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

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Stefco – standing on the shoulders of giants

Steve Coulson  (C) FR Archives

Steve Coulson
(C) FR Archives

Last night, we of the Ffestiniog lost one of the greats of the preservation era. Steve “Stefco” Coulson stands head and shoulders above many not because he did more, but what he did had such variety.

A nuclear engineer by trade, and a staunch supporter of nuclear power, Stefco could, and regularly did, turn his hand to anything.

Funkey locomotive Vale of Ffestiniog  (C) Barrie Hughes

Funkey locomotive Vale of Ffestiniog
(C) Barrie Hughes

His achievements stand as monuments to that, particularly the Funkey, Vale of Ffestiniog, where he took something that shouldn’t have fitted on the FR’s loading gauge and made it fit, and carriage 122 which although ultimately only a prototype could have been the forerunner of a new fleet of tin carrs and still I believe is one of the first carriages to fill up due to its roominess. Certainly the design should be looked at by other railways who cannot build wooden carriages like the FR does.

Carriage 122 (C) Stewart Macfarlane

Carriage 122
(C) Stewart Macfarlane

Interior of Carriage 122 (C) Stewart Macfarlane

Interior of Carriage 122
(C) Stewart Macfarlane

Not only that but he was instrumental in helping set up the Purple Moose Brewery and was effectively their first resident engineer, and could even be seen disappearing into the cellar of a local hostelry when they had an intermittent problem with their lines.

Stefco was also an accomplished model maker and his ability to make sequential models by cutting the CDs you got free with computer magazines into cams to drive a sequence of model actions was astounding when you did get a chance to view the gubbins of the job. His model of a narrow gauge train being filled with coal by a digger then moving into the exchange shed to be tipped was just incredible.

For me Stefco was the Tamper Man. He was the first of a line of engineers who have tackled regauging tampers for use on the FR, and proved it could be done. The Stefcomatic, ex Southern Region, saved from scrap in 1968, and returned to use in 1978 by Stefco, was the stalwart tamper on the FR for many years. It had a brief second life when it tamped some of the lighter graded sections of the WHR but it couldn’t cope with the 1:40 gradients and the KMX was brought in to do the job.



Stefcomatic Both (C) Roger Dimmick

Stefcomatic t’other side
Both (C) Roger Dimmick

As I set about regauging the KMX, it was often Stefco I’d have a pint with in the evening to talk over the latest challenge. He always had an idea, or a thought; invariably it was just what was needed.

The man was an inspiration, a great engineer, family man, and  friend to lots of us on the Ffestiniog. He built on the giants of the Ffestiniog and his name will stand with them. He will be sadly missed.

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I have a thing about tampers. They’re weird enough to be interesting. And once you understand how they work, the detail differences become interesting too (honestly!).

I worked on a tamper once. I took on the job of designing the regauging of one when the Welsh Highland was being built. The finished article is fit to tamp any part of the Ffestiniog Railway and the Welsh Highland Railway. Not surprisingly after tamping almost all of the Welsh Highland it needed a bit of fettling and went to Plasser for a rebuild a couple of years ago.

What’s this to do with model railways you ask? Well, when I was in Australia, Rob, better known for being one of the modelmakers behind Dduallt and Bron Hebog, built a model of the KMX tamper for the Bron Hebog layout. He said he liked it because it was unique.

Well it was until I asked him if he’d build me one. Coming from north of the border, this was an offer worth pursuing so over the last couple of years he (in his guise as Boston Largs Works) has been building me one. This isn’t entirely unrealistic as there were 3 of these tampers built to this design although the other 2 don’t sport the roof as that is an FR/WHR/Me addition. (Nor do they sport windscreen wipers as they originally worked down a coal mine in France so we got some from a local boat chandlers IIRC).

KMX tamper

KMX tamper (C) Rob Waller

The model is now complete. So in a couple of weeks I’ll be going to the Hull Model Railway Show to collect it (and maybe have a play on Bron Hebog). I am quite excited.

My unpainted tamper posed with the original finished one

My unpainted tamper posed with the original finished one (C) Rob Waller

Another view of the two tampers

Another view of the two tampers posing on the Bron Hebog layout (C) Rob Waller


A new blog and a new name

I’ve decided to start this blog as:

a) I want to record my modelling activities (railway modelling – my wife always reminds me I forget that important word “railway”…)

b) I want something to pen any thoughts I have

c) This project is so mad I suspect I’ll find other like-minded mad people out there too to exchange ideas with.

So what’s Penlowry?

Penlowry is the name for my model railway. As it is a big project and I have nowhere to put it, I have cunningly conceived a plan to build it in modules that can be put together at a later date when we own a house with a requisite sized loft to put it in. Quite frankly, a fox from Oxford University would have struggled to do any better.

I will post a diagram of the entire project soon. For the moment, let’s just say it will contain 5 gauges and will be 4mm to the foot (1:76). The gauges are 00, 0010.5, 009, 006.5, and monorail. Told you I was mad.

The name Penlowry comes from the first module which I originally was building as a stand-alone model. It has 00 and 009 tracks and is depicting the junction between the 2 in a factory setting with chocolate factory and brewery (based on the Purple Moose Brewery in Porthmadog). The industrial setting reminded me of paintings by the artist L. S. Lowry so much I looked for a name to suit.

Brewery Train, High Street, Burton by LS Lowry

Brewery Train, High Street, Burton by LS Lowry

In the completed model the upper end of the module will be a headland and so I borrowed the Welsh word Pen for head or headland (as in Penrhyndeudraeth – Headland between two beaches) and so resulted in Penlowry. I also checked to ensure Lowry or Llowry didn’t mean anything in Welsh. It doesn’t according to my friendly Welsh guide, although Llowry is a girl’s name.

So there we are. Penlowry.

In the next post I’ll scan a copy of the concept diagram and see if I can expalin a bit more about the modules.