Latest News from the Bala Lake Railway
December 2016 Update
The Santa Specials reflected what the Bala Lake Railway has achieved throughout 2016. Over the two days of Santa activity, the trains were filled to capacity, even the extra service which was organised for the Saturday afternoon. The weather did nothing to dissuade visitors and, even though it was a bit damp and overcast, everyone thoroughly enjoyed themselves, even the operating crews who were using both our open-cab locomotives, Alice and Winifred. General Manager David Jones described the event as ‘the best ever’.
On top of that, he also declared that the final passenger figures for the year made 2016 the best operating season since computer records began in 1987, possibly the best ever.
Our FIRST date for the 2017 diary for the enthuiast is the 22nd April. The railway’s plans for the coming year are already on our website, but that important date is for the return to service of George B. Previous reports have shown what great progress has been made with this locomotive, and while ‘she’ will be in use from time to time for testing and fine-tuning over the winter months, that date will be another memorable locomotive re-launch at Llanuwchllyn.
The Red Dragon Project, our ambitious plan to extend the line into down-town Bala, took another step forward this month with a positive announcement about the vexed question of how to cross the River Dee. Numerous ideas have been put forward about how to get round, or over, this problem, and the favoured option now is to run the line down the roadway, in exactly the same manner as in Porthmadog, which would also introduce a considerable savings in costs.
The railway commissioned a professional agency to prepare a report, (the £6500 cost being funded by a most generous BLR supporter), and following positive results, negotiations are now under way with the Highways Department. BLR Director, Julian Birley, who is masterminding the project said; “The tramway option offers a number of advantages. There will be no need to encroach on to a Special Site of Scientific Interest, and it will add a novelty factor to the route which has met with great support by local residents. By having the railway cross the bridge as a tramway, it will also serve to slow down traffic on a notorious corner on the approach to the town”.
As always, progress and details of this ambitious project can be seen at www.balalakerailwaytrust.org.uk
We are often asked about where the names of our locomotives came from. We therefore thought that a brief history of each would be welcomed, thus we start with a trio of those seen frequently on duty at Llanuwchllyn, and each tells an interesting story.
Alice was originally Dinorwic Quarry Hunslet loco number 4, but soon after arrival, she was named Alice after Louisa Alice Duff Ashton-Smith, one of the quarry owner’s daughters. Louisa Alice herself went on to become Field Marshall Douglas Haig’s mother-in law. This particular lady was unusual, or perhaps fortunate, in that she had two locomotives named after her, for it was the earlier smaller Hunslet locomotive Louisa, built in 1877 and weighing only 3.5 tons, that carried her name too. This loco was found to be too small and light, and was sold, but continued to give good service at her new home for another 20 or so years before, sadly, being scrapped.
Winifred was built as Hunslet loco 364 in 1885 for the Penrhyn Quarry and was named after Winifred Douglas-Pennant, the daughter of Lord Penrhyn, the owner of the quarry. Winifred herself was born in 1880 and died unmarried in 1968, although she distinguished herself in WW1 as a nurse.
The diesel, Bob Davies, is something of a conundrum, name-wise, in that the name is never used! This trusty maid-of-all-work is always referred to by the sobriquet, Trigger, the reasons being as follows. Bob Davies was a railwayman all his life, and a signalman for a large part. When he retired, he worked part-time at the BLR doing guard duty, as well as signalling on some gala days at Llangower, the lake-side half-way halt. His retirement was about the same time that the railway was acquiring the locomotive, and Pete Briddon, who owned the Yorkshire Engine Company and the loco, decided that Bob Davies would be a fitting name. The manager of the Bala lake Railway at the time was Roy Hardiman, and equally involved in the purchase was Roger Hine, who became General Manager shortly after. While the loco was still at the YEC works and, as yet, had no name, it became universally known as Roy and Roger’s engine, hence Trigger, after the horse belonging to the famous television singing cowboy. The name just stuck!
We will continue our naming history next month.
Our SECOND date for the 2017 diary is Sunday, 14th May. Russell Prince reports; “As a result of the successful volunteer recruitment event that was held earlier in 2016, the above date has been set aside to repeat the event in 2017. More details will be made available after the beginning of the new year, but if you have ever thought about seeing what is involved when it comes to volunteering on a Heritage Railway, mark that date now!”
And finally….. we featured last month a closing piece on Sam, Chief Engineer Rob Houghton’s adorable pooch and very much the railway’s mascot. In the cruellest twist of fate, Sam passed away in his sleep in December. Rob’s great friend and colleague, Dan Laidlaw, posted on Facebook a short but movingly eloquent announcement, which produced a huge number of messages of condolence from friends, colleagues, volunteers and even numerous visitors, all of whom had been touched by Sam’s character and friendliness. The hearts of everyone go out to Rob.
November 2016 Update
At the time of writing our 2016 Santa Special Trains are all fully booked. In fact, the demand was so great that we scheduled an extra train for 16.30 on Saturday 10th which also sold out very quickly. Naturally, dry weather is the desired option, and the prospect of watching the glistening lake and the twinkling lights of Bala from the train is most appealing. We will have two locomotives in steam for the Specials, Alice and Winifred, both with open cabs (but warm footplates), and while some might view the lack of protection from the elements as a problem, others consider a December suntan something of a bonus.
Our Halloween Specials were well attended, the final numbers being up on last year, in spite of other half-term attractions. Passenger numbers for the whole operating season were up by 14%, a most healthy increase over 2015, and if the period of the last two years is taken into account, the increase is 33%, which speaks volumes.
During the ‘quiet’ season, the Wednesday Gang has been meeting every week and, as usual, has been getting a lot of maintenance jobs out of the way. During November, the team has concentrated on the far end of the line, tackling what is referred to as ‘Boathouse Bridge’ where the main timbers were replaced earlier in the year. The latest efforts have been in checking and/or replacing the non-load-bearing boards at the side of the bridge. Bob Greenhalgh, a stalwart member of the team, takes up the story of one particular day.
“It was my first time with the ‘Wednesdays’ for a few weeks. Brian, as usual, had the works train ready when I arrived, Chilmark being the loco this time as our faithful diesel, Bob Davies, (aka Trigger) was in the shed with lots of bits missing (see later). Her long awaited overhaul had started. The day’s plan was to go down to Boathouse Bridge where Rob Houghton and Dan Laidlaw would work on the bridge woodwork while everyone else would be doing some serious tree and foliage cutting. As soon as we arrived, the kettle was put on, a great start!
Armed with loppers and bow-saws, James and Brian worked on the side of the line next to the road, while Rod, Liz and I tackled the lake side. Sam, Rob’s and indeed the railway’s faithful hound, took up his usual warm spot near the stove in the ‘catoflat’ works wagon, only venturing out to answer nature’s call. A good day’s work was achieved and the trackside looked very smart. On the way back to Llanuwchllyn, we stopped at Flag Halt to load the Santa Weekend decorations destined for the station café”.
The Locomotives are all undergoing winter maintenance, some more than others. As we have mentioned in previous reports, Maid Marian is now unrecognisable as her enclosed cab has been removed and she has been stripped down to her frames/chassis for her 10 year overhaul. Her boiler will be re-tubed and all her running gear will be inspected, refurbished and checked, the completion being scheduled for the beginning of next season. One interesting variation is that she will re-appear in open (original) form, like Alice and Winifred, the reason being the 50th anniversary since her preservation by the Maid Marian Locomotive Fund. In honour of the occasion, there will be a special day to commemorate this on Saturday, 6th May, 2017. We will provide more information early next year.
