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FRED'S HOLY RAIL; He devoted 50 years to restoring and running one of Wales' finest steam lines... but was only planning to stay a few months.

Byline: ERYL CRUMP

A MAN who has spent 50 years working to restore and improve two historic narrow gauge railways has been talking about his colourful career.

Fred Howes visited the Ffestiniog Railway with two friends in the early 60s.

ON THE WEB Enchanted by the "funny locos with two chimneys", he joined the Ffestiniog Railway Society and began volunteering.

Watch clips of of Fred's life www.dailypost.

Fred, now 68, was offered a paid job in July 1964. When he retired in 2009 he was the Permanent Way Manager for both the Ffestiniog and Welsh Highland Railways.

During his years in charge Fred introduced a programme of technical improvement not seen since the heyday of the Spooner, the engineers who designed the near 14-mile line that runs from Blaenau Ffestiniog to Porthmadog.

But initially he planned only staying in North Wales for a few months. "I arrived on the train from London carrying a few bags. I had given up my job at an electronics factory and planned to stay a few months - but I''ve been here ever since," he said.

He was set to work as a platelayer in a gang led by William Jones. "I was doing a strange job on a strange railway which had worn-out track, no money, precious few tools and fewer spare parts.

"Will was a smashing bloke with a wonderful knowledge of the railway. He taught me many things and by the time he retired I wanted Will''s job," said Fred of Porthmadog.

the DVD the rails co.uk The railway had first opened to carry slate in 1836 but had closed in 1946. Revived in 1955, the line had been re-opened in stages and by 1964 operated as far as Tan-y-Bwlch in the hills above Maentwrog. Soon after Fred joined the staff the railway began extending the line to Dduallt, two miles from Tan-y-Bwlch.

During his time on the railway dad-of-two and grandfather-of-six Fred has seen many changes. "Tan-y-Bwlch station was very different in 1964. The tracks were wider apart and the space in between covered in grass. Will and his wife Bessie lived in the station house and ran a small cafe.

"The goods shed has since become the cafe but back then was used as a store by Will. He kept his car there and a circular saw used to cut firewood. The saw once broke free and ran up the wall leaving a groove. We could see the station from across the valley until trees were planted by the Forestry Commission."

Fred oversaw the reopening of the line beyond Dduallt to Tanygrisiau in 1978 and Blaenau Ffestiniog four years later.

When the FR started the task of reopening the Welsh Highland Railway it was Fred who went to South Africa to buy track and rolling stock.

In a DVD of Fred's days on the railway he explains his work in a series of chats with FR volunteer Sophie Fardell.

FR spokesman Andrew Thomas said: "We videoed the interviews at Tan-y-Bwlch and Minffordd and they make fascinating viewing. If the disk, to be released in the New Year, proves popular it could be the first in a series capturing some of the railway''s vital oral history."

erylcrump@dailypost.co.uk ON THE WEB Watch clips of the DVD of Fred's life on the rails www.dailypost.co.uk

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Fred Howes, 68, at Minffordd station
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Publication:Daily Post (Conwy, Wales)
Date:Dec 26, 2012
Words:567
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