By Cliff Thomas

Portuguese Embassy visits Stonehenge in deepest Bedfordshire to launch Pedemoura into service after a gap of 50 years

Published: 28th September 2016

Orenstein & Koppel 90hp locomotive back in service

Newly restored Orenstein & Koppel 90hp 0-6-0WT Pedemoura (OK10808/1924) was officially launched into service at the Leighton Buzzard Railway on September 24. Present was Sr Jose Galaz, Attaché for Social Affairs and Transport at the Portuguese Embassy, who unveiled the locomotive’s nameplate at Page’s Park station in front of invited guests, many of whom had worked towards the successful completion of a long and difficult restoration.

With UK and Portuguese flags in the front coupler, Pedemoura then hauled a special train to Leighton Buzzard Railway’s Stonehenge Works terminus, pausing at the lines Appenine Way level crossing mid-trip to enable guests to photograph the train under sunny skies. At Stonehenge Works, the team who had worked on resurrecting the once-derelict loco posed for photographs.

Wood burning loco to haul coal!

Built in 1924 by Orenstein & Koppel (O&K) in Berlin, Pedemoura was constructed to work at the Pedorido coal mine in the Douro valley in Northern Portugal, a region more usually noted for vineyards, fine wine and leisurely river cruises.

Being the biggest and most powerful of six locomotives working on a railway owned by the Douro Carboniferous, which connected several coal mines in the region with the river, it attained ‘pride of the fleet’ status. This was a double-edged sword, being the most popular loco it also did the most work – consequently, as restorers were to discover many years later, it was the most worn out.

Ironically, with the coal from the mines being of very low quality and only useable for power stations, the preferred fuel for Pedemoura actually seems to have been wood!

Not quite the bargain it seemed

The mines closed in the late 1960s and the six locomotives were spotted by a consortium of English railway buffs who negotiated their purchase in 1972 for the apparently bargain price of £1,715. However, when the six locos arrived on the quayside at Gaia someone in a Portuguese Government Department realised a large slice of industrial history was about to be lost, the press seized on the story and a block was put on the purchase.

Eventually it was agreed just three of the engines could be exported, one being Pedemoura. With the deal no longer the bargain it had seemed, the buyers had to sell off the other three locomotives to recoup their costs. Those three remaining in Portugal survive on static display.

Preservation and restoration in Britain

On arriving in Britain Pedemoura initially went to the 2ft gauge railway then operating at Knebworth Park, although it never worked there. In 1975 the loco was relocated to the line now known as Welsh Highland Heritage Railway at Porthmadog. Some work towards restoration was started but this went into abeyance.

In 2005 a trio of Leighton Buzzard Railway volunteers purchased Pedemoura, now a rather forlorn ‘kit of parts’. So began the long, and at times frustrating, task of restoring the loco to working condition.

They said:

Welcoming the guests to the official launch, LBR Vice-President Alf Fisher commented, “Pedemoura spent all her commercial working life in Portugal, so we are delighted that Sr Galaz has been able to join us today. We intend that she will enjoy a long and active ‘retirement’ at the Leighton Buzzard Railway alongside our extensive collection of locomotives from all around the world.”

“There were many in the world of railways who said it was an impossible task but with great perseverance and considerable cash input the result is what you see today,” Alf observed. “We hope you think, like us, that it has been a worthwhile effort to bring this piece of industrial history back to life. It is intended to work the extension of our railway which we hope will materialise in the next few years.”

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