at the end of an overhaul in July 2011 stands resplendent in new ‘traditional’ Garraway livery. The space to work in the Old Erecting Shop is not generous. The surroundings are hardly comfortable, and to think that frequently this space was taken in the evenings by hot, steamy locomotives is not an advertisement for a place to handle careful, technical work. Matters will, hopefully, improve still further upon the receipt of new sheds.
determining that only the remarkably persistent or the really sad came through. The policies for managing the place had never been straightened out, and ordering new had been discovered in about 1988, presumably tempered by some good sense from David Pollock, but this was interleaved with: repairing the old; ferreting for bits, and squirrelling away more things that would be ‘useful’, adding to the piles of junk, much of which was brought by volunteers unaware that their objects could be discarded in the open to become useless. As has been mentioned, there was a parts store, of which few knew the real contents, because access was rendered impossible by stuff stacked round it. Outside, once-useful objects were rendered unserviceable by the keen salt air. Inside, the original racking was not accessible, and anything that may have been useful was so far in that it was impossible to get at. So time was spend rehabilitating and adapting unserviceable items, when appraisal might have indicated that buying new was cheaper. Likewise new items were bought when a hundred years supply of the same, obtained from BR at the end of steam, was festering unseen in the stores. An advance came about during the years when Steve McCallum was the Works Manager. He had been sponsored by the FR to take a degree in mechanical engineering. He then took over and attempted to instil system to the operation. However the sheer scale of the task got to him, and he moved on to help build
the railway hole between France and Britain. His legacy was one of fresh inquiry and application of system, and it was inherited some years later by Jon Whalley. Jon was laid back enough not to show the visible signs of frustration that could be expected. People may have thought he didn’t care - but he did. Instead he concentrated on trying to fight the battles he thought he could win - wise man. When I arrived in 1991 the place was in transition, having been improved by David Pollock. Yet when interrogated on the matter even he looked skywards at the name Boston Lodge. In the Garraway era anyone who ‘mended ’em’ had to ‘drive ‘em’ and vice versa - a good rule. I remember the late David Black once saying that a steam locomotive should only be given enough steam to let it do its job - also a good idea.3 Now there were professional menders, and the tie-in between the menders and the users was less. There was lots of activity when things were broken, and they were fixed without question. A quality repair would be done, which if challenged, normally brought forth a stinging rebuke about the waste of time caused through ‘bodges’ rather than a ‘proper job’. I stopped detailed repairs on Linda one August, when it was better to consign it to the winter work programme, and to use a double Fairlie until the 3 This may have been in response to my excess in thrashing Sgt Murphy - but it was my own, and I had to pay to have it mended. I therefore heeded David rather rapidly when the bills started to come in. This didn’t apply to FR locomotives!
It’s a summer evening in 1993 and Merddin Emrys has finished duty, and has come across to Boston Lodge to refuel on the pit road, from an oil tanker spotted next door. After filling the tanks, the locomotive will go into its shed for the night. The tankers work to and from Minffordd Yard, where they are filled up with oil. All will change soon as the Railway is to convert to gas oil - more expensive but surer, kinder and more efficient.
Harbour Station. If possible refuelling during the day was avoided, but for locomotives doing three trips, it was unavoidable. However the loco oil tanks were filled at Boston Lodge at the day’s end. Tankers for moving about the oil, from Minffordd Yard, to Boston Lodge and to Porthmadog were first constructed by Paul Dukes as a rather strange mixture of ‘bodge’ made from road tanks mounted on 2ft gauge rail wagons. Their movements were some of the few Ffestiniog ‘freight’ workings. A diesel would run on ‘the shunt’ to Minffordd Yard, to place empties and bring out full wagons. 12 The penalties for getting this wrong were great. It was possible to have a temporary crisis if a full tank was not available in either of the required locations. However, forgetfulness in this area failed to cause train cancellations, just inconvenience. Paul Dukes installed centrifuges at Boston Lodge to make sure waste oil had the ‘bits’ removed from it. This made a considerable improvement at an increase in cost and fuss. Yet still, from time, to time bad lots of oil caused havoc with the timetable. If the fire went out and then could not be relit, the train had to stop and be rescued. This was an unfortunate hazard, but the system, like many things Ffestiniog had acquired angular momentum. Attempts to ‘stop’ it brought forward squeals of anguish about how the trains would cease, or ‘people’ who drove the collection system would 12 Sgt Murphy did it once - they were very heavy.
be offended. Nemesis arrived from a quite different direction that should have been expect, but wasn’t. When I became GM, I discovered that there were persistent complaints about smoke from footplate staff - formerly dismissed as namby-pamby. After talking this over as being rather a serious phenomenon, I asked for discreet advice from the Ffestiniog Medical Service. They quietly asked around, and found the complaints centred on Mountaineer that roared, and popped when not fired expertly, then proceeding under a black cloud, some of which percolated upwards from the firebox, into the cab. Some university people were persuaded to organise gas analysis, both out of the chimney, and on the footplate in varying conditions, and to scrape and make test analyses from the deposits in the smokeboxes of FR locomotives - they particularly tested Mountaineer. It was discovered that emissions were likely to be above those shortly to be laid down by Health and Safety at Work legislation; it was clear that we had a duty to change matters to conform with the forthcoming legislation. A plan was needed: Mountaineer was the worst locomotive; the volunteers had been significant in highlighting the problem; the matter was urgent. Jon Wol and myself did some sums, and we tried some batches of industrial gas oil, and found that the introductory batches were fine, but the production lots were not. It was decided that proper 35sec gas oil (or red diesel)
93 Trouble with waste oil
Although a truly splendid locomotive, combustion with waste oil was not good. In an effort to get the necessary heat, the ‘wick’ was turned up. Mountaineer smoked, and some of that smoke leaked up through the cab floor. There was a transformation under waste oil, with an improvement in performance. The locomotive has been out of use for a prolonged period, so it has not run converted back to coal.
would answer. Thus Messrs Humphries, the local fuel oil suppliers, were delighted to receive orders for gas oil, in quantity. The summer price for red diesel was its lowest, and careful calculation showed that buying ahead, and loading up the storage tanks in Minffordd Yard with a large buffer stock of the fuel at summer prices, gave the best advantage. This way cheap oil was bought in summer when income was highest, at about 32p/litre to keep costs to a minimum, and could then be used in winter and spring until access was once more gained to summer prices. Alas 20 years of sludge meant a difficult start. The clean oil acted as a flushing mechanism, ensuring a steady supply of ‘crud’. All the locomotive bunkers had the same problem, and a lot of work had to be gone through to clean up, but soon the entire fleet was running on clear, dependable fuel - albeit at considerably greater cost. It took a little time before the reliability went up and the consumption went down on gas oil. Less dense and more flammable fuel meant more volatility, and this caught some firemen out. There were a few large bangs from incorrect relighting procedure. With waste, if the fire went out (which it often did) a relight was effected by inserting a burning rag, quickly into the steam/fuel mix above the burner, with the blower drawing combustion air through. The fire would light with a satisfying ‘pop’, and you would be ‘in business’. With gas oil, purging the firebox with clean air by the blower before relighting,
with the fuel/steam mix turned right off, would avoid an inevitable bang from an inflammable mixture. After a few singed eyebrows and a couple of smokebox doors thrown open, the message went home. After better training, the complaints went away, and the new fuel settled down successfully. It was difficult to persuade firemen to cease to emit black smoke, as with waste oil this was often impossible; so to be sure there had been a tendency to keep the oil flow up high. With gas oil, more than a grey haze at the chimney top meant unnecessary fuel consumption and encouraged a hard carbon glaze to form in the fire tubes. This acted as a good heat insulator. There were some reports of bad steaming, but as people got used to gas oil, and how you could finesse your firing techniques with it, these problems went away. One result not anticipated was the difficulty in keeping locomotives quiet on the descent from Blaenau. Even with pre-planning, on a double Fairlie, with the fire turned down low, and the water level at minimum, it was most difficult to prevent the locomotive blowing off steam eventually - as the ejector had to keep working to maintain the brake vacuum, and that was blowing steam up the chimney at the Porthmadog end, with a draught that called for the oil to be turned up enough to prevent the fire from going out. Everyone agreed that gas oil was better overall, as all the blending, transport and centrifuging went away, but the visible costs rose.
94 There will never be three double Fairlies
A lineup picture of the new locomotive David Lloyd George at Boston Lodge. L-R Top Row: Dylan Ham, Tum Al, Ted Swales, Ifan Davies, Aled Lloyd. Bottom Row: Ian Yates, Arthur Brooks, Seamus Rogers, Jonathan Whalley, Maureen Pye, David Black, Kevin Cunnington, Ken Hancock, Steve Jones
In the Appendix are some figures to look at. No one had realised what an awful legacy there was in Minffordd Yard. The vista of rusting old 40 gal barrels, some of them leaking, together with 20 years of spillage from blending, and a number of old tanks with oil sludge were a legal liability that had to be tackled competently to remain within the law. Martin Duncan managed much of the clearance and he did an excellent job. John Routly, when Chairman, griped at a bill for £3,000 for disposal of some barrels full of particularly noxious substances charged for removal. However the whole lot, tanks and all were a potential pollution problem. The Yard is in the catchment area for the Traeth and the reaction of the National Rivers Authority had there been any leakage would have been dire. The FR Board never realised the potential liability that had accrued. The clean up took place, and the natural ability of the ground to recover has removed any risks. Today the tanks are gone, the locos are on coal; the place is clean. Excitements could occur with gas oil. To mitigate the problems from storing the gas oil in Minffordd Yard until the tank there received the regulation spillage bund, during the summer period, after buffer stocks had been used up, Graham Byrom instituted a clever ‘just in time’ delivery from supplier Humphries. Delivery was normally by road tanker to a rail tank car in Minffordd Yard, which then would be tripped to Boston Lodge or Porthmadog for use by the locomotives. Someone
forgot to give the order for oil one week, and thus the Humphries tanker was dispatched to Porthmadog to load the rail tank car direct. I knew nothing of this nimble piece of thinking. Unfortunately the vehicle was not standing on our land. Alas this was the day that the road tanker delivery hose decided to split. The driver was very quick to halt the pump, but not quick enough to prevent a couple of gallons from disappearing down the road drain, straight into the harbour. Of course there was a massive press fuss, despite the fact that boats spilled fuel, and every time it rains road ‘spill’ washed into the harbour. Strong instructions were issued not to fuel there again. Of course there was still an ever-present problem to manage and prevent pollution. Boston Lodge had ceaselessly to be examined and action taken to remain within limits. Bunds for all the tanks and oil separators, for all lubricating and fuel points were provided. Absorbent pads were used to soak up any accidental spillage. A great deal of effort was needed to remain ahead of the gradually tightening EU standards. The Parks and Gardens volunteers were kept busy. Fortunately the winter quiet allows accidental spillage to be broken down, and there have been developed bacteria that can be introduced and will on contact with the ground rapidly absorb and process to neutrality any oil lodged in the soil or gravel. The environment can deal with it quite steadily. Conversion
95 Kettle problems
Linda leaves Porthmadog well loaded - to 8 cars - on a pleasant day. The LEMPOR exhaust makes its funny sound but this locomotive was top in returning litres of fuel used per car hauled, and she is still a slide valve locomotive. Mind you, for all that, the diesels used about 10 gallons for their trips, where a steam loco could use 70.
