Author Topic: How I spent my May Bank Holiday  (Read 4432 times)

Ed Lecuyer

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How I spent my May Bank Holiday
« on: January 07, 2009, 08:51:47 PM »
How I spent my May Bank Holiday has been converted from the pre-July 2008 WW&F Discussion Forum.
Some formatting may have been removed or modified from the original postings that appear quoted in this topic.
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James Patten wrote:
I'm back from Wales, and except for the airplane rides had a fabulous trip.  I'm going to be writing up more in detail later on, but wanted everyone to know I'm back.
Glenn and Frank are I believe flying back today, so we may hear from them tomorrow.
The northern part of Wales is absolutely GORGEOUS.  We had mostly great weather.  And the trains were nice, too.
Every railroad we visited put on quite a show, but the Ffestiniog most of all, as they were celebrating their 175th anniversary of incorporation as a Company.

Dave Buczkowski replied:
Welcome back! Glad you arrived safely and had a good trip. I look forward to your travelogue.

tomc replied:
Me too, babble on!!!
Tom C.

Mike Fox replied:
Glad to hear it James. Can't wait for the Paul Harvey's "Rest of the Story"

James Patten replied:
OK, let the babbling begin.
Left the house at 9 AM Thursday the 24th, with my wife taking me into town to catch the bus to Boston.  Rolled into Boston around 1:30 PM, found my father-in-law (henceforth abbreviated as "Dad"), ate lunch, checked into Aer Lingus, and rolled through Security with no problems.  Security took about 5 minutes, and would have taken less if I hadn't had them check my blank rolls of film.
Then we sat around the airport for the next 6+ hours waiting for our flight to arrive and board.  We took an Aer Lingus flight from Boston, to Shannon, then Dublin.
Flying and I do not get along.  I quickly realized that the vertigo I sometimes get does not mix well with flying.  Every move of the plane I could feel and often needed to look out the window to reassure myself that yes, the plane did really bank for a turn.  Hard to do when you are seated  in the middle of the plane.  The middle seats are hard for tall people like me to sit in, as my knees were crushed up against the seat in front of me.
Finally landed in Dublin mid-morning on the 25th, and our plane and the contents of several other planes were filed into this tiny room for customs control.  After a bit of confusion and waiting Dad and I got stamped through, and we went to collect our luggage.  From there we exited the arrival area, exited the terminal building, and picked up Bus 747 from the airport into the central bus station (Bus Aras) in downtown Dublin.  Dublin airport is undergoing an expansion and I hope that customs is one of the places that gets expanded.
Dublin is an old city, and apparently the Irish don't like destroying neighborhoods to build highways (motorways) to get around.  The only motorway through the city took to a tunnel on the outskirts, which went under the harbor and apparently had no entrances or exits in the middle, as our bus proceeded to ignore the tunnel entrance and took the main road into town, which many other drivers and local busses were also using.  The advertised 30 minute driving time was pretty close to the mark.
After dropping us off at the Bus Aras, we hiked our suitcases down the street a block to the Connolly Train Station to get a bite to eat and to pick up the DART (Dublin Area Rapid Transit) out to the ferry port.  DART is electric and pretty frequent, so it didn't take us long to get to the ferry port of Dun Laoghaire (pronounced "Dunleary") for our ride over the Irish Sea in the Stena Line High Speed ferry.
The Stena HSS ferry looks maybe half again larger than the "Cat" ferry which runs between Portland/Bar Harbor and Yarmouth, NS.  It seems slower but that may be because it is bigger.  They were a little late getting in and turning around, so we reached the port of Holyhead (pronounced "Hollyhead") UK after the departure of the express train (which was not held for the ferry).  After collecting our luggage we were passed through customs and caught the local train.
We traveled across the Isle of Anglesey on the train and exited on the mainland at Bangor.  From Bangor we took a local bus down to Porthmadog, and got a good view of the different types of roads, drivers, and of the excellent public transportation the UK seems to have.  The bus stopped at every village, hamlet, and wide spot in the road on the way down.
The road system is something else.  Most major roads ("A" roads) are no wider than the Cross Road in Alna is.  And most roads have stone walls on either side, so there's no breakdown lane.  AND oftentimes these roads have people parked on the sides, so travel is down to one lane.  The smaller roads ("B" roads) seem to be either 2, 1.5, or 1 lanes, sometimes around blind curves or over bridges.  And there are roundabouts all over the place.  There are interstate-like highways around but there are few of them in the heart of Wales.
We finally landed in Porthmadog, found our lodging place (Tudor Lodge, which is a guest house), changed our Amex Traveler's Checks (in Pounds) to actual cash (don't go use American Express, by and large they aren't accepted), called home to tell the wife we'd made it, then walked down to the Ffestiniog Harbour Station to look around.  Not much was happening, but it was interesting to look around.  We tried getting something to eat in Spooner's Pub, but we didn't know enough about ordering in a pub, so eventually we left and found a local restaurant where we got a good meal.  Finally, around 7 PM I could feel that my lack of sleep for the last 36 hours was catching up, so we retired to our rooms and soon went to bed.
The story will continue tomorrow.

James Patten replied:
My apologies for not continuing the story, I overdid it Saturday (got way overtired, probably jet-lag related) and was feeling very poorly on Sunday.  Hopefully I'll post something tonight.
Glenn and Frank are invited to post their own adventures and conclusions here as well.

