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December 22, 2023

Car Gwyllt: Quarrymen in North Wales Used to Hurtle Down a Mountain on a Homemade Toboggan Thingy

The car gwyllt (wild car) – it’s not a Mustang nor a Ferrari, but a skimpy piece of wood mounted on a wheel and a rod of iron racing 50mph down a Welsh mountain.

The car gwyllt was invented around 1870 by the quarry blacksmith, Edward Ellis. In later years they were made by Edward Jones, an independent smith living on Manod Road, who charged 5 shillings. Each quarryman had their own car and so an early purchase with a new starter’s tal mawr would be a new car gwyllt. When they got to the bottom they would chuck their cart into a wagon which would be transported back to the top of the mountain each day.

Their construction was a wooden plank, around two feet long. It rode on a single double-flanged wheel, with a V-shaped iron slipper on the rear of the plank. It was balanced by an iron outrigger to one side, with a pipe-shaped roller over its end. This wide roller also allowed for slight variations in gauge. To control the car there was a hand brake. Pulling upwards on this applied an iron brake to the tread of the wheel. Despite the simplicity of the idea, the cars were not unsophisticated in their manufacture. Most was made by the smith, but the cast wheel was made by a foundry in Porthmadog. The brake linkage comprised several pieces, each hand-forged. The brake handle was detachable and fitted over the main lever. It was decoratively forged with a lightweight curve. When not in use it was carried in the quarryman’s pocket, a primitive form of anti-theft measure.

The carts lived up to their wild name with regular accidents, broken bones and even deaths. If you didn’t use any kind of braking, you were in serious risk of knacking yourself. The wild cars were used up until the quarry shut in the 1940s.


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