back to coal and sophisticated oil separators have apparently solved the problem permanently. The changeover from waste oil to gas oil that I presided over not only fixed one of the more irritating sources of failure. It was already possible to compare locomotive performance from calculations made in 1987/8, that are shown in the Appendix. There is a cost analysis for each locomotive to show which was the best value for money, and it seemed that even then the cost of using gas oil was £3,000 p/a more. That was a figure that seemed justified bearing in mind the ‘failure’ costs from waste oil alone. There had always been the terror of being short of power, leading to all that was broken being mended - just in case. The records compiled and examined to calculate the real costs of small engines against large: miles per casualty; fuel costs per mile; true costs of overhaul; maintenance costs between overhauls, etc. indicated the wisdom of using the large locomotives. If there were not enough reliable locomotives to do the job, then choices become difficult, and you mend all. It was said that small engines like Linda and Blanche were more economical than large engines like Merddin Emrys and Earl of Merioneth. However you do have to have enough large locomotives, to benefit - we didn’t have them. We knew there were advantages to a lightly used double Fairlie than a small locomotive continually flogged to its maximum performance. Jon Whalley and
myself talked over the problems and arrived at the view that those locomotives with efficient ‘front ends’ and reasonable superheat were the ones returning the lowest consumption of fuel per carriage pulled. It ought to be that the Fairlies, with power in hand, were a better bet, bearing in mind that flogged or not, all was overhauled at ten years - but if they could be improved, how much better that would be 13. Complicated though they are the double Fairlies are masters of the job, and the three of them that FR had now managed to accrue offered one potential advantage - standardisation. We now headed for a standard fleet, with all the ‘bits’ interchangeable - Taliesin was included here. A steady incremental move towards perfection ought to be attained, as the maintenance requirement and tasks should be known, with spares laid aside ready to ensure continued locomotive availability. If you could get it right for one of the locos in a standard fleet, then you ought to be able to get it right for all of them. With the new Taliesin, and David Lloyd George, in the future we should expect enough standard power to run the service, if we could bring the double Fairlies to reliable economy. This may have been an attainable goal mechanically - but the boilers were not the same - not 13 Occasionally it was possible to persuade the boiler inspector that the splendid pure water and excellent water treatment meant that the tubes were good enough to stay where they were. This way it may be possible to extend to 12 years - but not beyond. For consumption figures, see the Appendix.
The scheme to move this historic track furniture was NOT part of a Permanent Way project - the Head of Department was smart!
Fred Howes with earlier power at FR 150 in 1983. Note he is in charge - but at the back, hmm, allegorical.
Civil Engineering,Track & Signals FREDDIE’S EMPIRE
red Howes manifest himself without any fuss or fluster. I knew him of course, and when I first went to see him at Minffordd he was without airs. This set the tone, as of all the Heads of Department during my time as GM, Fred gave the least problems - there were none. He tailored the output of his department to the resources available. He made it all quite simple really: this or that piece of track needed replacement, and if it wasn’t, then at a given time there would have to be a restriction of speed. This could be offset by some limited maintenance, but at the expense of elsewhere. Here was his recommendation - did I agree with it? I normally did. The thirteen miles of railway had some difficult bits in it. For a start it set off to sea, bridging a porous embankment a mile or so long. The Cob wasn’t meant to leak - and it wasn’t the FR’s to maintain - but sat on the top of it, any failure - especially a breach - could cut the stocking tops off the business. Boston Lodge was fine, but it was backed by a huge cliff (out of which fill for the Cob had come). That never leads to an entirely comfortable existence - fertile imaginations fear a large boulder squashing the first ever bogie carriage in Britain. More fear of it being extinguished by being left out in the salt air, sunshine and rain said Fred. His people inspected slopes regularly. Up a bit, on a completely innocent stretch of line, something clandestine was happening - the trackbed was heading downhill. That bit next to the Railway’s cottages at Rhiw Plâs was unhelpful, yet up the ways the bridge was too low. This was Garraway - and he got the blame, quite undeservedly. The road builders wanted to aggrandise the A487(T). It was the ‘T’ that gave them the aspirations
and the powers, along with the possibility that stuff for Trawsfynydd nuclear plant would come in by sea. The bridge across the Railway was reconstructed in 1960. It immediately improved the loading gauge to new FR Standard - but according to modern thinking, not by enough. But how could Garraway foresee the WHR, and anyway Garnedd Tunnel is still there as the next most restrictive structure? A bit further on, past the narrow cemetery cutting is Lottie’s Crossing: 1 (aka Quarry Lane Crossing, aka Minffordd Crossing); after that Minffordd Yard opens out on the left hand side. Here was the only stretch of double track bullhead rail in 2ft gauge.2 It may have been a bit bumpy, but it was magnificent, and the main line lasted in bullhead until 2015. Early bullhead rail was made of wrought iron and superseded T rail; it wore fairly quickly. By the 1880’s steel rail was available. Wrought iron rail was still in use in Fred’s time, but bullhead rail was cheaper to roll than flat bottom because the section could be achieved in fewer passes through the mechanised rolling mill. It was easier to change bullhead rail than spiked flatbottom rail which is one of the reasons why London Transport persisted with bullhead rail for so long. 1 The late Lottie Edwards, widow of former FR PWay man Dai Edwards lived here to work this public level crossing of Quarry lane - she was both great fun and hospitable, always ready with a cup of tea. 2 Let us not be silly about the FR gauge: it is nominally 597mm, which in round terms makes the FR a 600mm gauge line. This is relevant as there are 610mm gauge lines within the ‘2ft gauge’ bracket. You can join the 1ft 115/8 ins club if you want to, but this is pseudery - pretension, as widening on curves and back-toback on points make an exact figure inappropriate. This chapter will visit gauge again in practical terms.
106 Bullhead and flat bottomed track
Here comes Lilla, proceeding in an Easterly direction along parallel tracks of 2ft gauge bullhead railway on 30th July 2004. This view is no longer possible. Lilla is in rude health, but the main line was relaid by the Network Rail apprentices. It is not quite recorded what they thought, but the new railway is smooth and featureless (yes please - that means nice track) instead of clickety, bump. The march of progress........mmmm - nice.
The old Festiniog Railway was all chaired track. The Penrhyn Railway was also bullhead, and much of the Penrhyn bullhead track had been bought by Ffestiniog as it was good for replacements. So there was plenty of the stuff. I dare say we could have got more - but new. None of the 95lb, 3 or 109lb standard gauge stuff would do - it was all too big. We needed the 55lb rail we had - and it wore and wore. Bullhead/doublehead was a pain to maintain. Cast chairs could fracture, and every one had a wooden key to hold the rail tight. These all needed to be snug to guarantee safety, so the track had to be patrolled daily during running time. Not only was this expensive, it was also dangerous, as further up the line the clearances were restricted indeed and nimbleness was essential in PWay staff. Flat bottomed rail, or Vignoles rail, was laid on the deviation during the 1970s - firstly without baseplates, then they were added. Fred and I agreed a decision in principle that stations, where practical, would keep bullhead rail, but any opportunity elsewhere to replace it with flat bottomed would be taken. This normally meant waiting until track replacements occurred, so the lot would be done, sleepers and rails. This may have been a fine aspiration - replacing track- but it meant buying new rail, new sleepers, baseplates and fastenings. 3 These figures refer to pounds per yard. It is nice that metric measurements fit quite well here. UIC60 rail - in general use on todays railways - refers to 60 kilos per metre, approximately 120 lbs per yard.
This was all well before the realm of grants, so Freddie developed an excellent skill of sidling up to Area Groups, and persons he knew of means, and talking wistfully about how a section of track would benefit from replacement. Of course there were opportunities for this. During the time that British Rail were ripping up perfectly good track, there was a surplus of materials. It was already clear that good standard gauge sleepers - and there were lots - could be obtained and cut in half for the 2ft gauge. They were not wide enough but when needs must, trying to resuscitate a knackered narrow gauge main line, they were better than what was there, and would serve for many years. Much of the standard gauge surplus flat bottomed rail was 109lbs. A bit of this was tried, but, like the big bullhead rail, it was far too large. It was possible to use 75lb standard gauge rail, but this tended only to be found in MoD sidings. One could be terribly ‘had’ by this surplus rail, as 75lbs could be deformed from sleeper to sleeper, and rail installed but not looked after may have bent and battered ends. Fred received a publication with government sales advertised in it - this was eagerly scanned and bids were made. The Admiralty and Army were much given to using 75lb rail. This was why Fred prowled ‘on the take’ from time to time. It was difficult and anxious to acquire suitable materials to stay ahead of the replacement limits. He never worried me with any of this, he just kept banging
107 Freddies’ own diesel
This Mozambican locomotive (Imprensa Nacional Açứcar - INA) taken in Boston Lodge in September 2015, still isn’t fitted with the vacuum brake. Innate caution that it would be ‘nicked’ by others had discouraged such action during my time. Aside from the potential muddle of incompatible couplers, works trains were normally unbraked. The air brakes on Harlech Castle worked very well - there are tales about this to follow.
away until he got what he wanted. Part of Minffordd Yard was Freddie’s operating base and store. In contrast to Dukie’s section it was clean and well organised. There were rail stacks, and sleeper piles, with tracks serving each. There was a gantry crane, the Goods Shed and annexes as a locked store, and a number of creaky wooden sheds as workshops. He had adopted Ina, and seen it transformed into the 140hp Harlech Castle. There was no question of it ever being asked to work passenger trains - he was suspicious of my longing glances at it. These were from my dreamy plan to build its sister (a kit of parts in Boston Lodge) into a 220hp version, Criccieth Castle, that would work passenger trains. However, I was given most careful instructions on how to start Harlech, and thereafter was one allowed to drive it with permission from Fred. This was a ‘whoopee’ for Parks and Gardens, as they now had an independent locomotive that could not be withheld by Boston Lodge for excuses like it was having its hair cut. There was a cloud to this silver lining. Taking kids up the line in works trains was a very special treat. The discipline was like on a chain gang. Any child who stood up while moving, or put their arm outside a moving train was instantly ejected. This was made traumatic by ‘Guard for the Day’ Eileen Clayton - who meant it to be strict, to make sure everyone was kept safe. This worked well - even I didn’t dare wave my arms out of the cab. The problem was that
with the kids-laden open wagons, unbraked, one had to do a very careful gear change into ‘lock up’, or this locomotive would snatch its couplings. The results of a big snatch going up the line were not good - I tried so hard to get it right. Of course coming down the hill had to be done with extreme care, and regular drivers were used to this. We always had a brake van on the back, and the load was very light, but dropping the speed down from 20mph to zero for Penrhyn Crossing (in the evening you had to get out and work this gated crossing) had to be done very early - from Rhiw Goch onwards - and very gently. In fact ‘hands-off’ on this machine means that the hydraulic transmission exerts a steady and useful braking action - the problem was the temptation to put on power in impatience, rather than gently introducing some power to reduce the braking effect. Problems were indeed likely with unbraked trains. On the rare occasion of taking a P&G works train, with wagons heavily loaded with soil, I braked and did the hooty-tooty for Boston Lodge Halt as we came by Rhiw Plâs. This wasn’t quite enough, so I gave the brake some more. Passing the old loco shed, everything went silent, and the speedo dropped suddenly to zero. I heard a hissing under the loco - this was a Harlech speciality - the train was running away. The hissing was the extremely undesirable noise of wheels locked solid. You released the brakes quickly but gently until the ‘speed’ reappeared as the wheels resumed their
108 Minffordd Yard - Fred’s bit
This is the old rail stack, and behind on the other side of the access track the pole stack. Rails take up a lot of space when you add the sleepers for them to be laid on. A polytunnel keeps stuff dry in this October 2007 view. This was before the current rash of buildings. There has always been talk of this track eventually running out to the main line in the Porthmadog direction, but so far it’s always been ‘impossible’ for this ever to happen.
