In the late 1950s, I learned of a strange little railway near Aberdovey – the Talyllyn. After begging Dad & Mum to take me, on return, I was telling my Grandmother about it and she told me that she had spent from 1891 to 1907 in the employ of Mr & Mrs Casson (the solicitor and quarry owner) at Bron y Garth in Portmadoc. He had then just bought the house from the Spooners’. She told me that the Cassons’ used to take her with them on their monthly visit to their quarry above Blaenau Ffestiniog on the ‘Toy Railway’ – was that still in existence?
My slightly older cousin found out for me – it was. So one summer’s evening in 1960 found me photographing a strange, double ended steam loco entering Boston Lodge Works – ‘Taliesin’. My love of the FR started that moment.
In summer 1962, I made my first journey and at Tan y Bwlch was invited onto Prince’s footplate by none other than Bill Hoole who then had an 11 year old schoolboy firing whilst he ran around. I was completely smitten, joined the society in 1963 and immediately started volunteering with the Lancs & Cheshire Group – manning publicity stands at model railway exhibitions. In 1964 I started on the track gang and graduated to Boston Lodge Works in 1969 undertaking maintenance on locos and carriages under legends like Bob Harris, Paul Dukes, Fred Boughey and Arthur Brookes. In the 70’s and 80’s I was 2nd manning diesel hauled trains and learnt to fire the Ladies and Mountaineer under the tutorship of Clive Gibbard, Phil Girdlestone, Warren Shepherd and Phil Dowse.
In 1986, as a mature undergraduate, I got a chance to help the railway - the final 2 years of my BEng degree course were a project based, 'design and make' project. I asked the late Paul Dukes - then Works Manager at Boston Lodge, 'Was there anything he could think of for me to do?' His answer was, 'How about designing a new, very low maintenance carriage bogie?' I did, presented the railway with the design and many features of which are incorporated in the latest FR bogies. As an afterthought I submitted my thesis to the Design Council in their universities design competition. I was extremely surprised when it won top prize from over 90 submissions - the Sir Denis Rooke Award for 1989.
I founded Team Wylfa in early 2003 when an urgent call for more volunteers to help with Phase 3 of the WHR went out. These days, I lead the Team at Dinas where we look after servicing the carriage running gear during the operating season and maintaining the locos during the low season. In the early days, the team were instrumental in keeping the NG15 #134 restoration project alive and are currently working alongside the main 134 Group to bring the restoration hopefully to a successful conclusion within the next 2 years.
My heart is still with the little tramway betwixt Porthmadog and Blaenau
Ffestiniog but I believe in the WHR as a major contributor to the whole narrow
gauge railway phenomenon Worldwide that began with the FR. Both railways
complement each other and together form a much more viable organisation.
For me personally, it's continuing a long family connection and both of my sons have worked at Megabash and Kidz Weeks in recent years. It's given me lifelong Worldwide friendships too. The late Viscount Tonypandy (George Thomas) said at the official re-opening to Blaenau Ffestiniog in 1983, '…there are many men and women whose hearts beat faster when you say the words Ffestiniog Railway…' - this has been my experience on my travels across the World, now having friends in South Africa, Germany and at the Bennett Brook and Puffing Billy Railways in Australia and all because I uttered the words 'I work on the Ffestiniog Railway'. The FR is a wonderful family to belong to.
Clive Briscoe is a Chartered Engineer and started his career as a marine engineer for 12 years with Liverpool’s Blue Funnel Line. Later he was an Engineer Surveyor and ship safety inspector with the MCA. He has been working as an engineer at Wylfa Power Station since 2002.