13 July 2012
2012 marks the 50th anniversary of the arrival on the FR of Linda from the Penrhyn Quarry Railway, and it has been suggested that it is perhaps worth putting on record an account of what was a very significant event in the post-1954 history of the Railway.
In June 1962, I, together with several colleagues, had arranged with Fred Boughey to spend a week working on the conversion of the former Lynton & Barnstaple Railway carriage that had been recovered from Snapper Halt in 1959, into FR buffet car No.14. However the week prior to the intended visit I was taken to hospital with appendicitis. The first Get Well card I received was from Allan Garraway, and this prompted me, after a period in hospital and resting at home, to suggest to the Consultant that my recovery could be speeded up by a week’s holiday by the sea! The following week thus saw me en route to Portmadoc armed with a sealed letter to be taken to the nearest hospital, should I feel at all unwell. Being under Doctor’s orders, there was little I could contribute to the work going on on No.14, but by this apparent misfortune I was able to be present at the various stages of LindaÕs journey from Bethesda to Portmadoc.
On the FR, the locomotive position in the early summer of 1962 was even more critical than usual. It had been hoped to have two double Fairlies in service, with Merddin Emrys as the mainstay of the fleet, and a rather worn Earl of Merioneth as spare engine, available for use when trains became too heavy for Prince. However, early in the season Merddin Emrys developed very serious leaks around a number of firebox crown-stays, and it became obvious she would have to come out of service for major repairs. Prince, which had been dismantled to receive some fairly major work on its cylinders, was hastily reassembled and rushed back into service – too quickly as it later transpired.
It was all rather worrying, as we faced the prospect of running a high-season service that needed two engines and a stand-by with only one big one (in rather indifferent condition) and one small one. The problem appeared insoluble, as we then had only the rather underpowered Moelwyn and Simplex as ‘modern power’ back-up. Even so, Moelwyn was pressed into service to run a vestigial ‘Flying Flea’ in place of the 15:00 departure during the early part of the season, before Prince was ready for service.
Fortunately, unbeknown to us volunteers, higher authority had apparently been making efforts behind the scenes. Thus, on Wednesday 10 July, no doubt thinking that any alternative meant sending someone who would otherwise be doing a useful job, Allan Garraway came to me and said that it had been arranged to hire one of the main-line locomotives from the Penrhyn Quarry Railway and to bring it to Minffordd by rail. As it was essential that he continued to work on Prince, he wished me to go as the Company’s representative to ensure all went well for the FR side during the loading operation, and to take photographs! The Company would reimburse any expenses. Striding away across the yard to attend to other matters, he paused to turn round and shout ‘And make sure it comes the right way round’. Not as straightforward as it sounds, and an instruction that was to give me some anxious moments over the next few days.
It had been arranged that BR would load the chosen locomotive onto a machinery wagon at Port Penrhyn on Friday 13 July using the steam breakdown crane based at Bangor running shed. This wagon would then be included in the daily freight train via Caernarfon to Afon Wen, and taken on to Minffordd by the early-morning freight along the Cambrian Coast. Friday morning therefore saw us making an early start as we had decided to call first at the works at Bethesda to make sure that they and we were on the same wavelength. Sure enough, Linda was outside the works being cleaned and oiled, with a Ruston 4ODL diesel standing by, ready to tow her to Port Penrhyn for loading.
Having seen the ensemble commence the journey, we drove down to the port to find a BR 78XXX 2-6-O, together with the steam crane, already there. In due course the diesel and Linda arrived and everyone sat around waiting for a second BR locomotive, with the ‘Lowmac’ wagon and a guard’s van, to arrive. More than half an hour went by and still nothing happened. However we spent the time drawing a map of the intended rail journey on a large flat slate slab to determine, with all the reversals known to be involved, which way round to load Linda onto the wagon. Whilst we were doing this one of the crew of the 78XXX suddenly called out and ran to the footplate returning waving the single-line staff that controlled access to the Port Penrhyn branch from the main line…! So a further half hour passed whilst they went back up the branch to collect the second locomotive and the wagon.
Everything was then put in position with long chains draped round Linda’s front and rear buffer beams. However, as the lift began, it immediately became apparent that Linda was very back-heavy. As the front end rose higher and higher, the front lifting chains splayed out – to my mind getting far too close to the curved ends of the front buffer beam – but the rear end stayed stubbornly on the rails!
Eventually the rear end lifted. However, although the lifting crew seemed unconcerned, I was now quite alarmed at the attitude the locomotive had assumed, and I was also acutely aware of the likely reaction of the Penrhyn management, not to mention that of Allan Garraway at Portmadoc, should those front chains slip and Linda take a nose-dive into the ground! I therefore speedily assumed an authority I was not sure I had, and advised that Linda should be immediately lowered in order that a third chain could be tied between the two front chains at smokebox level to prevent them spreading towards the ends of the buffer beam.
