Alice the little Welsh engine

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

Latest News from the Bala Lake Railway

December 2015 Update

The railway is now closed for the festive season, and the locos are all drained, oiled and protected against the ravages of the inclement environment. But we ended the year on a real high with record attendance on the Santa Specials, held over the weekend of 12th and 13th December. General Manager David Jones posted the following heartfelt message:

“A big thank-you to all the volunteers who came to prepare, operate and then dismantle for the Santa Specials weekend, with special thanks to Brian and Sioux for their work over several weeks of preparation, and to Ben Nelson who did such an excellent job as apprentice ticket organiser! Despite the wind and rain, (plus more rain which meant those culverts had to be checked again), it all went extremely well. We sold out with the maximum number of children on each train, and the 10.30 train on Sunday had no spare seats at all. I believe we broke the record for Santa Specials, with passenger numbers up by a full 17%. Everyone had a great time”.

However, plans have already been put in place for much activity in January. Over 400 hardwood sleepers have already been purchased, and a significant length of track is to be relayed towards the Bala end of the line. Work will start soon into January, and there is to be another of our working weekends on the 16th-17th January. So if you want a fun and really rewarding weekend, please come and join us.

Awards are in the air for our railway. During December, notification was received to say that; ‘The Bala Lake Railway and Winifred have been shortlisted for the Heritage Railway Association Special Award for a Meritorious Project’. This centres around not only Julian Birley’s repatriation of Winifred (not forgetting Ogwen and Glyder) from the USA, but also the superb restoration of Winifred by Rob Houghton and his team, which can be summed up by the comments of the boiler inspector, who remarked that he had rarely seen such a superb job. The awards will be presented at the HRA Annual Dinner, scheduled to take place in Wolverhampton’s low level station on 6th February.

But before that, the BLR, as part of the Great Little Trains of Wales, shares another award with the Crewe-based London & North Western Heritage. Commenting on the way the six members of the GLTW work so well together, we quote from the article in the current issue of Steam Railway magazine, page 15. ‘Visit any of the six major railways, and staff will enthusiastically tell you how they have worked with one or more of their colleagues to bolster their events, share engineering expertise and now award overhaul contracts which ensure that competent in-house workforces can be built up. These are just a few of the examples of this spirit of close co-operation’. Praise indeed. February 6th will be a memorable night.

For the Penrhyn Coach news this month, a special visit was made to David Hale in Somerset, to see first-hand what progress is being made, and in spite of careful camera work etc. it is still impossible to appreciate just what a demonstration of the art of the cabinet-maker this is. The day of our visit was grey (was it ever thus?) but to see the intricacy of the joins, the uniform curves of the roof spars and symmetrical ‘tumblehome’ on the sides is to realise just what is involved. For example, all the interior side panels, cut from 8x4 sheets of wood, have the grain of the wood carefully matched, as these will be visible inside when the coach is finished. All these big sheets have been laid out in David’s drive to get that veneer match absolutely correct. Cutting each panel takes numerous ‘fittings’, such is the attention to accuracy. The drill holes are accurately located using a metal template so that they are all perfectly in line, not forgetting that the panel then has to be removed again to drill with sufficient depth into the framework, lest the wood split. There are no half measures.

As we have repeatedly said, the photos cannot begin to do adequate justice to this exercise, but it is hoped that this first-hand appraisal can give credence to the beauty of it all, as well as the cramped area in which the coach is being constructed. All the joints fit perfectly and are proverbially smooth, all the tacks are sunk into the wood and then the holes filled. We enquired about a possible completion date, and being totally realistic, we are musing about 2017. But it will be worth the wait.

As a resume’ of 2015, words such as busy, memorable, productive and exciting spring to mind. Roger Hine, General Manager for many years, retired near the end of 2014, but is still to be seen regularly volunteering for whatever needs doing. His engineering skills are always greatly appreciated, and some may not be aware of his considerable prowess as a watch-smith. Indeed, this writer has benefited from his expertise and knowledge in this field. David Jones joined us in December 2014 as the new General Manager, and immediately set about getting his feet under the table.

The big event in April was the return to steam of Winifred after her protracted restoration, led by Rob Houghton. The coaches for her inaugural runs along the line were filled to capacity, and more poignantly, the date (April 13th) was exactly 130 years to the day after her arrival at Penrhyn Quarries. That was such a special day.

Two new arrivals were both as the result of the enthusiasm of Phil Mason, who brought his recently acquired Wickham Trolley, which gave a great deal of pleasure to many during the August Gala. Accompanying the Wickham was a genuine (and very rare) single-axle trailer, which spent some time attached to Chilmark, and very good they looked together! Later in the year, Phil also brought to Llanuwchllyn his Kerr Stuart, Diana, fresh from her beautiful restoration by the Vale of Rheidol Works. However, it was soon found that she is a whisker too wide for the platforms at Bala and Llanuwchllyn, but there is a positive in everything, thus it was decided firstly to slew the track carefully at Bala by an inch or so. Llanuwchllyn presented a different problem because of point-work, so the elderly edge of the platform benefited from some gentle re-alignment to accommodate Diana and the Wickham.

On the subject of different awards, we should not forget the British Empire Medal awarded to BLR Director, Julian Birley, for Services to Railway Preservation, universally agreed to be totally deserved and long overdue. Perhaps we can hope that another might be considered when his efforts for getting the railway back into down-town Bala are recognised in the larger world.

And finally…….. The railway will re-open for Easter which occurs at the end of March. But before that, trains will be running around half term in mid-February. This neatly coincides with Valentine’s Day, and what better way to celebrate, with a difference, than a delightfully cosy ride along our famously scenic lake, and hopefully in clear, crisp weather.

During each year, we have many volunteers and members who, for reasons of location, business or illness, cannot experience what we get up to. One stalwart volunteer is recovering after a major, but thankfully successful operation. His regular ‘posts’ reveal that he is ‘confined to an armchair’, but we know that he is itching to get back to the railway. One member, for example, spent most of 2015 globe-trotting, because of motor-sport commitments, but his ‘posts’ show he is watching our activities and progress.

Whoever, wherever, we always welcome such interest and support. Therefore, we extend the very best of seasonal wishes from all the Directors, staff, volunteers and members to all Directors, staff volunteers and members. 2015 was a good year. With awards with which to begin 2016, the Bala Buzz will start early next year.


November 2015 Update

Much happened in November, but if ever an update merited the codicil ‘weather permitting’, it was the month just passed. However, persistent rain did little to dampen the enthusiasm of staff and volunteers. After all, they were damp enough already, so a little extra went completely unnoticed.

The Wednesday Gang continued with their tasks of fishplate greasing, as well as tree trimming, even if conditions were less than favourable. Nevertheless, much progress was made and tea consumed.

A wet Working WeekendThe Working Weekend, in the middle of the month, could have been a literal wash-out, such was the quantity of rain that fell almost continually, but again, jobs had to be done and everyone just got on with them. The Saturday was spent doing more pruning to the foliage that grows lineside, an essential aspect of maintenance that ensures that the views along the line are kept so appealing. However, it was ‘stair-rod Sunday’, thus after very heavy rain overnight, the first tasks were to help in the higher areas of the village of Llanuwchllyn, in order to prevent the torrents that were running down the hill from flooding some of the cottages. Villagers and volunteers worked together to divert water into the river above the top bridge, plus off the road further down, across a car park into the river rather than down the street. BLR Director Julian Birley’s old tractor was pressed into service, bringing big sand bags, while at least a dozen people shovelled gravel and anything else solid to make diversions. The result of these efforts was that several cottages in Station Road were spared any water ingress, (a couple were within half an inch or so of having a major problem). It was widely agreed that the level of the river (and indeed the lake) had never been seen so high.

The rain was obviously producing torrents all along the line, so a team set off later to check culverts, which had become blocked with rocks, grass and anything else the deluges could dislodge. Any evidence of a ‘wash-over’ across the track-bed was dealt with by the team in pouring conditions, spades and long lengths of rod being the preferred weapons. Indeed, one culvert grill was so badly blocked that it took several visits to remove the detritus and eventually get the grill out. But the atmosphere was undeniable, everyone doing what they could, even though they were soaked through. Julian Birley, working on the biggest blocked culvert, muttered ‘blow this’ (or something similarly unequivocal) and leaped into the water up to his thighs in order to remove otherwise inaccessible rocks and stones.

