25 December 2012

The 1930 wheat harvest

I last posted on the topic of wheat growing and transportation in the Eumungerie area many months ago - and I had left the story at the end of 1929, at a very low ebb.

What then took Eumungerians and NSW politicians from the despair of late 1929 to a decision which would result in the tripling of the size of bulk grain facilities by 1933?

Certainly it was partially faith in the long term future of the district.  And then there was the need, at least recognised by Jack Lang’s NSW Labor Government when it was in power during this dire time of the need to provide rural people with worthwhile employment opportunities through public works (such as constructing silos) in the midst of the greatest economic and social dislocation of the 20th century. 

Ultimately it was the track record of the farmers of the location - the pluck reported in 1922 in the ‘Eumungerie will come again’ attitude of people like Farmer Buck, of “Rocky Bend” at Eumungerie did indeed prove that total crop failures at Eumungerie are few.

Once more, starting with the 1930/31 harvest, Eumungerie became the wheat-producing powerhouse of the Dubbo district, with highly skilled farmers tilling good cropping lands in an indomitable spirit.  There was great hope for this harvest, which was not matched by early reports.  In April 1930 the Sydney Morning Herald reported that the seemingly ubiquitous:

… Mr. B. M. Arthur… states that during March thunderstorms of a patchy nature - in some parts rather severe in character - fell over practically the whole of his district, although some centres, particularly around Dubbo, missed nearly all of them… Some centres, such as Gulargambone, Armatree, and Eumungerie, had up to four inches.

Preparations for wheat cropping are still being actively carried out, and there is no doubt. Mr. Arthur considers, that with reasonably suitable conditions prevailing during the next three months a record area will be placed under crop.

One month later the same newspaper noted that:

As elsewhere in much of the wheat belt, the rainfall in the northern half of the western district (of which Dubbo is the centre) was much below requirements during April it was, however, sufficient in many cases to ensure a satisfactory germination, and also to connect up with the moisture stored in well-prepared fallows.

On the other hand, it also created tricky conditions where the moisture was patchy, thereby preventing either a dry sowing or one in a uniformly moist soil.  In some cases it caused a certain amount of malting in the grain.

Patchy thunderstorms early in the month benefited isolated localities, more particularly north of Dubbo, around Eumungerie, Gilgandra, Armatree, Dunedoo, and Coolah enabling sowing to be continued safely.  A general rain aggregating from 30 points to over an inch was received on April 24, and this was of incalculable benefit. A further half to one inch is required to make the position safe for all wheatgrowers.

A large area has already been sown, and farmers are steadily pursuing their way towards a record area objective, both individually and collectively. All, the local instructor (Mr B M Arthur) states, are optimistic that good results will be achieved.

Slowly this optimism evaporated, wilting under the enduring effects of a multi-year drought.  By October 1930 the Sydney Morning Herald recorded that

“Many crops, more particularly in the more western areas of this district, such as Trangie, Tomingley, Narromine, Collie, Eumungerie, and to a less extent Dubbo and other eastern areas, are severely feeling the effect of the prolonged dry conditions. They are wilting badly, and in some cases burning off rapidly."

In this way, Mr. B. M. Arthur, the senior agricultural instructor for the Dubbo district summarises the position at the end of September.

He declared that it was also having the effect of forcing all late-sown areas, and also crops on light soils to spindle and tend to run up to ear without stooling.

"The position is not yet by any means serious," Mr. Arthur continues, "but every additional dry day is giving many of the crops a further setback, and the record acre yields which seemed probable last month are rapidly disappearing. However, a useful rain of half an inch or more in the near future would go a long way towards rectifying the present position."

September was notable for the absence of rains of a useful nature (except in isolated places), and for frosts on several occasions, particularly late in the month, on 24, 25, and 26, and several windy days. These conditions altered the outlook, and instead of complaining of too much rain and an absence of hardening frosts, which was the position in August, growers are now hoping for early serviceable rains. They are also wondering what effect the recent frosts will have on the many forward overgrown, sappy crops now out in ear.

Some signs of stem rust have been seen in the Gilgandra and Narromine districts. Flag rust is to be seen in many crops, in some very badly. Powdery mildew has practically disappeared. Flag smut will, it is believed, take its usual toll, and has been seen on frequent occasions, but should not be more severe than in other years.

The report of rust at the start of October was replaced with worse news a fortnight later.  The same newspaper reported:   

In a report to the Department of Agriculture, the District Agricultural Instructor for the Dubbo district (Mr. B. M. Arthur) stated several days ago that following up rumours received in regard to rust in the crops he had investigated a number of paddocks at Eumungerie, Balladoran, Gilgandra, and Armatree, and had found stem rust to be very bad in some crops.

