Weekend Rails

what we do for our kids

Of welding and Storm Callum

14th October 2018

Hullo again. Are you watching Channel 5's 'railway evenings' on Fridays? Do you find yourself exasperated by the Model Railway Challenge? You're not alone... 

So, once again it was up to Tunstead on Monday and thanks to other commitments, sickness and such it turned out to be just the faithful three this week - myself, Pete C and Andy H. This meant that even Pete C was willing to muck in and to prove it I presented him with the 'half-link' to get the handbrake chain finished.

Even this proved not entirely straightforward as despite having the original components in their original positions, and the tension adjustment set right back, Pete ended up having to release the bolts on the handbrake screw to get the chain on, then re-tighten them. So the chain is rather tight but winds the handbrake linkage and thus the rigging. I must bring back the last couple of brake blocks and get that side of it finished. I had been cutting gaskets for the exhaust system, having decided to put the original silencer and pipework back in (I suspect the internals of the silencer may be a trifle duff, well it rattles at lot) and see how it performs, we can always get a replacement silencer fitted later. Unlike most industrial locos, where the exhaust passes through the casing structure and exits in an 'stack' pipe just in front of the cab, RS8 once again exhibits originality by taking the exhaust down under the cab and ejecting backwards, automotive style.

For the moment it remains incomplete - I must source a length of flexible pipework and clamps - but most of it is now in place. We moved on by re-instating an internal frame work within the casing which acts as a support for pipework and linkages. The starter cable conduit passes through it so that was put back in and soon we can drag starter cables through the conduit and get them lugged up and ready.

Andy H meanwhile, was applying the highly-expensive heat resistant paint over the engine, I had been hoping it would turn out to be a darker, battleship-shade type of grey, but unfortunately it is more of a concrete grey, still it improves the look of the engine, which had caused comment in some quarters. I had brought an offcut of 30 x 30 angle and tried it in the cab corners, after taking the decision that we would, after all, add stiffening to the cab in the light of all past and present cracking. The 30 x 30 though was a trifle too large - it would have left little room for the rubber mouldings that will carry the glazing. So I measured up the required lengths and concluded that 20 x 20 would be a compromise. We also took a look at the casing structure. It will have to have its air receivers put back in soon, but firstly the drainage arrangement came in for scrutiny. Up each side of the roof section is a gutter, onto which the casing sides hang, but at the front this gutter became a fall pipe which disappeared through the bottom mount of the casing, through the running plate and emptied underneath, but the last 3 inches have become badly corroded. Pete C took a hacksaw to these pieces, but then realised that the tube was thin above the running plate and blocked solid to boot, which means it doesn't serve its function as a fall-pipe. So, that wants removing and fresh pipe substituting. All in all this was shaping up to a list of welding jobs that would once again justify a visit from a fabricator, and then realising that the original windows had had their hinges welded on convinced me. So hopefully we'll have fabricator tomorrow, a hot work permit and the welder plus enough materials to keep him busy for the day.

Compared to some weeks, the list of jobs we saw through did not seem all that long, but with only three of us, and much of the time occupied with painting, measuring up and similar tasks, it was reasonably productive. Incidentaly, the RS8 restoration website has been down for a couple of weeks for technical reasons: it is now back up and running and has a load more photos, though a few of the captions are a little wide of the mark

Beyond ordering up parts and enquiring for others, there was little of import during the week and so I'll move adroitly on to the weekend, glossing over an event on Thursday which occurs once a year. As regular readers will know, I like to make a least one trip to Bala during the year. Having missed the AGM of the Maid Marian Loco Fund, I targetted the Bala company AGM, which last year was September 30th but this year was a couple of weeks later at October 13th. Of course, on the one hand, regular services have finished for the season, so there was no means of having a ride on the line (although they are operating a service on Thursdays oddly enough) and as the meeting was scheduled for 6pm, that meant I could do whatever I wanted for most of the day.

