Back in 2013 the Ffestiniog Railway Company announced the intention to restore Welsh Pony back to traffic. The loco originally built in 1867 has been heavily overhauled and completely rebuilt many times and at withdrawal in 1940 was carrying a life expired third boiler and very tired second set of main frames. Always earmarked to be the next in the queue in the 50’s and 60’s the loco never quite made it to the front of the queue, and in the 1980’s ended up being plinthed outside the Harbour Station at Porthmadog.
For many years the company said they has no plans for return to traffic preferring to keep it as a museum piece in its withdrawn condition. The loco did not fare well outside on a plinth, being attacked by the salt laden sea air. After removal from the plinth the loco was frequently found left out in the open due to limited shed space – Hardly fitting accommodation for a locomotive original to the line.
Dismantling of the loco took place during the celebration of 150 years of steam on the FR and some six years later then end of the restoration is in sight. Upon dismantling the enormity of the task became apparent with many wheelbarrows of rust and dust simply falling off the loco as parts were removed. It was hoped that one of three major components, the boiler, frames or cylinders would be reusable. Regrettably all were well beyond restoration and have been stored for future display.
New frames, cylinders and a boiler were constructed early on in the project. Additionally, a replica tender was built and the original paired with unrestored sister locomotive Princess. This additional work meant the funds originally raised for the project were exhausted. After several years pause as further funds were raised it was found rather difficult to find space and manpower to continue the work on the engine. Even as recently as the summer of 2018 there were problems in this respect. A planned window of three months in the works was stymied when a Permanent Way Department diesel suffered a major failure and took the place of Welsh Pony in the workshop. Now with the help of a volunteer team progress on Welsh Pony is good once again.
New rods for the locomotive have been completed and fitted in the last month and polished in the last week ready for final fitting. The drag boxes and footplate framing have advanced well and the works paid staff have fitted the new stainless steel smokebox. Main steam pipes have been restored and the boiler cladding is being fitted up. There is a new chimney on hand along with a smokebox door. The previously restored saddle tank dating back over a hundred years will be given some extra fettling shortly ahead of test fitting in December.
A number of original fittings have been returned to the loco which had been stored in a safe place. In a golden find a pair of clacks dating back to 1903 were found in a heritage store. These heavy fittings had been removed from one of the original FR locos at some stage many years ago. It was expected that new clacks would be needed and indeed patterns were made. No one was aware that these clacks existed. Their purpose unknown they had migrated to the very back of a deep shelf. They were only revealed by chance when another item was moved for photography and they were spotted by someone who instantly recognised them. Restored within weeks and fitted with new valve heads they are now fitted to the loco ready for the next period in service.
Whilst the FR can never be fully certain of what other higher priority demands will be made on the workshops it is very much hoped that Welsh Pony will be completed in 2020. The loco has now spent some eighty years awaiting its next turn in service – That is eight years longer than the 72 years it was in traffic originally.
The loco will be out shopped for testing in the deep plum livery carried by the Ffestiniog heritage carriages but once proven will be painted in green livery as a tribute to Allan Garraway the first General manager of the restored Ffestiniog Railway. Allan made the first donation to start the fund to restore the locomotive in 2013.