31 December 2011

Grain silos and storage facilities

Yes, it has been more than a little while between posts.  I have been preparing what was to be a monster posting covering the transport of grain from Eumungerie, and the facilities used in this task, but have now decided to break the posts into a series of at least three.  So, today's post is about the transport of wheat in the first dozen years of the branch line's operation.  

A simple description of the railway infrastructure specifically provided in those early years is easy - as nothing was provided by the railway's administration.  Farmers and their agents had the glorious task of unloading their bagged wheat from drays in the railway yard, sometimes directly into the railway truck but more usually straight onto the ground.  When railway trucks were provided, the farmer then had the job of lugging the bags up and across the wool bank if the trucks were conveniently located.  If the wool bank was unavailable it would have been a perilous walk up a plank and over the side of the railway truck.  Tough and dangerous work.

Still, the growing and sale of grains, predominantly wheat, has been the sustaining rationale for the existence of the Coonamble branch line for its entire existence.  This truism is no truer than when applied to Eumungerie.  The history of transportation of grain out of the Eumungerie district is typical of the growth in the industry throughout the 20th and 21st centuries.  

The earliest separately-recorded season of wheat transport at Eumungerie was 1912/13, though undoubtedly wheat was being bagged and brought to the railway yard from the very first trains.  Evidence in support of this practice can be gleaned from none other than that august journal of record – the Sydney Morning Herald.  Indeed, given the number of times Eumungerie appears within the pages of this newspaper in the period from 1905 to 1915, it is just possible that one of the working journalists had strong ties to the district.

As noted elsewhere, the coming of the 20th century brought widespread and severe drought, of a type never seen by Caucasian in this continent.  And even though the line had been opened in the midst of the worst ever drought experienced in NSW (a description penned by the Railway Commissioners in their annual report), some crops were still being raised successfully along the Coonamble railway. 

By 1905, the Herald could report on 30 June that the drought was well and truly over, with 15,209 acres under crop in the Coonamble Road, Coalbaggie, Brocklehurst and Talbragar districts.  By 25 November of 1905 the same newspaper reported that:

Samples of wheat received in Dubbo from some portions of the district indicate a very fine crop so far as fullness and bulk are concerned.  Experts consider that the best crops are about Eumungerie, Goonoo, and along the Coonamble Road towards Gilgandra... Nearer Dubbo the crops are not quite so promising, but a general estimate made by an expert is that the whole area will go from slightly below four bags up to seven or eight bags to the acre in tho most favoured spots... It is estimated that the district wheat will make about 60lb to the imperial bushel.

This initial report demonstrates that the wheat industry was developing well, but doesn’t tie an inextricable link between farmers and markets through the railway.  However, a series of articles appearing from 1910 onwards certainly did make this connection.  In May 1910 the Herald editorialised that:

The question of cross-country lines is ever present in such centres as Wellington and Dubbo. There are few better examples of what a railway can do than that which runs from Dubbo to Coonamble. Before the railway, there was little farming done.  Now there is an increasing area each year... If the railway is put through good country, settlement will follow.

On 16 June in the following year the Herald published a detailed article on the value of rural ‘branch railway lines’, in which Eumungerie was show-cased:

The value of our branch railway lines for development of the country largely compensates for any slowness of speed, which is often condemned.  Of all branch lines that run, Dubbo to Coonamble is the best evidence of the value of railway communication as necessary to settlement. Opened a few years ago, the Railway Commissioners anticipated a loss, but that has never yet been experienced...

After commenting on Talbragar and Mogriguy, the Herald’s correspondent reflected on Eumungerie, in the following passage:

At Eumungerie further on, there is all evidence of a settlement in the making.  There are a number of farmers engaged in mixed farming, sheep and wheat, and the results are generally proving satisfactory. Most of them have taken up land on easy terms and are meeting with a fair measure of success.  There are some too who possess freehold, and the district must eventually assume large proportions.   As it is, the yield of wheat each year is on the increase and the crop this season should be, if a favourable winter and good spring is experienced, very fair.

