Talyllyn: The World's First Preserved Railway


1. A Gray Day at Tywyn 5. Changing Ends
2. The Honorable Rituals 6. Conversation at Abergynolwyn
3. An Iron Horse Indeed 7. Down Train
4. Ascent to Nant Gwernol


Two: The Honorable Rituals


Within minutes of the train's arrival the driver, John Robinson, and the fireman, Chris Parrot, set about the honorable rituals of servicing a working steam locomotive.  In a trice, they had the #7 backed down beyond the points of the passing track.  After a brief pause to throw the turnout, the crew ran their charge forward to the servicing spur switch, and then backed down to the water tank and fuel bunker.


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Talyllyn #7 on the
engine servicing track at Wharf.
At the tank the Chris dismounted and began brushing off the running gear and trim with a fine black hand whisk.  Meanwhile, John mounted the locomotive to prize open the filler cap covering the water tank.  After flipping open the cap, he hauled up a long, flexible hose which led down from the water tank, placed a good safe length of it into the locomotive's bunker, and turned the valve.  Instantly water gushed in to fill #7's tanks, depleted from the hard run up to Nant Gwernol and back. 


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Tanking up. 
Note the ash and
clinker between
the sleepers.
While the water flowed John waited patiently, hands folded on atop the tank.  Once the job was done the fireman buttoned up the bunker cap, and both he and the engineer remounted the footplate.  Two sharp whistle blasts, and then the Tom Rolt rolled forward through the points onto the main, then backward down against the carriages at the boarding track.


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Talyllyn driver
backing #7 down
to couple up to
the carriages
standing at the
station platform.
Watching the crew make their coupling was an education in and of itself.  Talyllyn's carriages and engines are completely innocent of the Janney or  other "safety" couplers common to standard-gauge railroads in Europe and America.  Instead, TR relies, with apparent safety and success, on an improved variant of the "link and hook" coupling from railroading's primeval days-- as too did many British mainline railways until quite recently.  Rolling stock and engines are each possessed of an endbeam, on either side of which are mounted large spring-loaded buffers.  In between the buffers, in the dead center of the beam, there is a single large hook.


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Front buffers and
coupling-hook on
the pilot beam of Engine #7


Coupling up involves backing the engine down until its buffers are touching the buffers of the adjoining carriage, and then bringing 'round a chain-like device, which has simple iron links on either end, connected in the middle by a threaded tensioning rod.  John simply dropped a link over each hook, and then turned the rod down its threads until he had taken up most of the slack in the coupling.  The links take the tension and hold the train together when the locomotive begins to pull; the buffers ensure that the cars never run together so closely that the hooks slam into one another, or ride past one another and dig into the endbeams of the opposite carriage.  As a volunteer trainman at a preserved railway in the States, I invariably approached the very few link-and-pin style couplings I had been required to make with great respect and no small trepidation-- but the TR crews seemed to handle their whole apparatus with aplomb.  Perhaps knowing that those large buffers were there to keep the slack from running in to crush them between the cars eased their minds.


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John Robinson oils
around the
locomotive, while
the Chris attaches
the "Quarryman"
nameboard to the
smokebox crown.
Still the crew's work wasn't done.  After attending to the coupling, John undertook the time-honored ritual of "oiling around": taking the engineman's emblematic long-spouted oil can, and oiling each of the engine's rods, bearings, and other running gear.  While the driver attended to these honors, Chris addressed himself to one last detail: securing a nameboard to #7's smokebox crown.  Unlike the unnamed accommodation train which had run up to Nant Gwernol earlier that day, the second and last TR train of the day would be honored with a proper name: "Y Chwarelwr", as the sign proclaimed it: or, in English, "The Quarryman."  By 14:20 the crewmen's work was complete, and all was in readiness for the 14:30 departure to Nant Gwernol. 


While I was watching the engine crew tend their charge, Samantha had purchased our tickets from Phil Care, the booking clerk at the agent's window.  With departure fast approaching, it was time to choose a carriage.  Hoping for fine views of the locomotive as we rounded the mountain curves, I selected the final compartment in the last coach in our train of four: Carriage #16, a three-compartment vehicle with a separate guard's (conductor's) compartment at the end.


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Our train at
Wharf platform.
Carriage #16 is
the last car of
the consist.
Carriage #16 was unlike any other railroad coach in my experience.   In contrast to an American passenger car, #16 possessed no corridor running the length of the car.  Instead, in traditional British fashion, the carriage was built with exterior side-doors opening on individual compartments, whose facing benches ran the entire width of the car.  We could see and talk with our fellow passengers in the other two compartments, but short of climbing over the bench backs, we could not join them between stations, nor they us.


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Just between the guard and fireman, the sharp-eyed may discern Samantha's and my compartment door on Carriage #16, with its leather strap for lowering the window. 
Adding to the novelty were the windows and doors.  Our compartment door had in it a fine wood-framed window, from the bottom of which ran a heavy leather strap.  This strap was punched with holes, which could be seated over a large brass stud in the door.  By taking the strap off the stud, one could lower the window into a pocket in the door; holes at different heights on the strap allowed one to lower the window only partially.  And a necessary thing this sliding window was-- for the there was no interior doorknob!  One gained access to the outside world by lowering the window, reaching out, and turning the exterior handle to unlatch the door.  I had actually seen this arrangement once before, in January 1996, on a 1960s-era Class 421 British Rail electric MU coach I rode from London to Portsmouth.  Call me a callow Yank, but I was as astonished by this system then as I was at Tywyn.



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