Dandy wagons

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The only surviving original Horse Dandy (No.50) is shown on display in the new WHHR museum at Gelerts Farm

Dandy wagons or Horse Dandies were special vehicles connected with horse operation on the Festiniog Railway. They let horses ride downhill while the train ran under gravity.

After the introduction of steam locomotives they were converted for carrying coal. One original wagon survives today, and a second has been built as a replica.

Purpose and operation[edit]

A contemporary engraving showing a gravity train with dandy wagon at Rhiw Plas.

On the FR loaded slate wagons ran down the line by gravity, and before 1863, when locomotives were introduced on the line, empty wagons were hauled back up the line by horses. The line at that time was split into sections of about three miles in length, separated by horse exchange points, where the down gravity trains would pass the horse-hauled up trains, and which also allowed for the exchange of horses.

A horse would return downhill to the start of its section in a special open high-sided vehicle called a dandy wagon. This let the horse rest and feed for the 20 minute section. At first, trains were short enough to be hauled by one horse, but, as traffic grew longer, down trains were formed with multiple rakes linked together. On these occasions multiple dandies would usually be coupled together at the rear of the train.

The dandy was carried at the head of an up train, and on reaching a horse-exchange "station", a horse could easily be led from the head of its empty rake to the adjacent Dandy at the rear of the Down slate train (this Dandy having just been vacated by the horse which was now to take over the haulage of the empty rake). The timetable allowed ten minutes for this exchange, which might have involved up to four rakes of wagons, and consequently eight horses.

In the period immediately before steam was introduced (1863), when horse haulage was at its peak, there might have been up to about 16 dandies in use on the line - that being the likely maximum number of rakes of wagons (and therefore horses) in use at any point in time (i.e. four rakes in each of the four sections).

Indeed this is confirmed by a Boston Lodge valuation of 30th June 1859 which reveals "16 Horse waggons £7 each, 7 old horse waggons and off the road £3/10/- each" and "20 old horse waggons for yard use £2 each" (i.e. 43 existed in total, but most of them were "old" and only 16 were in current use).

There would have been more horses than dandies, as horses needed to rest. Also, dandies would not have been carried beyond Boston Lodge, where the slate was weighed, as this would have incurred extra charges, and they were not needed as horses worked the level Cob section in both directions.

Description of waggons[edit]

Dandy wagon on scrap line in Glan y mor yard 1962.

Dandy wagons had a single hinged door which was always at the Up end, meaning that horses always travelled down the line forwards. The originals were wooden, as is shown in early drawings of the line. Later examples were iron, probably when the earlier models proved not to last very long. Given the narrowness of the wagons, a horse would have to back out of the Dandy. The Dandy measured 6' long (6' 3.5" at the front lip) and 4' 8.5" in height. Width was 2' 8", and the wheelbase was 3' 2".

Boyd reports that Dandy wagons were first known as "Iron Horseboxes", being iron-bodied trucks, and he describes the front end as being "swan-necked", though this lip only protruded by a matter of inches.

Later use and survival[edit]

Little Wonder on Creuau Bank in 1871 with dandies as coal waggons.

After conversion of the line to steam-haulage, the dandy wagons were converted to carry coal.

A report of 30th June 1865 records "11 Iron horse waggons £20 each" and "7 wooden horse waggons £7 each" (note that the name "horse waggon" was still being used). In 1871 the stock included "11 Iron trucks (horse boxes) £20 each", and the next year, 1872, the return noted that these were now in use as coal & lime wagons with a 1 ton capacity. An 1871 photo of Little Wonder and lengthy train at Creuau Bank clearly shows two iron dandies in use as coal wagons as vehicles 3 & 4 in the train, which supports the note on the 1872 return. Between 1879 and 1883 these wagons are not detailed but, from 1883 they appear again as "11 iron coal waggons", identifiable by their narrow width when compared with the other iron coal wagons listed.

Evidence from a return of wagons passing through the works between 1901 and 1905 suggests that, at least during their use as iron coal wagons, the former horse boxes were numbered 41 - 51. In 1901 No. 41 was abandoned, deducted from stock and converted into a slave for Boston Lodge.

Replica wooden dandy wagon, 1988

The only extant example of a Dandy Wagon is Wagon 50, which was built c.1861 at Boston Lodge. It is currently on display in the museum at Gelert's Farm on the Welsh Highland Heritage Railway.

There is also a replica of a wooden dandy wagon built in the 1980s. Dave High states that[1] 'The wooden built replica (which includes the chassis and wheelsets from an Old Company platelayers' trolley) is stored under cover at Minffordd. Its condition is good and it has run in the past and we should operate it more often. Its TV appearances in the early 1990s, when the real horse would not get on board and the "stunt double" fell over during filming, was the highlight of its career.'

See also[edit]


  • Boyd, James I.C. (1975) [1959]. The Festiniog Railway 1800 - 1974; Vol. 2 Locomotive and Rolling Stock and Quarry Feeders. Blandford: The Oakwood Press. ISBN 085361-168-8.
  • Transcripts of documents in the FR Archives made by Michael Seymour.
  • FR Gravity Trains, by Seymour, Lewis, Wilson, Gurley, Davies & Jones
  1. ^ Dave High (2011) "Ashes to Ashes, Rust to Rust", Festiniog Railway Heritage Group Journal, Issue 105, page(s): 9