July 20, 2024

Railway reaping the benefits of knowledge and skills transfer

The Ffestiniog & Welsh Highland Railways (FfWHR) is reaping the benefits of knowledge and skills transfer between its most senior volunteers and youngest employees.

Take Bob Smith, 81, an experienced pattern maker and former apprentice Adam Livingstone, now 27, for example.

The railway welcomed Bob to its Boston Lodge Works in Porthmadog as a volunteer in his early 70s after a career in engineering with Rover Cars in Leicester. He had retired to Penrhydeudraeth, with his wife, Lesley but word of his skillset soon reached the nearby FfWHR.

Because heavy work was becoming a challenge, Bob was paired with Adam who had just completed an apprenticeship in woodwork and was employed in the Carriage Works.

“When we began working together, Adam could see I knew my stuff and we got on like a house on fire,” explained Bob, who was 76 when he began volunteering. “We didn’t have a cross word in our years working together and I was able to pass on my skills, too. 

Pattern making involves wood turning and sand casting to make a pattern to go to the foundry to turn out engineering parts. There was a lot for Adam to get his head around, like making patterns in contraction and taper, getting the angles right!”

Adam now runs his own business, Livingston Joinery, and is a contractor to FfWHR. “I had completed my apprenticeship and then went on to learn pattern making from Bob, skills I now use in my business.

“We already had the basics of hand tooling from the FfWHR apprenticeship and the concept of pattern making came when Bob joined as a volunteer. Having different generations working together is something the FfWHR does well.

I am always surprised by the number of volunteers that come in later in life who, like Bob, want to carry on teaching people and passing on their skills as well as learning themselves.

Without the railway to keep skills alive, trades like bench joinery will be lost with most people now working on site, not on traditional bench work.”

Bob said he is happy to retire now and enjoys relaxing in Spooners at the FfWHR Harbour Station. After finishing his apprenticeship at 21 and making patterns until April 2023, he clocked up over 50 years in the trade.

His volunteering is a legacy contribution to the skills at the world leading Boston Lodge Works. 

Caption: Adam Kingston and Bob Smith reminisce about making a complex pattern for a Kerr Stuart loco fuel pump.