Success of this type quite often brings troubles of another type, and so it was with the transport task at Eumungerie.  On 22 January 1912 the Herald reported under the byline of Railways trouble: Shortage of trucks that:

... like other places in the wheat belt, the Eumungerie railway yard is becoming blocked with the quantities of wheat which are being daily drawn in and stacked there.  At the time of writing there must be in the neighbourhood of 4,000 bags awaiting the arrival of trucks to carry them to their destination. The Commissioners seem powerless to cope with the difficulty.  The wool bank, from where the wool is loaded on to the trucks drawn up along-side is crowded with stacks of wheat and the bags are now being piled up on Government sleepers, wherever these latter are available.

One farmer has drawn up a quantity of old telegraph poles, on which he has built up his bags, and has received the sanction of the inspector for his action. Considerable friction and unpleasantness has been caused between farmers as to who shall secure the first trucks. As soon as one is left on the siding it has a dozen claimants and the fortunate man is he who succeeds in first getting a bag of wheat on to it, as that establishes his title to its temporary sole use.

The situation reported by the Herald on this occasion is somewhat difficult to comprehend fully.  In the days before publicly-owned grain handling authorities, individual farmers booked railway trucks through agents to transport bagged crops to markets (usually Darling Harbour or Newcastle).  If some enterprising farmer was to sequester a railway truck for his own use, it is difficult to understand how he would have maintained title to its contents – short of riding alongside the bags atop the wagon.  However, I am never one to doubt the veracity of reports in the Herald, except the weather forecasts.

Whether or not the report above was entirely accurate, it seems it was pretty clear to the authorities that something had to be done with the situation at Eumungerie, and so it was.  During 1912/13 Eumungerie ‘grew up’ – it obtained its first full-time staff member (note, singular!) and commenced reporting its passenger, goods and livestock transactions in the Railway Commissioners’ Annual Reports.  And thus it can still be read, a century later, in 1912/13 31,829 bags of wheat were loaded at Eumungerie into wagons for dispatch to various mills across NSW and beyond.

24 November 2011


Continuing to work our way around the railway facilities of Eumungerie, this post considers the stock loading and unloading facilities - though it is clear from the data below that much more loading occurred than unloading.

In the earliest years of operation the railways used the loading bank opposite the station platform to load livestock.  Following the 1912/13 redevelopment of the yard the stock ramps utilised the bank of the wool dump.  Temporary barriers were extended when necessary.  These arrangements appear were likely used from the commencement of stock services to at least the mid-1940s.

In 1935 Eumungerie was noted as having a ‘C’ placed in the column headed Pigs, Sheep and Cattle Races – in the Merchandise Book.  Deciphered, this meant that up to six trucks could be dealt with at the Eumungerie stock races without the need for a locomotive.

In 1951, new stock yard ramps were built in a new location to the north of the silo on the Wheat Siding.  The cost of this improvement was ₤265, with labour costs of ₤581 incurred in the installation. 

The provision of discrete stock loading facility freed up the loading bank for other purposes.  However it did not increase stock loading capacity as the stockyards themselves were only rated to handle up to six cattle or sheep wagons with without a locomotive.

Tenders were called for the demolition and removal of the stockyards on 22 May 1974, suggesting that loading from this location ceased sometime prior to this.

Six or seven years prior to the demise of the stock yards, an un-named but very brave uncle clambered to the top of silo to take the following photograph. 

Occupational health and safety and public liability concerns of the 21st century demand that I state that such foolhardy endeavours not be attempted, but I am sure glad he did!

The following photograph not only shows the stock ramps but the salubrious accommodation in the form of a small red shed provided for those in charge of stock yard.  Doubtless many a drover got the pleasure of a night’s rest in the shack, and even perhaps a decent shower under the water column?

So, what were these yards used for? Well, apart from providing a terrific play ground for kids visiting their great grand-mother, they were used for the loading of all sorts of animals.

