This M class steam engine belongs to the Tasmanian Transport Museum. The M5 entered service in May 1952 the same year it was built. It was in service until 1971. The M5 hauled suburban passenger trains and some special trains until it’s retirement in 1971. M5 was donated to the museum in the mid seventies and was on display for many years before being fully restored to working order. Here is my photo of M5 taken last year at the museum. I have provided a link for those who would like to learn more about M5, or the museum. If you are planning a trip to Tasmania it is well worth a visit. If you should be here on the week end of August 19th & 20th there will be a model railway exhibition. For more details follow the link to their website. Get there early though as it is a very popular event and will be crowded.
As you know I was in Melbourne last week visiting my friend Gillian and her husband Bruce. It was Gillian’s 60th birthday and as we live in different states and don’t see each other often we try to get together for the milestone birthdays and do something special. Five years ago they came to Tasmania and we all went to the West Coast to visit the West Coast Wilderness Railway and the do the Gordon River Cruise. This time it was my turn to travel and we decided on a visit to the Puffing Billy Railway in Belgrave in the Dandenong Ranges about 40 kms east of Melbourne.
Puffing Billy is one of Australia’s oldest and most well known preserved railways. I’ve visited there at least three times in the past with David, with Naomi and once with Mum when I took her to Melbourne for a weekend. Gillian thought that she might have been there when she was younger but Bruce who is a born and bred Victorian said that he could not remember ever having been there at all. We certainly had to fix that!
As it was a special occasion Gillian booked us on to “The Commissioners Train”. This train is run once or twice a year and allows passengers access to the railway’s museum and workshops which the normal excursion passengers don’t get to see. It also included morning tea and lunch.
The three of us, plus Gillian’s assistance dog Dusty, arrived at Belgrave at around 8 am on Saturday morning and the station was already humming with activity as the consists for the days trains were marshalled onto the platform and several locomotives were being prepared for the day. As well as our train there were three other scheduled departures.
Bruce went up to look at the workshop, I wandered around on the platform taking photos of the buildings and carriages. I came across a set of old carriages with familiar names and went to ask the volunteer platform staff
“Are these Tasmanian carriages?”
They were, they came from what is now the West Coast Wilderness Railway, acquired by Puffing Billy years ago after the railway had closed for normal traffic and decades before it became a tourist attraction itself.
“And no, you can’t have them back.” they told me.
I will include a link at the end of this post to the Puffing Billy website but for those of you not familiar with this little narrow gauge railways here is a bit of background.
The Puffing Billy railway was one of four low-cost 2’6″ (762mm) gauge lines constructed in Victoria in the early 1900’s to open up remote areas.
The present line between Belgrave and Gembrook, through the forests, fern gullies and farmlands of the magnificent Dandenong Ranges, is the major part of the line which opened on 18 December 1900 and operated over 18.2 miles (29km) between Upper Ferntree Gully and Gembrook until 1953. In 1953, a landslide blocked the track and, because of operating losses, the line was closed the following year.
Public interest resulted in the formation of the Puffing Billy Preservation Society, whose volunteers, with the blessings of the Victorian State Government and the assistance of the Citizens’ Military Forces, by-passed the landslide and reopened the line to Menzies Creek in 1962, Emerald in 1965, Lakeside in 1975 and finally to Gembrook in October 1998.
The last time I traveled on the railway was prior the reopening of the Lakeside to Gembrook section so I was very excited to finally get to go to the end of the line. The whole trip is very scenic and I’d never get tired of it.
Many, if not all of the people who work on the railway are volunteers. They are drivers, firemen, guards, station masters and platform staff and many others who work to keep the trains running behind the scenes. Puffing Billy maintains a timetable of four trains a day, seven days a week plus various special trains like ours. They have themed trains that run in the evening where you can dine and be entertained with jazz or R&B at one of the stations and even a Murder Mystery evening.
It was a chilly morning so rather than ride in the open carriages we opted for a vintage carriage where we were able to have a compartment to ourselves. It was Dusty’s first time on a steam train although he’s travelled with Gillian on Melbourne’s electric trains several times since she got him a couple of months ago. He was not too sure what was going on at first but soon decided that it was fine and settled down on his mat on the floor. Bruce decided to be brave and ride in one of the open carriages for a while so he could take some photographs and he also elected to jump off for the photo run later on. As I did not get off for the run past myself he has kindly agreed that I can use some of his photos of that portion of the journey.
Another treat for the Commissioner’s Train passengers was our first engine of the day, the wood burning, Climax locomotive. The Climax is a “foreigner” to the line having been built for the Victorian Forests Commission and used on the now defunct Tyers Valley Tramway. I had never seen this locomotive before as apparently it is only used for special trains as it runs on what I heard the volunteers jokingly call “Climax Time”. It looks like something out of the American west although it was built in 1928.
