The Skarloey Railway - A History

Skarloey Railway History

The Skarloey Railway became subject to a long term agreement with the Talyllyn Railway to conduct locomotive exchanges.  The first engine to spend time in Wales was Sir Handel, who spent two years in the early 1980s.  The practice became so popular that Peter Sam was asked to take over following Sir Handel’s return, and the engine became resident in Tywyn for almost ten years before being succeeded by Duncan in 2000, who is still currently there and subject to an overhaul.

In terms of the Extended Railway Series continuity, the Skarloey Railway does not start from 1997.  Instead, in order to develop the chronology of events, the decision was taken to restart events from early 1980 and begin a series of prequel volumes from Mid Sodor Engines (ERS #45).  The first major changes on the Skarloey Railway take place during the 1980s.  The engines are reminded of the little engine, Evan, who worked on the railway taking charge of building the Lake Loop extension.  The engine later resurfaces in the early 1980s after being lost following the death of his owner – the contractor who built the extension.


While Evan didn’t stay on the line for very long, (he was leased to a Lake Railway on the mainland for five years from 1984), he did become the railway’s first No.9.  However, the engine that came after him, brought to tide the locomotive requirements while Sir Handel was in Wales from 1983, remained for a lot longer.  The Ministry of Defence had an engine at their disposal, and quickly regauged it to suit the Thin Controller’s needs.  The engine became Skarloey Railway No.10, Edwin Richard, named after the Fat Clergyman.


Throughout the 1980s, the Skarloey Railway struck up a good working relationship with the Mid Sodor Heritage Railway.  Initially supplying items of former Mid Sodor stock on a temporary basis, they sold Cora the Guard’s van back to the society following their full restoration of the van in 1980.  Since the first major section’s reopening, Duke has made various trips back to his former home.  However, upon Evan’s return to the railway in 1989, there were questions over his suitability to the Skarloey Railway.  Therefore, in 1989, Evan became the first official steam locomotive on the new Mid Sodor Heritage Railway, working the short section between King Orry’s Bridge and Peel Godred on the Museum Demonstration line.


Other sales and donations have included Mr Hugh’s trolley the ‘Mark V’, which made a temporary return in 1991 when it started to go wrong and scared the living daylights out of poor Fred, an ex-National Coal Board Diesel who had become the new No.9, who had saw the old ‘Flying Bedstead’ come hurtling down the line in the dead of a winter’s night.


Following the successful construction of the Talyllyn Railway’s No.7, Tom Rolt, the decision was taken by the Skarloey Railway board to build their own new steam engine.  Utilising drawings and observing the locomotive in action, they opted to replicate the engine completely from scratch in their own workshops.  While the Talyllyn took 30 years to construct Tom Rolt, the Skarloey Railway built their No.7 in just five years.  Successful steam tests followed, and the engine was christened Ivo Hugh in 1996, after the railway’s retired engineer as gratitude for his years of tireless dedication to the railway.  Other names in the frame included Ward Fell, after the Quarry the railway served, and owes its existence to.


However, at the time of Ivo Hugh’s completion, Edwin Richard had been called into action to help save the Ballamoddey extension on the Mid Sodor Heritage Railway when Buzz (MSHR No.1) had been swept up in flooding.  Sadly, this meant that Edwin was gone until the middle of 1997 assisting Buzz and Evan, however with No.7 now operational it meant they could make such allowances and return Peter Sam to the Talyllyn Railway to meet his obligations there.

At the end of 1999, Peter Sam’s obligations with the Talyllyn Railway ended, and he required an overhaul.  This was partly funded by a photographic charter where he was painted into a new black British Railways livery run on the Talyllyn prior to his return to Sodor.  In 2000, Duncan was chosen as the new Skarloey Railway representative for the Talyllyn, while initially reluctant, he did venture across to Wales and has enjoyed his time there over the last 10 years, however, did make a return between 2008 and 2009 for an overhaul.  In his place for the 2008 and 2009 seasons, Sir Handel has also been pressed into Talyllyn service instead.


Throughout Duncan’s time away, some major changes took place on the Skarloey Railway.  Around 2002, the railway welcomed Scott, another Ruston Diesel to perform maintenance duties with Rusty and Fred.  Following this, the railway considered the further use of Diesel traction and began looking at introducing off-peak passenger services to be run cheaply by Diesels.  With the current fleet too small to handle the passenger trains, the Skarloey Railway board looked at other alternatives, but did not wish to commit funds it would need otherwise.


The solution came in 2004, when another attempt came from the Mid Sodor Heritage Railway to acquire Edwin Richard to expand their operating services to Ulfstead Road.  This time, the board accepted the approach and after much consultation with Edwin himself, agreed to let him go.  In his place, they bought a large Irish Peat Diesel from Bord Na Mona, and regauged him to meet their needs in 2005.  The engine took Edwin’s place as the new No.10 and was named Shamus Treboc.  Since his arrival, the engine has also been able to handle heavier goods trains at peak times and relieved pressure from Rusty and Scott in the Rheneas Quarry.


However, the most striking change on the Skarloey Railway was the sudden change of management.  In mid-2006, the Skarloey Railway was without a Thin Controller for the first time in living memory when Mr Roger Sam, the second Thin Controller, died at his home after suffering a heart-attack a few days before.  A very heart-felt and personal Funeral service was held, in which the railway took a very active role – with Skarloey and Rheneas carrying many mourners and the body to Glennock Chapel, where he was laid to rest.

Questions hung in the air at this point as to who would assume the role of Thin Controller.  Roger’s son, Alexander, was returned unanimously as the favoured candidate initially, but turned the position down, feeling inadequate to become Acting Manager at this time.  The Skarloey Railway board did not wish to welcome an ‘outsider’, and particularly not someone who was not from Railway Circles.  It was at this point, that Richard Hatt came to the fore.

Richard Hatt had played an active role in the North Western Railway Company since returning from South Africa in 2002, where he had lived and worked following University graduation, rising to a managerial post at a South African narrow gauge Railway, which had suffered heavy losses despite Richard's best efforts to stem the failures.  Richard  worked diligently under his father’s instruction since.  With three generations of Hatts assuming the role of Fat Controller, Richard is expected to succeed his father, Stephen, in years to come.  However, with his father reluctant to abdicate the role and retire, Richard had decided to look for other management opportunities elsewhere to gain further experience to make himself a credible candidate to run the North Western Railway Company in future.

While seriously considering offers from Train Operating Companies on the Mainland, he felt the case for managing the Skarloey Railway would be better suited to his own tastes.  Although a radically different outfit to what he was used to on the North Western Railway, and a far smaller operation than what he had overseen in South Africa, he still considered it a worthwhile venture and offered his services to the Skarloey Railway board, who returned him as a credible candidate and a worthy manager.  However, he has emphasised publicly that the Railway’s long-term future lies with Alexander Sam, and that he himself hopes to join the Board of Directors on the North Western Railway Company in future, with the objective of becoming the fourth Hatt to hold the role of Fat Controller.

After stepping up as The Tall Controller’ of the railway for several years, the retirement of Sir Stephen Hatt (ERS Novel #2) was Richard’s sign to take over as the new Fat Controller, allowing Alexandra Sam to take on the duty as the new Thin Controller of the Skarloey Railway.