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Messages - John L Dobson

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Thanks Bill

You'll be welcome at the FR any time you want to visit.


The Ffestiniog Railway is planning to mark 150 years since the 1870 Locomotive Trials at Porthmadog in 2022 (postponed from 2020 due to the pandemic) with a re-run, as far as can be managed, of the original trials. This will feature the England 0-4-0STT Welsh Pony, which was actually involved in the 1870 trials, in competition with the new double Fairlie James Spooner (which should be in traffic by then) substituting for the pioneer Fairlie Little Wonder, which was the 'opposition' to Welsh Pony in 1870 but was scrapped in the early 1880s. I don't, at present, know if, or how many, delegate from overseas are to be invited, but we certainly intend to make the most of the publicity that should ensue.

As part of the celebrations, I'm hoping to publish contemporary (1870s) reports on the trials, to illustrate the influence that the FR had on railway construction in rough country and the subsequent Narrow Gauge Movement. This will be particularly fitting as the north Wales slate districts and their associated railways (the FR and Talyllyn) have just, in the past few days  been declared a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Is there any reason why I shouldn't republish the piece from the Yarmouth Register, as part of the celebrations?

There will be an official renaming ceremony at some point, after Covid-19 has subsided. The nameplates will be left off until then.

It's a sobering thought that this loco has been out of service for longer (80 years – 1940-2020) than it had run up to the date it was withdrawn for overhaul by the 'Old Company' (73 years – 1867-1940). Alan Garraway, the first General Manager of the revived FR had always wanted to get it back into service as he'd been told that it was a much more useful loco than Prince (a 'Small England' of 1863) by several retired 'Old Company' employees, but events always conspired to prevent him starting the rebuild.

You may also be interested to learn that your 'small cash donation' (I assume via one of the appeal envelopes that are distributed on the trains) was matched by a sufficient number of other donations from this source to the extent that half of the £260,000 cost of the rebuild was financed in this way.

Despite the current Covid-19 lockdown and and very stormy weather, the Ffestiniog Railway's 'Large England' No. 5, 0-4-0ST Welsh Pony, moved for the first time in 80 years last Saturday, 27 June.


US Two Footers / Re: 2-feet in Alabama
« on: June 01, 2020, 09:25:29 AM »
Dame Ann, the steam loco, was built in 2004 by the Stirlands at the Exmoor Steam Railway Centre, Bratton Fleming, Devon to the same design as the Hunslet locos used in the North Wales slate quarries – there were various sizes, and Dame Ann appears to be one of the 'small quarry' variety.

As you probably know, all British heritage railways are currently closed and their staff furloughed under the ‘lock-down’ instituted by the British Government about a month ago. There has, however, recently been an interesting development:

Steve Oates, Chief Executive Officer of the Heritage Railway Association, took a call from Sir Peter Hendy, the Chairman of Network Rail (the operator of the UK national railway network) a couple of weeks ago. Sir Peter wanted to know whether the UK’s heritage railways could, if needed during the Covid-19 crisis, provide experienced staff to help run the nation’s railways.

As the HRA has commented “That call was an honour. It acknowledges the capabilities and professionalism of the people who run our member railways. Those are the qualities, along with good old-fashioned railwayman (and woman) resourcefulness and resilience that will enable us to weather this storm”.

Stay well everyone!

Volunteers / Re: April 2020 Work Reports
« on: April 27, 2020, 12:08:50 PM »
Would encasing the plastic pipe in a lean concrete mix help reduce the crushing forces?

US Two Footers / Re: Newest 2-foot steamer
« on: April 03, 2020, 11:36:43 AM »
This locomotive is a mostly new replica of a World War I Davenport locomotive, used by US forces in France. The frame, drivers and cylinders are original; everything from the wheels up is new. It has air brakes, which were not used on the originals. Owned by someone in California, I understand.

This is a recreation of Davenport 2967 of 1918 which, along with sister loco 2968, was turned into a 2-6-0 tender loco by Byron Hiatt of Creston, Iowa. An interesting detail of the rebuilt loco is that it has Ffestiniog-designed 'chopper' couplings.