After purchase by the Fund, Maid Marian went to Bressingham in Norfolk for three years, then to Llanberis for a period before arriving at Bala, where she has provided sterling service ever since.
As you may have noticed, Chilmark is currently the railway’s prime workhorse, now that her linked alternator belt has been replaced. Our usual maid-of-all-work, Trigger, is finally getting some overdue care and attention, and whereas Rob is looking after Maid Marian, Dan Laidlaw is directing his considerable skills to this project.
The diesel engine has been removed, thus giving access to the frames so that hydraulic pipes can be checked/renewed and anything else discovered can be dealt with. But thanks to our engineers’ combined efforts in getting Chilmark into top form (including her new village-waking horn), there is no need to rush.
And finally….. based on our very successful Volunteers’ Day earlier this year, there is to be another in 2017, a perfect opportunity for anyone even remotely interested in railway preservation to see and experience what goes on. There are so many different facets that there is bound to be something that will appeal, an example being a globe-trotting commentator who wants to learn guarding duties. The day is handled by experienced people, volunteers themselves, who get involved for the sheer fun, camaraderie and productivity involved. We will publish more details early next year.
Our final photo is of Sam, our ‘railway dog’, in perhaps slightly sullen mood. The reason is that dogs like to dig, and one of Sam’s favourite digging areas in the yard has just been concreted for practical reasons, albeit with much canine disagreement.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, we would like to wish a very Merry Christmas and equally Happy New Year to all associated with the Bala Lake Railway, directors, staff, volunteers and particularly all our loyal passengers and visitors, without whom life would be a bit quiet. As they say across the water, in their tactful manner that covers everyone and offends nobody, Happy Holidays.
October 2016 Update
It has always been the firm intention of those behind The Red Dragon Project, our quest to extend the railway back into down-town Bala, that news will be announced when something of importance has happened, rather than speculative hopes and wishes. While there is an immense amount of work currently going on behind the scenes, we take great delight in publishing the following from BLR Trust Chairman, Julian Birley.
One of the most important aspects of preparing for the extension of the railway into the town has been the Economic Impact Survey. During the season, our visitors have been surveyed and their responses are now being analysed. On the 13th October, it was the turn of business to meet with the market survey agency, and an invitation was sent out inviting businesses to attend a meeting at Llanuwchllyn station.
We were delighted that 19 businesses attended, and a very useful meeting was conducted. Their response was extremely positive, and it is very reassuring that the railway is regarded as the premier tourist attraction in the area. Once concluded, I met with John Pritchard, the surveyor, who was very brief in his reaction: “It does not get any better than that”.
With that out of the way, we wait for the completed report and continue the detailed and complex discussions with Natural Resources Wales and the Highways Department.
This gives but a small taste of the myriad efforts in many directions that are being relentlessly pursued in order to achieve this ambitious plan. To put it simply, there is a considerable number of the proverbial ‘balls-in-the-air’, and we will publish details as and when they are finalised. These are exciting times.
We will report on the Halloween and half-term traffic next month, but, suffice it to say, up to this writing, numbers for October have been healthy, including a coach party of Chester Football Club supporters, the Senior Blues. Much favourable comment was heard after they had lunched at the station.
The Penrhyn Coach Project is, as we reported last month, making great progress, in spite of the very cramped conditions in which David Hale has to work. David reports: “The four plywood panels for the roof have been cut to size, and all the holes have been pre-drilled. With the roof fixed in place, the ‘canvas’ covering, which has just arrived, is to be attached, and a special adhesive is being sourced. The task of filling all the screw heads on the end panels is now done - a very time-consuming job – and a start has been made in doing the same to the sides. Once that has been done, the sanding down of the outside can be carried out in preparation for a coat of primer. I have started making the quadrant mouldings for the outer part of the window openings – four lengths for each opening – 10 openings – thus 40 lengths in total to be prepared. Those will then need to be cut to length and mitred at the corners before gluing and screwing in place. As with the filling, all of this work is very time-consuming and I am not rushing it.
On the 26th October, a local upholstery expert, Larry Piper from Sparkford, came over to look at what will be required in terms of seating and upholstery, so that the work can be put in hand, assuming the price he quotes is acceptable”!
BLR Director, Julian Birley, visited David recently and, in his own phraseology, was ‘blown away’ by the sheer quality of the workmanship and incredible attention to detail, particularly as it is now resembling a coach, rather than a bare carcass. When the completed coach arrives at the BLR, it will be a truly prized addition to the rolling stock, and there will doubtless be an exclusion zone in order to prevent oily boots getting even close. As we have said before, construction is to cabinet-maker standard, and with that, there will be so much that will never be seen.
We have some delightful snippets of General News this month, the first being the ingenious fitment of lights for the home and loop semaphore signals at Llanuwchllyn. Rather than laying lengths of cable, these lights are simply powered by solar panels and come on at dusk.
The other item of note, as always a private individual generously making something available to the railway, is a recently acquired back-hoe for the owner’s 1963 International B614 tractor. This addition will prove invaluable for ditch clearing and other line-side chores, particularly as (there is no other description) the tractor’s track is wide enough not to disturb the railway track.
And finally…. after the huge success of the recent working weekend, when sleepers were replaced and an immense amount of branches and foliage was cleared and chipped on site, the Wednesday Gang will meet every Wednesday in November. This rare group of volunteers tackle anything and everything, and always with humour and copious amounts of tea, although we hope the recent scare stories about rising tea prices will not temper their enthusiasm. We always welcome anyone who wants to join the team for these most productive and enjoyable days. As the photo shows, it is a beautiful working environment.
September 2016 Update
At the risk of sounding repetitive, the BLR has done it again. The 2nd October marked the end of the main operating season, although there is a lot of activity at the end of October and early November over the Halloween and half-term period (more later). The passenger numbers for the year reveal a very satisfying increase of 14% over the same period last year. Indeed, last year’s figures, which had proved to be the best for over 20 years, were actually passed on the 15th September.
Impressive as it is, work still carries on over the winter, and we will list several dates later where visitors and volunteers alike will be welcomed at various events, such as Wednesday Gang and Working Weekend.
The Locomotives on the BLR fleet have performed beautifully this year, a sign of the thoroughness of preparation enjoyed on shed, thus we will not dwell on the ‘regular’ motive power this month. However, as may have been seen at the Gala on static display, and read about briefly last month, George B now moves under her own steam. That first short expedition to Pentrepiod revealed that she is fit and ready, but a few minor details need completion, such as pipework and the lubrication system. Over the winter period, she will be painted properly, as she wears only a primer coat at the moment. Of more importance, she is scheduled to run in a photo charter during this month (October). Details can be obtained by contacting the BLR, and we will be happy to put applicants in touch with David Williams who is organising the event.
George B is owned by Alan White, who bought her in 1965, and the loco did not run from 1968 until late September this year. Alan, together with his brother, Frank, decided to strip the loco down to the frames and repair or renew anything that was deemed unsatisfactory, such is their attention to detail. Originally, work was carried out in South Wales where they live, but 12 years ago, the loco was moved to Llanuwchllyn, and the brothers have been visiting once a month or so since then to work on her. Progress was slow, as they were doing most jobs themselves, albeit under BLR Chief Engineer Rob Houghton’s watchful eye. But it reached a point where some heavy-duty input was required, and Rob has recently made enormous progress with re-tubing the boiler and re-fitting it on to the frames. The water tank proved to be in good order, thus the next steps to get her ready for boiler and steam testing fell into place easily.
After her initial test run to Pentrepiod, Alan and Frank came to Llanuwchllyn at the end of September and steamed her along the station loop several times, to the obvious delight of not only them, but all those present that day. A major and truly memorable milestone was passed. After over 50 years, she has been brought back to life.