fjknight replied:
I won't describe the initial part of our (my wife,Yvette and I traveled together) trip which is very similar to that described by James but would like to emphasize a couple of points. Aer Lingus recommended a check-in time of 2 hours and 30 minutes for flights to the UK & Europe. From the time we got off the bus at Logan, checked our bags, made it throught security and found the gate with our plane was about 20 minutes. That left us with 2:10 to kill before the flight was scheduled to leave. Our plane left Logan a half our late because of a thunderstorm but we made up the time in the air and landed in Dublin on time.
We the took the ferry to Holyhead, Wales but unlike James I rented a car. I had ordered a Ford Focus because it was the smallest car that I knew would accommodate my long legs. They gave me an upgrade to a Ford Mondeo but the fact that I was driving in Wales the first time made that a pain rather than a favor. The car sticks out on the wrong side and there are tight spots on almost every road except what they call 'dual carriage ways'. Even the 'A' roads when going through towns or on some of the mountains will get so narrow that they skip the center stripe because there is no way to divide the road into 2 lanes. Quite often when people that park their cars on the street they fold their side mirrors in to allow the few extra inches of clearance that gives. It is almost always an adrenaline rush to meet an 18 wheeler or large tour bus on a mountain road. I drove 870 miles in 2 weeks but really never felt totally comfortable when driving. Having said that I would still rent a car if I we go back because it gave so much flexibility compared to public transportation.
I have a digital camera and took a lot of pictures.I have downloaded 1281 to my PC but have to go through and weed out the bad ones. Yvette and I bought a 'Great Little Trains of Wales' discount card and managed to ride 7 of the 9 railways on the card. We also rode the cog railway up Mount Snowden and found a standard gauge steam railway in one of the towns that we visited.
Let me try to do this chronologically. We started in the town of Conwy. No steam here but Conwy is a castle with a walled village attached. They modified the wall a bit when they added rail service to the town and it gives you a good idea of the effort that is put into blending the railways with the existing structures some of which are several hundred years old.

Our next stop was the town of Caernarfon and the Welsh Highland Railway. Our train was pulled by No. 138 one of the 62 ton Beyer Garratt locomotives. I even managed to get a short cab ride in the loco while they were running around the train and stopping at the water tank. Here is 138 at the station:

Here is a shot going around a curve:

I also took several pictures of track details which are quite different than the way we lay rail here but I will pull them together in a separate thread. The cars are very smooth riding and I am sure the design of the trucks has a lot to do with that. Notice that even have shock absorbers:

That's all for now. I will try to add a few pictures at a time when I have the chance.
Frank Knight

Glenn Christensen replied:
Hi Guys,
I just got back last night and hit the sack at about 1:30am EST.  I'm not exactly running any races today, but am very happy we were able to make the Wales trip!!!
Where do you start?
The Welsh Highland restoration is impressive!  The Garratts could easily handle trains twice the length they are currently handling.  We saw two, the 138 and the 143, in action that day.  The mountains look higher, the grades look steeper, and the curves look sharper when you see them in person.
I never, ever expected to encounter a refreshments trolley on a two foot gauge train, but they've got one and it has no problems traversing the length of the train.  Riding "Bodysgallen", the WHR's first-class coach is a wonderful experience and the extra fare is only 4GBP.  I've been definitely spoiled!
As you ride the line, you get a palpable sense of how economically depressed the area has been in the recent past.  But the signs of renaissance are everywhere and the railroad is bringing them.  The towns in Maine would do well to take note.
I was told the pub at Waunfawr initially fought the return of the railway.  But the returning two foot trains brought with them a significant increase of business.  Today, many photos of the railroad adorn the walls.
My wife, myself, and my mother-in-law stayed at a B&B in Beddgelert.  The town is a gem set in a small valley among the mountains at the confluence of two rivers.  It is a fairy tale setting!  Parking is nearly impossible, but once you've seen the place, the reasons why are readly apparent.  The WHR enters town on a curving alignment set high on the side of a hill on the southwestern edge of town.  It, the line down Aberglaslyn Pass, and the line up to the reverse curves above the town are easily reachable by public footpath.
I spent a delightful late afternoon checking everything out in the bright Welsh sunshine.  It is an quite something to look across an idyllic valley at the WHR track angling its bucolic way upgrade towards the "Royal Goat" tunnel.  We all want to return there as soon WHR service returns to the area.
More later, when I'm not so sleep deprived ...
Best Regards,
PS - After my previous wonderful experience with James' "Patten Travel" organization in Colorado and now a fabulous trip to Wales, I wouldn't want to miss the next trip.

James Patten replied:
OK, finally back to my narrative.
Saturday, May 26th, was a rest day since I didn't know how I would be affected by the travel and the jet lag.  I needn't have worried.  I awoke at about 7 AM and, after performing my morning rituals, decided to take a short walk while I waited for our host to start breakfast.  The street was off the central roundabout, and was a residental neighborhood with a solid wall of houses, which looked to be constructed with stone.
After the continental breakfast, I knocked on Dad's door to be sure he was up, which he had just gotten up.
I then took a walk to the northwest side of town to look at the Welsh Highland (Porthmadog) (henceforth WHR(P)).  They were closed, and I wasn't able to find a way to in to bother the volunteers (which was probably a good thing).  After a quick look at the Cambrian Coast Line's station, I headed to the opposite end of town.
There was activity at the FR's Harbour Station, although no trains yet.  The FR was preparing for the weekend's celebration of their 175th anniversary of the company's incorporation (or maybe it's the anniversary of their authorization as a company, or signing of the royal charter making them a company, however the British do it).  I got the schedule for the weekend, which on Saturday included a vintage train from the 1800's.
I looked around the yard from the walkway, which had a number of coaches on the 7 or 8 tracks that make up the yard.  I checked out the gift shop as well, but decided to wait on spending anything as I was on a budget.
I returned to the Lodge to get Dad, who had breakfasted, and we headed back down to Harbour Station to check out the shunting and the departing trains.  We also saw people in Victorian era dress.  We saw off the train, a double fairlie pulling a long rake of cars (you'll have to wait until my photos develop before finding out which loco it was), then headed back to WHR(P) to catch their first train of the day.
Things were a quite a bit less hectic on the WHR(P).  The gift shop had just opened, so we bought our tickets (we actually bought a 3-in-1 ticket for both WHRs and the FR) and talked for a bit with the lady behind the counter.  When the lady found out I was involved with preservation she recommended that I talk with "Duffy" (David, in English), who is their version of Jason and is a fan of American locomotives.  Unfortunately it turned out Duffy wasn't in that day.
The train arrived with steam loco Gelert at the helm and a few coaches.  I hovered a bit around the loco before boarding the train.  We took off down the line, past the works (the yard) and piles of construction material, stopped briefly at the former end of the line then continued on to the Traeth Mawr passing siding, which is approximately 1.5 miles from the opposite end of the line.
Unfortunately it looks like this is the end of the line for the WHR(P) group, as the way ahead is blocked by an unhappy farmer who has removed the right of way from his fields, and wants the railroad to build a cattle crossing over his field.  That's too much money for the WHR(P) group, so they'll have to wait for the WHR(C) group to link up with them.
The train tooks up back to the Gelert's Farm Works, where the trains stops for tours of the some of the works area.  They've got 3 gigantic diesels in the shop (gotten from Poland, I think 1 works and the other two are parts donors), the frame from a Baldwin engine which is undergoing a slow restoration, a large lathe capable of turning locomotive wheels, and some display steamers.  We were taken into another shed to see steamer Russell in pieces (much like #9), then we were taken to get a close-up view of the narrow gauge diamond put in over the standard guage.
The diamond was pretty interesting.  Our guide mentioned it was done on the cheap, as the standard gauge rails are bar stock the width of the railhead with slots notched out for the joint bars.  Sure enough there was no base to the standard gauge rails.
We returned back to station and decided most of the rest of the day we would wander around town.  We found a road which took us to the cliffs overlooking town, where we could see down on the town and on the FR.  After more pictures later in the day of the FR we retired for the night.
A bit on the town of Porthmadog.  It's a fairly new town, having only been around since the early 1800s.  It came into being after William Madoc built the large structure now known as the Cob across the mouth of the estuary, thus reclaiming the land for pasturing.  The Cob is also what carries the FR across from Porthmadog to Boston Lodge, their main Works site.  I think that Porthmadog has somewhat wider streets than most towns do, as the main street, High Street, had enough street to safely park cars on one side.  A nearby village, Tremadoc, had the only "T" intersection of major roads I had seen anywhere that didn't have a roundabout.

