A Passion for Steam – and Apples!

To be involved with a railway like ours you need a passion for steam locomotives, and this is certainly the case for James Evans, the owner of ‘Velinheli’. However James has another passion which is now the subject of a book – Cornish Apples!

In 1980, James and his wife Mary Martin discovered an old cider press in their native Tamar Valley, and restored it to working order. Fired with enthusiasm to produce cider traditionally from Tamar apples, James and Mary embarked on a mission to find these local varieties such as the ‘Pig’s Snout’ and ‘Colloggett Pippin’. With the orchards that the Tamar Valley had been famous for having all but vanished by this time, and recognising that many of the local species of apple trees would become extinct unless rescued, they established their own orchard in which rescued varieties of tree – not only apple but also cherry, plum and pear – could be nurtured and catalogued.

Today their orchard contains around 200 varieties of fruit trees saved from around Cornwall and West Devon. Recognising that their collection needed a permanent, public home, James and Mary have also assisted with the establishment of an orchard at the National Trust property Cothele, which contains over 100 varieties of the apple trees they have saved. We also have several apple trees at the railway which are varieties from James and Mary’s collection; these include the ‘Bowman’s Beauty’ (a unique variety which was found alongside the railway, named after the LSR’s owners) and the ‘Mary Martin’ (a variety bred by James to give the best characteristics of two separate varieties – no prizes for guessing where James got the name from!).

As a record of over three decades of work, James and Mary have now published a book ‘A Cornish Pomona, a selection of West Country apple varieties’. The book details and illustrates over 170 varieties of West Country apples, with snippets of local history. The book will be available in our shop for £7.50 early next week, or can be bought online here for £10.00 including postage.

James, Velinheli and a Cornish apple tree - click for larger view James, Velinheli and a Cornish apple tree - click for larger view Click for larger view

Railway Rabbits Book Signing in Truro

If you have taken a ride along the railway you may have spotted some of the wildlife which shares the valley with us, such as the resident buzzards or heron. However, most commonly seen are rabbits – and thanks to our good friend and children’s author Georgie Adams, who lives overlooking the valley and the railway, the rabbits have their own book series – ‘The Railway Rabbits’.

On Monday 11th August, Georgie Adams will be at Waterstones in Truro, reading from and signing books in the series. There will also be a colouring competition to win a family ticket for the LSR! So if you’re in the area, drop in and find out more about the escapades of the Railway Rabbits; however, we also stock the books in our shop if you can’t make it to Truro!

16th August 2014

Congratulations to George and Ebony, who were the succesful winners of The Railway Rabbits colouring competition – we hope they enjoy their free family ticket!

June News

Following a succesful Locals’ Week and then half term week at the end of May, we have settled into our usual June pattern of opening 3 days a week – the days off coupled with the glorious weather we have had recently in Cornwall allow us to complete some of the outdoor maintenance jobs which were not completed in the very wet winter, ensuring we are ready for the peak Summer season from this Sunday.

Covertcoat waits to return to the shed at the end of a busy half-term day, click for larger view Lilian brings a 2pm train back into Launceston, click for larger view Lilian shunts at Launceston in the glorious sunshine we have had for most of the month, click for larger view

Although we can’t undertake major maintenance on the track when we are running, our ‘permanent way gang’ can often be seen out and about checking the track, and carrying out minor work such as fishplate greasing. One of the recent tasks, as seen in the photograph below, was to change sleepers on one of the points in the yard.

The regular Monday P-Way Gang replacing a sleeper on one of the yard points, click for larger view

Dorothea has now been lined out by our resident lining guru Jonathan Mann. Her elegant lining is a little different to that applied to locomotives in the other slate quarries of North Wales, however extensive research by late railway enthusiast Colin Pealling concluded this was the livery worn by Dorothea when she was operated at Dorothea Quarry.

