Chronicling the development of my Cambrian and Narrow Gauge 4mm scale model railway

Leave a comment

Ministry of Steam

Last post I wrote explaining the generic requirements of running a disco train. Here are some specifics from what I think was the last one we ever ran.

This train was a triple whammy. Firstly, it was the end of season train which was run to thank the volunteers for their efforts over the summer months. Secondly, it was the 21st birthdays of two volunteers. Thirdly, we took the opportunity to show our poorer neighbours what a party really was.

In relation to the third item, every year the Ffestiniog and Talyllyn, and now for a number of years, the Welshpool and Llanfair, railways have an event where the staff and volunteers from the railways socialise. The hosting is on a three year rotation. As the FR was the host for this particular year’s event, we sent a message to the other railways early in the summer requesting we move the event from its usual spot of the August bank holiday to the weekend after so we could accommodate them on the disco train.

Temperence society

The mighty Alco ready to depart Porthmadog with the Easter 2003 disco train (C) Stewart Macfarlane

The following are the lists I still have from planning the event. As per the last post, I have added notes where necessary to clarify.


Things to do for 30th August

  • Finish 59 van (talk to Robco about what needs doing)

This was after the French students had gone home without finishing the brakes but before we discovered their mathematical error – we discovered that on the afternoon before the train…

  • Build bonfire – use wood from B.L., possibly also Minffordd Yard

B.L. = Boston Lodge. It is apparent that we must have run a works train to Dduallt for this but I can’t remember the specifics.


We know how to build a good bonfire…

  • Check smoke machine, also check smoke fluid
  • Make sure we have plenty of Gaffa tape
  • Look at changing the lights on the barn below 121 (105)

This was a bright idea to put colour lights in the carriage next to the disco carriage to form a transition. In the end we put crepe paper over the lights.

  • Buy AAA batteries for torch specs

These are the DJ specs so you can see what you are doing as made famous by The Chemical Brothers – very useful.

Looking the koolest kid around with these on…

  • Remember T-key, lighter and rags on the night

T-key for locking carriage doors and getting into a variety of cupboards are essential, not to mention lighter and rags for starting the bonfire.


Instructions for 30th August 2003

It is intended the disco train on 30th August will be made up of the following:

Alco, Linda, 59, 121, 104, 105, 14, 118, 106, 116, 103, 119, 101

In the event the train ran as Alco, Linda, 38, 59, 121, 104, 105, 14, 118, 106, 116, 103, 119, 101 due to the error with the van’s brakes.

For this to happen we need to organise the shunting of the sets in advance.

30th August set order A, B, C.

Set order means order of sets into traffic in the morning, with A forming the 1020 and 1340 departures from Porthmadog; B forming the 1120 and 1450; and C forming the 1240 and 1600. At this time the sets consisted as follows:

A set: 118, 106, 116, 103, 119, 101 (103 being the buffet, 119 the toilet carr, and 101 the observation carr)

B set: 12, 110, 104, 105, 14, 120, 11 (This was odd in being a 7 carr set but it was because it contained 11 and 12, neither of which had a full complement of seats compared to a front line carriage, and the set was missing a front line observation carriage as 100 had been transferred to the WHR for its last three seasons before becoming WHR PW mess coach 1000, and the new 100 had yet to be built)

C set: 121, 112,113,114,117,111 (This order may be wrong) including 111 as the observation (with toilet and the push-pull driving cab)

  • Before C set leaves in the morning detach 121 from the top end.
  • During the day shunt 59 van (now with vacuum) on to the top of 121
  • Prepare 121
  • Make sure 1340 crew put the spares in 6 road and A set down 4 road [at the end of the day]

The spares are the extra carriages that are coupled to the top of a fixed set to form a full length train. At this time of year it would likely to be 4 spares to make a 10-car train.


To aid in the understanding of the shunting, here is a diagram of Porthmadog. Interestingly it shows the groundframe the wrong way round. This is taken from the 2010 rule book so has the WHR line which wasn’t there in 2003. 


