By Dave Mees

Castell Caernarfon awaits its duties on our line in North Wales.
Castell Caernarfon awaits its duties on our line in North Wales

The Prototypes

C H Funkey & Co (Pty) of Alberton, near Johannesburg built the loco and its sister which became Vale of Ffestiniog for work at a diamond mine in Namibia, the build date being uncertain. The pair went on to the Pretoria Portland Cement Company, New Brighton Cement Works Port Elizabeth, South Africa where they took over from the Baldwin 4-6-2 tender locos on the cement works trains primarily hauling Limestone and the works products, one of the displaced Baldwins being brought to the UK in the 1970’s by Tony Hills and now in use on the Brecon Mountain Railway at Pant near Merthyr Tydfil, South Wales.

The Ffestiniog & Welsh Highland Railway who were involved in the revival of the WHR managed to buy the pair plus a Hunslet Taylor 0-6-0 diesel and shipped the Funkeys to the UK with them arriving on 16th October 1993, the Hunslet Taylor being sold on to a South African Railway operator within one week.

The two locos were initially delivered to Minffordd and they were both spotted by the writer shortly after delivery. It was found that one of the pair had been involved in an accident at some point and had been rebuilt with part of the superstructure made from fibreglass, the other one keeping the original steel body. The F&WHR needed a pair of locos which could act as ‘Thunderbirds’ and run a reasonably long service train in the event of a steam loco failure and also rescue the stranded steam loco.

Little & Large. Our 1/19th scale machine meets the full size prototype for the model at Dinas WHR.
Little & Large. Our 1/19th scale machine meets the full size prototype for the model at Dinas WHR

Obviously the FfR loco would need cutting down to suit the restricted loading gauge of that railway but the WHR version could stay ‘as is’ and the choice was made by FfR management to cut down the all steel bodied loco under the premise that a ‘gas axe’ would cut steel but make a bit of a mess of a fibreglass one. The die was cast and Boston Lodge stalwart Steve Coulson and others set to work to produce Vale of Ffestiniog.

The unchanged loco was sent to Caernarfon in 1996 during preparation works for the WHR Project  and exhibited there for the Gwyl Caernarfon Festival of that year where it was named by local dignitaries after the castle adjacent to the northern end of the WHR, the naming not following usual practice of being bilingual but being ‘yn gymraeg’ on both sides of the loco. It was moved to Dinas, the construction HQ of the WHR in January 1997 where it performed the breaking of the opening ribbon in tandem with a contractors JCB excavator.

Since then it has hauled works and service trains and gained a reputation of a steady hauler. It was taken out of service for repairs in 2007 and swapped bogies and other parts with its sibling to enable the continuation of services at a time of acute loco shortages on its line. Since then the bogie swap has reverted and it continues to give good service. Livery was a dark cherry red at first on the WHR with red buffer beams and cowcatchers but is now a darker maroon with yellow cats whiskers extending all around the loco, and black cowcatchers.

Technical – ish

Both Castell Caernarfon and Vale of Ffestiniog are powered by turbocharged Cummins diesel engines producing 335hp at 2100 rpm. Drivetrain details are similar to American Climax steam locos but where cardan shafts transmit the power from the American Allison Torque converter gearbox with  hydraulic clutches between it and the engine down to final drive units which drive all 8 wheels on the Bo-Bo principle. Braking is by air on the loco with a combining valve for vacuum for the train.

Castell Caernarfon crosses Nantmor Road bridge with a SAR/SAS B class wagon and a V16 Brake van in tow.
Castell Caernarfon crosses Nantmor Road bridge with a SAR/SAS B class wagon and a V16 Brake van in tow

Originally the locos had many safety devices built into their control systems but these have been simplified for use on the F&WHR’s. They could be worked in multiple in their homeland but this function has also been given up as Castell Caernarfon cannot travel any further than Boston Lodge on the FfR, whilst Vale of Ffestiniog is able to go on both systems due to its cut down status.

The Model

The model was purchased from Mick Mobley, formerly proprietor of Imp Models at the Porthmadog May Bank Holiday Show in 2007 where after first catching sight of it and taking at least ten seconds of deliberation over whether my wife Christine would approve, it came home and had its proving trials on our railway, still in its original paint scheme of cherry red with full red bufferbeams and cowcatchers. Christines comment was along the lines of ‘that is so ugly!’

It was built for Mick by John Campbell in 1997 or 1998 so John informs me. He had the etches made for it from brass, made the whitemetal bogies with full springing, compensating beams and all of the detail fittings, fitted Mabuchi motors driving Branchlines O gauge 30:1 gears and gearboxes on one axle of each bogie with delrin chain final drive to the other axles and used a 40Mhz radio control driving a MAC 5 ESC coupled up to an early Brian Jones GP40 sound card which sounds a bit more raucous than the real one. Maybe one day I’ll pester Brian for one of his Funkey sound cards.

