Alice the little Welsh engine

 Croeso, welcome to the award winning Bala Lake Railway 
"Home of Alice the Little Welsh Engine"   

News from the Bala Lake Railway

December 2014 Update

Many a website might use the December page for reflection, but there is always so much happening behind the scenes at the Bala Lake Railway.

Locomotives

The workshop is always a busy place, with preparations for the locomotive fleet boiler inspections, plus close checking that the carriage stock is in top condition for 2015. Of particular note is the news that Winifred’s boiler tubes have all been installed and expanded at the smokebox end, with those at the firebox end yet to do. Holy War’s boiler is to be removed, and sent to the Severn Valley Railway for repairs around the front mudhole door.

Carriage & Wagon

Continued progress is being made on the Penrhyn Coal Wagon, and one of the sides is coming along well. But work on the drop-door side needs space, thus has to be done outside, and ‘outside’ is a perennial problem because of the seasonal weather. Thus the bolster wagon receives further attention when conditions preclude open air work.

The Penrhyn Saloon project enjoys continued progress, and we will feature news of David Hale’s expertise next month. As we have mentioned in previous reports, there is so much intricate detail in the building of this coach, most of which will never be seen or appreciated unless we describe as we go along.

Relating directly to the C&W department, a generous donation was made recently by Mrs. Brenda Roberts, whose husband has recently passed away. The donation was in the tangible form of hand and power tools. Her husband, Alan Roberts, was a lifelong railway engineer, having started in the days of steam at Crewe Works. His wife said that he would be pleased that his tools will be helping a heritage railway, and we are very grateful for her kind generosity.

Wednesday Gang

Ever onward they go, in their quest to get the winter maintenance dealt with. They have been very busy this month, in all weathers, not only with the continued task of fish-plate greasing, but also with checking that culverts and waterways are clear of blockages, which can cause problems if ignored. The greasing task has now passed Llangower Halt, thus they are about halfway along the line. They reconvene on the 7th January for more of the same, irrespective of the weather, but always with much laughter, friendship (and flapjacks).

Santa Specials

The weekend of 6th and 7th December was a tremendous success. To try and convey the atmosphere and camaraderie, we let Bob Shell’s words do the talking.

My drive to Llanuwchllyn on Friday 5th was through heavy rain, so I was pleased to arrive to find the rain had stopped and, better still, hints of blue sky and sun. I unloaded the car and was introduced to David Jones, our new General Manager. The tickets for the weekend were handed over (along with the flapjacks), and I got changed. All those present split into groups, Cafe decorating, engine preparation, station decoration and Flag Halt. After some very welcome tea and toast, Brian and I set off with the grotto train for Flag. Rod, Liz and Ben looked after the engines, Martin and Ben the station, Bobby and Wendy the café, and Roger and David helped where needed. Brian and I went to Llangower to cut the ‘aquire’, the tree for Flag. We were told it was about six foot tall, but the one we found was at least twice that. Still, once decorated, it looked very good! The trouble was that no one was tall enough to put the fairy on the top! After dinner, the coaches were brought into the platform to be cleaned and decorated. Two wheelbarrows of coal were placed next to the loop for the locos, and the coal buckets for the signal box were filled. By four o’clock, all was ready.

Saturday started off very still with blue skies and sunshine. I went straight to Pentre Piod to set up the vidcam and cameras ready for the 10.30 from Llanuwchllyn. This and the return were duly caught on film, as was the 11.30 out and back. Back at Llanuwchllyn, I was sad to hear Sam the dog was unwell and Rob had rushed him to the vets, so I was asked take over the signal box. I was very happy to do this as the stove had been lit and the kettle was gently steaming. Heaven! Rob soon returned with Sam who looked folorn but had been pronounced as OK. Much relief all round. Sam made the most of everyone’s concern by enjoying much fuss throughout the day. All trains ran to time, and everyone looked very happy and pleased with their visit. The weather was super all day. The train crews enjoyed the warmth and tea that the signal box provided. A special ran at 4.30pm for the John Lewis Hotel and was well filled. Being dusk, the lights and grotto were seen to perfection. As is tradition, with huge thanks to Ben and Beth for its organization, 24 of us enjoyed a Christmas meal at the Eagles Inn in Llanuwchllyn.

Sunday’s weather was very mixed, as we had hail, sun and a strong cold breeze. I was guard for the day. David manned the ticket desk, Rob the signal box, with a back-to-normal Sam, Roger, Beth and Ben were Santa’s Elves and we had Dan, Ben, Rod, Liz, Martin and Thomas on the locos. Again all trains ran to time and without incident. All were fully booked, and everyone had happy smiling faces. The sleigh at Santa’s Halt was very popular for photos, as were the engines. My personal highlight was seeing former cafe girls Angharad and Annest with their families, great to see them again, and we chatted over many happy memories. All too soon, the last train had run and our Santa’s Specials for 2014 were over. I made my way home very happy but tired. I was also sad I couldn’t return on the Monday to help put everything away and clean up after a very happy, successful and brilliant weekend.

Well done to everyone involved, it was a super team effort. The Bala Lake Railway has fantastic volunteers and staff, and long may it continue! Looking back, our first Santa’s Specials ran December 1992, so I make this one our 23rd. We must be doing something right!

New BLR Chairman

The Bala Lake Railway has elected a new Chairman. Roy Jones has decided to step down and leave the board, having served as Chairman for many years. Everyone wishes Roy well, and thanks him for his work on the railway’s behalf.

