Winter Workshop Activity

At the Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway it was Workshop Week from the 10th to the 18th of February . There was plenty of activity taking place in and around the railway as for the first time we were running steam trains during the spring half term holiday.

Joan arrives back at Llanfair Caereinion on Saturday 17th February 2018

One of the key activities was the visit from the Boiler Inspector for the dry examinations of the railway’s two original locomotives The Earl and Countess. They passed and in a week or so will be subject to an examination while in steam. Because Joan was required for hauling trains she will be dealt with later.

A constant feature of operating  a steam steam locomotives is replacing parts that have either worn out or corroded away due to the hostile conditions they have to endure.

Both The Earl and Countess are having new spark arrestors fitted. They are being made from stainless steel so hopefully they will last a little longer than the previous ones.

The top plates of a new spark arrestor is clamped in place in the The Earl’s smokebox.

Steve milling a spark arrestor plate for The Earl.

The brakes of the W&LLR’s locomotives and carriages are worked by vacuum. On a steam engine it is created in a vacuum ejector. This is relatively simple device that passes steam from the boiler through a series of conical passages to draw the air out of the braking system. The Earl and Countess each have two. The large one is used to initially create the vacuum and then, if required, release the brakes quickly and the small ejector maintains the vacuum while the train is on the move.

Boring A Pipe Flange

The exhaust pipe from The Earls large ejector was badly corroded and had a large hole in it. In this short video Alan is seen boring the centre hole in a plate that will form a new pipe flange.

The lathe is a Colchester Triumph and was purchased second hand during 2017 when the workshop was being re-equipped after the asbestos clean up.

The gradient profile of the W&LLR resembles that of a theme park roller coaster, however, for the comfort and safety of our passengers the trains run at a more sedate pace. Controlling the speed on the downhill sections means we get through quite a lot of brake blocks. Tim and myself spent several hours drilling the fixing pin holes in new brake block castings.

A trolley load of blocks ready to take over to the stores.

On Saturday afternoon we were asked to check how many brake blocks were stored in the undercroft of the engine shed. This is not some lofty vaulted cellar but a filthy dirty pit covered with gratings that you cannot stand up straight in. We dragged out about 120 of various shapes and sizes and stacked them in the yard at the back of the Colinette building.

Staying with brakes new handbrake screws and nuts have been made for the two Beyer Peacock locos. Here Mark is seen finishing off turning the shaft of one of them down to the final size required.

Out in the yard Tim on the inside and Christian on the outside (not seen) fitted dome headed bolts to hold the smokebox onto the boiler of 699.01.

A showy looking train ascending Dolarddyn Bank on Thursday 15th February.



Posted in Heritage, Llanfair Caereinion, railroad, railway, Uncategorized, Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway, Workshops | Leave a comment

Storm Patrol

On the night of Wednesday 17th January there was a storm with high winds and rain over much of the British Isles. The next day your author and his wife found themselves in Hertfordshire making the roof of a relative’s shed weatherproof.

The following weekend, 20th 21st January, was a scheduled Hedgebash at the Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway. The plan had been to work adjacent to the River Banwy between the Old Water Tower and Mill Curves. Whilst the river was not in flood the level was up sufficiently for it to be moving very quickly and we decided it was too dangerous to operate in the that area.

It was decided that the main gang would be deployed between Cyfronydd and Brynelin Viaduct and a small gang sent to Dolarddyn Bank to re-cut some beech trees that had been coppiced a few years ago.

W&LLR Infrastructure Manager, Kevin Heywood, requested that the Works Train went through to the western end of the current track relaying operation at Welshpool to check for fallen trees and other damage.

Our train consisted of a Bowaters wagon,  a diesel loco – Chattenden, and a carriage (B20).

From the start it was clear that the storm had damaged or uprooted lots of small trees but thankfully none were on the track. We left the main gang, of ten men and a dog, and the carriage near Cyfronydd and an intrepid team of four set off for Welshpool.

Opening The Gates at Syfaen

At Sylfaen the farmer had left the gate across the railway.

Obstruction Danger

As we went over the summit and onto the Golfa Bank we were greeted by what appeared to be two trees across the line. On further investigation the nearer one in this photos was actually a huge branch. Both had fallen from the Powis Estate onto the railway.

Cutting Up Fallen Trees Near Golfa Summit

Peter got cracking with his chainsaw.