A wet Working Weekend  A wet Working Weekend 

Another task of the weekend, and subsequent days, was to re-align platforms to accommodate out latest, and largest, arrival, namely Diana, about which we have commented before. She is only an inch or so too wide for BLR platforms, but an inch is an inch. Dealing with Bala was relatively easy as the track could be slewed over, but Llanuwchllyn platform needed more thought, particularly as there is major point-work involved. Thus the decision was taken to re-align the platform edge itself, which will not only achieve the desired result but will also correct the slight waviness of the decades old edge-stones. Yet again, the weather was unkind, but this will be completed very soon.

The Locomotive Fleet is now being prepared for hibernation over the winter, the recently arrived Diana being the first to be drained, oiled, greased etc. Even all bar one of the diesels have been tucked away. However, both the ‘fixed head’ locos, Maid Marian and Holy War, are being kept operational for the Santa Specials in mid-December, more of which later.

However, at the beginning of November, Winifred visited the Ffestiniog Railway for a week of photo charters, initially with her delightfully pottering about with a slate train between Boston Lodge and Minffordd, but later she travelled up the line to Glan-y-Pwll, almost under the slate tips at Blaenau, where the junction with the spur up to Llechwedd used to be.

Winifred at Boston Lodge  Winifred at Boston Lodge  Winifred at Boston Lodge
Winifred at Boston Lodge

Her minders, Russell Prince and Rob Houghton, were on hand when she was in steam, and she was posed with Lilla and Hugh Napier around Boston Lodge works. She was also to be seen shunting Blanche into the sheds, a very special moment as both these lovely locos worked together at the Penrhyn Quarries, and this was the first time they had been seen together since the 1960's.

During the liquid working weekend, The Red Dragon Project Directors hosted newly recruited Steve Davies and colleagues, when they walked part of the proposed extension north of the River Dee bridge (in the rain), to establish in more detail what is needed. Later, Steve joined Julian Birley and one of Steve’s colleagues on a trip down the line on Alice, together with the Penrhyn stock of gunpowder wagon, bolster wagons and the newly restored steel slate wagon. All three returned from their 90 minute expedition totally soaked but grinning.

Another key arrival for the Red Dragon Project is Roland Doyle, who has been brought in as Project Manager. Roland has vast experience in projects such as ours, as he was responsible for the first three (of four) phases of the building of the Welsh Highland Railway. A full topographical and ecological survey has been undertaken for the proposed route into Bala town, and from this, a detailed and accurate plan and specification will be produced. This will form the foundation upon which the project will be developed.

And finally…..

Preparations are well in hand for The Santa Specials, to take place over the weekend of the 12th/13th December, elves are furiously busy wrapping presents and tickets are selling fast for these fun trips – in fact the Sunday is now fully booked. As with most things, the weather is academic, the Bala atmosphere and splendid views overruling such minor distractions. For tickets, please use our on-line booking service which is accessible 24/7, and which will have the latest availability.


October 2015 Update

If ever there was proof that it gets busier after the end of the main operating season, then the last month on the BLR is a living testimony. The Halloween specials were an enormous success, the Wednesday Gang has been getting seriously busy again, one popular loco has been lent out, another has arrived, a Director has received a ‘gong’, and, as always, numerous photos have been posted on Facebook and other sites, just a few of which we include in this report. Grim Reaper at LlanuwchllynWe are perennially grateful for the number, variety and particularly the quality of the photos of the BLR.

Our Halloween Specials were very well attended, and General Manager, David Jones, posted this:

“A big thank-you to everyone who helped with the Halloween trains on Friday 30th and Saturday 31st. Particular thanks go to Brian and Sioux, plus Bobby and Roger, for setting it all up. Thanks also to the crews and everyone who dressed up to make this whole event such fun. Numbers were up by around 60%, justifying the increase to two days, and running two ordinary trains earlier in the day was so worthwhile too. All this, combined with a busy half-term week, has taken passenger numbers to over 22,000 this year, our best year since 1992.”

As the photo shows, everyone really entered into the spirit, even if the Grim Reaper found one loco crew a trifle indifferent to his ominous presence! The success of the whole event is probably best summed up by a comment from guests who were staying at Bryniau Golau, the superb B&B that overlooks the line. They simply described their whole experience as ‘spooktacular’. Enough said.

Locomotives

Apart from the delight of double-heading on the Halloween trains, the news this month is that Winifred has been loaned, for a short period, to the Ffestiniog Railway, where she is delighting further audiences in her 1960s paint scheme.

Winifred on the Ffestiniong Railway

But the big news is that Diana finally arrived at Llanuwchllyn on the 22nd October. Her restoration by, and running on, the Vale of Rheidol Railway have been copiously documented on Facebook by her owner, Phil Mason, and she even made the front cover of Narrow Gauge World magazine. Phil delightfully describes her as “a gentleman’s light sporting loco”.

Diana arriving at Llanuwchllyn Diana at Bala for the first time

As soon as she arrived, the team were very keen to try her, and she was soon on test for gauging purposes. She will be launched into service in 2016, after alterations have been made to platforms to accommodate her wider dimensions.

Carriage and Wagon

The Carriage and Wagon team has returned after the summer (now that they have some space), and first in line for their expertise is producing a new frame for one of the slate wagons, and the photo shows the detail and craftsmanship of construction.

 New Slate Wagon Frame

Penrhyn Coach Project

This has been making great progress, and as David Hale’s photos show, it is the accuracy and detail that make this whole exercise so fascinating.He describes progress thus:

“The first upper panel is in place but not fixed permanently. The panel fit around the roof rib is intricate and tight, and as it was necessary to fit and remove each panel a number of times to make adjustments to each slot, tape was applied to stop the veneer splitting. The second photo shows the panels pinned and glued in place”.

Penrhyn Coach progress Penrhyn Coach progress

By the time this is read, all the upper panels will have been pinned and glued in place. The next task will be to fit the linings to the window pillars, but as with all things, weather permitting.

As we have said before, photos cannot begin to do justice to this solo magnum opus. When it is complete, we will marvel at the exterior, but spare a thought for the astonishing detail that goes into the actual construction of this coach and the parts that will never be seen.

Julian Birley BEM

Julian Birley receiving his BEMJulian Birley, a Director of the BLR, and who is masterminding the Red Dragon Project, the extension into down-town Bala, was presented, during October, with his British Empire Medal for services to railway preservation, by the Lord Lieutenant of Norfolk in a ceremony in Norwich. That is a great achievement in itself, but in the meantime, Julian has also managed to ‘get on board’ the project, the help of Col. Steve Davies MBE, erstwhile head of the NRM, where he was instrumental in reuniting all six surviving A4 Gresley Pacific locomotives, including the ‘overseas’ two, one from the USA, the other from Canada. He founded the Sierra Leone Railway Museum, and is currently MD of the Surf Snowdonia attraction. His arrival and expertise will prove most beneficial to the project, and we greatly welcome his arrival. There is still so much to do in this quest, surveys, fund-raising, planning consents, land purchases, but two ‘dynamos’ are better than one, so to speak. Julian already has specialist people, such as bridge engineers and others, lined up, but it is a question of dealing with the myriad bureaucracy first, and this is where Steve’s extra help and experience will be much appreciated.

Volunteer’s Day

'A Volunteer’s Day' is how we title this story from one of the railway’s staunchest supporters, Bob Greenhalgh, who not only writes in a way that always captures the atmosphere of the line, but who will be away from the line for a couple of months for medical reasons. We all wish Bob total recovery and a rapid return to Llanuwchllyn.

Saturday 31 October 2015 was the last day of service trains, and also the second day of Halloween trains. I got to Llangower in time to photograph the 13.20 Llanuwchllyn to Bala, the last service train, double headed by Holy War and Maid Marian, the crews being Ben, Martin, Dan and Thomas, with Brian the guard. The train seemed well patronised. The weather was good and the lake looked like a mirror. Having had tea and a flapjack at Llanuwchllyn, (got to keep up traditions), I ventured down to the shed to see the new arrival Diana. Wow, what a beauty, and what a great addition to the loco fleet.

I then photographed the returning train before enjoying tea and a chat with the train crews. The station and coaches were prepared for the first Halloween train at 16.00 which, thanks to the online booking system, had a good number of passengers. The volunteers for jobs down the line departed, suitably prepared with refreshments and those at Llanuwchllyn donned their costumes. I joined the train and enjoyed the trip. A short stop was made at Llangower where many people took the chance to photograph a beautiful sunset over the lake. The stop at the Haunted House was fun, very well done by those who got it ready.

The second of the three Halloween specials left on time, again with a good number of passengers and in fading light, so the lighting and effects were much more appreciated. The Grim Reaper stalked the platform looking for souls - but there were no takers! In the fading light, the loco lamps, having been lit, looked great, a flickering warm glow that enhanced the atmosphere. After the 17.00 had left, I said my goodbyes and left. I had had a very pleasant few hours and all was well at Llanuwchllyn.

