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An incident at Tan-y-Bwlch: August 1966

In 2014 the Ffestiniog Railway Society celebrates 60 years of incorporation, and has been inviting members and friends to contribute their stories of their first involvement with the railway. 

In 1966 my mother chose North Wales for the family summer holiday - this could be Sunday 7 August 1966. As there was a memorable occurrence on the day, the event was shared with the FR discussion group some years ago but sadly they were unable to provide an answer. This was the first year my sister didn't holiday with us, and Mother was keen to find a venue that would provide an interest for me.

From our guest house window (run by a delightful Mr and Mrs Owen, and now part of the BT car park) one could see the Cambrian Coast line, and of an evening a BR 4MT Standard tank heading southwards with the late afternoon pick-up freight.

And we did well. Driving up the Aberglaslyn Pass was an old railway track bed and bridges. It seemed highly unlikely that a railway could ever be restored through the pass but there were embankments, tunnels and rusty girder bridges, as well as a well-built stone bridge on the approaches to Beddgelert that didn't appear to connect to any of the other remains. This wasn't the mystery it might have been to a 13-year old boy as I'd read my neighbours copy of the 'Railway Magazine' which in 1964 had provided an article on the old Welsh Highland Railway.

Our first night staying in Portmadoc, we walked down to the Festiniog Railway Station and I had been very impressed with the trident signal out on the Cob. The tracks might be narrow - rather similar to what we knew well in Southport, where the Lakeside Miniature Railway ran for nearly a mile on the 15 inch gauge - but the trident shouted 'main line'. Great news that it will be back in 2014!

We went down to Towyn, Aberystwyth and Welshpool and sampled the delights of early railway preservation.

My first journey on the FR was a Sunday in early August 1996. It was wonderful and primed the pump for a life long interest.

In many ways the journey was typical. The sun shone. The carriages glistened. 'Linda', driven by General Manager and Driver Allan Garraway who 'chopped them off' at the front end, resulting in an on time arrival at Tan-y-Bwlch, the extent of the line at that time.






This sequence starts with 'Linda' running into Tan-y-Bwlch with the morning up train from Portmadoc. Behind the locomotive is one of the Welsh Highlands - either 23 or 26. Everything appears to be normal, and the fireman does not look unduly concerned, looking ahead, with the train staff held in his right hand. As the loco passes the old station building he will jump off and put the staff in the instrument to allow 'Prince' to follow with the 'B' set of the day.

I should add that I do not appear in any of the photographs, as this is my first journey on the railway, and I am in one of the bowsiders, facing the engine on the valley (engine) side. The photographs are all taken by my father, J. G. A. Wallace who was waiting for the train at Tan-y-Bwlch. Remarkably he photographed all the staff on the station except for staff on buffet car 14 and in the Bunny Hutch, as he also photographed Bessie Jones.

In 1966 'Linda' ran some 4,824 miles, beating 'Prince's' 4,095, whilst 'Blanche' only managed 2,783. 'Merddin Emrys' was technically serviceable for the 1966 season but had been kept in reserve, only coming out for her last week in service with the original wagon top boiler at the end of the summer season. According to the Festiniog Railway Magazine it only ran 206 miles, which equates to just 14 round trips. In July he'd had a loose eccentric fixed and some tubes replaced followed by a trial run to TYB to prove its fitness as reserve engine.

Linda arrives at Tan-y-Bwlch Sunday 7 August 1966
Linda running into Tan-y-Bwlch station on the Festiniog Railway Sunday 7 August 1966

'Linda' rolls to a standstill at the water tank at Tan-y-Bwlch. The train consists of the Welsh Highland coaches 23 and 26, two bowsiders, the recently built 24 (to be re-numbered 104), Buffer Car 14 (ex-Lynton & Barnstaple 15/Southern Railway 6993); and (out of site) Observation Car 100.

To the left of the parked cars is the sales hut, which was named the 'Bunny Hutch', and when services were extended to Ddaullt, the 'Bunny Hutch' also moved up the line. In 1968 it was - after a day in the car park at Portmadoc - where I was assigned for my first week volunteering in 1968.

'Linda' coasts to a standstill at the water tower at Tan-y-Bwlch station, Festiniog Railway, Sunday 7 August 1966
Although the end of a apparently normal run, it might be noticed that there seems to be unusually large gaggle of passengers gathered around the fireman's side of the loco between the loco and the base of the water tower. Normally people don't tend to stand there, as it rather dark and dank, and there's a risk of being dripped on as the fireman tops up the tank... Allan Garraway can be seen standing next to the loco considering his options.
'Linda' standing at Tan-y-Bwlch water tank having worked a train up from Portmadoc Sunday 7 August 1966. A small group of passengers are gathering around Driver Allan Garraway as he examines the motion on the fireman's side of the loco.

And now we can see what the passengers were so interested in. For here is Driver and General Manager Allan Garraway, having removed the brasses, now levering off the coupling rod from the fireman's side of the locomotive. Clearly something is amiss, such that the bearings are presumed unfit for further service, and the locomotive is in danger of being declared a failure.

