One of the most popular engines on my
railway is far from a glamorous tender engine built by one of the big four - he
is, rather, a typical example of an industrial tank engine from the early half
of the twentieth century. Four small driving wheels, two small cylinders, and a
saddle tank painted in a lined livery of green and red.
I am of course talking about the
resident freight engine on the Ffarquhar Branch Line, a small engine built of
many parts from the industrial locomotive manufacturers of the United Kingdom..
Percy arrived on Sodor in 1933. This was during
the now infamous 'engine
strike' of the NWR, when the larger main line engines - that's right, engines -
refused to work with the belief they were being poorly treated in the
expectation of them shunting their own trains since Thomas had left to run his
own branch line. Edward began working as pilot at the big station, but he was
soon needed elsewhere and grew tired of the name calling, being dubbed a 'scab'
with 'black wheels' for, in the big engines minds, 'tender engines don't shunt'.
The only other solution was a new tank engine.
Percy was purchased second-hand at a
locomotive dealers whom promised he was 'like new', with 'some previous
owners'. He was a strange little engine, somewhat like a 'Swindonised' Trojan
from the Avonside Locomotive Company.
From what one can attain of Percy's
pre-sale history, he spent roughly ten years of work 'on hire' for his company
at numerous industrial railways shunting trucks on flat gradients from one
siding to another. This ranged from dairies, to docks, to quarries. It was a
fairly mundane career, little of interest and little in the way of challenges
for him. He did, however, show great obedience towards all of his owners, and
his enthusiasm was very rarely lost for any work - no job was above or below
When he was between work during the
Spring of 1933, whispers were heard of a stout gentleman from an island railway
off of the coast was due to visit, hoping to make a purchase. The engine
dealers, eager to please, polishing each engine and lining them up inside their
workshop, were quite sure one of their larger locomotives would be out of the
door for a very tidy sum.
Imagine their surprise when the stout
gentlemen - my great grandfather - strolled right up to the little green engine
hidden behind them and decided there and then he was perfect for the job. Percy
was purchased for a relatively small sum - and he travelled to Sodor to act as
the new station pilot.
Percy, when briefly in Crovan's Gate
for inspection, was found to be built of Hunslet parts as well as those of his
Avonside Origin - like many industrial engines, it seems his components were
switched for practical purposes, rather than worrying about consistency. The
result is Percy has no definite counterpart on the Mainland, and is in more
ways than you could guess, a complete 'one-off' - a mix of parts and histories.
Regardless of this, Percy proved to be
a very reliable little engine. He got right to work, and if the engines laughed
or sneered, he'd give them a look at his biggest talent - extremely loud
noises! When working in an industrial environment and contesting for attention
in his dealer's workshop, Percy learnt how to stand his ground by whistling
very loudly and letting off steam in an incredibly noisy manner - this proved a
fine foil for the larger engines and his cheekiness became legendary,
surpassing even that of our other tank engine, No.1 - Thomas.
The big engines soon grew tired, once
again, of having to work in such circumstance - so my great-grandfather decided
it was the last straw and shut them up in Tidmouth Sheds until they saw sense.
The NWR's main line and Western Branch Lines were to be staffed instead by
Thomas, Edward and Percy - an unusual set up. Trains were reduced, were slower
and stopped at more stations, but passengers had no other choice!
While Thomas and Edward ran the main
line and smaller branches, Percy would work Thomas' branch line and shunt in
the harbours. This experience proved invaluable to the little engine, and when
the larger engines finally surrendered and agreed to go back to work, Percy was
kept by the NWR - and became the official pilot engine for Tidmouth Station and
dockside, and a common sight in the yards, where his cheeky, pleasant personality,
strong sense of wit and a great sense of responsibility for even the simplest
of jobs was invaluable.
However, for what he had in cheekiness
and wit, Percy's downfall was his naivety. He had never been on a full railway
network before - he was so used to being one of three or four small saddle
tanks in industrial yards and sidings, it was quite the new experience to him.
He learnt quickly enough, of course, and made good friends with Edward and
Thomas, but his first foray onto the main line proved troublesome.
When the larger engines agreed to work
again, he worked for a few days at Knapford, shunting the trucks there and
arranging them, something long overdue while the larger engines refused to.
During this activity, he had to cross the main line to access another siding
for 'Down' goods trains. The signalman, of course, was in control of the points
at Knapford Junction - Knapford Junction 'box' being one of the largest on the
main line. Percy and his crew, I'm sorry to say, forgot to whistle to remind
the signalman he required access back onto the line, and the signalman quite
forgot about the little green engine waiting to go 'home'.
Gordon was thus told the line was clear
- and within two minutes Percy saw No.4 hurtling towards him. What happened next
was a combination of Gordon stopping quickly and Percy, his driver and fireman
jumping clear with his regulator full and reverser all-back, starting with
Percy thus ran, backwards, through
Crosby Tunnel, past Wellsworth, up Gordon's hill (slowing him considerably),
and eventually, at the will of a signalman, the exhausted little engine was
diverted into a siding and bunker-first into a bank of earth, nearby Maron
Percy remained cheeky - but gained a
healthy dose of respect in the right places for Gordon and the ways of the main
line of a railway network. Tidmouth
became his home, where he played station pilot until 1955, wherein he was
relocated to Knapford Junction and Harbour to assist in the reworking of
facilities there. During this stage of work, the Ffarquhar Branch Line was
relaid on an easier gradient, leaving the Line stemming off in two parts from
Toryreck - the passenger side veering to Dryaw, whereas the goods side, stopping
at Toryreck's dormant lead mine and crossing straight to the harbour, was given
to Percy, to assist with growing freight traffic from the now burgeoning
Ffarquhar Quarry, Elsbridge Dairy, the local farms and new traffic of uranium
from the depleted lead works.
Percy is now, for the most part, 'anchored'
at the Ffarquhar Branch Line with Thomas, Toby and Daisy. He's often seen at
Tidmouth, too, where he often carries his goods trains to be taken by the fast
freight services. He's a plucky little engine - rarely ill or broken down - and
will happily work at anything given to him. He even ascends to passenger
services should Thomas be unavailable, and often arrives at Tidmouth to assist
in shunting and providing 'pilot' between his regular trains.
Percy is not a glamorous, fast, or even
very powerful engine, but he makes up an integral part of our network - the
railway wouldn't be the same without him. He's an essential 'workhorse' -
Percy, as previously mentioned, is a
'mixed' design - and as a result you'll be troubled in finding a perfect
likeness to him on the Mainland's heritage railways. The very closest, in my
opinion, is the GWR No.1340 'Trojan', built from an earlier, but very similar,
specification to Percy in 1897. This lovely little engine can be seen at the
Didcot Railway Centre.