And finally…

Having finished with Halloween for another year, it is time to think about Christmas, and all that it involves. As we have mentioned before, our new online booking site is up and running, to the extent that more than 150 tickets for our Santa Specials on the 12th and 13th December have already been sold. We cannot guarantee snow, but you can bet the temperature will reflect the season, the camaraderie and the festive Christmas atmosphere. In the first instance, have a look on the BLR website. But remember that those sold tickets went very quickly after the Santa Specials were advertised.

Spooky goings on at Halloween Sunset on the season at Llanuwchllyn

But before Christmas, we have another working weekend on the 14th and 15th November, so if you feel inspired to help, we would really appreciate your presence. Please get in touch on 01678-540666. It may be work, but it is fun. Even this writer will be there, and that is news!


September 2015 Update

There is no dispute to the fact that the success of the August Bank Holiday Gala has had an ongoing effect on the railway. September passenger numbers were up by 10% on September last year, and the station café is enjoying even better figures, thus the Bala Buzz is showing no signs of diminishing. But while the season per se is nearly over, there is always much happening behind the scenes.

Locomotives

Holy War steams againThe big news this month is that Holy War is back in steam. With the second return of her boiler, Rob Houghton set about putting her together again. A couple of extra detail improvements were carried out during the process, and we show a photograph of a very proud Rob standing in front of a contentedly simmering locomotive. Bob Greenhalgh, one of the railway’s staunchest supporters, was delighted to see his favourite loco back in steam. It is one of those delicious curiosities about steam locomotives that two almost identical machines, in this instance, Holy War and Maid Marian, can respond in quite different manners, but that is all part of the fun.

Ogwen and Marchlyn at LlanuwchllynWinifred continues to delight everywhere, and indeed, participated in the Vale of Rheidol ‘Forgotten Locos’ festival at the end of the month, although Winifred is anything but forgotten. Co-incidentally, one of her former companions in the USA, namely Ogwen, also repatriated in that masterful coup by Julian Birley three years ago, was briefly re-united with her in Llanuwchllyn, en route to the VoR with Marchlyn, as shown in our photograph. No doubt, a few mischievous thoughts passed through the minds of some!

While on the subject of Winifred, she is still available for Driver Experience, and there is one final slot left in November. She will still be in her 1960s paint scheme, thus the occasion will be very special for the lucky person who seizes the opportunity. Do check this website for further details.

Penrhyn Coach Project

As we know, David Hale is building this coach completely on his own, thus progress cannot be rushed, particularly in view of his ferocious attention to detail, as recounted in his latest report.

“Work is progressing slowly, and the panelling on the lower part of the second side has been completed. I have been cutting and fitting one of the upper panels on one side. It is taking a long time, to ensure that the fit is accurate, especially where the panels fit around the roof bars. Obviously, I want to avoid making mistakes, due to the high cost of plywood (and the time it takes!)".

We will have more photographs to show next month.

Carriage & Wagon

Now that holidays are over, the C&W team resumed their tasks during the month, with space now available inside the shed now that Holy War is back in traffic. The second bolster wagon is all but complete, with just the wooden buffers and painting to be finished.

Next on the list is attention to a couple of the wooden slate wagons, whose underframes need a little work. On top of this, the team will be dealing with the station boarding, as well as the signal box steps, weather permitting.

Another task for later in the year is to raise the water tank in order to provide a better head of water for larger locos. As always, the team will be delighted to welcome all who can and would like to help. It is rewarding, it is worthwhile and in their company, it is great fun.

Lastly in this section, one completed item of refurbishment is the metal GWR narrow gauge slate wagon, which Dan Laidlaw has finished to his usual very high standard, as the photograph shows.

GWR Narrow Gauge Slate Wagon

By way of slight digression, there is an interesting story with this wagon, and BLR General Manager, David Jones, takes up this fascinating tale, giving further credence to the fact that there is history everywhere.

“In order to tap into the lucrative slate market at Blaenau, the GWR took over the 2-foot gauge Ffestiniog & Blaenau Railway, and converted it to standard gauge to form the final section of the route to Bala Junction. The F&B served a number of slate quarries around Manod, near Blaenau, and in order to continue to provide a service, they built 2-foot gauge slate wagons and carried these on standard gauge transporter wagons between Manod and Blaenau. The quarries tended to use the wagons as a common pool, if no-one was looking, so they would have ended up at other quarries in Blaenau and on the Ffestiniog Railway.

The F&B route still exists with standard gauge track in place, albeit heavily overgrown. It was connected to the ex L&NWR route from Llandudno Junction to serve the Trawsfynnydd Power Station after the rest of the route to Bala was closed”.

And finally…..

It is nearly Halloween again and preparations are in hand for the Halloween Specials at the end of the month. Please check the schedules on this website. Likewise, much has been happening in readiness for the Santa Special near Christmas, and posters are being printed, both in Welsh and English, for this great annual event on the railway.

The Red Dragon Project, the line’s extension into Bala, continues with fund-raising and myriad administrative meetings and chores. As we have said in the past, no news is good news, in that there is so much ground work to be put carefully in place and organised. It is a major undertaking, will not happen overnight, thus any help and, in particular, donations are always so welcomed.

Lastly, Sam, the delightful pooch belonging to Rob Houghton, (and indeed the railway’s mascot), has been rather ill of late, but we are delighted to report that he is now on the mend, and should be back in his usual boisterous form soon.

Topical postscript

Of rugby prestige, we’re aware,
No more than in Twickenham’s lair.
But Llanuwchllyn’s exempt,
And attempts to pre-empt
Any pain with our chemin de fer.


August 2015 Update

August may mean holidays and relaxation for a large percentage of the population, but not for staff and volunteers at the Bala Lake Railway. Apart from the dedicated regime of ongoing maintenance, both on motive power and track needs, the return of Holy War’s boiler was eagerly awaited, as it was hoped that she would complete the foursome of Bala Lake Hunslets in steam. However, it was found that the boiler needed some extra work, which would preclude her re-assembly in time. Sad as that was, it meant that the whole exercise was to be finished later than expected. But, on the basis of ‘do it once and do it right’, it was decided that Holy War would only be a static display loco. But what was all this in aid of?

The Bala Gala

The Bank Holiday weekend was the occasion of the biggest festival that the railway has hosted, and what an unparalleled success it was! There were record passenger numbers for recent times on the trains on all four days, and the Llanuwchllyn Station shop and café enjoyed record business as well. One volunteer arrived on Saturday to find a packed platform, and was greeted by the guard asking, half in jest: “You haven’t got any spare coaches, have you? We’ve got six on and they’re full”. All four days of the Gala experienced wonderful passenger numbers, and it should be noted that trains were running well into the evenings.

.Meirionydd terruns to operational duties
Photo by Michael Chapman

The railway’s operational Hunslet fleet, Alice, Winifred and Maid Marian were on duty, and to make up the fourth, the Statfold Barn Railway very kindly offered to lend their 2005 built Hunslet loco, Jack Lane for the weekend. In addition to the steam contingent, all the BLR diesels were on duty too. Bob Davies (always known as Trigger), the two Rustons, Chilmark and Lady Madcap, plus newly re-painted and re-furbished Meirionnydd, were kept busy throughout the Gala, the last hauling return passenger trains, and a testimony to the work and expertise of Dan Laidlaw and Rob Houghton. Her gleaming new paint was admired by all. Only Chilmark showed a little temperament when she briefly refused to start after being cleaned and polished by her owner, (such ingratitude), but she soon responded to the gentle ministrations of Dan and Rob.

Alice with her Dinorwic wagons at Llanuwchllyn
Photo by Michael Chapman

The Hunslets alternated their duties, either hauling passenger workings or taking the stock of former Penrhyn wagons or Dinorwic slate wagons. With the Llangower loop in action, the signalling teams, both there and at Llanuwchllyn, were kept busy, and it was possible to have three trains in action at the same time, thus providing a vast number of photo opportunities over the entire distance. The BLR is deservedly known as ‘The Line-Side Line’.

Rides in the Dinorwic Royal Wagon
Photo by Michael Chapman

In addition, while Llanuwchllyn was (briefly) quiet, visitors were given rides in the Dinorwic royal wagon. Likewise, our recently arrived Wickham Trolley was doing the same, as well as providing return trips to Pentrepiod, the first halt beyond Dolfawr bank. This platform claims the unique status of being the shortest in the UK.

