The Best Times of Our Lives

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

I found this post that I wrote a couple of years ago so I decided to rewrite it a bit and run it again for those who came in late as they say in the Phantom comics. Feel free to skip it if you have read it before.

Naomi 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. Naomi 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? Naomi 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. Naomi 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 as most new members never seemed to be there when their names were called.

We enjoyed the meetings which were held once a month on a week night We’d catch a bus, train or tram down to Goodwood where the meetings used to be held in a hall there. There were a lot of reports read out but the one we always looked forward to was the Tour Manager’s Report. This was the one where you would find out what trips were being planned for the future. We always wanted to go on all of them of course. 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. We could buy books and videos or souvenirs like postards, teaspoons, badges and T-shirts. The sales were one way that the society raised money for their restoration projects. After the break 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 always applauded anyway. We still laugh over the memory of 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. Occasionally once we got to know people we’d be offered rides back to the city. I have one hazy memory of several of us squashed in to a Volkswagon Beetle with our bags, a picture someone had bought and Naomi somehow squashed onto someone’s knee in the back because she was the smallest.

621 Adelaide Station
SAR Pacific 621 at Adelaide station

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.

 

YouTube is my Time Machine

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.

VR R Class 761
VR R Class 761 photo by Bruce Laughton

 

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.

621 Adelaide Station
SAR Pacific 621 at Adelaide station

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.

NSW 3801 hauling the Bicentennial Train in 1988.
NSWGR 3801 hauling the Bicentennial Train in 1988.
The Flying Scotsman in Australia 1988

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.

Cee’s Black & White Photo Challenge: Tracks and Trains

Tracks & Trains

I don’t often join in Cee’s Black & White Challenge but as the subject was trains I could not resist. These are all old photos from the 1980s to early 90s from my collection of railway photos. These were taken with either a 126 instamatic film camera or an SLR originally in colour film. I had scanned the originals to the computer so I just had a little play making  copies and then cropping them and changing the colour to produce some old timey looking B&W pictures. The scans were not great quality which makes the photos in sepia tone look as if they really were taken a long time ago. Yes, I know the eighties is a long time ago but to me it feels like last week.

SAR F Class locomotive
SAR F Class locomotive and train at Adelaide Station.
SAR RX class at Adelaide Railway Station.
SAR RX class at Adelaide Railway Station.
SAR RX class locomotive at Glanville,
SAR RX class locomotive at Glanville, Outer Harbour Line (South Australia)
RX Class no. 207 on trip to Redhill , South Australia
RX Class no. 207 on trip to Redhill , South Australia