In the 26 years of records constituting the period from the 1912/13 redevelopment of Eumungerie to the Second World War, 287,389 beasts left Eumungerie via the stockyards.  Of these, the vast majority were sheep (283,729 or 98.2 per cent).  A further 1,610 cattle and 1,311 pigs left town this way, along with 536 horses and 143 calves.  All up, this transport task garnered the NSW railways £35,603 - a very tidy earner in those days.

13 November 2011

Level crossings

Here's a reeeaaaaallly interesting subject - level crossings, or railway crossings by roads - public and private.

Seven crossings existed within a short 4.4 kilometre stretch surrounding Eumungerie’s railway precinct.  Approaching from the south, the first was a public crossing located at 497.227 kilometres from Sydney. 

A second level crossing, nominated as Eumungerie, was located at 497.951 kilometres, while the Eumungerie Yard level crossing was located at 497.971 kilometres - just 20 metres to the north!  This level crossing had gates in the boundary fence of the railway yard. 

Going north, three further public level crossings were located at 498.675 kilometres (the northern end of the yard), 499.701 kilometres and 501.089 kilometres.  

The final level crossing, known as Dohnt’s (Private) level crossing, was located at 501.592 kilometres.

There is not much moresay about this particular topic.  On unfenced lines, such as the Coonamble branchline, crossing the track was a pretty easy job for any pedestrian.  Perhaps the need for, or existence of, seven crossings in under five kilometres is emblematic of the fairly relaxed view taken of civilisation out in those parts. 

Still, enough chatting.  Here's a photograph from 1985 of 4905 and 4875 making their way north across the crossing at 498 kilometres and 675 metres distant from the buffer stops at platform 1 in Sydney Steam Terminal.

30 October 2011

Steam loco watering facilities

Yes, its been a while and I am still ploughing through various notes on the way to an expose on Eumungerie's grain receival and storage facilities.  While this will no doubt be a very high rating post, tonight I am going with another topic entirely.  

Its trite to note that without a dependable supply of water, steam locomotives and civilisation can't exist - in Eumungerie or anywhere else.

For the first decade of the railway's operations in Eumungerie the original water tank was located to the east of the Through Road, just to the north of the junction of the Through Road and the Siding.  Presumably locomotives were watered from a column whilst standing on the Through Road.

The watering facilities were fed by a dam constructed specifically for the purpose, which was completed by 14 October 1901.  The dam was located at the northern end of the village, adjacent to crown land leased for agricultural purposes.

The dam utilised water drawn from the Drillwarrina Creek, which skirted the western side of the village of Eumungerie, before moving to the northwest. 

An early parish map shows that a pump house was also provided at the site of the dam.  A subterranean pipeline ran southward across the land and crossed Breelong Street to reach the railway property. 

It appears that, at least initially, a second water tank was provided at the location of the dam.  Presumably this tank created sufficient pressure to gravity-feed the water towards the railway yard.  This tank may have been moved from the site of the dam to the railway property in October 1912.

The 1912/13 expansion of the yard necessitated the relocation of the water tank to a more easterly position, as it stood foul of the about-to-be-constructed Platform Road. 

Parish maps of the early 1920s show the tank as being at the northern boundary of the station master’s residence. I have already posted a nice shot of the water tank in my 3 September 2011 post.

From 1913 until the demise of steam, a standard water column was located between the Through Road and the Platform Road, approximately 250 feet from the northern end of the Platform Road.  It was numbered ‘43’ on its upright, and was constructed of a 9” standpipe, with a 7”jib.

By 1973 all locomotive watering facilities had been removed from the Coonamble line.  After demolition, the water tank at Eumungerie remained on the ground for several months.  The following photograph gives a hint as to the sophisticated way in which the demolition occurred.

15 October 2011

Eumungerie's station

W H Hudson was contracted to build the original station at Coalbaggie.  As noted above, the original building sat in its first location for only nine years before railway authorities realised it was in the way of progress.

The October 1912 contract for the construction of a second crossing loop necessitated the removal and re-erection of the platform and the station building.

While it is clear what was standing following the completion of the 1912/13 redevelopment, it cannot be assumed that the original building was simply relocated.  As noted earlier, this writer has been to date unable to ascertain just what was built in 1902 and there appears to be no photograph or description of the original building extant.

