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


Six: Conversation at Abergynolwyn




With the grade at its back, our train accelerated swiftly to track speed.  Leaning from the carriage window, we could see the driver keeping a sharp lookout from the footplate as #7 wound through the sharp reverse-curves along the Gwernol ravine.  After a brisk five minutes' run, the platform at Abergynolwyn hove into view; the driver made a considerable application of the air to bring us to a halt within the station limits.


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Our most kind
driver, John
Robinson, standing
confident in his
domain in the cab
of #7.
There, instead of whistling for any late passengers and carrying on, the driver, fireman and guard all dismounted, thermoses in hand, with a determinedly off-duty air.  A glance at the timetable revealed the cause: having hardly begun the return journey, we were now carded for a thirty-minute pause at right here at Abergynolwyn.  This was my introduction to an unexpected custom of British narrow-gauge railroading: the tea halt.   In contrast to American practice, in which the train travels briskly to the end of track and returns with equal dispatch, it seems no British steam train can complete its journey without a generous pause for tea at some convenient lineside point!  On the Talyllyn, this was Abergynolwyn, and here we would stay until the crew's tea had been consumed with all due ceremony.


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View from the
footplate: Tom
's boiler,
steam dome, and
side tank, from
the perspective
of the cab window.
In the event, tea-time at Abergynolwyn proved to be one of the highlights of the trip, for it gave me a chance to meet and talk shop with our volunteer train crew.  Noticing our interest in his engine, the driver, John Robinson, arose from his cuppa to introduce himself, and to invite Samantha and me to climb aboard for a chat and a visit.  When he learned that I had worked as a volunteer trainman and conductor at a preserved railway in the States, he promptly laid on the grand footplate tour and full collegial explanation of all fittings.  From a mechanical point of view, #7 proved to be a most human-scaled engine-- her backplate was hardly more complex than those of the preserved nineteenth- century engines I had become familiar with while working at the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Museum in the States.  Twin sight-glasses, a boiler pressure gauge, brake handles for the engine steam brake and train air, and a reverser and throttle were about the limit of her fittings-- truly, simplicity itself.  Sam and I had fun examining the sightlines from the cab windows and levering open the firebox door lever to inspect the fire within, while John our host continued his explanation of steam engine mechanics, care and feeding.


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Fireman Chris
Parrott trades the
news of the day
with the
Dave Pegg.
All this talk of firing and engine tending piqued my curiosity about operating rules, employee timetables, movement authority, and other matters of interest to a sometime conductor.  For answers to my questions, John referred me to my counterpart, our volunteer guard Ben Abbott, who was happy to provide explanations.  In no time at all Ben and I were poring over his employee timetable (a thoroughly modern document, duplicated on small-format loose-leaf paper in the best contemporary railroad style-- the TR is completely up-to-date where operating safety and professionalism are involved) and lost in animated discussion of train control, operating procedures, and the like.  I was thrilled to learn that movement authority on the TR is conferred largely by a fully-interlocked "token" or "train staff" system.  I had read of this system of train control, once common on branch lines throughout Britain and its overseas territories, but unknown in the United States; however, I had never seen it in operation.  Examining the aluminum token from the Ben's pocket (surprisingly small and light in the palm) and discussing with him the arcana of the electric interlocking system made the minutes fly.  I was quite startled when Ben apologetically excused himself to begin rounding up his passengers: the full half hour had vanished already, and it was time to resume our trip.



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