Addendum: Discussion of the identity of this loco on the British NG Enthusiasts site seem to indicate that it was actually US Army No 5240, Davenport works number 1695, and Byron Railroad No. 2967. US Army 5245 was Davenport's number 1700, and Byron Railroad No. 2968. The man behind the project is apparently Peter Nott, a Ffestiniog Railway supporter who has spent long periods in UK over the past few years. He passed out as a steam loco driver on the FR some years ago.

UK (Welsh, British) Two Footers / Re: COVID-19 (Coronavirus) in the UK
« on: March 23, 2020, 01:16:02 PM »
The Talyllyn ( is also closed, including its workshops

Two Footers outside of the US / Re: AMTP in Pithiviers, France
« on: March 04, 2020, 12:41:25 PM »

According to our brethren in the UK, the EU's favored coal right now is from Poland.  A lot closer to you than we are but if you really want some U.S. coal,  I think we could find a way to send a sample to you.

The Ffestiniog currently burns Welsh steam coal from an open-cast pit in South Wales, but the long-term future of this pit is uncertain. This is a pity because, not only do a number of British heritage railways use this coal, but it is also used (supplied in white bags labelled 'Welsh Steam Coal') by the Rhaetian Railway and the Dampfbahn Furka-Bergstrecke in Switzerland.


Yes, brand new rail.  I remember avidly reading the progress of the reconstruction of the WHR and reading about the delivery of the new rail from Poland.

Dave Crow

Yes, it's brand-new rail, rolled to a specification used in the mining industry. We have shared orders with other heritage railways in the past to reduce costs.

Great video!  A few obvious differences between Welsh & USA two-footers.

... Safety - I'm surprised they allow individuals to ride on the top edge of the slate cars (no OHSA).

I may be wrong, but in looking at the attire of the men riding on the sides of the loaded cars, and the folks who were riding inside empty cars, it appears the former were workers.  The side riders also had cushions s that appeared to be similar.  That would explain their comfort riding on the sides.  Also, on a few of the cars I noticed a lever sticking up from the same side of the car.  Could they be brake levers?  That would explain why they were riding on loaded cars.

The people riding on the loaded waggons are brakemen – the levers you can see on the side of some of the waggons are handbrake levers. The person-in-charge of the gravity train rides on the front waggon and will signal for brakes using a trumpet. This is historically correct and is the way that gravity slate trains were controlled from the 1830s to the 1940s. We continue with the demonstration runs using 'grandfather rights'.

Great video!  A few obvious differences between Welsh & USA two-footers.

FRR runs it's trains at higher speeds (I would guess 30mph).
The Welsh engines have lots of polished brass "jewelry".
The engines are built for fresh-air enthusiasts.  Of course, they don't have Maine style winters.
Safety - I'm surprised they allow individuals to ride on the top edge of the slate cars (no OHSA).
The double Fairlie has two fireboxes to feed from the side
They use "tokens" for dispatching trains
All the engines are painted (rarely black) and spotlessly kept clean
They don't use knuckle couplers and I don't remember seeing spring buffers as on UK standard gauge

Both the FR and WHR use Norwegian 'chopper' couplings with a cam system to hold the coupling faces together on locomotives and passenger carriages. All of these couplings are sprung. The FR uses the Miniature Electric Train Staff (METS) to control train movements (there are also a couple of full-size electric train staff machines at intermediate boxes). The WHR currently uses staff and ticket, but is being converted to METS.

And the track is maintained to the highest level.  It also looks like the rail is substantial.  Does anyone know how heavy?

The current standard rail on both the Ffestiniog and the Welsh Highland is new 30kg/metre (almost exactly 60lb/yard) rolled in Poland, installed on cast steel baseplates on recycled-plastic sleepers (ties) with deep granite ballast. However, the Ffestiniog main line still contains a considerable amount of former War Department (WW2 standard) rail of 75lb/yard which was bought secondhand from the 1970s until fairly recently, this is largely on wooden sleepers with baseplates. This rail came from munitions depots and similar military establishments when they closed, or gave up their rail connections.

The maximum line speed is 25mph.

UK (Welsh, British) Two Footers / Re: Ffestiniog Railway latest Pullman
« on: October 10, 2019, 04:39:25 PM »
The interior of Gwyrfai is also rather attractive. Chair frames all made in the Carriage Works and upholstered by a local craftsman.

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