The Best Times of Our Lives


image 520 class loco

SAR 520 class “Sir Malcolm Barclay Harvey” at Adelaide Railway Station circa 1977

Recently my sister and I went to the Hobart Model Railway Show. It is usually held at the Tasmanian Transport Museum in Glenorchy.  It is always a busy day for them and they fired up their M class steam locomotive on the Sunday.

Seeing a live steam engine made us nostalgic. We spent a lot of our teenage years traveling on steam excursions around South Australia. My sister said that she thought that those were probably the best times we had in our lives. I tend to agree. We were so lucky that we were in the right place at the right time to do that.

It all started when I was about thirteen. We were in Adelaide with mum one day when I saw a big sign advertising a school holiday trip on a steam train. I asked mum if she would take us as my birthday treat. She agreed and we had such a good time we wanted to go again. The next year mum let us go by ourselves and soon we were regularly doing trips on Saturday or Sunday afternoons around the suburbs.

I remember how in 1972 we got a brochure in the mail with the latest trips being run and  one of them was a weekend trip to Victor Harbour, a seaside town about 50 miles away from Adelaide. I was fifteen and we didn’t really expect that we would be allowed to go away overnight without an adult but we asked anyway. Much to our surprise mum said we could go if we could get someone older to go with us. We produced a seventeen year old cousin and that was acceptable. We took sleeping bags and slept in the carriages in the station yard. Can you imagine the horror of parents today if three teenage girls did that? My sister was only thirteen. Rail fans, then and now, were predominantly men a lot older than we were. However, in all the time we went on trips together we never felt unsafe or had any trouble with men. Most were just surprised that two girls would be interested in trains.

After that trip we went as often as we could afford. Once I turned sixteen we were allowed to go without a chaperone although our cousin sometimes came along too. At that time there were still many country towns that could be reached by rail and as we were too young to drive it was an ideal way to see the countryside in safety. We went to country shows and festivals like the Cornish Festival in the “copper triangle” of Moonta, Wallaroo and Kadina and the Orange Festival in the Riverland district visiting towns like Loxton and Berri. We went on evening trips where there were “listening stops” where everyone could get out of the train usually somewhere in the countryside. You stumbled into a dark paddock and waited while the train reversed back down the track a mile or so and then came forward working hard and whistling. Most people said that for recording the conditions were better at night. We enjoyed standing in the night air listening although we never became avid steam sound recorders. Sometimes we’d stay on the train and watch the people instead especially if it was raining.

Sometimes we went on dinner trips where we’d  be served a meal in a 1920s Pullman dining car and other times it would be a run round less used suburban lines to factories or to the docks. When we were a little older we visited wineries although we were always more interested in the trains than the wine. We went on other weekend trips too and even joined the Australian Railway Historical Society. My sister reminded me how at the meeting where we were accepted as members we got a round of applause when our names were read out. We are not sure if that was because we were girls or because we actually turned up at the meeting.

We enjoyed the meetings which were held once a month. After the business part of the evening there would be an interval when we’d buy a drink and browse in the book sales area. then we’d have entertainment, usually a slide show or films, sometimes professionally made but more often than not made by members. Many were excellent, occasionally they were terrible but everyone was polite and applauded anyway. We still laugh over the awful slides a member brought of his trip to England. There were numerous slides of clouds taken from the plane and a lot of his railway photos were out of focus. We had a really hard time not laughing. Traditionally the evening ended at the Pie Cart in front of the Adelaide Station where those of us catching public transport home usually ended up buying a hot drink or snack.

I can still remember the sheer excitement I felt on the morning of a trip. We’d get to the city early and would run up to the end of the platform to watch the locomotive arriving. We were not the only ones, there was usually a crowd of other rail fans with cameras and families with children doing the same thing. “Look, there’s the smoke.” someone would say. “There’s the whistle, here she comes.” and soon we’d see the engine and tender reversing into the station and backing onto the train.