James Patten replied:
Day 4 was Sunday.
The day, starting in Porthmadog, was cloudy and threatening.  We took a National Express Bus (which was headed into London ultimately) from Porthmadog to Caernarvon.  This bus was more like the Concord Trailways bus that I came down to Boston on than the open and very airy local busses that took us down from Bangor.
We were deposited at the bus station in downtown Caernarvon, which is very medieval and maze-like.  I knew generally which direction to go, so we headed in that general direction, found the big castle which I knew the Welsh Highland was near, and ultimately found WHR(C)'s terminus, at the foot of a high stone embankment.
I asked the lady behind the counter once the gift shop opened up if there was anything for a railfan worth seeing at Dinas, which is the operating home of the WHR(C).  She said there was not, as only light repairs are done there and any heavy repairs are done at Boston Lodge on the FR.  So I decided not to take the first train of the day (diesel hauled) to Dinas, and instead waited for Glenn and Frank to arrive.
Ultimately the diseasal train came and went, and ultimately Glenn and Frank both showed up.  Frank had already ridden, so we strategized about Monday (FR riding day), and I said if we could get in touch with the lady that ran Boston Lodge we might be able to get a tour of the place.  Frank was left with that responsibility as Glenn and I headed out on the first steam-hauled trip of the day.
The train was probably 5 or 6 coaches.  Most were enclosed and connected to each other via diaphrams, with one open car near the south end (front) of the train and one more traditional British car of individual compartments right behind the engine.  Glenn's wife and in-laws took to the first class compartments, while us men-folk started out in the open car two cars back from the engine.
After we took off it quickly became clear that it was chilly and would only get more so as we headed into the mountains.  Caernarvon is on the coast, on the straight separating "mainland" Wales from the Isle of Anglesey.  From Caernarvon to Dinas the line rides over an old standard gauge roadbed, sharing it with a biking and hiking path.  At Dinas it heads into the hills.  So at Dinas we moved into the next car back.
We rode there from Dinas to the top of the line (and current end of passenger track) at Rhyd Ddu (pronounced something like "Ruthie" but I couldn't get the exact pronounciation).  Then we went to the first class car and rode back down to the next station of Waunfower (pronounced "Winevower") where we got off and ate at the excellent restaurant next to the station, where I had my first real Welsh breakfast since my arrival (baked beans, 1 egg, toast, bacon that looked more like slabs of ham, mushrooms, and I think hash browns).
After our excellent repast we headed back to the platform to wait for the train.  Both up and down train met here, and the down train had no first class seats, so we took the up train (also our old train) back to Rhyd Ddu, then back to Caernarvon.
While I agree with Glenn that the rebuilding is truly amazing, for me there was no sense of climbing that I found later with both the FR and the TR.  Perhaps the Garratts didn't have enough train behind them, perhaps it was the weather (low clouds with occasional rain), perhaps it was the landscape (heavily treed coming out of Dinas, and it wasn't until Waunfower that the landscape opened up).  Maybe that will all change when passengers are delivered to Beddgelert, because Glenn drove us back that way and that should be quite a trip down from Rhyd Ddu.   Guess it needs a double Fairlie with a 15 car train behind it.
As I said, Glenn took us back to Porthmadog via Beddgelert and Aberglasyn Pass.  Beddgelert was a madhouse of traffic, not quite as bad as trying to get through Wiscasset in high summer, but more like Damariscotta in high summer.  The trip down the pass is pretty.
It's my understanding that when the line is done, the WHR(C) will run to Beddgelert and meet WHR(P) trains from Porthmadog.  The WHR(C) will, of course, run their heavy power on the heavy grade which seems to end at Beddgelert, and WHR(P) will run period trains from there on.

Wayne Laepple replied:
I'm enjoying the exploits of James, Frank and Glenn on this trip. I'll be interested in their comments about the FR and the Talyllyn, as I haven't visited either since 1980.
Frank, your closeup photo of the truck has me thinking it is like the ones we have under no. 103 and the spare truck we have. I believe these came from South Africa and were under freight cars. I suspect the "shock absorbers" are snubbers to reduce the side-to-side rocking of the trucks. I've seen similar snubbers on some diesels and standard gauge freight cars on this side of the  pond.

