Saturday, 29 August 2015

A Bala Gala: "Jack Lane" on Tour...

Hi everyone. Today was another grand day out; this time a jaunt to our old holiday railway at Bala Lake. The railway were holding their special 4-day 'Winifred Steam Gala' over this Bank Holiday weekend and four locomotives were rostered to work an impressive timetable. Unfortunately during last week, due to an over-running boiler repair on "Holy War", a gap had been created in the motive power line up. The railway quickly called up Statfold Barn who duly prepared 2005-built Quarry Hunslet "Jack Lane" for an immediate departure. I was contacted not long afterwards to ask if we would go along as sort of 'Engine Rep's for one of the days, just to check on the green 0-4-0. As myself and 'Eddie the Late' had already been planning a potential day out to Bala to see the gala, the push from the SBR was all we needed to persuade us. At 5:45am this morning I collected Ed and we sailed back down the A46 and into the nearest McDonalds for breakfast!...
Stomachs refreshed with a hearty McMuffin and a trio of hash browns, we started to attack the 120-mile journey to the BLR's base at Llanuwchllyn. It wasn't a bad run down there, just a little odd at times. For example, we came around one bend and the headlights of the BMW were met with the sight of a Peacock strolling leisurely across the tarmac. Eddie duly proclaimed "mind that peacock". As I did so, I couldn't help thinking how little that phrase has probably been used by other motorists! At around 8:45am we made it to the engine shed at Llanuwchllyn, where "Jack Lane" was discovered in the company of elderly sisters "Winifred", "Maid Marian" and "Alice"...
Having introduced ourselves to "Jack Lane"s crew for the day, it was time to change into our non-smarts and have a look around. Enjoying the cosy atmosphere of the engine shed on this damp Welsh morning was "George B". Built in 1898 and purchased from Dinorwic in 1965, the engine has been under restoration for some time. However, the end is now finally in sight and rumour has it she may appear sometime next year...
The visiting engine was our main focus today, though the event from the outset was spot on. The first train was at 9am and was diesel hauled for the enthusiasts. "Alice" duly headed off too, with the demonstration slate train. I then decided to have a quick check over of "Jack Lane". This job basically involves doing a small FTR. The motion is checked as well as the axleboxes and other such components. One of the main searches I tend to do is to look for split-pins and make sure they are there. Thankfully, "Jack Lane" had a clean bill of health and we were fully confident that the Bala Lake team would look after her anyway: they've been looking after Quarry Hunslets for over 40 years! The only things we had to talk about were the small but important differences between this young engine and the older Quarry's. The design may be basically the same but there are some differences. "Jack Lane"s first train was due to depart at 10:40am and, when the time came, she was there...
With "Jack Lane" out on the line along with "Winifred", sisters "Alice" and "Maid Marian" were doing some demonstrations of their own at the base...
It was all going very well up to now but, allas, something did go wrong. "Winifred" had failed with a seriously leaking injector clack that wouldn't seat and the crew had had to drop the fire. The diesel shunter "Trigger" was duly pressed into service and rescued the transatlantic traveller from Llangower before hauling her back to base...
To catch back as much time as possible, "Alice" departed with the passenger train as quickly as possible. "Jack Lane" had been stuck at Llangower for a good while awaiting a path and her crew were I think relieved to get her back for water once "Alice" had passed...
Before "Jack Lane" did her next turn on the 13:50 trip, 'Eddie the Late' suggested a 'Cake Challenge'. Bala Lake Railway is well known for its good cake...
We walked outside with our cake and managed to perch on an A-Frame bench. At that point I felt something brush my leg under the table and immediately gave Ed an uneasy glance. Ed must have felt the same thing but thought it was me as I received the same uneasy glance back! This went on for a few moments with both of us silently accusing the other of odd behaviour before this little chap appeared from underneath the table...
Having eaten our cake under the watchful gaze of our new friend "Billy", I walked up the platform to see "Jack Lane" who was awaiting the signal to run round when required...
Driver Ben had kindly allowed me to ride out with them on the 13:50 trip with "Jack Lane". Due to the timetable change which followed "Winifred"s failure, the 6-coach train ended up being double headed with "Maid Marian". Driver Russell aboard "Marian" kindly allowed me to ride down with them to Bala as three travelling backwards on an open cab Quarry is a fall-off waiting to happen! After a good run to Bala, the pair are seen being uncoupled ready for the run round...
"Jack Lane" and "Marian" are seen below heading up the 2:25pm departure for the top station. As well as a coupling, 102 years separated them!...
For the return run I was aboard "Jack Lane". Driver Ben and Fireman Dave were certainly enjoying themselves. Ben gave the 10-year old 0-4-0 great reviews and she was steaming well as we trundled along the shores of the beautiful Bala Lake...
At Llangower a few passengers joined us ready for an upgrade departure by the two Hunslets. The view from the footplate here has always been lovely...
The run back to the base from Llangower was brilliant. "Jack Lane" was in great voice and when the two ladies attacked the bank it was in fine style. Later in the day, "Alice" is spotted with a traditional Quarry train, including Gunpowder wagon...
By the time 3:30pm rolled around most things were back on track following the earlier failing. With "Winifred"s clack seated, the hot water in her tank had syphoned through into the boiler and thus refilled it for her with nice hot water, saving any damage. Therefore, with all the right checks in place, she had been relit and was ready for action in time for her remaining two trips of the day. Her first outing would be with shed mate "Alice" on a double header and I must say well done to the team for getting her back out so quickly...
"Maid Marian" arrives with another well loaded 6-coach train...
With "Maid Marian" clear of the section, "Jack Lane" (with 'Eddie the Late' on board) returned with the slate train. "Winifred" and "Alice" would then depart for Bala...
"Jack Lane"s duties were then finished for the day after three successful runs. The engine had been popular with her crew and two days had been completed with two more to go. The welcome and hospitality that myself & Ed had received once again at the BLR had been very pleasant indeed and very much appreciated. Its a lovely place with lovely hard working staff: its a pleasure to know them. Just while I'm still writing perhaps we should briefly talk about the non train items on show. One was Ivo Peter's Bentley. Ivo Peters was a well known railway photographer during the final years of the steam era and his trusty Bentley was spotted in over 14,000 images. It would always be there; whether under a bridge, at the lineside or in the background. Ivo drove the car over 250,000 miles recording the last working steam engines on the British network. The midnight blue vehicle is now owned by Mr Birley, owner of "Winifred" and "Alice"...

During the afternoon we were also treated to an unexpected pass by Vulcan Bomber XH558. It looked beautiful as it sailed easily above the base station. XH558 is the very last Vulcan permitted to fly and, sadly, this is her last year in the skies. The aircraft has been slowly surviving season by season with enormous grants of funding from benefactors and the general public but we are assured that 2015 is her last ever flying season. It was wonderful to see her; what a beautiful thing...
So, that's it folks, another fantastic day out. Just after 6pm myself & 'Eddie the Late' rejoined the BMW for the ride home. At this point I wasn't entirely up for the 120-mile drive home but, allas, we drove down so we must drive back! It was a fantastic day and well worth the driving if truth be told. We are both very thankful to the SBR for sending us with "Jack Lane" and to the BLR for being so welcoming and friendly towards us once again. We love it there. To see a video of just some of the action on Saturday, including our double headed assault on the bank, click here. Well done to the entire BLR team for putting on such a great show and lets hope that the screaming whistles of Quarry Hunslets continue to echo across the waters of Bala Lake for many, many years to come...
Good Evening All

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