Back in July, Owen Hayward paid a visit to the Talyllyn for the weekend where all the toys come out of the box, witnessed truly how anyone is welcome no matter their background, and how the TR is helping its volunteers in these financially-challenging times.
Over the weekend of July 2/3, the Talyllyn Railway ran what has become something of a fixture in its calendar – the Anything Goes gala, where all the operational locomotives come out to play, with other oddities and plant (such as the line’s self-propelled flailing machine) on show. It truly is a weekend that lives up to its name, with unusual carriage and locomotive combinations working to an intensive timetable.
Ex-National Coal Board 0-4-0DM No.9 Alf, built by the Hunslet Engine Company in 1950, kicked off each day with a rare passenger working up the line. On the Saturday it ran with four of the line’s original five Victorian-era coaching stock (Nos.1-3, plus guard’s van 5; No.4 is awaiting repairs to a spring), while on the Sunday it was paired with the line’s three open coaches – another rare sight as these are normally split between the main passenger rakes.
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Alf is rarely used on passenger workings, averaging a top speed of 9mph. Although on the Sunday, the starter motor failed to engage and start the engine after the tea break at Abergynolwyn, in true TR style the crew persevered and managed to get it going again without causing too much of a delay to the rest of the service.
Also out over the weekend were the two Baguley Drewry locomotives – Nos.11 Trecwn and 12 St. Cadfan were purchased from RNAD Trecwn in South Wales in 2008, along with a third locomotive that was cannibalised for spares. Originally 2ft 6in gauge, they were regauged for the TR and entered service in 2014. Trecwn was in charge of a goods train on the Saturday, and ran on the following day with the two former Glyn Valley tramway coaches on a passenger working. St Cadfan only operated on the Sunday, taking over the goods train turn.
The four operational steam engines were all out too, with 0-4-2ST ex-Corris Railway No.3 Sir Haydn also operating a goods train on the Saturday afternoon.
On the Saturday evening, all four were lined up at Tywyn Wharf for the traditional locomotive cavalcade, running ‘light engines’ to the sheds at Pendre, before No.7 Tom Rolt (an 0-4-2T rebuilt from an a 3ft gauge 0-4-0WT Andrew Barclay locomotive bought from the Irish turf board) returned to haul a final evening train.
Two notable absentees were the line’s original Fletcher Jennings locomotives. 0-4-2T No.1 Talyllyn and 0-4-0WT No.2 Dolgoch are both undergoing overhaul – the first time since the late 1950s that the preservation-era pioneering railway has been without both its old ladies at the same time. No.1 is currently spread across the UK, with the chassis at a private site near Pendre, the tanks and cab stored at Quarry Siding, and the boiler all the way down at the boiler workshops at Ropley on the Mid-Hants Railway. Sadly, it will be a little while yet before we see it back: the boiler is ready for tubing, but the chassis still needs completing first so as to enable a quick reassembly when the new boiler ticket begins, reducing wasted time. The ambition is to complete it before Kerr Stuart 0-4-0ST No.4 Edward Thomas leaves traffic next year but that is, as always, dependent on a plethora of outside factors.
No.2 is much closer to home in more ways than one – all the parts are at Pendre and painting is well underway into the TR’s bronze green livery. It had been hoped to complete the work in time for the event, but running repairs to the operational fleet have put that back (which in turn puts back the overhaul of No.1). The new target is for September, but as ever is not set in stone.
More than a ride
Over the same weekend was the first of this year’s beer festivals, which started on Friday, July 1. Held at Tywyn Wharf, up to 20 different draught beer and ciders, and further bottled varieties, were on offer, with live music on the Saturday night and hot food available from the station’s King’s Café. The festival proved immensely popular, to the extent that by Sunday morning there was nothing left and it had to close up early, subsequently being described as the “busiest festival ever!”
One area at Wharf that many might not realise exists is the Llechfan Garden Railway. Tucked away behind the volunteer hostel that sits directly opposite the station building is a large outdoor 16mm gauge line, with two circuits weaving their way over and round model buildings and bridges. Normally only open to invited guests and TR volunteers, on a few occasions each year it is opened up for all to come and see, and those who wish to run their models are allowed to do so (subject to certain conditions for insurance and safety purposes).
