5.5mm Association

The Malcolm Savage Archive

Festiniog Railway Wagons

5½mm scale models, scratchbuilt from styrene
and tinplate etc.

by Malcolm Savage

Photographs by the author.

Railway Modeller - February 1989

Reproduced courtesy of Railway Modeller

The author's model of the Cleminson six-wheel open.

A previous article (Railway Modeller February 1985) mentioned briefly the models of Festiniog wagons and that new ones were to be made to replace the rather crude vehicles then in use. Although there are a few more models that I want to make, this article describes those so far constructed.

The study of Festiniog wagonry is an interesting but very difficult subject. Locomotives are usually well documented and carriages moderately so, but wagons are often neglected and on a railway such as the Festiniog, with a long history, information is very sparse indeed. What information that does exist often raises more questions than it answers because it is frequently conflicting. Unrecorded rebuildings, renumberings and repaintings only succeed in confusing matters further.

The real No 99, in poor condition. the corner plate extensions are clearly visible.

I must admit to relying principally on the works of others who have studied and photographed rolling stock of the past, although I too have been out in the field and measured and photographed what remains. Unfortunately, complete reliance on the research work of others can be confusing, as frequently quoted dimensions are often not compatible with photographs and therefore adjustments have to be made in order that a model will look right.

Compared with other similar railways the Festiniog had a huge fleet of wagons, mostly slate of course, but including a large collection of assorted vehicles for coal and general merchandise. The slate wagons numbered over one thousand and the remainder over two hundred. Of these two hundred wagons the majority were open wagons of two, three and four tons capacity. The rest comprised an assortment of vans, gunpowder vans, ballast wagons and specialist vehicles such as sack trucks, cattle wagons, carriage truck, meat van and water tank wagon. Most were four-wheeled vehicles but there was one six-wheeled and several bogie wagons.

Examination of the railway's archives reveals a number of plans for vehicles which never got beyond the design stage. There are two in particular, a sheep truck and a cattle truck, which are frequently quoted as being proposed for the Festiniog Railway. Close examination of the drawings however, published in J. I. C. Boyd's book on the Festiniog Railway, shows that they were for 2' 3" gauge and not 1' 11½", suggesting that they were probably not for the Festiniog. In an article in the Engineer, May 6th 1870, Spooner advocates a gauge of 2' 6" as being the most suitable for narrow gauge railways and includes diagrams of stock which closely resemble the drawings in Boyd's book. However this does not explain the gauge of 2' 3".

The Models
The models represent a cross section of Festiniog stock from before the days of preservation. Although closer to the present the changes that have taken place during the preservation era make modelling this period just as difficult as any other, and as yet I have not attempted to do so. The collection of models includes a variety of open wagons from two to four tons capacity, a couple of vans - one rebuilt from a quarryman's coach, a bogie wagon, the Cleminson six-wheeled wagon, a gunpowder van and a water tank wagon.

FR van (No 99) and sack truck.

Two slab wagons - flat on left and 'donkey' on right.

From the modelling point of view most of the wagons can be considered to fall into one of two categories: those with inside frames and those with outside frames. Inside frames are made from strips of brass with axle holes drilled individually. A number of strips are then bolted together, through the axle holes, and all unwanted metal is milled away. Final shaping is done with files. Pairs of frames are then soldered to a spacing piece and the wheels are fitted afterwards. Outside frames are all resin castings which have reinforcing wires and brackets, for fixing to floors, cast in. The smaller axle boxes have brass bearings cast in as well, whereas the larger ones, such as the converted quarryman's coach, have the axle boxes drilled out and the bearings fitted after. All the wagons run on Jackson 9mm diameter TT gauge wagon wheels, each one of which has had six holes drilled in it. In most cases these holes have then been filed pear-shaped to represent the earlier form of wheel but some, when I am feeling particularly masochistic, have been filed to represent the curved spokes of later wheels. This takes about 15 minutes per wheel. All the stock is fitted with brass couplings with a hook at one end only. In most cases the basic body construction is of plasticard with brake levers and rodding of tinplate strips. All the vehicles are spray-painted the basic colour and other parts, such as the insides of open wagons, strapping and underframes, are finished with a brush.

The Cleminson wagon
The Cleminson wagon is an oddity and may have been little more than an experiment. Drawings survive which suggest that the Festiniog Railway was contemplating coaches articulated on the Cleminson principle, but possibly the problems that the North Wales Narrow Gauge Railway had with their Cleminson coaches caused the Festiniog Railway to think again. This wagon however, cannot be described as unsuccessful as it remained in use and has survived to the present day.

The six-wheel open from underneath, showing the Cleminson articulation principle.