Loading Logs & Brash

Joe, Willy and myself loaded the brash onto the train. About this time the rain was turning to snow.

Trunks Left For Later Recovery

We decided to leave the larger sections in the cess for collection at a later date. We then dealt with some horrid blackthorn in Quarry Cutting

Fallen Tree Near Milepost 2

Further down the Golfa Bank, about 200 yards west of milepost 2, a small tree had fallen and was within the loading gauge. This was an awkward spot to work and as you can see from the picture it was snowing hard. We dumped the trunk and brash back over the fence.

Rabbit Curve

At the Welshpool end of Rabbit Curve another small tree had succumbed to the gale. After dealing with it we headed back towards Cyfronydd.

At Four Mile Oak the twin culvert was partially blocked and only one bore was flowing. Peter waded into the water to pull out some branches while I prised them up with  a shovel. After just a few minutes there was torrent of water flowing towards the Sylfaen Brook.

Slave driver Willy stopped on Dolarddyn Bank so we could cut back a load of beech that had been coppiced a few years previously. As the wagon was almost full we left it on site.

Dolarddyn Curve Incursion

Nest stop was at the bottom of Dolarddyn Bank where we paused to deal with yet another incursion.

Dolarddyn Curve After Trimming

The treatment was rudimentary and brutal. By now the load on the wagon was looking unstable so I slung a rope over it to help keep it all on board.

Bonfire Site

At the main work site the wagon was unloaded and then I went back with a new team to clear up the stuff we had left on Dolarddyn Bank.

Another Load Of Brash

It seems hard to believe that we cut that lot in about twenty minutes!

Relaxing In The Mess Room

We got back to Llanfair at half past four, cold and somewhat damp. Here are some of the team resting and warming up and enjoying mugs of tea and chocolate biscuits.

Chilly Sunday Morning

Next morning there was more snow.

Final Load On The Fire

We decided to go to Cyfronydd to just clear up and burn the brash that had been left the day before.

Today, Tuesday, I received a message from Kevin to say ‘Thanks – good job by all. Gold stars all round’.


Posted in Cyfronydd, Golfa Bank, Heritage, Lineside maintenance, railroad, railway, Sylfaen, vegetation management, Welshpool, Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway | Leave a comment

When Winter Comes Howling In

The words below are from Winter Song written by Alan Hull of the folk/rock band Lindisfarne and it featured on their 1970 debut album Nicely Out Of Tune

When winter’s shadowy fingers
First pursue you down the street
And your boots no longer lie
About the cold around your feet

Do you spare a thought for summer
Whose passage is complete
Whose memories lie in ruins
And whose ruins lie in heat
When winter comes howling in

Running Round At Cyfronydd

Well winter certainly arrived in Mid Wales a few days ago! I travelled to Llanfair Caereinion on the evening of Thursday 7th December. Next morning there was a sprinkling of snow on the ground and the forecast was threatening more.

My task for the day was to rouse The Earl from hibernation and prepare the old gent for the Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway’s Santa Special trains scheduled for the weekend.

Filling The Boiler

Thankfully the water supply to the engine shed was not frozen and I set about filling the boiler. A little while after turning on the tap I became aware of cold wet droplets falling on my face. Was the hose leaking ? Had I not properly closed the divert valve resulting in water from the blower spraying out of the chimney ? None of those – snow was blowing in through the longitudinal smoke vent in the roof!

While the boiler was filling I checked the fusible and washout plugs and then cleaned the remains of the last fire from the grate. I had commenced laying the fire when Steve arrived. I had expected to be working on my own for most of the day and was delighted to be getting some invaluable assistance at this stage of the day.

Lighting The Fire

Steve lit the fire and I popped the hose into the water tank and we retreated to the warmth of the mess room for a mug of tea.

Tea break over and it was time for some serious work. Steve set about cleaning the brass work and I washed down the paintwork on the inside of the cab. The smokebox was looking very tatty and so Steve went off in search of the heat resistant paint and a brush. On his return  I wire-brushed the rust away and carefully worked the paint onto the metal, meanwhile, he got on with the oiling up.

Oiling Up

After lunch the plan was to take The Earl and the carriages forming the Santa Special train to Cyfronydd and back to give them a run and check the line was all OK.

Pause At Tanllan

It was snowing as we left and we had a short pause at Tanllan to unload several bags of leaves that had been swept up from around the station area a couple of weeks previously.