Dorothea now lined out, click for larger view

On Sunday 15th June we held a succesful ‘Railway Day’ as part of the town’s Charles Causley Festival; several authors came to visit to give talks and sign copies of their books. The following Sunday (22nd) visitors were treated to the sight of three locomotives in steam: Lilian, Velinheli and Dorothea. The three were in steam in order for an update to be filmed for the very popular DVD which we sell in our shop. Our under construction diesel railcar was also out during the day for a test run for the DVD.

Three Hunslets in steam, click for larger view Velinheli & Dorothea, click for larger view Velinheli & Dorothea, click for larger view Lilian & Dorothea wait at Newmills with the last train of the day, click for larger view

May News

After a succesful few weeks opening at Easter, we have had a few weeks off to finish our track relaying project. This involved taking the 40lb/yd rail which we had taken up at Newmills a little down the line towards Launceston, and using it to replace some lighter 30lb/yd rail. The relaying is now complete, meaning the lightest rail in use is now 35lb/yd.

At Easter the quirky vertical boilered locomotive Perseverance had his annual boiler inspection. Happily ‘Percy’ passed with flying colours and is ready for another 12 months work; although too small to haul our passenger trains, Perseverance is occasionally steamed up in our yard and also makes visits to other railways.

Perseverance in steam for the boiler inspector, click for larger view

We currently have an experimental petrol electric locomotive visiting us for trials from a private railway. Fitted with a restored Austin 10 engine, the locomotive has a few areas which trial runs have shown could be improved, and so it is likely to have some work on it whilst it is here.

Experimental petrol electric locomotive, click for larger view

Covertcoat’s regulator has had a slight leak for a while, and so has been removed for repair. Her regulator valve is actually a modern ball valve which we fitted a few years ago – the valve has now been dismantled for fitting new seals. Removal of the valve also gives the opportunity to inspect part of the inside of Covertcoat’s boiler, which we built new here (although incorporating a small amount of her original boiler) seven years ago. Fortunately the inside of her boiler appears to be in good condition with minimal corrosion – a full inspection will be carried out when she is retubed in a few years time.

A view into Covertcoat's boiler, showing where her regulator valve has been removed, click for larger view

Winter Works

Over the winter we have had a few projects on the go to make sure the railway is in good condition for the 2014 season.

The poor weather in January and February highlighted a few areas along the railway where drainage channels and culverts along the railway had become blocked, particularly on the stretch of line around Canna Park. Not only have we ensured the culverts are unblocked, but the drainage channels have been cleared and in some cases enlarged.

Enlarged culvert at Canna Park, click for larger view Enlarged drainage channel at Canna Park, click for larger view Our trusty JCB digger working to enlarge drainage channels and clear ground near to Canna Park, click for larger view

Work has also progressed on our experimental diesel electric railcar, with the final driver’s controls now nearing completion.

Railcar controls nearing completion, click for larger view Interlocking mechanism on railcar controls, click for larger view

Part of the track just before Newmills station has also been relayed this winter, with ex. Dean Hill 50lb/yd rail replacing the 40lb/yd rail previously laid on that stretch of track. The 40lb/yd rail, however, will now be cascaded down the line and used to replace some lighter 30lb/yd rail which is laid near Launceston – this further relaying is currently planned to be completed in May.

The Dilly stands on the newly relaid track at Newmills, click for larger view Jonathan Mann bolting up the final fishplate on the relaid track, joining the 50lb/yd rail to the Penrhyn bullhead rail used in the station at Newmills, click for larger view

With the track reconnected at Newmills, we can now start getting ready for the season to begin again, in a little over a week’s time on Sunday 13th April.

New ‘Super-Fairlie’ Locomotive Project: Can You Help?

The steam locomotive is loved by enthusiasts and irresistible to holiday makers, but it is generally less than ten percent efficient, and also labour intensive in daily preparation and routine maintenance: however it can be repaired almost indefinitely and seldom fails in traffic. Engineers working with steam locomotives in several countries are using modern technology and materials to improve its less good features, enhancing its overall financial performance and prolonging the ‘age of steam’.

