Vale of Rheidol: Narrow Gauge in the GWR Style


1. Aberystwyth 5. The Long Flat
2. The GWR Style 6. Hard Climbing
3. At the Engine Shed 7. Tea at Devil's Bridge
4. On Our Way 8. Sunset on Rheidol Vale


Four: On Our Way


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Engine #8 backs
down to collect its
train at the
Tanks brimming from from the long drink at the water tower, #8 was finally ready for a second trip up the mountain.  There was not a moment to spare.  Departure was now only seven minutes away by timetable, and I didn't see how the crew could possibly make it back to the train, couple up, perform their brake tests and board their passengers in the allotted time.  However, I underestimated the skill of the VoR's professional trainmen.  The instant the fireman completed his watering, he whipped the cap back down onto the engine's tank, leapt down to the pilot and trotted back around to the footplate.  With three urgent toots on the whistle, the driver set the big tank engine into reverse motion and hustled back toward the platform.  Coupling and hooking up air hoses was but the work of an instant. (Unlike the Talyllyn, the VoR uses automatic couplers, modified versions of a design created by Norwegian engineer Carl Pihls for the first general-use narrow gauge railway in the world, the Hamar-Elverum line of 1862).  The guard was efficiency himself as he punched tickets and sorted his passengers into the various compartments.  In moments, all was in readiness.


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Moments before
our driver
contemplates the
tall hills he and
the fireman must
shortly conquer.
Just before setting out, the driver had time for one last contemplative look toward the tall hills he and the fireman would shortly have to conquer.  With the final seconds ticking away, I scrambled around the engine to the first carriage of the train, and settled myself into a comfortable compartment.  The guard punched my ticket and secured my door against an unintentional opening while the train was in motion, and then scrambled back to his own compartment at the rear of the train.  And then we were off.    


Our rearmost carriage had hardly cleared the platform before the driver had us up to track speed: designed to take seven heavily-loaded carriages up 2% grades, the powerful 2-6-2 was challenged not at all by starting four cars on the flat.  Under a tall column of steam shooting up and then drifting off the the left, we clattered out through the coach yards and on past the engine shed.  Just before we cleared the yard limits a tall, lower-quadrant semaphore signal gave us a parting salute: a GWR benediction for the journey ahead.


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Classic GWR
semaphore signal
salutes trains
passing through
the yard limits at
The semaphore marked the end of yard running, and now the driver opened the throttle even further.  #8's harsh panting soon relaxed to a comfortable chant, and we rattled briskly along the level floor of the broad Rheidol valley.  North of the tracks the manicured fields of the Aberystwyth rugby club gleamed in the afternoon sun; to the south, the buildings of Aberystwyth had already given way to sheep pastures populated with ewes and sprinkling of new spring lambs.  After a mile or so, buildings crowded the right-of-way again, including a towering abandoned natural gas plant.  This was Llanbadarn, once the first small town on the Rheidol's timetable, now an industrialized suburb of Aberystwyth.  As we passed through the outskirts of town the engine's whistle broke into a shrill scream.  Moments later, we were rattling across a paved highway, with modern cars and trucks waiting obediently on either side for the our steam locomotive and wooden carriages to pass.  Diesel lorries waiting on a steam train: the very sight put me in a fine, madcap, cheerful mood.



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