The staff could be heard discussing various options. 'Prince' is in steam and will in due course arrive at TYB with the first afternoon train, there being two sets in operation. 'Blanche' could be steamed but this will take time, and anyway, the GM has a cunning plan...

Driver and General Manager Alan Garraway sets about removing Linda's coupling rod at Tan-y-Bwlch. Sunday 7 August 1966.
'Linda' runs out on to Creua Bank whilst running round its train at Tan-y-Bwlch, Festiniog Railway,7 August 1966.

Driver Garraway, having completed his running repairs, edges 'Linda' out onto Creuau Bank. Note that the fireman's side remains a cause of concern, as unusually the driver has adopted a right hand position to drive the locomotive, whilst the fireman is walking alongside the loco having already set the road for the loop.

Although built with a right-hand driving position, part of the work carried out at Boston Lodge to suit 'Linda' and 'Blanche' to Festiniog conditions had been the conversion to left hand drive.

And here's the solution. AGWG has gently eased Linda over the top points under power - presumably having taken great care not to slip her by the water tank - and then has rolled down the loop, before again gently approaching the train with 'light' regulator. We have to presume that they arrived at Portmadoc safely, as sadly I left the train at this point, but not before 'Prince' had arrived with his afternoon working.

Linda running round at Tan-y-Bwlch, Festiniog Railway, without a coupling rod, Sunday 7 August 1966.
The World Cup result for the 1966 final is proudly displayed at Tan-y-Bwlch station, with Guard Alan Heywood in mid-stride.

Guard Alan Heywood is obviously considering his options given the possibility his driver can't make the locomotive go.

However on the notice board is a reminder of who won - and by how many goals - the 1966 World Cup.

I have checked the FR magazines for mid and late 1966, but there is no reference to this incident.

Prince arrives at Tan-y-Bwlch, 7 August 1966

Finally, 'Prince' arrives with the second train of the day, which would have been the 'B' set of the time. This would have consisted of Observation Car 11 (old brake third number 4) and Buffet Car 12 (old brake third number 5).


'Prince' arrives at Tan-y-Bwlch, Festiniog Railway, 7 August 1966
At this time the Deviation was still some time in the future, although the planning was well advanced. The return of the Festiniog to its original terminus in Blaenau Ffestiniog  would be after this station had closed and a new joint station opened on the site of the GWR station. Here a Black 5 simmers gently with the return daily pick-up freight to Llandudno Junction, whilst the departing dmu for Llandudno Junction can be seen in the centre middle distance (to the right of the water tank) with its yellow warning panel.
Blaenau Ffestiniog North Wetern Station in August 1966 with a Black 5 in attendance on the daily pick-up frieght.
Russell stored outside the embryonic Narrow Gauge Museum at Towyn Wharf station in the late 1950s
As a tail piece, my parents were instrumental in developing my interest in narrow gauge railways, and here is an early shot taken on a family visit to Towyn. My sister and father have crossed the tracks to stand next to the Welsh Highland Railway's 'Russell'. I don't appear in the photo as I had taken to heart the words of wisdom from my parents that railway tracks were dangerous and must not be crossed for fear of being struck by a train. On this particular day, only one train was running, pulled by No. 4 'Edward Thomas'. In fact, the challenge wasn't so much as to avoid the train, as to find it! We eventually tracked in down at Abergynolwyn, and saw No 4 arrive and run round. The sun shone all day, and my young memories of the day remain very clear.  

GEM Mark II 5.5mm Festiniog Railway Double Fairlie kit 'Earl of Merioneth' as built by Merfyn Jones, and Car 105 as scratch built by Steve Sullivan in plasticard and running on GEM bogies.

Photograph J K Wallace, c. 2015, All rights reserved

Finally a photo of a couple of models retained from the days when I had a layout based on the Ffestiniog in the 1970s utilising the GEM (George E Mellor) models. These were 5.5 mm scale running on 12 mm track. They made into nice looking models, but failed from poor mechanics as they featured unbushed axle boxes in a whitemetal chassis. Worse, the Mark 2 Fairlie, as shown here, was in effect a 2-4-2, with the motor driving the inner axles (next to the cab) and the leading axles and cylinder blocks being mounted on a pony truck. The cylinder block then levered the powered axles off the track, so its haulage of the accompanying whitemetal coaches was severely limited. Effectively, the model could haul maybe two coaches whereas the prototype could comfortably handle twelve.

This model was bought from fellow Festiniog volunteer Merfyn Jones who built the kit in the 1970s. Merfyn had worked for GEM, and this model was painted by the man who made the display models for George Mellor.

The coach is a splendid model of car 105 built by Steve Sullivan, and is - as far as I know - Steve's only venture into 5.5mm, as he is still an active 009 man. Steve plus layout featured recently in the 'Railway Modeller'. Steve's 009 model of buffet car 103 appeared in the 'Model Railway Journal' some years ago.

Sorry about the track gauge, but I've perched them on the down Copy Pit line on my current OO layout - needs must!

See also: First through train Blaenau Ffestiniog - Porthmadog - Caernarfon: 25 March 2011