James Patten replied:
Day 5 was Monday - Memorial Day back in the States, a Bank Holiday in the UK.
Day 5 was also Ffestiniog Day.  Frank and Yvette met us in front of Tudor Lodge around 9 AM to take our luggage, as we had to check out today.  From there Dad and I walked down to Harbour Station (getting some fresh fruit along the way).  While we waited for Glenn and the 10:15 departure we waited for shunting to happen or a steam engine to arrive.   The weather (forecasted to be rain) was partly sunny.
Frank had found out the day before that Boston Lodge's manager didn't work on Bank Holidays, so unless we could find someone official we were out of luck.  When Glenn arrived we strategized for the day, deciding on the guided tour of Minffordd ("Minforth") yard at 2:45 with a stop at Tan-y-Bwlch ("Tanybulk" I think) for lunch.
Finally our locomotive arrived (David Lloyd George, I believe, the newest and most efficient Double Fairlie in the fleet), hooked onto our train and was ready for boarding.  We took the first car behind the locomotive, one of the traditional British style coaches with individual compartments.   This seemed a particularly long train, as the engine seemed very near to the main line switch into the yard.
It's worth noting that the standard FR train is composed of coaches with diaphrams between them (watch your head, though) then finished off with compartment coaches.  If you get a seat in a coach connected to the diaphrams, you can get something to drink or eat.  I think that each train has a "kitchen" car on it.
At 10:15 we tooted off across the Cob then up the almost constant 2% gradient (which on the old railroad lasted until the end of the line at Blaenau).   This was where I started to get impressed.  For the whole trip our engine was able to pull our rather long (and full!) train uphill at impressive speeds.
At Dduallt ("Thee-at") is where the "deviation" from the original mainline occurs because of the hydro-electric "scheme" on the other side of the mountain, so we were able to look down on how the railroad was constructed.  The engineers of the original line built it no wider than they absolutely had to.  After a brief trip through the Moelwyn tunnel we were able to look down on the nearly empty storage lake.  Thanks to the empty lake we were able to see the old roadbed for quite a distance.
At Tanygrisau the railroad rejoins its old ROW and continues its climb into Blaenau Festiniog.  By this time the clouds were gone and it was nicely sunny out.  We pulled into the station (next to a burbling Arriva Trains RDC) right on time.
After about a 30 minute break both FR and Arriva Trains departed (with us on the FR train of course).  We rode down (now in the last car of the train) to Tan-y-bwlch, where we detrained and got something to eat.  Frank made our arrangements for the Minffordd yard tour, then we boarded the next down train.
Frank and Yvette got off at Minffordd, while Glenn, Dad, and I continued back to Porthmadog.  When we got back, while we waited for the next up train back to Minffordd there 2 little quarry steam engines giving people rides in the yard (Britomart and Velinheli).  I believe they are privately owned engines, owned by members of the FR Society.
Incidentally I was wearing my black WW&F Railway hat (purchased special for this occasion) and several of the operating crews recognized the name.
We took the train back to Minffordd for the yard tour.  Minffordd was one standard gauge connection for the FR (the other was at Blaenau) and is now basically a storage depot for the railroad.  Many, but not all, of the NG tracks are still there, but virtually none of the SG tracks are there.  Our tour guide was the Secretary of the Society, Adrian Gray.
During the tour we saw old boilers, old rusty slate wagons, rail, ties, etc.  We were told that the FR basically never throws anything away.  We were shown where SG cars would gravity feed coal and such into the NG cars.
Interestingly enough the FR has been converting their engine fleet back to burning coal instead of oil.  Their coal, which comes from Russia, is less expensive even after being trucked across country than is oil.
After the tour we asked Mr. Gray about a tour of Boston Lodge.  He said he would if we took the next down train back to Porthmadog and walked across the Cob, which we were only happy to do.  Glenn, unfortunately, had to meet his wife and in-laws (they had the car) and so was unable to join us.  However Dad, Frank, Yvette, and I hiked the mile across the Cob to Boston Lodge.
Boston Lodge is where it all happens: locomotive erection, heavy repairs, maintenance, storage; carriage & running gear construction, and so forth.  We were taken into the erection shed, where the boiler from Double Fairlie Earl of Merioneth was sitting without frame; as well as power bogies, frame, and boiler from one of the WHR Garratts.
It sounds like the Double Fairlies do not have a frame connecting both ends of the engine, as the boiler has to expand.  Earl of Merioneth is a straight boiler (like #9), built by Hunslet, and it currently has some leaking problems from flexing.  The other Double Fairlies are wagon top boilers, and the wagon top gives the the boiler extra support (a cantilever) so it doesn't have the flexing problem.
We next moved to the storage shed for the engines, which had only one engine (I forget which one), and of course some of the locomotives were outside getting serviced before being put away.  I asked about overnight hostlers, and was told they don't need them - the engine's fires are dropped overnight, and the first steam-powered train of the day is late enough it can be easily fired up next day.
We then moved on to the carriage construction area.  A carriage was being constructed right then for the Welshpool and Llanfair Railway.  They were doing a fine job.  They also have a paint room where the cars are painted and detailed.
With that the tour was done, and we were sent back across the Cob.  The Knights dropped Dad and I off at our B&B in Tremadog (Ty Newydd, pronounced "Ty Newth"), we ate at the pub in town (the secret is to order at the bar) and settled in the for the night.

Glenn Christensen replied:
James is doing a terrific job with his trip report!!!
Just a couple of added details:
The frequency of traffic on the Ffestiniog was extremely impressive.  And as James has said the grade was very noticeable.  The clearances appear quite tight.  There are signs everywhere telling people to keep their body parts inside the cars.  Anyone ignoring these signs is foolish indeed.
We saw seven active steam locos while we were there.  The loco on the 10:15am train was indeed "David Lloyd George" as James stated.  In addition "Velinheli" and "Britomart" were employed as James has indicated.  We passed "Taliesin" on the down train at Tan-y-Bwlch and "Merddyn Emrys" at the same locale on our southbound trip .  While we had lunch there, "Palmerston" came through with a "Quarrymen's Train" of four-wheel coaches while we ate lunch.  I must have missed "Merddyn" come back through southbound, because I recall our southbound to Porthmadog was pulled by "Blanche", but I may be mistaken on this.  I know she pulled our next "up" train back to Minffordd.
At Minfford yard we saw the old firebox from the Brecon Mountain's Baldwin Pacific, K1's old boiler, and "Mountaineer's" (Alco) old boiler.  We also saw the recently received Chinese 30" gauge 0-8-0 and her tender.  This loco was purchased by several enthusiasts and is being kept under a temporary shelter made from plastic sheeting while the owners decide whether to reduce her to 2' gauge.  She appeared pretty well-used, but looked complete.
I asked about "Linda" and one of the enginemen said they expect to have her back in service in about a year.  "Mountaineer" is further back in the rebuild schedule and it may be 5 or 6 years before she returns to service.
The Ffestiniog is an extremely impressive operation and their equipment is immaculate.  We rode on coach #15 which was one of the first 2 bogie coaches in the British Isles.  She looked brand new and was extremely handsome in her original livery.
Best Regards,