We’d stand on the end platforms of the old wooden carriages or stick our heads out of the windows risking getting soot in our eyes. Many rail fans wore goggles but we never did. Sometimes we took a packed lunch and a thermos of tea which we frequently seemed to break. Other times we bought box lunches usually consisting of a bit of chicken, a bit of ham, piece of cheese, bread roll and a pickle followed by a slab of fruit cake. We still call that particular light fruit cake “railway cake” when we see it. If we were still hungry we could buy sweets, potato chips and drinks from the baggage car later.

Those were such great days, we met lots of friendly people, saw places, laughed a lot and learned new things. You really could not ask for more than that.

M Class steam locomotive and train. Tasmanian Transport Museum.

M Class steam locomotive and train. Tasmanian Transport Museum.

 

7 thoughts on “The Best Times of Our Lives

  1. Great photos. Sounds like you had a fun time. I like these old trains. One or two times in a year there is a very old German locomotive in our city. Still waiting to see this thing coming through the city again, to take some photos, although I never know when this happens and where I can get the info, probably in the train station, I will ask some day. I saw this thing a few times, but phones had no good camera at that time, and I had no camera with me. Since then I only hear from others that they saw the old locomotive again. Would be a great photo subject.

    About your trips in the young age,… if I would have a daughter today, there is no way I would allow her to travel through Germany alone, not even with a friend, I also wouldn’t allow this if I had a son. Too much crime everywhere, I am always sad if I hear about the things that happen today. Grandma and grandpa told me that it was different back then, and that not so much things happened as today. Looks like it was less dangerous at your teenage time too.

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    • I think it was less dangerous back then. Rail fans are a lot like geeks I think. There was one man that as we grew older we were suspicious of as he was always hanging around young children but we were too old and too independent to be victims.
      If there is a railway museum in your city you could enquire there or a national museum would have a website. I did have a quick look and found this link.
      http://www.eisenbahnfreunde-zollernbahn.de/
      It might be helpful. The railway station may have information too. In the northern hemisphere tourist trains usually run only in the summer months and occasionally, in England at least, on a limited timetable in winter with “santa specials” at Christmas. I’m not sure if this would be the case in Germany. In Australia they generally run in the winter with steam due the fire risks and with diesels in summer if they run at all.
      A steam locomotive appearing out of the fog is a fantastic sight to photograph. Most of my old rail photos are not on the computer as yet but I will get round to it one day.

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      • That is true, I usually saw this locomotive in the warmer seasons. Couldn’t find any informations with the link you posted, it seems that is another locomotive fan club. But now I found a video of the locomotive on YouTube when it was passing our city… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sa1ceZ1Y794

        There are some informations in the description, including a link to a site of the club that maintains the old train. I will ask them when they are in our city again.

        I do agree, I am not very train geeky, but anyway, I would love to take photos of old trains too, I like many subjects. The photos would work pretty well in black and white I think, although I would upload both, in colour and black and white.

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      • Thank you for the link to the film as well. I’ve been watching it and it’s very interesting. German rail fans act pretty much the same as Australian ones, 🙂
        I do like your Lubeck Railway Station with it’s arches over the platforms. I like railway architecture. When rail was the main form of land transport stations were glorious buildings. Bridges, water towers and other structures make great photography subjects.
        I did manage to find an English Wiki giving some background about the locomotive in the film. It’s a similar age to the one at the beginning of my post.
        I hope you will get a chance to do some railway photography some time. There should be plenty of vantage points you can get to although taking a ride may give you the opportunity to see parts of the city you don’t often visit. I noticed that in some shots in the film the platforms appeared overgrown so I am guessing the line theywere using is no longer used for passenger services. I have also seen people follow the route of the train in a car stopping at various locations to film/photograph the train as it passes. That is probably better done with a friend so one can drive while the other navigates and looks out for the train in case it’s running late or early.

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    • No, that was then and I was going to mention it till I saw I had already written a thousand words. Long posts can be boring. I think I wrote about it in an older series of posts last year. “For The Love of Trains” parts one, two and three.

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