15" GAUGE STEAM LOCOMOTIVE
These notes record the history of the 15" gauge steam locomotive named "Chough".(Pronounced "Chuff") which was built in 1968. The notes record the history of the lines "Chough" has worked on, together with a background of its builder and designer. Although built in Holland and now resident in Canada the loco ran in Scotland, Wales, as well as South, West, East and Northern England!
The then unnamed locomotive was built to a gauge of 15" and was completed in 1968. The loco was a 0-4-0 freelance "narrow gauge" design with outside cylinders, well and side tanks, plus a tender. The designer and builder was Mr Wilhelm van der Heiden, who lived and built the locomotive in Rotterdam, Holland. He also built a second similar locomotive that was exported to Tasmania and, at the age of 72, Mr van der Heiden completed a third loco for a line in Ghent in western Belgium.
Mr van der Heiden was one of founding fathers of model engineering in mainland Europe, building in many gauges up to 15", but it was in the field of 7¼" gauge that he made the most impact. He was a member of the 7¼" Gauge Society and he designed and built many locomotives which continue perform faultlessly from year to year. He built one 7¼" gauge locomotive, called "Nestor", which was very similar to "Chough" and may have been a half size version of it. He initiated the club track of the Stoom Groep West at Zuiderpark in The Hague, Holland and was also involved in starting clubs in Belgium at Turnout and Brussels. Wilhelm van der Heiden sadly passed away on 11th June 1990 at the age of 75.
Mr van der Heiden sold the completed locomotive to Mr Ivan Scott, who owned a model locomotive shop in London, called "Steam Age". In July 1970 it was lent to the Romney Hythe & Dymchurch Railway in Kent, so it could be properly tested out. Although being found to be slightly less that 15" gauge, the locomotive was found to perform well. However, it was not used on service trains. The locomotive was kept at New Romney, the main depot on the line, during this time. A picture taken of the loco at New Romney shows it still to be unnamed, although it seemed to be known as "The Dutchman".
In January 1973 Ivan Scott sold the locomotive to Mr George Marsh, an agricultural engineer from Acrise, near Folkestone in Kent. It then became part of his private collection, which was always available for viewing on request. Mr Marsh laid about 300 yards of track around a field on which he ran the locomotive. While here the loco was named "Tekkel" probably by Mr Van der Heiden who visited Acrise quite often. The Tekkel is breed of small dog of Dutch origin.
Spring Bank Holiday in May 1975 saw the opening, by Pleasurerail, of the Blenheim Park Railway. Set in the grounds of the well known Palace in Woodstock, Oxfordshire this line runs for about 1,000 yards, linking the Palace with the café and garden centre, and was initially steam worked. Our loco was reported by one source as running here, but this is not confirmed so the loco may well have just been a visitor.
The trail now moves west, in fact to Cornwall and to Hayle. Bird Paradise, later Paradise Park, opened in 1973 as "The Rare and Endangered Birds Breeding Centre". That title neatly sums up the aims of the park, indeed the World Parrot Trust is based there. The gardens attached to the park have been much improved in recent years.
As an additional attraction a 15" gauge railway was opened in 1976. A circuit of approximately 240 yards was laid and one station built "Cockatoo Halt". Motive Power was "Zebedee" 4wDM L10180/1938 and "Princess Anne" 4-6-2DE S/O Barlow 1962. To bring steam to the line "Tekkel" was obtained and arrived in late August 1978, soon being renamed "Chough", the name it still carries. The reason for this name is interesting. The Chough is a rare and striking member of the crow family and is the national bird of Cornwall. Sadly though, it vanished from Cornwall in the 1960's although it still lives successfully in Scotland, Wales and Ireland. Paradise Park is still the only place to have bred the Chough in captivity in Cornwall, and has led the way in attempting to reintroduce the Chough to the Cornish cliffs. Incidentally, one of the boarding points on the Miners Tramway at Llechwedd Slate Caverns in Gwynedd, North Wales is named "Chough's Cavern" after the bird.
The Paradise Railway is still running with "Zebedee" as sole motive power.
West Buchan Railway
From Cornwall "Chough" was to move over 600 miles to the North East of Scotland, to the town of Banff, a seaport, in what was then Grampian Region.