His successor is present Bala Lake Railway Director, Dr David Gwyn, an author, historian, archaeologist and fluent Welsh speaker, based near Caernarfon. Dr Gwyn is also a Director of the Ffestiniog Railway Company, and is Chairman of the Ffestiniog and Welsh Highland Railway Heritage Company. He has been elected, in the first instance, for one year.

And finally….

To all those involved with, interested in, employed by or in any way helping or associated with the railway, may we wish you all the very best for 2015. There are lots of things happening this year, to the extent that there is a veritable ‘buzz’ in the air. 2015 is going to be good.


November 2014 Update

Christmas inexorably approaches, and there are Santa Specials to be prepared on the Bala Lake Railway. But amidst all this seasonal activity, we say goodbye to our retiring General Manager, Roger Hine, and welcome David Jones, who takes over from Roger in December. In the meantime, a lot, as usual, has been happening behind the scenes.

Carriage & Wagon

Progress has been made on the restored coal wagon, but the team has also been busy with the bolster wagons, and has made a new bolster to replace the rotten one. (See the before and after pictures below). The sides of the coal wagon are next in line for attention.

The Wednesday Gang

Armed with their perennial enthusiasm, (plus the essential tea urn), the team has made enormous progress, in unfortunate weather, with the tedious task of greasing every fishplate. They proudly announced that they have now passed the halfway point along the line.

Penrhyn Saloon

Having hitherto referred to this project as the Directors’ Saloon, a director of the BLR, Dr. David Gwyn, one of Wales’ foremost historians, has pointed out that the Penrhyn quarry actually had no directors, and that the original saloon was for built for the owners’ own use.

Having given insufficient attention to this project last month, we now include two photos which speak volumes for the skill and dedication of David Hale. We also let David’s words explain just how intricate a project is the construction of this Saloon. Remember, David is doing all this, on his own, in a small workshop.

Regarding the roof ribs; “Seven pieces of 6.5mm thick plywood were cut, 2 metres long x 48mm wide (i.e. the strips have parallel sides). A hole of 4.5mm was drilled in the exact centre (i.e. one metre from the end and 23mm from the edge). Glue was applied on one side of the first piece of ply, and a long woodscrew was inserted into the hole. Glue was applied to both sides of the next five pieces of ply, and they were placed on to the first piece of ply with the screw passing through their respective holes. Glue was applied to one side of the final piece of ply, and this again was fitted over the screw. The screw was then inserted into a pre-drilled hole in the lower part of the former (this would be the inner face of the finished rib) and was tightened as far as possible. The assembly was then laid against the other part of the ‘former’ (this would produce the outer, i.e. upper surface of the finished rib), and sash clamps were applied to compress the layers of ply together”.

“The following day, the rib was removed from the ‘former’, the screw removed, and the rib was passed through the circular saw to remove excess glue on one side. Then, with the fence set to 44.5mm, the other face of the rib was trimmed off. Each of the cut faces was planed off by hand to produce the finished 44mm thickness of the rib. Finally, each end of the rib was cut off to give the required length”.

“The same process was followed for each of the eight ribs, thus 56 pieces of ply were cut, but the curve was produced by ‘forming’. Cutting them the other way would have been very wasteful of materials”.

Incredible detail. Moving to the next stage; “Having completed the roof ribs, including cutting the dovetails, plus the dovetail housings in the cant rail into which the ribs fit, all the remaining mortises and tenons have been cut in the timbers for the carriage ends. I have completed gluing up both of the end frames, so it is now possible to see what the cross section of the Saloon will look like”.

This sort of detail may be too much for some, (this writer included), but we hope it will give you an idea of just how much exquisite workmanship goes into a creation of this sort, and which, inevitably, is neither seen nor, indeed, appreciated on the finished Saloon.

Madcap Loopers

It may sound an odd title, but Bob Shell’s piece below explains everything about this inspired private charter along the Bala Lake Railway.

Saturday 22 November 2014 saw a charter with a difference on the Bala Lake railway.

Organised by John Mathers of the Wrexham Gen Newsgroup, it was hauled by Lady Madcap, Ruston & Hornsby 283512 of 1949.

Starting at 11.15 from road 2 of the carriage shed, Lady Madcap took the Penrhyn quarryman’s coach and the Dinorwic quarry ‘yellow’ coach filled with 19 people up and down the shed roads and headshunt, before heading through Llanuwchllyn platform road to the end of the line past the water tower.

Then on to the coal siding and into Llanuwchllyn loop, where Lady Madcap ran round her train. We then ran to Bala station with a photo stop at Llangower.

At Bala, our train ran to the stop block at the end of the line before reversing into the head shunt. We then ran into Bala Loop where Lady Madcap again ran round the train.

After more photos, it was off to Llangower loop, stopping on the way for photos at ‘the sea wall’.

After Llangower loop, it was back to Llanuwchllyn and back to the shed where it all started, one hugely enjoyable trip on rarely used track with rare coaches and a rare loco.

The day could not have been better. Huge thanks to the Bala Lake Railway for running the trip and the refreshments, to John for its organisation, and to the participants for supporting the trip.

Rumour has it that this inspirational group is thinking about a repeat expedition next year with the BLR’s other Ruston, Chilmark, so keep an eye on the website for details.

And finally…

The Russell Prince ‘teasers’ that we mentioned last month are coming to fruition very soon, and will be announced separately in this ‘Latest News’ section. As always, watch this space.

In the meantime, we wish all our volunteers, members, readers, followers and other BLR supporters the very best for the festive season, and we really look forward to seeing you next year.


October 2014 Update

While the ‘season’ has ended, the railway is still doing pre-arranged special trains. In the meantime, the Wednesday Gang is back on form, and has made a great start during the month with the tedious but necessary task of greasing all the fishplates along the line. But we will return to their activities later.

