“Talyllyn”, a new 16mm steam loco from Bowande

17 August 2020
We put the new model of the famous Welsh locomotive through its paces.

Bowande is a name that maybe new to many 16mm scale modellers, but is much better known in Gauge 1 circles. Over the last few years, Livesteam in the UK has developed a number of steam locos with Bowande in China. These include a Britannia, a Gresley A4, a Duchess, and with the latest being a LSWR/C Southern M7 0-4-4T. The 0-4-2ST “Talyllyn” is their first venture into the world of narrow gauge, designed and developed in collaboration with the Train Department in the USA and built by Bowande in China.

Bowande could not have picked a much more iconic narrow gauge loco than “Talyllyn”, an engine which is one of the best known and oldest operating narrow gauge locomotives in the world. Built originally in 1864 as an 0-4-0ST by Fletcher Jennings of Whitehaven, it has been through many rebuilds and alterations in its long life. The model depicts the engine as running in recent years and is available in the special “Talyllyn 150” red livery as well as the more familiar lined mid-green.

The engine that we were loaned for review was the first pre-production prototype loco, which had already been evaluated and tested by the Train Department's Jason Kovac before being shipped to the UK.

Our first reaction on removing the locomotive from the box was “Wow! That is a lovely model.” Although the Talyllyn 150 red does look very attractive with the black and white lining and decorated wheels.

A check with the drawing in James Boyd’s “Talyllyn Railway” showed that all the key dimensions were pretty close to spot on and the complex curves of the cab and saddletank were very carefully reproduced. There is also a multitude of fine detail when you look closer at the loco.

However, in our opinion, a steam engine has to be a good runner as well as a good scale model, so we were keen to raise steam and put “Talyllyn” to the test on my garden railway. Instructions had been provided, and I read these carefully before proceeding.

Looking at the operational features of the loco, the first thing to notice is that because of the complex shape of Talyllyn’s cab, the roof is fixed in place, which limits access. On the RHS there is a small ½” pressure gauge, the gas control valve, disguised as a brake handle, and the reversing lever is in the front of the cab. The lever has three notches for reverse, mid gear, and forwards to operate full Stephenson valve gear. It is worthwhile having a good look under the engine when you lubricate the moving parts to see how well it is engineered.

On the LHS, there is a gauge glass and the regulator from the backhead.

Inside the front top of the cab, there is a large cylindrical gas tank that is very visible from the side. For people who do not want this visible intrusion, “Talyllyn” is offered with a much smaller gas tank hidden in the LHS coal bunker in front of the cab, but this is at a cost of a shorter run time. The lubricator is hidden very neatly inside the RHS coal bunker with a removable toolbox to access the filler cap.
Moving forward, the water top up valve is nicely sited under the tank filler cap. The opening smokebox door is neatly secured by a small magnet but is quite tricky to open unless you have strong fingernails.

Now to the exciting bit of steaming up for the first time. It is vital to read the instructions again as it clearly states to use a heavier grade 460 steam oil in the lubricator, most people have switched to the lighter 220-grade steam oil for their recent engines so be careful.

Light oil on the motion, water in the boiler, gas in the tank and oil in the lubricator and we are ready to light up. Open the smokebox door, crack the gas valve, and apply the lighter flame. The lit gas popped back quickly with a gentle moan and then went quiet, although it was still alight. There is clearly a big difference between this ceramic burner and the usual gas pokers. If your hearing is not 100% it is easy to leave the gas setting too high so that the safety valve was lifting very regularly. At the correct setting, it is almost inaudible.  

Steam was raised very rapidly in 3-5 minutes and the safety valve lift was very positive around 40psi. We had filled the boiler to about 2/3rd on the gauge glass and condensed water was soon ejected when the loco was gently run backwards and forwards a few times. After one circuit of the mainline to make sure everything was OK and to get a feel for the loco, “Talyllyn” was coupled up to a five-vehicle TR heritage train of the three original Brown Marshalls, Lancaster No 4 and the iconic brakevan/ticket office. These were made these some years ago from Triassic laser cut wood kits and they are quite heavy for four-wheelers. Due to the over-high burner setting, this first run lasted only 15 minutes.

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The second run with the gas turned way down, was much longer as we weren't wasting gas or water. The performance at slow speeds was excellent with the loco occasionally stopping at the top of the bank and then gently restarting when the pressure had built up a little. 

Next, the model was tried on a different train of Glyn Valley granite wagons made from Binnie kits with loads of real granite. The performance was similar to the previous run until we tried to run the loco in reverse when the running was not as smooth. We discovered later that the fault was with me and not “Talyllyn” as the reversing lever was not fully pulled back to engage with the notch.

Based on these three runs, we were very impressed with the performance of the engine and so on another day tried “Talyllyn” on a much heavier train of four FR/NWNGR coaches weighing in at 8 ¾ lbs (4kg). With a bit more regulator, the loco pulled this train with ease, even self-starting on the bank. “Talyllyn” would pull even heavier trains, but as the loco was on loan, we did not want to load it up anymore.

Steve Edwards was so impressed with this engine that he ordered a green one from the first production batch to arrive in the UK. He generously allowed us to try out one of the production engines “straight out of the box”. It certainly looks great with a shiny brass dome and resplendent in the classic green livery edged with yellow and black.

Preparing and firing up was identical to the red loco and steam was soon raised to 40psi. We coupled the engine to a shorter heritage train of three TR vehicles and the ex Corris van and it ran beautifully and smoothly for about 10 to 12 minutes. Performance then became lumpier as if the engine was under-lubricated and so the run was stopped to investigate the cause. Sure enough, when we let the engine cool and checked the lubricator, all the oil had been used. On the next run, there was a small amount of oil left in the lubricator and after that, the consumption had settled down to match that of the red loco. It seems that the new engine needs more oil to coat all the bearing surfaces, but this reduces as the loco is run in.   

It was really informative to be able to test both the pre-production engine that had done a fair amount of running, and also a loco from the production batch, which is what the customer will receive. We are very impressed with “Talyllyn”, it is a beautiful looking engine with an exemplary performance for such a small loco.

There are a few reservations. Some people would not like the rather obtrusive cylindrical gas tank and it is a pity that the rectangular tank had not been used. However, there is the option of a smaller tank in the bunker. On a ground-level line, the controls were tricky to operate as the cab is small without a lifting roof. We did note that the production loco had a larger handle on the gas valve, which made it easier to adjust than the one on the red engine.

The green engine also had the pressure gauge facing the LHS, which was much easier to see. When the regulator was fully open on a heavy train, it was difficult to pull back the handle without burning your finger on the bottom of the sight glass. It is essential to be aware that the ceramic burner is very quiet in operation and must be turned down to avoid overheating and damage to the paintwork. It is also very important to follow the instructions with regard to the use of 460 lubricating oil and carefully check the oil consumption for the first few runs.

Thanks to Simon Colbeck for lending us the red engine, Steve for letting us run his green “Talyllyn”, and a big thumbs up for Livesteam, The Train Department, and Bowande for producing such a delightful and iconic 16mm steam loco.

Bowande Livesteam UK Ltd
PO Box 788, Rickmansworth, WD3 0NT
16mm “Talyllyn” locomotive - £1,995