Clearing Debris From The Stream

Near Heniarth Bill and Dave waded into the stream to clear a build of debris from behind an old gate that prevents livestock from straying out of the field, under the railway line and onwards into the River Banwy. While they were busy doing doing that Steve had noticed a leak on the steam heating pressure gauge pipe.

The remainder of the trip was cold and miserable, but otherwise uneventful.

Unheated carriages was not going to be a popular feature so once we were back at Llanfair Richard was summoned from his nice warm workshop into the cold and gloomy engine shed to attend to the leaking pipe. After much discussion a tactical repair was effected and we knocked off for the night.

By now it was snowing heavily and the overnight weather forecast was grim. So grim that the General Manager and his deputy had decided to stay overnight in the hostel in case they could not get back to Llanfair in the morning. A little later eight of us adjourned to the Red Lion for dinner. When we emerged it was still snowing.

On Saturday morning everything was covered in snow. There was a sound of scrapping as a team battled to clear the snow off the platform.

After Santa’s Chariot had been delivered to Tanllan, Richard, Peter & myself were instructed to take Chattenden to Cyfronydd to clear the line and check that the points were not frozen.

River Banwy In Winter

It was cold and crisp with plenty of blue sky as we trundled alongside the River Banwy

Mill Curves

At Mill Curves the trees that overhung the line were laden with snow.

De-icing Train

The de-icing train at Cyfronydd.
Note the large cylinder of propane gas lashed to handrail behind the cab.

Snow Clearing

Clearing snow at the Castle Caereinion end of Cyfronydd loop.

Frozen Points

Melting out the snow and ice from between the point blade and the stock rail.

Clearing Flangeways

A short video showing the snow and ice melting process.

With the line now fit to use we headed back to Llanfair.

Santa & Helpers

Santa and his helpers at Tanllan depot. After the train leaves Llanfair Caereinion it pauses here to pick up the gent in the red suit and his posse of elves. They then meet each family group on the train and distribute gifts to the children.

Hello Santa

Running Round At Cyfronydd

The Earl runs round the train at Cyfronydd.

At the end of the day the carriages were left in the platform and The Earl was put back in the engine shed. I packed up my stuff and headed for home.

Next morning there was even more snow. Worse still the main road between Shrewsbury and Welshpool was blocked by fallen power cables. The railway’s Facebook page carried the following announcement:

Due to very heavy snow in Mid Wales, we recommend you don’t travel to Llanfair for today’s Santa trains (Sunday 10 December). The police have advised only necessary travel, and the A458 is currently closed near Middletown, Shropshire
We will try to run a limited Santa service today, but we will also add extra seats to all three days next weekend (16-18 December) exclusively for those who were booked today.

If you are booked today and don’t come, please call us on 01938 810441 today or during the week to change your booking to next weekend. If you can’t make it then, we will offer a full refund.


A train service did run for the few hardly families that battled through the snow. The train set was reduced to two carriages top and tailed with The Earl at the Llanfair end and #17 at the other.

The whole W&LLR team put in a fantastic effort over the weekend to ensure that we were able to run trains. Whether you were shovelling snow, operating trains or manning the phones or just making tea many many thanks to all of you.

Trains will be running on 16th, 17th and 18th December.

If you would like to listen to Lindisfarne perform Winter Song click here




Posted in Cyfronydd, Heniarth, Heritage, Lineside maintenance, Llanfair Caereinion, Photographs, Poetry, railroad, railway, Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

A Lament For Five Brothers

Five of us, brothers, stood beside the waterIMG_4669
Bright sun played on the ripples
We mourned for our cousin
Lost when she fell into the river

We were tall, the others handsome
But I for twenty summers
Bore a scar on my body
Disfigured by a lightning bolt

Armed men came, not soldiers
But yet an orange army
We were surrounded, trapped
Unable to make our escapeIMG_4681

No chance to plead for mercy
A whirling blade plunged into my side
Then again and again until
I fell and lay motionless

This band of brothers has fallen
But we will rise, not as five, but fifty!
Come Easter and new shoots
Will spring from our stumps

So once more we’ll stand beside the water
And as the sun plays on the ripples
Mourn for our cousin the oak
Lost when she fell into the river

Copyright (c) Geoff Gauntlett 2017

Earlier in the year, a few yards down stream, from this site a huge oak tree fell into the River Banwy taking part of the bank with it. Removal was a difficult and costly task, but had to be done as it was obstructing the flow of water.