rotation, and then you braked gently again - but you were very near to the maximum braking - a limit no one wishes to experience. We were about to run out of gradient, and wanted to back in to Boston Lodge Yard at Pen-Cob, so there was no problem. Others did not fare so well with unbraked trains. The tale was told of one PWay employee long ago, who was driving a long works train slowly downhill towards Penrhyn crossing on a damp winter’s afternoon. The train managed to get away from him somewhere around Corn Picyn, below Rhiw Goch. With the brakes hard on stopping now was not an option; the crossing gates loomed. He was seen going through the gates, wheels stationary and hissing, with the locomotive adorned with bits of broken wood, whilst he was vainly trying to get more braking power by straining at the wheel of the handbrake - an unprofitable action with wheels already locked! After this, unbraked trains were required to come to a stand at a notice some way before the crossing. The point was that braking to rail conditions was the key - and perhaps loading the train appropriately for rail conditions was too: radical measures were taken. The line into Minffordd Yard ran off the downhill side of Minffordd Station loop. There was a roomful of obsolescent ex BR equipment installed to enable the use of this feature - more about this and its origins later. Below the Weigh House Crossing, a siding gives off to the Yard, down a steep gradient. Freddie had his
office in the Weigh House, so irregular happenings at this location were unwise. Of course much of the work for Civil Engineering and Permanent Way was up the line somewhere, thus works trains were prepared and loaded in the old Goods Shed, and went off up the line to the work site. The Yard was used as a haven for three volunteers’ caravans. The Telephones and Telegraph Head of Department, Norman Pearce, a major volunteer player in the early days, had his van there. The vans were a nuisance until one thought how useful it was to have a presence as protection. Later the ‘old’ Minffordd Hostel was constructed. No matter how much noise the residents made, it would annoy no one (except the caravanners). The Weigh House occupation crossing, like the Boston Lodge Halt crossing, has a yellow disc mounted on the gate, to indicate to train crew if it is open. You could cross with your car to reach the Minffordd Hostel, but were requested not to place your car on the track whilst unlocking the gate! Fred had an eclectic collection of wagons. All were most useful, some were specialised indeed, but there were incompatible systems for coupling that had to be watched with care. The PWay staff knew how to join vehicles, but if assembling a Parks and Gardens train you may not. After a few head scratching sessions drivers and guards soon learned to prepare in advance.
Sgt Murphy in artistic poses in the evening sunshine on Boston Lodge Curve, trying to look like a â€˜really useful engineâ€™.
Chapter 8 Having a Go
Britomart one of the nicest, most willing and even-tempered little steam locomotives one could find.
y original objective of getting permission to drive was a difficult process. I reckoned that my spare time was my own, and that using it to learn to drive a locomotive was reasonable, given that a dutiful time was spent driving a desk. The next problem was that knitting of the eyebrows was certain by the paid staff if it was seen that the General Manager jumped the queue in front of the volunteers. It was a bit strange that such concern should have been shown for volunteers’ interests on the one hand, but not on another - but then having the GM out on the line was perhaps considered to be inviting far too much interference. However, I was allowed to try my hand on a diesel as nobody much wanted to drive those. I found out why when I had a go at the Upnor Castle. It had a tendency to bruise shoulders, remove skin from the backs of hands and to bellow at a volume that required ear defenders. The locomotive was ‘adapted’. Originally a bovine shunter on the 2’6” gauge Chattenden and Upnor Railway, and considered too slow and weak for the rigours of the Welshpool and Llanfair, it came to the Ffestiniog cheap-cheap (when cash was very short) and was converted to scream along on four small wheels at 17½ mph on passenger trains. Since it was hardly designed for this labour, problems ensued. The Dukes regime, that was responsible for such an innovative ‘adaption’ - and proud of it - fitted a Gardner 6LX engine with a remarkable appetite for lubricating oil, and more power than was sustainable for the locomotive’s transmission. The wheelbase was also extended to limit the awful lurching somewhat. It was a remarkable stalwart that would pull anything put behind it until the wheels spun, and despite dreadful
misuse and minimum maintenance it managed to keep going between one widely spaced catastrophic failure and another. It was a challenging locomotive to learn on, always ready to humiliate the trainee – in line with former FR volunteering policy - and ideal to sap the will of a nerdy General Manager wanting to drive. Coordination of engine speed and gear engagement was needed at speed on the line to avoid coupling snatches. Bumbling around yards, the locomotive gave no hint of these wicked vices. On grand, volunteer packed works trains, injudicious manipulation of the controls could cause mutiny. On passenger trains, it was required to pull six carriages at about 17 mph, and the din from the whining transmission meant a requirement to wear ear defenders. It managed passenger trains at full, rivetvibrating stretch and could only keep time as it had no need to fill itself with water. However, in the summer it would show a tendency to overheat, and to produce unwanted steam on its own account. Thus the stop at Tan y Bwlch, which needed to be brief, to perform the token exchange and remain punctual, was often interrupted by the urgent need to top up the radiator. The riding of this engine was appalling. It managed to find all the dips and irregularities in rail joints, and would slam the shoulders regularly against the cab sides. The vacuum brake exhauster was only able to maintain the required 18” of suck at nearly full engine revs. Upnor Castle was an absolute lemon - so everyone liked it a lot as soon as they learned to manage its vagaries. Although on passenger duties Upnor would batter along revving its nuts off, shunting carriages was very careful torture. Having managed to creep gently up to the rake, it was required that the locomotive be
126 The crudity of Ffestiniog diesels
Graham Whistler Complain though they did about Upnor Castle, it rose to fame after my departure when it was used to build the WHR, almost unaided. On this job it was a useful machine indeed - yet this is more like the role it was built to do, chugging about with materials trains. It is seen here in Pont Cae’r Gors Cutting in 2006, a place where there was difficulty with the ‘angle of repose’. Upnor is busily engaged in taking rail to the head of steel. They knackered it.
halted two-feet from the opposing couplings. Sensible rule this; by it many hands are saved from a mauling from the unyielding buffer faces of the narrow-gauge, chopper-type couplings. Such precision called for complete control of the locomotive. Narrow gauge is quite unlike standard gauge; the smallness offers much better visibility, and this allows an experienced driver to judge position well. No rolling in slowly and allowing residual speed to compress the buffers; the hooks of the chopper coupling can only be engaged when the two faces align and touch. There is little or no spring either, so a misjudgment means a hard bump, with derisive comments to follow or even damage. The choppers having been coupled, the brake pipes are connected and Upnor then had to be revved hard to create the required vacuum to release the brakes. This must be done in neutral, thus when movement is required, the ’revs must drop to allow engagement of the gears in order to move. The direction ‘dog’ clutch must have been changed and so a certain amount of pre-planning is required. When movement is set, the vacuum may well have leaked off, so more revving is needed, lots more if the train is long, or if there are faulty seals on the ‘bags’. Quite a procedure: and one where chances to make mistakes are frequent. I well remember a qualified and vocal gentleman, much given to stroppy comment on the competence of others, receiving the ‘right-away’ from the guard at Porthmadog, releasing the brakes
with Upnor’s engine screaming, and judging the moment exactly to engage gear he set off backwards down the platform to his huge embarrassment and everyone else’s vocal delight. If you could handle the Upnor Castle competently, then you were fit to progress further. Rather than chance the bumping of volunteers from steam firing turns, I chose to learn to drive the diesel Upnor. Even though few people wanted to drive it, there was a utility in training diesel drivers. They were needed as reliefs at short notice to cover steam locomotive failures, and people driving diesels at weekends allowed the regular drivers some respite. Most of all, Eileen’s trains full of kids nearly always required a diesel, and I wanted to be able to indulge them, as taking the kids out on a train made them so happy: happy kids meant new volunteers. I managed to derail it once, and the experience was not a pleasant one. Ffestiniog points in yards are not always in main line condition, and on moving gently into the new shed at Boston Lodge there was an unfortunate lurch, followed by a complete stop. A wheel had found a point blade not quite snug on the stock rail and we were off. It was only a matter of 20 minutes with jacks to put matters right, and no damage had been done. However a photograph was taken and was put rapidly on display. Hawk-eyes were needed in future for all point blades; once off the rails was enough. Progress meant passing rules and regulations for
127 Confusion with couplers
Far gone are the smart Pollock Push & Pull colours - Conway Castle too has been abandoned to a constructional fate, and sent off to work on the WHR. It is seen here in 2007 on an inspection train, right by Tunnel No. 2 in the Aberglaslyn Pass. Perhaps Conway was not quite as good as Upnor for this kind of work, but this is a historic photo of it far away from its haunts of ten years previous.
passenger work, and the test, carried out by Operating Superintendent Sean Britton was thorough and tough. It was of course made easier from my having previously passed out as a guard, but the driver carries the can on the Ffestiniog and is expected to be the person with all the knowledge on operations, timetables, regulations, working ground frames, token working, siding lengths and coupling peculiarities. After this I was passed out ‘fit’ by Loco Supervisor Graham Byrom who was only just convinced. The FR wagon fleet was a large, motley collection, many with incompatible couplings.1 The works locomotives are equipped with a range of links and chains to permit all sorts of joining of different types. It was still possible, unless you were really paying attention, to be ready for a path up the line but to find that a shunt was needed to move wagons into proximity so that they could couple. It was possible for a works trains to lose their path through the lack of a special link or chain. Cobbles-up were not allowed, as it was quite easy to cause buffer locking or derailment through a light slate wagon being intimidated into leaving the rails by a heavy neighbour. One may well ask why such anomalies were not eliminated, as unfortunate incidents were often 1 Life has changed today, as with the advent of the WHR all trains have to be fitted with continuous brakes and a modern maintenance train is in being. So matters are not quite the same, although manually braked, non-passenger trains may be run on the FR with special arrangement and suitable brake vans.
caused by coupling incompatibility. Somehow no one had so far found the time to finish the work to get this right. This job was always in the ‘I’m going to do this next’ category. Improvements were made - generally the older Ffestiniog waggons were either converted or seldom used. Converter couplers were carried to make safe and secure connection between say Hudson and Ffestiniog ‘hook’ couplers. It was possible to be without a Hudson ‘long-link, or one of the new block couplers. It was wise for rookie drivers to make sure that they did not overlook the trials of potential shunting of unbraked vehicles, but incidents were rare. Another Hibberd Planet locomotive was put into service as an improvement to the Upnor Castle. The Conway Castle was devised to head the Push-pull train in the late 1980s. It was furnished with a ‘modern’ outline body and equipped with the means to be driven from a specially built INCA Observation Car, No. 111, placed at Porthmadog end of the train; the whole train was finished in an attractive green and cream livery. The advantage of this train was that it required only one driver, and thus turn round time at Blaenau Ffestiniog was exceedingly rapid, merely that required for the driver to progress from one end of the train to the other. As a diesel locomotive used only 10 gallons or so of red-diesel for the round trip, instead of a steam locomotive’s 70, there were economies to be made on the lightly loaded services; the question of economics
128 Diesel -v- Steam
Upnor is here lined up with a ‘Vintage Train’, such as it was in 1993: Quarrymens’ No. 8, Cars 16, 15 and No. 10 Van. Looks like this consist is going somewhere, out of season - as the rails are rusty. Upnor was ideal for this sort of work, it would go well and was economical. So you managed to get bruised shoulders - hard luck. It was all Jolly Good Fun.
