The Branch Line Society


St Michael(')s Meander
Saturday 30th March 2019

Report by Simon Mortimer

So which is it? To cut to the chase and to try and lance the boil, is it supposed to have an apostrophe or not‽ While (the Archangel) St Michael specialises in protecting the pious in battle and from the ensnarements of the Devil, this is not necessarily sufficient to withstand the onslaught of moral and pedantic opprobrium from the host that is the BLS, founders of the Comma and Apostrophe Police!

To lay out a balanced defence, to permit the reader to adjudicate fairly (if so disposed) firstly consider: The possessive form (of apostrophes) is used with nouns referring to people, groups of people, countries, and animals. It shows a relationship of belonging between one thing and another.

It is contended that St Michaels Railway does by its very name belongs in or to St Michaels and so, prior to the visit, an apostrophe was deployed (without demur!) ... only to see almost immediately on arrival the railway's logo was devoid of an apostrophe! The local St Michael's College, St Michael's Church and St Michael's Village Hall all deploy the apostrophe and so your reporter throws himself on the grammatical mercy of the Society, from now on adopts the railways form and suggests all observations and associated commentary will no doubt be accepted by, collated and disseminated for further observation by our inestimably capable BLN editor. [LOL as the young people say - BLN Ed.]

St Michaels private Railway is a 7¼" gauge line, a half dumbbell with complications at the station end at the top of the site. From the station the regular run is about 350yd of track but the whole layout is about 500yd. It is the creation of Brett Rogers who runs his TMA Engineering firm which built, among other items, the RH&DR's two diesel locos JB Snell and Captain Howey. His railway was constructed in about 18 months and has been fully extant in all but some small details for about four years.

The speed of construction considering the earthworks and a (low) 100yd long viaduct with shed roads, stations and turntables was remarked on. Brett's response was that he sought advice widely, read the tomes relating to miniature railway construction deeply and ignored them! The result is certainly not one suggesting ignorance of the subject or a hasty approach, the long low viaduct is an interesting 'feature of necessity' where, once the cutting was dug on a steady falling grade the point where it gave way to an open field resembled a ski jump. To continue the steady grade the line was supported on over 70 piles to bring it into land at the bottom of the field. Brett commented that it will have to be replaced by an embankment as over time the piles will rot, but he needs to find a builder who wants to dispose of many tons of rubble first before beginning the construction of the new landscape!

Trains were already operating on our arrival and the array and size of the motive power fleet came as something of a surprise for a line of this scale. All operating locos were steam, and drew two trains of sit in stock (some from Beale Bird Park) alternating between the two platform faces at Oldwood Road station. The initial sortie was behind No18, a replica of a 2-6-0 2ft gauge loco originally built by Baldwin Philadelphia USA in 1893 for the Sandy River Railroad. It later transferred to the Sandy River & Rangeley Lakes Railway (Maine) whose livery and decals it has, where it became a 2-6-2 in 1916 and ran until the end of the system in 1935, when it was scrapped. It is a very large loco but has never left this line; the driver said that they once coupled it to everything that rolls on the line and it came up the bank without stretching its capabilities. They aspire to take it to Eastleigh to really open the loco up on a loooong train! Having swept us around the loop back to Oldwood Road next was '343' a replica Denver & Rio Grande Western loco Baldwin built in 1888; a 4-6-0 C19 class which succumbed to the cutters' torch in 1941. This is also a large, capable engine which made a good assault of the bank and a fine array of cinders gently showered down on the passengers such was the draw through the firebox!

Our group then sampled their third steam loco, a very different beast from the previous two; 'Gillian' (Brett's wife!) from Exmoor Steam Railway works. No304 built 4/99 an 0-4-2 tank loco driven by Brett's son that despite its less agile lines than the first two still very ably whisked us around a third standard circuit. Still the motive power kept changing! Our fourth trip punctuated with much tea, coffee and a copious array of biscuits from the station kitchen (such was the pace of activity during the afternoon your reporter failed to finish/abandoned TWO cups of tea!) was headed by 'Blanche', a 2-4-0 saddle tank, a Penrhyn Railway loco replica with a scale bucket hanging from the smoke box door handle! There were additional trips as not every train could carry the whole party but 'Blanche' mirrored its stable mates in comfortably carrying its full load around the 'standard' circuit and brought us to the point in the afternoon where consideration of the rails less travelled on come into sharper focus.

