'Hooded' loco comes back to life
By: Colin Tyson
It will be a sight not witnessed since 1888, and will be exclusive to the Leighton Buzzard Railway’s Great Slate Quarry Fest on September 15-16.
'Chaloner', the iconic vertical-boilered 'coffee-pot', built by De Winton of Caernarfon in 1877, was always thought to have looked pretty much as it does today, with no cab roof to protect crews from the extremes of the elements.
This all changed in the summer of 2011, when it did a grand tour of its native haunts, promoting the definitive book on the De Winton company, written by Alfred and David Fisher and historian Gwynfor Pierce Jones, which had just been published.
Everyone thought that the earliest photo of 'Chaloner' dated from 1927, taken at Pen-yr-Orsedd quarry where it spent most of its working life. But while the engine was on display inside the former De Winton works, enthusiast Brian Hurst came through the door with a bombshell – a copy of the original 1877 works photo, which he owned.
Alf Fisher commented: “That a works photograph existed at all was mindblowing. De Winton produced more than 70 locomotives, and for the one surviving works photo to be of 'Chaloner' was quite something.
“But what it revealed left me almost speechless — it had a cab! Yet there was no record that any of these locos ever had cabs. This was a totally unknown feature, which completely changed the locomotive’s appearance."
'Chaloner' is known to have been supplied originally to the Penybryn quarry, Nantlle, but this ceased operations in 1888, and the equipment was sold off. The auction catalogue made reference to a 'hooded locomotive steam engine', which was generally believed to be 'Chaloner', but the Industrial Railway Society handbook for the area simply says that: 'This term... is not now understood'. With the benefit of the works photo, the meaning of the description has become clear, over 120 years after the event.
'Chaloner' then moved to nearby Pen-yr-Orsedd quarry, where it remained until bought for preservation in 1960 by Alf Fisher. The 'hooded' cab was removed and the chimney shortened, in line with the other De Wintons working at its new home, because of limited clearances in tunnels.
Once they had recovered from the shock of seeing their favourite locomotive in a whole new light, Alf and David Fisher set about designing and manufacturing a replica cab, so that 'Chaloner' could once again be seen in as-built condition.
Drawings from the photograph were dimensioned and prepared by David, while the sheet metalwork was produced by LBNGRS Honorary Life Member, Neville Brown, at his B&Z Metalcraft works in Leighton Buzzard. Additional work was undertaken by blacksmiths Colin and Paul Walker, of Wheathampstead, Hertfordshire.
The replica cab is now almost complete, and will be fitted to 'Chaloner' shortly before the Leighton Buzzard Railway’s Great Slate Quarry Fest event where it will be joined by visiting locomotives with slate-quarry backgrounds.
LBR spokesman, Mervyn Leah, said: “We are recreating a piece of railway history that has never been seen by anyone still alive, and we are operating it in an area of the country which is convenient for large numbers of people. We hope for a great turnout, as this will be the only opportunity this year to see 'Chaloner' working in its new guise.”
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