was always to the fore. The question of steam versus diesel emerged from time to time to be argued endlessly. It was asserted that 25% of diesel working should be commercially acceptable to staff, volunteers and passengers. When waste oil was in use for steam locomotives the arguments for the economy of diesel traction were a little less compelling than for gas oil - except that bad batches of waste oil made the locomotives unreliable and led to rescues by diesels. With gas oil, a difference of 50 gallons in consumption on each trip mounted up and as the year’s bill for oil was getting on for £60k, running diesels on the more lightly loaded trains was sensible. The idea for push-pull working had arisen in the Pollock era from the suggestion that the equipment could be fitted cheaply, would be reliable, and would permit flexible, economic working of coach parties during engineering works out of season, even over short lengths of line. Though Conway Castle could only manage 17½ mph uphill, the Push-pull train could keep time as it did not require a Tan y Bwlch water stop and had a lightning turnround potential at Blaenau. The only snag was that the Conway Castle had the same ‘go-gear’ with the same power as the Upnor and was hammered to death in the same way. A train called the Early Bird went out as a lightly loaded diesel train that picked up a substantial passenger
load on the way back from Blaenau Ffestiniog. The diesel was then exchanged for a steam locomotive at Porthmadog, normally a double engine that was ready to add up to six additional cars, before heading back to Blaenau. It was suggested that diesels limited to pulling 6 cars was not sensible. It was clear that something better was needed for rescue purposes than the two Planets, that pulled only 6 cars with eventual self destruction, and this is how the Criccieth Castle came on the scene. The constant hammering in service caused a higher than desirable repair bill for the Planets, which after all were superannuated shunting locomotives. The Conway Castle was unloved, and it managed to destroy its transmission from time to time; you never knew when. However the Pollock Push-pull train was nice to drive downhill and the passengers generally liked it. The fitting of a two-pipe, high and low vacuum system together with an adequate supply of vacuum exhausters on Conway Castle removed the high revving nightmare of the Upnor’s inadequate vacuum equipment. From time to time simultaneous departures with the Regional Railways trains were possible at Blaenau. These were usually punctuated with much hooting and waving from both trains’ passengers. Regional Railways had an old Class 101 Metro-Cammell unit which we jointly arranged to have painted in early BR green livery, and when both trains left Blaenau together, they must have made a fine sight. On the Ffestiniog, the
129 Adventures on the line
The Push-pull trailer Car 111 was a great deal of fun to drive. The idea was to use up to six corridor cars (in special livery), pulled by a diesel, on lightly loaded services. The diesel took the train up to Blaenau - or intermediately in the off-season, and the train was driven back from the trailer. It was a great view, comfortable to ride in, and worked a treat. In Porthmadog, a steam engine would come on the front with lots more coaches for a busy train.
rise into Blaenau, for the last 100 yards or so, is at 1 in 60. On departure, this steep little grade accelerates the train rapidly. The limit of 20mph is rapidly reached and whereas the main line trains have no problem with this, Ffestiniog ones are faced with sharp curves under the road bridges and then a 10mph restriction over the Stasion Faen foot crossing, and on to the 10mph Glan y Pwll level crossing. When driving the Push-pull, the problem was judging the right braking to avoid exceeding the speed limit. A good pull on the exBR, DMU vacuum brake valve would bring the brakes on hard. Getting them off took longer, and those unpractised, whilst trying to reach the 10mph needed for the level crossings, could easily come to a stand pink with embarrassment. Of course, running the train downhill was all concerned with getting the braking right. Too little, and speed quickly rose too high; too much, and time was lost. At Tanygrisiau, after a speed restriction of 10mph, the line curves and rises sharply as it enters the 1970s diversionary route. This was no problem if you ran through without a stop. However starting from the station brought particular problems, especially if the rail was wet. Normally second gear would be chosen, but the train would lose way rapidly whilst waiting for the revs to drop, in order to change into third. It wasnâ€™t possible to hear the engine when in push-pull mode, and on a wet rail the locomotive would slip, and so grinding up the hill at 5 mph in second could
follow, losing time all the while until the summit was reached behind the power station, knowing that the crew of the up train at Tan y Bwlch would meet you with the token, looking gravely and publicly, pointing at their watches! I came to grief with Conwy Castle whilst driving up the line to Blaenau one day. All had been going well, and we were on time for our main line connection. Just approaching Cwmorthin bridge there was an awful crash, yet all seemed in order. There is a steep drop at this point on the firemanâ€™s side, and so such a noise was nerve-racking. I braked to a stand, gently as there seemed to be nothing in particular wrong with the locomotive or carriages. I got out to have a look and could find nothing amiss with the locomotive, except that the brakes seemed slack, yet the train brakes were on. The guard and myself checked the train; nothing wrong. I decided to walk back along the track to look for any bits that had either dropped off, or were on the track. Sure enough, embedded deep in a sleeper by Cwmorthin bridge was the locomotive main brake rodding. It had come adrift and dropped a projecting end into the track. Had it been more robust, or even been deflected sideways a trifle, the train would have been derailed, possibly with spectacular and fatal results. Control agreed that we could proceed, after a brake test, and we delivered our passengers to Blaenau. After discussions with Boston Lodge it was decided
130 Searching for ‘the’ engine
It isn’t clear why Mike Hart thought that Sgt Murphy was suitable for regauging to 15” to work on the Bure Valley (that he then owned) - but looking at this shot of Wroxham Broad, one can see why this was an idea that was unlikely to succeed. So I was able to buy him instead. No doubt Mike made a penny or two on the deal - good if he did as I certainly got my money’s worth, and was ecstatic to buy the Sergeant from him.
that we could descend, since the train brakes were operating fully, and the locomotive was at the back. Repairs to the brake rodding didn’t take very long, the question was why had it happened? The adjusting bottle screw locking nuts had come undone and the whole lot had gradually unwound. The problem was that no one had been examining this feature on diesel locomotives underneath, on a pit, myself included, despite it being on the list of starting checks. Equally it was apparently on the schedule for checking by Works staff; nothing had been revealed. From then on this check was made during the starting process. The happiness of going to the job at Porthmadog had been made greater by the knowledge that a big sum had been deposited in the building society, courtesy of Stena Line. I had bought a half-share in Monarch but wished for something a bit more handy. This was just as well, bearing in mind what had happened subsequently. The search for a locomotive was almost better than the reality, as engines were hard to find even for ready cash. One had to be either ‘in the know’ or perhaps be hostage to high prices. I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted, and had the view that a quarry Hunslet would be ideal. Though scrupulously polite, and generous in allowing the loco to be used, the late Steve Coulson, grizzled Porthmadog guardian and partner in Britomart, didn’t want interlopers. There didn’t seem to be any more Hunslets around, but there was an Orenstien
and Koppel 0-6-0 WT, called Pedemoura in bits on the WHR(P). They hummed and they hawed about selling it; they were ‘just about to finish it off’, despite no spanner having turned on it for years. Then it looked as though it needed a new boiler. I am sure it was nothing to do with any enmity between FR and WHR(P) , they just didn’t want to sell, and if people don’t want to sell, however one may feel it is in their interests to do so, then that is that! Perhaps this intransigence was a clear indicator in the struggles with them of what was to follow. I had the idea of something small to run up and down with, so what eventually came along was a bit unexpected. Mike Hart had done a deal with Colin Pealing, relieving him of his collection of narrow gauge equipment. Mike had thought that one of the locomotives he had acquired could be re-gauged to 15”, for his new project the Bure Valley Railway. On mature reflection, he decided this wasn’t practical, and thus I was able to buy Sgt Murphy from him. I had last seen the locomotive at Bethesda in 1963, on a day trip out from Rydal School. Mike Jones and I had walked up the closed Penrhyn main line to the quarries, and had got permission to go up on the galleries and see the steam locomotives working. Sgt Murphy had been in the scrap line that ran down the outside of the locoshed, containing Eigiau, Lilla, Stanhope, and others. They were all bought by various people: some went to
131 Finding it
FR Co. Any whose zeal drove them to the Penrhyn Railway workshops in the 1960s would see the forlorn line of little engines in abandonment outside. In those days a position in this lineup was final, at was razor blades or breadbins to follow as their fate. Little did I know when I breezed past what the future had in store, however the Sergeant had no future on the Penrhyn. It left on new adventures later on and all those locomotives were saved.
America; others to all over Britain. In 1964 Sgt Murphy was sold to Messrs Pealing and Weaver, and lay in pieces at Cadeby Rectory for years. In 1978 he went to the Conwy Valley Railway Museum at Betws y Coed under the care of Colin Cartwright until the Pealing collection was acquired by Mike Hart. Reports about his condition were dire: apparently the boiler was shot, with major firebox troubles, and he was unlikely ever to work again. I went to see the locomotive, and Colin was very generous about the possibility of losing one of his major exhibits. The Sergeant was built by Kerr Stuart in 1918 as No. 3117, in an ongoing attempt to provide shunting power for the Allied 600mm military railways in France. The Joffre class design by Decauville was simplified by Kerr Stuart to be the Haig class. Most were built to 3ft gauge, but two were built to 600mm gauge and 3117 was one of them. The building date meant that No. 3117 was too late to go to war; it went instead to the Admiralty at Beachley Dock, Chepstow. Penrhyn Quarry acquired it in 1922, and it was regauged to 580mm, with the thought that it and Lilla might be suitable for main-line work, to relieve Linda, Blanche and Charles. This was not to be for both engines; neither had the sustained steaming power needed for the empties to be pulled back up the hill, and in 1923, No. 3117 went up into the quarry to a gallery on the hillside, the Red Lion Level, to work between one incline and
another. The winner of the Aintree Grand National that year was a horse named Sergeant Murphy. It is reputed that whilst No. 3117 was being winched up the incline to Red Lion Level, as she rose over the top, some wag remarked, “Here comes Sergeant Murphy.” The name stuck and the locomotive was duly named Sgt Murphy. The original Decauville design had envisaged a well tank; when Kerr Stuart had built the locomotive in 1918, the well tank had been left out. The water tanks, high on the boiler side, resulted in a high centre of gravity, which had been blamed for the locomotive falling over in the quarry in 1932, crushing its driver to death. This gave rise to the story (repeated whenever possible to the gullible) that the locomotive is haunted - such is not the case. Sgt Murphy was taken in by the works manager Battersby for rebuild in October of 1932. The boiler and tanks were lowered 7½”, and the resulting gap in the cab was plated over. Battersby’s rebuild at Penrhyn’s workshops added Emmet like qualities and made a very narrow gauge looking locomotive from a robust industrial shunter, especially as the locomotive tended to squat at the rear end, offering a bucolic appearance. I wondered if the loco was recoverable, and could be restored; Mark Watkins of Winson Engineering Penrhyndeudraeth, after looking it over said that it was. Furthermore he said that he could do this. So I bought Sgt Murphy from Mike Hart for £18,185, ‘as
Putting Team X ‘in charge’ had unimagined rewards when later the magnificent Glaslyn emerged to join the superb Bodysgallen Pullman. These and the Car 150 are the only 2ft gauge Pullmans in the world - and don’t the people who pay to go in them know how to celebrate!