Jill Everitt had already 'orientated' Brett as to the broad outline of our hopes so when your reporter made an enquiry as to both the line beyond Oldwood Road towards the turntable end and that traversing this might be easier on a single coach with one of the 'other' locos discussed earlier, the idea was easily assimilated. With great efficiency a BR Class 02 battery electric whirred into view and coupled up! The first group filled the coach and ran to the very end of the line on the recently installed turntable to access a new 3-road shed, it was speculated that as this could accommodate the whole train we could spin and win the shed road... however the loading on the turntable easily exceeded its design limits and it wouldn't budge even with three adults discretion won over rotation!

This exercise was repeated twice, but so diminutive was the loco, the driver feared he would never be able to stand up again if he continued to pilot the machine. He therefore delegated the driving to a scale driver... his 9 year old son... who took to his new and unfamiliar task of shunting a train load of adults around the station area with alacrity! Having all covered the turntable extremity we turned our attention to the other shed built into the main house and accessed over another turntable. The last trip to the far turntable had the honour of a through run of the outer platform and carried on right across the turntable coming to rest just outside the shed door where various fixed items stopped it.

This trip was repeated twice for everyone which left the other platform loop, station shed road and alternative upper shed access line. The initial issue here was that TWO whole trains blocked these traversals so it was suggested to move them the simplest arrangement was to operate both trains in close (prudent) company returning to the outer station loop clearing all inner lines for Tom and his Class 02 to weave their magic. All aboard! And our party filled the trains, the leading headed by '343' followed by 'Gillian'. We decided this novel arrangement deserved a photo so with a favourable aspect for the sun and the trains arranged we duly snapped them in the lower loop for posterity. Then a standing start from the foot of the grade made '343' bark and spray more cinders splendidly. We all arrived back in to the outer road and there on the inner sat our battery electric awaiting new metal.

The first train set off down the shed branch... by now we were changing points and clearing any obstacle impeding complete traversal... but as the shed approached the far end was so gloomy an amorphous blob that could not be made out remained undefined until we had pottered inside when we saw to our surprise an inflatable boat moored halfway up the back wall but clearly arranged to allow stock underneath! Never can your reporter remember the instruction for a train to 'proceed under the boat' being issued, but this was, as well as warnings to passengers to 'mind the boat' [just so long as no one keeled over] which agreeably bounced and bobbed off hands and heads until Tom brought us to a firm indication we had reached the back wall! We returned to the station shunted off the top end of the loop and gave way for two more groups to do the same...

At this point Brett probably thought we might go as 'Gillian' sat on the other shed access line (the loco not his wife) but with it removed we duly covered this, again over the turntable and into the centre shed road where another four steam locos sat quietly! This was repeated twice. Then we had ridden behind five different locos and traversed all practicable track as that left was either occupied or only available via very light connections only suitable for hand pushed ECS. The 16 members thanked Brett profusely for his hospitality, for steaming four locos (and the battery 02!) making St Michaels Railway so available to us and of course all those biscuits! Thanks Simon too for arranging it.

The black loco is No18, 2-6-0 Sandy River & Rangeley Lakes Railway (Maine) USA, built 1893, ex-Sandy River Railroad.
[© Simon Mortimer 2019]

Horsing about, the view forward as the train is about to assault the grade back towards Oldwood Road station.
[© Simon Mortimer 2019]

The long low viaduct that supports much of the main line between Oldwood Road and the lower loop.
[© Simon Mortimer 2019]

The Denver & Rio Grande Western loco heads a train with 'Gillian' following; both posed on the lower field loop.
[© Simon Mortimer 2019]

The BLS rare track special hauled by BR Class 02 battery electric with its 9 year old driver, Tom, heads towards the shed.
[© Simon Mortimer 2019]

'Gillian' awaits departure from Oldwood Road inner platform road.
[© Simon Mortimer 2019]

"Excuse me please, Mister, we want to come in there now'', the BLS rare track special is about to do the centre line. John Gordon emerges after looking for lurking locos.
[© Simon Mortimer 2019]

View forward approaching the back of the shed, about to pass under an inflatable boat!
[© Simon Mortimer 2019]

A BLS shed shuttle comes out of centre road and back across the turntable.
[© Simon Mortimer 2019]

The 4-wheel Battery Electric BR Class 02 stands on the new turntable built for the new shed adjacent but it couldn't turn with the weight of the Society members on it!
[© Simon Mortimer 2019]

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