Following a survey of the other trees along this section several were identified for pre-emptive removal. The words and photos above record the first phase of this task.  Hopefully the stumps will coppice and in a few years time there will be fifty stems where there were once five trees.



Posted in Heritage, Lineside maintenance, Photographs, Poetry, railroad, railway, vegetation management, Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Messing About By The River

Steam In The Banwy Valley

From Llanfair Caereinion for a distance of two miles, almost to Cyfronydd, the Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway follows the course of the River Banwy. For about one and a quarter miles the river is adjacent to the line but for long sections the water is hidden from view by a barrier of trees and associated vegetation. Photos taken in the 1960s show that, when the Preservation Company took over the line, other than grass and similar plants there was very little else growing on what I shall term  as ‘railway land’.

Priorities such as relaying track and overhauling locomotives and rolling stock have meant that there had been plenty of time for plants and trees to colonise the margins along the line. Left unchecked the line would eventually become a green tunnel with nothing to see from the carriage windows other than leaves and branches. Hardly a great experience for our passengers.

This autumn the Hedgebash Gang have been working between Milepost 7 and Milepost 7 1/4 a part of the line otherwise know as The Kink.

IMG_4588_unsharpPhoto courtesy of J Wingfield

Believe it or not somewhere near the top of the slope is a railway line and behind the camera is the river. Betwixt the two is a vast amount of scruby hazel and ash, brambles, bracken and a few small oak trees.

The hazel has been coppiced many times and is getting done again. This process does not kill the plants and in a few years we will have to return to repeat the process.

the Hegdebash Gang Taking A Rest

Looking downhill in about the same area a day or so later. The river is now visible from the railway line. Contrary to popular belief the Hedgebash Gang leaders are not ‘slave drivers’ and here some of the gang are taking a breather. On this particular weekend people travelled from places ranging from Cornwall to Yorkshire and included a couple of loco drivers from the Severn Valley Railway.

Gone Fishing

The coppice stools (stumps) on the left of the picture suggest that over the decades the river bank may have moved northwards by around 10 yards.

An individual or company owning land that has a river as a boundary is know as a ‘riparian owner’. In general terms this means that you own the land to the middle of the river and in most cases have fishing rights. With rights come responsibilities and to quote from a Natural Resources Wales document:-

You should keep the banks clear of anything that could cause an obstruction and increase flood risk, either on your land or downstream if it is washed away. You are responsible for maintaining the bed and banks of the watercourse and the trees and shrubs growing on the banks. You should also clear any litter and animal carcasses from the channel and banks, even if they did not come from your land.

A few months ago a large tree fell into the river near the old water tower. Getting it out was difficult and expensive. So it is time to be proactive and assess which trees may be in danger of falling into the river and felling them before they become a financial burden.

Overhanging Tree

An example of a tree that might collapse into the river. The crown has been cut away and a winch cable has been attached the top of the trunk.

Cutting The Front Notch

Darren Knibbs from Oakbeech Valley  finishing off the cut on the landward side of the tree.

Taking The Strain

Once the waterside cut had been made the tree was pulled over using a hand operated winch.

A 90 second video showing the felling process. Your author took his turn at operating the winch and mighty hard work it was too.

Felling A Small Tree

In addition to employing the services of a professional tree surgeon the Hedgebash Gang now has a number of members who have recognised qualifications to use chainsaws. They are able to tackle smaller trees that in the past would have been dealt with using hand saws.

Bug Hotel

A five star bug hotel assembled from a pile of logs. This will provide a habitat for various insects as it slowly decomposes.

Tidy River Bank

A section of neat and tidy river bank. It may look barren for a few months but in 4 years time it will be necessary to coppice it all again.

The Earl passing the work site on Saturday 28th October 2017.

If you would like to become a volunteer on the Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway please click here for further information. There are opportunities, and in most cases training available, in all aspects of running a heritage railway.

More photos over on Flickr




Posted in Cyfronydd, Heritage, Lineside maintenance, railroad, railway, vegetation management, Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway | 4 Comments

Time For A Trim


An 8 mile long railway has got 16 miles of verge to keep tidy and it has been a while since the line side grass and hedges of the Welshpool &Llanfair Light Railway had a good trim. Yes, there has been some strimming done and the Hedgebash Gang have been tackling some interesting projects but ……

Over the last couple of weeks the line has been getting a short back and sides.

