Mountaineer II

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Home Railway FR
Original Railway WDLR
Status Awaiting rebuild
Designed by ALCo
Built by ALCo
Built 1916
1967 Entered FR service
1972 Converted to oil firing
1983 Rebuilt with new SB3 boiler
2006 Withdrawn for rebuild
Wheel Arrangement 2-6-2T
Length 24 ft
Fuel Oil

Mountaineer is a 2-6-2 side tank locomotive used on the Ffestiniog Railway. It was originally built in 1916 for the War Department and later saw use in France before being bought privately for preservation in the UK. The locomotive arrived on the FR in 1967 and quickly became an important member of the fleet. Much rebuilt to improve its usefulness, it saw regular use on both the FR and WHR until 2006 when it was withdrawn needing an overhaul. Since then it has been stored under cover awaiting the time and resources required for the rebuild.

The loco takes its name from an earlier Mountaineer, 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 on special occasions. Mountaineer is affectionately called the Alco by those that work with her and is also less affectionately known as the Barge.


1916-1918: Built in the USA for use in France[edit]

Mountaineer 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.

1918-1964: Use in France[edit]

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).

By 1935 the locomotive was running on a sugar beet line at Vis en Artois in the North of France. In October it was sold to the Tramway de Pithiviers à Toury (TPT). The TPT carried out a number of modifications to the locomotive, including replacing the cab with a larger fully enclosed one. The loocmotive was renumbered as 3.23, indicating that it was the line's 23rd locomotive with three driving axles. Along with 3.20 and 3.22 it survived until the closure of the TPT in 1964[1]

1964-1967: Purchased by John Ransom[edit]

3.23 was purchased by London Area Group member John Ransom who had visited the TPT just before closure and wished to preserve what he considered an important piece of working history. Initially, she was transported by road 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.[2] For an account of John Ransom's rescue of Mountaineer see Ransom 1966.[1]

1967-1972: To the Festiniog Railway[edit]

John offered 3.23 to the FR when he moved away from London and the locomotive 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 (16th October), 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. Part of the work was some fairly major butchery of the cab to make it fit the FR loading gauge. On 2nd Nov 1967, she was steamed and tested again satisfactorily and entered service the following weekend.[2][3] In 1967 it was stated in Ffestiniog Railway Magazine that it was intended to fill in the space between the water tanks and the cab to increase water capacity - presumably by constructing new longer tanks. This was never carried out as water capacity proved adequate.

At the FR she was named Mountaineer, a name previously carried by one of the original FR locomotives. She proved to be a powerful performer but prone to throwing sparks, acquiring the nickname Fire Queen and for a while ran with a large spark arresting chimney. Another attempt to reduce spark throwing was the use of the Giesel ejector previously fitted to the Talyllyn Railway's number 4.[3] In 1969 she was converted from right-hand to left-hand drive.

1972-2005: Rebuilds and modifications[edit]

Mountaineer was fitted with oil firing in 1972 which finally reduced the spark throwing and throughout the 1970s was a mainstay of the FR fleet. By the late '70s the boiler was reaching the end of its life and the locomotive was held back as reserve for when all else had failed. A complete rebuild was finished in 1983. This saw the locomotive's cylinders converted to piston valves, by the addition of fabricated conversion block, and a brand new superheated SB3 boiler fitted. The new boiler was deisgned for oil firing from the start and the firebox extended further back into the cab than before. There were worries that the weight over the rear end would now be too great and an arrangement with a four wheel bogie was proposed but never acted upon.[3] In 1984 Mountaineer's cab was rebuilt with a Double Fairlie style profile in place of the previous sloping sides. This improved the clearance for footplate crew looking forward along the outside of the locomotive.

At its next ten-year overhaul a new tubeplate was required. Another proposal to deal with the weight distribution was the conversion to a tender locomotive but again nothing was done and Mountaineer returned to traffic much as had been for the previous ten years.[3]

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. In September 1986 Mounatineer visited the Vale of Rheidol Railway with driver Evan Davies.

Mountaineer was out of traffic by 1992 with a leaking tubeplate. By 1995 it was repaired. Previously painted in standard FR green, it was turned out in War Department grey livery for a First World War themed gala that saw a number of visiting locomotives from the continent. In 1997 Mountaineer was used as the spare locomotive on the newly opened Welsh Highland Railway between Caernarfon and Dinas. In 1999 it was repainted in a lined black livery. In 2000 it returned to WHR for use on lighter trains over the winter season on the newly extended route to Waunfawr. It returned to the FR in September 2001.[4]

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.

2006-Present: stored pending overhaul[edit]

Mountaineer is now stored waiting the money and 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.

Originally stored at Glanypwll, in 2017 it moved to Boston Lodge. With the current policy that all locomotives should be in (or close to) working order it looks likely to be restored after Welsh Pony. At the moment opinions vary on the scope of works and therefore the cost. Issues that need to be investigated are the existing concerns around weight distribution and the locomotive's fuel. Coal firing looks to be restored to the locomotive as the costs associated with oil are so much higher, however the design of the current oil fired boiler leaves little space available for the required ashpan. It is hoped that modern computer aided design technology (such as that being used to design the new James Spooner) will help with the understanding and solution of any problems with the design.[3]

Principal stated dimensions[edit]

Cylinders 9" x 14"
Nominal wheel diameter 2' 3"
Boiler pressure 175lb
Rigid wheelbase 5' 6"
Tractive effort (85% BP) 6,240 lb
Weight 17 tons

Unlike other FR locomotives, Mountaineer has bar frames and outside Walschaerts valve gear.

Sister locomotives[edit]

Only two other WDLR Alcos survive, both in France. No 1257 (TPT 3.20) works on the Chemin de fer touristique Froissy-Cappy-Dompierre in the Somme, and visited the FR in 1995. There was a later return visit to the CFCD by Mountaineer. The remaining Alco is No 1240 (TPT 3.22) and is preserved at Pithiviers.


See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Ransom P J G (1966) "La Trois-Vingt-Trois", Ffestiniog Railway Magazine, Issue 33, page(s): 16 - 22
  2. ^ a b "The Alco", Ffestiniog Railway Magazine, Issue 39 (1967), page(s): 10 - 13
  3. ^ a b c d e Paul Lewin (2017) "ALCO 57156 - Mountaineer", Ffestiniog Railway Magazine, Issue 239, page(s): 848 - 851
  4. ^ Mounataineer page on Ben Fisher's Welsh Highland Project Website