History and Operations
The Skarloey Railway was originally built to serve a copper mine at Ward Fell owned by the Crovan's Gate Mining Company. By 1900, it seemed the copper veins were running out. Miners searching for further copper in the foothills came upon good slate. The Company’s main interest was in copper, but they had no objection to using slate as a secondary freight. They lost interest, however, when the copper ran out at last, and sold out in 1909 to Mr. Handel Brown. Slate boomed during World War I, but slumped badly afterwards, with the quarry running at a loss from 1924.
The line south from Skarloey station Yard is now a forbidden area. Before the Ministry of Defence bought it in 1960, it was pleasant to walk (with due permission), through the tumbledown gate and along the track leading to the quarries. The line had been built for mineral traffic only, and was not well kept and true to gauge. This explains why Sir Handel with his, then, narrow wheel treads slipped down to the sleepers between two loosely spiked rails.
This section was never part of the main line, seen and passed by the Board of Trade Inspector for passenger traffic. It wound along the edge of the escarpment, and from time to time people would get splendid views of the valley below. Then comes the sidings where engines left their empty wagons, and waited for loaded ones to come down. Here water was channelled from a mountain stream so that the tanks of waiting engines could be filled.
The incline was all that was left of “The Railroad” which strode up the Benglas from Cros-ny-Cuirn to Ward Fell. By 1949/50 however, the slate quarry was nearly worked out, and with the death of Sir Handel Brown I in 1950, the future for the railway and the valley looked very black indeed.
During the Second World War, the Ministry of Defence had taken over the old copper mines on Ward Fell for ammunition storage. Being in need of extra space they approached Sir Handel II in 1953 about his recently abandoned slate quarry. Negotiations took time, for if the M.O.D. were to use it, the quarry had to be cleared and terms agreed on. It was on one of these last clearing trips in 1958, that the breakaway on the incline occurred, and Peter Sam was damaged. The sale went through in 1960, and the price paid went a considerable way towards funding the con- struction of the Lakeside loop line.
The Quarry Line is now a forbidden area. The tumble-down gate with its TRESPASSERS W... sign so faded as to be but a feeble deterrent, have both gone. In their place stands a strong wire perimeter fence with locked double gates. Skull and crossbones plaques attached at intervals to the fence all round emphasise the perils of unwise trespassing.
Even the engines obey this order. Each brings its load up to the gates, uncouples and scurries away backwards as though fearful of being detected in the committing of some heinous crime. Once it is safely away and out of sight the gates open, and a black beetle-like electric locomotive appears pushing a rake of empty vans. These are left on a siding. The black beetle couples to the loaded vans, and draws them away. The gates clang shut and are locked electronically while the beetle takes its load to a secret destination. Only then may an SR engine venture out to remove the empty vans. Sir Handel was hauling a train of these vans when the steam roller incident occurred. Fortunately they were empty, otherwise the results might have been startling for all concerned.
In the television series, some slate trucks later broke the winch again, which caused then to crash through some buffers, causing an avalanche and trapping Skarloey under it. Duncan was once being very impatient to finish his work at the quarry, which caused him to be dragged up the incline with his slate trucks. The winch then broke and he, with his slate trucks, fell into the muddy ravine.
After the transfer to larger scale models for the Skarloey Railway engines, the quarry made more infrequent appearances in such episodes as The Refreshment Lady's Tea Shop (only in stock footage) and Rusty Saves the Day. It has not been seen since the eleventh season and seems to have been replaced by the Blue Mountain Quarry.
- The set that was used from the sixth season was later redressed for the coal yard.
- On the Talyllyn Railway, there was also a watering point a short distance below the bottom of the incline.