The West Buchan Railway Company Limited obtained a 99 year lease on part of the trackbed of the former Great North of Scotland Railway (GNSR) Banff branch from Banff Harbour. The company was owned by the operators of the former Port Errol Railway: 80% (a 7¼" gauge line located near Cruden Bay, Peterhead that closed at the end of the 1983 season), and local tourist interests: 20%. A grant of £36,000 was obtained from the Scottish Tourist Board. The Banff planning department gave the line the go ahead despite objections from 40 residents and at one point a landowner refused to sell, forcing a 400 yard deviation on a 1 in 70 gradient.
The line opened on 23rd June 1984 with "Chough" and a Severn-Lamb Ltd built "Rio Grande" 278 S/O 2-8-0PH (later DH) 18/72. (This much travelled loco started life at Blackpool Zoo, moving to the Fleetwood Miniature Railway, before coming to Banff. It now works at Oakwood Park in West Wales. The coaches also came from Fleetwood.) The line ran for about 1 mile from just inland of the site of Banff Harbour station to Swordwanes, an intermediate station called Banff Springs served a luxury hotel. Run-round loops were provided at the terminal stations. An extensive timetable was advertised with trains running daily in the summer from 09.30 until 21.50, however it seems that the evening trains rarely ran.
Traffic never came up to the promoter's expectations and by July 1985 "Chough" was not in regular use due to low passenger levels aided by bad weather. In fact only 5000 people were carried in the summer of 1985 and the last train ran on 31st August 1985, the company going into liquidation with debts of £60,000 pounds the line ran for just two seasons. 278 the S/O 2-8-0 was sold to Severn-Lamb in May 1986 and by August 1987 "Chough" had been obtained by a Mr Tullis of Versatile auctions near Aberdeen. The track was sold for scrap. In October 1987 Severn-Lamb obtained "Chough" from Aberdeen and the locomotive was taken to their works at Stratford-upon-Avon in Warkwickshire.
Tropical Butterfly Garden Railway
Tropical Butterflies (Barrow) Limited opened a Butterfly Farm in Tolethorpe Lane, Barrow near Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk in March 1987. It was later decided to build a railway as an added attraction. A circuit of 350 yards of 15" gauge track running around the Butterfly houses was laid by the Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway in March 1988. "Chough" was obtained from Severn-Lamb and Alan Keef Ltd of Ross-on-Wye built two canopied articulated coaches to accompany it. The line was opened in May 1988 with "Chough" as sole motive power but closed in September of 1989.
Saundersfoot Steam Railway
"Chough" was now to move about 250 miles west it was acquired in November 1989 by the Saundersfoot Steam Railway, in what was then the county of Dyfed in West Wales.
Planning permission for the Saundersfoot Steam Railway was given, despite objections from Pembrokeshire Coast National Park and the Pembrokeshire branch for the protection of Rural Wales, by Dyfed Planning committee in April 1988, although it was to be another three years before any trains ran, and then not on the intended route! This was to be about 1 mile from Stepaside to Wiseman's Bridge along the trackbed of the former 4 foot gauge Saundersfoot Railway. Maximum gradient was to be 1 in 20. The proprietor of the Saundersfoot Steam Railway was Mr Albert Hart. The light railway order was published on 18th May 1990, with June set aside for public inspection of the plans however some objections were raised and this forced a public inquiry.
Because of this delay, and as an interim measure, a 400 yard circuit was laid around part of the proposed heritage site at Stepaside, close to the starting point of the proposed line. The trackwork was 35lb/yd rail on new timber sleepers, complete with a shed and one siding. A test steaming of "Chough" took place in late June 1991, with a few runs up and down the uncompleted track. This interim line opened to the public on Tuesday 23rd July 1991 and subsequent operation was daily in the season except Saturdays, a ride consisting of two circuits. "Chough" was again the sole motive power on the line.
Following the public inquiry the Light Railway Order (No.2682) was made on 25th November 1991 and came into effect the next day. Regrettably this was as far as the construction of the proposed line got it seems Mr Hart was unable to raise the funds for building the line and this, coupled with the closure at the end of the 1992 season of the interim line, brought the whole project to an unfortunate end. The closure of the interim line was caused, apparently by the land on which it ran changing hands the new owner declining to let the railway run anymore. By July 1994 the land was a caravan site, although the rusty track was still in place. A visit in June 1997 found the whole site derelict and overgrown. The "Western Mail" newspaper of the 10th November 1994 carried an advert for the sale "Chough" and the two coaches that were in store in Chepstow, having been repossessed by Barclays, Mr Hart's bankers. Once again "Chough" was on the move, this time back north again.
