Pinewood (Wokingham) Miniature Railway
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The Pinewood Miniature Railway Story

Everything has to start somewhere, but unusually perhaps, "Pinewood" seems to have several beginnings.  This is the story of  Pinewood Miniature Railway, incorporating notes and photographs of an early member, Fred Blois. 

1983 - The Start

Pinewood Railway is different to most, in that the railway came before the society that built it!  It was in 1983 that the site (which used to be the grounds of a hospital for chest ailments) was first investigated by a small group of railway enthusiasts. 

At that time, it was an overgrown area of scrubland and a few tumbledown buildings.  One of these had been leased by Bracknell Railway Club who were looking for new premises.  There was a very rough and bumpy concreted area which the original members wanted to use for an ambitious station and engine shed complex.

The local council however had other ideas, they wanted it to remain as a car park.  A typical British compromise was duly reached and both were allowed for.  Sometimes the problems associated with driving even a miniature railway through the woodland seemed insurmountable.

At one point the workers were warned to "beware of The Hole" (note caps) somewhere in the undergrowth.  It was only later they discovered just how close they had been to it, when they laid the first pieces of track.

The story of the viaduct built to cross "The Hole" is an epic in itself . At the time, the society's total assets were 650 feet of donated dual gauge track, four sit-astride four-wheeled trucks, a Simplex steam locomotive (at that time on loan) but no money to buy bricks.

However, one of the nearby forestry workers used to be a master bricklayer.  When he heard of the need for bricks for the viaduct he said "Go to the Brick Development Association in Ascot, see {name deleted} and tell him I sent you."  "Name Deleted" turned out to be most helpful and asked "How many bricks do you need?"  When told "How long is a piece of string?" he led our crew to a field in which there were horses grazing and lots of piles of bricks.  "If you can move them, you can have them" he said.  They moved them!

The members tried very hard to build the railway within the framework of the Bracknel Railway Club but insurance problems proved to be the final straw.  Sitting on a bench beside the station fence one evening, and after 14 months of building, the Pinewood Miniature Railway Society was formed. 

Fred Blois reports they were eight original members.  We think it right to list them alphabetically.  There were Chris Bell, Fred Blois, Colin Charlton, Dave Curtis, Billy Dwyer, Lee Porteus, Jim Rough and Sid Weedon.

In July 1983, the very first locomotive ran at Pinewood and on August 22 1983 Pinewood had its very first running day.  The track was short, but Blois writes "it was good fun".
By the end of October that year, the inspection pit was dug and by November the station started to resemble a station.  The following period was one of simple hard graft. Blois says, " was very difficult ... sleepers needed to be drilled and screwed and this became my main occupation for many months.  Once I woke up in the middle of the night, to find myself trying to put screws into my pillow!"

After eight months, enough track had been made and laid to provide an out and back journey of 650 feet.  In January 1984 the final section of the original 800 foot loop was fitted - the first 800 feet of what the society planned to do.  Jim Rough performed the "Golden Spike" ceremony late one night with very few onlookers.

During the rest of 1984, much was done to improve the station, but moves were afoot in the local Parish Council.  Only enough "jungle" had been removed to accommodate the railway.  At the end of January, "Dickie" Dove indicated the Parish Council might allow an extension to the track, through the "jungle" to give a longer run.  This coincided with the Council's aim to clean the site up generally and thin out the foliage and trees.  When permission came through, the members took a deep breath and launched in.

Over the next two years, the track was extended and lengthened considerably - to around two thirds of a mile in fact!  One notable mistake was made; a cutting was dug, taking a working party three whole days of cutting through tree roots and flint soil.

On inspection, the cutting was considered to be too close to the rear of a building and therefore dangerous.  An eighty foot cutting, three feet deep, which had taken three days to dig was filled in, in an evening, by a mechanical digger.

Ballast (the stones on which the track rests) also had to be procured.  Again, luck came Pinewood's way as a call was received at an opportune moment from Bracknell Railway Club saying they had some to spare.  Two hundred tons of it shortly arrived, for the cost of "a drink" for the truck driver.

Not only was Pinewood becoming a "proper" miniature railway, but the ageing of the track and maturing and healing of the freshly dug cuttings and woodland around it was making it beautiful. The original promise of a delightful ride through English woodland was coming true.

1986 - Officially Open

12 April 1986 - a date to remember. Ted Jolliffe, Editor of Model Engineer Magazine arrived to officially open the full length track.  As is often the way in England, the weather was not too bright, but the elation in official recognition of the Pinewood Miniature Railway by those "in the know" made the day bright.  Driving a member's steam locomotive, Ted performed a ceremonial circuit of the track.   "Engineering in Miniature" also featured the railway that year and attendances started to rise.

At this time, Dickie Dove received Honorary Membership of the Society for all his work with the Parish Council that had smoothed the way for the railway's construction.

1987 - The Wind Blows

Was it a Hurricane?  If you ask the British Meteorological Office they will say "No, it was a strong gale."  If you ask any resident of southern England, they will say "Yes". 

