Tom Davies

From Festipedia, hosted by the FR Heritage Group

Tom Davies
Born 1901
Died 1971
Employer FR Co.
Occupation Engine driver
Parents David & Elizabeth Davies
FR People | WHR People

Born 1901 in Penrhyn, Thomas Davies (known as Tom) was an engineman of both the Old Company and early revival periods of the Festiniog Railway. His father, David Davies, and brothers Evan Davies (1907) and Will also worked for the old company.

Early work on the FR[edit]

Tom began working on the FR at fourteen and a half years old in the summer months of 1915 in a seasonal job as as fireguard/watchman patrolling the line below Tan y Bwlch. He was living with his family in one of the Boston Lodge Cottages and left on the 5.00 am quarrymen's train returning at 6.30 pm. His pay was six shilings a week but if it was raining before he left Boston Lodge he could stay in bed - but he lost a shilling in pay.[1] This was a lonely job and he was glad to get a job as parcel porter at Harbour Station paid nine shilings a week. From that he graduated to porter at Minffordd and eventually got a job cleaning the engines at Boston Lodge. Three cleaners were employed from six o'clock in the evening to six o'clock in the morning to clean the engines and ensure they were ready for trains in the morning starting with the workmen's train.

Becoming a driver[edit]

The brothers Tom and Will were promoted to engine drivers, Tom in 1922.[2] Tom was the driver of engine involved in the "breakaway" incident in Moelwyn Tunnel related by Boyd. He was made redundant in 1940 and moved to Cooke's explosives factory in Penrhyn for war work but in 1944 his brother Will was badly injured in a runaway by Princess at Boston Lodge and the FR asked for him back. He agreed in spite of the work being part-time and pay correspondingly low. He remained until 1946 when he and Will worked the last train with Princess on 1st August although he was still employed with FR until December.

Working on the FR revival[edit]

Tom and his brother Evan were early volunteers on the reopened FR. Following loss of his FR job in 1946 Tom rejoined Cookes explosives factory. He was working there when the railway reopened and Allan Garraway asked him if he would return to the FR. On his wife's advice he asked what guarantee of continued employment there would be on the new FR - to which Alan Garraway replied "no guarantee". Tom sadly had to decline to leave his safe job and worked at Cookes until he retired ("once bitten, twice shy"). During the closure period his house, Bron Madoc, just above the works and looking out over the Cob, was a haven of reminiscence and encouragement for various parties contemplating the revival of the railway. When this finally happened his wife Elizabeth became a steam widow - Tom was either at work (Cooke's) or on the line. For a word portrait of Tom and Elizabeth see the article in Ffestiniog Railway Magazine.[3]

On 21st February 1966 he retired from Cookes and rejoined the FR the next day on a part-time basis.[4] He worked three days a week on the FR as a pensioner. In summer he shared Prince with Bill Hoole and in the winter he worked with the PW department, mainly with Evie Roberts as the fencing team. He and his wife took in young volunteers. Mrs Davies undertook maternal supervision and encouragement for the young boarders while Tom sucked his false teeth and spoke lovingly of his Prince and of his memories of the railway. Volunteers staying with Tom had the opportunity to look at his excellent photograph albums with pictures of the FR and WHR before closure. He disapproved of the engines being flogged, especially Prince, and from time to time looked out over the Cob towards Portmadoc with a wistful expression.

One non-locomotive job he worked on was building the Orientation Table on the hill at Dduallt Spiral in 1970. It was built of granite sets, acquired by lifting them from the crossing by Minffordd weigh house on the road into Minffordd yard, with a slate scenic direction sign on top. Tom acted as the bricklayer while a volunteer wheel-barrowed the materials including mixed mortar up the hill from the station.

Encouraging the next generation[edit]

In Bron Madoc there were no plumbed basins in the bedrooms so paying guests had jugs of water and bowls not to mention chamber pots for night time emergencies. After a hard dirty day's work Mrs Davies required Tom and volunteers to wash the oil and sleeper tar off thoroughly with a bowl of very hot water placed on a table standing in the front garden for the purpose. Mrs Davies' packed lunches were filling but the cake rather leaden.

Bron Madoc was a good place for PW and loco volunteers without transport to stay because of its proximity to Boston Lodge and Minffordd. Tom and PW volunteers staying at Bron Madoc were often picked up by the Wickham trolley at Bron Madoc crossing to which a footpath led down the hill from his house.

Tom was neither tall in stature nor heavily built. He fitted snugly in the authentic original cab of his beloved Prince. He had "sticky out" ears which once marked allow you to pick him out in old photographs of FR enginemen. Tom was a shrewd judge of character and knew how to let young volunteers know if he approved of their work and attitudes or not. If he wanted to encourage a promising young volunteer he would say "he will make a railwayman". He and his wife were chapel folk and he once advised a volunteer to "marry a girl from a chapel, not from an hotel" (presumably he meant pub!). He attended the chapel in Minffordd where his brother Will lived in the Chapel House as caretaker. Their conversations over a cuppa after Sunday morning services would feature the FR and its problems.[5] Tom became a deacon at the Chapel. He never worked on Sundays and did not really approve of it, although he and his wife tolerated volunteers doing so - provided their breakfast was not required too early.

For an excellent article on the wider Davies's family and volunteer experience of staying with Tom and Elizabeth Davies at Bron Madoc see "Bron Madoc" by Dan Wilson in FR Magazine No. 89. Significant figures of the early FR revival who regularly stayed with Tom and Elizabeth included James Boyd, Paul Dukes in his volunteering days and Mike Elvy as well as Dan.

Tom was a quiet sober man but had a good sense of humour and knew how to tease. Near the end of his working life he and Huw Williams were once warming themselves by a fire in Minffordd Weigh House waiting for a works train to go up the line. They were chattering in Welsh. He turned to a nearby volunteer he knew quite well, for he had stayed at Bron Madoc, and said, "You don't speak Welsh do you? You should try it. It is very easy when you know how."

Tom died on 6th June 1971.[6]

James Boyd dedicated his book originally the single volume Narrow Gauge Railways in South Caernarvonshire, published in 1972 to Tom with this inscription:

"To the Memory of Tom Davies Last Engineman of the Old Order on the Festiniog Railway; sometime on the Welsh Highland Railway. A patient Teacher and devoted Railwayman whose enthusiasm inspired this book"

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Thomas Davies 1901-1971", Ffestiniog Railway Magazine, Issue 192, page(s): 732
  2. ^ "Correspondence", Ffestiniog Railway Magazine, Issue 054, page(s): 32
  3. ^ "Bron Madoc", Ffestiniog Railway Magazine, Issue 089, page(s): 35-41
  4. ^ "Staff News", Ffestiniog Railway Magazine, Issue 032, page(s): 07
  5. ^ "Working On The Old FR", Ffestiniog Railway Magazine, Issue 192, page(s): 734
  6. ^ "Obituary", Ffestiniog Railway Magazine, Issue 053, page(s): 041