Basil Roberts, 1935 - 2003
Basil Roberts, Steam Railway enthusiast of Wem, passed away on September 12th, aged 68. So read the notice in the Shropshire Star.
Basil, who some will know as 'Elpus' or 'Lord Elpus', first became involved in the Welshpool & Llanfair as a member of the Salop breakdown gang unloading 'The Earl' and his ingenuity and ability to maintain steam engines remote from any mechanical aid is one of the reasons that the railway is here today.
Brought up in Wem, Shropshire, he followed his father onto the railway, serving his time as a fitter at Salop shed. National service took him via Longmoor to the Low Countries where he discovered one of his other great talents, languages. He was allocated a fitter's mate from the Tirol and, working with him on German diesel hydraulics, learnt the language in very short order, though for the rest of his life he spoke German with a strong Tirolean accent.
At Llanfair Basil was mainly concerned with the welfare of 'The Earl' and old hands still remember him, during the savage winter of 62/63, drilling out the studs of the top feed on the engine by hand.
On reopening day in April 63 Basil, driving 'The Earl', brought the Chairman's party up from Welshpool for the ceremony at Llanfair.
Intrigued by 'Nutty', he re-gauged and overhauled the Sentinel loco. During a cabless test run he buffered up to his own foot, putting his leg in plaster but this only served to give him six weeks sick leave to finish the overhaul and mix concrete for the work on the Banwy bridge.
Basil was restless without a challenge and in the late sixties moved first to East African Railways in Tanzania and then to Bankok, where he added Thai to his languages. He had always been an accomplished photographer but the Bankok contract included home leave in the UK traveling by any route and this was the opportunity that allowed him to join the world league.
He came back to the UK in the mid seventies to work in the food industry, the pilot plant for Cup-a-Soup being one of his creations (partly built at Llanfair). On the W & L he quickly had 'Dougal' going. 'Joan' followed and he was recruited to lead a Job Creation Scheme then running. Vacuum fitting, Grondana adaptation, the overhaul of No 85 and the conversion of the Bowater flats were some of his projects and all his gang subsequently found employment in engineering. His ability to impart knowledge was considerable, but woe betide those who lacked concentration!
By the early eighties he was ready to travel once more and long periods working on the Zillertalbahn and the Alfred County Railway were punctuate by project work at Boston Lodge and the MOD. The nineties opened those parts of the Eastern Bloc even he couldn't reach before so he learnt Russian and for a while lived near Dresden to be closer to the steam action.
Older members will remember the Saturday evening slide and film shows in the Wynnstay's lounge at Llanfair. The screen for these events was a bed sheet borrowed from Mrs Astley and Basil's usual tipple an 'Anti-Southampton'....a pint of lime juice (a drink he took to and named after a bad experience drinking 'large ports').
Latterly, he had been transferring his photo archive onto CD and when he died his case was half packed for a trip to the Ukraine for yet more photographs.
With Basil's death we have lost another of the characters who shaped the W & L and its ethos of friendliness. To Basil's brother Tony and family we extend our condolences. 'Lord Elpus' may have gone, but he will not be forgotten for a long time.