I headed first over to a friend near Mold, who had some surplus useful material for me to pick up. Common or garden bits like cable glands, P-clips, cable lugs, and a few exotic goodies like a 72-144V DC to 12V DC converter which may find a use in the interface on the 2-HAP. All in all a fair little haul and a quick catch up on events before picking up the A55 and heading further westward. I knew the weather was rough; Storm Callum having visited this side of the country, and although most of the news reports concentrated on potential floodings in South Wales, traffic reports on the radio told me that the A5 was closed at Bethesda, and again around Capel Curig. Over to my right as I neared Llandudno, the sea was a slate grey and rough. I found another friend's house without problem, and spent a pleasant hour or so socialising before heading onward in the general direction of Llanuwchllyn. At Porthmadog there were coaches in the old part of Harbour station but the new part was exposed and to say the least, bleak. I wondered whether I might see a train though I've been told today that they may have had trees blown across the line somewhere. I did feel very nostalgic though. Many times in the early years of our marriage, Steph and I would tour the Welsh lines, usually out of the main holiday season, and it brought back memories of wet days moving from one b-and-b to another, with grey, leaden skies. Having come through Porthmadog I came out past Minffordd and up to the new roundabout where the by-pass begins. Glancing back at the girder bridge which takes the FR over the new road, I was left with disappointment and a feeling that even this, was in some way sacriligious. Surely something as historic as the FR deserved a better-looking bridge?

I still had plenty of time but resisted the urge to turn back up to Tan-y-Bwlch, so carried on over the bridge at Maentwrog and up to Trawsfynydd. The obvious way to Bala is the A4212, or carry on south to Dolgellau and up the road past Drws-y-Nant to Llanuwchllyn. But there is another way, a single track, up hill and down dale ten mile switchback that starts a mile or two further on, skirting a log cabin holiday village and up into the mountains, and I took this with a certain amount of trepidation. With all the rain and wind I was conscious that this was not neccessarily the safest way to go, but it was one I had used many times in the past - when Steph was there to open and close the gates - and it appealed to my mood. After the initial climb you swing northeast into the valley of the Afon Gain, at one point right alongside, the river an angry, white-water flow over the rocks and threatening to commandeer the road in several places. Then at the end there's a sharp right, and you're in to the Coed-y-Brenin, and climbing steadily through the forest until at around the 500m mark, you pass over a second cattle grid and emerge onto moorland and descend into the valley of the Afon Lliw. I passed over the bridges with a little apprehension - these two rivers are normally little more the streams, but today they were violent and I didn't want a bridge to be swept away as I went over. But the road climbs up the hill on the other side and you encounter the first of the 5 gates (I am sure we once counted 11) and swings south east towards Llanuwchllyn. The road stays well above the valley floor, with majestic views over the countryside. By the time it has reached Dolhendre it has returned to the side of the river. Many years ago, when my parents were avid motor-caravanners, they stayed at a site here and were woken up by the site's owners one dark and stormy night with entreaties to get out. It wasn't that they hadn't paid the fee, rather that the river had suddenly risen and as they left their bed, it was to find the water almost up to floor level outside. I remembered them telling me this as I traversed the final mile to the main Bala-Llanuwchllyn road, with the river only a few feet to my right and only a few inches below the tarmac!

The station at Llanuchllyn was - I was going to say quiet, but that it wasn't, for the wind whistled through trees and around buildings. There were a number of cars and a bus, but no people and everything locked up. Eventually I met an old lady who was just off to have a shower at the b-and-b, and from whom I learned that a works train was down the line. I set off to find it. On one of the visits in the 1970s with Steph, we had driven along the 'back road' from Bala, i.e. on the south side of the lake where the railway runs, but had been flagged down just before Llangower with the warning that the road was impassable. Later that day George Barnes had told us that we should get a photograph of it, as the lake was so high that we'd never see the like of it again. Well, as I set off along the same road from Llanuwchllyn, I found 'Road Closed' signs and although I made it as far as the Llangower station, somewhere beyond the road was probably flooded again.