It also meant that, for a very brief period of just a few days, the railway had six resident operational steam locomotives – a notable first, that is, until Rob started to dismantle Maid Marian in preparation for her 10 year overhaul this winter.
News of the diesel fleet is that our faithful maid-of-all-work, Trigger, is to be taken out of service over the winter for some overdue care and attention, and her duties will be taken over by Chilmark, now that her starter concerns have been eradicated completely. Any other light stock movements can be handled by our other Ruston, Lady Madcap, which has to be hand-started but does so easily and every time.
The Carriage & Wagon Team has spent as much time as possible on the cover for the bigger water tank at the end of Llanuwchllyn platform, and as the photo shows, it is nearly ready. However, it is not quite what it seems, and this is why it is taking longer to complete. What will look like steel when complete is actually of wooden construction, done to the team’s usual excellent standards. What has proved decidedly time-consuming is the fitting of over 200 coach bolts, thus giving the appearance of traditional metal rivet construction. As with all their exercises, this will be appealing visually as well as totally functional. The BLR is most grateful to the Bala Lake Railway Society which has funded the entire water tank project.
The Penrhyn Coach progresses and we will bring you the latest news next month. A visit is to be made in the next couple of weeks, where we will see the completed roof covering in place. Tenders are to be put out for making the elaborate buttoned-leather seats, an extremely skilled task.
We mentioned Dates, so let us deal firstly with the Wednesday Gang, that intrepid band of volunteers who meet to undertake various necessary tasks, usually adequately fuelled by copious amounts of tea, plus flapjacks supplied by Bob Greenhalgh. Please note these dates; 12th and 19th October, 2nd, 9th, 16th, 23rd, and 30th November. Any help is gratefully welcomed, and apart from doing something seriously worthwhile, these working Wednesdays are always enormous fun. As for the weather, what weather?
A Working Weekend is to take place over the weekend of 15th and 16th October, and again, apart from the fun aspect, there are a lot of varied jobs to be done, a lot of tea to be consumed, and a lot of pleasure to be found in a location that all agree is unique. Again, pay no attention to the weather, as the forecast is usually inaccurate.
Half-term holidays fall at different times this autumn, and while the railway will be operational over the usual period, 22nd to 29th October inclusive, the railway will also be running on Tuesday, 1st November, because this year, half term varies from area to area.
Halloween returns to haunt the railway on the 28th and 29th October, the specials running at 4.30, 5.30 and 6.30 each evening. Please click here for further details.
And finally….. there has been much comment in the heritage railway press about the success of our August Gala, particularly the intricate and varied scheduling of locos, as we mentioned last month, by BLR General Manager, David Jones. Favourable mention was also made about the all-female rostering on Maid Marian, thus silencing anti-female crew bigots. It should also be mentioned that his quip about the ‘Three Little Maids’ was also noted! The photo says it all.
August 2016 Update
Any tourist based operation expects, indeed, hopes to be busy during the main holiday month of August, and the Bala Lake Railway was nothing if not well patronised by visitors. The Steam Gala, held over four days of the Bank Holiday weekend, was definitely a popular venue, with passenger numbers up by 4% over the whole period last year. But the month, as a whole, proved successful as well, with numbers up by a full 15% over the same period in 2015. All at the railway, management, staff and volunteers, extend a big thank you to everyone who came to visit over the weekend.
The Steam Gala was special this year as the railway had six locomotives in steam over the whole four days, the well-known five BLR residents, plus visiting Hunslet, Velinheli from the Launceston Steam Railway. Senior staff from other member railways of the Great Little Trains of Wales paid visits to see what we were up to. The rostering also included the all-girl crew of Bobby Hine and Liz Partridge on Maid Marian, (the three little Maids?). A particularly inspired schedule meant that passenger trains were joined by freights, featuring wooden slate wagons plus the heavier Penrhyn stock of metal slate wagons and the gunpowder wagon. Attached to that one was the immaculate brake van, kindly loaned by the Festiniog Railway. Having passing loops at both Llangower (half-way) and Bala meant that there was continuous action to be seen. But what made it intriguing was the switching of locos, as per schedule, to afford more variety and photo opportunities. For example, Winifred, resplendent in her new paintwork (of which more later), might take the Penrhyn freight stock out of Llanuwchllyn, but would return later, double-heading with a different loco on a passenger train. As one visitor commented; “You have to be on your toes with all this changing and swapping. You just don’t know what will turn up next”. As the Bob Greenhalgh photo shows, the sight of two double-headed trains crossing at Llangower is rare indeed.
On static display were resident Hunslet, George B, plus visiting Hunslet, King of the Scarlets. Also on display, and returning after a number of years away in storage at Statfold Barn, was the 0-6-0 Peckett, Triassic, which will again be based at the BLR for the foreseeable future. George B had the name Wellington chalked on the side of her unpainted water tank, this being her original name, something we will deal with another time.
However, what visitors did not see was the captivating sight first thing in the morning when the locos were being prepared. Before 7 o’clock on most mornings, particularly the Monday, a blanket of mist lay motionless in the valley like a large expanse of cotton-wool, while the surrounding hills were above it.
The activity on shed was cloaked in eerie mist, interspersed with wisps of steam, climbing vertically into the windless air, as the locos slowly came to life. The crews prepared, cleaned and oiled their trusty steeds, to the occasional sounds of banter and tea-drinking. Slowly, as the sun burned through the lingering haze, there would be a number of whistles to indicate that locos were ready, whereupon they proceeded, amid clouds of steam in the cool damp air, down to the coaling bunkers and water tower at the end of the station. All were ready with their respective stock as per schedule, by which time the neighbouring campers had surfaced, unaware of the wonderful spectacle that they may well have heard but had sadly missed.
A traditional part of the Gala is the cavalcade on the final evening down to Llangower, after the last scheduled train has returned to base. Many photographers waited patiently as the ‘train’ of six locos, all coupled together, was assembled (amid more tea and banter), and then left Llanuwchllyn at a sedate pace.
The photographers had departed earlier on a diesel-hauled passenger train, which was then positioned in the passing loop at Llangower. To the accompaniment of six disparate whistles, all pitched differently, the column of six hove into view, and then stopped at the lake-side platform.
After run-pasts in the clear evening light, and to the satisfaction of all, passengers and photographers boarded the coaches and were then dropped at the farm crossing near the top of Dolfawr Bank, the one location on the line where locos have to exert themselves. After what seemed quite a while, albeit in wonderful rustic scenery, there arose from the trees near the lake a veritable cacophony of whistling, indicating that the cavalcade was returning. But this time, all six locos had been uncoupled and were running a safe but perfectly spaced distance apart, ideal for the cameras at the crossing. The evening light was perfect, and the steaming sextet displayed their talents to great effect.
As an epitaph to the ‘cavalcade’, the sight of the six locos being ‘put to bed’, more or less at the same time, was quite a spectacle, and while that was taking place, the static exhibits were being quietly shunted into the shed by the smaller of the two resident Rustons, Lady Madcap. The Llanuwchllyn shed has never had to accommodate so many locos, empty by day, but so cosy by night.
News of the Locomotives this month includes the brilliant paint job performed on Winifred, which we mentioned last month. This difficult task was carried out by former General Manager, Roger Hine, and ably assisted by Liz Partridge, who lends a hand to almost anything that needs doing on the line. The exacting job of the light blue lining was done by Roger, and the whole operation was completed in time for Winifred’s steam test on the 19th August.
Progress on aforementioned George B has been rapid of late. ‘She’ passed her steam test, thus will be ready for the photographic charter towards the end October. On completion, the BLR will have six resident steam locomotives.
