By Bert Coules
My first bit of Mamod bashing, shortly after the original SL1 loco first appeared back in 1980, was a vague approximation to the small George England tanks which were the Festiniog Railway’s first ever steam power. Shortly afterwards it occurred to me that the same line’s first Fairlie was essentially two of those 0-4-0s stuck back-to-back: perhaps a model could be much the same.
Each pivoted steam bogie could be a Mamod chassis cut down just behind the rear drivers, with flexible silicone piping for the steam and exhaust. Unlike the later FR Fairlies, Little Wonder’s front footplates pivoted with the bogies, easily achieved in the model with a bolt-on addition which could also incorporate cylinder covers. Apologies for the poor quality picture.
An initial experiment with two separate SL1 boilers each feeding a single bogie independently of each other proved to be a bit of a blind alley: the final design uses the boiler from what was then the largest Mamod stationary engine.
The main construction problem with a Fairlie is that it doesn’t have any frames. Or rather it does, but unlike a non-articulated loco’s they’re not the main structural members around which everything else is built. The base-plate for The Red Dragon (or Y Ddraig Goch if you’re looking at the nameplates from the other side) is basically a hefty slab of metal with a stepped-down section in the middle onto which the purely cosmetic body shell (which includes the smokeboxes) is bolted.
The tank tops, which on Little Wonder were conveniently dead flat, hiding the boiler completely – thank you, Mr Fairlie, nice one – aren’t fixed down but simply rest in place so they can be easily lifted off to oil the bogie pivots and check the steam and exhaust piping.
The loco is meths fired by a burner with a central row of wicks surrounded by tanks made of square-section brass tubing. Lighting is done through an almost-prototypical opening with a removable door, set in the side of the firebox.
The finished model has bodywork of brass sheet painted with car aerosols, the smokeboxes were from Tom Cooper and so was the braided metal sleeving that clads the steam pipes. The pivots are Meccano. Nameplates, lamps and pressure gauge were also commercial products but practically everything else that isn’t Mamod is fabricated from scrap and assorted bits and pieces. Brass blazer buttons make excellent sandpot lids.
There’s no central regulator: speed control is done with the original Mamod levers and so is reversing. The globe valve in one steam pipe was to balance the feed to the bogies: without it, one took the lion’s share of the steam. The pressure gauge looks nice but I could easily have left it off: it’s hardly an essential for a boiler working at this sort of level.
The loco runs pretty well, or did the last time he or she was steamed (which is few years back now) but does have a bit of a side-to-side shake at some speeds. According to the FR’s records, so did Little Wonder, so much so that legend speaks of the loco eventually shaking itself to bits. Well, maybe that will happen with my version too: time will tell.
I suppose The Red Dragon looks, and indeed is, a bit crude by today’s standards. But the designing and building process was (mostly) a real pleasure, the cost, compared to what else was available, was bearable (the Mamod loco was £45 in 1980) and I’m very happy with the finished article. Judge it kindly.