Rides in the Wickham Trolley
Photo by Michael Chapman

The static displays in the yard were also attracting much interest. Apart from Holy War, the line’s fifth Hunslet, George B, was also outside on show. Coincidentally, they were both to be seen in a similar state, with their boilers fitted but detail work to continue. Holy War could be seen having her boiler cladding refitted, in readiness for all the other ancillaries, while privately owned George B is more of a long term restoration, but it is hoped that she will be back in steam next year.

Vintage vehicles at Llanuwchllyn Station
Photo by Michael Chapman

In the parking area, visitors were intrigued to see a most eclectic collection of older vehicles, not forgetting a vintage bus plus a former London double-decker that was ferrying passengers from Bala car parks to Bala station. A pair of old tractors were joined by a beautifully restored Thames Trader lorry, railway director Martin Levy’s Austin Seven, plus another Seven that had brought the 5” gauge Hunslet loco on its own little period trailer, the loco providing rides on the track laid out on the platform. Julian Birley’s Land Rover was there too, as well as the ex-Ivo Peters Bentley, which is always greatly admired and photographed. All in all, this wonderful collection of vintage vehicles was on display throughout the whole weekend, and they predictably attracted much admiration and comment.

All four Gala Locmotoves together

Apart from the daytime schedules, the Gala also featured the first quadruple-headed operation on the line, and the sight and sound of four Hunslets working hard up Dolfawr Bank was a sight and sound to behold. Indeed, on one evening, Trigger, which had taken a late passenger working to Bala, was met at Llangower on the return leg by the four Hunslets, and the sight of a quintuple headed train was spectacular. The sound of four steam whistles, plus Trigger’s low pitched hoot, was unique, Trigger naturally not wanting to be left out of the fun!

The Vulcan Bomver Fly Past
Photo by Michael Chapman

The whole event was one huge success, and a great tribute to General Manager, David Jones, and his team, the commitment of all staff and volunteers being immense. If there was a ‘Bala Buzz’ before, it is considerably louder now. One final extra bonus was the surprisingly quiet pass of Britain’s only flying Vulcan bomber, which was seen and photographed by many. She was performing at the Rhyl Air Show.

Carriage & Wagon

Progress on the Penrhyn CoachThe news from this department this month is on the Penrhyn Coach Project, being built single-handedly by David Hale. He reports that the lower panelling has now been pinned and glued on one side of the carriage. This took a long time to get a good match between adjacent pieces of plywood, and even longer to pre-drill the 1.5mm holes through the ply into the ash frame to take the stainless steel pins.

The BLR Extension Project

Lest it be thought that other projects might be side-lined by the Gala, Julian Birley is still working feverishly to get the Bala Extension details and funding in place. Much is happening behind the scenes, and a large number of Gala visitors made contributions in the BLR Trust envelopes available at the station. All were, and indeed are greatly appreciated.

And finally…..

Our General Manager, David Jones, summed up the weekend very succinctly when he commented:

“We’ve started something now, and we’ll be doing it again next year. So put the dates for the August Bank Holiday in your diaries now. Bala is the only place to be”.

As a final thought, we show a photograph taken by one of our stalwart volunteers, Bob Greenhalgh, who was on (very) busy signalling duty over part of the Gala weekend. When Bala Lake enjoys sunshine, it is truly breath-taking. But the photo shows that you do not necessarily need sun to have spectacular sights around the Bala Lake Railway.

Rainbows over Bala Lake


July 2015 Update

On the basis of ‘onwards and upwards’, the year to date has been very positive, and passenger numbers are up by 11% to the end of July. Even inclement weather (we prefer to call it ‘liquid sunshine’) fails to dampen the spirit of adventure, and a recent wet Sunday surprised us with the numbers riding the train along the scenic lake. Indeed, numbers have been good enough in recent days to merit six coach trains.

Maid Marian about to leave Bala with a six coach train in July
'Maid Marian' ready to leave Bala on a six coach train

In the same vein, the station shop and café continue to perform well, with results up by 20% on the same time last year. The local ice-cream and cake displays have something to do with this, and a new range of books available has been selling well. Likewise, Pauline Hazelwood’s popular Alice and Winifred stories have been flying off the shelves, and deservedly so.

Jennie McAlpine enjoys a ride on Maid MarianWe were also visited by two surprise guests during the last week of July. Firstly, Jennie McAlpine, who stars as 'Fiz' Brown in Coronation Street visited the line whilst on holiday with her family and enjoyed a short ride on Maid Marian at Llanuwchllyn. Secondly, David Williams, who was Winifred's stoker at Penrhyn Quarry in the late 1950's and early 1960's, came for a ride on the line. He was thrilled to be reunited with his old steed, especially as he believed her to still be in the United States.

Winifred at LlangowerJuly also saw a birthday charter on a Saturday evening after scheduled services had ended. The day was fortuitous as the Friday and Sunday were not conducive to outdoor activities, but a great time was had by all, including David Jones, our general Manager, who shared the same birthday, and who was graciously invited by the festive party to join in. The lake was looking perfect in the evening light, particularly when the revellers stopped for a BBQ at Llangower. As the photo shows, there really is something special about steam and water.

In a typical example of the spirit of co-operation among the Great Little Trains of Wales, the Talyllyn Railway has given us their old wheel lathe, which may be quite old but is as accurate as the day it was originally delivered many decades ago. As David Jones wryly commented; “It should know what to do as, over the years, it has turned most of our wheels”.

Locomotives

Apart from routine maintenance, all three operating locomotives, Alice, Winifred and Maid Marian have been performing very well. The main news this month is Holy War’s boiler, which, you will recall, has been undergoing extensive repairs at Bridgnorth. On the basis of doing it right once and for all, what was hoped to be a routine repair has become quite a saga, with more items of concern being spotted. But we are assured that the boiler should be returned to Llanuwchllyn in mid-August, which it is hoped will allow Rob Houghton enough time to put Holy War back together in time for the big Gala at the end of August.

Chilmark

Chilmark, our 1939 R&H diesel, rarely features in the pages, but following some inspired care and attention from Rob and others, she has now been fitted with a dynamo (the alternator being a trifle temperamental), the result being that she is now performing perfectly and has now been cleared to deputise for Trigger in stock movements.

Carriage & Wagon

The resident C&W team are more concerned at the moment with the preparation of the new shiplap for the end of the café, but progress has been hampered by a surfeit of dampness, and they really need a couple of clear days to deal with this. When unable to work outside, their attention turns to the second bolster wagon, the wagon part of which is in reasonable shape, but the bolster has disintegrated, thus work is under way to build a new one.

Holidays naturally mean less work time, thus the Penrhyn Coach Project, which David Hale is doing as a solo effort, has slowed a little. The main tasks have been to source the correct wood for cladding the inside and outside of the carriage, no easy task bearing in mind David’s exacting standards. The same applies to the stainless steel pins required for assembly.

Volunteers

New people have been getting involved in the myriad volunteer work activities. The Wednesday Gang, who start in earnest again after the season ends, is always seeking to welcome new faces, and as you will know from previous reports, it is not only productive but the camaraderie has to be experienced.

Rostering vacancies for footplate duties have been largely filled, leaving Rob with more time to devote to his engineering duties. But we still need guards, so any existing volunteers with a mind to digress, or just new people would be most welcomed.

One task ahead is the slight re-alignment of track together with platform modifications to accommodate Diana, Phil Mason’s locomotive, the overhaul of which is currently nearing completion at the Vale of Rheidol. This fascinating story can be seen on Facebook heading 'Diana 1158 / 1917', with news and photos appearing on an almost daily basis.

The Gala – August Bank Holiday Weekend

The Gala timetables have now been finalised, and will provide a lot of variety and interest, with slight variations each day to add some spice! All four of our Hunslet fleet will be in operation, plus diesels Trigger, Chilmark and Meirionnydd, not forgetting the Wickham trolley. There really is too much to list here, so please have a look at the 'Special Events' section of our website for full details.

And finally………

The line experienced a cow problem a month or so ago. David Jones takes up the story.

“The first train each morning would encounter Daisy (as the staff christened her), who had managed to find access on to the railway where the grass by the line was obviously greener and more lush. Despite rounding her up and putting her back in her field, she re-appeared on the line the next day. We discovered that she had found a weak spot in the fence, in marshy ground. Director Martin Levy, together with his wife, Wendy, and ex GM Roger Hine, spent several days of hard labour installing quite a length of new fence, much to Daisy’s indignation. Thank you all”.