It also has working directional headlamps which are switchable for on, off and direction, and direction controlled marker lights operated from the ESC plus a working horn operated by a servo and micro switch in the short bonnet with a 2 inch speaker for all of the noise behind the radiator grille in the long bonnet. It is capable of being connected to a battery wagon to prolong its runtime via a BEC plug and jumper cable hidden in the front cowcatcher but so far I have never used this facility.

Castell Caernarfon

Its trials proved that it needed a few niggles ironing out as it glitched beyond belief on the 40 Mhz radio. This originally had a brass U shaped bracket hanging under the loco which had the aerial wound around it but Mick had moved the aerial to within the cab roof by the simple expedient of cutting a large square hole in the outer skin of the roof, winding the aerial around inside of it and filling the resulting hole with car body filler.

After its shakedown at our line a start was made on making it a little bit more user friendly by removing the body, which was interesting as at first I could not find out where the fixings were until I managed to locate the body hold down nuts in 4 holes inside the double thickness underframe/footplate. The insides looked akin to a 1960’s telephone exchange with seemingly miles of wire running here, there and everywhere. Work up tests were carried out on all sections and various bits and two faulty LEDs were changed, as were the 6v series connected lead acid gel batteries which were starting to get tired after approximately 10 years of use. Two new 4.5Ah batteries were sourced from Maplins and connected after a short unsuccessful trial with a 10 pack of rechargeable NiMh cells which brought run time down to around 30 minutes and made the sound card sound like the Swedish Chef in the Muppet Show when they ran down.

Next it had a Planet T5 2.4Ghz radio receiver fitted to the ESC and bound to its transmitter and this made a huge amount of difference to its controllability. The left stick controls direction in an up and down motion aided by the trimmers, the right in left/right mode operates the horn. It now runs for around 2 hours plus on one charge depending on loadings. New delrin chains and sprockets were fitted and I determined to change the motor mountings and gearboxes at the first breakdown. By the time I bought it the Branchlines gearboxes had been fitted to MFA Como drill motors with a rudimentary torsion tie down system which can only be described as ‘Heath Robinson’ but reasonably adequate for bits of what looked like garden twine!

Castell Caernarfon, B Wagon and V16 Brake Van rumble up from the short tunnel onto Brynyfelin Bridge. The familiar looking driver seems to be pondering upon his lot or maybe he is concerned that the bridge may not take the weight.
Castell Caernarfon, B Wagon and V16 Brake Van rumble up from the short tunnel onto Brynyfelin Bridge. The familiar looking driver seems to be pondering upon his lot or maybe he is concerned that the bridge may not take the weight 

It was repainted in dark red to match the new scheme of the full size loco and some 3/32” body pinstriping tape was sourced from a local motor factors to form the wasp stripes/whiskers. F& WHR decals were from GRS of Princes Risborough and are waterslide, all the new décor being topped off with a coat of satin acrylic laquer.

On one of our local area groups open days it developed a fault in the front end gearbox which partially stripped the brass gear, the worm being made of steel so Branchlines were contacted and new gears and gearbox etches were sourced, both 30:1 and 40:1 ratio as they use the same gearbox casings. In the event the 30:1 gears and bearings were used but this time in handbuilt 1.5mm brass casings crossbolted and soldered together and fitted to the MFA Como motors.

A new torsion arrangement was made by using a brass plate with a hole in it for the motor to fit through with cushioning provided by rubber greenhouse glazing stripprotecting the motors. The plates(one for each motor) had small brackets soldered to them which were then drilled and bolted M2 through the bogie sideframes. During this work the wheels had to be removed from the driving axles and these were refitted using a locking solution after thorough degreasing with Methylated spirit.

Living with the Beast

The Funkey has appeared at Garratt 50 at Dinas WHR  and has run on Ttarrag Shed (where it became a honorary Garratt for the weekend) and at various other shows, and occasionally makes the journey south to the Llechfan Garden Railway at the TalyLlyn Railway to annoy people with its sound system. It will no doubt be either in use or on display at the F&WHR Superpower Gala in September at Dinas this year as the NWWAG group have been invited to it with their demonstration layout Rhydwyn Fach.

Castell Caernarfon meets Castell Caernarfon – not for the first time.
Castell Caernarfon meets Castell Caernarfon – not for the first time 

A good machine to use for those days when something big and heavy is required as a model Thunderbird, but also due to the local theme of our railway, the Wigfa & Llanrwst Light Railway, it is a loco which is at home with its F&WHR counterparts, whether native or visiting. It does stand a lot of punishment as due to it being the noisy one it is a favourite with visiting children who usually end up driving it until the ‘Swedish Chef’ signals the batteries need connecting to the National Grid. All in all, a marvellous bit of kit and well worth the purchase price Mick asked for it, despite its little quirks when we first got it.

The End!

Dave Mees