Other Related Duties

Volunteer train crews can expect to find themselves doing work not directly related to the running of trains but none stranger than that encountered on a recent trip over theTalyllyn Railway in mid Wales.

The locomotives on this 2' 3" gauge line are immaculate and beautifully maintained. The one drawback is that, the cab is very small — so small in fact that one cannot stand upright, while the only way to put coal through the firehole is to kneel down. The volunteer locomotive crew solve this problem by operating the locomotive from outside the cab and reaching in only when necessary to do something important such as blowing the whistle or setting the brake.

Having admired the exquisite locomotive, we decided to travel in the first "car". This had a wheel at each corner and the back and forth motion was most interesting to experience. Being so close to the cab, about two feet, we were able to observe the action.

About half way to Nant Gwernol we heard a metallic thumping accompanied by a shout from the youthful fireman. Looking out we could see him leaning forward banging on the saddle tank to try and scare off two welsh mountain sheep that had made their way through the right-of-way fence. The train doesn't go very fast and the sheep were able to keep ahead quite easily. Neither the thumping nor the shouting did any good and so the engineer climbed into the cab and emerged shortly thereafter having successfully opened the cylinder cocks. The steam frightened the animals but only strengthened their resolve to stay ahead of the train.

We  went  on  like this for about a mile with the sheep gradually getting weaker and weaker.  It's the closest I've ever come to seeing a sheep with a look of horror on its face.

With the animals about to succumb the fireman commenced to carry out his "other related duties". He ran to the front buffer beam, jumped down (perhaps "stepped" is a better word as it was only about 12" above the rail) and grasped the first sheep firmly by the wool on its back. Hoisting it waist high, he staggered through chest high brambles and threw it over the fence into a field of more sheep. The second animal was similarly disposed of, much to the pleasure of the passengers and the displeasure of the lady Guard whose train was losing time.

All welsh sheep are colour coded with a stripe of paint to denote their ownership. We noticed that the colour of the offenders was different from that of the rest of the occupants of the field. We found out afterwards that this wasn't an accident. If the offenders are placed in the wrong flock their owners may think that there has been an attempt to steal them and will concentrate their efforts on the other farmer rather than the railway which may have let a fence get into disrepair.

Just imagine the Talyllyn fireman going up for his rules examination. Not only must he know about steam locomotives and hand signals, but he must also answer questions such as:

"What is the colour of the sheep on the up side at mile 4.5?"

Other related duties with a vengeance.

Bytown Railway Society, Branchline, October 1985.

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