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The 10:30 train departing Tywyn Warf Station behind Tallyn's newest engine, Number 7, the Tom Rolt.
The Talyllyn is a little railway with lots of claims to fame. It was the first narrow gauge railway in Britain authorized by an Act of Parliament to carry passengers using steam. It is said to be the first "preserved railway" in the world. It was the inspiration for the classic British film, "The Titfield Thunderbolt". Reverend Wilbert Vere Awdry (1911 - 1997) was also inspired by the Talyllyn for his extremely popular "Railway Series" of children's books staring the familiar blue, Thomas the Tank Engine. In 1952, Awdry volunteered as a guard (that's British for conductor) on the Talyllyn where he was also an early member.
Tony Edwards clears my ride with the engin crew.
On the morning of my ride, my party of four arrived in Tywyn, a pleasant little village on the scenic west coast of Wales. I was traveling with my wife, son and a British friend who graciously volunteered to do the driving. We left the car in the "car park" and started our walk from the parking area, up the road, over the bridge above the main coastal rail line, and down to the Talyllyn Wharf station of the Railway. Midway across the bridge, a young man in a railway uniform rushed up to me from the station and inquired if we were to be on the 10:30 train. No, I informed him, we were on the 11:40 train. He thanked me, and immediately rushed back to his train for departure.
My train waits for the 11:40 departure time at the Tywyn Wharf Station, tea room and narrow gauge museum.
This unexpected and surprising incident was characteristic of my Talyllyn experience. Everything about the railway seemed extremely friendly and everyone seemed to be happy that they were there and that we were too. I soon learned that I was to be given the royal treatment.
Talyllyn Engine Number 2, the Dolgoch ready for departure.
I had, of course, made contact in advance, and we were expected. But our experience far exceeded anything I anticipated. As soon as we reached the station, we were greeted by Tony Edwards, who seated us in the station tea room and bought us tea. He then arranged for our tickets, and then showed us around Talyllyn's impressive railway museum. Tony had visited Colorado and commented that the Talyllyn was to the Cumbres & Toltec what the Durango and Silverton was to the Ffestiniog and Welsh Highland Railways. Our museum tour was unfortunately cut short by our pre-arranged departure time. I had just a little time left for photography, then Tony showed my entourage to their seats in a first-class carriage and me to the footplate of Engine Number 2, The Dolgoch, where he introduced me to driver, Andrew Bailey and fireman, Sarah Foster.
The Dolgoch is a 0-4-0T built in 1866 by Fletcher, Jennings & Co of England, a specialist in small industrial locomotives. The engine weighs just 10 1/4 tons, has a wheelbase of six and one-half feet, drivers of two feet four inch diameter and tractive effort of 4236 pounds. The engine has a compact but remarkably clean cab for any coal burner I have seen. Inside the cab was a plaque reading: H.R.H the Prince of Wales travelled on this locomotive 25th November - 1982. I had little chance to move about. The fuel bunker is forward of cab while water space is behind the cab and in a well between the frames. Firing the engine required Sarah to scoop the coal from the forward opening, and then swing it around to the firedoor basically next to the coal supply on the right. I had to stay clear of Sarah's tiny coal scoop while trying to see all I could of operating the engine and the scenery outside.
Dolgoch's simple, compact but amazingly clean cab.
Slate was first quarried at Bryn Eglwys in the 1840s. In July of 1865 the Talyllyn Railway Company was created an Act of Parliament primarily for the delivery of slate to the new, Cambrian Railway at Tywyn. The act also authorized passenger services, a first for a narrow gauge line. An unusual gauge of 2 feet 3 inches was selected, and the first passenger timetable was issued for December 1866.
I wasn't the first to be treated to a princely ride on the Dolgoch.
Over the years, the slate business had several ups and downs finally closing after a mine collapse in 1946. The railway's owner since 1911, Henry Haydn Jones, swore that he would keep the line opened for passengers as long as he lived. Only Number 2 was operating by then and only during the summer season. The railway had seen little maintenance in years. Sir Haydn died in July 1950, and the railway was shut down by his widow at the end of October seemingly never to run again.
But a group of enthusiasts, led by the engineer and author Tom Rolt, formed the Talyllyn Railway Preservation Society. Meetings were held and Lady Haydn, Sir Haydn's widow, agreed to hand over the railway to the TRPS. The TRPS took over the railway in February 1951. Despite post-war difficulties, progress was made and the TRPS ran its first public service on May 14, 1951 with 5 round trips of 2.15 miles to Rhydyronen. Service over the original passenger route, ending at Abergynolwyn (6.57 miles), started on June 4th with two trains daily operating Monday through Friday.
On May 22, 1976 service was extended as far as Nant Gwernol over what had been a mining only extension. The Dolgoch powered the first official train.
In May 2011, shortly before my visit, the Talyllyn celebrated 60 years as the world's first "preserved railway". The completed Talyllyn Railway is 7.25 miles long, 2 feet 3 inches wide, and has six steam locomotives including the original Number 1, the Talyllyn and Number 2, the Dolgoch. Also still in service are the original four passenger carrages and the original brake van (that's caboose to us).(
The first few miles were bucolic, but soon the line began to climb the north side of a mountain and for much of the rest of our trip, we were in the woodlands high above the valley.
Checking out an abnormal sound coming from underneath.
Not long after leaving the pasturelands, Andrew and Sarah heard an unusual sound coming from underneath the locomotive. The Dolgoch had just come out of the shop, and they sent for expert help from the mechanical department, a man met us, looked the engine over, rode between two stations, and decided our engine could complete the run, but should stop by the drop pit at Pendre for an inspection underneath.
At Dolgoch, the woodland scenery was quite lovely.
As we approached Dolgoch station, we entered a forest and the scenery became quite interesting. We took water at the station while some of the passengers disembarked for the hike down to the series of three waterfalls appropriately named the Dolgoch Falls. I didn't have time for this, but the hike looked very intriguing.
Water stop at Dolgoch.
On we went to the end of the line at Nant Gwernol. Near here a pair of incline railways once brought slate down from the mines to the railroad while a third delivered goods down to the village of Abergynolwyn in the valley below. Here our crew ran around the train so that the engine would be at the front of the train for the downhill run.
Bringing the engine around at Nant Gwernol.
We stopped at the Abergynolwyn station for our longest stop. While I took a few photos, Andrew bought tea and had one for me waiting when I found him seated on a bench by the station.
Sarah sits waiting for our token for the westbound line as the blockman makes a moving token exchange with fireman, Jim Mann, on No.4, the Edward Thomas.
After the eastbound train passed, blockman, Gordon Rhodes, cleared the line for our train and delivered the token to Sarah.
Sarah invited me to step off the engine and go with her while she collected our single line token at Brynglas authorizing us to proceed over the single track line. I was able to photograph the token exchange of the train we waited for and met there, and had a peek inside the little signal box.
Andrew brings Number 2 to the inspection pit at the Pendre Works.
On the way back, we left the train at Pendre where Tony met us for a tour of the shops and the signal tower. We saw Andrew and Sarah one more time as they brought the Dolgoch in for its inspection, then we rode the following train behind Number 3, Sir Haydn, the short distance back to the Talyllyn Wharf station.
One short ride behind Number 3 will take us back to the Tywyn Wharf Station.
I don't know what kind of ride the Prince of Wales enjoyed, but it couldn't have much better than mine.
Talyllyn Railway Company
Web site: http://www.talyllyn.co.uk
Telephone: 44 1654 710472
Fax: 44 1654 711755
Tywyn Tourist Information Centre: Tywyn.firstname.lastname@example.org.