t the time of revival in the 1950s, the FR was obliged to operate its original carriages, though in dreadful condition. People grumble about what was lost in the Garraway era, yet he performed miracles to save what remained. The four-wheeled 1860s era cars today called Bug Boxes were patched and patched, with stories of how one had its whole side fall out whilst being shunted at Boston Lodge. The Bug Boxes eventually slid from sight in the 1970s, to be found mouldering in the back of the Maenofferen Shed in Minffordd Yard. They were too low capacity and required expensive and comprehensive renovation to make them other than mouldering remnants. It was the devotion of the late Ron Jarvis 1, the former BR steam design genius, that was key in this affair. He had already been present to help the early restoration of Festiniog Railway carriages. In his declining years, single-handedly, he provided, by means of a splendid kit of parts, the bedrock for the renaissance of the Bug Boxes. No. 5 reappeared on the scene totally renewed by Ron, with a stout new steel underframe. The old wrought iron drawbar arrangement of these primitive, early coaches relied upon a leaf spring to provide a great deal of resilient elasticity. This made the coaches ideal to provide the junction between locomotive and train when the FR used to haul a large train of empty slate wagons behind the passenger carriages. The massive wooden underframes four-wheeled carriages were heavily strained, and their rough and long hard working lives was said to be one reason why the sides tended to fall off in the evening of their days, as they
1 Ronald G Jarvis BSc C Eng FIMechE 1911-1994 (not to be confused with Dr Peter Jarvis of Bletchley) was a Derby Apprentice with Ivatt and Bulleid. In WW2 he supervised 8Fs construction in Turkey; he did the Bulleid rebuilds, the Standard Classes, and the Class 73s. He rebuilt FR Cars 16 and Car 5 and other bug box ‘kits’. His 2004 biography: Ron Jarvis, JE Chackfield, Oakwood Press, is instructive as well as interesting.
were not part of the integral fabric. At the same time as No. 5 appeared, the careful Ron had produced a number of kits of sides and ends for other Bug Boxes. He had devised a stout, steel girder box as an underframe, such as would easily stand a long working life hauling slate wagons or long trains. In the 1960s the Midland Group of the FR Society had rebuilt No. 7, the older Observation Car as an open carriage with original style underframe, but not yet reverting to its original 1864 state with canopy and leather apron for the riders - it was called the Flying Bench, and it lived in the museum in the old Portmadoc Goods Shed. When I came to the railway in 1990, No. 4, a closed car, also languished almost forgotten, with peeling paint, in a remote corner of the old Minffordd Yard Maenofferen slate shed which was used for winter carriage storage. It was possible to see the 1950s ivory and green paint scheme emerging beneath the 1969 maroon. The car was in ‘original’ condition but left year after year in the damp cold of winter, it was deteriorating. Bug Boxes were practically useless for modern traffic purposes. They were uncomfortable and noisy to ride in, lurching and banging, and getting in and out of them was a trial. The ‘other’ side from the platform face was either accessible only from the track - undesirable on a passing loop - or by an undignified scramble across the knifeboard seat back. There was another problem that they were not all fitted with the continuous brake, and so it was important never to make them the ‘last’ vehicle. Thus they had to be ‘sandwiched’ into a train with brake-fitted vehicles either side of them. So whilst in days gone by they could be in their traditional place behind the locomotive, now that there was an uphill stretch on the Down journey, a braked vehicle must be last in the train. Yet Bug Boxes were as much a valid part of FR heritage as the England engines and the Fairlies. The shortage of carriages in the Garraway era
166 Dreams find realisation
Utterly glorious the Bug Boxes return in splendid livery, not now to be pressed into everyday service to sustain the seat supply, but to be savoured as glorious reminders of the 1860s, and used from time-to-time on special occasions. The origins of modern restoration were in the early 1990s, with Ron Jarvis’s restoration of Car 5, with his kit of parts that became car 2. One is Spartan, the other is sumptuous luxury. Neither rides well.
had meant that all available seats had to be pressed into service. They had their apogee in the early preservation era when Cars 4, 5 & 6 with No. 2 Van were called into service in 1961 to form the Flying Flea relief train to Tan y Bwlch. The coming of the ‘Barn’ bogie cars in the 1960s and the ‘Tin cars’ in the 1970s, together with the fall-off in traffic during the 1980s gradually sidelined the Bug Boxes. So the restored No. 5 was paired with the last remaining Quarrymens’ carriage, brake cylinder fitted No. 8, and these saw occasional use in the High Summer service. No. 7 was on a plinth in the museum at Harbour Station, and I was keen, with others, to change this. There had been a stated view that: ‘the Heritage Group has the role of “the Festiniog Railway’s conscience”, offering opinions and advice on all manner of projects that could result in improvements to the preservation or presentation of the railway’s heritage. Even today the Railway has to exist in a hard commercial world and from time to time it is necessary to remind those running the Company of the importance of its heritage.’ Of course this can be seen as arrogant, but it was clear from dealings with the Company from the 1970s onwards, and later from being the General Manager that the only effective method of getting your own way was, and is, to provide the human resources, the will, and the cash for any heritage project of choice. This is nothing to do with conscience, it straightforward
enterprise, but with a strong streak of well thought out strategy. It is people with this realisation that have brought back to the FR some of its gems, such as to turn the head, and squeeze out some oohs and aaahs. In 1984 I had been a founder member of the Heritage Group, along with Dan Wilson, Andy Savage, David Ronald and others. We used to meet in an old room in the War Office. There we bemoaned the fate of some of the most exquisite railway heritage artefacts in the world. The Ffestiniog was the first narrow gauge railway doing all that a standard gauge railway did, and was built narrow gauge as a more economical way of getting the railway job done. It was the innovative way to let the wagons of slate run by gravity from the point of production (slate cutting sheds) to the point of export (the ship’s side in the port of Portmadoc). It was a proper railway, with a start date of 1832, and with the first steam hauled passenger service on narrow gauge rails beginning in 1863/4. Of course there’s some discussion about who did what now in the Heritage Group, the point was the strategy to set up a moderate but informed voice that would be able to feed practical advice to the hierarchy of the Railway about what was valuable, and what collectively we should do about it. This ought to be advice that was listened to, and to achieve that it needed to be accompanied by the means of action, both in people power and the money to fund it. This was the
167 The Heritage Group - the people who ‘provided’ for themselves
There can be no doubt that this magnificent vehicle, in all its glory and the two carriages next to it have no commercial place on the Ffestiniog & Welsh Highland Railway. They do not have corridor, loo, buffet car or any of those things that the customers demand. Yet - and this is the subtle bit - all of ‘us’ deeply wanted to see a curly roofed van, et al., and it was members who paid for them and members who built them.
guarantee of success in the corridors of power within the Ffestiniog, as we had learned in the Society how to orchestrate this. Following the wish of its membership, the rise of the Heritage Group saw a serious attempts made towards restoring the Bug Boxes. In 1991, I was persuaded to cause the liberation of the Flying Bench from its Museum plinth, spending a happy day getting it down and back on the tracks. Of course it was very naughty, but after a careful examination to see that it would run, we set off across the Cob to sample its delights. Riding No. 7 was a Victorian experience of immense fun - however not everyone was full of joy at its release from confinement. Within the supporters there was a breakout of pure enthusiasm; the Carriage Works immediately had cushions fashioned for it, and a repaint was organised, whereafter it was carefully housed, covered by tarpaulin, to be used for occasional, spectacular outings. Major Peter Olver (HM Railway Inspector for Minor Railways) was consulted about its use, and after various promptings he pronounced that it may be run given that a ‘qualified’ person accompanied its journeys. He was convinced by the fact that if sat back in the seat, it was impossible for even a tall person to reach out and touch the infrastructure. We determined to try it out, and the experience was offered to Members on a special day. Then we discovered the unforeseen problems. The Flying Bench was comfortable once fitted with cushions.
The view was excellent, if noisy, and the absence of sides removed the claustrophobic feeling of No. 5. However the exhilaration was tempered on bright days when it had rained recently. Aside from the smuts from any coal fired locomotive, on the Up journey the car was marshalled such that water droplets from any foliage above fell in a dense shower on passengers during the run through the forest. The later additions to the vehicle to restore the proper Victorian condition of tent and leather apron have eliminated these problems. It was the late Michael Seymour’s strident, carping, conscience that was counter-productive - bless him. The Heritage Group members’ determined industry has bought the galaxy of delightful objects that we now have to exhibit to everyone. It is necessary to step back a few years to understand matters more clearly. John Halsall was the Supervisor in the early days, and his reign outlasted the Garraway era. John was a craftsman and did things the traditional way. However the arrival of metal carriages and a commodious carriage workshop brought an increase of pressures, to maintain and restore a growing fleet of vehicles to run more miles with more people in them. The gentle cottage industry days faded, and pressure was put upon John to use modern materials and to speed up the work. It was no longer thought of as an area where volunteers were welcome to pootle gently, not with all the pressure. There was an urgent need for rapid work.
No.19 leads Blanche and Linda away from Beddgelert on the 176 16th April 2016 - what a day out! Snowdonian
Sgt Murphy with a Thomas and Friends face stands at Minffordd with a shuttle for Porthmadog
Any more for the Skylark?
ne of the more absorbing activities that had to be indulged in to a high degree was selling the enterprise as a visitor attraction. This could be difficult, as has already been explained. The whole team, supported by the Ffestiniog Railway Society and a vibrating group of volunteers running flat out could work really hard on selling the Railway, and the traffic could be less than last year. Economic conditions could bring the best laid plans, the sweetest of projects, all hopes for temporary staff, relief from ‘bodge’, whatever, all crashing down. If the money didn’t come in over the summer, no matter what the aspirations were, the budget would fail. Let us return to that haven of peace and gentleness the Talyllyn - the first preserved railway: contemporary but very different from the Ffestiniog. I was asked for my opinion by the late Chairman Maurice Wilson, who was serious when he said how lucky the Ffestiniog was to have Porthmadog and all that traffic that it carried, and how unlucky the Talyllyn was to be in a backwater that consigned it to a ‘hand-to-mouth’ existence. And this is where the Routly, Pegler, Garraway pronouncements that formed the whole current psyche of the Ffestiniog came to mind. Of course I fazed poor Maurice by saying that in the beginning Tywyn was hardly different from Porthmadog, and that it was the marketing, the service and how it was offered that attracted the visitors. I told him of how the Ffestiniog vintage stock, the envy of those interested in railways, and a major favourite with our supporters, was less popular with the general market, and of how the FR aspiration for corridor carriages and buffet service in the train had grown to be a major favourite with the public as well as a large
income generator. He knew that this had started ‘small’ and grown by demand, so I asked him why he had not the same. My popularity was hardly heightened by suggesting that extending from Abergynolwyn to Tallyllyn Lake, a mere four miles, would not only make the railway reach Talyllyn, it would offer access to the busy A487 Machynlleth Road, and that this wouldn’t half boost his carryings, and capture a much bigger market share, rather than give it to the Corris. And if he did this, would he like three of the very nice little Baldwin 2-8-2s of 27 inch gauge then available in Cuba? Maurice nearly choked on his coffee; I had said the wrong thing. I had crossed red lines a plenty; the very thought of such activity was heresy. Garraway was clear, bless him, that there was only room for a limited number of tourist railways in Wales, and that on those railways there was a clear ‘maximum’ fare beyond which the holiday maker could not (would not) pay. He was therefore quite puzzled when some 400k passenger journeys were generated to Dduallt in its heyday, but Blaenau Ffestiniog - when the extension was achieved - could only sustain 250-300k. This drop in income for a corresponding increase in costs sat like a big wet codfish on Ffestiniog thinking for years. Alan Heywood knew some of the answer, I knew other bits of the answer, but Garraway and others - engineers mostly - were not in a listening mood. It was not a good idea to hold forth on the dimensions and performance of a gildering-trivet, or a reciprocating fanitpulator in front of engineers. You simply ‘know nothing about it’, and would be firmly put in your place (degrees of politeness dependent upon whom you were addressing). However, matters of price, market share and product
178 The many routes that lead to Rome
A picture-book little railway - utterly charming, and a bastion of middle class nice chaps with a sugar coating. Commercialism and rushing about is unwelcome if it disturbs the smooth surface of life here. This is where sensible people are: the engines are immaculate; all the coaches are put away each night. New ideas, well, they smack a bit of revolution, and so should be examined carefully, like the explanation of the meaning of a humorous joke.