As the photo shows, the Carriage & Wagon team have been busy with the new cover for the raised water tank structure. As we see from the photo, the wooden carcass is now complete, but still needs careful painting and rot-prevention to combat the winter weather. This wooden cover will also be beneficial in winter months by keeping the ambient temperature of the water at usable levels.
And finally……. we mentioned last month that the posters are now ready for our Halloween activities at the end of October. Special trains will run to Llangower on 28 and 29 October, at 16.30, 17.30 and 18.30. The return trip will be held up at Flag Halt, where there will be mischief on the part of the resident witches.
Tickets can now be booked on line for this exciting twilight trip along part of the lake, where shadows in the trees may conceal we know not what!
Exactly as this news update was being compiled, George B was steamed and taken for a short test run to Pentrepiod Halt, the first journey on the line since arriving at Llanuwchllyn all those years ago. We will have more next month.
July 2016 Update
July was another busy month on the railway, and passenger numbers were up (again) by 6% on July last year, but it is of note that the start of the school holidays brought even greater numbers to Llanuwchllyn, up by a full 12% on last year. On the last day of the month, for example, one train was totally full, with not a single seat vacant, and this necessitated, not for the first time this year, the rapid attachment of a sixth carriage. This ever-increasing trend is most encouraging.
As previously mentioned, the August Bank Holiday Gala will be a four-day event, running from the 26th to 29th. There will be five to six locomotives in steam each day, including double-heading, and movements will consist of two-train running for passengers, as well as freight movements, thus giving photographers multiple opportunities. For the first time, there will also be a mixed working of passenger carriages and freight wagons, which will be quite a spectacle. There will also be a free Routemaster bus shuttling from Bala Station to the town centre. Our website will give details of variations and timing of all trains soon. You can reserve your ticket now for this exciting event by clicking on the ticket icon.
As well as our regular fleet of steam locos, we are delighted to welcome the Hunslet, Velinheli, from the Launceston Steam Railway in Cornwall. As an added bonus, the Statfold Barn Railway has kindly loaned one of their Hunslets, King of the Scarlets, which will be on static display throughout the Gala.
News of the Locomotive Fleet has a deal of variety this month. Leaving aside Holy War, Maid Marian and Alice, which continue to do exactly what they should do, there has been a lot of activity in different areas. George B, which has been undergoing a slow but intricate restoration, reached a milestone during the month when her boiler passed its ‘hydraulic’ test, that is, filling it with water and putting it under pressure to the extent of 240 lbs. per square inch. The boiler has now been refitted on to the frames and the tank has been refitted as well. The next step is to test her steam pressure, which should be a formality. After so many years in pieces, it will be a great day when she (all locos are ‘she’) is in steam again.
Winifred is nearing the end of her re-painting to her original specification, to the extent that her lining, an exacting task only for the steadiest of hands, is now being done. These hand-painted ‘coach-lines’ are blue and red, with the former now completed. Her brass nameplates have been beautifully polished in readiness for re-fitting.
Diana, our recently introduced Kerr Stuart, has been in use a great deal, and has just returned from a most successful trip to the Threlkeld Gala in Cumbria, where she double-headed frequently, a necessity in view of the line’s 1 in 20 gradients. Owner Phil Mason takes up the story under the heading, Diana does Cumbria, an equally steamy tale but quite different from the notorious title half a century ago!
Diana set off for the Threlkeld Gala on Sunday, 24th July. Like a worried father, I phoned on the Monday to ensure she had got there safely, only to be told they hadn’t seen her! It’s fair to say that some colourful language followed, as I couldn’t get hold of the haulage firm or the chap in charge of the event. 24 hours later, I had a call to say she had been resting comfortably in the hauliers’ yard in Stoke before travelling north the following day. Well, at least one of us had been resting comfortably! From what I know, it was her first visit back to Stoke, the town of her birth, since 1917.
The railway at Threlkeld runs up to the stone quarry and can best be described at a roller coaster, with gradients in the 1 in 20's. Now is the time to thank Rob Houghton at Bala for fitting new brake blocks. Diana was filled, steamed and tested without any problems, after which she was put back in the shed for the Friday photo charter. The weather was bright and sunny, as near perfect as can be, and the photographers were out in their droves. Some fantastic video and photos were taken, and many can be seen on the Diana Facebook page here. She was posed with skips and flat wagons, with the excavators, as well as with the other visiting locos from Statfold barn and The Mosely Trust, plus Sir Tom, the resident Threlkeld loco.
Saturday being the first day of the Gala, she was paired with Sir Tom, the resident Bagnall, and on dry rails, she did all the work to the top. Slippery rails later were a different story, when she was pushed much of the way! A lot of the day was spent talking to the public and spreading the word about Bala.
On the Sunday, she was paired with the Joffre from The Mosely Trust and ran faultlessly. At the end of the day, she was drained and soon driven on to the low-loader for her return to Bala.
My thanks to all involved in the trip, Ian and Dickon at Threlkeld for the invitation and hospitality, to Rob Houghton at Bala for getting the brake blocks fitted and packing her off at short notice, to Mark Freeman, John Taylor and Paul Hyde for crewing her and making her sparkle. Lastly, thanks to all who came to see her and commented on her, as well as Mike Lynskey who lives for tea-making, and who put a cuppa into your hand within seconds of arriving back at the station.
In conclusion, great fun was had by all, and many learned and heard tales of the Bala Lake Railway, and promised to visit. As for the return down the M6, that is quite a different story!
The Carriage & Wagon department have all but completed their job on the new cladding for the improved water tower at Llanuwchllyn. As the photo shows, the structure is to their usual superb standards.
In the meantime, the re-built carriage has been receiving some extra detailing, including the most attractive beading on the doors.
And finally………. please remember to check the railway’s Special Events 2016 page on the website for all the details and information about train movements and consists for the Gala, as well as The Alice Day on the August 13th, when Pauline Hazlewood, the author of the delightful Alice book series, will be present. The BLR Facebook Page can also be used for information. Whether you are riding the trains or doing some serious photography, the BLR is renowned for superb scenery and, more importantly, accessible vistas.
Looking far ahead, posters and tickets for the Halloween and Santa Specials are already prepared. We will have more information next month.
On a different topic, visitors might like to spare a thought about some fascinating historical details which would normally, during a fun day out on the railway, pass completely unnoticed.
It was the habit of managers at the Dinorwic Quarry to minimise down-time on locos by the frequent swapping of parts simply to keep everything in working mode. For example, visiting Hunslet, Velinheli, actually has the original tank and boiler from Maid Marian, which, in turn, has the frames from static exhibit, King of the Scarlets. Velinheli was actually the first Hunslet in what became known as the ‘Alice’ class, our own Alice originally wearing the name-plate ‘No. 4’. Likewise, Maid Marian was originally ordered with a domed boiler, as she was initially used on the 2 mile tramway from the quarry to Dinorwic village, a line used not only for the movement of slate but also for transporting slate workers, and which ran higher up the mountainside before the 4 foot gauge lake-side Padarn line was constructed along the edge of Llyn Padarn.
There is history everywhere...
June 2016 Update
After all the excitement and success of May, with the launch of Diana into service on the railway, followed by the Photo Charter, both events being blessed with perfect weather, one might suppose that June would be quiet by comparison. Not a bit of it, and it proved to be one of those unpredictable months for visitors as well. A perfect example was Thursday 16th, when the BLR welcomed an exceptional number of visitors, and on a day with a rather important football match taking place too. Indeed, knowing that parking in Bala would be at a premium, a number of shrewd fans decided to combine the best of two worlds by parking at Llanuwchllyn station, taking the train to Bala, watching the match on a pub TV, with all the associated atmosphere and camaraderie, and then catching the last train back.