James Patten replied:
Day 6 was Tuesday, and our day to visit the Talyllyn.
The day's forecast was rain, and we had --- sunshine! after a brief rain in the morning.
Dad and I had an early breakfast at our B&B, then headed out on foot for the mile or so hike to the Porthmadog Train Station.  As we were walking it began raining, so we got out our rain parkas and put them then continued walking.
The Arriva Trains RDCs left Porthmadog at 7:58 and we arrived before the train did.  7:58 was a bit too early for Glenn & company to get into Porthmadog, so they were to take a later train.  The train left on time, and made good time along the coast down to Tywyn, although the schedule left plenty of room for error.  As the Cambrian Coast line is mostly single track, opposing trains met at Harlech and at Tywyn.  I doubt tokens were exchanged, as someone mentioned this particular line is being used as a guinea pig for a European style signaling system.
From Tywyn's standard gauge station it's a quarter mile or less down the road to TR's Tywyn Wharf station.   They don't have a wharf on the harbor, but instead I think it's called that because the interchange with the standard gauge is up higher than the standard gauge is.  The TR had a modest station, with a ticket office, gift shop, refreshment area, and a Narrow Gauge museum space.  More on that later.
I got some photos of the yard, and was particularly puzzled by the switch at the very end of track in front of the station.  The length between the points and the bumper post couldn't have been longer than 12 feet, and I was asking myself how it could possibly have been used.
A few minutes later I got the answer.  The first train of the day pulled into the station, and a rather tiny engine, an 0-4-0 or 0-4-2, disconnected from the train and ran around the train.  This engine was the Sir Haydn, the #3 engine, and I think had a shorter boiler than the Boothbay Railway engines do.  Yet, on this tiny engine, they had a tiny air compressor for train brakes!  There was barely room on the footplate for two people, yet both driver and fireman were there.
On time at 10:10 the train tooted off and we headed under the street bridge and off up the valley.  The train stopped at couple of times at local halts for passengers.  We arrived at the end of the line at Nant Gwernol, where the engine ran around the train, then descended back to Aberglynolwyn where the railway ran another refreshments shop.  Dad and I got lunch there.
We rode up in the Saloon car, and rode back in another, traditional British carriage with individual compartments.  The TR is unique in that it only has doors on one side of the train.  Unlike the FR, there's not much room to stand, but then again there's not much room for anything under some of the bridges they go under.
As we waited at Aberglynolwyn another train pulled up beside and past us and continued on to Nant Gwernol.  This is what our train was waiting for, so we got aboard and headed back down hill.  We pulled into another siding on the way down for the next up train, which as it passed by we saw Glenn and his crew.
We returned to Tywyn and I asked if tours of the Pendre works were possible.  Absolutely, I was told, as long as someone there is willing to take you around.  So we hung around our train until departure a few minutes later.  In the meantime a new locomotive got on the point of our train, leaving our old locomotive behind to service itself during the interval between trains.
We were met at the Pendre halt by a couple of teenagers who were manning the road gates, who were more than happy to take us around.  The loco shed was empty except for #7, Tom Rolt, stored warm inside.  One of the early engines, #2 I believe, was nearing the end of a rebuild, and was ready to go except that the cab had been misplaced and nobody knew quite where it was.
The machine shop was abuzz with activity, but because it was we were unable to get inside.  The Pendre works all fit in quite a compact area - very narrow but rather long.  The works used to be on the edge of town long ago, but now the edge of town has expanded past them to the west.  The teens, both 14, showed us the carriage storage sheds.  We then had to catch the next down train back to Tywyn Wharf.
While waiting for Glenn to get back I explored the Narrow Gauge Museum some.  They have a few examples of preserved small quarry steamers on the floor.  Despite my saying that, the Museum itself seemed to take up a rather small footprint - I didn't get measurements but my impression seems to be that of twice the size of our freight shed.  And it had two stories.  It basically explained why narrow gauge was best used for the quarrying operations.
Back outside, I took a look around the small yard.  I had noticed a ballast pile earlier, but didn't realize until I looked around that a trench had been excavated so that a track went down underneath it, and they used gravity to feed it.  The design wasn't perfect, but it beat their old method of hand shoveling it on.
The train carrying Glenn arrived back at the Wharf, so while they got something to eat I bought in the gift shop.  There was a little bit of time left before we had to leave to catch our train back to Porthmadog, so Glenn and I looked around in the yard some more, briefly saw the Tom Rolt appear under its own power, then disappear, then it was time to go.
The trip back along the coast took us by the Fairbourne Railway, which is a 15-inch (or so) gauge operation.  We could only see it briefly in passing.  By now the sun was out in force, with few clouds in the sky.  We arrived back in Porthmadog around 4:30 PM, with enough time for Dad and I to trot over to the WHR(P) to see if Daffy was in.  He was, so we headed up to the workshop, met him, and talked a bit.  As we were getting ready to head out, the train arrived at the shops, and who did we see but the Knights!
Dad and I walked back to our B&B, then had supper at the pub across the street from where we had it the night before.

tomc replied:
James and all.
Thanks for posting as i am enjoying all the babble!  I am very jealious that you got to go over there and I can't get over there to see what you enjoyed for a few more years.
Tom C.