Nearly all the commonly sown commercial varieties had been affected, the only one that was fairly free and showing resistance was Nabawa…

A later report, written last Friday, and received by the department yesterday, states that Mr. Arthur was very perturbed about the amount and development of rust in the crops in the neighbourhood of Dubbo, particularly to the west and north, including Terramungamine, Rawsonville, Coboco, Eumungerie, and Balladoran.

He was not in a position to state definitely what would be the actual damage, but was inclined to think that it would be considerable and would extend over a wide area of the district before it finished.

Despite the existence of the rust blight, the newspaper could also report that the Government Statistician had issued an estimate based upon reports received from wheat growers throughout the State. 

The Statistician noted that the total area sown of 5,618,800 acres was 30 per cent greater than the previous harvest, and was a record in acreage sown.  This acreage was shared across a record 17,658 land holdings. 

Included in these numbers was Eumungerie’s offering of 106 holdings of 45,655 acres under wheat production and 3,854 hay-producing acres.  Eumungerie was the third largest district in the region.   In second place, Dubbo, there were 216 holdings cultivating 59,756 acres for wheat and 5,452 acres for hay.  The largest district surrounded Gilgandra, where a mere 166 holdings were responsible for 65, 382 acres of wheat production and 7,098 acres of hay making.

On 5 November 1930 grain elevators at Curban and Gilgandra opened for the season, receiving the first of the State’s harvest. A fortnight later the silo at Eumungerie opened to receive the bounty. 

When making the announcement of the silo opening, the commissioner indicated that about 20,000,000 bushels were expected to be received at the State's silos during the season.  Of this 8,000,000 to 12,000,000 bushels were to be used by local millers, with the remainder exported as bulk wheat.

By the end of the harvest, farmers along the Coonamble branch had accrued 600,000 bags of wheat – five times the year previous.  At 181,000 bags, Eumungerie had contributed nearly one third of the total. Years of drought, pestilence and disease had been endured and overcome.

14 October 2012

A brave experiment

The last blog entry covered the early period of operation of diesel rail cars on the Coonamble branch line, from 1934.  This post will cover the latter period of rail car operation, from 1957 to the demise of rail passenger services on the line in 1975.

The modernisation of NSW rail operations in the 1950s resulted in the Railway Commissioners determining that air-conditioned express passenger trains were needed for branch line operations.  Mr Peter Neve’s article in the October 2012 Australian Railway History referred to in my previous blog post gives an authoritative explanation of the planning for, construction and introduction of the 900 class diesel rail cars – otherwise known as DEB sets.  Included in this article is a good description of their early operation on the Coonamble line; well worth a read. 

As is made clear in the Australian Railway History article, it was a courageous decision of the Commissioners to build a fleet of new air-conditioned express rail cars, replete with onboard buffet service, for branch line service in the face of falling passenger patronage and competing demands for scarce capital resources. 

One could conceive of the traditionally conservative railway administration investing in rail cars of this type for mainline services, but instead they were introduced on the (then) quiet north coast line, the Canberra-Cooma branch and in the west of the State.  It was only in the 1960s, when the competition against road and air passenger transport had been well and truly lost, that these rail cars then saw extensive mainline service on NSW trunk routes.

Nonetheless, in December 1957 the Far West Express service commenced on the Coonamble line using 900 class DEB rail cars.  Initially, the Far West Express ran to Coonamble only on Tuesdays, as it ran to Cobar on Thursdays, and Bourke on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays  By 1965, the Far West Express ran twice weekly to Coonamble – on Tuesdays and Saturdays.  On Mondays, Thursdays and Fridays, a 600/700 diesel car set operated an un-named service. 

Three TP parcels vans were specially constructed for use on the Far West Express service, using materials similar to those used for the construction of the rail cars.  However, unlike the rest of the train these parcels vans would commence their journey from Central attached to the Coonamble Mail.  At Dubbo the Mail would terminate, and the TP van would then be attached to the rear of the DEB set. 

While not unique to use on the Far West Express, the inclusion of a TBR trailer carriage meant that passengers on the service could access onboard buffet facilities throughout the journey.

A typical consist of the Far West Express in the 1950s and 1960s involved a PF economy class car (conveying a maximum of 39 passengers), a TBR first class/buffet car (with seating for 36), a second PF car and a TP trailer.  Thus a total of 114 seats were available for passengers on each service.