For the benefit of those who have not heard of the Cleminson principle of articulation it is as follows. Each of the three pairs of wheels is carried in a separate truck. The outer two trucks rotate about central pivots like ordinary bogies. The central one does not rotate but is free to slide from side to side. Arms linking the three trucks together cause the end ones to rotate as the central one slides. In theory this permits each axle to remain at right angles to the track and thus ease the passage of the vehicle around curves. In practice the arrangement was more complex than bogies, and as vehicles became longer it became more impractical so that bogies finally won the day.

Vignes' book, A Technical Study of the Festiniog and other Narrow-Gauge Railways, not only shows drawings of the Cleminson wagon and the proposed Cleminson coaches but also a proposed bogie wagon of a similar body style to that of the wagon. Had it ever materialised it would have been an impressive vehicle.

The Cleminson wagon - end door detail.

This was a very awkward wagon to model on two counts. Firstly there was the problem of the articulation and secondly how best to build the body. I would have liked to have built the body entirely from plastic as usual, but decided that it would be better to make at least the top angles from tinplate for strength. However, before construction of the body was started there was the problem of the chassis. I had mulled over various ways of doing this for a long time and eventually decided that the only way was to copy the original. In the prototype, short lengths of angle are mounted at the corners of each truck and these engage with similar pieces of angle fixed to the frames. The frame-mounted angles at the end are wider than the centre ones and are placed further apart, allowing plenty of movement for the truck. In the model these angles were constructed from tinplate and span the full width of the vehicle. Each was soldered to two long pieces of angle running the full length of the chassis. Each truck was folded up from one piece of tinplate trapping the wheels in place. The wheels run in brass bearings soldered to the truck frames and these were finished off with resin cast axleboxes. Brass tie rods were soldered across the guard irons to brace them, as in the prototype. The centre truck was screwed through a spacer to a loose strip of brass. This holds the truck in place but allows free lateral movement. The end trucks were screwed to strips of brass soldered across the frames, allowing them to rotate like any normal bogie. The weight of the vehicle is taken on the angle-bearing surfaces and not on the pivots.

Attention now turned to the body which I finally decided would have to be made from a combination of materials. The floor and curved panels, between the floor and sides, were made from a single piece of tinplate. To this was added a frame of tinplate angles forming the corners and top rails. The gaps were then filled in with pieces of plasticard on which rivets had been embossed. The outside framing of the body was then built up from strips of plasticard and short segments of polystyrene syringe. Strips of 60 thou plasticard were assembled on the underside of the body to form the frames and the false tinplate frames were then glued in place using Super-glue. The remaining body details, principally around the end doors, were then built up from pieces of plasticard. A brake lever, ratchet and latching lever were built up from tinplate and fitted to the side. It should be noted that the position of the brake ratchet has changed over the years. Couplings were fitted and the wagon was ready for painting. Some years ago I had made a model of a North Wales Narrow Gauge Railway Cleminson wagon with a plasticard chassis, but this had always been troublesome and so it was with some trepidation that this new model was tried out under normal operating conditions. It has in fact proved to be a very steady and good runner, taking all the pointwork in any direction without derailing.

Gunpowder van and water-tank wagon
Gunpowder was originally supplied by Messrs. Curtis and Harvey. Their name, carried on the sides of the vans, is visible, although unreadable, in early photographs. Later the gunpowder was supplied by ICI. The vans were built of iron, lined internally with wood and kept padlocked. One survives on the railway in use as a cement van.

The water tank wagon was used to supply water to Plas Tan-y-Bwlch but then found its way to Pont Croesor on the Welsh Highland Railway, where it was used as a locomotive water tank mounted on a tower of sleepers. It was eventually pushed into the river and may have ended its days there had it not been rescued by a group of Festiniog volunteers. Its remains lurk at the back of Minffordd yard, awaiting resoration? It was of course an iron-bodied vehicle but had wooden frames.

Both of these wagons are built around a solid box of plasticard, the curved top of the gunpowder van being formed from a section of polystyrene syringe of suitable diameter. Incidentally, all totally enclosed vehicles have ventilation holes drilled in the base to allow solvent vapour to escape.

The prototype GPV, now used for cement - note the odd wheels and unserviceable brake!

The gunpowder van - note the curved spokes.

The basic box shapes were then covered with pre-embossed panels of plasticard to represent the individual iron sheets of the original wagons. Resin and plastic underframes were added, as were brake gear and couplings, before spray painting. The fiddliest but most important part of either of these models was the making and fitting of the padlock on the gunpowder van.

Open wagons
Open wagons were produced in a variey of shapes and sizes to carry one, two, three or four ton loads. They varied from low sack trucks through coal wagons and specialist wagons to the large four ton mineral wagons. In later years this heading also covered old tenders and horse dandies in use as ordinary wagons. Most were of wooden construction but some were iron and these are described later. Of the wooden-bodied wagons, some had outside wooden framing although most had conventional metal strapping. Some were fitted with side doors, some with end doors and some with no doors at all. Some have been rebuilt, occasionally with odd-shaped planking, others have been converted to vans. Many have been up or down-graded in their loading capacity. Many of these changes have gone unrecorded and make the origins of some vehicles very difficult to trace. Very few drawings of wagons exist and many of those that do are only of projected vehicles.