The lift was then repeated and Linda was safely transferred to the waiting wagon. I then had to explain to the lifting crew that, as I had previously told them, she needed to be the other way round so as to arrive at Minffordd the correct way round for service on the FR. They said not to worry as they would have the wagon turned on the shed turntable at Bangor. Thinking of all the snags that might – and most probably would – occur, and being only too aware of the Managerial wrath that would certainly descend should Linda arrive the wrong way round, I advised very firmly that it would be better to be sure and turn her round now! So Linda was eased up again and carefully turned to face the other way.
After everything had been securely chained down, the two trains were shunted and the ensemble retreated up the branch on its way to Bangor. We made a quick run to Afon Wen that evening and confirmed that our wagon with its load had arrived there, as we could just see, among the many wagons in the sidings, a brass dome cover shining in the evening sunlight.
On arriving at the works the following morning we were told that the early- morning freight had passed through but our load wasn’t in it! Allan Garraway arrived shortly afterwards and on being so advised, immediately returned to Harbour Station – no doubt someone’s ear was about to be bent! Returning some time later he told us that the banking locomotive, employed on Saturdays to assist the heavy Butlin’s trains up the gradient from Penrhyndeudraeth to Minffordd, had a break in its duties around lunch time and it would then be sent to Afon Wen to collect our wagon. Obviously, strings had been pulled!
Watching from the Works Yard we duly saw the banking engine speed across the estuary in the direction of Afon Wen, and Paul Dukes requested that I mount a watch for its return as he wished to get to Minffordd in time to get the wagon shunted as far as possible up the siding for ease of unloading. Despite a speedy dash to Minffordd I soon discovered that the train had already been and gone, and our wagon had been left immediately behind the catch points! I was however greatly relieved to see it had arrived the correct way round – and complete with the galvanised sand bucket that hung in front of the smokebox, and was such a feature of these locomotives.
The position in which the wagon had been left instigated a hunt for sufficient lengths of chain to enable Moelwyn, on the parallel FR siding, to tow it to a position outside the goods shed where Paul had decided to unload Linda by winching her sideways on greased steel plates, using a large oak tree (which has only recently been cut down) as an anchor point. This was a slow and careful operation that continued until well after dark by the light of car headlights, briefly relieved by Allan Garraway who, having spent all day working on Prince, arrived with his car boot full of refreshment!
Having slid Linda off the wagon and safely down to ground level, though not yet on FR tracks, work was suspended for the day. On the Sunday morning we got to Minffordd early, but not it seemed early enough, as Paul and his gang had completed the job and Moelwyn, with Linda in tow, was at the top of the bank and entering the long siding. Linda’s long, and rather complicated journey from Bethesda was now over.
Linda was put into steam later in the morning and did a short, loaded test run to Cei Mawr that evening, 15 July 1962. She was used intermittently over the next few weeks, but it wasn’t until Friday 17 August that she really proved her worth. On that date, Prince suffered a failure which demonstrated quite graphically that it doesn’t do to rush things when repairing steam locomotives. One of the new piston rings, fitted in some haste during re-erection earlier in the year, was obviously too tight a fit. On the 11:45 Up train on 17 August it seized and disintegrated, damaging the piston head, upsetting the valve events, and bringing the train to a halt. It subsequently transpired that the debris had exited via the blast pipe, getting caught by the slide-valve en route, and straining the valve gear. Fortunately the valve faces weren’t badly damaged, and after the valves were reset the locomotive was usable. However so much steam was being lost to blow-by in the damaged cylinder that multiple ‘blow-up’ stops became routine when hauling even quite a modest train without assistance. Double-heading of Prince with Linda therefore became the norm, with Prince as train engine, providing the vacuum brake for the train.
Unfortunately, the difference in track gauge between the FR and the PQR (the PQR gauge being around three-quarters of an inch narrower), exacerbated by the well- worn condition of Linda’s wheels, meant that she wasnÕt quite as well-suited for use on the FR as had been hoped, and her valve settings were also very poor, to the extent that she could only be run in full gear, in either direction. Nevertheless she worked almost daily until 5 September when, double heading as usual with Prince on the 14:15 Up train, she derailed quite spectacularly in the woods below Bryn Mawr. She came to rest well off the track, with only Prince’s front coupling preventing her from rolling down the bank. We were lucky that no one was seriously injured, but it took fourteen hours to recover and rerail her, and the event has gone into FR folklore as ‘Linda’s Leap’.
Fortunately, at that period, the season was almost over by early September and Linda could therefore be retired to Boston Lodge to await repair, an eccentric strap having been broken during the derailment, and a moderately comprehensive bottom-end overhaul. The latter included adjustment of the valve settings and white-metalling of the axle-box bearings, which had demonstrated a distinct tendency to run hot as plain brasses, causing much burning of midnight oil at Boston Lodge when she was being used daily. By late 1963, following overhaul, regauging. the provision of a tender with additional water capacity, and various other alterations and adjustments, Linda had proved to everyone’s satisfaction that she would make a very useful addition to the FR’s fleet. She was then purchased outright, along with Blanche, but simpler councils prevailed and Blanche made the journey from Port Penrhyn to Portmadoc by road!