differentiation (about which they knew nothing) could be commented upon by them with complete authority, regardless of whether pink elephant theory was being employed or not. Hence the Talyllyn - somewhat given to similar impulses (but much more polite in refutation) remains resistant to ‘commercialisation’, preferring refined fossilisation rather than accept Ffestiniogite pecuniary heresy. Personally I am so glad that it does, but the occasional reported forays close to the financial abyss are alarming, and needless. The Welshpool too squirms when returning to central Welshpool is suggested - despite street running being a proven European tourist magnet. A mantra is repeated of doing nothing to spoil the original ‘feel’ of the railway - despite foreign locomotives, and Austrian, Hungarian and African carriages. It’s a delusion; I remember the original ‘feel’ - weed grown track and no passenger service! W&LLR is profitable, and fun, but vulnerable. Perhaps all is well, and of course it’s very much their business, but some of the railways have the feel of comfortable ‘closed’ clubs, and this is where the vulnerability lies. Sherlock Holmes, no less, tells us that when the impossible is eliminated, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth. The ‘still, small voice’ offered the epiphany that the 13 mile Ffestiniog, set among so many apt competing attractions, was never likely to find its way back from the razor edge of
profitability that it was set upon. It didn’t matter what Trust, Board or General Manager may say, the Cute Little Railway was obliged to reinvent itself if there was ever to be any future of relaxation. This discovery was not likely to be embraced with garlands, bringing as it did the certainty of radical change, and change meant risk. Yet in 1990 it looked like the ‘dogs of war’ had been unleashed. This was the ideal opportunity to cry ‘Havoc’, as doing nothing was not an option. Yet neither the theory of the changes that needed to be made, nor the action that consideration of the options delivered were clear. Just as well then that a solid, coherent strategy emerged from the discussions about what to do. It may be thought lucky that things turned out as they did, but it is always a surprise how luck is allied with hard work and determined purpose. The strategy for Welsh Highland was forged with pure marketing theory as a bulwark. The mandate: get someone else to pay for it; only run if it does so in profit; expand market share to Caernarfon and Anglesey, would only succeed if all the components could be achieved. The coherent strategy relied on those running the Ffestiniog Family to ‘keep their cool’ - they did. Excesses would have been fatal to the cause. This relied on: a well expressed and sensible plan; the resources for public funding being available without political party shackles, and the backing of supporters in quantity over a tenyear period. That all succeeded suggested that some of
179 How wide’s the market - how many staff do we need?
The question of staff numbers - versus - staff wages did not follow the aspiration I had assumed it would. In my naïvety I had assumed that higher pay would be the desired outcome and that increasing volunteer involvement would lead to lower paid staff numbers with increased pay. The union were opposed; it was job numbers they said they wanted. The matter was not resolved until the WHR arrived to allow both. Upnor, BLodge 8th July 2010
this was improbable enough to have been luck - perhaps it was the luck called ‘opportunity’, The outcome arose from strife originally created by FR misjudgment and the old Ffestiniog has been subsumed into a bigger and steadier organisation. This is good, as the debilitating and discouraging harsh stuff that had gone before sank out of sight and meaning. What the pioneers started in 1954 has come of age sixty years later, and the struggle was worth it for the sheer good that it now does. There are dangers that on Ffestiniog, the people who operate it have a tendency to make it Porthmadogcentric. This will lead the Ffestiniog Railway to compete with the Welsh Highland Railway. False frontiers must be ignored, drawing instead from the different markets of Caernarfon, Beddgelert, Porthmadog and Blaenau Ffestiniog. Failure to understand and to manage this area with expertise is to encourage the glittering trains to run vacant. The basic problems of the smaller FR that I ran in the 1990s were that the costs were too high, and the market base was too narrow. The cracks were papered over with volunteers who gave their time free. In the beginning, when money was unobtainable, these were indispensable. Later, the disadvantages of volunteers rightly legitimised the direct employment of labour, but in some cases this was taken to excess. Unfortunately when fires are being fought, strategic advice on the colour and placement of buckets is unwelcome. The
Board allowed ‘employment’ to get out of hand, so that the ‘establishment’ came to persuade themselves that the inconveniences of volunteers were hardly worth it, and paid staff should hold all the authority. There was a price to be paid for that - cyclical redundancies, and low wages. The plan for greater volunteer involvement, a smaller head-count but paid a better wage, was not popular with the union. I wanted to go this way, but like many before me, I succumbed to the old trick of talking to the employees through the union. It was difficult to get the Board interested in major strategy in this area before they became centred on Welsh Highland, because of its explosive potential. The General Manager of the time was not a supporter of volunteer authority, and so the FR was locked in to a high costs base, with the attendant risk of crises when from global conditions the income dropped. This risk will always spoil the best intentions presented in an income budget, but the arrival of WHR in 2010 changed the whole scene, as the market base became so much wider. The Ffestiniog has always been a hostage to the fortunes of the weather; a flag-cracking day led to empty trains. The doctrine of ‘lovely scenery’ and being Porthmadog based meant that there was no relief to be had carrying people to the sandy shores on sunny days - they just stayed away from the railway. The reciprocal wasn’t so good either - to have full trains on wet days! Reputationaly being ‘the railway of the damp’ was poor
180 Does steam count more for volunteers than for visitors?
Phil Brown Collection A brilliantly photographed scene, and so charming, yet the customer who pays to travel on the railway will be unlikely to see this view. When asked they say they want comfortable seats - not vintage cars, and that the scenery is more important than what’s on the front - but they’d like to see a steam engine. It’s the volunteer who’s the customer that loves this. Both customers are important, but you have to know which is which!
in tourism; if you can see the mountains, it’s going to rain - if you can’t see the mountains, it’s raining, raises only a wan smile on the Ffestiniog Railway, but roars of laughter from tourists. Costs only went up, as running the railway wore things out, and owning a 150 year old infrastructure carried with it the frisson that one day something serious was bound to happen - and it did. Those with fixed attractions are forever trying to field something new to grab a little market share. Whilst a castle can put on restaged mediæval battles, or a big exhibition, the task for a railway is more difficult and needs care for the ‘new’ activity, like Galas, to be profitable. Fare levels are quite strictly constrained, as appeal has to be to the widest market base. As you will see on page 261, a fare hike has an immediate and visible effect on volume - so it needs to be done with logic. Success in doing something new requires reading the market right and to sticking at it. David Pollock introduced the Mountain Prince, a train painted in cream and red that looked very nice. The problem was to make it ‘different’ - apart from the colour. It couldn’t vary the route or the stops, it couldn’t offer catering at greater profit, it wasn’t all corridor cars - it wasn’t possible to get more money from differentiating it. The Staff called it the Mountain Ponce; it faded away as other carriages were repainted. There was more to come when I bore the responsibility for the railway; all of it was an attempt
to innovate, to use the assets more to bring in more income, to reduce the cost base and to widen the market. The internal market of volunteers who paid to work on the railway was also significant, bearing in mind their effect upon income and cost. 1 In the 1980s it was very much frowned upon to be in any way branded as a railway enthusiast - as if the banking industry would somehow reject people for being interested in money; a hospital would reject a doctor who was an enthusiast for identifying and treating disease, or the Church would reject someone for loving God. Even Chairman Routly showed solidarity by quipping brightly that on the Ffestiniog we were ‘Enthusiastic railwaymen not railway enthusiasts’, which neither applied to him, nor to the majority of others, who were closet railway ‘nutters’. The paradox went unacknowledged. As a railwayman myself, this attitude ran against the grain. I knew about that awful apathy within BR, brought about partly by the stateowned enterprise, and partly by the unthinking rape, pillage and closure of much of the system in pursuit of a goal which did not exist. Despair encouraged the dissatisfied customer, bad complaints and bad press, and 1 It is unlikely that so many steam trains would run without the enthusiast-volunteers. The customer surveys were clear - 50% had steam over scenery as their motivating factor, and even then it was to ‘see’ a steam engine, not to be pulled by it. We checked the market a number of times! If in doubt, then how come the all-electric Swiss Rhätische Bahn does so well?
181 It’s important to have good pictures
The Premier Line in 1971, before the sanctuary of a carriage shed was available. These 1950 coaches have deplorable paintwork. The public will still be charmed to travel in them, but their message is clear. It is unlikely that the ‘real’ railway would allow carriages like this to run like this - but the Ffestiniog after Blaenau was almost reduced to this state with some of its rolling stock. The locos weren’t - so who’s the railway being run for?
the reaction of indolent rudeness within a portion of the workforce. That was the ‘real railway’, but it should have been obvious to anyone that associated with the passengers, that they considered travelling on the Ffestiniog Railway to be a joyful experience, and that the Ffestiniog was deliberately created not to be the ‘real railway’, nor to mirror it. Yet there were responsible employees (aped by some volunteers) objecting to the Ffestiniog not being treated seriously as a proper railway, little realising that the general prejudice that the public reserved for any rail journey on the national system was suspended on the FR in favour of sweet words and an unwavering smile. The customers, bless them, thought that heritage railways were run as the national system should have been run. They were on holiday, and at their most generous of spirit, looking forward to the pleasure of the ‘little train’, run as trains should be run. To find that some staff were imbued with the view that preservation means that the railway is run for the staff, and that passengers are an authentic but irksome necessity, was unforgivable to a happy visitor. If little groups of folk in railway uniform hang about the place declaiming railway jargon in loud voices, it doesn’t do. There was less of that on the Ffestiniog, and booking and on-board staff are charming and helpful. However, it was an uphill struggle to reach the core of the negativity that did exist. The greatest public disdain had been reserved by
the ‘hard men’ for those taking pictures, who were publicly decried as ‘titties’. This emanated from the footplate and amazingly even from people who had a camera concealed in the toolbox on the loco! The most vocal critics could be seen snapping away at Galas or on other railways, yet the chant still went on against people helping to pour money into the farebox. Unsurprisingly the Ffestiniog had problems in obtaining enough good quality photographs for its publicity. Appeals were in vain, as people were now unwilling to volunteer their pictures 2. The previous incumbent, Norman Gurley, had all but hung up his camera after an excellent run of superb photographs over the years, and so I went out myself. Eventually it took a fairly brutal counter offensive to shut-up the shouters, using reason, liberally intermixed with threats of exposure, and then the pictures started to flow. The ‘anti’ movement was entirely counter-productive, given that the Talyllyn, by a persistent barrage of beautiful photographic shots, managed year after year to grab the top publicity spots with the Wales Tourist Board and the like, and the Ffestiniog lagged far behind, almost as if it was unknown. The attitudes were unfortunate, when a railway as remote as the Festiniog depends so much on publicity. The FR needed to be overhauled, to be bright and informative. However, all this could be 2 It is only now that the slides taken in this time are emerging and very nice they are - but the digital photos today, wow!
Funny212 Old Girl - perhaps, but I dare you - Eileen means business, and can take it as well as hand it out. A doughty fighter, bright and logical.
Some characters turned up on WHR Subscriber days. Andy Savage addresses the ‘faithful’ at Rhyd Ddu.