The end of an era...

As announced in the Press, Roger Hine, our long serving General Manager, together with his wife, Bobby, are retiring at the end of November, although Bobby will still be involved for a couple of days a week. While we look forward to welcoming our new General Manager, David Jones, in December, space must be made, on this page, for our sincere thanks to Roger and Bobby for all that they have achieved over their long tenure.

They always welcomed people with perennial smiles, nothing was ever too much trouble, and Roger’s engineering capabilities never ceased to amaze. This writer has, on several occasions, been grateful for exactly that, particularly when the replacement engine for our newly restored loco, Chilmark, arrived on a truck some 18 months ago. Roger, together with Rob Houghton, surveyed the 1.3 tons of 3-cylinder engine, and together with nothing more than a tape measure and his engineer’s eagle-eye, said laconically: “That should fit”. This was a relief for the truck driver, who did not relish returning to the south coast of England with an overladen truck. By the way, he was right, it did fit.

Roger also has a considerable reputation as a model-maker, and has numerous projects to start or complete, thus he will be busy. We wish Roger and Bobby every success and contentment.

The Wednesday Gang

As previously mentioned, this intrepid band of volunteers meets each week, whatever the conditions, to do track maintenance and other onerous tasks. But rather than a brief synopsis their recent activities, here is an account of what they got up to on 22nd October, as detailed by Bob Shell.

“As I drove into the yard, Brian had already attached the ‘catoflat’ works wagon to Trigger, our faithful diesel, which was waiting in the station loop. Numerous people were getting things ready or chatting, and Sam, the railway dog, had already reserved his seat in the catoflat. We resisted the urge for tea, and by 10.00, our team of seven was at Flag Halt, with all our tools unloaded and ready to start. It was then that we found that the air compressor was too much for the small generator, so Rob returned to the works to collect the larger one, while the rest of us got started on fishplate work with hand tools. When Rob returned, we had a well-earned tea-break. The bigger generator made light work of undoing stiff nuts, but the noise from the air tools may have been responsible for a tiny bat flying over our heads, perhaps a practice appearance for our Halloween trains. Minutes later, we had a single Hercules aircraft doing low-flying practice along the lake. Variety is the spice of working here.

The weather was mostly kind, and after a while (and another tea-break), Rob went off down the line, armed with a chainsaw, to clear line-side growth, thus opening up the renowned lake-side views for next season. At one point, our faithful hound decided to visit each of us in turn, firmly of the view that a wet nose in one’s ear would be of assistance, and then went to sleep in the catoflat. Fine for some! But at the end of the day, we had managed to undo, grease and re-fasten 76 sets of fishplates, all in all, a superb day’s work. We hope to be at Llangower, our halfway halt, by Christmas”.

Carriage & Wagon / Directors’ Saloon

You may recall that the Penrhyn Coal Wagon reached a milestone recently when she was put back on to her wheels after the fitment of new bearings. These were found to be a remarkably good fit, so much so that a bit of effort was actually required to move the wagon. An opportunity came about, over a recent weekend, where this could be improved.

Alice was on a private exercise along the line (and cooking baked potatoes in the smokebox – perfection). This was a perfect opportunity to give our recently completed diesel, Chilmark, a good run after her restoration, so she was attached to the Coal Wagon, and followed Alice at the specified distance, thus obviating the need for tokens. After two return runs along the line (about 18 miles), it was found that the Coal Wagon now moves with only a gentle push.

David Hale has returned after other tasks, and is making great progress on the Directors’ Saloon. In particular, he has made up the pieces for the curved roof frames, eight in total, each made up of seven individual pieces of 6.5mm plywood glued together. He has also made a jig to guide the router while cutting the dovetails on the ends of the beams. This is an intricate and time-consuming job, as trying to cut 56 (count them) uniformly curved pieces of paper would demonstrate. Again, the photos may not do this incredibly detailed work justice, but the final result will be a joy to behold.

The Red Dragon / Bala Extension

No news is good news here, but be in no doubt that there is furious activity behind the scenes, incorporating meetings with various bodies, together with surveys to be conducted. Thus we follow, on this page, the remit of someone with whom this writer once worked. He would address a sales conference with the axiom; “I’m not going to tell you what we will do, rather, I’ll tell you later what we have achieved”. Watch this space. A swan may glide, but she paddles underneath.

Halloween Specials

Brian Bennett reports that, in spite of debatably suitable wind and rain on the day, the Halloween Special trains were a great success, prompting lots of positive comments from all visitors, young and old. All the laborious preparations were so worthwhile. The next activities will be the Santa Specials on the 6th and 7th December. Booking is essential, and details are on the Bala Lake website.

And finally,

Russell Prince, who, among other things, masterminds our driver experience days, offers a little teaser....

We are currently working on a few items to be revealed before Christmas, so if you are looking for a present for a loved one, or even yourself, keep your eyes peeled on our website and Facebook page. There will be opportunities to own a ‘must-have’, and maybe have what could be a ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ experience.


October 3rd 2014 - Appointment of new General Manager at the Bala Lake Railway

David JonesThe Directors of the Bala Lake Railway Company interviewed the short-listed candidates for the post of General Manager in succession to Mr Roger Hine on September 6th 2014. They are delighted to announce that Mr David Jones, presently Manager of the Llanberis Lake Railway, has accepted the position with effect from December 2014.

David, a fluent Welsh-speaker, has a first class degree in Mechanical Engineering and had a distinguished career on Network Rail before moving to the Llanberis Lake Railway in 2005. His background in running a heritage railway, his experience in marketing a growing and profitable tourist attraction, his knowledge of health and safety issues, finance matters, human resources and grant applications will be invaluable skills as the BLR develops in the years to come.