Whatever it was, October 1987 and its fateful night of 120mph winds will be remembered by the British for many years to come.   We lost hundreds of thousands of trees, many roofs and hundreds of vehicles across southern England.   Coincidentally, the Meteorological Office Head Quarters is only a couple of miles from the Pinewood Railway.  Perhaps we should have showed them?   These pictures tell their own story.

Naturally, not only the Pinewood Railway suffered, so did the rest of the country.

The rest of 1987 was spent in sawing, clearing, dragging and rebuilding and it was well into 1988 before work could start again on improvements.  

1993 - From 'out and back' to 'continuous loop'

Pinewood continued to increase in popularity and it became apparent that the terminus station, although picturesque and typical of railway station architecture, proved problematic but as the numbers of visitors increased.

Hitherto, trains would arrive on the arrivals platform, passengers would disembark and the carriages would be shunted (by hand) and returned to the departures platform.  Meanwhile, the engine was being turned on the turntable and then run forward across the points and backed onto the front of the new train.  This was time consuming.   Do this with three or four trains in circulation and you have a bottleneck! 

When passengers were seen leaving the queue before getting to ride, it was realised something needed to be done.  A continuous loop was becoming a necessity, being completed ready for the 1993 running season.  Whilst doing this, it was decided to relay the entire railway in new heavier gauge track!

2003/4 - Improvements to the Yard

Following a number of successful years passenger hauling operation, the need to improve storage - and acess of increasing numbers of coaches meant we built an extension to the original Engine Shed, and took the opportunity to revise the 'Yard' area, making it more attractive to visitors and better equiped to meet the needs of engine drivers.

2005 - The 'Chalet' opens its doors

Having focused on improving things for our passengers, 2005 saw us complete a new 'mess room' christened 'The Chalet'.  This provided a refuge from the elements on wet work days and peforms important roles as refreshment kiosk and Santa's Grotto during our relevant public events.  It was officially opened by the Wokingham Without Parish Council Chairman, Councillor Peter Sturgess.

2007 - Reopening the Viaduct

Since completion of the continuous loop, the viaduct had seen little service as it no longer formed part of the main running line.  An extensive renovation programme, including improved load bearing strength and improving safety with guard rails more often seen on major A-roads, was commenced and a whole new loop 'the bridge loop' was laid so we could once again use the viaduct.

Wokingham Borough Mayor, Councillor Annette Drake performed the opening ceremony, cutting a ribbon and driving a ceremonial lap on Dave Curtis' Romulus.

2008 - 25th Anniversary celebration

We celebrated the nominal 25 years since the beginning of the Pinewood Railway in this year. ‘Nominal’ because it is a compromise date between the start of planning (circa 1981), actual railway building (circa 1983) and the formal creation of the Society (July 1984)!  We were pleased to be joined by founder members Jim Rough and Lee Porteus, along with present member Dave Curtis.

The day was well supported with a good turnout of members and a variety of locos. Twelve locos ran during the afternoon and a further seven, some still ‘work in hand’ were displayed in the yard.

2010 - New steaming bays and our first 'Rally'

The Autumn rally of the Polly Owners Group was held at Pinewood and the newly extended steaming bays were soon in full use with a variety of different Polly locomotives in steam. Many of the various types were represented including two examples of the European Koppel design.

In all fifteen engines were in steam plus one static exhibit and two chassis of part built examples were on display.

We received many compliments with special praise reserved for the track, reflecting the many hours of maintenance undertaken as standard.  At the conclusion of the event the Owners Group presented us with a plaque to commemorate the event.

2011 - A new station and another 25th Anniversary!

In late 2010 we were delighted to be successful in our bid for funding from the 'Big Lottery' for a new station building in addition to junior training facilities.  Completed in time for our annual Family Day in June 2011, the new station was formally opened by the Chairman of Wokingham Without Parish Council, Cllr Seona Turtle.  After cutting the ribbon she drove a ceremonial lap of the track, followed by  a cavalcade of members locos.

2011 was also our 25th Anniversary of public running, which we celebrated on the same day, with an appropriately decorated cake and a toast to the next 25 years !

The local press were in attendance and we received good coverage in the Bracknell News, from which this cutting is taken.

The smooth operation is testament to the quality of the new track work and the skill of the locomotive builders, drivers and all our volunteers.  We hope the Pinewood Story has interested you, if you're down our way, do drop by and take a journey through the woods.  It matters not whether it's winter or summer.  In summer, the sunlight through the trees is delightful; on cold winter days, the steam billows around you like a cloud and being pine woods, the trees are green all year.

Finally, don't forget - you can always become a member and join us!

Pinewood Miniature Railway Society Limited 2011
Registered Office: -  Pinewood Miniature Railway Society Limited, Pinewood Leisure Centre, Old Wokingham Road, WOKINGHAM, Berks.  RG40 3AQ