Chapter 11 Funny Old Boys PAUL DUKES
he Ffestiniog wouldn’t have been the railway it was without its characters. I can write freely about Paul Dukes as he is now departed. As one of the pioneers Paul was without peer in make-do-andmend. He and Allan Garraway had their disagreements, but Paul’s careful husbanding of resources in the early days was a key factor in the railway’s return to health. As the railway grew up he found himself increasingly out of sorts with the establishment. He was rather startling to look at, tall, gangling, with protruding teeth, a forage cap ever on his head and a cigarette dangling from his mouth. His appearance was intimidating and he was a man of few words, most of them direct, unless you knew him. Then with a twinkle in his eyes, and a strong London accent he would speak lyrically, especially about things that he loved - trains. It was all a bit of an act, perhaps designed to keep people at a distance - that certainly worked. He was in fact well educated and I suspect a staunch member of middle class values, but utterly rejected hypocrisy and pomp. To underestimate him was likely to be costly if you had dealings. The first time we met was in 1962, when Mike Jones and I volunteered for a week on the Ffestiniog Railway. We were used as fodder, and were returning to Boston Lodge on a Hudson wagon that we had just emptied of coal. He attached Moelwyn to it, and offered me a ride in the cab. Intimidated by his appearance I politely refused. He said that it would be uncomfortable, but I politely repeated my refusal. He shrugged his shoulders and we set off. I have never known Moelwyn travel so fast across the Cob - it flew. The wind picked up the coal dust from the wagon floor and threw it in my eyes; it was indeed extremely uncomfortable. I climbed
out at Boston Lodge and thanked him for the lift. The half-smile on his face indicated that he knew what had happened, but I departed staunchly, and returned to be his General Manager 28 years later. Ever a champion of the unorthodox Paul did not respect management in later years, retreating to a stockade in Minffordd Yard, from where he fought a guerrilla war against what he considered the bogus and the pompous. In his office in Boston Lodge, the filing system was almost universally on a prodigious store of old cigarette packets, in an environment that resembled a Dickensian stage set. Paul married Anne, and they moved in to Minffordd Station house. Anne was a woman-mawr, and most certainly took no prisoners. She ran the café at Harbour Station, and earned it the title of the Greasy Spoon. Anne was extremely Welsh, and could be quite fierce - especially if her domain at Minffordd was unduly disturbed - but this never intimidated Paul. He could be waspishly amusing about her, but the two of them evidently got on, producing two boys, Stephen and Colin, who was an employee on the FR for some years. If Paul approved of what you wanted to do, then difficulties vanished. If he did not then one could find hurdle after hurdle to overcome, with no obvious trail to follow. There were tales from volunteers he did not respect of holes dug one week, filled in by the next party and then dug elsewhere, and so on. He had his special dislikes, from which apparently I escaped, but some Society directors did not; a poor gentleman from the Merioneth District Council, Planning Department was reserved for particular treatment. The works for the new carriage shed on the foreshore were extensive,
214 Paul Dukes
There was a row about the expulsion of Car No. 7 from the Museum in Porthmadog Goods Shed, from the Archivist - of course, and to an extent from the Trustees, whose ‘property’ it actually was. The former would never be satisfied by anything less than the size of the NRM, but the Trustees soon came round when they were offered a trundle on this legendary vehicle - they soon understood its limitations, which is why it is ALWAYS good to use exhibits.
and required much site clearance. Providing a proper pit for Arthur Brooks to look at running gear and adjust the brakes and so forth, needed considerable excavation. Much removal of living rock had to be undertaken, along with extensive work on the concrete foundations and footings. Otherwise the job was the erection of a long portal frame building, and the fitting of tracks therein. He took objection against what he considered to be footling regulation by the council where none was needed. He had a much better relationship with Dwyfor District Council that covered Porthmadog, but the man from Merioneth and Paul did not get on. He led him a merry dance until there were threats about prosecution over failure to gain planning permission. Paul kept his powder dry, until he sprang on him the solid fact that statutory undertakings, when in pursuit of their statutory business, are exempt from planning permission. These people evidently did not learn the lesson, as this problem returned over Tanygrisiau signal box - but that was in the future, after Paul’s departure. When it came to be my turn to assume the mantle of command, we had a talk, seated on the wall at Minffordd, amidst clouds of cigarette smoke, while I received ‘the wisdom’. I left him alone to do his thing. From time to time a missive arrived: lined paper with long sentences, all handwritten in capitals. It was sensible stuff that needed to be followed, but from time to time I was told off for infringing his rules, like the time a letter arrived
concerning Bug Box No. 7, the Flying Bench. This had been liberated from the museum 1 and was having a test roll across the Cob behind Upnor Castle. ‘IMAGINE MY SURPRISE’, the letter said, ’WHEN I SAW THIS VEHICLE PASS MY WINDOW AND I WAS UNAWARE THAT IT HAD EVEN LEFT THE MUSEUM.’ He was of course correct, and it went in for checking and approval before it ran again, but it proved that even he enjoyed simple pique. Minffordd Yard was a repository for all the unwanted items of nearly forty years. Paul never threw things away, and his ‘kept in case it becomes handy’ policy was manifest in tons of scrap, defended by impenetrable brambles. A huge store of waste oil barrels was ringed by oily puddles, buttressed by large black storage tanks, and served by an ancient road tanker, which sucked and squirted the fruits of his blending work, like a geriatric, polluting elephant. ‘Dukie’ ran the waste oil operation, and it suited him well. What it must have done to his health, on top of the continuous cigarette smoking he indulged in, is anyone’s guess. The amount of noxious 1 My knuckles were rapped by Their Eminences on the Trust for doing this, so it evidently upset people. They didn't know I'd got the hearse van out as well, had it done up in the carriage works and run it up the line to Tan y Bwlch for an ash-scattering ceremony! The first use since 1946 - apparently( perhaps longer).
215 Paul Dukes
Here is the old Jones crane, lifting the Minffordd water tank off the wagon drawn by the Ina, and putting it on the plinth that had been prepared for it. This was good use of the crane, and well justified having it. It was often at work in corners of Minffordd Yard, shifting boilers, or moving items that ‘would be useful one day’ into closer position to get more in. It was, however, gradually getting cheaper to hire cranes in than to maintain the Jones.
substances residing in rusty barrels, and the pools of spilt oil, and non-bunded tanks were an accruing legacy that sooner or later would have come to the attention of the National Rivers Authority. Paul didn’t seem to mind, and blended hideous oil mixtures that were loaded into tank wagons and taken by rail to Boston Lodge: some for further processing in his centrifuge suite; some for direct use by the locomotives. Part of the yard was strictly Fred Howes territory, and kept neat. But at the fringes, especially towards the Cambrian Line, decaying temporary buildings housed a secret store of salvaged bits and Dukie’s special workshops for the gold mining business that he ran as a private venture 2 . Electric welding and oxy-acetylene cutting went on into the night, when improbable items were scavenged and assembled into unusual machines for performing peculiar tasks. For the rest of the railway, that had discovered buying new, this activity was considered hazardous and unnecessary; to thrusting reformers it was frustrating. I walked into a steady stream of complaints. In anticipation Paul increased the confusion by hiring from a local farmer a corner of an adjacent field, and shifting stuff there. It was unclear in Minffordd Yard what was the property of Dukes, and what was the property of FR Co. About this there was much smoke and mirrors, together with questions left 2 There was no Eldorado in Wales - there was gold, but not in quantities that would much interest the Bank of England.
unasked. To visitors not actually invited in, his ‘area’ was considered private. All has now been made good. One of his toys that permitted access from above for heavy items was a huge, red Jones, KL 10-10, 6-wheeled, 12ton road crane. This massive piece of outmoded machinery had been acquired in the 70s, and driven by Dukie and his mates to the railway. Its ‘Armstrong’ steering occasioned a number of relief stops in lay-bys to recover strength. It was kept in dubious roadworthy condition, with its ropes doubtfully in date, and tyres only just road-legal. He lifted stuff and moved it around the yard with this machine wherever he needed to; he seemed to have all sorts of extra gear, like spreader bars and special attachments for the machine. I remember acting as ‘lifting mate’ for him on one occasion, when something large needed to be shifted - the ringing of the limiter bell was to be ignored on these occasions, and no one challenged his judgement. From time to time the crane lumbered off to Glan y Pwll Yard in Blaenau, but as the steering job was so exhausting, these occasions were rare. By the time I arrived as GM the crane was gone. Not only was it comprehensively knackered and obsolete, it was cheaper by now to hire in hydraulic cranes, with occasional small lifts being handled by the hydraulic loader we had by then obtained. We first noticed that something was wrong when Paul began to eat Jacob’s Crackers in quantity. He was unable to keep anything else down. Already gaunt,
Lyd, Andy Savage and Paul Lewin at Caernarfon with the Snowdonian on 13th April 2013 - raising money!
The dream came true - the Aberglaslyn Pass with a train going through it. NG/G16 No.87 on 26th May 2010.
The Happy Return
returned back to my little box in Bletchley, that had become Milton Keynes during the absence. I got great help from Andy Savage who set up an interview with John Buxton, boss of the Valley Lines outfit, serving Cardiff. I had other interviews as well. Many people were very friendly. My offers narrowed to two: I had the chance to take a job with West Anglia Great Northern, or with Valley Lines. I stayed in Wales, and here started a real education. My new domicile was a tiny little house in Pontypridd. What an immense difference was the situation and outlook of the people in the South. They had been through a lot, with the decline in heavy industry and closure of coal mining, but the culture was so very outward looking - it was a real surprise. Now it was my turn to fail to grasp the bright opportunities of the newly privatised railway. At 50 I was old for my marketing job, and slow on mouthing the new business-speak. I had been spoiled by holding the reins of power, and had become cynical and untrusting. Too many were abandoning the railway industry. It let them go with glee, until it found there was no one who had the ‘key’ to wind the engine. It was irksome to hear the newcomers advocating policies that did not and would never work. They soon learned - but so did I. I decided to do what I wanted to do, and avoid fossilisation. I packed it in to learn video making - I was successful with contracts with Virgin and Carillion. One day in early 2004, a phone call came through from Andy Savage. He reported that the WHR had reached Rhyd Ddu in a financially exhausted manner, but the First Minister for Wales, Rhodri Morgan, had suggested through his office in Cardiff, that if the WHR
was to be completed through to Porthmadog, then any applications for EU grants had better be made smartly. After a first flush of interest, enough people were not queuing to ride a railway that finished a short way up a mountain, as the North Wales Narrow Gauge Railways had found many years previously. Of course people are interested in going on trains all the way up to the top, as the queues for the Snowdon Mountain Railway show clearly; so it is only a matter of degree. By this time there was a major effort being made by the new General Manager, Paul Lewin, the Trust Chairman John Prideaux, and the Festiniog Railway Company Chairman Michael Whitehouse, to get the finances in good order. Mike Hart had glued together a funding package for the restoration of the Welsh Highland Railway between Rhyd Ddu and Porthmadog, but they were still a bit short of money to justify the grant commitment, and were looking for ways of generating further contributions. Andy wanted to know if I thought I could help. We met in Birmingham.1 John Prideaux, Michael Whitehouse, Mike Hart, Paul Lewin and Andy Savage were all gathered at the meeting. Andy and I had talked things over beforehand, and we thought that subscription fundraising on such a project was likely to be successful. Andy and I told the meeting that we put our hand up for £350k. Secretly we both became very excited about our prospects, and shot off afterwards to plan. It seemed to me that this was an opportunity for pure marketing skills to be exhibited. We divided the 1 So many things important to the Ffestiniog Railway have occurred naturally in Birmingham. There’s a sort of entrepreneurial spirit about the place.
