March 2022 – The Narrow Gauge Gala

By Tom Willis

As it says on the tin the theme of this gala is Narrow Gauge. A line up the South Downs guys can easily provide! Through the use of their two Exmoor tank engines “Pulborough” & “Peggy”, Bagnall “Alice”, Exmoor built Diesel “Arun”, Hunslet/Penrhyn Lady “Agapanthus” and visiting diesel locomotive from The Ropley Miniature Railway “Ajax”.

The railway’s operation plan was simple, to run an intensive service around the garden centre all day long! Though a midday pause was planned to shunt and change some sets around to bring a bit of change for the afternoon but due to some delays in the morning this idea was capped and the railway carried on as it was from the morning.

Which I think in hindsight proved to be a wise decision as the afternoon was rather busy and abled the railway to tackle the queue quickly and effifficiently.

The weather had played in the railways favour and provided a wonderful early spring feeling, with the odd

cold breeze to remind you winter was still working its way out the door. Volunteers and passengers alike were all in good spirits, lots of excited kids jumped up and down at the sight of so many trains running round. Whilst one train would be loading up in Stopham Road, another train would roll by on the outer line giving the station a real busy atmosphere. Every engine had been cleaned and turned out in great condition. For me the star of the show was Agapanthus. It’s a good looking engine and not something you see often at miniature railways. When you see this design you tend to think of The Ffestiniog railway, as it is based off of one of their resident engines. Now I know there’s hint of Wales a bit closer to home! There are some engines that you really fancy a go with but also, you’d be really content just watching it go by. That’s the impression Agapanthus gives to me.

The railway even had a goods set going round by the afternoon and passengers could be treated to the sound of a loose coupled freight train banging and clanging along. Aptly pulled by the industrial style Bagnall ‘Alice’ who I was informed had just made it onto the roster for the event after the completion of some maintenance and passing of her steam test.

Visiting diesel Ajax also fits in well with the South Downs residents as it made its debut at Pulborough and probably one of the noisiest engines of the gala. With its drum and base sound coming from the engine you certainly heard it before you saw it!

All in all, it was a very successful day with lots of happy families leaving the railway and the railway reporting to us that it had been one of their best galas. It’s always great to hear when these events pay off. We were only present on the Saturday of the gala but through friends at the railway I am pleased to report the Sunday was also a good day too

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