There is a good drawing of a four ton mineral wagon, but photographs suggest that none were built quite like the drawing. Most of the models are based on photographs and some basic dimensions given by Boyd.

All the models of open wagons start as open-topped boxes made up of sheets of plasticard scribed to represent the planks of the floor, sides and doors. Strips of 10 thou plasticard are then added to represent the strapping and to these are welded 10 thou cubes of plasticard to represent bolt heads. Some are fitted with conventional brakes, some with strap brakes, which work on the tops of the wheels and therefore cannot be seen, and some have no brakes at all. Where the arrangement of strapping on the inside is known it has been included in the model.

The larger van, which is a conversion from a quarryman's coach, was made in 1910 (Ref J. I. C. Boyd's book on the Festiniog Railway). However, in his book Narrow Gauge Railways in South Caernarvonshire the author says that the conversion was made for the Welsh Highland Railway which would date it post-1922. Both references say that it was painted grey and numbered '1' but I have assumed that if the conversion were made in 1910 it would have been red, and I have painted it accordingly. Unusually for a van with sliding doors, both open towards the same end of the vehicle. The position of the brake lever suggests that the brakes operated on one pair of wheels only.

The smaller van survives as No. 99 which was converted from an open wagon in the early 1900s. This is shown by the join in all four corner plates and extensions having been added to increase the height of the sides.

Both models start as open-topped boxes like the open wagons but are, of course, ultimately fitted with roofs covered with tissue paper to give the right texture. The rails on which the doors would run are strips of tinplate held in small plasticard brackets.

Bogie open wagon
This is a model of one of two such vehicles which were the final outcome of a number of proposals for bogie wagons. These wagons had heavy outside framing and, as will be noticed from the photographs, are mounted on bogies of different construction. The one under the brake wheel is a standard coach bogie, the other, for no apparent reason, has different frames. Only one bogie is braked and the arrangement of brake rod working down through the bogie pivot is the same as was used in the bogie brake vans.

The model was started with the usual box of scribed plasticard, then each side was covered with a fret representing the outside framing. Because the outside truss-rods overlap the bogies it was necessary to make the overall width of the bogies as small as possible to allow sufficient room for them to swing on corners.

One of the two bogie vans. The difference in bogie types is just discernable.

The unique carriage truck, with the water truck on the author's layout.

These special slimline bogies were made from plasticard and fitted with the usual brass bushes and stretchers. All the body metalwork is represented by strips of plasticard apart from the truss-rods, and the brake standard which was turned from brass. It does not show in the photographs but the brake wheel has six curved spokes.

Carriage truck
The carriage wagon is unique on British narrow gauge railways and it is not known what prompted its construction or whether it was much used. It ended its days as the match wagon for the breakdown crane purchased by Colonel Stephens in 1926. A good drawing of the vehicle exists in the FR archives but, as is often the case, it does not match photographs of the completed vehicle, mainly in the difference in height of the carriage wheel runners.

This model, like most of the others, is constructed mainly of plasticard but the runners and their associated brackets are of tinplate and brass strip.

Iron open wagons
The iron open wagons are usually described as having two end doors, and this is certainly true of the one surviving vehicle.

However there is photographic evidence of another wagon which appears to have only a single door, as has the iron dandy. The dandy was the wagon that used to carry the horse at the end of gravity slate trains, on their downhill run, before the advent of the steam locomotive. After the introduction of steam traction the remaining dandies were used as ordinary open wagons and one has survived to this day. The odd shape of the closed end of the wagon was to make room for the horse's neck, or so it is said.

Apart from the resin side-frames, both these wagons are of all-metal construction. I would have preferred to make them of plasticard in my usual way but for strength I wanted to make the top angles from tinplate. Rather than mix materials I decided to use tinplate throughout.

The author's horse dandy, with one of the well-worn iron opens it accompanied.

Slab Wagons
The majority of slab-carrying vehicles, either of wood or iron construction, were flat wagons of two or three tons capacity. Some however were designed to carry large thin slabs of slate or sheets of wood, glass etc in a near vertical position resting against a central trestle arrangement. These were commonly known as donkey slab wagons, presumably because of their similarity to a donkey carrying panniers.

Models of both types have been constructed. The trestle of the donkey wagon and its deck are constructed of plasticard. The iron strips against which the load rests are made of tinplate as is the simple band brake around one wheel. The small diagonal piece in the trestle appears to be hinged at its lower end, and is thought to be a spacing piece that could be lowered to increase the gap to the next wagon, allowing longer loads to be carried. There are models of both wooden and iron flat wagons. The wooden one is made of plasticard with resin side frames and axle boxes, and the iron one has a tinplate body with whitemetal sideframes cast for us by GEM from patterns supplied by myself.