Whitworth Hall Railway
"Chough" was acquired by Mr Derek Parnaby, owner of Whitworth Hall, near Spennymoor in County Durham. Whitworth Hall dates back to at least 1183. However, much of it was destroyed by fire in 1876. Mr Parnaby gained ownership in October 1981.
He first installed a 9½" gauge line. This was a circuit of 270 yards, which opened on 24th May 1992. The line featured two steam locomotives, one "Hymek" diesel locomotive and a diesel hydraulic built by Derek himself. It ran round a small area of the grounds near the vinery and walled garden. However Derek Parnaby had ideas of a larger railway. After consideration of 2 foot and 10¼" gauges, he decided upon 15" gauge to replace the 9½" gauge line. This line last ran in September 1994 and the 9½" gauge equipment was sold to the Hymek to Faversham Garden Centre in Kent, the two steam locos to a private railway in Pavenham, Bedfordshire; and the diesel hydraulic to a private owner in Aberconwy, North Wales.
"Chough" arrived on 8th December 1994 and was joined by a diesel part built by Alan Keef and completed by Derek Parnaby. This was 0-6-2DH S/O No.42 of 1992 and was named "Bonnie Bobby". The reason for the name was that Whitworth Hall was the birthplace of Robert Shafto of the well known ballad "Bonny Bobby Shafto". The new 15" gauge line opened in May 1995 and was a circuit of around 800 yards, running around the grounds in front of the Hall, and the large lake. Rolling stock used was the two coaches that had been with "Chough" since the Tropical Butterfly Garden Railway. Some coaches from the Fairbourne Miniature Railway in North Wales were also obtained, but were not used.
However the line was operated by "Bonnie Bobby" as "Chough" was never steamed or run there. By early June 1995 "Chough" had moved to Alan Keef for overhaul, but back at Whitworth Hall Derek Parnaby, apparently due to pressure from his family, put the Hall, grounds and railway up for sale; with the railway to be sold separately. The line last ran on 24th September 1995. The whole railway, including "Chough" was sold in September 1995 to Kevin McCluskey, who initially intended to set up a line by the River Wear in Chester-le-Street, County Durham. However this scheme came to nothing and in the end Kevin McCluskey was to move "Chough" over 5,000 miles to British Columbia, Canada! By February 1996, when "Chough" had returned from Alan Keef, it was loaded along with "Bonnie Bobby" all the stock and 650 yards of track, into two containers. Departure for Canada was in March 1996.
Bear Creek Park Railway
"Chough" and "Bonnie Bobby" arrived in Canada in spring 1996 presumably none the worst for their long sea voyage. Both locomotives were destined for the Bear Creek Park Railway in Surrey, Vancouver, British Columbia. Surrey is an outer suburb of Vancouver and the railway runs in Bear Creek Park, which is located on the corner of 88th Avenue, and King George Highway. Surrey is linked to Vancouver centre by the Light Rapid Transit Sky Train. The railway is 650 yards in length.
"Chough" was steamed and driven light engine on the line during the summer of 1996. It was decided the locomotive should be converted to oil firing and the fitting with air brakes.
"Bonnie Bobby" was at first renamed "Dusty" but "Eddy The Engine" nameplates were fitted in October 1997. While "Chough" was being serviced "Eddy The Engine" transported the passengers on the Bear Creek Park Miniature Railway. By early July 1998, "Chough" was able to run on the railway after receiving certification of the air brakes and the driver.
These notes were compiled from personal notes and visits, along with information supplied by Dave Holroyde, Derek Smith, Anthony Crowhurst and Sean Peare.
Reference was also made to the following:
Various issues of the Narrow Gauge News, Narrow Gauge Times, Branch Line News and 7¼" Gauge News.
Fifteen Inch Gauge Railways David Mosley & Peter van Zeller
Steam on Britain's Miniature Railways Robin Butterell
Industrial Railway Society Handbooks
This History provided by Peter Scott
34 Meadow Road, Earley, Reading, Berks, RG6 7EX. 0118 966381.