June 2015 Update

We are half way through the year. So far, it has been really positive, and it is getting better. While group passenger traffic is actually down a little on the first six months of last year, the overall passenger figures are up by 14%, and the income in the station café/shop is up by 35%, no doubt helped by much increased passing traffic. The locally sourced ice cream is continuing to sell very well, (clichés about hot cakes are inappropriate), and the contents of the new chiller cabinet, including delectable cream cakes and salads, are tempting the taste buds. So, all in all, it has been a great year so far, and as you will read later, there is a lot more to come.

Winifred Photo Charter - 2015One popular event that was just too late to include last month was a photo charter, which proved very successful. The photos, which can be seen in our Photo Gallery, speak for themselves.

There has, in addition, been one item of news in June which is particularly worthy of celebration. Bala Lake Railway Director and Chairman of the BLR Trust, Julian Birley, was awarded the British Empire Medal in the Queen’s Birthday Honours for services to railway preservation. Unlike some honours which are politically expedient, it is unanimously agreed that this one was long overdue and totally deserved, bearing in mind the enormous amount of effort that Julian has put in with the North Norfolk Railway over many years, and now with the BLR.

As is known, Julian is leading the enormous task of getting the line across the River Dee and back into downtown Bala, a proposal which has been received with almost total unanimity in the area. Julian’s modest ethos is simply; “I just want to make a difference”, and what a difference! This ambitious project needs support from everyone, so it does not matter how much or how little is donated. One perfect example happened during June when our lovely Hunslet, Alice, was simmering sedately in the sunlit station, and two cyclists appeared. They were offered footplate rides to the water tower and back, and in gratitude, they kindly offered a donation which went straight into a Trust donation envelope. The strap-line of a certain supermarket advert is so relevant.

Penrhyn Coach

Penrhyn Coach ProgressAs you may recall, this whole exercise is being carried out solely by David Hale, and as the photo shows, all ten window liners have now been fixed in place in the framework. The next job will be to order the materials for the inner ‘walls’ of the coach. Completion is a long way off, but it will be so worth the wait, and a real tribute to David’s craftsmanship.

Penrhyn Coal Wagon

Further to last month’s completion, we show a couple of photos of the wagon now in use, and positioned strategically for lighting up in the morning. However, a false floor has been fitted in order to preserve the shape of the wagon, otherwise a full load of coal would produce, over time, an unsightly bulge. As everyone agrees, it is a testimony to the skill of the Carriage & Wagon team.

Penrhyn coal wagon

Wednesday Gang

This intrepid group of volunteers meet each week to perform myriad tasks, and Bob Shell’s words below capture the wonderful atmosphere.

Wednesday 24 June 2015

The day started with the shed ash pit being emptied before Alice, the loco of the day, was dragged out of the shed. This was followed by helping take the stock into the platform and then sorting out some scrapers, a wire brush and some primer paint. Rod had already started on the black paint on the signal bases and metal work. Having read the work sheet for the toast rack coach and assembled my tools, it was time for the 10.00am tea. Andy asked if Rod and I could empty the water tower ash pit and then empty the ash skip as it was full.



After the train departed at 11.00, Rod took Trigger up to the water tower whilst I emptied the ash into the already full skip. We then went on to the head shunt to await the train’s return. Once the train was in the platform, we were allowed to venture down to the end of the carriage shed to empty the ash skip. Then it was back into the head shunt and once the train had departed, the skip was put back at the water tower. All this time, James had been busy painting the platform fence, and very good it looks too!



After dinner, the main task of the day, the toast rack carriage, was set about. This involved scraping, sanding and wire brushing the flaking paint on the beading and then applying a coat of primer to the bare wood. There is still much to do on this coach but we’ve made a start. Lady Luck was with us during the day as, despite some light drizzle, the rain kept away.

Locomotives

There is nothing to add from last month regarding our ‘fleet’ of Hunslets. Holy War is still awaiting the return of her refurbished boiler, and the other three in service are performing and delighting as they should.

However, another name will appear on the roster later in the year. Diana is a Kerr Stuart, and belongs to Phil Mason who also owns the Wickham Trolley which we featured last month. Phil has supplied a most concise history for her, and her restoration progress can be seen on her Facebook page "Diana" KS1158 / 1917.

Diana in quarry days

A brief history of Kerr Stuart 1158 Sirdar Class 0-4-0
 
She was built in 1909/10 as part of a stock order or 6 Sirdar 0-4-0 locomotives.

She was supplied new to The Home Grown Timber Committee in 1917 to operate on the reopened Kerry Tramway near Newtown in Central Wales, hauling timber to the sawmills for use as pit props and for the war effort. She was crewed mainly at this time by German prisoners of war.

Following the rundown of operations at Kerry, she was sold by E.Longhurst and Sons at Kerry Sawmills to Oakeley Quarry at Blaenau Ffestiniog and was on site by December 1925. Whilst there, she gained the name DIANA which was painted on the tank sides.

Following the introduction of a Ruston diesel, she was sold in 1942 to a dealer in Harlech called W. O. Williams. It is unclear if the locomotive stayed at Oakeley or was moved to Harlech. However, the locomotive was purchased by The Pen-yr-Orsedd Quarry in 1945 and it is recorded as being there by 16th July 1946.

The boiler was declared unsafe by 1950, so she was shunted away into a shed where she remained until 1963 when she was purchased by Graham J Mullis and moved to his railway near Droitwich, Worcs. with Una and Eigiau.

When that railway was closed and the assets sold off, most of the rolling stock including Diana was bought by Hills and Bailey at Llanberis and she moved there in 1970. She was stored at times in the tunnel and outside the Fire Queen shed.

Diana then moved with Tony Hills to his new base at the Brecon Mountain Railway in 1976.

She was purchased by the Davies Brothers in 1978 and was moved to their home in Clydach near Swansea in 1981. Much work was undertaken here by the brothers, with other works being carried out by Alan Keefes, Bartletts and the Talyllyn Railway. By 2005, work on the loco was proceeding well when sadly, following the death of one of the brothers, Dennis, the remaining brother, was in ill health. He continued to carry out work on Diana as and when he could, making steady progress, but sadly with the locomotive initially in a polytunnel, which disappeared one windy night, and subsequently in the open, the condition of the locomotive slowly deteriorated until his death.

In February 2014, the locomotive was purchased by its current owner, a long time narrow gauge enthusiast and volunteer at the Talyllyn Railway, and following assessment in Hampshire, the decision was made to begin the restoration again from scratch. The locomotive moved to the Vale of Rheidol workshops in Aberystwyth for return to as near to original ‘as supplied’ condition as possible. A recent photograph of restoration progress is shown below.
 
Stephens Link Motion
Boiler Pressure 140psi
Wheelbase 3ft 6 ½ inches
Max Width 5ft 8.5in
Height rail to top of chimney 8ft 2in
Length of Boiler and smokebox 8ft 8in
Weight empty 5 tons 6cwts 3qtrs.
Tubes 62.5 inches long
Firebox heating surface 16.5 sq ft
Grate area 3.33 sq ft
Cylinders 6” Diameter by 10” Stroke
Driving Wheels 2ft diameter
Length over Headstocks 12ft 3in
Height rail to top of boiler 4ft 8in
Height to top of cab 8ft
Diameter of Boiler 2ft 6in
36 tubes at 1.75 inch
Tube heating surface 83.5 sq ft
Total heating surface 100 sq ft Tank capacity 200 Gallons
 
Diana is one of only two Sirdar Class locomotives still know to survive, the other being a much modified 2-4-2 version saved as a national monument and preserved in Namibia South Africa.
 

Recent progress on Diana

 

Winifred Gala 28 – 31 August

Plans are shaping up nicely for what will prove to be a seriously big event for the BLR. The current list of different activities and exhibits is now numbering over 20, is listed in its entirety in the Special Events section of this website. But here are just a few:

  • All four of our resident steam locos will be in service, with double-heading on some passenger trains.
  • There will be a cavalcade of steam locos on Sunday and Monday evenings, with a diesel hauled passenger train to get photographers into position at prime locations.
  • The photographers’ train for the cavalcade on Sunday evening will feature quintuple-heading, including a diesel on its return.
  • The Wickham Trolley will be running to Pentrepiod and back, this station enjoying the unique distinction of having the shortest platform in the UK.
  • Vintage tractors, buses and the Ivo Peters Bentley will be on display, plus London Transport Routemaster double-decker buses will be providing transfer from Bala Station to car parks in the town as well as the leisure centre.
  • There will also be a 5-inch gauge miniature railway, plus a 16mm model layout.

And finally…..

With all this on the cards, we will all be working our hardest to ensure that everything goes perfectly. A vast amount happens behind the scenes, perhaps none more so than with the Red Dragon Project, our quest to re-unite the railway with the town of Bala itself. So much of an enterprise like this is taken up with meetings and arrangements, so if nothing is making the news, it is not because of any lack of activity on our part. But we need support for this work, continued support. It matters not to what extent you can help, be it financially or physically, it is all greatly appreciated. Please help if you can. We would love to welcome you.


