Photo: Ffestiniog Railway Magazine
|Official positions held:|
|FR Soc. Chairman||Deputy 1958 - 1986|
|FR Soc. Director||1955 - 1995|
|FR Soc. Post||Vice President ? - 2006|
|FR People | WHR People|
Former Vice-President of the Festiniog Railway Society
Norman A. Pearce was a native of Northampton and a director of leather manufacturers W. Pearce & Co. (Northampton), Ltd, having trained as a leather chemist and engineer. One of his several boyhood interests was the study of telephones and telephone systems. In 1955 he was awarded the B.E.M. in recognition of service rendered in connection with Civil Defence communications. His main railway interest was in narrow gauge railways and following a 1954 visit to Portmadoc he offered to help reinstate the derelict equipment. In 1956 he was appointed Hon. Signals & Telegraphic Engineer. In 1955 invited to join the Board of the Ffestiniog Railway Society and in March 1958 appointed Deputy Chairman, a post he held until 1986.
Norman Pearce's first encounter with Allan Garraway in 1954 was when he was instructed to unload standard gauge sleepers by himself from an open wagon that had arrived off the Cambrian Coast line into Minffordd Yard. There had been no discussion to find out what he could do. Norman was not physically robust, and quickly realised that he was not at all suited to the job. He already knew in his own mind that his own objective would be to install a telephone system that extended up the line. When he finally approached Allan with his offer, he was told "Oh we won't need that!". Presumably, Allan had other pressing priorities in mind at that moment. The fact of Norman's subsequent contribution to the FR and the working relationship they went on to develop reflects in great credit to both of them.
Telephone systems were not high on the agenda in the early days, but Norman managed to recover much of the historic equipment, often lying in unsecured buildings. He was soon able to restore a link across the Cob to Boston Lodge using equipment together with wire and poles from elsewhere on the railway. He was the moving spirit behind early trips to Blaenau to recover overhead equipment. The management quickly realized the value of the Cob link and thus the FR omnibus system was reborn and extended. It served the railway well as the the only means of communication into the 1960s.
He soon had a small band of enthusiastic helpers including Dan Wilson and Tim Oulton - plucked from Will Jones's PW gang in the woods to help find faults. He required the highest standard of workmanship, using Post Office practice as a guide. Norman and Dan quickly realized the advantage to be gained by bringing the Electric Train Staff back into use, if the problem of issuing staffs without a signalman being present at both ends of a section could be solved. Together they invented and installed the first of the remote-operator sections from Harbour to Boston Lodge and Minffordd and so laid the basis of operations to this day. Thanks to Norman's early scavenging operations, most of our instruments and many tokens are FR originals.
In the early revival period he was one of the first volunteer Heads of Department and in that capacity his negotiations with the Post Office, particularly over use of the cable ducts across the Cob and the creation of a link with the Post Office telephone network, have been described as like a Rottweiler with a rat. His knowledge of the history of the FR and his business acumen always won in the end.
Norman had a wonderful gift for finding telephone equipment in unexpected places. There are Liverpool Overhead Railway signals in our store. In the early 1960s, there was resignalling on the West Coast Main Line, and the Beeching cuts left Electric Train Staff equipment looking for a good home. Staff instruments, repeaters, dollies, you name it - he scrounged it until we had sheds full of it and the S&T store contained enough equipment to fit out all the little railways in Wales.
In the early 1960s Norman bought a small 25-line automatic telephone exchange from a bacon factory, literally scraped the grease off it, and installed it in Harbour Station in spite of a sceptical management. With lines to Boston Lodge and Minffordd its value was quickly apparent and similar automatic exchanges were soon installed in other places. Using redundant equipment from MANWEB, he built up the present system, probably the largest Strowger system in use today (2006) in this country. It has saved the railway thousands of pounds in telephone charges over the years.
Although he was not a qualified telecommunications engineer, he was made an honorary member of the local branch of the Institute of Telecommunications Engineers on the grounds that he knew more than they did.
He died peacefully, following a short illness on Oct 26 2006.
- "Norman A Pearce, Esq., BEM, Deputy Chairman of the Festiniog Railway Society Ltd.", Ffestiniog Railway Magazine, Issue 002, page(s): 001
- "Personal Portrait", Ffestiniog Railway Magazine, Issue 062, page(s): 024
- "The Society Chairman's Piece", Ffestiniog Railway Magazine, Issue 228, page(s): 844
- "Obituary", Ffestiniog Railway Magazine, Issue 195, page(s): 0146