A small factory alongside a house and garden amid the rolling hills of Herefordshire is maybe not the most obvious location for a significant railway business.
There again, there are not too many railway businesses quite like Alan Keef Ltd. Not only is it a family run operation in the most literal sense, with leading roles played by father (Alan) son (Patrick) and daughter (Alice) but for almost two decades has held an annual Open Day. This event combines showcasing projects which the company is working on with a social occasion known throughout the narrow gauge fraternity, with the modest entrance fee raising funds for local charities. In fact, the whole Open Day idea started when funds were needed to rebuild the spire of the nearby church.
Alan Keef founded the business which bears his name in 1972. It was then based at Cote Farm in Oxfordshire and dealt in second-hand locomotives, track, stock and parts. In 1986 the company, by now building small diesel locomotives, moved to its present HQ at Lea Line, just outside Ross-on-Wye.
The business has evolved over the years. At its core is the construction of locomotives and carriages for narrow gauge and minimum gauge railways, but its portfolio encompasses everything from producing an operational replica of the bizarre Listowel and Ballybunion Railway (including building sections of Lartigue Monorail, a diesel powered locomotive to the original steam outline and coaches) in Ireland to involvement in prestigious standard gauge replica early loco projects. The latter arose from the firm supplying the cylinders and motion for the replica ‘Steam Elephant’ built for Beamish (including handling final assembly and steam testing of the loco) a decade ago, which led to construction of a replica ‘Puffing Billy’ (also for Beamish) which was completed in 2006.
Although internal combustion remains very much part of the business portfolio, the firm has built a solid reputation for the quality of its steam work, undertaking overhauls and restorations of numerous locomotives. Work on show this year at its September 24 Open Day proves the point.
Work has been progressing on a pair of Krauss 0-4-0WT metre gauge locos for a customer in Holland. One (3192/1894) is almost complete following fitting of a new Israel Newton-built boiler with work picking up pace on the other, 5742/1908 which also needs a new boiler. Also in the factory was the (inverted!) stripped chassis of the Isle of Man Steam Railway’s Dubs 0-6-0T No. 15 Caledonia, Bure Valley Railway-based No. 9 2-6-4T Mark Timothy is part-way through a 10-year overhaul and the chassis of Baldwin 4-6-0T WDLR No. 794 is being restored for the Welsh Highland Heritage Railway.
Also shown virtually ready for delivery was the latest new bogie coach Alan Keef Ltd has built for the nearby 15in gauge Perrygrove Railway – a line for which the company also built a brand new 2-6-2T named Lydia in 2008.
To contribute to the fun aspect of the day, this year the steam-hauled rides on the demonstration line were handled by Alan Keef’s own 0-4-0VBT Taffy, plus Graham Morris’s ‘Wren’ 4256/1922 Peter Pan and Nick Williams’ Andrew Barclay 0-4-0T Jack which visited for the day.
The pictures give a flavour of this year’s Open Day as described, plus a reminder of the replica ‘Puffing Billy’. The latter was taken on April 21 2006 (prior to removal of the temporary office block at the site) when the loco was steam tested on a set of rollers to simulate forward progress!