This is the name given to trains of 19thC four wheeler coaches which would have been used in the early days of the railway. It includes quarrymen’s coaches from the 1860s as well as the first passenger coaches to run on the railway and a break van.
The quarrymen’s coaches, affectionally known as ‘bug boxes’ were a wooden box with benches round the walls and small, open square windows. In the centre is the vacuum break, under a metal cover, which provides extra seating. There was no heating and no lights. It can’t have been very pleasant on a cold dark winter’s morning.
The passenger coaches were only marginally more comfortable. They have a long wooden seat, described as a knife board bench along the length of the coach. Some have glazed windows, others are half glazed. A padded cushion provides a degree of comfort.
The observation coaches are similar but have a wire mesh across the opening rather than windows and a padded PVC seat.
There is also a totally open wagon, known as the flying bench, which has a leather apron across the front of the bench seat.
The break van has a wooden seat and can take a few passengers as well as luggage, push chairs and wheelchairs. It also has small square windows. The rear one gives good views back along the track, making you realise just how little clearance there is in places between coaches and the sides of cuttings.
The train is usually pulled by Prince, or Paalmerstone, some of the first locos to work on the railway and runs between Porthmadog and Tan-y-Bwlch during special event weekends.
Doors open outwards, so are locked by the guard before the train leaves to stop them flying open during the journey.
Passengers need to be prepared to clamber over the bench. Facing the loco, the platform is on the left hand side of the coach at Porthmadog, but at Minfford and Tan-y-Bwlch, it is on the right hand side. On the plus side, coaches are lower than the standard coaches, so there is only a low step into it from the platform.
Despite the disadvantages, the flying flea is always popular with visitors and runs with a full load. It gives an experience of what travel would have been like on the railway 150 years ago in the early days of steam hauled passenger transport. It is something enthusiasts should do at least once. The danger is that it can become addictive. The experience is definitely 5* although the comfort of ride is considerably less.