Ffestiniog Railway: Queen of the Narrow Gauge

 

1. Porthmadog Quay 6. Blaenau
2. Quarry Engine 7. Fairlie's Patent
3. The Longest Grade 8. Downhill Run
4. On Dwyryd's Flank 9. Evening Chores
5. Deviation

 

Two: Quarry Engine

 

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Poised and trim,
FR 2-4-0 Linda
pants at the
ready beside the
Porthmadog depot.

From out over the Cob there came a moving dot of smoke, which soon resolved itself into an engine-- a trim little tank locomotive. The gleaming red nameplate on her side proclaimed her to be Linda, and she proved the oddest engine I had yet seen in Wales.  Clearly, she was old: inclined cylinders, slide valves and a tall capped stack all suggested a birth date sometime in the last century. Even so, her heavy outside frame and counterweights gave her a tough, no-nonsense appearance. A short rigid wheelbase suggested a former life as a switch engine, probably an 0-4-0T-- and so she had been, having served sixty-five hard years on the Penrhyn Railway, shuttling slate from the forbidding Penrhyn quarries down to the sea near Bangor before coming to FR rails in 1962.  Yet now she stood transformed.  A sporting pony truck supplemented her close-set twin drivers, while a trim fuel tender trailed incongruously but proudly behind the cab. Touched by the wizards of the Ffestiniog's Boston Lodge works, the lady of Penrhyn had been reborn as proud road locomotive of that uniquely narrow-gauge type, the 2-4-0.

 

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Linda's dapper
fireman quenches
her thirst at the
depot water tower.

Whistle chirping and cylinder-cocks sighing, Linda picked her way delicately through the turnouts and back to the tall water tower and oiling tanks beyond the station.  There the fireman-- a fine, Victorian figure of a man-- climbed down off the footplate and mounted the tank to give his charge a drink. A tall fellow, he towered over the little engine, yet the even so they seemed quite the pair. Every hue in the man's dress echoed a corresponding shade in the engine's: black boots matched the gleaming black boiler, blue-gray slacks accented the pinstriping on the cab, a bright red cravat echoed the cheerful red pilot beam.  Engine and fireman alike looked dressed to the nines, and ready to make each run a celebration.

 

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Connecting the
vacuum brakes.


Her thirst quenched, Linda soon trundled back across the Quay.  Leaning from the cab, driver Paul Davis threaded his charge through the throat of the yard and backed slowly down against the consist parked hard by the station platform.  The fireman guided his colleague to a coupling, and then leaned in to couple the thick, corrugated hoses of the vacuum braking line.  Ready for departure with time to spare, driver and fireman alike set to polishing Linda's brass and brightwork to an even finer gleam.   

 

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Two perspectives
on a former quarry
engine: Linda at the Porthmadog
platform track.



 


While the crew attended to their polishing, I attended to my tickets.  The agent's window was located behind a traditional iron-barred grille inside the tall, shadowed hallway of the main Harbor Station building.  Not everything about the agent's office was equally antique: after I handed over my 12 pounds 50 for a return ticket to Blaenau, the agent rattled off a few quick strokes on a keyboard, and a computer-generated ticket form spat from a nearby printer.  FR enjoys far and away the greatest patronage of any of the Welsh narrow-gauge lines, in part through sustained attention to marketing and promotion by a savvy staff of volunteer and professional agents.  Clearly I had just encountered a fairly sophisticated yield management system.  In the off season, FR operating managers and marketers would no doubt pour over the load factors and revenues for each train, recorded at the time of sale into a ticketing database.  Train schedules, fares and promotions for the next season would then be adjusted accordingly.   

 


 

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All materials, images, text and presentation copyright 1998 Erik Gray Ledbetter.  See Terms of Use.