James Evans, owner of Hunslet locomotive ‘Velinheli’ which is based at Launceston, has been developing a state-of-the-art ‘Super-Fairlie’ proposal, specifically for the Welsh Highland Railway and taking the long view on sustainability. Unfortunately the proposal has been rejected by the Board of the Ffestiniog and Welsh Highland Railways at a recent meeting as “a dream too far”; the Company being focused on raising funds to complete the existing infrastructure, and believing that a brand new locomotive project would detract from their commitment to create a sustainable railway. James felt that an imaginative project of this nature would have been complementary, and widen interest in Welsh Highland ‘news’.

However, the project has been sanctioned to continue independently, and the Welsh Highland Railway would accept a fully functioning addition to its motive power roster once any teething troubles have been sorted, (and of course subject to acceptance by the various engineering and regulatory authorities); which is some encouragement!

Although disappointed by the response of the F & WHR Board, James is reminded that over thirty years ago he was told by the experts that his proposal to build a new Lynton and Barnstaple locomotive would be both “impossible” and “not financially viable”; even members of the L & B Association thought it was a ‘dream too far’ at that time! With LYD now in service and her insides modernized within the constraints of being a ‘replica’, she appears to be rather more powerful than her forebears and hopefully she will be viable in the long term.

Fairratt outline drawing, click for larger view

James has been involved with renewable energy, conservation and low-carbon living since the 1960’s: he was brought up on a self sufficient farm where even the electricity was home made, plentiful and virtually free. With his passion for steam he would like to see the cleanest most economical steam locomotive built for the WHR; sustainable steam traction for a sustainable railway. Calculations show that a smaller locomotive with maximum power to weight ratio and 100% adhesion, like a Ffestiniog double Fairlie, would have the same haulage ability as a Garratt and save 15% in fuel consumption. Centralized lubrication, easy cleaning and accessibility of working parts, plus use of the best modern materials would reduce both paid and volunteer labour. In designing a new locomotive to fulfill the exact requirements of the Welsh Highland Railway the opportunity would be taken to add several safety features and minimize emissions.

LYD only turned from a ‘pipe dream’ into reality as a result of a team effort managed by Paul Lewin, now General Manager of the Ffestiniog and Welsh Highland Railways, and this new proposal will only turn a wheel if a similar team can be assembled. Only twenty five years ago the thought that trains might run through the Aberglaslyn pass once again, and sometimes hauled by a Lynton and Barnstaple type of locomotive, was considered “a dream too far” even by the most sanguine enthusiasts!

So, James would love to hear from YOU if you have expertise in project management, fund raising, public relations and of course engineering, OR if you can suggest people who might be willing to help. A deep knowledge of steam railways is NOT essential, James’ enthusiasm should be sufficient! Initial contact can be made by email to steamax@phonecoop.coop.

The first 10% of the funding for the design and construction of the ‘Super-Fairlie’ is in place, and the formation of a charitable trust for the project is being investigated. An updated outline specification can be viewed here and fuller details will be posted at a future date if there is sufficient interest.

30th Birthday Winter Steam Up a great success!

Although normally closed over the winter, to celebrate 30 years since we first opened on Boxing Day 1983 we ran trains for a few afternoons between Christmas and New Year. Many friends and visitors came along for the opportunity to help celebrate 30 years of steam in the Kensey Valley and as something to do between Christmas and New Year, a week which often seems quite ‘dead’!

On Boxing Day our first locomotive, Lilian, was in steam. The first train 30 years ago was at 2pm with just Lilian and one carriage, and ran to the original end of the railway, ½ mile from Launceston. 30 years on we recreated this train, with the original locomotive, carriage, driver and some original passengers! The current Mayor of Launceston, Dave Gordon, and the Mayor of Launceston from 30 years ago, Arthur Wills, were both in attendance to help us celebrate.

Having run Lilian on Boxing Day, Covertcoat and Dorothea were used to run trains for the remaining three days of operation. Our fourth Hunslet locomotive, Velinheli, is currently winterised and undergoing some work on her injector pipework and filters.