James Patten replied:
OK, moving on to the last day(s) of our trip.
Wednesday May 30 was our last day in Wales.  My goal was to catch the 3:30 ferry out of Holyhead back to Ireland, but do it via the Ffestiniog.  Eminently possible.
The weather forecasted rain (anybody sense a pattern here?) and was pretty cloudy and gray the whole day.
After breakfast at our B&B our host was kind enough to drive us down to Harbour Station.  Turns out he was a lorry driver once-upon-a-time, and drove them from the UK to Germany and back.  I asked if the lorry tractors were changed once on mainland Europe from left to right driving vehicles, and he said they were not.  He just kept to the curb, and actually had more trouble when he got back than when he was on the continent.
When we arrived the place was basically deserted.  We hung around until the platform began to fill up, interestingly enough with a tour group from the US.  We struck up a conversation with a couple of them, and promised that they'd have a great ride in front of them.  Their group reserved two whole coaches to themselves.
We positioned ourselves partway round the curve on the platform as the train rolled in, promising ourselves that we'd take whatever was offered, as long as it wasn't open.  Thanks to some judicious side-stepping we ended up with the first diaphramed coach in the train.  Unfortunately our luggage ended up on the seats next to us.  We were on the uphill side of the halfway point of the train.  I'm sure thanks to the tour groups the train was just as nearly as long as it had been Monday, and just as full.
We took off, and again made what seemed to be mainline speeds on this uphill narrow gauge railway.  Another Double Fairlie was pulling us along.  As it was chilly out we didn't open our windows at all to hear the train moving along.
As we neared Blaenau I tried keeping my eyes out for signs of the inclines and quarries that used to dot the landscape here.  Incline signs are almost everywhere, although not generally noticeable at the stations as you are below street level.
Arriva Trains was waiting for us when we pulled in, so we stumbled out of the car we were in and hiked over to the big train.  One the way we ran into one of the guys from the tour group we were talking to, and he agreed that it was quite a ride.
We found a seat inside our RDC and pretty much stayed put, as it was sort of drizzly outside.  Arriva left before the FR did, so we waved farewell to the Ffestiniog.
Our train quickly turned north and entered what I can only describe as a wasteland from the slate mining days.  There was no sign of habitation or even of any life from the side of the train I was looking out.  Once we got past the rather substantial storage facilities the FR keeps in Blaenau there was only abandoned roadbeds from the railroads and inclines that used to serve here, and hillsides literally covered in junked slate.  Then we plunged into the 2 or 3 mile tunnel under the mountain that the standard gauge used to get here, and emerged a few minutes later quite literally in a different world, with no sign at all that slate was ever mined anywhere nearby.
The track wound its way down the Conwy river valley to the sea.  Our train was bound for the seaside community of Llandudno, but we detrained at Llandudno Junction and waited for the local to Holyhead.  At first the river valley was narrow and high, but the closer we got to the sea the more it opened up.
From Llandudno Junction to Bangor the track and communities seem to cling to the side of the mountains by the shore.  Then the railroads crosses over to the Isle of Anglesey were gentle rolling hills and herds and herds of sheep reign.
We arrived at Holyhead and met up with Glenn and his entourage.  Our Irish Sea crossing was basically uneventful, although there was a slight roll to the ship.  We disembarked, collected our luggage and boarded Communter Rail for the center of Dublin.  We detrained at Tara Street, crossed the River Liffey and found our lodging, the Clifton Court Hotel.
While I'd like to say that we had beautiful views of the River Liffey from our hotel window...I can't.  We had an excellent view of the roof of the floor below us, with a snippet of sky and a couple of other buildings.
Dad and I took a walk around the block and discovered a Burger King nearby, and a tram stop behind our hotel.  We decided we'd had enough of local food, so we went to BK for supper.
Next day we arose early and caught the first express bus back to the airport.  We stepped inside and at first was absolutely taken aback at the madhouse in front of us.  I left Dad guarding the suitcases and scouted around for the Aer Lingus desk, eventually finding it and checking in the suitcases.  Then it was on to Security, 10 minutes from first getting in line to out the other side.  Then we 3+ hours to kill.
Our plane eventually boarded, we took off and landed at Shannon.  At Shannon everyone aboard had to get off and go through US Border Protection, then undergo a quick search of our carryons, then get back on the plane.
We landed early in Boston, waited an interminable amount of time for our luggage, and waltzed through customs.   Dad's car was in an economy lot, so we took the bus to the lot and by 4 PM was ready to head out.  After calling my wife on his cell phone to let her know we were on the ground, we headed for home, arriving at 7:15.  I was absolutely beat, and after something to eat soon went to bed.  Dad was good for another hour or so.
In the next message (tomorrow or so) I'll give my impressions of the 3 major narrow gauges we visited.

Glenn Christensen replied:
Hi James,
If I recall correctly, I think your train was being pulled by Sir Haydn (#3 - ex-Corris Railway).  My train was pulled by Dolgoch (#2 - original to the Talyllyn).  I'll never forget this because I was invited for a footplate ride between Nant Gwernol and Abergynolyn stations.  What a TREAT!!!  My grin muscles STILL haven't relaxed!!!!
For those keeping track, James wasn't kidding!  We saw every Talyllyn locomotive the day we were there.  Edward Thomas (#4) and Douglas (#6 - disguised as "Duncan") were both pulling trains during our visit - addition to #2 and #3!!!  Talyllyn (#1) was up at Pendre (I don't recall if she was actually under steam, but I think she was, and on standby).  Tom Rolt (#7) was under repair at Pendre as James stated, but she made a brief running appearance at the Wharf station while we were checking out the Talyllyn's ballasting arrangements.
For you folks who weren't there.  To give you an idea of how active the Talyllyn was that day, when my train pulled into Wharf Station, #2 was uncoupled and pulled forward onto the tail track.  Edward Thomas pulled off the ready track and tied onto the front of the train.  By the time she was coupled up and the train line was pumped up (that's right, the TR now has air brakes!), the train was full of passengers and #4 whistled off for Abergynolwyn.  In the meantime, #2 pulled up to the water tank for servicing and a drink.
I can't wait for the day when Sheepscot Station and the WW&F are as active as the Talyllyn Railway was the day we were there!
Best Regards,

James Patten replied:
Glenn, if you rode the footplate with the driver, the fireman must have been riding on top of the boiler.  How could there be room in those tiny cabs for 3 people?
#1 was at Pendre missing its cab.  It was finishing a rebuild, so I don't believe it was under steam.