For the month overall, we have seen a healthy increase in passenger numbers, particularly with a greater number of coach parties, groups and, in particular families. It is gratifying that the appeal of steam is for all generations.
The Locomotive Fleet continues to provide the required service and enjoyment. Diana has proved to be a great success and visitor draw, the stalwarts Maid Marian, Holy War and Alice are in service and are scheduled in rotation, depending on usage and, of course, the weather, while the long-scheduled re-paint of Winifred is progressing well, to the extent that her tank has now been re-united with her frames. Work is also progressing on the privately-owned George B, and it will not be long before the boiler and frames are together again.
As for the diesels, maid-of-all-work Trigger is exactly that, Chilmark is being used much more on work trains after her winter maintenance, in particular that troublesome starter motor, has been finished to great success, and Lady Madcap makes an occasional welcomed appearance, also on work trains. While the railway is always associated with steam, it is gratifying that there are three diesels which now start ‘on the button’.
The Carriage & Wagon team has been busy as usual, and our photos show the wooden frames for the rebuilt water tower, which is to be clad in wood to enhance the already neat structure. The new wooden outer panels will be fitted when time (and weather) permits.
As shown in Ian Whitson’s second photo, the slate wagon is almost complete, and only the painting remains to be done.
In the meantime, the bolster wagons have been finished, and rather than lying around waiting for a sizeable tree to appear, they were promptly loaded with the new timber with which to finish off ‘Boathouse Bridge’ near the Bala end of the line. You will recall that the longitudinal, load-bearing baulks were replaced a while back, and these extra timbers are for the non-load-bearing cross members. As the photo shows, the bolster wagons were the perfect place on which to store the timbers.
The Penrhyn Coach Project has been neglected in this column of late, mainly because there has been a lot happening on the railway elsewhere. So a visit was made at the end of the month to see what David Hale has been up to. Sadly, the photos cannot do sufficient justice to what David has achieved in such a restricted working space, and likewise to the intricate detail which only personal inspection can appreciate.
So far, well over 2000 screws have been used, let alone the tacks used to secure the inner panels, and every single one of them is exactly in line, symmetrical and millimetre perfect. The tack holes will be filled to ensure a flush finish, and you may notice that the battens for end panels are only screwed for location purposes. In due time, they will be removed again and the edges rounded off, exactly as per the coach in the Penrhyn Museum. It cannot be stressed too much about the level of detail in this project, most of which will be hidden from view when it is all finished. David is indeed a perfectionist.
The photo of the roof is worthy of note, showing as it does the perfectly uniform curves. You may recall that each roof frame is made from seven, yes seven, pieces of wood, carefully glued and shaped in a purpose-built former. Likewise, the subtle curvature of the side panels can just be seen, and it is also noteworthy that one end panel will be removed and carefully cut so that it exactly matches the ‘tumblehome’, or gentle curvature of the side panels.
Prior to work progressing on the roof section, the coach was lifted slightly and the axle frames removed, so that it could be dropped a few inches, thus facilitating the fitting of the curved roof panel in due course.
When all this is done, attention will turn to the interior, firstly with the construction of the seat frames, but this is a way down the line, so to speak, and a local firm of upholsterers is to be engaged, to carry out the fabrication of the facsimile cushions and padded panels.
Completion of this epic, one-man project is still many months away, but the slowly building excitement is understandable.
And finally…….. mention should be made about the August Bank Holiday activities on the BLR. Following on from the great success last year, there will be a four-day Gala, from Friday 26th to Monday 29th, with passenger and freight workings, double-heading etc. Five of the BLR based locos will be in steam (subject to availability), plus they will be joined by a visiting loco, Velinheli, making a guest appearance from the Launceston Steam Railway, so there will be an enormous variety of steam action and stock permutations to be enjoyed. Please check the BLR website as further details are published.
We conclude with a superb Barry Fitzpatrick photo from the Photo Charter on the 16th May, showing Diana in an idyllic setting. The BLR is not known as ‘the line-side line’ for nothing.
May 2016 Update
What a month there has been on the railway! Leaving the brilliantly staged Bank Holiday Gala and the launch of Diana until later, we were thrilled to learn that that the Bala Lake Railway has been awarded a TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence for 2016. We would like to convey sincere thanks to all who travelled on the line over the last year, and who rated us so highly. It is so gratifying to know our efforts are truly appreciated.
The launch of Diana, Phil Mason’s beautifully restored Kerr Stuart locomotive, took place on the 14th May in perfect conditions, with blue skies and Lake Bala as still as a millpond. Phil takes up the story.
“A most enjoyable day was had by all at the Diana launch and re-dedication on Saturday, 14th May. The weather was glorious, the food was superb and the speeches brief. Diana performed effortlessly and with style, unlike her owner who spent the entire day grinning contentedly. (Justified. – Ed.)
The celebrations started with an introduction from the footplate, made by BLR Chairman, David Gwyn, followed by my own small contribution on the history of the locomotive. Finally, the re-dedication was carried out by my father, Peter Kent Mason, who poured a little champagne over the buffer-beam, but carefully ensured that there was plenty left for his lunch later!
Diana pulled her first solo train away from Llanuwchllyn at precisely 11.00, with Rob Houghton, myself and my father on the footplate. The crews changed around throughout the day, selected from myself, Rob Houghton, Dan Laidlaw and Dave Evans. The photographers were out in force, and some excellent photos were taken to record the memorable event, many of which can be seen on the Diana Facebook page.
After the excitement and success of Saturday, Diana had Sunday off, but on Monday, 16th, she was out again on a David Williams photo charter. Again, the weather was perfect, and the day was spent in glorious sunshine, running past men on stepladders, then setting back and doing it again, and again, and again. It was one huge success, apart from one altercation with a particularly well-spoken tractor driver, who had swapped his Bentley for his tractor, in a scene straight from that famous Ealing comedy, The Titfield Thunderbolt. The photographs seen so far have been truly fantastic, capturing the whole atmosphere to perfection”.
The Bank Holiday Weekend at the end of the month saw a most ambitious programme laid on, with several notable ‘firsts’ for the railway. Linked to the first two-train running on the BLR for 25 years, an excellent model railway show was organised at the Bala School, with free link to the railway by red London bus.
At the same time, the Meirionnydd Tractor & Vintage Machinery Club organised a Festival of Transport and joined us in the campsite next to Llanuwchllyn station with a wonderful display ranging from vintage tractors to beautifully restored trucks, plus an appealing array of classic cars. Other stands featured local crafts, including a group of hounds and one man throwing an axe at a target with gratifying accuracy and skill.
The fact that all three locations were linked together proved to be an enormous success. BLR volunteers came from far and wide to help with whatever tasks needed doing, which just added to the success.
BLR General Manager David Jones posted the following on the 30th May, which sums up the event perfectly.
“Building the second guard’s brake coach, and running a two-train service was definitely worthwhile. Today, we carried very nearly twice the number of passengers to last year’s equivalent Bank Holiday Monday, and beating the best day from last August’s gala.
A huge thank you to Rob, Geoff, Dan, Mark and everyone else involved in building the brake coach, as well as all the crews and others who operated the services this weekend. Thanks also to those who stepped up to help run the model railway exhibition. What an achievement it was, and we are proud of you all.
Bala and Llanuwchllyn were really buzzing today. The trains were full, the connecting bus was well loaded all day, the Festival of Transport was a great success and the Model Railway Show, whilst not packed (weather too good), was well enough patronised to be repeated again next year. It was definitely the best weekend in 25 years”.