May 2015 Update

Artist Pauline HazelwoodAfter all the excitement that took place in April surrounding Winifred and her triumphant return to service, it might be thought that May would be a quiet month. Not a bit of it! The railway has been breaking records again, and we are proud to announce that passenger figures were up by 10% over May last year, with café/shop receipts up by 31%. Indeed, the café/shop broke all-time records on both Sunday 24th May and again on the Bank Holiday 25th. The locally sourced ice cream, mentioned last month, is continuing to sell very well, and the range of cakes is proving a major distraction as well. The Bala Buzz is affecting everyone.

Over the same Bank Holiday period, the Alice weekend took place, where our Hunslet of that name proudly wore her ‘face’, as seen in the Little Welsh Engine books written and illustrated so beautifully by Pauline Hazelwood. This event proved very popular, and the author was on hand throughout the weekend to sign books for young and old alike.

Alice the Little Welsh Engine

Carriage & Wagon

We combine the news of progress this month as there have been some well-earned holidays. David Hale reports on the Penrhyn Coach Project; “A start has been made on the ten window linings. These are being made from Sapele (a West African hardwood from the Mahogany family). The interior of the carriage will be faced with mahogany plywood, so the whole interior will be a matching red/brown colour, just like the original”.

The Penrhyn Coal Wagon is now completed, as the accompanying photo shows and, indeed, speaks for itself. This is quite an achievement in view of the restricted space currently available for access, as well as the amount of Welsh ‘liquid sunshine’ which has hampered progress from time to time.

Pemrhyn Coal Wagon

The team’s attention will now turn to the other ‘bolster’ wagon, (you may recall that the first was completed a while back), and when finished, a large tree or three will be sourced to show for what they were intended.

Locomotives

The remedial work on the boiler of Holy War is going well, Alice and Maid Marian continue to enchant visitors and crews alike, and Winifred is enjoying her new life, as well as having some small adjustments and improvements.

But we have a new arrival at Llanuwchllyn, a Wickham Trolley, in very good working order, and the owner’s wish is that it (she?) will be of great use to the Wednesday Gang as a more convenient vehicle in which to patrol the line and deal with routine maintenance.

Wickham Trolley 10943

This Wickham Trolley is number 10943, and was ordered on the 15th August 1975 by the Director of Engineering and Planning Services for Southend on Sea Council, for use on the 3ft 6” gauge pier railway, reportedly for use by the RNLI lifeboat crews. It was supplied by D. Wickham & Co. Ltd. of Ware, Hertfordshire, on the 9th February, 1976.

After years of useful service at Southend, it was sold to the Brecon Mountain Railway in 1983, and while there, was converted to two foot gauge. The trolley remained at Brecon until purchased privately and moved to the BLR on the 27th April this year.

It is powered by a 4-cylinder Ford type 2262E low compression engine of 1.3 litres, possibly an early non-crossflow-head version of the famous Kent series. It is of note that Ford’s engine type numbering can cause confusion, as the cubic capacity of Ford’s first Zephyr/Zodiac 6-cylinder engines from the early 1950s was 2262cc, but the motor in this trolley is definitely NOT a Zephyr unit. The trolley features a four speed gearbox in conjunction with a separate forward/backward transmission, and it is interesting to note that the sales leaflet of the time indicates a top speed of 55 mph, in either direction!

Wickham Trolley

And finally…… ‘Our’ Wickham Trolley also comes with a single-axle trailer, which will be of use when moving extra equipment around. The use of single axle trailers was rare in the UK, but not so in Europe, particularly rural France. Many provincial narrow gauge lines, usually metre gauge, but sometimes narrower, regularly used them before and immediately after WW2 for moving freight and produce when attached behind diesel railcars. The most notable user of this type of rail trailer was the Chemin de Fer de la Lozere in the southern Massif part of France, the line running from Florac to Ste Cecile d’Andorge.


April 2015 Update

The season has started, and what a start. David Jones, the BLR General Manager, writes:

The Easter Bunny at LllanuwchllynThe railway re-opened on the 31st of March, in time for the Easter holidays, after a hectic period getting everything – track, engines, carriages, shop, café – through their winter maintenance and ready for a new season.

The Easter bunny visited the railway for the first time, hiding ‘Easter eggs’ around the line for children to find as they went by on the train. Much fun was had by all, including the Easter bunny, with plenty of positive comments from happy passengers. The good weather also played its part, and the railway enjoyed its best Easter weekend since at least 1988 (this is as far back as the computerised records go), and possibly ever, with numbers up 20% on the previous year, which was itself a pretty good Easter for the railway

Just before Easter, the railway was approached by a lady who lives a couple of miles up the valley, on the slopes of the Aran mountain, and who makes home-made ice cream. We invited her over and she brought samples to taste. We were immediately won over by the rich creamy taste of her ice cream and stocked some to try. We sold out in two days! The second order didn’t even last the day. We’ve ordered several times since and the ice cream, which is available in several delicious flavours, has become a firm favourite with passengers and locals alike. So next time you visit the railway, try some of our locally produced home-made Rhyd y Bod Aran ice cream – we’re sure you’ll be back for more!

The board of the BLR stated that it was very pleased to hear about the Easter success, and wanted to extend grateful thanks to the General Manager as well as all the staff and volunteers.

Winifred Returns – April 13th 2015

Winifred awaits departure from Llanuwchllyn

This date has been in the diary for a considerable time, during which Rob Houghton, the BLR Chief Engineer, has methodically carried out, over a period of almost three years, a most comprehensive overhaul on Winifred, and it speaks volumes that she was not only ready for her big day, but also that she performed faultlessly too.

The day dawned cold, damp and overcast, not ideal in the eyes of some, but the resident weather fanatics had had their prayers answered, because it was dry, with almost no wind. It was a milestone day too, as the 13th marked 130 years to the day that Winifred was first delivered to Penrhyn Quarry in 1885. It was her birthday, and should be celebrated.

Preparing for the day

As Alice and Maid Marian were also on duty, there had been much activity down at the shed since the early hours. Julian Birley had been helping, since early in the morning, with the loco preparation, and it was a delight to see wisps of thick, white steam billowing in increasing volume over the shed roof. Tim Gregson, Russell Prince and Julian’s son, Thomas, were looking after Alice, while Maid Marian was in the capable hands of Andy Best and Howard Bowling.

Adele Burnett HarpistIn advance of the 11.00 presentation, there had been a lot happening at Llanuwchllyn Station too. The Welsh flag bunting, which decorated the buildings and fences, had already been straightened out after the strong winds of the previous evening, and volunteers and staff were busy with last minute chores. Dr David Gwyn, chairman of the BLR, arrived, followed shortly by the celebrated harpist, Adele Burnett, who entertained us throughout the morning on the platform, in spite of the less than favourable temperatures which did nothing to impair her exquisite playing. (Please note her Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/pages/Adele-Burnett-Harpist/). The guest of honour, the famous steam enthusiast, owner and record producer, Pete Waterman, appeared on the platform like an express train, and tracked down Julian, who had just reappeared in suit and tie, looking diametrically smarter than he was a couple of hours earlier!

By now, the platform was getting distinctly busy and exuding a wonderful atmosphere of anticipation. Even the perennially chattering house sparrows seemed to sense that something momentous was afoot. Myriad people were arriving from far and wide, including journalists and television crews, plus dignitaries, such as Lord Dafydd Ellis Thomas and local councillor, Dilwyn Morgan, both keen supporters of the BLR extension project. Shortly, whistles were heard and all eyes then turned towards the shed, as, firstly, Maid Marian and then Alice, both sporting Welsh pennants above their smokeboxes, whistled again, moved slowly off shed to take up their positions in the station loop, and then reversed along the siding, parallel to the main line. Anticipation levels were now nearing safety valve limits.

Winifred leaves Llanuwchllyn shed with Emrys OwenThen, exactly at the prescribed time, there was a loud whistle from the shed area, the crowds were hushed and the school children on the far platform broke into delightful song. Winifred emerged dramatically through a cloud of all-enveloping steam and then slowly, very slowly, joined the main line for the station, accompanied along the parallel loop by Alice and Maid Marian, the bridesmaids following the bride, so to speak. As ‘entrances’ go, it was timed to perfection. On the footplate of Winifred were Rob Houghton, who had put so much time and effort into the re-awakening of this venerable loco, plus Roger Hine, Director and former General Manager, who had contributed so much to the overhaul, a most deserving crew for the big day. BUT, there was a third person on the footplate, one Emrys Owen, who had piloted Winifred off shed, and who, as a young lad, had been her driver at Penrhyn Quarry in the 1950s. It could not have been a more appropriate rostering.