Trundling Along at 1/2 mph

You might ask why we want to cut back the ‘greenery’. Well for several reasons:

  • Safety – brambles and branches that grow too close to the train may injure the crew or passengers if they lean out.
  • Prevent damage – if the vegetation scrapes along the side of the locomotives and carriages it ruins the paintwork.
  • Reduce fire risk – old brambles and long dried grass burn readily if ignited by a cinder from a steam locomotive. Short grass is less likely to catch fire and then burn for any distance.
  • It enables embankments and cuttings to be inspected for damage or subsidence.
  • Last but not least it makes the railway look well cared for.

Flail Train

The Flail Train comprising: diesel locomotive Chattenden, Ferguson 590 tractor fitted with a Twose TE480 flail mower and mounted on the ex Zillertalbahn Railway Rollwagen.

Grass Cuttin (No 'g')

Cutting grass on the side of an embankment a couple of hundred yards east of Dolarddyn Road. This section took three passes to complete.

Approaching Dirty Lane

Hedge cutting near Dirty Lane (Hydan Fawr). Four passes were required: ground level, side of hedge, angle cut as shown in the picture and a top cut.

Removing Fencing Wire

Dumped fencing wire can get caught around the rotor. This was some of the original GWR fencing wire which is nearly 1/4″ in diameter (6mm). Here it is being snipped out in a series of small pieces. This was ‘found’ near The Kink (MP7). Yet in this area the fence is a good 15 feet from the line and  at least 6 feet lower. To confuse us even more when I traced this back to its source it turned out to be the top strand and was still connected to the rest of the fence.

Flailing Sylfaen Bank

Sylfaen Bank – here the hedge is a monstrous affair mainly of blackthorn. This lot took 6 passes. Unfortunately the arm of the flail could not reach out far enough to trim the top.

At the time of writing this article a little over 10 miles of line side have been trimmed.

Many thanks to the team involved: PS, DD, PM, BW, RW, WF, PM, GG (apologies if I have missed anyone)

Neat & Tidy on Left Side

The left side of Sylfaen Bank looking neat and tidy.

Two short videos showing the flail in action:

Flailing Sylfaen Bank

Near Dirty Lane

Not To Be Moved

All this crawling around, stopping and starting takes its toll on the loco. On Saturday 14th of October Chattenden had a new set of brake blocks fitted.

Worn Out Brake Blocks

The old brake blocks

Fitting A Brake Block

Jiggling a new brake block into position between the wheel and the brake hanger.

Team Diesel

Team Diesel

Ready For Service

3 o’clock Saturday 14th October ready for service.

Unfortunately Chattenden has now got a leak in the cooling system and is awaiting repair. This is delaying the completion the flailing task.

Some more photos over on Flickr


Posted in Heritage, Lineside maintenance, Llanfair Caereinion, Photographs, railroad, railway, Sylfaen, vegetation management, Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway, Workshops | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

A Superb Steam Gala


What can be better than having you expectations exceeded ? Booking visiting locomotives for a steam gala can be a worrisome business. Will it actually arrive in a fit state to run on an eight mile long railway that resembles a linear roller-coaster? Past experience has indicated that axlebox bearings will run hot and or the loco will not be able to produce steam at the required rate.

Raising Steam

A visitor from the Sittingbourne & Kemsley Light Railway was booked for the Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway’s 2017 Steam Gala. Their 0-6-2T, Superb, built by Bagnalls in 1940 was delivered to Llanfair Caereinion on 18th August. Once on the rails she was steamed up ran light engine to Welshpool  and back again without any problems. The following day, after the last service train, she took an empty stock train for a full round trip again without issues.

Steam Diesel Steam

Superb rolls into Llanfair with a goods train working from Cyfronydd. On the shed road stands, Joan, a similar loco built by Kerr Stuart in 1927 and in the background stands Chattenden built a mere nine years after Superb.

Superb carries a headboard ‘The Bogie’. The Bowater’s paper mill complex was large enough to justify them running a passenger service for their workers and this was colloquially know as ‘The Bogie’.

Double Header At Dolrhyd Mill

On Friday and Sunday evenings Superb and Joan worked double headed to Welshpool and back.

On gala Saturday your author was rostered as the early shift Yard Supervisor. My task was to ensure that loco operations went to plan and that the required rolling stock was available and in the right place on time. I had a great team and they did a wonderful job.