Below can be seen a number of photographs and video from the four days. Looking forward to 2014 we will be reopening just before Easter, and full details of our 2014 times & fares will be available on this website soon.

Lilian runs round at Newmills on Boxing Day 2013, former mayor Arthur Wills on board.  Photo by John Conway.

Lilian runs round at Newmills on Boxing Day 2013, former mayor Arthur Wills on board. Photo by John Conway.

Dorothea and Covertcoat build up a good head of steam for the last train of the day

Dorothea and Covertcoat build up a good head of steam for the last train of the day

Dorothea and Covertcoat at Newmills

Dorothea and Covertcoat at Newmills

A champagne toast to celebrate 30 years of the LSR!  From left to right: Arthur Wills (Launceston Mayor 1983), Carole and Dave Gordon (Mayoress and Mayor of Launceston 2013), Kay and Nigel Bowman (LSR owners).  Photo by Alan Palmer

A champagne toast to celebrate 30 years of the LSR! From left to right: Arthur Wills (Launceston Mayor 1983), Carole and Dave Gordon (Mayoress and Mayor of Launceston 2013), Kay and Nigel Bowman (LSR owners). Photo by Alan Palmer

The crowds gather to celebrate our 30th birthday.  Photo by Alan Palmer

The crowds gather to celebrate our 30th birthday. Photo by Alan Palmer

Lilian brings a Boxing Day train into Launceston.  Photo by Alan Palmer

Lilian brings a Boxing Day train into Launceston. Photo by Alan Palmer

Lilian waits to leave with a Boxing Day train

Lilian waits to leave with a Boxing Day train

December Works Update

The railcar bodywork has now progressed from a wooden mock-up to the final steel construction. The framework for each end of the body is complete, with work set to continue on the rest of the bodywork in the New Year.

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Following some concern that they were becoming a little worn, Covertcoat has had her wheels removed in order for them to be returned on our lathe.

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The recent wet weather has seen a bank collapse into our car park and onto one of our neighbours. Fortunately as the bank serves little purpose, it is being removed at this location and replaced with a simple wall.

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Railcar on Test

Following the completion of the electrical wiring and the fitting of air brakes to one bogie, our experimental diesel electric railcar has been out for some test runs. Based around motors and wheels originally used on the Post Office Underground Railway, the railcar is being constructed for use in the off-peak season, and would allow us to run trains on days in the autumn and winter when the number of passengers do not justify the expense of lighting up one of our steam locomotives.

As can be seen, the railcar is still in an incomplete state. Most of the driver’s controls are now fixed in their final position, but a temporary throttle control is being used for the test runs. The bodywork is also (obviously) very incomplete! Subject to the time being available this winter, we hope to fabricate the rest of the bodywork soon along with finishing the driver’s controls and fitting air brakes to the rear bogie.

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Returned and Reunited after 70 Years!

In a remarkable turn of events, Dorothea has been recently reunited with one of her original brass works plates, seventy years on from when she last worked.

When withdrawn from service at Dorothea Quarry in the early 1940s, Dorothea was left in her shed high on top of a mountain. Various parts, including her brass nameplates and works plates, were removed from her before she was rescued from her (now collapsed) shed in 1970 by Dave Walker. Once the painstaking restoration of Dorothea to working order was completed in 2012 by Kay Bowman, new replica works plates were made to replace the originals.

However, this summer we received a phone call from a gentleman who had been clearing out a friend’s garage in Wales – and when sorting through lots of metal which he had taken to the scrapyard, discovered one of Dorothea’s original works plates! The plate has now been returned to live with Dorothea and, over the recent half term week, was on display for the first time, alongside a number of photographs showing the life, rescue and restoration of Dorothea.

Dorothea’s owner and restorer, Kay Bowman, commented “The plate was in perfect condition – just a couple of chisel marks where it had been taken off. The letter R was stamped on the back showing which side of the locomotive it came from. For it to have been parted and then reunited with the locomotive after all this time is absolutely amazing. I still can’t quite believe it!”

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