A scaled-down affair this year, normally this weekend would also play host to the annual garden railway weekend with traders and operators from around the UK descending upon Tywyn and miniature steam engines giving rides on temporary track laid across the yard at Wharf station. It is hoped that next year the event will return – bigger and better!
With the Heritage Railway Association news publication (issue 165), drawing attention to the importance of inclusivity, it is reassuring to find positive cases on the TR that reflect this.
The garden railway weekend is normally arranged by Kes Jones. Although diagnosed with myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME, otherwise known as chronic fatigue syndrome), she hasn’t let this hinder her enjoyment of the railway she’s been with since 2009.
The Llechfan Garden Railway has a family connection for Kes, too. After a visit to the TR many moons ago, her father was inspired to build his own garden railway, which he named Compton Down. After he passed away in 2009, she offered the buildings and trains to the TR and they were accepted. The existing circuit at Llechfan gradually grew to what it is today.
“My dad built many of the buildings that sit alongside the tracks,” Kes explained. “At this point, some of them are perhaps nearly 50 years old.”
It was here that she also met her partner, Stephen Thorpe, who is another of the railway’s core paid staff and works across a number of departments.
Kes also regularly works in the shop and as a tour guide in the museum. Regular visitors to the line will no doubt recognise her, and when she dresses in one of her period outfits it’s certainly hard to miss her.
Another volunteer with ME is 20-year-old Keira Thompson, who works in the locomotive department as a cleaner. She started in 2019, and is transgender.
“I started on the railway weeks before I began the transition process,” she said. “All the paperwork had my old name, which I used when I signed up, but I was always introduced here as Keira. The volunteer liaison officer, Jack Evans, came to me and asked if I wanted my details changed on all the paperwork without even being prompted and with no fuss.
“Everyone has been very accepting – it’s wonderful. Here it doesn’t matter who you are, as you will never find a more inclusive team. In fact, the best thing about here is the people.
“I’d never met another person with ME until coming here, either, and if I have a day when I can’t make a turn, it’s always ‘are you okay?’ rather than being reprimanded. I’ve not had a bad experience since coming here.”
These are just two examples of a workforce encompassing people from all walks of life, and shows just how welcoming a place this railway is.
Although it is connections to the famous Railway Series stories by the Reverend Wilbert Awdry that may account for some of the new faces, another draw for the TR is definitely the care and respect for volunteers.
As mentioned, the Llechfan volunteer hostel is at Tywyn Wharf, allowing those who travel from the UK and around the world to stay somewhere both extremely affordable and in close proximity to where their duties take place.
Such is its demand that for the main 2022 season the TR has hired additional accommodation a few minutes’ walk away – and already both venues are filled to the brim for certain weeks.
Usually, there is a nominal charge for the use of these two residences to cover cleaning and other bills, but with the cost of living having risen sharply in the recent weeks alone, and the TR’s dependency on ‘holiday working’ visits (many people will come for weeks at a time to volunteer for duties as their annual holiday), the railway management has further shown its gratitude by making stays free (with the option of donating what you can to cover the bills) so long as you volunteer for a certain percentage of the days you stay. The hostel has been a boon for attracting younger volunteers, for who many have their first away-from-home experiences thanks to this facility.
“This may be why we have perhaps the largest youth group of any heritage railway in the UK,” media creator and volunteer co-ordinator Luke Ryan said. “People start with the Tracksiders, the TR’s family volunteer working group for introducing those under 14 to volunteering with their parents or guardians, before moving up from there. We have had days where the entire railway has been operated by people aged in their 20s!” One of the railway’s full-time staff, 24-year-old Luke secured a permanent job after developing the Narrow Gauge Museum and TR’s online presence, and organising last year’s Awdry Extravaganza, celebrating the line’s ties with the late author and his beloved stories. The busiest weekend in five years, a second event took place over the weekend of July 23/24.
The Anything Goes Gala returns for 2023 this July.