Those of you who follow my ramblings on this blog will have worked out that Panda (Andy Young) and I are good mates and have been messing about with model trains and steam engines together for years. Panda prefers the sedate life of the Talyllyn Railway for his steam fix whilst I get mine at the more manic Festiniog. Every couple of years we manage a bit of a swap or, as we call it, a cultural exchange in which he tries to broaden my horizons and I narrow his.
The catalyst for this year’s exchange was Guildex. EDM Models/NGTrains was trading there for the two days and then heading onto the FR whilst Panda spent the Saturday and the show before heading onto the TR.
At the end of the show I packed all the gear in the car and followed him to Tywyn.
As off shed time approached Panda put the kettle on for a brew to prepare us for the hard mornings shunting (!). Suitably fortified we trundled off shed, collected our carriages and trundled down to Wharf for another brew and a sausage roll.
The first time I drove a TR train into Wharf it was the shortness of the headshunt that struck me as a challenge whilst driving a loco that is new to you. That was on Douglas so it was with some mirth that I was told to get on with again as Tom Rolt is the longest of the TR engines and it fits in the headshunt with inches to spare.
There was lots of talk about the regulator being an awkward thing to use and that its best done by thumping it. Once I had my thump calibrated I found it relatively easy and not dissimilar to driving Mountaineer on our line. When I mentioned this to Annie I was told, “but you always adjust them by tapping them” so apparently this is my normal technique.
So, about 10 late, (I am told this is near enough), we set off up the line with me driving a strange engine on a route that is still mostly strange but with Panda calling the shots aiming for Dolgoch.
Now I have included this not very good photo for one reason – smugness! There is a bit of banter goes on as the TR uses this new fangled Westinghouse brake (differing amounts of +ve pressure) whilst the FR uses vacuum (varying amounts of nothing). So, with some glee I am told to stop at the water tower and left to get on with it, with an expectation of cocking it up. I didn’t, stopping with the filler right by the spout. The difference in the brake is that with single pipe air you have to guess how much you need, apply it and wait. If you need more you can add a bit more but you can’t release and then add more without a longish pause between the two actions. With vacuum you have to apply the amount of brake before you think you need it and wait for it to have an effect and then let it off before you’ve finished with it as pressure waves in varying degrees of bugger all travel slowly. In all honesty the secret with either brake is to do the slowing down early and then sidle up to the point you want to stop with the brakes off so you can add steam if you need it and brake when you’re in the right place. Panda drives voyagers so he’s used to aiming at things at 125mph and then dropping the lot – he may even have reverse thrust to help on them.
Right having made out that the most important thing at Dolgoch is taking water I can reveal that’s all a cover up for two more important tasks. First, the tea order is phoned through to Abergynolwyn and the pasties are place on top of the firebox to warm.
So from Dolgogh we carry on up the hill, pass the other train on the way, pause briefly at Abergynolwyn and carry on to the end at Nant Gwernol, run round and quickly head back to Abergynolwyn as its now getting on for an hour since we last had a brew! Approaching the station you see a very long platform and ask where to stop, “by the picnic table” is the answer. Half an hour here is when the pasties are done and consumed with more tea.
Back to Wharf its time to service the engine, coal it up (just 3 buckets) and more tea before doing a second lap. This trip is radically different as the last trip of the day. The tea break at Abergynolwyn is taken in the way up so the cafe can close up sooner and is a cake based pause.
Then its back to Wharf, push the trucks into the carriage shed and take the engine to the loco shed and give it back to those nice people who were keen to get it ready in the morning.
Time for a clean up and then the day ends as all cultural exchanges should with a beer.
Cultural Exchange Part 2 continues below
When we’ve done this previously the day after Part 1 at the TR is a day off during which I lazily make my way to Boston Lodge, do the shopping, sort the house out and have a generally relaxing day. This time it was “help, I need a driver for the 11:25 and 15:50. I know you’re in Tywyn but if its prepped for you can you be here for 10:30.
I waltzed in the 10:30 to this. My engine, all prepped and on the trucks ready to go
Everyday should be like this
On previous visits Panda had always been on a double Fairlie, Merddin with me twice and a day on DLG with a colleague so this time we asked if a single engine was possible.
What we got was Lyd on 9 cars and with bunkers full of slack and dust for two laps.
we had passed the other train at Tan-y-Bwlch we were in slightly less of a hurry.
Lyd showed the first signs of later unhappiness as we approached the summit with a falling water level in the boiler as she was using more water than she could add back into the boiler. No one in the train was any the wiser and we arrived in Blaenau Ffestiniog on time.
On this time table we had an hour in Blaenau and unlike the TR we don’t have to go to the bakery before we set off our favoured bakery is close to the station.
With the 11:30 from Port having the hour at the top the train is know as the KPE (Kurdish Pasty Express) and many crews have the number on speed dial as reservation is recommended. They don’t travel well, mainly because they don’t survive long enough so Annie had never had one which resulted in a certain amount of wind up photography.
Break over it was back to Porthmadog, service the loco and then do it all again for the second lap. The second trip was a lot more of a struggle. The poor coal was affecting Lyd’s steaming and the nine coaches were now full to capacity making it a very heavy train.
We left quite an atmosphere in our trail as we went round the spiral.
We pressed on towards the summit with a critically falling water level in the boiler which this time required a stop to fill it up before going over the top.
We were only a few minutes late and we made all that up on our way back to Port. We did make time for a team photo with a buffet steward doing the honours.
- Ben Abbot – Fireman
- Andy Young – Guest
- Paul Martin – Driver
A plus of doing the last train is that you usually get to leave the coaches in the platform and head back to Boston Lodge light engine. Putting the engine away Ben’s barrow load of clinker goes some way to explain the poor steaming (and it was about the 4th load of the day), a quick clean on the pit with the setting sun and the engine was put away in its shed for the next day
Just in case you are wondering there was beer at the end of the day but it was dark, we were thirsty and we forgot to take a picture of it.