Malcolm and Sarah are looking forward to the 16mm Association AGM. As well as discussing progress on the latest batch of locomotives, we are unveiling our new design, a slab wagon kit.
|A 16mm Wrightscale quarry Hunslet poses beside a quarry slab truck which will be available at the 16mm AGM on 8th April 2017|
We are totally committed to putting more wagons on to your layouts! All too often, enthusiasts, whether in 16mm scale or another, concentrate on the locomotive. They boast about its head-shunts, its zigzag doubles and its American triangles. Yet all this locomotive activity, this showing off even, is quite meaningless without rolling stock, which I see as the female yin to the locomotive yang. One complements the other. Running a locomotive around the track makes no sense if it is not ‘on the pull’ so to speak. No wagons and carriages, no sense.
In spite of this common-sense observation, most books concentrate on locomotives. Rather typical is the comment on an Ivo Peters photograph taken at Dinorwic (Dinorwig) quarry in 1956. A Quarry Hunslet 0-4-0T built 1889 is pulling at least seven four wheel ‘three a side’ wagons, filled with quarry waste. They are coming out of a tunnel with a neat ‘locomotive chimney’ cut out of the rock. The caption (by Cliff Thomas) tells us all about the locomotive, nothing about the train of wagons.
Even Thomas the tank engine knew that his trips were in vain if he were not accompanied by Annie, Clarabel and the rest. J.I.C. Boyd is an enlightened commentator. ‘Wagons carried supplies not only to ensure the survival and well-being’ of inhabitants of remote communities but their ‘overall purpose was to carry away the products’. The Talyllyn Railway WSP Oxford 1988. The book even describes such wagons as a ‘shy, coy species’. So let’s say it for rolling stock! A world that consists only of locomotives will last as about as long as one inhabited solely by men.
For years, Malcolm has been known for locomotives on the lines of Peter Pan, Guy, Hummy and King of the Scarlets. But his very first project was the WD bogie, that versatile base for the thousands of wagons which supplied troops in the trenches of the Western Front 1916-18. Some of these War Department Light Railway bogie wagons did return to Britain to be used on narrow gauge lines such as the Ashover but there were already thousands of wagons in Britain, already working on 2’ nominal 60cm gauge track.
|A Wrightscale 0-4-0 Quarry Hunslet pushes a train of slate wagon. The pattern of 'three bar' slate wagons and 'flats' were seen in various quarries. Photo by Malcolm Wright on a slate quarry layout he created.|
The slate quarries of North Wales were early in using narrow gauge as an economical way of transporting heavy materials. Indeed, they were using wagons long before locomotives were available. Like the coal mines of North-East England, they were situated conveniently above the sea. Once rails were in place, trains of wagons could run down to a port using gravity. A horse was merely required to pull the ‘empties’ back up. That was the theory anyway. Obstacles lay between the slate and the sea. Locomotives were needed so that loads could be pulled uphill. As these were commissioned, the world came to admire. Paul Decauville for example visited the Festiniog (Ffestiniog) Railway more than once in the 1870s. Although Prosper Péchot 1849-1928 never came in person, he used ideas from Festiniog in his Péchot system. Years later, this French field railway system inspired the WDLR mentioned above.
Thus the narrow gauge quarry railways of Wales cast a long shadow over world history.
Bryneglwys slate workings, situated above the Talyllyn Railway, have a historythat is typical of slate quarries. There had been some quarrying for local needs, but in 1847, advertisements appeared in The Mining Journal for subscribers to a company which would extract ‘beautiful light blue slate’. Engines for truck haulage and a mill for dressing slate would be powered by two local streams. A road would transport the slate to the river Dovey thence to the port of Aberdovey’.
When the Tallyllyn Railway was proposed in 1864, it made more sense to use it to transport freight. (Confusingly for the anglophone, there is a Brynglas Halt well below the Bryneglwys workings. The Welsh would not be confused. Brynglas means Blue Hill. Bryne-yr-Eglwys means Church Hill.) Another ‘health warning’: the Talyllyn Railway was built to 2’3” gauge compared to the 2’ gauge of many other quarry railways.
They say that a mine is a hole with a liar at the top but John Pughe the promoter of Bryneglwys uttered one truth. The ‘mine’ had the potential to produce £15,000 worth of slate for the next 15 years. The only trouble was, it required much capital, both for the workings themselves and the ingenious series of inclines taking material down to the railway. Boyd in ‘The Talyllyn Railway’ has an excellent account.
Originally, there were over 100 slab-wagons used in Bryneglwys Quarry - by the time the workings closed only about 8 remained. They were also known as bogies, cradles or sleds. They were mainly used within the workings to bring out slate as far as the mill where it was split, sawn and dressed. The slab trucks were therefore mostly to be seen emerging from the slate workings, waiting at the mill or around the upper sidings of the Talyllyn Railway. A few cheeky escapees might hitch a ride down the valley or ‘peep shyly’ from sidings along the way.
|Small but mighty! 16mm scale slab wagon from the front, made to a pattern used on the Bryneglwys Quarry /Tallyllyn Railway. Though tiny in comparison with the compact Quarry Hunslet, it could carry nearly two tons of slate.|
Historians have struggled with lack of information, but it is believed that, unlike the carriages, these slab wagons were built on the site, using standard parts eg wheels, axle boxes and coupling hooks. There was a saw-mill on site which could supply finished timber. It is just possible that some were originally fitted with hand-operated brake, like the slate wagons that were used on the Talyllyn railway itself. If such hand-brake slab-trucks ever existed, they had all perished by the 1940s. On page 297 of the Boyd book is a photo of slate wagon - it shows how a brake might have appeared. Contemporary accounts are also silent about colour. When asked, people who remembered the railway tended to say ‘Oh, red!’ Further research suggests iron-red undercoat for the slate truck with, perhaps a top coat of the cheapest and most durable pigment – black – certainly for wooden under as they served remote communities. A train coming up-valley might carry flour and beer for human consumption, engineering supplies and timber. Down trains would certainly carry slate but also ‘empties’. People, on varying errands often hitched rides on freight trains. The wagons are half the fun and all the story of one of these little railways.