Many heritage railways break out their normal routine at least once a year and hold a special event where there is a more extensive timetable for a few days. The Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway is no exception and over 2nd, 3rd and 4th of September there was the annual Steam Gala.
On a normal operating day at the W&LLR up to five people are rostered to crew the locomotive in steam and on a busy summer day that number climbs to seven or eight. These people work with minimal supervision because the tasks follow a predictable pattern. At a gala event the situation is vastly different. There may be well over twenty loco crew rostered along with a number of other people doing mundane tasks such as loading coal, loco cleaning, etc.
Enter the ‘Yard Supervisor’ and his assistant; their job is to make sure everything runs to plan. I fulfilled this role on the Friday assisted by John.
Rolling stock for the first few trains was in position the night before. The first major job for John was to check that all the wagons and carriages had been oiled.
It is our normal practice that once an engine is ready to leave the shed area the crew that prepared it have a break for breakfast and to change into clean overalls. While they are away a relief crew takes charge; their task is to top up the water tanks and coal bunker and then put the loco onto the train. Finding people for this task is usually easy.
At 10 o’clock the first train of the day, Countess and B Set (2 x MAV + 2 x SKLB all green carriages) departed.
Chevallier then fetched the goods stock and departed at 10:30 heading for Castle Caereinion. This loco was supposed to be the star of the show but had been experiencing problems with overheating bearings since it arrive a couple of months previously. Would it make it back OK?
After the first two trains had gone more rolling stock had to be fetched from the carriage shed, at Tanllan, about a quarter of a mile from the station. Rather than relying on the Yard Supervisor working out the movements for himself he is provided with a Shunting Schedule which details when stock is to be brought in or out and where it is stabled. Invariably though a scratch crew for the shunt moves has to be assembled and a locomotive assigned to the task.
The carriage shed at Tanllan. The loco #17 and the PW gang mess van is on Road 0, ex Sierra Leone carriages are in Road 2 and the ex Zillertalbahn carriages in Road 4.
With The Earl and the A Set (replica Pickering carriages and two Zillertalbahn 4 wheelers) off down the line it was time to await the return of Countess and the B Set at 11:58. The Controller informed me that The Earl was running late and could be delayed by up to twenty minutes. Oops! The loco needed to be serviced the crew changed and the train ready to depart at 13:00. Thankfully some time was recovered on the way and the errant train arrived only ten minutes behind schedule.
Meanwhile Chevallier and the goods wagons arrived back. Much to the relief of the people who worked hard to get the bearings sorted out all was well and only the fireman’s side front coupling rod bearing was running warm and then only when the loco ran backwards for any distance.(The cynics pointed out that at Whipsnade Zoo other than leaving the shed area in the morning the engines go, chimney first, round and round in circles all day)
Chevallier and a goods train at Cyfronydd
After the departure of the 1 o’clock train the goods wagons were shunted out of the way as they would not be required again until Saturday.
There was just enough time to grab a sandwich before it began to get complicated.
The Earl and the A Set arrived back. It was time to lead from the front and John and I lent a hand with the shunting. The two Zillers needed to be removed and replaced by an open wagon and a goods brake van ready for 14:30 mixed train. Meanwhile Chevallier returned from Tanllan with the SLR stock for the 14:00 departure to be hauled by Joan.
Chevallier and SLR carriages
Dear reader by now you have probably got the gist of the Yard Supervsior’s job. Rather than continue the move by move account it is probably sufficient to say that we got through the day relatively unscathed. The trains were well loaded and the passengers seemed happy.
Coaling up – a labour intensive task
With the stock for the photographic special, topped and tailed by Chattenden and Countess, in the platform we signed off for the day. Time for a shower and then off for a meal at the Red Lion.
The photographic special departs from Llanfair Caereinion hauled by Chattenden with Countess bringing up the rear.
All in all the gala was a successfully event. The heavy rain on Saturday morning probably reduced the numbers attending that day and made working outside unpleasant – heritage wet weather gear is not the most comfortable attire.
As the station at Llanfair Caereinion is close to the riverbank Mr Toad and his friends were kind enough to pay us a visit in his Stanley steam car.
‘Ho! ho! I am the Toad, the motor-car snatcher, the prison-breaker, the Toad who always escapes! Sit still, and you shall know what driving really is, for you are in the hands of the famous, the skilful, the entirely fearless Toad!’
(from The Wind In The Willows by Kenneth Graeme)
There are more photos of events at the gala at the link below:-