Talyllyn Railway remembers John Snell


Talyllyn Railway Preservation Society was saddened to hear of the death of one of its first volunteers and a significant figure in the field of railway preservation, John Snell, who was the fireman on the first train to run on the Talyllyn under preservation.
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John was born in 1932 in Fiji and was educated in New Zealand until 1945 when he went to Bryanston School. He obtained a place at Balliol College, Oxford to read Politics, Philosophy and Economics in 1951, but had also volunteered to work on Talyllyn Railway in preparation for the line opening under the auspices of the Talyllyn Railway Preservation Society.
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In his book Mixed Gauges he recounts that he accompanied Tom Rolt and David Curwen to Tywyn in April 1951, having first visited the line at Easter 1947.
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A fireman on the inaugural train on May 14, 1951, he continued to volunteer as a fireman and subsequently driver during his summer vacations for the next three years. He even appeared in the film Railway With A Heart of Gold during the sequence where locomotive No.3 derails.
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Mr Rolt, in his book Railway Adventure, stated that he “could imagine no catastrophe of fire, flood or sudden death dire enough to make John show any excitement or quicken his normal pace …. he was to prove a most valuable addition to what might be called the ‘permanent staff’’.
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John was also a keen and competent photographer and took some interesting pictures of the Talyllyn in both black and white and colour. He also photographed other railways both in UK and overseas.
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His subsequent career included working for London Transport, British Railways and, finally, 28 years as general manager of the Romney Hythe and Dymchurch Railway from 1972. In later years, he was actively involved with the Heritage Railway Association and travelled worldwide, photographing and travelling on huge variety of railways.
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He did not volunteer on Talyllyn Railway again, but remained a life member and was a regular visitor to the line, attending both the narrow gauge staff get-togethers and other special Talyllyn Railway events.
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He was present to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of that first ‘preservation’ train on May 14, 2011, when he posed on No.2 Dolgoch at Rhydyronen as he had done on the inaugural train 60 years before.
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Talyllyn Railway Preservation Society chairman Jane Garvey said: “It is sad that we have lost another direct link to the earliest days of the preservation society and their efforts to save the railway for future generations.
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“We, and indeed the whole railway preservation movement, owe a huge debt of gratitude to John and those like him for their commitment to the railway in those early years, without which we would not be here today.
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“It was a privilege to have him as our guest of honour for the Railway’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations as the world’s first preserved railway, but it is a pity we will not be able to welcome him to our 150th Anniversary celebrations next year.”
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