16mm Projects

Alan Poxon : Penrhyn coal and the devil wagons

In 1857, the Penrhyn Railway began to move coal from Port Penrhyn to the quarry, and other places on the Penrhyn Estate adjacent to the line. Coal was delivered by sea from the Point of Ayr Colliery in Flintshire and stacked in a walled enclosure on the wharf. From there, an initial batch of six wagons moved the coal inland on Saturdays when there was no slate traffic.

The need for coal increased significantly in the following years, not least because of the introduction of steam locomotives from 1875. Some sixty coal wagons, of a variety of designs, were eventually recorded in the fleet, including four owned by the Anglesey Shipping Company. These latter examples were confined within Port Penrhyn to supply the steamships owned by Lord Penrhyn but were later used on the quarry railway from 1904.

Penrhyn coal wagon.

The first batch of wooden coal wagons, made at the quarry workshops at Coed-y-Parc, were of a distinctive design. There was a baulk of timber fixed to the sides which was used to support the end of a plank, up which wheelbarrows could be pushed to fill the wagons with coal. There were no doors in the first coal wagons but later examples had end doors included. The timber beam also acted as a rubbing strake when passing through gated crossings on the line.

Making a start on a Wood Valley Works Penrhyn coal wagon.

Body of the first coal wagon ready to fit to the frames.

Coal wagons complete with real coal loads.


Wood Valley Works make a very nice 16mm kit of these early Penrhyn coal wagons. The laser cut mdf and plywood model comes complete with brass bearings and 3d printed detailing parts. An optional coal load, with large or small lumps, is available for purchase with the kit. Building instructions are downloaded from the Wood Valley Works website. The kit was one of the easiest that I have ever built with parts fitting together with no adjustment.

Rivet detail was added using Crafty Critters half moon nail art before painting in Penrhyn grey. I fabricated my own loads using real coal on a balsa wood insert. The coal wagons ran well with a single link between the wagons and a three link chain connecting the first wagon to the locomotive. A small adhesive weight between the frames over each axle helped with smooth running. All-in-all my favourite 16mm kit.

Anglesey Shipping Company coal wagons.

To go with the four early Penrhyn coal wagons, I wanted to build models of all four of the Anglesey Shipping Company coal wagons or long wagons as they were known at the time. On researching these long wagons, I found only two photographs but I was greatly helped by a reconstruction of one of the wagons using recovered metalwork. This reconstructed long wagon is to be found at the Llanuwchllyn Heritage Centre at the Bala Lake Railway. From a distance, the reconstructed long wagon does not appear to have a side door but on closer inspection there is a hinge mechanism that allows the whole of the wagon side to be opened. At least one of the original long wagons had a smaller side door cut into the  centre of the three-plank side at some stage.

One source suggests that at least one wagon was built on recycled wagon frames and I intended to do the same.

Anglesey Shipping Company coal wagons in various stages of completion.

Complete fleet of Anglesey Shipping Company coal wagons.

The bodywork was fabricated from balsa wood deeply scribed to represent the planks. Pasticard and coffee stirrers were used for the flat and angle stripping on the body. Rivet detail was NailArt half moons glued in place. I experimented with some self-adhesive versions but these did not stick well to wood but were fine on plastic. What little hinge detail there is visible on the prototypes is represented by brass rod on the model.

Devil Wagons

Over seventy large-bodied metal end-tipping wagons were supplied from an unknown manufacturer to Penrhyn Quarry in the 1920s. They were used to serve the four Ruston-Bucyrus American Devil steam powered excavators. The wagons removed waste slate to the tips and were variously known as steam navvy wagons, auto-tipper tubs or just devil wagons. These devil wagons were latterly painted with black bitumen but I have been led to believe that they were delivered in grey livery similar to the preserved example at the Welsh Highland Heritage Railway.

The Line Side Hut produce a kit of the Penrhyn devil wagons. This laser-cut wooden model is very accurate and goes together without any difficulty using the supplied instructions. The completed wagon is very light and, for satisfactory running. weight needed to be added below the plate frames. Rivet detail to the body and the frames was again added using Crafty Critters half moon nail art.

Frames and bodywork of the Penrhyn devil wagons.

Devil wagons ready for painting.

Devil wagons complete in Penrhyn


Comparison of devil wagon with earlier slate rubbish wagon.

Devil wagon with slate dust and tailings.

Coupling height is very low relative to the other Penrhyn wagons and the locomotives but the use of a runner wagon, as on the prototype, solves the problem. There is a significant size difference between devil wagons and the older waste wagons in use at Penrhyn. The extra weight would be very difficult to manhandle and you can see how the name devil wagon stuck with the quarrymen.

Penrhyn coal and the devil wagons.


January 2023


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