And finally…… to accompany this beautiful photo of Diana, we close with owner Phil Mason’s riposte to a witticism about the shape of her cab.
“A few people have commented that Diana’s style of cab won’t give you any protection against the Welsh weather. I don’t know what they mean, as it is just the thing to stop you getting too sunburnt on the BLR”.
April 2016 Update
Passenger numbers, by their very nature, do not always follow strict patterns. Those of April 2015 were very healthy, largely as the result of the big celebrations in the middle of the month in honour of the return to service of Winifred, our Hunslet which had been re-patriated from the USA by BLR Director, Julian Birley, three years earlier, and which had undergone a careful and sympathetic restoration, led by Rob Houghton. April 2016 saw a steady flow of enthusiastic passengers throughout the month, the final figures revealing a gentle increase over last year, but with no specific peaks or troughs. It also helped that some school holidays were quite lengthy this year because of an early Easter.
Needless to say, a lot has been happening in and around the line, and one aspect highlights an endemic problem throughout the UK. Volunteers walk the line near the start of the season, picking litter from along the tracks. Some, sad to report, emanates from the trains, with the remainder being simply discarded over the nearby hedges. At the end of the day, enough rubbish to fill two big bin liners was collected. Enough said!
Monday, 18th April was a driver experience day, and we were delighted to welcome His Honour Judge Peter Heywood on to the footplate of Holy War, with Bob Greenhalgh as instructor. Bob tells the story of a memorable day.
Monday 18 April 2016 had been booked as a driver experience day by Peter Heywood. I had shared the footplate of Holy War with Peter on Sunday 14 February 2016, and he had asked me if I would crew with him on his April day. Peter had first ‘met’ Holy War in 1966. Suffice it to say he had requested Holy War for April. Over the closed season, Holy War had been getting painted and on April 18 she looked superb. As the paintwork was so fresh, we were told not to polish or wash the outside of Holy War so we concentrated on the cab brass-work. There’s nothing like a gleaming cab to put a smile on people’s faces.
With a suitable headboard, Peter driving, me firing and Bobby as guard, we set off on our first run to Bala. Not having fired for some time, I was a bit unsure but Holy War steamed and ran beautifully. Peter was in seventh heaven and handled the regulator very well. After servicing our engine at Llanuwchllyn, we had lunch, (thank you Bobby), and of course tea! The second run was just as enjoyable as the first, and Peter was quickly getting the feel of the engine. After the second trip, we put the stock away and, as Alice was wanted for Tuesday, we used Holy War to move her from the shed to the head shunt before putting Holy War away. We then chopped sticks and emptied the ash pit, making sure all was ready for Tuesday. It had been a brilliant day. Both Peter and I had smiles a mile wide. It was great to have Holy War back in service. If anyone fancies a footplate day, I can highly recommend booking one. It’s a great and memorable day out for anyone, even if you have no locomotive experience at all.
The Carriage & Wagon team has been making good use of the dry weather to press on with their re-building programme. They have now completed the second bolster wagon, soon to be joined with its partner. The photo below shows Ian Whitson at work on the re-building of the large slate wagon, placed on the movable workbench in the form of a large flat wagon, so that the ensemble can be wheeled back into the shed, should the traditional ‘liquid sunshine’ appear quickly.
Also under the C&W heading is the construction of a second brake coach, which is required for two train operation later in the year, hopefully as early as June. BLR Chief Engineer, Rob Houghton, is masterminding the re-building of this bogie coach on the chassis of a vehicle which has been out of use for a while, and the interior is being tailor-made for specific purposes. The primary need is the fitment of air-brakes, but the other necessity is the adaptation of the interior for a guard’s compartment, plus an enlarged space for wheelchairs, as well as cycles, in line with our ‘huff ‘n puff’ scheme, where cyclists can cycle along the side of the lake and then take a train for the return journey. To this end, the coach is to be fitted with tip-up seats in one section, thus offering perfect space adaptability.
This was previously an open coach, but another clever idea is being employed to convert it to a semi-enclosed one. In this new coach, the side next to the hills, which has no doors, will have conventional sliding windows, whereas those on the scenic lake side will have half-height doors and fixed windows. The pre-cut wood for the panelling, as well as the windows, has already arrived at the Llanuwchllyn depot, so much progress is being made. The crossover point at Llangower Halt will become an even more popular spectator and photographic location this year, and with such perfect views of the lake and scenery, waiting for a train will, for a change, become a distinct pleasure.
28 – 30 May are the dates for a big celebration of model railways and heritage machinery around Bala.
With frequent services to Bala Station by vintage bus, we will be hosting a model railway exhibition at Ysgol y Berwyn (Bala Secondary School), featuring 15 layouts, including narrow gauge, in scales from N to G. There will also be trade stands and refreshments, plus Park and Ride at both ends of the line.
On the 29th and 30th May only, and organised by the Meirionnydd Tractor and Vintage Machinery Club, the Festival of Transport will host a fascinating display at Llanuwchllyn of vintage tractors, motorcycles, cars, rally cars, Land Rovers and trucks. Any enquiries for entries should be made to Allen Main on 01678-530408.
The two shows, the vintage bus and the railway will give plenty of reasons to visit Bala, with the added convenience of being able to park once and visit or ride all the attractions.
As these extra activities have to be staffed by willing volunteers, we are always in need of helpers for myriad tasks, particularly at the model show venue in Bala. We need help such as parking stewards, selling tickets, stewarding and serving teas, plus numerous other duties. If you would like to help us over what will be a most productive and enjoyable weekend, please contact the railway on 01678-540666.
April 24th was the BLR Volunteer Recruitment day at Llanuwchllyn, and Russell Prince posted the following, in appreciation of all who helped.
To let you know that, as a result of yesterday’s volunteer recruitment day, there were five people booked, and even though one had to cancel because of car issues, he fully intends to become a volunteer. Of the remaining four, they must have enjoyed themselves, as three joined up straight away as Society Members during the day, and all four expressed interest in returning as volunteers.
Thanks to all who helped put the day together, with special mention to Jamie Gwalcherfen Green for all the work done towards the day as well as the contents of the volunteering page on the website.
And finally….. 14th May is the re-launch of Diana, the delightful Kerr Stuart loco, now that she has successfully completed (walked through) her trials on the line, as mentioned last month. This will be the day she officially enters service on the Bala lake Railway, with the first train booked for 11.00.
The owner of Diana, Phil Mason, who has described his charge as ‘a gentleman’s light sporting locomotive’, has assured us that his speech of welcome will be brief. To ensure the assured brevity, the fireman’s hand will be loitering near the whistle.
March 2016 Update
We have already reported on the first services this year in February, but the first major passenger activities were around a particularly early Easter. The enthusiasm of visitors was as good as ever, although the Bank Holiday Monday was traditionally damp, hence the numbers were down. But the two preceding days brought healthy numbers to Llanuwchllyn, to enjoy the scenery and atmosphere of our busy lake-side railway, as well as the Easter Egg Hunt, and Good Friday produced an exceptional number of attendees, around 50% up on last year. As you can see in the photo below, the weather was not damp for the whole of the Easter break.
Prior to Easter, and following on from our extensive relaying of sleepers and other maintenance on the line, the large wooden baulks that carry the rails on ‘Boathouse Bridge’ were replaced, taking advantage of the last opportunity to get the job done without disrupting services.
Boathouse Bridge is located near the Bala end of the line, and crosses a man-made inlet to a now derelict boathouse for the hotel which nestles under the hillside to the south. It is also to be noted that the level of the lake was a couple of feet higher when the boathouse was built.