Dr David Gwyn addressed all assembled, fittingly first in Welsh and then in English, and then introduced the celebrated guest of honour, Pete Waterman, who spoke from the heart about the dedication of steam ownership. He then handed over to Winifred’s owner, Julian Birley, who spoke briefly, and who then asked Pete Waterman to remove the Welsh flag draped over Winifred’s water tank, thus ceremoniously welcoming her into her new career. Julian then presented Pete Waterman with a shining brass Winifred nameplate as a commemorative gift.

Winifred's re-dedication

The Eagles Inn pub in Llanuwchllyn had generously baked and donated two beautiful cakes in honour of the occasion, which were duly cut with great ceremony. Julian then placed one piece of cake in Winifred’s firebox, so she was now completely and very suitably christened! It was a most moving ceremony, and specially printed mini-packs of tissues were distributed, primarily in one direction, in case of emotion!

Winfred's cake Julian Birley feeds Winifred a slice of cake

Then it was time for the first train, a special for invited guests, and what a landmark train it was, as this was the very first passenger train that Winifred had ever pulled.

Winifred hauls departs with her first train

Incidentally, she has a most healthy and distinctive ‘bark’ when she is working hard, but such was the animated conversation in each carriage throughout the first journey along the lake that this alluring aspect went largely unheard.

The lake was calm, the scenery perfect and the atmosphere tranquil. It seemed almost as if we had the monopoly on time itself. At one point, almost as if rehearsed, an RAF Hercules ambled past on a very low level training flight along the lake. Some asserted that the aircraft seemed to waggle her wings slightly in salute. Later on, during the return trip, a Chinook helicopter flapped past noisily at a similar height. It was clearly to be seen that the load door at the rear was down, and that crew members were leaning out taking photographs! What a way for Winifred to return to service.

Winifred alongside lake Bala on her first train

Many ears were listening intently on the last part of the return trip, where the ‘bank’ makes a loco work hard, and, as Rob opened the regulator wide, Winifred did not disappoint. Her ‘bark’ is unique. After her triumphant first passenger service, the assembled visitors disembarked and then set about a delicious hog-roast which had been set up on the grassy knoll next to the platform.

After such a convivial lunch-time gathering, Winifred then busied herself throughout the afternoon with hauling three more return services for the public, each time with a different crew, made up of those who had put such great effort and long hours into her ‘rebirth’, including Rob Houghton, Roger Hine, Dan Laidlaw and Liz Partridge.

Winifred's crew for the day

All in all, it was a spectacularly successful day. Everything went precisely to plan, the weather remained dry and the ‘old girl’ never missed a beat, a fitting testimony to Rob and all the BLR team. What a comeback, the type that would make Pete Waterman proud!

The Red Dragon Project

Work on preparations for the extension of the line into Bala itself progresses well, and at the moment, there are a large number of aspects ‘in the mix’, thus it would be inappropriate to make any premature announcements. In the meantime, herewith the latest situation from Julian Birley, chairman of the Bala Lake Railway Trust:

“The Winifred day was a wonderful opportunity for new people to become aware of The Red Dragon Project, and to shed light on the main facet of extending the railway into the town of Bala. Local businesses have been kind enough to donate towards the cause, recognising the true benefits that the railway will have on the local community. The absolute focus of the project at this present time is to continue to raise the funds in order to purchase the station site in the town. While the whole cost of the extension is likely to be around £1.5 million, once the first £300,000 is raised, 40% of the route can be purchased and have track laid on it. While this is a lot of money, it is a very much more manageable step in order to make significant progress.

Please help us to get the message out to all who care about their railway heritage, and donate through JustGiving on the Bala Lake Railway Trust website”.

Bala Lake Railway Trust

www.balalakerailwaytrust.org.uk

And finally……….Liz Partridge fires Winifred

March 17th, as we mentioned last month, was the date of Winifred’s first post-overhaul run along the line, ever. April 13th was her first day of passenger duties, ever. While these dates are significant, they are also more so because, on both occasions, she was fired by a female, namely Liz Partridge, one of our keenest volunteers.

In the decades when Winifred was working at Penrhyn, one man operation was the order of the day, as quarry shunting duties allowed enough time for stoking the boiler, oiling around etc. Occasionally, a young lad would be rostered to assist on a difficult day. What makes the two dates significant, particularly March 17th, is that not only was it rare for there ever to be two people on the footplate, but on that occasion in March, Winifred was fired by a female, almost certainly the very first time ever.

There is history everywhere.


March 2015 Update

As this is read, scheduled services will have started on the railway, and the running schedule is shown on the website. In the meantime, the numerous restoration projects are progressing with the onset of more daylight and (hopefully) better weather.

18th March dawned as a bright and clear day with no wind, a perfect day not only for work on the line, but also for a special train that had been laid on as a birthday special. But even with this ‘extra’, work still continued with fishplate greasing, and much progress was made. Attention has also been given to any sleepers deemed to be a bit ‘tired’ at Flag Halt and in Bala Station. Roger Hine has been busy painting the station canopy stanchions in Llanuwchllyn. As well as all this, a start was made on painting the platform edge, where our ‘regular Rembrandts’ achieved great improvement.

The atmosphere in these working groups has to be experienced. The work is vital and serious, but this does not preclude much laughter, plus copious amounts of tea, thankfully catered for in the 2015 BLR budget!

Carriage & Wagon

The Penrhyn Coal Wagon gets ever closer (weather permitting) to completion, and three sides are now in place, ready for painting. The temporary couplings have now been replaced with refurbished originals, and the buffers are being constructed.

Perhyn Coal Wagon

The popular open carriage is having a new floor fitted, and special sections will be cut to improve access to the bogies for maintenance. The photograph shows the pattern of where the new panels will fit. After that, they will be carefully painted, in readiness for the warmer months when this open coach is very popular.

Penrhyn Saloon Project

Penrhyn SaloonIn spite of not entirely favourable conditions mentioned last month, there has been much visible progress, and the photograph shows the completed side frames fixed to one of the ends of the saloon. It has taken David Hale almost exactly a year to reach this point, a remarkable achievement for one person alone. Our photograph shows the framework fixed together, and in this image, we let it say the proverbial thousand words.

Locomotives

Apart from our faithful Trigger, the other diesels continue to enjoy their winter rest, and, anyway, they are not really needed until the season really starts.

As mentioned last month, Holy War is still without her boiler, which is having work done in Bridgnorth. While the opportunity presents itself, other items will be attended to, thus obviating the need for a possible absence later. Alice continues to delight visitors and crews alike, especially in dry weather! Maid Marian had her boiler inspection on the 17th without any problems at all. But the day was very special indeed for another reason.

As you will know, the restoration of Winifred has been gathering pace, with many aspects coming together. Rob Houghton, the BLR’s Chief Engineer, has excelled himself in getting everything back together in his habitual calm manner, while others have been wearing anxious expressions. The 17th was also the day when the boiler inspector passed Winifred with flying colours. Rob had set the fire and was waiting for the pressure to rise. Liz Partridge furiously polished the brass-work to make the venerable lady shine, and then, right on the mark, the safety valves lifted. It seemed to delight the inspector that all was well and, indeed, he complimented Rob on the excellent job he had done on her.

Once the inspector had left, Rob moved the reverser, gently opened the regulator and, with steam from the drains in the steam chest, she moved. After a little oiling, Rob, with Liz firing, took her down the line for her first run in decades under her own power. It was a perfect spring afternoon as the sun glistened on her brass-work, and progress was at a conservative rate, while Julian Birley and David Jones followed her by car, armed with cameras and in the guise of expectant parents! There were frequent stops for oiling, as the displacement lubricators have yet to be connected, but she behaved impeccably, a glowing tribute to Rob’s remarkable expertise. It proved to be a memorable day, as will be the 13th April, the day she hauls her very first passenger train, and a date that is exactly 130 years since her delivery to the Penrhyn Quarry.

Julian Birley prepares Winifred for her first run Winifred's first run
Winifred's first run

And finally……

We hope this gives you a little taste of the enthusiasm and atmosphere to be found at the Bala Lake Railway. The buzz is everywhere, and just imagine what that will be like on the 13th April. General election? What general election?


February 2015 UpdateWinifred blows her whistle

If one photograph can speak volumes, it is this one of Winifred blowing her whistle for the first time in 50 years. In spite of the inauspicious weather, it was a memorable moment for all present, particularly Chief Engineer, Rob Houghton, and owner, Julian Birley.

