Mountaineer (II) was the third large tank locomotive to be used by the FR on regular passenger services, that was not built for the FR. It was one of 100 locomotives built by the Cooke works of the American Locomotive Company (Alco) in 1916 (works number 57156) for the British War Department Light Railways (WDLR). These railways transported munitions and other supplies behind the trenches during The Great War. Mountaineer's WDLR number was 1265.
Little is known of the engine's history from 1916 to 1967, but according to one source, immediate post-WW1 use was on reconstruction work in north-eastern France for the French government's Ministère des Régions Libérées, which work could have lasted until perhaps 1922 or 1923 (thanks to Dr Ben Fisher). According to another source it spent some time at a factory at Vis-en-Artois (thanks to Pedr).
The 2-6-2T came to the railway after a second career on the Tramway de Pithiviers à Toury (TPT) as 3-23, under private sponsorship in 1967. She was purchased by London Area Group member John Ransom who had visited the TPT just before closure. Initially, she was transported to Isleworth in West London where a short length of 2' gauge track was put down in the grounds of the Osterley Sea Scouts. This was arranged by another London Area Group member, Mike Elvy, who was associated with the Scout group as well as the FR. The Alco was parked here alongside Mike's traction engine for two years.
John offered her to the FR when he moved away from London and the loco needed a new home. Under the terms of the agreement, the loco belongs to the Festiniog Railway Company, but with the proviso that at the end of her working life she will be put on display if practicable and will not be disposed of without John's approval. On Saturday, October 14th 1967, Mike's traction engine was used to winch the loco on to a 35-ton loader of Beck & Pollitzer Engineering Ltd for the 250 mile journey. The lorry stopped in the centre of Birmingham to meet Midland Group members for photographs.
The loco had been loaded chimney first. Unloading at Portmadoc on the following Monday, therefore, involved putting the low loader on the cob and the Simplex then pulled the Alco off the low loader towards the Goods Shed (now Spooner's). Following inspection, the loco was steamed at Boston Lodge on the following Wednesday and ran to Minffordd first light and then with six coaches which showed some minor work that would be required. On 2nd Nov 1967, she was steamed and tested again satisfactorily and entered service the following weekend.
At the FR she became Mountaineer and, since that time, she has been a powerful performer on passenger trains. She has been rebuilt several times into a reliable locomotive with oil firing (1972), superheating and piston valves, and fitted with the new SB3 boiler in 1983. Rebuildings have included adapting the cab to the FR's loading gauge.
Mountaineer is normally rated at 8 bogie carriages but has occasionally been seen on more. Since the mid 1980s she has had a second whistle, a real American "Nathan" Chime which, along with her loud exhaust, draws everyone's attention up the vale. Mountaineer has also operated on the revived Welsh Highland Railway, and had, in September 1986, visited the Vale of Rheidol with driver Evan Davies. Six photographs of this visit can be found Mountaineer at Aberystwyth here
From June 2005 the engine was on emergency use only for the last months of her boiler certificate before a full ten year rebuild. February 2006 saw Mountaineer's last weekend, double heading with Blanche. Despite a leaking superheater tube, Mountaineer even managed a last solo trip to Tan-y-Bwlch on the Saturday night. Mountaineer is now stored waiting the money/time to overhaul the beast back to its former glory! During the celebrations for the 30th anniversary of the FR reopening to Blaenau in 2012, the Alco was cleaned up by volunteers and put on display at Blaenau.
The loco is named after one of the original England engines and the nameplates are replicas of the originals . The bell from the original Mountaineer also survives and is fitted to Mountaineer (II) on special occasions. Mountaineer is affectionately called 'the Alco' by those that work with her.
The principal stated dimensions are: cylinders: 9"x14", nominal wheel diameter: 2' 3", boiler pressure: 175lb., rigid wheelbase 5' 6", tractive effort (85% BP): 6,240lb, weight: 17 tons. Unlike the other FR locomotives Mountaineer has bar frames and outside Walschaerts valve gear.
Only two other WDLR Alcos survive, both in France. No 1257 works on the Chemin de fer touristique Froissy-Cappy-Dompierre (in French) in the Somme, and visited the FR in 1995. There was a later return visit to the CFCD by Mountaineer. The remaining Alco is at Pithiviers.