The day reminded me a lot of the old times when we used to go on steam train trips in Adelaide. The special train had attracted a lot of the die-hard rail fans who like to record steam sounds and will follow the train for the entire journey by car to get photos or film. The ones travelling on the train rode in the open carriages and especially enjoyed the photo run.
We enjoyed morning tea prepared by the volunteers at Menzies Creek and later another treat when one of PBR’s fleet of NA class locomotives coupled on to our train. The NA class were used on the railway when it was in service and PBR still have several of them. We were to have a double-header!
We travelled on to Emerald where we had another break to look at the carriage workshop while the Climax was uncoupled from our train. The two locomotives posed for a photo-op and we waited for the scheduled train to Lakeside to pass us before going on to Lakeside ourselves. This was a great opportunity to photograph three locomotives together.
After a brief stop at Lakeside we went on to Gembrook for lunch in the old station building. There were trips to another workshop for those that wanted to go but I preferred to stay around the station area and take more photos. Another locomotive arrived. NA 8A was to join our train so we had double-headed locomotives for the whole return journey.
NA 6A at Gembrook
The old station at Gembrook
NA 8A at the water tank at Gembrook
NA 8A at Gembrook.
NA 6A and NA 8A double heading for the return journey.
One last picture I’d like to share is to show you the traditional way of riding in the open carriages.I first saw this many years ago and I had thought that OH&S might have put a stop to the practice. Passengers in the open cars may sit on the window sill with their legs dangling down outside the carriage. As it was getting on for four thirty by the time we reached Belgrave it must have been a chilly ride.
I hope you have enjoyed this much longer than usual post about a great little railway. I know I will be back there again someday.
This is a great old film made in 1967 and shows what a long way they have come since then. When it was shown at the Australian Railway Historical Society meetings we used to attend everyone laughed at the man with the screwed up tape in his machine no doubt because many of them had experienced that same feeling with a tape recorder or movie camera.
I recently watched a program on television about Flying Scotsman being returned to service after a 10 year break. I saw the locomotive in 1988 when she was brought to Australia for our Bicentennial celebrations. Back then she was in her LNER livery with the number 4472. Now she is in British Rail livery with the number 60103 and smoke deflectors added.
This locomotive has appeared in different forms during her lifetime but I have to admit that for me apple green and 4472 are the real Flying Scotsman.
When I saw this challenge I immediately thought of steam engines. I am a railfan after all. Built for the NSW railways in 1943- 38 Class steam locomotive 3801. Photographed in South Australia during the Bicentennial in 1988. An award winning short film called “A Steam Train Passes” was made about this locomotive in 1974.
No doubt people who read this blog will have noticed a recurring theme of trains.
Railways have played a big part in my life from the time I was a small child being taken on trains in England to today. I think it is a wicked waste that we don’t utilise rail better in Australia and especially here in Tasmania but this is not a rant about what’s wrong with public transport it’s a nostalgic look at my life with trains.
When I was very young I had a memory of looking over a bridge and seeing trains. We used to spend our summer holidays in Clacton On Sea and there was a bridge over the railway line which we occasionally went across. I’d try to look over it and see the trains but I couldn’t, the fencing was too high. Eventually I asked my mother about this. I knew I had seen trains there before. “Your grandfather used to lift you up to see them.” she told me. This was when I stayed with my grandparents when my sister was born. I was two years old. Nothing else about that visit stayed in my memory, just the trains. Obviously this was the beginning of me and trains.
As a small child I would occasionally travel by train from Romford to Clacton and those were my favourite trips. I remember waiting for the train there and worrying a bit when mum put the suitcase, the folding push chair, my sister and me onto the train before boarding herself. “What would happen if the train went without her ?” I wondered. It never happened of course. Once on board it was fun to see the scenery roll by, to spot sheep, cows and horses in the fields and once I’m sure I saw a windmill. For mum, the journey with two little girls was probably quite a lot of work, especially if we had to change trains as sometimes happened. I found railways stations interesting though. We weren’t allowed to run about of course, we sat in the waiting room and sometimes mum might take us to the Refreshment Room. She’d have a cup of tea and get us something to eat or drink while we waited. When we arrived at Clacton Station I would often make a beeline for the vending machine that had chocolate in it. Putting the money in the machine was as much the attraction as the chocolate.
We had a few trips to other places by train too. On two occasions we all went to London for a day out, once to visit Kew Gardens and another time to Hampton Court. I remember wondering if cemeteries were always built next to the railway as I caught glimpses of grave stones towering above red brick walls. I liked looking down into people’s back gardens when the railway was on an embankment. We went on the Underground which was very dark, very crowded and very loud to a seven-year old. I have to admit that I didn’t appreciate it as much at that age as I did as an adult. I missed seeing things out of the windows and there was a peculiar “Underground” smell that I wasn’t sure if I liked.
We had an aunty who lived near a railway line too, in fact the trains went past the bottom of her garden. Our house in Romford was not too far from the railway line either and often when we went into the town to the shops we would take a route past the gasworks and through a tunnel under the line. I recall that I would always run through the tunnel in case a train fell on top of me while I was in there.
The last train I travelled on in England was the boat train to Southampton the day we left to come to Australia and the first train journey I took in Australia was a long one from Melbourne to Adelaide which took more than twelve hours and was my introduction to Australian trains. It was January when we arrived and it was a hot and tiring trip in a train with no air-conditioning. I remember being shocked from the beginning to see people standing in the open doorways of passing trains as we travelled through the Melbourne suburbs. English carriages had, and as far as I know still have, outwardly opening doors so I had never seen people do that before. Our train, which was full of British migrants going to Adelaide, stopped two or three times that day for meals. I don’t know where we stopped but the first time was in the middle of the day, everyone got off the train and we were given a hot lunch in the railway refreshment rooms. Later in the day and again in the early evening we stopped for passengers to buy food and drinks at wayside stations. I still don’t know where but I do know that in those days Serviceton and Tailem Bend both had refreshment rooms. Finally the lights of Adelaide came into view and we arrived in Adelaide late at night. I’d had enough of trains for that day but it didn’t damp my enthusiasm for long distance rail travel one bit.
For the next few years trains did not figure largely in my life. Adelaide had diesel rail cars and I did not view these as “real” trains. We did use them occasionally to visit the city. Many years later I got to know them quite intimately as a cleaner working for the State Transport Authority (later TransAdelaide).
ARHS Tours and How I Met My Husband
When I was twelve or thirteen I saw a sign at the Adelaide Railway Station advertising school holiday steam train trips from Adelaide to Bridgewater in the Adelaide Hills. I persuaded mum to take us and that was the beginning of several years of travelling on ARHS (later Steamranger) tours, volunteering and eventually where I met my husband to be.
After the first trip mum allowed my sister and I to travel on the school holiday specials by ourselves or with our slightly older cousin. I’m sure that would horrify parents now as we were both under fifteen at the time. Our biggest adventure during this period was an overnight trip to Victor Harbour. We slept in a compartment on the train as we didn’t have enough money to stay in a hotel for the night. Most of the other people who camped in this way were men but we never felt anxious and nobody ever bothered us. This was in 1972.
It was still possible to go to quite a lot of country towns by train in those days and over the next few years we visited parts of South Australia that I probably would never have seen otherwise. I have wonderful memories of those times, the mystery trips where you might end up anywhere from the Port Adelaide wharves to rarely used branch lines or places like Hamley Bridge or Riverton. We couldn’t wait to get to the Adelaide Station where each trip began and along with many other rail fans would stand at the very end of the platform straining our eyes to be the first to spot the approaching locomotive as it came around the “Jail Loop” after leaving Mile End Depot.
My favourite trips were the all day trips and once or twice a year there would be a weekend trip. We went to Renmark for the Orange Week Festival, Wallaroo for Kernewek Lowender, the Cornish Festival, Peterborough for the town’s Centenary, Mount Gambier and to Quorn to visit the Pichi Richi Railway. Occasionally there would be evening trips to wineries or dinner trips using the Dining Car Adelaide, now at the National Rail Museum in Port Adelaide.
The Kernewek Lowender (http://www.kernewek.org/) was always a favourite outing whether we went for a day or a weekend. It was held in May and usually fell close to my birthday so several of those trips have been memorable. One of them was life changing. It was 1975, the year I turned eighteen, and we’d gone to the festival on a day trip but things had gone awry, our locomotive had a broken headlamp and nobody was sure what was going to happen so all the passengers were asking each other “Have you heard anything?” Nobody wanted us to have to go home behind a diesel, the ultimate horror for a steam buff. I saw a young man who I had seen on a couple of previous trips that month and we fell into conversation. After that we started to look out for each other and after a couple of months he asked me out. Well he asked me to come on the next steam trip with him but it was a date I guess. Later he asked me out to dinner and that was a date. A year later almost to the day we were on another trip, this time to Mount Gambier for the weekend and that’s when he proposed.
David and I decided that rather than a church or registry office wedding we wanted to incorporate steam trains in some way. This idea met with some opposition at first. Nobody in David’s family had done anything so unconventional. As for my family, mum was fine with it but my some of my aunties in England thought it was just not right not to have a church wedding. However we went ahead with our plans and were married on Platform 8 of the Adelaide Railway Station on the day of the last steam trip of the 1977 season. Our reception was in the Dining Car Adelaide as part of the that train’s consist. Our families loved it in the end and we actually made the news which was a bit embarrassing for us but good publicity for the ARHS which is why we agreed to the media being informed. The upstairs of the Adelaide Station which is now the entrance to the Adelaide Casino is very ornate and that’s where we had some of our wedding photos taken. That same area was also used in the film Gallipoli a few years later for the ballroom scene. But more about that in Part Two.