The Directors would like to thank all of the potential candidates for their interest in the post. We are also particularly grateful to the Rev. Dr. Richard Buxton, formerly of the Human Resources Department at Manchester University and a sometime Director of the Ffestiniog Railway Company, for forming part of the interview panel.

Roger Hine’s fellow Directors also wish to express their grateful thanks to him and to Mrs Hine for their sterling work for the Bala Lake Railway over many years.

On behalf of the Board, 3rd October 2014.


September 2014 Update

Marge enjoys her Driver ExperienceLike so many other predominantly summer operations, railways like the BLR are weather-dependant, and this September has blessed us with mostly fine and dry weather. Consequently, passenger figures were very healthy, as was passing traffic through the Llanuwchllyn Station buffet, which saw sales of ice cream greatly increase.

One other consequence of the good weather is the increased number of applications for Driver Experience Days on the footplate of one of our trusty Hunslets. Due to demand, we have now allocated the whole of November for Driver Experience, in order to satisfy strong demand. It may not be the most appealing month in the calendar, but there are few more exciting ways of keeping warm during a cold November day than doing a cosy and most memorable footplate experience. The accompanying photo speaks volumes. Do call or email us for further details.

Locomotives

With our two operational diesels now, to a certain extent, sharing duties, our only variation from the norm this month was that Alice suffered a leaking steam pipe, normally a distinctly tedious repair job. But the task was completed rapidly, in no small part as the Engineering Dept. already had a spare pipe to hand, a good piece of forward planning after the last episode of this nature. However, the main securing studs were found to be ‘definitely due for replacement’ as well, although the word summarising this condition was colloquially circumspect, but deemed too succinct and unequivocal for this page. Alice was back in service within days, a relief all round, and a tribute to Rob Houghton and the engineering team.

Carriage & Wagon / Directors’ Saloon

Directors' Chassis progressOur current project, the Penrhyn Coal Wagon progresses again after the summer breaks, and all the timber is ready with which to construct the sides.

Beyond what was shown last month, nothing has been done on the Directors’ Saloon because of other commitments, but mention should be made about the metal frames or chassis, on to which David Hale will mount his coachwork. The frames were constructed by ‘Dilly’ Marshall to exquisite standards, and the photo shows, to great advantage, what will seldom be seen in future.

Halloween

Always a busy time for us, preparations have already started in earnest, and Roger Hine, our General Manager, and his wife, Bobby, set off down the line to look for suitable vantage points for Halloween ephemera.

Preparing for Halloween

However, there is a limit as to the extent one goes to at this time of year, and it regretted that the excessive postage from the USA for the remote-controlled severed hand precludes its appearance!

Miscellany

One of the joys of the internet is that snippets of relevant (or, some might say, irrelevant) information come to light. Two, relating to the BLR, appeared recently.

It is well known that Llyn Tegid / Bala Lake is the largest natural lake in Wales, but it had a little help from Thomas Telford, who raised the level in order to support the flow of water in the Ellesmere Canal.

We also discovered that the driving loop around the lake, through Llangower, via Bala and back to Llanuwchllyn, was often used as a vehicle test route by ‘The Motor’ magazine, (how many remember that title?), before it was bought out by its main rival, ‘Autocar’, in 1988.

Finally, we are delighted to show a ‘selfie’ of one of our enthusiastic volunteers, Bob Shell, who was unable to resist the temptation to ‘nobble’ a sign at Lands End while on holiday.

Bob Shell at Lands End


August 2014 Update

Easter Sunday 6 coach train arrives back at LlanwchllynThere is nothing as fickle as the British summer, especially where passenger numbers are concerned. The railway carried almost as many passengers as during the same month last year, but the Bank Holiday was an oddity, to say the least. The Saturday was good, Sunday was manic, necessitating the addition of an extra coach to the usual rake of five, a rare occurrence, but Monday was quiet, as the weather resorted to its traditional temperament. Nevertheless, the Station café did good business, and benefited also from groups of cyclists dropping for some light relief. Another source of passing traffic may be the consequence of the publicity surrounding the Red Dragon Project for the line to re-enter Bala Town itself. It is thought that some visitors, who have not visited in many a moon, are coming to see what the railway is up to.

Locomotives

Our three Hunslets have been busy, Alice especially so because of the mainly good weather favouring her open footplate. Being ‘old ladies’, they are carefully checked on a daily basis, so that problems are not allowed to build up. Work on the other two Hunslets, Winifred and George B, progresses well, with the former’s ‘chassis’ showing the result of some fastidious work. It is hoped that Winifred will be complete and in steam some time next spring, and what an occasion that will be. Watch this space.

Carriage & Wagon

Progress on the Directors SaloonWhile work continues on a weekly basis, holidays naturally mean a slight slowing down in this department, thus there will be more news next month. In the meantime, the Directors’ Saloon framework progresses well, but photographs simply cannot do justice to the accuracy and intricate detail work. This really has to be seen at close range.

Sam asleep on the Penrhyn Coal WagonThe Penrhyn coal wagon reached a milestone when the two remaining bearings were fitted, and it was pushed out into the sunshine. It was reported that the bearings were such a good fit that a period of ‘running in’ will be needed. This success received a charming seal of approval when Sam, our railway dog, who actually belongs to Rob Houghton, our chief engineer, saw the wagon outside, barked his approval, jumped up on to the wagon and then went to sleep on it.

