In a shed at the end of a siding lived the locomotive of the Welshpool and Llanfair Light Railway Preservation Society Limited which was a long name for a little engine so her friends called her Countess.
I was rostered as driver on Saturday 25th of October. My fellow crew members were Miles (Trainee Driver) and Triston (Fireman). When we started preparing Countess it was still dark and the sky was full of stars and as the dawn crept in the temperature outside dropped. The clear sky was soon covered in cloud and a damp gloom settle over the Banwy valley.
The engine was coupled onto the train by nine-thirty and the steam heating was turned on to take the chill off the carriages. You know that winter can’t be far away when you see a trail of steam emerging from under each carriage.
We set off more or less on time with Miles driving, Triston attending to the fire and water and me trying not to get in their way. At Heniarth I noticed that a field gate was open and there were sheep that might just make a bid from freedom. So we had a quick pause to shut them in properly. Once over the Banwy Bridge a large yellow flag indicated that work was taking place a little further along the line. On the dip down into The Kink the Hedgebash Gang were at work on the side of the cutting taking down beech and ash sapplings. Once past that there was a five mile an hour speed restriction from Brynelen viaduct to Cyfronydd. This section of track will be lifted next week and there are piles of new sleepers and rails all ready for that operation.
We had a pause at Cyfronydd to pick up ten passengers and then set off to Castle Caereinion. At the level crossing things got a bit tricky. The rails were wet and slippery and Miles had a hard time getting Countess moving and across the road into the station. Worse was to come and once onto Castle Bank the loco’s wheels refused to grip the rails. Now this is what leaning to drive a railway locomotive is all about – learning how to adjust the regulator, apply sand and use the hand brake to provide an analogue form of traction control. So that is three things to operate …. but the sanding handle needs two hands to get it moving. Needless to say the train ground to a halt.
The fireman climbed down with a tin of sand to sprinkle on the rails and then came back for two more.
Once a good length of track had been sanded Miles got the train moving and we were able to pick Triston up at the occupation crossing where the gradient eases. Building up any speed was not necessary as around the next bend in the line the lovely little furry bunny rabbits are causing havoc and there is a speed restriction where the track has subsided at the same spot as a couple years ago.
Once past that it was all plain sailing and we rolled into Raven Square station several minutes late. After a speedy run round we were ready to go on time and by now the rails had dried out so the trip back was without incident.
Back at Llanfair we took water, coaled up and had lunch. Then at a quarter past one it was time to do it all again.
Two short videos of Countess in action taken on Sunday 26th October.
Last but by no means least the words I used at the start of this piece might have a familiar ring to some readers. So if you would like to be reminded of time when children’s television was a little less frantic than today then check out episode 1 of Ivor The Engine