  • Take Criccieth to Port

Criccieth Castle, diesel locomotive used for shunting

  • Shunt 104, 105, 14 onto A set in 4 road
  • Shunt 12 and 110 into 5 road
  • Remove spares into 5 road
  • When 1450 train returns shunt stock as follows:
    • Shunt 12 and 110 into 5 road
    • Remove spares into 5 road
    • Shunt 104, 105, 14 onto A set in 4 road
    • Shunt 120, 11 into 3 extension (buffer up close)
    • Shunt 12, 110 into 3 extension (buffer up close)
  • Return Criccieth to BL
  • When 1600 returns get crew to shunt C set into 2 road
  • 59, 121, Alco, Linda arrive from BL
  • 59, 121 left in platform / 3 road as decided
  • Alco, Linda take water / fuel as necessary
  • Alco, Linda run round onto 59, 121, and shunt onto set in 4 road
  • Train pulled out and shunted into platform road

What actually happened was Linda did the shunt while the Alco took water and fuel. Having discovered the fault with van 59’s brakes, Hudson “toastrack” 38 which was the closest spare available was also shunted onto the top of the train before it was shunted into the platform.

We were short of time when we were doing the shunt and the generator wouldn’t start. Two of the team were locked in Van 59 to get the generator started while we did the shunt and when we finished we forgot them. Shortly before departure I got a phone call where all I could hear was generator noise. Remembering I rushed back and opened the door. When I asked what would have happened if I didn’t answer, they said, “turn the generator back off”!!

Ministry of Steam

The original poster advertising the event

Return Journey

  1. At Minffordd the guard must lock the seaward (engine side) doors of the bottom 6 carrs
  2. At BL, disembark all remaining passengers
  3. At BL the train is propelled into 13 road
  4. Leave 59, 121, 104, 105, 14 and draw back out
  5. Propel 118, 106, 116, 103, 119, 101 into 14 road
  6. Alco, Linda HBF


31st August set order C, A

  1. Clean A set (118, 106, 116, 103, 119, 101) in 14 road ready for 1120 train

Remember C set spent the night in Porthmadog and was then used for the 1020 train.

  1. Clean 121
  2. Remove 59 van from top of train
  3. Take 121, 104, 105, 14 with Criccieth to Port to platform road
  4. Shunt 12, 110 from 3 extension into 4 road
  5. Shunt 121, 104, 105, 14 from the platform road onto 120, 11 in 3 extension
  6. Shunt 121 onto 12, 110 in 4 road
  7. Shunt 121, 12, 110 onto 104, 105, 14, 120, 11 in 3 road
  8. Shunt 121, 12, 110, 104, 105, 14, 120, 11 into 4 road
  9. Shunt 121 into 3 extension

Finish positions:

  • 121 in 3 extension waiting return of C set
  • B set in 4 road

For this to happen smoothly the following needs to be requested before the event:

  1. C set is stabled in 14 road on the night of the 29th August
  2. Control asks the train crew of the 1340 on the 30th on their return to shunt the spares into 5 road and A set into 4 road
  3. Control asks the train crew of the 1600 on the 30th on their return to shunt C set into 2 road
  4. Control asks the train crew of the 1340 on the 31st August on their return to shunt 121 from 3 extension onto the top of C set before shunting it to wherever control requires it to be

Control is also reminded that C set on the 30th and 31st August will only be 5 carrs long.

FR Crest Small

As far as I am aware this was the only time that a party train has involved carriages from all three front line sets. It was also one of the few times the Operating dept has agreed to have one of their sets depleted to 5 carrs for 2 days of the summer service. It was unusual as a party train in that it had two operating bar carrs (so required twice the usual serving staff). It was also very unusual in being a Ffestiniog train made up of 10 corridor coaches – it was a heck of a walk to get from one end to the other that night!



Leave a comment

Groovy train

In this post I’m continuing the story of the disco trains on the Ffestiniog Railway. All photographs unless otherwise stated are copyright of Stewart Macfarlane and used with his kind permission. His full album from the Easter 2003 weekend can be found here.