As mentioned last time, Liz Partridge, one of our new volunteers, has done a fine painting job on the steel slate wagon. She has an ethos of ‘it has to be right’, and her keenness is much appreciated. She also has an uncanny knack of getting covered in coal dust when on firing duties, to a degree hitherto unseen. This is taking enthusiasm to new heights.

In conclusion, there is a lot happening behind the scenes, and this brings a distinct tingle of expectancy to the railway. With much in the pipeline, so to speak, the autumn and winter months promise to be a memorable period.


July 2014 Update

Whether it is as a result of more favourable weather, or generally increased awareness, the railway has enjoyed an 11% increase in passenger numbers over July last year, and the Llanuwchllyn Station café has seen a good increase in turnover as well, particularly from people who have just dropped by to see what is happening. To emphasise this point, we are pleased to show a sight not seen on the railway for a while, a rake of five matching coaches. It is all looking rather positive.

Hunslets

Our faithful locomotives, 'Maid Marian' and 'Alice', have been running very well, but 'Holy War' suffered two ‘hot boxes’ and has needed to have her main bearings re-metalled. For this onerous job, Rob Houghton took only a few days to complete this intricate task, a remarkable achievement.

But the big news from the loco shed is that Winifred’s chassis is now reunited with her wheels. The photo hardly does justice to the moment when the wheels finally bore the weight of the frames once again. The final moment of success was slightly delayed because of the interference of some ‘historic’ damage to one of the cross members. Rob, our engineer, modified the obstructction and all was well. Winifred’s restoration can now be said to be on the home straight.

Carriage & Wagon

The C&W team has returned from their holidays and good progress has been made with the Penrhyn Coal Wagon. Floorboards have been fitted, but only on a temporary basis, as access is required to fit the wheels. To this end, Rob has bored out the axle boxes and made new bearings. After a trial fitting, it is hoped to have one set of wheels installed very soon.

One new volunteer, Liz, has done an immaculate paint job on the iron slate wagon, and this now has a wooden floor.

The Padarn Brakeman’s Van has returned from its outing to its spiritual home of Llanberis for their Gala Weekend at the beginning of July, where it prompted much comment, not only for the brilliance of its restoration from a ‘pile of heritage firewood’ (sic), but also its authentic asymmetric stance. These vans rode on the four foot gauge transporter wagons, not behind them, hence the offset of the wheels.

Replica Penrhyn Quarry Railway Directors' Saloon

From a neat stack of timber in a previous photograph, we can now see a view of side 1, (lying on an interesting base), assembled ‘dry’ to check that everything lines up and fits correctly. The ‘cant rail’, on to which the roof will be attached, has been laid in place, but not installed as yet as it locks the whole structure together.

All the joints for side 2 have been cut, and with the current fine weather, it is hoped to have the two sides ready. The next job will then be to profile the vertical ribs to produce the ‘tumblehome, after which it will be possible to start the gluing process. Exciting times.

Miscellaneous

The railway enjoyed a visit in June from the Lanchester Owners’ Club, which was having a driving tour through the wonderful local scenery, and wanted to inspect some equally appealing vintage machinery. This is an aspect where the BLR scores highly, because we have a vast amount of parking space to accommodate visits of this nature.

One of our volunteers is a professional route planner, having carried out, over the last decade, numerous commissions for the press launches of new cars ranging from Fiat to Maserati. To this end, a pair of local routes has been devised and carefully annotated, one of 25 miles, the other of 50. Both are very easy to follow, and pass through some spectacularly varied scenery along great driving roads. It is hoped to attract owners’ clubs of all types and marques to visit Llanuwchllyn in the future, thus adding another string to our hospitable bow.

Conclusion

While the winter is a time for carrying out general maintenance, the summer season adds to the task, with train schedules to be observed, plus the never-ending chore of keeping the grass, trees etc. looking smart.

But also on our minds is the exciting development plans for the line, as outlined copiously in the latest issue of Narrow Gauge World, after the editor, Andrew Charman, spent a delightful day being shown exactly what is on the agenda. Under the heading of Project Y Ddraig Goch (The Red Dragon), it is, as some say, a brave proposal, but we will achieve our goal, not least because of the ever-increasing wave of enthusiasm from management and volunteers alike. If this inspires you, do join our team, savour the BLR atmosphere, and be part of something remarkable. If the WHR can do it, so can we!


June 2014 Update

Summer is in full swing. The BLR is in full swing. Ambitious projects are gathering momentum. It is a great time of the year for all concerned.

Chilmark

Chilmark nearing completionProgress on restoring this venerable old lady for active service has been marching on in a slowly but very surely manner, and her transformation to rude health will be chronicled at a later date. She is has been repainted in British Racing Green with white hand rails and 'wasp stripes' front and rear.

The existing unsightly buffers have been removed and will be replaced with wooden blocks similar to those on Alice. The recalcitrant oil pump is now behaving, but the most remarkable cure is the almost entire eradication of oil smoke. This problem was such that, on a test run, some wag thought another engine was in steam, such was the cloud!

Removing the silencer and filming the exhaust showed that cylinders one and two were not behaving. But removal and close inspection of the heads and piston rings revealed nothing amiss. More head scratching occurred, until Rob Houghton had a veritable 'lightbulb' moment. The air inlet pipe was then routed through the silencer as a simple form of pre-heating the air. Bingo, end of oil smoke.

Both Rob Houghton and Dan Laidlaw deserve enormous praise for these major developments, as well as the new colour scheme.

Padarn Brakeman's Van

Brakemans van at LlanberisWe have followed the remarkable resurrection of this almost unique wagon from a pile of 'heritage firewood' on this page. This vehicle recently had its first outing, returning to the line where it was first used on slate trains bound from Dinorwic to the docks on transporter wagons. The Llanberis Lake Railway borrowed the Brakeman's Van for their Gala where it was seen attached to a line of restored slate wagons.

