We took the opportunity of our visit to the National Waterfront Museum in Swansea to catch up on the latest news of the famous Penydarren locomotive replica on display there.
The Heritage Trust team was met by Robert Protheroe Jones, curator for heavy industries at the museum – part of the National Museums of Wales.
The large black iron boiler, the chimney stack and the massive flywheel – probably the most distinctive feature of Richard Trevithick’s 1804 railway locomotive – are familiar from pictures, paintings and contemporary designs.
Yet the world’s first railway engine (well, actually a full size working conjectural replica made in Wales in 1981) is still an inspiring sight. It’s a monster of a machine. Could this seven tonne beast have pulled wagons, a load of iron and 70 passengers for over nine miles?
Robert Protheroe Jones, an expert on the replica and the history of Trevithick’s original steam engine, says ‘Yes’. Over the years he was supervised dozens of days of steam running – and knows its workings well.
There is special training and guidance for the museum staff who drive the engine. There has to be. It’s not like later machines.
“The ride is not smooth,” says Robert Protheroe Jones in a paper on the Penydarren locomotive replica. “The locomotive and tram are not sprung and possessing only one cylinder the ride is a series of lurches and pauses.
“The flywheel assists in continuing the momentum of the engine when the (single) piston pauses to reverse its direction of travel.”
There are no brakes or buffers – just as there were none in Trevithick’s original machine. The flywheel has another use – hauling down on it can get the engine under way again after a stop.
Here’s a link to a video of the Penydarren locomotive of 1804 in action. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nZCfXIZGFhc&noredirect=1