7 Ladies

The W&LLR is an equal opportunities organisation and on Saturday morning we were lucky enough to have all the females who work on the footplate in the station yard at one time so we were able to capture this photo of seven ladies:- Five firemen, one recent recruit and our aristocratic centenarian.


As the day draws to a close The Earl has come onto the pit for a Daily Fitness To Run Examination. This entails checking that the motion is all in good order, the springs are visually OK and that there is not excessive wear on the brake blocks.

At 28 day intervals, normally linked with the regular boiler wash out, a much more rigorous examination takes place.

At Rest

For The Earl the day is over and it slumbers outside the workshops. Only to be rudely awakened by a firework display.

Fireworks @ Llanfair Caereinion

This was to mark that the preservation company has operated the railway for longer than the Cambrian Railway, GWR and BR put together. This short video catches the finale.


On Sunday I was back on driving duties and at lunchtime took Superb and a goods train out to Cyfronydd and back. In the picture above Superb and train wait in the loop for a passenger train to pass us. The weather was dreadful with almost constant drizzle occasionally relieved by periods of heavier almost horizontal rain.

Red Signal

On our return journey we were greeted by the Outer Home signal showing a red aspect. Our rule book defines a 5 minute waiting period before the train crew take any action. Eventually our guard radioed in to remind the signalman that we were waiting for him to let us into the station.

Approaching Llanfair

A seemingly action shot taken while we were stopped at the signal.

Oiling Up

Back at Llanfair I was offered to opportunity to climb in between the frames and oil the inside valve gear. I graciously declined and Nigel from the S&K undertook that chore.

What is there left to say ?

Thanks to:

  • The Sittingbourne & Kemsley Light Railway for not only lending us a Superb locomotive but for nurturing it while it was at the W&LLR.
  • The huge team of W&LLR people many of whom were doing menial but absolutely essential tasks.
  • Exhibitors & Traders
  • Electrify Pyrotechnics
  • Last but not least our visitors for turning up and supporting us.









Posted in Cyfronydd, Heritage, Llanfair Caereinion, Photographs, railroad, railway, Uncategorized, Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway, Workshops | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Up A Drain Pipe

The heritage railway movement might use rails but it depends on people. People from all walks of life who willingly give some of their time to make things happen. There are the obvious things that have to be done: trains to be driven, fares collected and teas dispensed. Looking a little deeper the locomotives, rolling stock and track all have to be maintained. Peel back yet another layer and the tasks become somewhat less glamorous but still need to be done.

Having an expertise to bring to a heritage railway can be a great asset. Just as valuable is a ‘can do’ attitude, a willingness to learn new skills and the humility to be prepared to do a share of the unseen tasks.

A few weeks ago a Church of England vicar and a former telecommunications consultant were to be found checking the drainage pipes and culverts that pass under the trackbed of the Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway.

Inside a large culvertInside Looking Out

A view from within the large culvert beneath the track on Dolarddyn Bank just above White Bridge. The water level was sufficiently low to be able to enter the culvert from the upstream end without getting seriously wet. As a former caver/mine explorer confined spaces do not bother me.

IMG_4171_tweakedThe Outfall

There is quite a deep pool here. Wellies would not have been sufficient to avoid wet feet.

Readers may well wonder at the apparent strange combination of skills in this micro-team and how come they got landed with this task. So, the Reverend Ryk is on his third career. The previous one was as a lecturer in civil engineering specialising in railway permanent way. As for your author, in the past I have been involved with heritage railway trackwork, and currently during the winter months get involved with vegetation management and have been known to un-bung a drain or two.

IMG_20161126_115521367_HDRA drain on Golfa Bank near Black Mill cottages cleared 26 November 2016

Ryk and I did a similar survey two years ago. This time around we had some additional objectives: To physically tag the culverts and GPS tag them. The physical tagging was straight forwards and involved small metal tags stamped with a serial number. How well (precise) the GPS tagging went has yet to be determined. The longer term aim of this being that a people could be accurately dispatched to look at a drain and not have to spend ages thrashing around in the undergrowth trying to locate it.

Obvious And Easy To Find

IMG_20170630_172348You Need To Know Where To Look And What To Look For

IMG_20170629_163753If You Didn’t Already Know This One Existed …..
Near Mile Post 2 – A blocked pipe part way up the cutting side obscured by grass & weeds

IMG_4157Joan Approaching Pussy Bridge with Y Golfa In The Background

A bonus of tasks like this is  the opportunity to get some photos from normally inaccessible locations.

