Recently I have been watching some old rail films on YouTube. I often do. I find a lot of interesting documentaries online but these have been particularly special. I have been watching old films of steam trips in South Australia in the 1980s and 1990s. Naomi, David and I travelled on many of them ourselves and seeing that old footage makes me recall what good times we had.
I always look back on those days with a great deal of pleasure. We loved the steam engines and old carriages and we loved visiting different places around South Australia and western Victoria. What I had almost forgotten though is how good our South Australian broad gauge locomotives and their Victorian cousins sounded. They have wonderful deep-throated whistles very different to the high-pitched whistles that narrow gauge locomotives usually have. I love to hear a locomotive working hard climbing a hill and even the occasional wheel slip.
It all came back as I watched these old films taken by fellow rail fans probably with a big old video camera originally or maybe even Super 8 film. I remembered how good it was to smell the burning coal on a crisp winter morning and to sit back in your seat and listen to the clickety clack of wheels on rails. I remembered how we’d sometimes stand in a doorway or on an end platform to enjoy the sounds better. I remembered other things too; the box lunches we used to get, cold chicken and ham, some cheese, a pickle, a bread roll and a slice of sultana cake. The visits to the Bar Car where you could buy a Freddo Frog for five cents or a cup of tea for a dollar. Often we would congregate in the baggage van that served as bar car and braver souls would stand by the open door while others would sit amongst the boxes of potato chips, chocolate, beer and soft drinks and chat. It was a social event. There was a lot of trust in those early days too. You could leave your belongings on your seat and know they would be safe.
A few times in the films I spotted people who I used to know, volunteers or regular passengers, people I haven’t seen in 25 years or more but hadn’t forgotten. Naomi and I still have a laugh about the misadventures of some of them. The volunteer tour organiser who managed to miss his own train, the rail fans that strayed a bit too close to the locomotive while it was being watered and got an unexpected shower, the poor fellow who had his sleeping bag pinched on a very cold night when a bunch of us were sleeping on the train. Naomi has a very funny story about how she and David nearly missed the train themselves in some country town and had to run after it.
We participated in some special events too. We saw the “Flying Scotsman” on tour from England. We saw locomotives from New South Wales notably 3801. We saw and rode behind several locomotives from Victoria even travelling from Adelaide to Melbourne a couple of times.
I wish that I really did have a time machine so I could go back and do those trips again because in the real world it is no longer possible but being able to watch them on YouTube is the next best thing.
Here is a short video from steamsounds AU. It is about seven minutes long and while for last couple of minutes you can’t see anything much just listen.
I had my 18th birthday on one of these trips and I had cake and everyone in the carriage sang happy birthday to me. That was really special. I still remember all the people I used to chat to. They were all men heaps older than me and big rail fans with cameras and tape recorders who often enjoyed a beer with their mates while travelling. None of them minded a young teenage girl tagging along with them. I was only 13 or 14 when I started going on the longer trips. One of my friends had a huge microphone. Well it was three mikes wrapped up in a huge ball of foam the size of a beach ball to cut out the wind noise. It had me facinated. What fun we had and yes I have some funny stories of my own from those days. Maybe I will share them later in my own post.
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Yes, please do. One day I will get more of my pictures from those days onto the computer. I would hate to lose them.
This post was very moving for me. Thank you so much for writing all the details. I live halfway around the world from you, and I have no experience with trains, but you brought your world of that time period alive for me. Poignant.
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My sister said one day, and I agree, those were the best times of our lives.
I got into train videos when my grandson was about 3 and he loved them. It is another world that I enjoyed, vicariously.
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