Glenn Christensen replied:
... yup, it was a little snug but not too bad.
Darn, I wanted #1 to be under steam, but even though she wasn't, she sure was purty ...
Grins and Best Regards,

fjknight replied:
Sorry I'm so slow with my contributions but other things keep getting in the way. I have gone through my 1281 pictures and cut that down to only 1082. Probably 50% rail related. Yvette was keeping a journal and she has 34 handwritten pages so we have much in the way of documentation. While I am slightly off topic I want to post one castle picture. This caught my eye because this castle's towers were round on the outside but on the inside they looked like this:

Did you count the sides? There are seven. That is the first septagonal tower I have seen. The name is Rhuddlan Castle if you care to visit some day.
Now back to railroads. The next one we visited was Llanberis Lake Railway. Here is a photo of engine with taking on water:

This is a 6.5 ton 0-4-0 named Elidir. The gentleman adding water told me that he maintains this little loco and has completely disassembled and carefully rebuilt it. Another one of the many immaculately maintained locos that we saw.
While in Llanberis we had the opportunity so we rode the Snowden Mountain Railway. They had some steam but unfortunately we were pulled by diesel. Still quite a view from the highest mountain in Wales at 3560 ft.
Here is a picture of the cog in action:

Next stop for us was the Bala Lake Railway. Here is our loco the Holy War (I have no idea how it got that name):

They also let me take a picture in their tower:

The common practice seems to be have racks of levers and long linkages to control all of the switches. Here they are located in a tower but in many places there are out in the open as in the picture above at Llanberis Lake Ry.
Enough for now I will try to post more pictures tomorrow.

James Patten replied:
Now for my impression of it all.
First, the numbers of volunteers.  It's my understanding that while all 3 of the major narrow gauges have some paid staff, it's very few in number.  So I'm guessing that most everybody we saw during those 5 days in Wales were volunteer staff.
While I didn't see many in the way of extra people on the WHR(C), the number of people that it took to run all those trains, man the stations and shops and road gates, as well as whatever was going on the background that we didn't see on the FR during the weekend had to be nothing short of 100 people.  Each intermediate station (I think there are 5) had 1 or two people, plus there were staff manning Harbour Station ticket/booking office, gift shop, and Spooner's cafe and pub, plus there were staff manning Tan-y-bwlch's cafe.  Then there were 4 to 5 trains out on the line, each with staff to take tickets and take orders for drinks, etc.  I don't recall seeing any lineside parties, either (not that it would be easy to see them behind the stonewalls).
The number of volunteers on the TR on Tuesday was pretty amazing too.  With 3 trains running and 4 locos in steam, plus the Pendre shops going full tilt, plus the staff manning the Twywn Wharf and Aberglynolwyn refreshments areas, plus the staff manning the stations had to be somewhere around 40-50.  Then I saw several lineside parties working on various things along the line, so that ought to be another 20 - 30.  So that's 60 - 80 people right there.
To be fair, I realize the FR was putting on a celebration, and that it was a bank holiday week which I understand from the TR's website is a popular time for their "Tracksider's" family groups to be involved.  It's not often that the TR runs 3 trains at a time or that the FR has as crowded a timetable as they had this time.  Both groups have also been at this for more than 50 years.  I think the British mindset must be rather different from ours, considering the relative success of their preservation movement compared with ours.
Now let's talk about the physical plant.  While some of these railroads may not be high speed lines, make no mistake that I found all 3 of these to be thoroughly modern railroads.  I think the FR had telephone poles along its entire line carrying signal and communications wires, which I do not know if the pre-preservation line carried or not.  Neither the TR nor the WHR had poles carrying signals, but they did have modern signaling and switching systems.  It surprised me that the TR did have the modern signaling, as it was the most bucolic of all the settings.  But I could see a wire running along side the track for at least part of the way (at least on the upper end of the line) and it wouldn't surprise me if it ran the whole way.  I've even read where the volunteers on the TR undertook projects here and there to ease gradients on the line.
Locomotives and rolling stock every where we went (except on standard gauge) was pretty much immaculate.  The FR takes the award for spit and polish, but the TR isn't far behind.  I'd really like to spend a few days on each learning their secrets.

fjknight replied:
I'd really like to spend a few days on each learning their secrets.
That was my thought too. We should be able to learn a lot from these railroads. I've already blown my travel budget for this year but I would like to go back as a volunteer possibly nest year and learn some of their techniques. It would be fun to work on the completion of the Welsh Highland from Caernarfon to Porthmadog but to work on any of them would be a great education.
I know that both the Talyllyn and Ffestiniog have hostels for the volunteers. Winston who was giving me the museum tour at the Talyllyn said they only charged 2 or 3 GBP ($4 to $6) per night to stay in the hostel. I plan on finding out more about volunteering when I have the chance.

