Bruce Peebles Electric Locomotives
1903 tender[edit source]
Bruce Peebles & Co. Ltd. of Edinburgh submitted a tender dated 16th June 1903 for the construction of the Portmadoc, Beddgelert and South Snowdon Railway, which included 4 three-phase locomotives and 7 bogie motor cars, each designed to carry 34 passengers. Also for a hydro-electric power station at Cym Dyli, to supply the railway and industrial customers i.e. Slate Quarries in the area. The tender was accepted by the North Wales Power and Traction Co. Ltd (NWPT) (which had acquired the rights to the PBSSR) immediately it was formed on 31st July, the date of the tender being advanced accordingly. 
Two years later, in July 1905, Bruce Peebles & Co. Ltd were exhibiting their products at the Third International Electric Tramway and Railway Exhibition held at the Royal Agricultural Hall in London. Among their exhibits was a PBSSR electric locomotive, and the magazine "The Tramway and Railway World", which was sponsoring the exhibition, stated that it was the first locomotive built for the UK, for the PBSSR, and "nine other locomotives of similar construction are in hand." Photographs in the WH Heritage Journal show the Peebles stand with partial views of the locomotive without overhead collectors.
1905 contract[edit source]
At the end of that month a "works contract" was signed between Peebles and the Power Co. superseding the accepted tender of two years earlier. This specified 6 locomotives, four for passenger trains to run at 18 mph and two for goods trains to run at 10 mph. Provision was to be made for double heading, operated by one driver. The drawings of the locomotives show that they were 0-4-0s. 10 trailers were also specified, but no details of these were mentioned in the contract. Motor Cars were not included.
When the construction contract was terminated by NWPT with an Indenture of 30 July 1907 (and a settlement to Peebles of £60,000) the works, rolling stock, machinery, plant and materials already constructed were to become Power Co. property and the items in Peebles' hands - including 6 locomotives - "shall be forthwith in their present condition handed over to . . . " the Power Co. Peebles were, if the Power Co. desired, but at Power Co. risk, to store them at their works at a charge of ten shillings per week for up to 6 months.
Effect on Peebles[edit source]
The effects of the PBSSR contract, and the fact that Peebles held just over £50,000 worth of shares in the Power Co. in return for work, and their non-cash £60,000 settlement, along with shares taken in return for work for other customers, led Peebles into what would now be called "cash flow problems" and voluntary liquidation in February 1908, followed by reconstruction of the Company.
Up for sale[edit source]
The next record of the six locomotives is when an advertisement by the Power Co. appeared in "Machinery Market" on 24 August 1908 (and each week until 16 October):
For Sale, ready for immediate delivery, Six New Electric Locos, built for a 2ft. narrow gauge railway, suitable for three-phase, 50 periods, 550 to 600 volts, with overhead trolley. Any reasonable offer will be accepted. Full particulars on application to THE NORTH WALES POWER AND TRACTION CO. LTD., LLANBERIS, R.S.O., NORTH WALES
The advertisement appeared in other periodicals, including two years later, in May 1910, in "Australian Mining and Engineering Review", (with the word "periods" changed to "cycles").
Boyd has quoted in his book "Narrow Gauge in South Carnarvonshire", 2nd edition 1988, recollections many years after the event of 10 locomotives being lined up at the Edinburgh works until they were scrapped during the First War. On the evidence found it would seem that at least 6 locomotives were completed, but there must be some doubt as to whether there were as many as 10. If 10 were built (or started on) it could be that Peebles were anticipating an order for that many, maybe on account of the the extension to Caernarfon and the planned line to Bettws-y-Coed. On the strength of the 1905 Tramway Magazine quote that 10 were in hand, maybe the shells of 10 had already been started on (on a verbal indication that at least that many would be needed) by the time the contract of July 1905 came for signature. It has been suggested that five of the six were imported from Ganz of Budapest, Hungary, from whom Peebles held the British and Colonial rights.
Later work published in "Ghosts of Aberglaslyn" determined that one locomotive had been built by Ganz and then sold to Bruce Peebles, who then built a further five, which corresponds with the six mentioned in the adverts above.
The locos were nominally 90 b.h.p. (but were capable of producing 180 b.h.p. for up to thirty minutes before overheating), which would have allowed them to climb the 1 in 28 out of Beddgelert. They weighed 8½ tons with a normal speed of 18 m.p.h. for the passenger locomotives and 10 m.p.h. for the goods locomotives. The two types of locomotive where mechanically identical and the difference in speed was arranged by the electric motors having a different number of "poles".
It was claimed they were capable of hauling 20 tons up a short gradient of 1 in 20 (initial plans were for a gradient this steep). They were to run on a three phase system of about 630 volts collecting power from twin overhead cables. The motors were in effect fixed speed and starting was to be effected by using a liquid rheostat (probably a tank of salty water). Driving them could well have proved "interesting" as there was a distinct possibility of the liquid boiling!
See also[edit source]
- * National Archives document MT6 1351/1
- * Drawings of the locomotives appeared in "The Narrow Gauge" No 94, Winter 1981/82, repeated with an amendment to the width in "Narrow Gauge & Industrial Railway Modelling" No. 57, January 2004