The main structure of the bridge is steel, but the timber used for this refurbishment was sourced locally from forest of Coed y Brenin (King’s Wood), just above Dolgellau. What made it particularly special was that it was 45 feet in length, which made our job easier as we needed two lengths of longitudinal span for the rails to be seated on, of 21 and 24 feet respectively.
One not-so-good item of news is that the hoped-for acquisition of rail for the Bala extension did not materialise. After an expedition up to Eastrigg, near Gretna Green, to inspect and reserve our rail requirements, the goal posts moved dramatically and the entire stock of rail, point-work and other items was sold to a single contractor. However, the disappointment was tempered somewhat by the fact that the majority of the point-work was 1-4, thus being too tight for ‘mainline’ operation, (the BLR needs gentler 1-8), and the curves were pre-bent, thus their curvature could not be re-aligned and would therefore be of little use to us anyway. What the contractor will not want will probably be sold off at a much higher price. But all is not lost, as this setback has opened up other avenues of acquisition of 35 lbs per yard rail, and these are being explored vigorously.
Within the Locomotive fleet, both Maid Marian and Alice passed their annual boiler inspections on the 23rd March. Holy War does not need hers until September, and Winifred is having a few adjustments made before she returns to service later in May.
On the other hand, Diana has been undergoing trials before her rededication on the 14th May. The water tower in Llanuwchllyn has been raised to suit her higher placed tanks. She sported new sand boxes and a fresh repaint on the 1st April, but strangely was back to normal by the 2nd! More importantly, she has been subjected to load-testing to make sure she can haul a full six coach train. Owner Phil Mason takes up the story:
Two days of load-testing took place on the 18th and 19th March, following her awakening from her winter slumbers the week before. At the Vale of Rheidol Gala last year, the valve settings were not right, thus Diana had great difficulty in starting her train and frequently required a shove from the other loco on the train to get her going. Once on the move, only the first and second notches of the regulator could be used. After the Gala, adjustments were made, but there was no chance to test her on a heavy train before she came to the BLR, so it was with a degree of apprehension that we lit her up for the test.
First of all, we tried five empty coaches all the way to Bala and back, without the loco or crew breaking into a sweat, and so we next tried six coaches with the diesel, Trigger, on the back for good measure. Diana managed this too without any difficulties. The only slight problem arose when coming to a stop in Bala with the second train, when the steam handle came off in Rob Houghton’s hand! Two further trips with the heavier loading were carried out the following day without incident.
One or two minor issues require attention, but she will be ready for her rededication and her first ever solo passenger train service on Saturday, 14th May.
The Carriage & Wagon team have been enjoying spells of good weather in which to deal with some problems on the exposed end of the station café and adjoining ‘lean-to’ where deliveries are left. They will return to rolling stock matters soon, and on the agenda are completion of the wooden slate wagon, plus the second bolster wagon. As soon as the latter is finished, a couple of sizeable fallen trees will be placed on the bolster pair.
The Penrhyn Coach continues apace and, as the photo shows, it is really looking like a coach now that the sides have been attached and apertures cut. David Hale reports:
All four panels on one side of the carriage are now glued and screwed in place. Each panel was a complete 8’ x 4’ sheet of plywood, and was fixed directly to the framework. The next job was to open up the windows again before starting on the second side.
Apart from the previously mentioned cramped conditions in which the coach is being constructed, this month’s irritation was the failure of David’s drill at the most crucial of moments, but luckily, another was found very quickly. Drying glue waits for no man!
Volunteers are always such a vital part of a tourist railway, and apart from the C&W team beavering away, Barbara Cooper spent quite a while cleaning the signal levers, with the caveat that woe betide anyone who forgets to use a cloth from now on when operating the levers! The white line on the edge of the platform is being carefully re-painted in stages, initially by Bob Greenhalgh, thankfully without anyone (two-legged or four) inadvertently stepping on the wet paint.
As we have previously mentioned, the BLR is hosting a Volunteer Recruitment and Experience Day on Sunday, 24th April, which will give those interested a perfect opportunity to see just what makes a railway function, and experience a wide variety of roles and responsibilities. You will also be able to savour the unique BLR atmosphere, as well as meeting a great bunch of people who thoroughly enjoy what they do. We still have a few places left, and really look forward to welcoming you, but please note that places must be reserved in advance. All the relevant information is available by clicking here.
And finally, there are still a few tickets left for the 11.00 train, hauled by Diana on the 14th May. If you want tickets to travel behind her on her first ever solo passenger train then please book on line as soon as possible. Click here to access our online booking system.
In the meantime, please delight in this unique ‘pot-of-gold’ photo, taken by BLR General Manager, David Jones, of a rainbow ending right on top of our loco shed. In spite of much searching, a major discovery has yet to happen. But we live in hope.
February 2016 Update
We break with tradition and start with And Firstly because of some wonderful news received at the very end of February.
When we were presented with the opportunity to acquire from the MOD the rail needed for the extension into Bala, it spurred on and created greatly increased interest in the whole Bala extension project. Substantial donations have come from supporters all over the country, and we have now received generous donations of £5000 and £10000 from two particular supporters. This belief and support in what we are doing will not only enable us to acquire the rail needed, but also puts us in a position where we are tantalisingly close to being able to buy the first plot of land in Bala where the new station will be built. We are now making a big push to raise this money, so please support us and, likewise, spread the word to friends and family alike.
The other inspiring piece of news this month concerns the Heritage Railway Association (HRA) Awards evening, which was held at Grand Station, formerly Wolverhampton Low Level Station, on 6th February. The BLR was joint winner of the Steam Railway magazine award, together with our friends/colleagues in the Great Little Trains of Wales. This highlighted, in particular, how well this group of railways exists in an atmosphere of co-operation and assistance, rather than in outright competition. The railway’s other ‘gong’ was as runner-up in the HRA Special Meritorious Project award for Julian Birley’s repatriation of our 1885 Hunslet, Winifred, and her subsequent restoration to quarry condition, with our own Rob Houghton getting a very special mention! Copies of Julian Birley’s fascinating book on the whole Winifred adventure, from start to finish, are available from the BLR.
Half Term Weekend saw the first operational working this year and, in conjunction with St Valentine’s day, proved very popular. Passenger figures were up by 4% over the first week last year. As a bonus for passengers, the first weekend was also a working weekend, so passengers passed the works train and could see our volunteers hard at work as well. A number of sleepers, laid over the last few years and which were changed as part of the recent track re-laying, were only given a few weeks’ respite before being re-used near the halts of Flag and Llangower. As well as the ongoing track-work, a lot of tree and foliage trimming was undertaken, in order to open out the line’s famous vista.
The St David’s Day specials at the end of the month carried 374 passengers, and every piece of coaching stock was used. It was most encouraging to see a 6-coach train absolutely full.
With regard to locomotives, the Hunslets continue to perform as they should, Diana is still enjoying her winter slumber, and Ruston & Hornsby, Lady Madcap, has proved very useful during the works activities, often double-heading with Trigger.
Our other R&H, Chilmark, is now prepared for the season, having had her recalcitrant starter motor rebuilt over the winter, when time permitted, by Rob Houghton. Dan Laidlaw has managed to source other items, such as specific replacement switches. Chilmark is also being equipped with a new horn, the original being retained for close proximity, while the second is of a more powerful variety!