IMG_4166Joan Climbing Golfa Bank

This photo was taken while checking out a drain under the embankment near to Nant Y Caws.

To round off …. if you already volunteer on a heritage railway or some other organisation here is a challenge – try something new – one of those tasks that does not mean being part of the cast that the public see.  Perhaps even something that means working with a different bunch of folk – even out of your comfort zone.

If you aren’t a volunteer already – well you are missing something – a great chance to learn new skills and do something for the heritage railway movement.

If you would like to volunteer on the Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway then please follow this link. We are only just across the border into Wales and within a couple of hours driving of several million of people.







Posted in Heritage, Lineside maintenance, railroad, railway, Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Never A Dull Moment

On Friday morning I set off early to drive to the Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway and arrived at Llanfair Caereinion just after nine o’clock. After finding a room in the volunteers’ hostel I went up to the Duty Mess Room to have some breakfast. Bruce, the Chief Mechanical engineer,  and Richard, the Workshop Foreman, were in there discussing the tasks they were hoping to tackle that day.

Looking at me in a quizzical sort of way the CME asked “What were you planning to do today?”.
I replied ” A bit of genteel PAT testing – unless you have got a better offer”
He said “How do you fancy getting involved with doing a 28 day exam on Countess?”
“OK” I said; thinking that I would be done by lunchtime and could get on with the testing in the afternoon.

Steam locomotive Countess and diesel locomotive Ferret

Countess on the inspection pit at Llanfair Caereinion

So after a bit of shunting Countess was positioned on the inspection pit ready for me to clamber about underneath.

As part of the normal daily routine the locomotives are inspected before and after service then after 28 days of use they are given a formal Fitness To Run Examination. For this inspection the engine is out of steam so that you can squeeze into places that would be mighty uncomfortable if it was hot. Springs, motion and brakes are significant parts to be looked at. Then there are nuts, bolts and split pins to be checked. Lubrication of almost inaccessible components, like the rocking shaft on the cylinder drain cock linkage, is also on the list of tasks.

The driver’s side piston gland needed some new packing and a couple of new coupling rod end oil pot trimmings were made up to reduce their oil consumption.

There was plenty of life left in the brake blocks but the brake rigging needed adjusting to reduce the slack. Getting the lock-nuts undone on the turn-buckle between the middle and rear axles can be tricky. One end refused to budge until after it was given a bit of gentle persuasion from the ‘hot spanner’.

Last job was to fix a leak on the driver’s side injector. Up came the floor plate …..
……. they say that discretion is the better part of valour. The ‘C’ nut on the pipe union was going to need replacing. Well, after a bit of consultation, we agreed to put up with that leak for a little longer.

Three steam engines and a diesel locomotive

The Earl had been parked well out of the way on the running line, Joan is standing outside the engine shed and Countess, attached to Ferret, has been pulled off the pit.

Fitter working on steam locomotive

Joan being re-assembled following some modifications to the live steam injector delivery pipes.

A few weeks ago there were some problems with a pipe joint on Joan. Modification and partial replacement was required. The parts had been returned and a team were busy at work putting her back together. After everything was reassembled she was lit up for a steam test. Unfortunately there was a quality issue with some work done by a contractor and as a consequence the fire had to be dropped.

Oh and my afternoon doing some electrical testing ? No chance!! We finished late got cleaned up and headed off for something to eat.

Before going to bed I set my alarm for nine the next morning. I was roused sometime after eight by an unattended alarm clock in the next room. By half past eight I could stand it no longer.

Rowan and I were rostered to crew a special train. There was no need to start until ten so time for a leisurely breakfast. Countess was our engine and she was ready and waiting by 12:30. We had a bit of lunch and waited for the 13:00 train to depart. We took Countess down to the carriage shed at Tanllan and fetched the replica Pickering carriages and the water wagon  back to Llanfair. After a bit of shunting and taking coal and water we were ready to depart.

The special train was for Colin, our previous CME who retired from the role a few months ago, and was now celebrating a significant birthday. Before the train departed there was a presentation made by W&LLR Chairman Steve Clews.

two people

Steve presents Colin with a picture of a GWR King class locomotive


Two people

Steve presenting Colin with a golden brake block

With the presentations over we set off down the line. We paused briefly at Cyfronydd to change footplate passengers and arrived more or less on time at Castle Caereinion. After a few minutes the service train arrived from Welshpool. The blockman set about exchanging the single line train staffs and setting the points. A message came in over his radio – a fire had been reported on Coppice Lane Bank. We were tasked with evaluating it and if possible extinguishing it.

