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13 November 2014

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You are in: Cornwall > History > Local History > Steaming Forward

A Ford Model T railcar. See one at Launceston Steam Railway museum

Steaming Forward

Launceston Steam Railway, is celebrating its 25th anniversary. The attraction will be playing host to an unusual visitor from overseas this winter. It is going to be home for a few months to a Model T Ford with a difference. Hear a report.

Since 1983 the Launceston Steam Railway has run from the historic Cornish town of Launceston through several miles of countryside to the hamlet of Newmills.

The train carriages are hauled by narrow gauge locomotives built in Queen Victoria's reign.

To celebrate its 25th anniversary Launceston Steam Railways is to become the temporary home to a special vehicle. It's the original classic car of Hollywood silent movies. The car was available in 'any colour as long as it's black' but the difference is that this one runs on rails.

Steaming forward

Carry on Steaming

"I don't think this is one of the most economical engines, Model T's weren't," explains the railway's founder and owner Nigel Bowman.

"You have to remember these things were designed in 1908 and went into production in 1909. This was the car that started mass motoring. This was Henry Ford's famous tin lizard. It made Ford's fortune.

"The rail car spent most of its time in Uganda. There's no rust on it, and it's just as it was 80 years ago. It was mounted on flange wheels. It was good for sixty miles an hour."

Hundreds of Model T's were savaged for the movies, and they became the comedy cars of the Keystone Cops and Laurel and Hardy.

A steam train

A steam train at Launceston station

"To pull away you simply press a pedal, and if you want to go backwards you press the middle pedal. There is nothing for the hands to do as you're on rails, just pedals to press," laughs Nigel.

The Launceston steam railway line runs for two and a half miles through the glorious Kensey Valley along the trackbed of the old North Cornwall Railway.

The locomotives are all named, like Lilian which was built in 1883, and Dorothea from 1901.

In 1965, Nigel Bowman purchased the locomotive Lilian from the Penrhyn Slate Quarry in North Wales. Although on a teacher training course, he set up a workshop and foundry at his parents' home where Lilian was rebuilt.


Nigel's first train 'Lilian'

In 1968, Lilian returned to steam and was occasionally used on a short length of track owned by a friend. When Nigel decided he wanted his own railway track he look at Launceston and so the idea of the town's steam railway attraction was born.

The first ½ mile of track opened on Boxing Day 1983. Since then progressive extensions have been made, the latest to Newmills opening in 1995.

From 26th December (Boxing Day) to 1st January 2009 (New Years Day) inclusive, the enthusiasts will be running 'Bah Humbug' trains to celebrate the railway's 25th Anniversary. The times of the steam trains from Launceston are: 12:00 13:00 14:00 15:00.

last updated: 19/12/2008 at 15:28
created: 18/12/2008

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