Getting steamed up over the Caledonia

BACK TO HER FORMER GLORY: Caledonian, fondly known as Cale has been restored. BELOW: Jack Dibnah.

BACK TO HER FORMER GLORY: Caledonian, fondly known as Cale has been restored. BELOW: Jack Dibnah.


SHE’s been a labour of love for Jack Dibnah, son of the late celebrity steeplejack Fred.

And now, four years after she was last in service on the Isle of Man Steam Railway, the finishing touches are being put to No. 15 Caledonia after a major overhaul.

Steam Railway fitter Jack Dibnah has worked on reassembling Caledonia for five days a week since June last year.

Applying a final coat of black paint to a vacuum pipe, he says in the same broad Bolton accent that was the trademark of his TV star dad: ‘“Cale” is one of my favourite engines.

‘It’s run 50 miles during tests and we’re very pleased. We’ve altered a few things to make it more user friendly. We’ve a few more tests to do to make sure it’s not running hot.’

Caledonia, looking good as new in her original Manx Northern Railway livery of Metropolitan Carriage Red, will be pulling passengers again on February 16 for the first time since her refit when she will take part in a winter photo special.

She will be taking part in normal passenger duties when the 2013 season begins next month but, boasting a larger cab then the other engines, she will also be the focus for Ultimate Driving Experiences, launched for the first time this year on the Steam Railway after two successful seasons on the Manx Electric Railway.

For £500 you can spend the day on the footplate, learning to drive this unique locomotive. Places on these experiences, which take place over 22 days this year, are already fully booked and interest in them has been global, with one enthusiast due to come all the way from Japan, having waited two years for the opportunity.

Unique among the Manx steam railway engines, Caledonia was built in 1885 by Dubs of Glasgow for use on the Foxdale Railway which was operated by the Manx Northern. But even as the line opened, the lead mines were in trouble financially.

The engine was contracted out to help build the Snaefell Mountain Railway and she worked the line to the internment camp at Knockaloe during the First World War.

But, unpopular with drivers for having a reputation as a bad steamer, she spent much her career confined to the depot at Douglas, emerging mostly for snow plough duties.

For her centenary in 1995, she was removed from the museum at Port Erin and made a precarious return trip to the summit of Snaefell.

Chris Barlow, Steam Railway workshop supervisor, said: ‘She was taken out of service four years ago when she was due her 10 year boiler inspection. She had been suffering with reliability problems for a long time so it was decided we would do a decent job on her.’

Work to reline her cylinders, retube her boiler and manufacturer new cranks and other parts was carried out at Alan Keef Ltd in Ross on Wye, but the reassembly was all carried out back in the railway workshops at Douglas.

For the winter photo special, Caledonia will be pulling a special train featuring a coach from the Foxdale Railway which is also being restored to its original condition, complete with luxury upholstery in the compartment that was once used by the mines captain William Henry Kitto.

The Steam Railway will be open for four days this month, starting with the Love Train on St Valentine’s Day, before closing again until the 2013 season resumes on March 16.




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