248 Jinks on the new railway
NG/G16 No.143 brought the contributors’ train from Caernarfon to Rhyd Ddu. Upnor and Conway Castles drew a makeshift train of flexible bogie stock down as far as the head of steel (Cutting Mawr, above Beddgelert). It was then propelled back to the foot of the incline below Pont Cae’r Gors, the Garratt came on and the first Garratt hauled train come up the incline, over the Summit and back to Rhyd Ddu - wonderful!
work: into me to produce the fundraising mechanism, and he to persuade the Company and Trust that our methods were sound. We determined that the methods used to build the recently completed Taliesin single Fairlie locomotive could be repeated for this initiative, and that the donor amounts per month should be £20 bronze, £50 silver and £100 gold, for a five-year period. The meticulous John Hopkins agreed to do the admin. Both of us knew that ‘conservatives’ would tremble at these figures, claiming that the subscription amounts were too high, and that more funds would surely accrue from many small donations. Convincing detractors would take ages, and although if large numbers of people solicit small sums then acorns grow to mighty oaks, this was too slow-growing for what was needed to set against the big EU grants. So we pressed ahead by asking Steam Railway Magazine if they would support us. They did so with the same constituency that they had used to bash the Ffestiniog over the head when they thought it was trying a ‘buy to shut’ move on the WHR in 1990. The publicity and leaflet in Steam Railway raised us about £1m in under a year. The £350k target figure was achieved in the first month; evidently this railway was extremely popular, and despite the previous moaning from local detractors, the county with the largest number of donors was Gwynedd. The income from subscriptions each month may have been modest, but one could ‘borrow’ on it - and it went on for five
years to raise an impressive sum. Andy Savage was growled at for going ahead with the fund raising scheme unasked, until it was revealed to our amusement just how successful it was. The stream of gold thereafter from Phase 4 was maintained right throughout the construction period, and it sustained a large part of the considerable overspend. The story of all this has been carefully recorded in the companion volume Welsh Highland Railway Renaissance. 2 For me to be invited back to pioneer this area of ‘sustenance’ with Andy Savage was good fun - we were winning strongly. As the time went on, we developed our skills further, and I had cause to be grateful for my decision to submit to leaving FR in 1996 with politeness. It was clear that the goodwill of people could be sustained, and their enthusiasm fanned still further, by inviting them to see how the money was being spent. This was a good way of saying ‘thank you’ - something surprisingly neglected by some fundraisers. The twist was to make sure that the visitors were charged something for these trips - and this they were happy to pay. Indeed the experience on offer was unique and exciting; the ‘rusty railing’ trips on new line were extremely successful. With the active help of Paul Lewin, the construction engineers were persuaded to allow us to take trains even on to the temporary 2 Welsh Highland Railway Renaissance, Adlestrop Press. ISBN 978-0-9571456-0-3
249 Getting in to town
The first WHR train from Caernarfon to Porthmadog crosses the Britannia Bridge on 30th October 2010 - the start of a new era. Note the almost complete indifference to this achievement on behalf of the townspeople of Porthmadog - who it seems understood only too well what such an event would mean for them. This and other successes were rather greater than the many detractors predicted - and so it has been since. The WHR is a boon.
railway, so we were able to get people right to the head of steel. One supervisor was heard to remark that all this was a sad waste of time, as to bring these people to have their thrill meant that his gang was unable to lay a further three lengths of track. It was explained that their pause allowed us to take advantage of the enthusiasm generated by ‘rusty railing’ to get people to extract wallets for plunder. On one of these trains an extra £100k was raised. On hearing this the zealous gentleman willingly revised his opinion. We then had nothing but support from the railway builders. Alas, they could spend money faster than we could raise it, and although our ‘friends’ were most generous, the money was still not enough. Grant amounts are fixed, and although in the ‘tidy up’ sometimes money would be recovered, Mr Hart’s patient negotiations could not extract from the Welsh Assembly Government (WAG) what was not there. The WHR had been built in phases. It was for Phase 4 that the funds had been raised from 2004. It was clear that a Phase 5 was needed, as it was only possible to fund the connection into Porthmadog Harbour station over the WHR Points, and no more. So Andy, Michael Wilkinson and I began again. The WHR opened in 2010, when as promised the subscribers got a ride on the first train between Caernarfon and Porthmadog on 30th October 2010. At that time the call had gone out from the Trust and Board to raise more money. The trains had to be manoeuvred
into the single platform, hampering the operations and making it expensive in manpower and time. Phase 5 was launched to try to raise enough money to rebuild Harbour Station to accept trains simultaneously from both railways. Mike Hart was directed by WAG to a pot of money in the National Station Improvement Scheme. Indeed that was effort well spent. Their incredulity at a 2ft gauge railway applying for funds was overcome, first when they saw the figures of those carried, and second when they were made aware that the Festiniog Railway Company was a statutory company. Never was a station more delightfully and practically improved than Porthmadog Harbour. Phase 5 quite quickly achieved its initial aim of £500k, and later reached a little above £1m. This allowed the Cob to be widened, a loop line and second platform face to be provided for WHR trains, a splendid signal box, and a semaphore signalling system to be installed, including the restitution of the famous trident signal on approach to Porthmadog. Of course rebuilding Harbour Station benefitted the Ffestiniog. The teams got together to do some remarkable things; all moves were signalled by hitech, LED lit, electrically actuated semaphore signals of McKenzie & Holland appearance, controlled by a magnificent signal box, with a recovered miniature lever frame. The station is magnificent, and of course it can become extremely busy. This truly is narrow
250 Getting fundraising into gear
FR Co. Summer at Porthmadog (Harbour) Station. NG/G16 No.138 is ambling down to the signal box, and Vale of Ffestiniog and K1 have brought a WHR train in. There are a fair few passengers about in this after noon shot of what has become now a most interesting station, with lots going on. It is very narrow gauge, and still rather cramped - but let the next generation look after that - weâ€™ve done our bit!
gauge Grand Central, and the glass screened outdoor area of the Spooners Bistro/Pub is quite excellent for proper, comfortable, train spotting, if you can ever find some space there. Steamy summer seaside chats in the open, with a pint of Purple Moose Beer are a real and delightful treat. It is an impressive pleasure to all. John Prideaux, the new Chairman3 considered the direction of fundraising and pronounced. His view was that the sensible strategy to take was to work to ensure that the Ffestiniog & Welsh Highland Railways were sustainable into the future. The struggle was no longer to build a railway with larger market access, it was to consolidate and sustain what we had created. There was some polite mewling from the Ffestiniog Railway Society that the FR had not had a good deal during the 10 year WHR construction period. There may have been some point to this; it was true to those with narrower vision - and there are still factions within the FR that avow that WHR is a dangerous distraction. Yet even on a tactical scale there were obvious benefits to the FR alone from WHR - even if they were only defensive. However, the human strategy must be to remain inclusive, and to bring together all the factions to at least general agreement. Thus WHR Phase 5 was declared politically incorrect and the strategy of 3 Dr John DCA Prideaux CBE became Chairman of FRCo. in 2007 and then Chairman of the Trust in 2012. As chair of both organisations he is in a strategic place from which to preside, promote and pronounce.
sustainability replaced it with a change of name. Years of experience now bore fruit. It is clear that to perform well, general support across the Ffestiniog Family was likely to do a better job than uncoordinated, individual efforts. Each family member was contributing to the core activity. The Trust acted as a clearing house, dealing with income in the most tax-efficient way. The Ffestiniog Railway Society, Cymdeithas Rheillfordd Eryri, groups, individual donors were all in a state of uncoordinated zeal, with successful specific appeals for things either exciting , important, or both. This had been so for fifty years. Perhaps the major Trust fundraising could be brought to a new peak of efficiency by making it more inclusive and more effective? The Savage and Rushton Phase 5 team had raised just shy of ÂŁ3m. Andy Savage left for a big job elsewhere. For my part, I wanted to see if by becoming more inclusive we could do better. We had been a tiny group, using our wits to exploit every nook of the subscriber system to fund raise. It was worth surrendering control and glory to a wider team, as with many things Ffestiniog there were politics that could override logic. Evidently what was missing was a Trust heavy hitter, to head an inclusive fundraising body for the whole Ffestiniog Family, to ensure that dissenting voices were attended to and negotiated into alignment. Ffestiniog Trustee Richard Broyd had been stalwart in finding funds for the WHR revival. He was keen to
251 Fundraising - success
The fundraising team on the Snowdonian at Beddgelert on 12th April 2014. Mike Hart (L) stands next to Pete Waterman, our guest, then Paul Lewin, Gordon Rushton, David Charlton and Administrator Michael Wilkinson (R). On the footplate of NG/G16 No.148 is Chairman Richard Broyd. Missing is Peter Randall, who could not be present. The train in 2014 offered the customary receipts of circa. £25k, and another was duly organised.
lead a Ffestiniog Family committee to put some really comprehensive team effort into fundraising. We went recruiting and set up a committee with a regular schedule of meetings. We needed solid, intelligent administration, and a list of participating members. Michael Wilkinson agreed to take on the difficult administration job. P/A Pauline Holloway joined to supervise the committee minutes. General Manager Paul Lewin, and FR Director Mike Hart joined the committee, thus giving it teeth within the Railways’ sovereignty. Most importantly, nominated by their bodies, were Peter Randall from CRhE and David Charlton from FRS. Thus we now had fund raising connections right across the Ffestiniog Family - not to stifle any individual endeavour, not at all. The objective was that each should understand what the other was doing, and thus be in a position to support it. My role remained as it was, to devise, build and drive the actual machinery of fundraising. This was the very moment when the warnings articulated by WAG found force. EU Grants everywhere dried up as though in a prolonged drought. Life was soon to become hard indeed; thank goodness WHR had been completed when it was. 4 It was clear looking round the Railways with ‘sustainability’ tinted glasses that there is a very big job to be done to make sure that all we have worked for 4 Brexit, whatever form it takes, is unlikely to be sunny for the people of Wales. It is likely that the era of grants has ended.
over 60 years is able to support itself. The number of locomotives and carriages alone has more than doubled. Places to keep these are full, yet there are not enough carriages of the required level of comfort to carry the traffic on offer. The story of the Post-WHR Railways is now being told. At its heart is the Diamond Jubilee Appeal challenge to raise £8m from fundraising, gifts and grants over a ten-year period. That is what the committee is tackling. So far, from fundraising and grants, we approach £3m, and the latest response to build at station at Caernarfon has drawn forth grant and a splendid gift response. Another, deeply pleasurable activity has been the invention of the Snowdonian. This annual train in April sprang from the thought that some in 2011 had no chance to travel the completed 40 mile route. Michael Wilkinson, Andy Savage and myself promoted the train as a fundraiser, beginning with a £150 price tag, that included meals. It went well, and each year we thought would be its last until it has now become established with celebrities and dignitarios on board. The highest sum it has raised so far is £25k - quite an achievement for one train. So a June train the Snowdonain Limited train is now being run, with nonstop Port to Caernarfon and wayside stops for eating. Of course the train’s transformation ought eventually to be to the FR/WHR equivalent of the Glacier Express. That really would be something. All jolly good fun!
Here are things you never knew about the Ffestiniog & Welsh Highland Railway. This spirited and intimate account of the running of the Ffest...
Published on Oct 7, 2017
Here are things you never knew about the Ffestiniog & Welsh Highland Railway. This spirited and intimate account of the running of the Ffest...