It did sometimes feel to some of us, that although there were a large number of people who understood the time and planning that went into a disco, there was at least the same number, if not more, that just saw it all as a jolly jape and couldn’t get their heads around what went into it. After I had “served my apprenticeship” and got my scout badges in planning discos and planning disco trains, I, with assistance from others, put together a “Things you need to do to run the Disco Train” document, the aim of which was to brief anyone who wanted to help on what was required. It also turned out to be quite useful for people who thought running such a train was something you organised when you were several sheets to the wind. One look at the document usually made them think twice, and the second thought was usually, “maybe not then”.

Reproduced below is the document which I’ve managed to drag up from my archives with a few added notes. In the next post I’ll go through it showing an example of just how complex these things could get.

Over the years the carriage used, number 121, had a number of modifications to make its use as a Disco carriage easier, not that it was noticeable when running normally in traffic.


Put the initial form in

The “initial form” is effectively a notice of intent to be submitted to the Company to show that the requirements had been met, and is used for all special trains. This includes:…

  • Reason for train (usually in this case end of summer season, or on occasion, a birthday)
  • Date
  • Cost (Costs to be covered include items such as paid staff if required, refreshments, and locomotive fuel. The Company very generously has waived these costs in the past)
  • Approval (Approval had to be sought from various departments including Operating and Locomotive)

Put the second form in

This form covers the practicalities of the special train, including:….

  • Footplate crew
  • Standby Driver
  • On call A-Class Controller
  • Controller
  • Guard
  • Buffet Crew
  • Locomotive(s)
  • Stock
  • Timings

The rest of the items is specific to a Disco Train.

Arrange prior to train preparation

  • Shunt set together: Spare, 59, 121. (Spare if going over summit – bowsider if possible)

“Spare” means spare carriage. Bicycle van 59, now back on the Vale of Rheidol railway where it originated, had been a piped vehicle with no vacuum brakes of its own. In the summer of 2003 it was retrofitted with brakes by a team of French engineering students. However, a mistake in their calculations which missed the gravity portion out of the unit of force, Newtons, meant that the van had 9.81 times less brake force than it should have had. The result of this was that a braked vehicle still had to be marshalled at the top end of the set if the train was going over the summit. As Disco Trains went to Dduallt (only the sheep were disturbed there), the train usually ran to Blaenau Ffestiniog to enable the locomotives to run round the train. This meant a spare had to be marshalled on the top end. From preference an original FR bowsider was used, 19 (full individual compartments) the leading preference.

Van 59

Van 59. Note the white vacuum stanchion denoting it as a piped, not braked, vehicle. This picture was taken after the “brake” equipment had been fitted. (C) Kim Winter

  • Fit 59 with slatted doors (should be inside van)

Van 59 had a set of slatted doors made in the same style as the solid ones. This allowed air flow to the generator which was used to power the disco equipment, as the carriage batteries didn’t have sufficient “oomph” for the job.

  • Ensure batteries for generator are charged
  • Ensure jerry cans of fuel for generator are in 59 van along with pint pouring pot
  • Wood fixings for generator & nails (should be inside the van)

A set of wooden battens were made to stop the generator (which was one of the hand-portable types) from moving around while in the van. For safe keeping, these were kept in the van and screwed to the floor as part of the preparation work.

  • Ensure portable charger box is in the van

The electrics for the train were quite simple though there was a lot to remember. The output from the generator was fed through a charge box to give an output of single phase 240V which was then fed using a jumper cable to the carriage. The other end of the carriage had its jumper cables unplugged from the rest of the set as the carriage lighting circuit is controlled from the guard’s van and if it was left plugged in you couldn’t isolate the disco carriage lights – you ended up with all lights on or all off. Isolating the disco carriage from the rest of the set electrically allowed its lights to remain off and all others on. Unfortunately we never managed to include in the Guard’s instructions not to plug the carriage in as their standing instructions state that as part of a train check they should ensure all jumpers are properly connected. So one of the disco orgainser’s jobs after the guard had checked the set was to go back and isolate the disco carriage again!

  • Put floodlights (from Glan Y Pwll) and gazebos (Minffordd) in 59 van for use at Dduallt.
  • Loco availability

Must ensure the preferred loco is available and rostered on a train which will enable it to haul the special.

  • Plan shunt

Generally, these trains involved a fair amount of shunting – see my next post.

