Elizabeth Partridge tells us about how a lifelong love of trains led her to become Snowdon Mountain Railway’s first female fireman.
Becoming the first female fireman the Snowdon Mountain Railway feels like a real achievement. It basically means that I’m responsible for keeping the fire going on the vintage steam trains that travel up and down the mountain every day. For someone who’s loved steam engines all her life, it’s hugely exciting.
I’ve always found railways so fascinating and all of the different types of locomotives unusual. My love of steam engines started when I was little, when I used to visit the Severn Valley Railway in Shropshire with my grandparents and younger brother.
My railway career got going when I began volunteering at Bala Lake Railway. It was there that I learnt to fire the little Quarry Hunslet engine, which was the first step on this long train journey. As I got more confident, I went on to volunteer at the Langollen Railway, where I was eventually taught how to fire a Standard Gauge Engine. I’m now a full-time employee of Snowdon Mountain Railway, travelling to Llanberis every day from my home in Bala on the other side of Snowdonia National Park. It’s quite a commute, but that doesn’t matter when you love your job as much as I do.
Working on the steam engines isn’t easy. Keeping the locomotive on the move requires constant concentration. I have to lay the fire correctly on the steamer, shovelling coal throughout the journey, making sure to maintain the correct pressure. On top of that, I have to jump out at Halfway station on the route to Snowdon’s summit to put water into the steam engine. On the way down, I have to clean the fire, removing any clinkers that form on the firebars, whilst still maintaining the pressure, and then I lay a fresh bed of coal and clean the tubes. Then at the end of the day I clean out the smoke box.
It might seem like an unusual career choice for a woman but there are more women these days who have an interest in the railway world. The Talyllyn Railway in Tywyn have a lot of female volunteers, as does the Ffestiniog Railway, Llangollen Railway, and many more railways around the UK, including main line work.
The name confuses some people, but I’m perfectly happy to be known as a fireman. I don’t want anyone calling me a firewoman or fireperson. There’s just no need for it. Woman ends with man doesn’t it?
For more information, visit the Snowdon Mountain Railway website.