Miscellaneous

A great deal of satisfaction can be gleaned from visitors to the BLR and here are two delightful stories about people who discovered more than they expected.

Firstly, a young lady called Alice whose parents had bought her a copy of Pauline Hazelwood's enchanting book about Alice was given the offer of posing with 'the real thing', her joy can be clearly seen in the photograph. It is always a delight for us to be able to add to someone's visit. A little extra gives so much.

A second instance was an American couple who bought a copy of Pauline's book about Winifred's journey to America in the 1960s, for their niece who lives in Norfolk, Virginia. While in the station shop, they bumped into Rob Houghton, who asked if they would like to see 'the real thing'. Their reaction to the fact that the story was not fiction was one of amazement and they were delighted to accept Rob's offer of a VIP tour of Winifred to see the progress on her restoration.


May 2014 Update

The first full operational month of the year is always greeted with enthusiasm and all the team see the results of their hard work over the winter. This year there is much more than routine service, improvements and upgrading to report.

Glan Llyn

Glan Llyn is an outdoor educational centre on the north shore of Lake Bala. The centre organises courses for schools and colleges, as well as summer camps for children. It also offers some of the best activity courses, water sports and activity holidays in Wales.

On 22nd May, nearly 100 youngsters from Glan Llyn visited the BLR for a trip along the line. For some, this journey was their first adventure on a train. In spite of the inclement weather, they thoroughly enjoyed themselves by the look on their faces, shown here at Bala Station.

Project Y Ddraig Goch (Red Dragon)

Project "Y Ddraig Goch" is a really ambitious plan to get the BLR back into Bala Town. To this end, a strategy document has been produced, outlining the plans for the railway over the next few years.

Firstly, we have been missing out on potential tourist passengers because our station at the eastern end of the lake is a fair distance from the town. Initially, it is proposed to implement a shuttle rail service between Bala town and the River Dee bridge adjacent to our current Bala station which will connect with the existing steam trains to Llanuwchllyn.

Our project received a major boost on 22nd May when Lord Dafydd Elis Thomas, member of the Welsh Assembly for Dwyfor Meirionnydd, and Bala Councillor, Dilwyn Morgan, travelled on the line after a meeting at Llanuwchllyn. Lord Elis Thomas rode on the footplate with driver, Andy Best, and in spite of ‘traditional’ Welsh weather on the day, he resolutely refused the offer of a brolly for his ride from one end of the line to the other, commenting succinctly: “That’s what raincoats are for”.

As well as the extension into Bala, the project also encompasses the acquisition of new carriage stock, and discussions have already started with the Ffestiniog Railway at Boston Lodge with regard to design and practicality.

Finally, the locomotive shed at Llanuwchllyn will be renewed. It is anticipated that the new locomotive shed will feature an enclosed viewing area so that maintenance and engineering can be seen by the public. The carriage shed will also be renovated and extended to accommodate the planned new stock.

This is a major project that should have a significant economic impact on the region as a whole. If you have skills that could be of help to the railway with this ambitious goal and would like to contribute then please contact us via email at DdraigGoch@outlook.com


April 2014 Update

The season has started, and what a start.

Passenger numbers for the month are described, in delightfully understated manner, as ‘good’.

In fact, they are the third highest April figures since 1987.

How well this bodes for the rest of the year.

Winifred

With the other three steam locomotives busying themselves on active service, Winifred’s progress is the hot topic. Her wheels are now back from Boston Lodge, and will be fitted to her frames. However, it has been found that her eccentrics are beyond repair. A new set have been acquired from Statfold Barn, via Boston Lodge. In the meantime, rather than throw away her old boiler tubes, which date from her final ‘re-tubing’ in 1962, a most ingenious use for the old tubes has been engineered. They have been cut into varying short lengths and welded to a base, forming a totally unique and historic pen-holder. These, in conjunction with tiny jam pots containing genuine Winifred soot from 1965, have been sold in aid of her restoration, and how they have been selling!

Carriage & Wagon

In between the usual April showers, this department has continued with the repainting of the Royal Yellow Truck when conditions permit. However, their main activity is with the two ton Penrhyn Coal Wagon, whose sizeable frame was taking shape last month. As the photograph shows, progress is good, and ironwork is being repaired and, indeed, replaced as necessary. But a new priority has appeared in that the axle boxes need to be bored out to accept new bearings, a bonus of which being that the whole frame is getting decidedly heavy. With the frame mounted on wheels, it will be considerably easier to move around, plus it will afford open air working in the summer, which will speed things up a great deal.

Replica Penrhyn Quarry Railway Directors' Saloon

Photographs often say more than mere words, and this selection shows the intricate and time consuming work that David Hale is doing. The base frame for the Saloon has now arrived at David’s house in Somerset, so that previously shown ‘pile of wood’ is really coming together.

Chilmark

The much anticipated news here is that her overhauled and recalibrated injectors and pump have finally arrived back at Llanuwchllyn. Rob Houghton has also fitted her with an air system so that she can pump up the air pressure in the coaching stock first thing in the morning. Rob also informs us that such an air system will make the fitment of a serious low-register air horn very easy, and to this end, the owner is looking for one with real gravitas!