Once we had the right-away I eased Countess and her train out of the loop and up the steep bank that leads to Coppice Lane level crossing. As we approached the road we could see a lot of smoke. After crossing the lane I brought the train to a halt a sensible distance from what had been a vigorous grass fire on the north side of the line. Rowan clambered down from the engine with the firing shovel and began to beat out the flames. After stopping our engine from blowing off I joined in.

The flames were soon put out but it was a hot sunny day and everything was as dry as tinder. We really needed to give the whole area a good soaking. So that annoying water wagon on the back of the train was going to come in handy. I went back to the loco and moved the train past the smouldering cutting side.

The wagon door was dropped, a hose deployed and the pump started (on the third attempt).

Fire-fighter with small hose at side of railway line

Railway locomotive fireman turned fire-fighter

fire-fighter with small hose

Damping down the smouldering embers

Once the smoke was gone a herd of cows came over to see what all the fuss was about. We packed up the hose and got the train moving again. The locomotive’s fire had suffered a bit with the delay but we were able to enjoy a good run up Sylfaen Bank. The ‘birthday boy’ was stood on the front balcony of the train trying to see where the regulator was set. It is sufficient to record that he was not disappointed.

Our arrival at Welshpool was well behind schedule but as we were running to the ‘Tea Train’ timetable the point to point times were generous. The water wagon had to be shunted to the other end of the train, Countess’s tanks replenished with water and the crew topped up with hot sweet tea.

The return trip was without incident and we were on time at Castle Caereinion and did not delay the 15:30 ex Llanfair.

Colin, his relatives and friends appeared to have had an enjoyable afternoon.

So it all goes to show that when you volunteer at the Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway there is never a dull moment.

Steam locomotive chimney

The first picture in this blog need a bit of ‘photoshopping’ to eliminate a lovely set of flood lights attached to the top of the chimney. Here is an extract from the original picture.



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Brake Blocks & Running Repairs


On Sunday 9th of April I was rostered as ‘Driver 2’ on the Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway. On this turn of duty crew ‘2’ look after the loco while crew ‘1’ have their breakfast and lunch breaks then work the last train and dispose of the loco at the end of the day (aka put it to bed for the night). So once the first train of the day has departed you are available for other jobs that might need doing. On this day I assisted Bruce and Richard changing the brake blocks on Chattenden.

Routine Maintenance

The task was done on the large outside pit

The loco was chocked to prevent it moving and then the brake adjusters slackened off, to give a bit move movement the brake rigging was also disconnected from the main brake shaft. Each brake block is held in place with a pin. In this case the pins are retained with a nut, a lock nut and for good measure a split pin. The pins are inserted through holes in the locos main frames and so the brake rigging has to be aligned to get the pins out and then back in again.

You could probably do the job with two people – one to manipulate the brake blocks while the other deals with the pins. However, a third person use useful to push the brake rigging about to get the new blocks into position.

Last but not least the brakes were adjusted and a check made to ensure that all the split pins were fitted and opened out.

Countess Near Brynelin


A couple of days later Countess disgraced herself and set fire to some dry grass at the side of the line near Coppice Lane. It didn’t amount to much and the fire soon burnt its self out.

The next morning while preparing her for traffic I noticed that there was a gap in the spark arrestor. A search for some fireclay to stop up the hole proved fruitless…. and plans were made for some remedial work to be done at lunch time.

A little later on while I was changing into my clean ‘public facing’ overalls someone came into the locker room to say that Countess had been detached from the train for immediate attention and the train would be leaving 15 minutes late.

There was no space on the tracks outside the workshop so she was taken down the main line to the back of the running shed where a portable arc welder could be plugged into the electrical supply.

Tactical Modification

Richard then undertook the sort of tactical modification that would have typical of the late Pasco Rowe and welded a couple of old and reshaped base-plates to the under side of the spark arrestor base. ( NB Base-plates are small plates about  6″ x 8″ x 1/4″ (150mm x 200mm x 6mm) that go between the wooden sleeper and the rail to spread the load over a wider area.)

Positional Welding

The task was done quickly and in the end the train was only delayed by ten minutes.


Posted in Heritage, Llanfair Caereinion, railroad, railway, Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway, Workshops | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment