03 September 2011

The last steamy?

On 4 May 2011 I posted a few ideas (guesses) about the identity of the first train to Coonamble.  As trains still run to that location I can’t yet deal with its book-end, that is, the last train to Coonamble.  However, other ‘lasts’ are equally intriguing –the last steam-hauled passenger train, the last passenger train and the last train in government revenue (as opposed to today’s privatised operators) are candidates.

I cannot provide the precise identity of the last steam-hauled regular passenger train, but it is possible to go pretty close.  The Railway Digest notes that as a result of a rearrangement of Dubbo’s diesel roster, the dieselisation of all passenger services occurred on the Coonamble line on Monday, 21 September 1964.  The final steam-hauled passenger service occurred on the previous Friday - 18 September 1964.  At that time there were up to eleven 30Ts as candidates - 3004T, 3040T, 3060T, 3062T, 3065T, 3080T, 3089T, 3090T, 3098T, 3122T and 3144T.  So, this is one mystery nearly solved – when the last steam-hauled passenger train ran is a ‘known’ and there is a 1 in 11 chance of picking the locomotive that hauled it.  So, its now time to move along to the next mystery!

As tomorrow, Sunday 4 September 2011, is Father’s Day in Australia, I thought I would take the opportunity to simultaneously acknowledge one father and deal with one of the other ‘lasts’ – the last steam-hauled freight train on the Coonamble branch.

After a bumper 1967 wheat harvest in Central Western NSW when steam-hauled grain trains ran regularly on the Coonamble branch (even on Saturdays, shock! horror!), the final decline of steam commenced in the following year. 

In January 1965 there had been 36 steam locomotives allocated to the Dubbo depot.  The April 1968 Railway Digest noted that Dubbo had only four steam engines remaining – 3028T, 3122T, 3144T and 3289.  These four locomotives were noted as being assigned to work as yard shunters and for excursions to Troy Junction. 

According to the same publication, six months later in October 1968 this allocation had changed to 3028T, 3127T, 3144T and 3289.  3289 was recorded as venturing far beyond the confines of Dubbo yard to clear wheat from silos as far afield as Wyanga, Binnaway, Wellington and Coonamble. 

This pattern of intermittent mainline and branch line working apparently continued throughout 1969.  While 3122T replaced 3144T at the start of 1969, it lasted only until August of that year.  Later in the year, the situation changed somewhat, which gave a chance for the steamers to work further afield.  The September 1969 Railway Digest noted that stock traffic were so heavy presently on the Coonamble line that Saturday stock specials were occurring.  This extraordinary use of Saturdays appears to be a matter of some civic concern!  Its conceivable that steam played a considerable role in this work.

One year later in October 1970, the Dubbo allocation of steam locomotives was reduced to just two - 3102T and 3289.  It was this month that 3237 replaced 3289 at Dubbo.

The following year’s Railway Digest noted that as late as June 1971 'the two Dubbo shunters are also kept very busy, 3102T keeping to the yard while 3237 ventures out to the various sidings’.  Very clearly, the opportunity for either locomotive to go for a trot beyond Troy Junction was very limited.  On 3 November 1971 3237 left Dubbo, being replaced by a heavier shunter (5408) which was not approved for operation on the Coonamble branch line beyond Troy Junction.

The real trooper in this story was 3102T, which did not depart Dubbo until much later, on 30 June 1972.  However, apparently its condition by this time was such that it could not be guaranteed to reach Enfield under its own power.  As a result, it was stripped at Dubbo, prior to being hauled dead to Sydney.

So, which of these candidates performed the duty of the last steam-hauled train in regular service on the Coonamble line?

Could 3122T have wheezed past Troy Junction in 1971 or 1972?  Its doubtful.  Apart from its duties in Dubbo yard, this loco’s general condition would have raised general concerns about its ability to handle any significant freight task on what was then a busy branch line.

A significantly greater possibility was 3237.  It was a more powerful and healthy locomotive, capable of handling large loads of freight on this very flat branch.  However, 3237’s sphere of operations was, by dint of administrative fiat and the reduction of watering facilities along the branch line by this time also pretty restricted. So, its also possible but highly unlikely that 3237 had the honour of leading the last steam-hauled train on the Coonamble branch line

This leaves 3289, as far back as 1970.  It is my sentimental favourite, for the following reasons.

In 1970, I was six years of age.  My great grandmother, a resident of Railway Street, Eumungerie, hosted us a couple of times each year.  I have a clear recollection of a trip made that year to Eumungerie, in the May NSW school holidays.

Being May, it was a very, very ‘fresh’ morning.  Only the kids and the grandparents were up and causing unwanted commotion.  After breakfast, my younger sister and I had the run of the entire village, such as things were in those days. 

This particular morning we were over in the railway stockyards amongst the brown snakes and black snakes, toughening up.  The parental supervision we should have had was still fast asleep, waiting for it to warm up outside and the second cup of tea to arrive

Upon reflection, this situation was probably not unwarranted.  I suppose it was still pretty early - probably before 8am.  Still, it was a bit of a shock to look southwards towards the station and see a very distinctive plume of white steam.  Steam!!!!

Like the very dutiful son that I remain to this very day, I beetled straight back to my grandmother’s house in order to alert the slumbering patriarchal figure in my life.  I must admit that it still rankles within me that I got a fairly dismissive grunt when I informed my Senior that a steam loco was in Eumungerie.  I recall being told that it was not possible.  I may have repressed what was actually said, but I wasn’t fluent in ‘grunt’ at the tender age of six.

Then, as if on queue, the arrival of my disappointment at this response coincided with a fairly lusty blast from a steam whistle.  No-one would accuse my father as possessing a turn of real pace (though I had cause to reassess this when I saw him spy a 50 dollar note on the ground just a few months ago), but this bright 1970 day was perhaps as close as anyone got to seeing real evidence of speed.

Over the next 20 seconds, children screamed, bed-clothes were thrown aside, cameras were clutched and someone did a cracking 70 metres across the street and the railway year in order to position one’s self on the sunny side of the track.  It is now time to present the result of that effort...

I need to going to return to this photograph in a future post, but only after it gets a bath in Photoshop.  But back to the issue at hand...

If 3289 was the most likely candidate for the last steam-hauled train on the Coonamble branch line was this morning when it ran up the branch for the very last time? 

If it wasn’t the very last time, it was certainly close to the last.  It is a tantalising thought.

After all this time, I cannot be certain that this was the last steam-hauled train on the Coonamble branch line, or even the last steam-hauled train on the Coonamble branch line hauled by a 32 class locomotive, or even hauled by 3289.  It was certainly near to the last.

And I can be certain of one more fact – this morning was the last time that 3289 was photographed on a freight on a frosty May morning in Eumungerie by a man who was wearing his pyjamas under a coat and trousers... happy Father’s Day, Dad!

No comments:

Post a Comment