National Garden Railway Show at Peterborough

The BLR could not have had a better stand location at the above mentioned show on Saturday, 12th April. Amidst a sea of delightful trade stands and exhibits, the first sight that greeted patrons, as the doors opened, was Alice with one of her slate wagons, the famous Ivo Peters Bentley and the BLR stand next to them. Norman and Barbara Cooper were effervescing with enthusiasm thoughout the whole day, and putting the railway’s message across to great effect. Pauline Hazelwood had a very good day too, promoting her successful Alice and Winifred books. Many friends of the railway dropped by, and some had come from quite a distance away. All in all, it proved to be a very enjoyable and rewarding day for all concerned.

Addenda

Two interesting pieces of news have come to light.

S4C have been making a promotional film for the Urdd Eisteddfod in Bala, thus it is hoped that there will be some useful television exposure for the railway.

The locomotive, Holy War, has always inspired a degree of curiosity about her name, particularly in these times of religious sensitivity. However, it is known widely that she, as well as others of her class, was named after race horses, which belonged to the family that owned the Dinorwic quarry. We show here a striking black and white photograph of the inspiration for this loco’s name.

Maid Marian was named, in the same vein, after another horse, but Alice and Winifred were named after ladies, but that is another story.


March 2014 Update

Annual Boiler Inspection dayUnlike a classic car, or something elderly of that ilk, perhaps the busiest time of the year for a railway is the lead-up to the start of the season, as there seems not to be enough time to get everything done. But the Bala Lake team has excelled itself, and the railway has received some welcomed news too, but more of that later.

Hunslets

All three operational Hunslet locomotives, Maid Marian, Holy War and Alice, passed their annual boiler inspections, and the myriad number of components that needed to be removed, have now been refitted, with nothing left over!

Carriage & Wagon

Repainted coaches ready for the new seasonThe on-going work on the coaching stock is now complete, and three have been repainted to great effect. They have also received new logos/transfers to enhance their fresh appearance.

Penrhyn Coal Wagon chassisAs the photograph shows, the Penrhyn coal wagon frame is really progressing well, and the detail is a delight to see. However, the metal parts have all suffered somewhat from the unwanted consequences of our inclement climate, and the next task will be to repair or indeed re-manufacture some of the original components.

But judging by the success of the Brakeman’s Van, we can look forward to another inspiring ‘resurrection’.

The C&W department has also been busy sorting out some minor improvements in the station café, as well as a piece of loose decking near the signal box. To the casual observer, these would pass unnoticed, but the items were brought to their attention, and the team quickly sorted them out.

Saloon coach for special occasions

Timber for the new Directors SaloonThe timber for the replica Penrhyn Directors’ Saloon was delivered to David Hale’s home last week, and as the photograph shows, is now neatly stacked ready for his expertise. However, the arrival of numerous planks prompted the odd ribald comment about IKEA doing ‘flat-pack’ directors’ saloons, and where was the screw-driver. The final result will dispel such caustic remarks in due course.

The Wednesday Gang

The Wednesday GangThey have been very busy, but as always, their activities are accompanied by laughter and the obligatory tea. With the Catoflat supply wagon loaded with tools, (as well as food and, of course, copious amounts of tea!), the four Wednesdays’ work in March entailed the considerable task of checking fishplates, sleepers etc. plus anything else that caught the team’s eagle eyes along the track.

Wesndesday Gang at workThere was also an important Saturday Gang, and this involved a substantial amount of work around Llangower, the half-way passing loop on the line. One of the old signals has been removed, in preparation for the installation of a new lever frame, which will make trains crossing a much simpler task. While they were there, a considerable amount of foliage was removed, together with bushes pruned, the end result being a much ‘airier’ appearance around the station. Much of the waste was burned on site, but a lot of logs were cut for next winter!

Contract

The improvements at Llangower were also necessitated because the railway has been awarded a contract, from the 1st April, for postal delivery and collection by rail from Llanuwchllyn to Bala and back, with collection ‘on the fly’ at Llangower. The photo shows a model for guidance. The ‘on the fly’ collection will be radio-controlled by the guard, thus no extra staff will be needed.

Main line companies may have given up this type of service years ago, but local ingenuity and inspiration are thriving around Bala. A spokesman for the postal operation commented: “It will provide a more reliable service between two important hubs of activity in the area, plus it will save us the problem of having to retrieve our vans from ditches along the narrow lake-side road after swerving to avoid wandering livestock. Some of our drivers have been having trouble with the wrong type of sheep”.


February 2014 Update

One word was on everyone’s mind during the last month – storms.  But happily, apart from power cuts, no serious damage was sustained by the railway or the infrastructure.  However, it prompted some improvements to the benefit of all, and even with the worst that nature could conjure up, much was achieved.

Hunslets

Since our last report, all the boilers have passed their inspections, and there remains only to refit the myriad components that have to be removed for inspection.  A cursory glance would make the uninitiated blanch at the prospect, but when asked, Rob was totally relaxed and knew exactly where everything should go.

Alan White was working on his Hunslet, George B, with his brother, Frank, and we can now report that the intricate valve gear is now complete, after much time and detail work.  It will be better than new.

Saloon coach for special occasions

We can now confirm that a commission has been received for the construction of a brand new Saloon coach for special events on the railway, based on an original in the Penrhyn Castle Industrial Railway Museum. It is to be built by David Hale at his home in Somerset, where his workshop contains everything that is needed.  Some exquisite plans have been drawn up on his computer, and while the final details are yet to be confirmed, there is much excitement at the prospect of having such a fine and appealing vehicle on the line, to be pulled by Winifred, of course.

The Wednesday Gang

This is the name of the railway’s loyal and devoted group of volunteers who meet every Wednesday (in all weathers) to carry out a very varied number of maintenance tasks, which keeps the railway humming.  They arrive early each week, and in spite of frequent downpours (and provided that there is ample tea on the stove), everything is done in a most positive atmosphere.