The difficulty is that what became known as the Eumungerie railway station after 1912/13 is what is known in the trade as a typical NSW Government Railways A3 skillion roof building. 
This type of building only came into vogue around 1909.  So, it may be that the original building was not re-erected at all, but replaced or transferred elsewhere – or Mr Hudson was just a builder a decade ahead of his time.

While this uncertainty is problematic, it is known from the official records that ₤128 was expended during the 1912/13 redevelopment to add an out-of shed adjacent to the southern end of the main station building.

And thus, by 1913, Eumungerie’s residents had the station that would serve them until the end of passenger rail services.

As with many things, the demise of an era is sometimes just as interesting as its rise.  And this is the case with Eumungerie’s station building.  It was a hiccupping ride to inevitable oblivion. 

While in its 50th year at its second and final location, the building still cut a fine figure.

While there is much to admire in this photograph, certainly the red fire buckets at the tank stand and the platform bench suggest both a preparedness for action and a readiness to relax.

While the last station officer was withdrawn on 26 April 1970, an agent was designated as the person-in-charge for the final years of passenger service until 1975.  At some stage during its last decade of operation the buildings received a new paint scheme – light green with cream trim. 

After the cessation of passenger services, the wrecking ball arrived for the main building.  The out-of-shed was retained to keep the necessary safe-working materials from the elements.

By 1979, the dilapidation of the out-of-shed did not augur well for its future.  The peeling paint in the following photograph almost draws one’s attention away from the exotic combination which was caught in the yard.

 The embarrassment did not last long.  However, instead of wreckers, the painters arrived!

Several years later the signwriters also visited!

But it was not to last.  By the 1990s, rationalization had brought a new hut to replace the out-of shed and the frame.

So, into the 21st century the smallest room in Eumungerie was could be found down in the railway yard.

09 October 2011

A little cross-selling...

I am still working on the next installment, covering the station platform and buildings.  

While work is continuing, some effort has now been diverted to my other blog - the NSW Rail Rambler.  This blog will have many more photographs, far fewer facts and will venture far from the Coonamble branch line.

I hope you enjoy both blogs....

02 October 2011

The dimensions of Eumungerie's railway

Here's a litttle more about the physical environment at Eumungerie...

By the time of its 1926 redevelopment Eumungerie yard measured 613 linear metres (671 yards) from the outer-most extremities of the southern and northern points.  It remains at this length to the current day.

At its most expanded, approaching from the southern (Dubbo) end a right-hand point led trains off the Through Road into the Platform Road on the eastern or up side of the line.  

 The Platform Road measured 1,735 feet.  After traveling 824 feet along the Platform Road, a 31 metre (134 foot), wood-faced platform was encountered.  The Platform Road was removed on 7 September 1993, leaving the platform-based signalling equipment somewhat adrift from the railway’s alignment (I will deal with this act of vandalism in another post).

Again, coming from the Dubbo end of the yard, 168 feet beyond the first point off the Through Road a left-hand point led trains onto a 726 foot long Goods Siding on the western or down side of the line.  A loading bank was located 158 feet along this siding with a goods shed further north and a gantry crane.  The crane was located shortly before a right-hand point which returned north-bound trains to the Through Road.

Trains proceeding straight along the Goods Siding entered the Wheat Siding once the point had been passed.  This siding measured 1,049 feet before returning to the Through Road.  The silo bins were reached after 175 feet of travel on this siding.

Unlike the Through Road and the Platform Road, the Wheat Siding appears to have been built with a westward slewing of the track along the northern-most 446 feet of its travel.  This feature is shown in the 1926 NSWGR track diagram but appears to have been removed prior to the Second World War.  Its removal may have coincided with the construction of stock yards in this area around this time.

Not shown on the same 1926 track diagram but appears to be in place by 1945, is a similar slewing of the track in the Goods Siding, apparently in order to accommodate clearances around the gantry crane.

So, this has been a summary of the physical environment of the railway at Eumungerie.  Over the next few posts it is time to delve into certain aspects of the railway yard in much greater detail...