  • Penrhyn crossing keeper

Penrhyn is a gated crossing. Are you going to get the train crew to open and shut the gates or can you persuade the family of volunteers who live in a house at the crossing to do it for you?

  • Posters

Advertising is always good. An example appears in the next post.

  • Beer (at Dduallt & on train)

Where is the beer coming from, does it need to settle, are you taking some to Dduallt in the days before the party?

  • Key for Dduallt

If you’re taking beer up beforehand, it’s worth locking away to prevent the sheep or walkers having it

  • Bonfire

If you’re having a bonfire at Dduallt, you need to build it (which may include bringing materials in by rail) beforehand.

Train preparation

121 before conversion

121 before conversion

  • Large thin bladed screwdriver for seat floor fixings and battery box seats

The seats in the tin carrs were held in place using a foot screwed into the floor and a side bracket fixed to a T-bolt rail in the carriage side, an arrangement commonly used on “the big railways”. The only exception to this were two sets of seats which were screwed to the wooden box covering the vacuum cylinder which protruded through the floor. The tables had the floor fixing but then slotted into another rail in the carriage side with no positive fixing. All the seat and table floor fixings in 121 had been fitted with quarter turn screws to speed up the process. However a normal large screwdriver blade was too large for the slots in the screws so a common job on the afternoon of the disco train was to hunt round the works for a screwdriver that would fit.

Removing tables

Dan showing how the tables were removed. Unscrew from the floor and then lift.

Removing podium seats

Em removing the seats from the “podium” (vacuum cylinder cover). You can just about make out the screws holding down the next seat along which are the quarter turn ones mentioned in the text. 

  • Metric (15 or 17mm) sockets for seat T-bolt rail fixings

You need both sizes. Can’t remember why. “Because it’s never simple” generally sums it up.

  • Vacuum floor and clean side rails & heater cover

It was only in taking the seats and tables out you began to appreciate how filty the carriages got. 121 was the cleanest carriage on the railway much of the time as it got a regular deep clean as part of the disco train preparation!

  • Cover seat fixings with gaffa tape

We learnt this the hard way. This prevented debris from going down the holes in the floor which then prevented the seats going back in the next morning…

  • Smoke fluid

Forgetting the smoke fluid could be all too common.

  • Sound Kit – 2 sets of lights, amp, decks, 2 speakers in X – key?

The kit was kept in a house near the railway. As it was a private dwelling, if the residents weren’t home we had to make sure the key was available.

  • Mounting brackets for bottom end lights (can use wire attached to washers behind screws in wooden beading

The disco desk was set up across the top end of the carriage. Cables were then run down the length of the carriage to a speaker and lights at the bottom end. For a long time, one of the struggles was mounting the lights. Eventually Heath Robinson stepped in and we made mounts which used the screws that held the wooden beading down. I suspect when the carriage was dismantled, those screws would have been the easiest to remove!

  • Cables in crate c/w smoke generator upstairs (Speaker leads are different lengths – not all long enough)

A 12m carriage requires long cables. Again, the signs are here that this document was written from experience.

  • Top hat for bottom end speaker

A device knocked up in the  carriage works with no flat surfaces to prevent drunken oiks putting their drinks down on the speaker

  • Shelf for disco kit upstairs– cover with sheets from rag bin

The shelf was made to measure – yes it was even if it was 2 pieces of angle iron, a plywood top and rags from the rag bin housing the rags for cleaning locos!

  • 1xx Crepe paper, use Velcro fixings

The rest of the set was usually decorated too. The reference to Velcro fixings is because the walls of many of the FR carriages were lined with carpet…

121 after conversion

121 after conversion. Note the gaffa tape on the floor covering the seat fixings holes, the lovely floral rag for the disco eqt shelf, and the carriage lights still on indicating it is still coupled to the rest of the rake. Also note the colour of the carpet extreme left. As mentioned in the text, 121 was frequently the cleanest carriage on the railway because you got the chance to reach places other cleaners can’t reach. 

Post train clear up

59 van

  • Fit solid doors back on
  • Remove floodlights, gazebos, generator from van. Leave wood fixings in van but remove from floor.
  • Remove charging box

Carriage 121

  • Remove disco kit
  • Vacuum floor
  • Remove gaffa tape
  • Attach seats and tables
  • Mop vestibules

Whole train

  • Vacuum through
  • Clean tables (hot water followed by spray clean)
  • Clean windows inside (and outside of 121)
  • Mop vestibules
  • Polish door handles
  • Replenish leaflet boxes


So there you have it. The only thing I couldn’t find in this was an example of a risk assessment which is also carried out for any party or special train. However, I did find one I wrote for a land based party…

Item No.                                                10

Risk                                                          Noise level disturbing neighbouring resident

Risk level                                               Medium

Mitigation                                             1. Set music level before beginning of party.                                                                                             2. Present neighbouring resident with the usual

Post mitigation risk level                 Low




Disco inferno

My good friend Rob posted on his Bron Hebog blog the other day about a commission for a very particular vehicle – the Ffestiniog Railway Disco Carr, number 121. In it, he makes reference to a “rudimentary sound and light system”. I thought that given I was involved in the running of these events, I’d do a few posts on disco trains on the Ffestiniog Railway and how it evolved from a very rudimentary system to something that got requests for outside contracts – as always on the FR, if you’re going to do something, do it proper!


Ben takes a break from dancing to cool off (Dduallt 2003) 

The discos were mainly in various fixed locations, but occasionally appeared on an evening staff-only train. The first one was a “one-off” for RicketRescue but it was such a hit that it returned for a number of sequels. Over the years of volunteering I got involved with the discos when we had staff parties until I was eventually let loose on “the decks”. This name is a bit of misnomer for what we had. Back then the set up really was rudimentary with the music playing system consisting of two domestic CD players and some speakers. One of these CD players would only play track 1 from any CD you put in it.

Simple, you say, Singles. Not simple. We were all skint students at the time and given the choice of paying £10-12 for an album of a dozen songs or a single with a dodgy B-side for a couple of quid, you didn’t need to be an engineering undergraduate to work out which was the better value for money as long as you could keep off the sauce long enough to save up for the album.

This handicap often meant you required two DJs on duty, one to play the tunes and one to hunt round for a CD with a decent track 1 to stick on, which is how I got involved, hunting through piles of CDs towards the end of the evening peering at the slip in the half-light trying to work out whether you could get away with playing Bohemian Rhapsody for a fourth time in the last two hours (we’ll never forget the disco when we all forgot to bring our CD collections and ended up with about five CDs for the entire night).

Through the excellent medium of extracting donations out of the staff at these events, eventually a proper all signing, all dancing, gimballed 2 CD mixer was purchased, which was promptly modified by one of the volunteers to have an additional stereo jack input to enable you to play tunes from another device if so desired.

This, with the addition of a decent amp, light generator, light boxes, a strobe light, mirror ball, and smoke machine all procured over the years enabled a pretty professional set up to be devised. What we produced was professional enough that after the Boston Lodge Works Dinner in 2005, the venue asked if we could be contracted because we played so much better music than their usual DJs and we had got all their staff dancing too.

Putting the disco kit onto the train was a whole different ball game, which I’ll cover over the next posts including some ideas that never materialised.

Carriage 121 in Clark Kent mode



Leave a comment

Secret squirrel

Painting. Not top of my fun things to do. However our bedroom has been piebald ever since we moved in to our house since the previous owners “painted to sell” or in other words, slapped paint on while not removing anything to do so so when you take the cupboards and shelving out you can see the old colour. (This issue is in ALL rooms- sigh) They also didn’t unscrew the sockets or light fittings from the wall while they painted which really gets my goat.

This painting means we’ve been camping in the spare room for a week which curtailed any modelling activity. Not that there is much to report. I am deliberately being like dad* in the build of my 15xx since publicity ruins invention so I’ll merely say design is nearly complete and build will commence once the painting ceases (I hope). 

Nothing will happen this week either as I am off looking at some really old trains on the British mainline. Sometimes the day job can be fun. 

In other news, my friend Rob of Bron Hebog fame has posted a picture of what I used to get up to in Wales when I wasn’t at the front end of the train. See here
*keeping mum.