Rather than write from a ‘third party’ position, it is better to read the words of Bob Shell, one of the Wednesday Gang, who perfectly describes the enthusiasm for their activities on the 26th February.

I arrived at Llanuwchllyn to find several cars already in the car park, and people everywhere. David was checking over some wheel sets, Ian and Geoff were planning their day on Carriage & Wagon duties. Chris and Julian were discussing Winifred, Brian had started ‘Trigger’, the railway’s faithful maid-of-all-work, and was waiting for the air pressure to rise. Roger & Bobby were at the station, together with Rob and Sam (the railway’s four-legged security advisor). Frank and Alan White were planning their next jobs on the Hunslet, George B. As usual, it was a very busy start to the day. Time for overalls.

After some shunting, we left Trigger and the ‘catoflat’ (the service bogie wagon) in the platform, and went off for a well-earned cup of tea. Here, a bag of sugar was spotted bearing the motto, ‘Tea solves everything’. We decided there and then that this should be the Wednesday Gang motto.

With all the team suitably refreshed and assembled, we set off to the top of the bank, about half a mile from the station, to start our day of fishplate oiling, a vital part of the maintenance programme to keep things running smoothly. Rob went on down the line to Bala in Trigger to check again for fallen trees and culvert levels / obstructions, leaving us with the catoflat and our equipment. Rod, Brian, Bobby and I managed to remove, oil and refit all the fishplates on this section, a grand total of 22 sets of rail joints, or 44 fishplates. (Bobby had the unenviable and strenuous task on Thursday of dealing with some culvert obstructions).

Meanwhile, back at base, much work was being done on carriage floor replacement, a sizeable wooden frame for the Penrhyn Coal Wagon had been assembled, and the rebuilt bogie for the brake coach, after complete refurbishment, was refitted in 15 minutes! Coach under gantry, lift, remove temporary ‘dolly’, refit refurbished bogie. It was that easy.

With only four Wednesdays until the start of the season, it really is ‘all hands on deck’ to make sure OUR railway is ready, Can you spare a day in the future to help?

The 2014 Season

We start commercial operations again in April, so there is much to do beforehand, but we are looking forward to another lively season. Likewise, we are always looking for enthusiastic volunteers of all ages to join our team. The work is inspiring, and where else can you work on a railway in such beautiful lakeside environment? Do call us.


January 2014 Update

January is the month where there may be little activity on the tracks, but there is always much to do on any railway in preparation for the coming season. To this end, the BLR has not been sitting around drinking cocoa, waiting for the weather to improve.

Engineering

By the time this is published, the annual boiler inspections on Alice, Holy War and Maid Marian will have taken place, and all being well, it remains only to carry out minor improvements and titivations on the three ‘ladies’.

One set of wheels from one of the bogies on the Guard’s Coach has been sent to the Ffestiniog Works at Boston Lodge for re-profiling. The removal of the bogie was carried out by simply lifting the coach with the gantry next to the loco shed. This must have been one of the few times that the locos have been indignantly turfed out of their shed for a coach!

Carriage & Wagon

Asymmetric Padarn VanFollowing neatly on from the previous paragraph, the C&W department have been very active, and their only hindrance being this bout of perennial damp, which severely hampers not only painting, but also photography. Nevertheless, a suitable window of brightness presented itself, thus photographs of the finished Padarn Brakemen’s van, highlighting the asymmetric stance, could be taken.

New panel being fitted to the guards vanIt should be remembered that these small vans did not run attached to trains, but were pushed on to the 4ft. gauge Padarn Railway wagons to afford the brakeman some protection from the elements. There is an oblique handle on the side, for the brakeman to hold while applying the brakes of the transporter wagon.

However, the damp and gloom has not stopped the Guard’s coach from having new panels fitted. As this is written, the openings will have been cut and etch-primed, ready for cream undercoat. All that remains will be the fitting of the windows.

Joining the C&W department is David Hale, a retired engineering teacher from Somerset. He barely had time to savour the delights of Llanuwchllyn station before he was promptly taken to the Penrhyn Castle Museum to inspect their Directors’ Saloon, as there is an idea to recreate one especially for the BLR. As the photo shows, the Penrhyn coach is not small, but David was given totally free access to the Museum’s example, so that he could take countless measurements and photographs. David Hale at Penrhyn Castle MuseumWe should mention that, as we have experienced in the past, the Museum staff, particularly Claire Turgoose, are always most helpful and obliging in assisting our various quests.

David was also presented with Winifred’s dome, which has always had an unsightly dent in it, the consequence of some clumsy oaf during her working career in the quarry. It was delivered to David’s home, and after some inspired TLC, is now looking almost as good as new. As is widely known, brass suffers from ‘age-hardening’, and will crack alarmingly if alterations are attempted. But David applied heat carefully to remove the dents.

Then the ensuing cracks were ground out, and welded with silicon bronze. The next step was careful polishing. It would be impossible to achieve an ‘as new’ repair, but as the photographs show, it is a remarkable result, and Winifred’s owner is delighted.

 

Chilmark

When last seen, this venerable lady was looking very blotchy, with her bodywork sanded down, and chromate anti-rust paint applied to various places. She is now to be seen in a nice shade of dark pink, (thankfully undercoat), prior to being finished in deep red, complete with ‘wasp’ markings front and rear. Her injectors and pump have been sent to a specialist in Newtown. Inside the cab, Rob Houghton has built a neat cover, doubling as a second seat, over the air reservoir.

There is a lot happening on the BLR, and 2014 will prove to be a memorable year. It has even been mooted that a special contract may be forthcoming for the railway, but confirmation will take time.