Normally you cross the raiway at Llangower, there is a strip of land that sticks out into the lake, probably formed over the years from debris washed down by the Afon Glyn, that discharges here, and leaving a stony 20-30 yard beach to play on, or skim stones out into the calm waters. But not today, the waves broke over the stones at the edge of the railway embankment and the beach and some of the land was underwater.


While I waited. 'Bob Davies' came into sight, bringing a works train back to Llanuwchllyn, and remembering days train chasing for photos in the 70s, I zipped back to one or two favourite old locations. The bottom of Dolfawr bank was one, where you could set the train against a lush green background, usually with black and white cows grazing on the fields behind. But today all those fields had become an extension of the lake, with the occasional tree or hedge marking the underwater boundary.


Back at Llanuwchllyn, the volunteers de-trained and I found the MMLF's Hugh Jones one of those volunteering, and the news that they had had to dig ballast away from the track beyond Llangower to allow flood waters to flow through rather than wash away the stones. 'Bob Davies' incidentally, if you haven't read this before, was a loco I did in my days running Yorkshire Engine. It was a Baguley Drewry 4wDH, a smaller (60hp) version of the two the Talyllyn have since obtained, but in this case built to metre gauge for the RNAD at Milford Haven.


Under YEC auspices, I converted it to the 2ft gauge, fitted up basic train air braking, and re-engineered the power unit. As built, it had a significant prop-shaft angle between the converter output and the final drive gearbox input - within manufacturer's limits, but very much the upper end. That might have been OK for short haul work within RNAD yards, but at Bala the loco might be called on to pull a passenger train at full speed for 4.5 miles. So the engine and converter units were put on a sub-frame and lowered as much as I could to reduce the angle. On one of its inaugural test trips just after delivery, we took it to Llangower with only a modest amount of fuel, and finding everything apparently OK, took the decision to run on to Bala. As we neared the far terminus, a curve had a modest super elevation, and tipped our remaining fuel to the opposte side of the tank from the outlet. The result was the engine cutting out and a long walk back to Llanuwchllyn to get a drum of fuel!

The Bala AGM was a brief affair but very positive. In the last 3 years or so since the current manager took over, traffic has increased by about 40% and with it improved profitability. At the far end of the yard, the carriage shed has been doubled in length using grant monies and will become in part an interpretation centre. The extension to Bala itself, so long desired by the company but seemingly unachievable in the 80s and 90s, is now maybe only a year or two away, with the station site in Bala bought and cleared, and everyone in favour of getting on with it at last. The 'can-do' attitude that prevails - 'we need to find £23,000 for our contribution to the design costs of the flood prevention works, but we'll get it...' - was a pleasant contrast to my other recent company AGM where we were subjected to an hour of 'how we didn't get it right and may have missed the boat' diatribe. Bala has matured, and extending into the Town will be of benefit to both railway and town: it has shed its 'overgrown miniature' image too, and the planned provision of a loco shed at the Bala end is an element that I am sure would have had George Barnes smiling, and he probably is, from his workshop in the sky.

Back on normal ground, some of the IDRPG lads were at Darley Dale today and in consequence, all the things we had planned to do got put on one side and Andrew attempted to use the new rotabroach and fittings to bore through the buffer beam on 1382 for the rear end vac connection


I cannot say it was a resounding success. Ideally you want to be drilling vertically down to ensure the coolant finds its way all around the cutter, but on the side, as he had to, there is a danger that gravity works against you. Extracting the swarf becomes more difficult as the hole deepens yet extracting the rotabroach cutter, cleaning the slots and re-entering has its own pitfalls. In the end, and a broken cutter later, the hole isn't completed but the neccessary techniques are being learned. For myself, while I had hoped to get on with running Pluto again, the continuing rain did not endear the task, and I spent a lot of time sorting and packing away the box of goodies from yesterday, and pulling out bits needed for RS8. Still there's always next week, and Pluto is a very patient engine

News on the 'Railway to Merhead' front - you can now buy it on Kindle, if you prefer, it became available that way this week (it's also a lot cheaper if you have a kindle or 'app' for your phone).

So, that's it for this week. A bit of a travelogue, but a bit of variety. As for next week, who knows. See you then?

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