The Carriage & Wagon team, lead by Ian Whitson and Geoff Hodgkinson, actually enjoyed a useful spell of dry weather, and seized the opportunity to deal with some refurbishment jobs on the station buildings, including the signal-box steps. The main centre of attention was the end of the café and the little shed alongside, both of which bear the brunt of the ‘liquid sunshine’ which occasionally afflicts the area, the little shed being used for early deliveries etc. During these works, attention has been paid to ventilation within the structures, as there is no shortage of breeze in this area! The team also dealt with a couple of areas of carriage floor, one being the guard’s section, as it would be unfortunate to have the guard make an unscheduled disappearance. Cryptically, Ian and Geoff commented that they will finish the bolster wagon and one of the slate wagons “when the weather drives us indoors”.
The Penrhyn Coach Project continues apace, and David Hale writes: “Having given the exposed timber and plywood two coats of insect repellent/water-proofer, the foil-faced insulation is now in place at both ends and along one side. This insulation, 40 mm thick on the ends and 70 mm at the side, is a tight fit, and after pushing into place, is sealed with silicon sealant”.
Two weeks later, David had cut and pre-drilled the end panels, each of which will need around 250 screws! After gluing and screwing, the panels will take two coats of primer/undercoat, before his attention turns to the outer side panels.
And finally…. the BLR has launched, as we mentioned earlier, an appeal in order to buy about a mile of new track. This will be to upgrade the main running line, with the older track being re-used in less strategic locations, such as extra sidings in Bala and Llanuwchllyn. The BLR Society has already donated £5000 to the railway and, to date, we have received over £3000, generously donated by individuals, in order to acquire another mile for further upgrading. It matters not how big or small, every donation is most gratefully appreciated. Ben Abbott’s post on Facebook, dated 3rd February gives further details. As we have commented before, the BLR is on a roll, and we intend to keep it doing just that.
We conclude with a photo taken by General Manager, David Jones, a perfect setting after a satisfying day.
January 2016 Update
The first month of the year is an opportunity never to be missed on any railway, and the BLR team leapt into action on the onerous task of replacing all the sleepers along a quarter mile stretch of track, which we will cover later. But other activities were equally important, and the Carriage & Wagon team used a brief fine and dry spell to deal with some remedial work around the signal box, plus other jobs inside the station building itself before the first visitors arrive in February. Later, they will start the intricate job of making large square steel nuts which are needed for the two slate wagons that are currently undergoing restoration.
Before we come to the track relaying, a major acquisition this month was an ex-LNER 6-lever signal frame, which will be installed at Llangower, the half-way halt on the line. The existing 4-lever frame for the passing loop has to control two points, two point locks and five signals! The 6-lever unit will simplify all the signalling, and everything will thus be done in a much simpler way. The Railway Society have most kindly purchased the frame and donated it to the BLR. When installed, a new cabin is to be built over it.
The frame was located in Essex, so the task of collecting it is worthy of note. Brian Bennett, Rod Fairley and Bob Newton met on Thursday 21st, and set off for the home of David Holden, who happens to have a superb seven-and-a-quarter inch railway running around his large garden, the size meriting three signal boxes! Long term volunteers, Graham and Peter Ashby, joined them to assist. The frame proved to be decidedly heavy, but the task was eased by using the railway and loading it on to a suitable flat wagon to move it round to the front drive, where it was loaded on to Julian Birley’s trailer. After a good night’s rest, the trio set off home on the 22nd, arriving at Llanuwchllyn around tea-time. All in all, it was a very worthwhile and successful expedition.
The Wednesday Gang has been very busy since the beginning of the year, not only completing the tedious task of fish-plate greasing, but also with the myriad items of preparation for track relaying. The atmosphere of these days has to be experienced, and to give an idea of what happens, we include the account from one of the railway’s staunchest supporters, Bob Greenhalgh, who has just returned after a three-month absence for medical reasons, and who was just a little bit pleased to be back:
Wednesday 13th January 2016 was my first day with the Wednesday Gang after a three month absence. Having arrived at Llanuwchllyn and changed, I found Brian and Bob N shunting to make up the day’s works train. This done, and with Rod, Phil, David and Rob, we got ready to depart down the line to Bungalow Bridge. A slight hitch in our plans was spotted just in time for David to nip down to the garage to fetch fuel for the generator. The rest of us took advantage of the situation to take tea! Ahh, back in the groove very quickly!
With the fuel cans filled, we set off. The first task was to drop 160 sleepers in the Bungalow Bridge area ready for the January 16/17 working weekend, these being in addition to those already in place. It was at this point that I saw a rainbow over the lake. It seemed to end in the middle, but I could see no sign of the elusive pot of gold!
This done, it was tea time. Disaster! The gas bottle was empty! Nothing for it but to leave the train and work party, and take Trigger back to Llanuwchllyn for a full cylinder. We stopped on the way for Rob to chainsaw a tree blocking an access gate to the track, so that the weekend’s plant could get to the work site. When we got back, tea and flapjacks were served. 18 pairs of fishplates had been greased, which took us conveniently up to Boat House Bridge.
It had started to rain by now, but not too heavy, so a start was made un-spiking the sleepers to be changed at the working weekend, which would allow others to commence removing rail straight away, followed by the sleepers, so that half the gang would not be left hanging around waiting. This done, it was back to Llanuwchllyn. After tea, (yes, more tea), various wagons were shunted to make the weekend works train ready for Saturday morning. The weather may have been cold and wet, but the return was very warm indeed. Thanks all.
Preparations for the relaying of the Bala Lake Railway track-bed around Bungalow Bridge began well before Christmas, with the primary acquisition of 400 hardwood sleepers, actually 200 standard gauge sleepers, which had arrived in December. They were cut in half and pre-drilled before being loaded on to wagons in readiness for January’s major operation. But rather than go into the minutiae of all the action, the photos tell their own story.
Suffice it to say, the task has been completed in time for the first trains to run in February. But as the photos show, the whole undertaking was carried out by a small, dedicated group of staff, directors and volunteers. On top of that, there were some ingenious implements made to ease the jobs, namely three ploughs. One is attached to a tractor straddling the line, which gets the ballast in place, allowing it to be tamped. The other two items of brilliance fit behind a diesel loco, the first lifting the ballast into the middle of the relayed track, and the second getting the shoulder of the ballast looking really neat. Two of these are new ploughs, which were constructed ‘in house’ by Dan Laidlaw, Rob Houghton and Mark Brett. They worked to perfection.
Much attention had been paid to getting the levels absolutely correct as a few of the sleepers were fractionally different in depth. The Azobe wood is so hard that, for the last length, where track will need to be lifted next year at the start of the next section to be done, the rails had to be screwed down for easy removal, instead of being spiked.
Another facet carefully checked was to get the rail joints/gaps exactly right, promoting a smoother ride, with the added bonus of prototypical noise too! In the end, the team were left with a three-quarters-of-an-inch gap on one rail, and other gaps were eased fractionally to close it up. It was late on the 29th January that a Facebook entry from General Manager, David Jones, declared that the task was completed, and that the first train, hauled by Trigger in the twilight, had shown all was exactly it should be, a remarkable achievement by such a small but totally dedicated team.
And finally…. we mention again that the BLR will be running trains over the Valentine weekend, the schedules for which are already on the BLR website. It will be a ride with a difference, and certainly memorable.
Likewise on the website and in greater detail, Russell Prince and Jamie Green have organised a special Volunteers Recruitment day on Sunday, 24th April, where the numerous tasks involved in running a railway will be demonstrated. It will also be a perfect chance to chat to staff and existing volunteers, and try out any tasks that might appeal. The day will start at 09.00 with an introduction and safety briefing, and then everyone can sample wide ranging activities such as loco preparation, guarding and maintenance, to name but three. It would be greatly appreciated if all attendees could register their interest as detailed on our Volunteering page.
We end with Bob Greenhalgh’s photo, which is typical of the BLR. The scenery really is that good.