December 2019 Update

As the month crept inexorably to its end, the BLR can reflect on a distinctly good year, and rather than going into details, we include here the General Manager’s erudite resumé which encapsulates everything, addressed as it is to staff, volunteers and everyone who is involved in our railway.

As the clock ticks towards the end of 2019, now would be the ideal opportunity to thank you for all your help and input which has made the outgoing year another very successful one for the Bala Lake Railway.

 

The good news is that we had another record breaking year with passenger numbers beating those of 2018 by the huge margin of 17 passengers! Whilst it has been a tough year at times, and certain other heritage railways have been reporting a drop in numbers, the BLR has nevertheless achieved a new record which also shows that the 2018 record result was not a flash in the pan.

 

During the year, we opened the new Heritage Centre which is attracting many positive reviews, and special mention and thanks must go to Dan Laidlaw who has done so much to make it such a huge success. We also completed two large sections of re-laid track, ran two major Galas as well as a number of other successful events and also welcomed a number of new enthusiastic volunteers on to the team. Progress on the Bala Extension Project continues apace with more land acquisitions and the ensuing huge amount of clerical work behind the scenes in preparation for our planning application which we hope will be made in the first quarter of 2020, of which more later.

 

We could not have achieved any of this, nor run the railway, without the help of our wonderful volunteers, hence a big thank-you to you all, and wishing you and your families a happy and prosperous new year. We look forward to seeing you all in 2020.


The new year started on a very high note as the BLR Trust received in December in excess of £100,000 in donations from extremely generous supporters, largely the consequence of recent national press coverage. Yet again, comment was made about the excellent way in which the whole operation is being conducted.

Julian Birley, Chairman of the BLR Trust said; “These wonderful donations allow us to proceed with the planning application and the associated bureaucracy which will be required to build the extension. We have a long way to go to achieve our aim of bringing the railway into Bala Town. Please spread the word so that we can do it more quickly. 2020 is going to be a good year”.


The Santa Specials were, as usual, very well attended with nearly all trains running full. While there was no snow to add possibly to the atmosphere, the variety of costume and the elaborate decorations at Llanuwchllyn Station and Flag Halt were most impressive. We show here a selection of photos by Thomas Haynes, even down to the decoration on the locos.


Mat P. is continuing to rebuild a Dinorwic slate wagon in his garage in Norfolk, combining all-new timber with original iron.

With this design, the end beams (headstocks) support a lot of the superstructure, as well as taking the brunt of shunting. The central longitudinal timber, on which the coupling chains and their connecting drawbar are mounted, was often jointed into the headstocks to brace them (see for instance the photo on page 89 of R. C. Jones’ book on Dinorwic, showing a tenon on the end of a broken drawbar timber). The shape of the joint varied: not all original wagons even had it. It probably depended on what timber was available.

The wood Mat was given for the headstocks wasn’t thick enough for a strong tenon joint. Instead, he added surreptitious steel brackets: non-prototypical, except in intention. Some preserved Dinorwic slate wagons suffer from droopy ends – hopefully this one won’t.

The floorboards had been stored in a car-port near Llanuwchllyn and were soaked. Mat thought he had dried them out, so cut them to length and screwed them in place. A week later, they had all shrunk in width (but not length) by about 3/16”, leaving small gaps between them. Some of the screws snapped, so violent was the timber’s reaction to the Atacaman aridity of Norfolk. Perhaps they will swell up again when they return to the kindly dews of Meirionnydd!

The floor has now been planed flat and painted on every surface (including where the planks sit on the beams). The next job is to drill nerve-wracking 5/8” holes for the ironwork: the Railway has an original set of long bolts for holding the superstructure together, which can hopefully be straightened and re-threaded.

Mat apologises for hogging the news but he has also bought a 60cm gauge tipper which he saw for sale in Germany (having failed to find a wagon for sale in the UK). He believes it was built in East Germany in the 1950’s, at the Karl Marx Locomotive Works (LKM). The ‘Wagon That Came In From The Cold’ arrived at Llanuwchllyn on a foggy late-November evening. It runs freely and the tipper mechanism works perfectly. It appears to need only light cosmetic repairs and a repaint. As BLR no.83, it will be used as required by the Railway.


On the Locomotive front, we will mention Alice later but in the meantime, regular readers will recall that, on our diesel, Chilmark, Chief Engineer Rob Houghton achieved what many thought quite impossible, in that he ‘stitched’ the cracked block on her original motor (the reason she had been out of action for years) and got her running beautifully. The only headache was that, unlike the replacement motor which was fitted with an alternator, the original dynamo housing is an integral part of the block, thus no clever Rob Houghton alteration was possible, even though he did manage to get the dynamo to charge. But, with the dynamo charging 6 volts and all her ancillaries requiring 12, Chilmark would happily run but always needed her battery recharging. What was required was a way of converting 6 volts to 12, and here enters former General Manager Roger Hine who is something of a wizard with matters electronic.

Chilmark voltage converter

He duly built a tiny voltage converter which does the job to perfection and all that is needed now is to build a protective box in which to hide the delicate wiring etc. Come the day, the BLR will have a large second-string diesel at its disposal which will, in addition, make the owner very proud too.


In the January issue of Model Rail magazine is a four page spread featuring a model of the proposed new station in Bala Town. This beautiful model was built by staff at the magazine and presented to the BLR last month prior to the publication reaching the news-stands. It is now on display in the BLR Heritage Centre and we include photos although we would mention that the final layout may differ very slightly and the impressive glass canopy may have to be considered at a later date. What is definitely on the cards is the ‘towered’ goods/loco shed which will capture the essence of the original goods shed, so built because of the requests (demands) of the local land-owner when the original railway was laid out in the middle of the 19th century.


And finally….. firstly we are delighted to announce that the new 2020 timetables are now to be seen on this website and feature some of the fun events scheduled for this year. Bookings are now being taken.

Secondly, we mentioned last month that Alice worked her last train in November before her 10 year strip-down and fitment of a brand new riveted boiler constructed by the Severn Valley railway. She was put to use on a works train heaving heavy bogie wagons piled high with replacement sleepers for track relaying and it proved to be an eventful day as, firstly, she needed the assistance our small diesel, Lady Madcap, in getting the heavy wagons out of the yard on a very damp morning, and we include an atmospheric video. Secondly, it was noticed that she was running a little low on water while positioned along the ‘sea-wall’ where the track relaying was being carried out. In the same manner as in that delightful film, The Titfield Thunderbolt, buckets and other suitable receptacles were taken from the ‘Catoflat’ works wagon and a team of willing hands relayed water from the lake to replenish the tank. There is fun everywhere.

Finally, to all our volunteers, staff, visitors, passengers and supporters, we wish you a great 2020. As we have said before, it is going to be a good one.