February was also of note with trains running, for the first time, over the half term period. During that week, over 400 passengers came to enjoy the scenery and atmosphere of the line, with the added seasonal bonus of better views of the lake and countryside. The whole operation was a great success.

Locomotives

Apart from our trusty diesel, known affectionately by all as Trigger, the other two heritage diesels are still in hibernation with cooling systems drained. But much has been happening with the steam fleet.

Winifred has, for a while, had fires lit in her boiler, but the best possible news is that the restoration is a total success and it passed the official steam test, but out of her frames. The boiler will need one final test when completely reassembled, surely nothing more than a formality. In the meantime, work continues on cladding the boiler and preparing the wooden framework that holds it in place.

Of the other three, Alice passed her steam test and Maid Marian will undergo hers very soon. As we reported last month, the boiler for Holy War is still away having repairs carried out. Apart from the mudhole door work, it has been decided to have other small remedial items dealt with at the same time.

Carriage & Wagon

The dampness of winter plays havoc with woodwork, thus we include all aspects of rolling stock together this month.

One of the open carriages, always a popular option during the warm, summer months, is having a new floor fitted. The Penrhyn Coal Wagon is now nearly complete and painting has started. Our photo shows just what a large wagon this is, as well as the need for space all around when working.

The Penrhyn Saloon project has been hampered by the recent damp climate, but a recent visit to David Hale gave a much better idea of what is involved. As is known, wood absorbs moisture and swells slightly as a consequence. Although this is only by a few thousandths of an inch, it is enough to make joints, which have been precisely cut to a tight fit, even tighter, thus there is a chance of splitting. Therefore, because the mortises and tenons have been so accurately cut, David cannot fit the end and side frames of the saloon together until they have dried out sufficiently.

But the pieces are all there, so with a bit of dry weather, the wooden parts will slot precisely into place, and then be joined to the metal chassis frame. Incidentally, all the wooden framework is being assembled together with a type of ‘urea formaldehyde’ glue called Resintite. It comes in the form of a fine powder which is mixed with water to produce a consistency similar to single cream! However, when set, it is completely waterproof, and the joints are stronger than the timber which is being glued.

The Red Dragon Project

Wednesday 18th February was a memorable day, in that Julian Birley, chairman of the Project, hosted two meetings in Bala in order to put across the aspirations of the railway.

The first was an afternoon open forum to show interested people the plans for the extension into Bala, and to listen to comments from all, both for or against. Naturally, there were a few dissenters who put forward various arguments, but the point of the gathering was to meet as many people as possible and discuss the issues. Julian, as well as David Jones, the BLR General Manager, spent well over an hour meeting town residents and listening to varied points of view, the majority of which were favourable and encouraging. All in all, it was definitely a worthwhile exercise.

After the tea-time forum, the team then decamped to the Gorwelion Centre on the outskirts of Bala, where the Tourism Committee, under Mrs. Mel Williams, was kind enough to let Julian put forward the plans again. He spoke without notes for just under an hour, all the while pointing out features on the excellent detailed drawings on the display panels.

At the end, questions from the assembled members of the Bala business community covered a wide range of issues, including liaisons with Snowdonia National Park to the Highways Agency. To each one, they were told that meetings had already taken place and that matters were progressing positively. It was interesting to witness the visible brightening of expressions. The mood of the evening was good to start with, but at the end, it was even better. Councillor Dilwyn Morgan, a staunch supporter of the project, was delighted.

And finally….

Following on from the above, generous donations are coming in for our ambitious project, but we have a long way to go, so if you are as inspired as we are, please help us by making a donation through the website. The Bala Lake Railway Trust

The weekend of 14 – 15 March is our next working weekend, so if you can, come along for a really worthwhile day or two, doing something that will be of benefit to everyone. Changing sleepers or greasing fishplates may not sound the most appealing of pastimes, but combine it with a truly great bunch of people, wonderful atmosphere and inspiring scenery, and you will go home with a satisfied grin. One day or two, it matters not. This is Bala, it has The Buzz, and it is like no other.


January 2015 Update

The first month of a new year could be presumed to be a quiet time for some, but as you will read, there is much happening behind the scenes on the BLR, even if there are no scheduled trains running. Apart from the Wednesday Gang’s activities, sometimes in distinctly uninviting weather, (more later), many varied tasks have been undertaken. Work on Winifred’s boiler continues, Holy War has been stripped down for routine inspections etc. and we include a photo of Chris Scott steam-cleaning her frames. A refurbished carriage wheel-set has been received, timetables are finalised and Flag Halt has had a makeover, making it ready for the season (and the Halloween Specials, where it is an infamous location for eerie occurrences!).

Carriage & Wagon

Scroll back in this News Section to August and you will see what the restored Penrhyn Coal Wagon looked like at that time. We now include a photo of the latest progress after the C&W team actually benefited from some dry weather in which to get on with their task. You will recall that space is of a premium when working on this wagon, thus much access all around is needed. The boards for three sides have now been cut, and this was followed by fettling the joints and belt-sanding the faces to ensure a very tight fit. Regular readers will recall that the new and very tight axle bearings were eased to great effect at the end of 2014 by simply including the wagon in a private train.

The Wednesday Gang

In the light of numerous reports this month, the team has been very busy with the continued maintenance programme, and in all weathers too.

Their first day back (7th) was spent on culvert duty, and ensuring that all drainage was clear, a considerable task. Near the Bala end of the line, where the road crosses the line, the side ditch was cleared of leaves and other arboreal detritus, particularly relevant here as there is much foliage around the cutting before the station. On their way back, they stopped at the delightful little halt at Pentre Piod, where a blackthorn bush and other overgrown photo-obstructions were removed, thus making this location a most promising photo spot.

The next three Wednesdays were spent on the continuing task of fish-plate greasing. However, on top of all this, the team has had to deal with other excitements, such as fallen trees and the need to change the odd sleeper that does not meet their exacting standards. Nevertheless, the fish-plate job is now up to the famous BLR lakeside embankment, that wonderful open vista beside Bala lake, although their work on that particular day coincided with the arrival of Arctic winds.

After a testing day, one member of the team simply remarked; “Roll on next Wednesday”.

The Penrhyn Saloon Project

David Hale continues with this epic solo undertaking which began last April, this time completing the wooden structure on to which will be attached the vertical framework, the whole eventually being mounted on the metal frames. As David describes; “The headstocks are now bolted permanently to the underframe, the solebars are glued in place, as are the bearers for the floor. It is beginning to look like something”. Soon, when the lateral framework is married to the side- and end-frames, it will, like an intricate jigsaw puzzle, suddenly change from numerous beautifully crafted pieces to the carcass taking shape. After that, of course, comes the equally detailed job of the exterior and interior woodwork.

Driver Experiences

As we have mentioned during the latter part of 2014, the beautifully restored Winifred is to feature in our Driving Experience roster in 2015. However, such was the almost immediate take-up of places, that only a few are still available as this is written. Driving a steam locomotive is one thing, but to take the regulator on a piece of living history is unique. If the idea of an unforgettable day appeals, please go back to the BLR Homepage and look at the Driving Experience section. It would be a truly unique day.

Presentation to Roger Hine

We show the photograph of the presentation, to Roger Hine, of this wonderful Pauline Hazelwood painting, and attach the following from our new Chairman, Dr David Gwyn.

"At the end of 2014, to mark their gratitude to Roger Hine at the end of his long and outstandingly successful stewardship of the Bala Lake Railway as General Manager, his fellow directors presented him with a beautiful painting of the railway’s four Hunslet ‘Ladies’, Maid Marian, Winifred, Holy War and Alice, by the renowned artist, Pauline Hazelwood. Our outgoing manager leaves the railway in great shape, and we will still have the benefit of his counsel as a member of the Board".

And finally…..

One volunteer always notes that, when sunrise can now be seen through one particular window in his house, he knows that spring is almost upon us, and the torpor (for some) of winter is dispelled. The Bala Buzz is increasing, the restoration of Winifred is nearing completion, and The Red Dragon Project, the extension back into Bala, is well under way. Like the Penrhyn Saloon recreation, it is all gradually coming together.

More importantly, in order to raise funds for the extension, The Bala Lake Railway Trust website is now up and running, so if you would like to make a donation to help us with our quest to reach Bala, or simply to keep an eye, for now, on how it is progressing, please have a look at the website, www.thebalalakerailwaytrust.org and, as always, watch this space. Even better, join us!


View our news from previous years by clicking on the following links - 2014 2013