Glenn Christensen replied:
Hi Guys,
In my mind, the trip to the wonderful narrow gauge railways in Wales underscored a number of truths that I think we can all relate to.
1) An excited, motivated volunteer base creates a positive attitude that pervades every other aspect of the operation.  In talking with James, we both agreed, we'd like the WW&F to most closely echo the Festiniog in its business, but the Tal-y-llyn in its volunteer experience.  I liked the Tal-y-llyn enormously.  The volunteer staff resembled nothing so much as a huge, highly motivated, extended family.  We have this already and we should never take its importance for granted.  1a) To the degree possible, all the Maine 2' groups would be well-advised to provide volunteer amenities like basic lodging, hygiene and kitchen facilities to volunteers at a very nominal price.  If some folks wish to stay elsewhere with room service and a pool, no problem.  But not everyone has the means to do so.  I know the Sandy River folks have a guest house/trailer.  It would perhaps be a fitting use for the Percival house as well.
2) The visitor experience is paramount.  Immaculate equipment, visitor comfort, and clean and convenient amenties (food, gifts, restrooms and parking) are expected, not just nice to have.  As much as I love the two footers, I was visiting from far away and the convenience of having everything I needed nearby only enhanced my experience.
3) Historical and period accuracy are very attractive elements and can be a real marketing differentiator, as long as they do not conflict with #2.  An editorial comment here:  There has been expressed in several forums that some Festiniog supporters believe completion of the Welsh Highland will somehow damage or detract from the Festiniog.  I humbly disagree.  The two experiences are vastly different.  I see the Festiniog best portrayed as what it is - the ultimate experience of a Victorian era narrow gauge railway.  Their replications of lost period equipment are exciting, interesting, beautifully done and should be continued.  The Welsh Highland (C) is going to be a useful mainline narrow gauge.  It may eventually exceed the Festiniog in importance to the larger regional transportation grid, but I doubt that it will supplant or exceed the Festiniog in its own particular niche.  Frankly, they're railroads, they go to different places.  The Welsh Highland (P), deserves support and will provide visitors with a "period" version of the Welsh Highland experience.  This too will be different from the Festiniog.
4) The availability of First Class services and amenities is desirable and can add to financial returns.  This item should be self-explanatory.  Over time, as our operation expands, it may make sense to turn coach #3 into an extra fare car.  People already miss it when its not available to them.  It should be worth a little extra charge to ensure its longevity and authenticity.  4a) In train services on two foot gauge trains work and can make money!  Both the Festiniog and Welsh Highland had them and I think only the "carriage-style layouts" (i.e. no center aisle) prevented the Tal-y-llyn from having them as well.
5) Modern plant can be successfully hidden within the historical fabric.  Mechanization over time is desirable to keep maintain #2 while reducing operational costs and freeing up volunteers to perform more visible and satisfying work - that also happens to enhance #2.  The Festiniog no longer uses chaired, bullhead rail on the main portions of its line.  While historically accurate, its cost has "become hideously expensive".  I don't think most visitors really cared.  So too, beyond initial construction, on-going maintenance becomes merely a requirement and frankly a "headache".  We must over time consciously seek strategies that minimize maintenance costs, free up volunteers, and still maintain a positive visitor experience.
My two cents ...
Best Regards,

fjknight replied:
Next stop for us was the Vale of Rheidol Railway. The VoRR is a little different than the other 2 footers in that it was use to haul lead not slate but similar in that it is a trip from the coast into the mountains. The right of way has a lot of curves. Here is a sample:

Something else unique for the VoRR is that they use two train lines. The black is for service brakes and the red for emergency. Here is what it looks like:

From here we went to Tywyn home of the Talyllyn Railway. Here is a photo that shows how they put the coal in these small locos:

They fill a rectangular metal box with coal and two men lift and dump it into the bin on the fireman's side of the boilers. Note that on the Talyllyn they now use Polish rail and Polish coal. Seems that due to government and labor issue Welsh coal is not longer available.
Here is a look inside the cab of the Dolgoch. I think they could wear white shirts in these locos:

Something else was happening while I was taking these photos. The Tom Rolt Vintage Rally was scheduled to start the next day and traction engines kept going past the station here is a sample:

As with the railroad equipment we have seen this steam traction machines were extremely well maintained. Whenever they would stop someone would pull out a rag and start wiping it down.
Enough for now more later.

Mike Fox replied:
Very Nice Photos Frank. Thanks for sharing.

Wayne Laepple replied:
It's always exciting to enjoy a trip to Wales or Colorado or Australia and try to compare their railway to ours. In this case, James and his merry band had a wonderful time viewing and riding three wonderful narrow gauge railways in Wales.
Having done the same thing myself twice, albeit more than 25 years ago now, I would say this about the Brits' fascination with railways. Until relatively recently, public transportation, especially railways, was the means by which the British public traveled, due to the high cost of owning a private motor vehicle. The British government placed heavy taxes on private ownership of cars and the price of gasoline, using the proceeds to subsidize rail and other forms of public transportation. As for steam, British Railways operated steam locomotives until 1968 in regular service, and many industrial operations continued until 1980 or so. This resulted in two generations of folks who remember steam that we don't have in America.
Also, the Brits as a people have a much greater sense of history than we Americans do. If you happen to be in Britain around Armistice Day or V-E Day, there are ceremonies in virtually every town to remember the war dead, and these events are attended by huge crowds of people. The Brits have societies dedicated to the preservation of almost everything in their past, even sewage treatment plants!
While it's nice to contemplate the passenger volume of the Ffestiniog, be careful what you wish for. A huge increase in patronage, even built up over many years, brings about changes that many of us may not like. Even an increase in volunteer workers at Sheepscot may have unintended consequences, especially for the "original" members, who may find their ways of doing things questioned by new workers. It's one thing to manage a couple of weekends annually with 50 or more people on hand, but if that many showed up on a regular basis, I'm sure there would be issues. If you don't think that's so, just read back over some of the posts on this site.

Bill Sample replied:
I'm saving my pennies for a visit to Wales after the WHR is completed.  Having been in England about 8 times and Scotland and Wales twice over the years, I completely agree with Glenn's and Wayne's statements on the level of enthusiasm over there.  I have always received nice welcomes, and I always reciprocate the welcome when I encounter UK enthusiasts here in the colonies.
When Wayne mentioned the WW&F getting a surge in volunteers to match Welsh levels I couldn't help but think that they would be needed to rebuild line and trestlework into Wiscasset along with the extra equipment needed if the passenger levels also increased that dramatically!
But back to reality - I think the dedication and organization of the WW&F is at the top of the heap here in North America and is about as close as you will get to British standards.
Thanks for your accounts, James and Glenn!

fjknight replied:
The pictorial journey continues along the Talyllyn. Here is a shot of their service facility at Pendre:

On the Talyllyn it was difficult to get a shot of the loco while riding on the train since the curves are relatively wide:

Here is a look at the coal bin on the Dolgoch when we reached the end of the line after a 7 1/4 mile run. Seems relatively economical:

Back at Wharf Station I got photos of Sir Hadyn and Duncan wearing his Thomas face:

Lastly here is a picture of a cabless loco in the museum with a dome almost as large as the boiler:

Next stop is the Ffestiniog.

Glenn Christensen replied:
You make me want to go back all over again.
My best to Yvette!

Joe Fox replied:
You guys are making me want to visit, just to see what they are like. Talk to you guys later.

James Patten replied:
Save your pennies, Joe.  It cost me about $2000 to go - that is without renting a car, and I was able to eat fairly cheaply.
I used a North & Mid Wales Rail & Bus pass to get around.&nb
Ed Lecuyer
Moderator, WW&F Forum