Depending upon the anticipated passenger loading, the Far West Express would operate as either a three or four car set, plus the trailer van.  When a fourth passenger carriage was required, a specially-constructed TC composite carriage would be inserted into the DEB set.  As noted in the Australian Railway History article, this carriage had a capacity to seat up to 24 passengers in first class and 31 passengers in second class. This fourth carriage increased the total passenger loading to 169 passengers – a 48 per cent increase over a three car set.

The following photograph shows a ‘three car’ Express leaving Eumungerie in the morning for the run to Coonamble.  While I am truly appreciative of the photographer making the effort to get out of bed to take this shot, I do wish they had arisen 5 minutes earlier so as to position themselves on the eastern side of the track!

Another photograph of the morning service was taken several years later, and this time the photographer (believed to be the same individual) did rise in time to get to the sunny side of the track… or perhaps the Express was five minutes late that day?

The third photograph of this series dates from the late 1960s and was likely taken during school holidays as it shows a  four car DEB set (plus TP van) in the service. 

There are two further things to note about this photograph; first, its in black and white so please do not adjust your monitor.  Second, the odd telegraphic and signal pole appears between the train and the camera.  When questioned about a similar photographic composition years ago, the photographer involved indicated that he was actually photographing the poles and the train was simply in the background. 

There was one significant change to the composition of the Far West Express during this time. As explained in the Australian Railway History article in detail, the original TP trailer cars did not handle the boisterous shunting techniques practiced by the shunters at Sydney Steam Terminal station during the 1950s. 

In order to provide a more robust parcels van which could withstand the rigours of big town shunting, the Railways converted three existing EHO passenger guards vans into ETP trailer cars from 1958 onwards.  The next (deteriorating slide) photograph shows a three car Far West Express on a down service in the 1960s, replete with an ETP trailer.

The Far West Express operated until the cessation of passenger services on the line, alongside the less illustrious 600 class cousins.  Thus, for a greater part of the post-war period, a combination of rail car services operated the majority of passenger services to Eumungerie and beyond. 

In the mid-1970s the NSW railway administration made another radical decision, which was to just give up the fight against road and air passenger transport.  This decision was taken in a global sense only, as there was no effective road or air competition to the rail cars trundling along the Coonamble branch line.   

That is, there was no fleet of Greyhound buses plying the Newell Highway and no DC3s humming overhead in the clouds above Coonamble, Gulargambone,  Gilgandra or Eumungerie in direct competition to Far West Express.  In short, the abandonment of rail passenger services on the Coonamble branch line was a simple abandonment of a necessary public service for any person who did not have access to a private motor vehicle. 

In every sense it was a failure of government, and no amount of Countrylink-branded coaches (which ignore the intermediate villages in any event) can make up for the rash decision in the mid-1970s not to attack the problem of rising service costs in a more constructive way - to compete on more than just price.  The cost of this failure of failure can be seen to this day – Gilgandra, Gulargambone and Coonamble are shadows of their former townships and several intermediate villages have been obliterated.

The very point of the quality facilities in the DEB set was to provide an affordable option to road travel on the pioneer lines.  Instead of just withdrawing to compete on several large trunk routes, the Far West Express took competition to the extremities of the rail system.  SO perhaps more than perhaps any other decision since 1945, the removal of rail passenger services in the mid-1970s from these sorts of lines sealed the fate of rail passenger transport in this State.  But enough of this soap-boxing, time for another photograph or two.

And this time our photographer turned around!  So, our final shot is of the much-missed Far West Express heading north to Coonamble.  Enjoy!

08 October 2012

Eumungerie's 'worms'

The October 2012 edition of Australian Railway History carries an excellent article gloriously entitled Worms to the Bush by one of the doyens of railway writing – Mr Peter Neve.  It covers the introduction of the 900 class DEB sets into service on the NSW railways.  Reading this article has prompted me to once more veer away from the history of grain transportation on the Coonamble line to cover this possibly more attractive aspect of operations.

The history of rail car operations on the Coonamble line is very much a history of post war passenger transport on this branch, so this mini-series of blogs will be followed at some stage with a ‘prequel’ (borrowing Hollywood parlance) to cover the eclectic range of locomotive-hauled passenger services.  In this blog posting I intend just covering the early period of rail car services on the line – the 23 years from 1934 to the introduction of the 900 class DEB sets in late 1957.

There is a fair argument that the Railway Commissioners treated the passengers using the Coonamble line rather favourably during the rail car era, by using this branch as an ‘early adopter’ of rail cars and air-conditioned rail travel, and (in the post war period) the introduction of an onboard buffet service. 

This favourable treatment resulted in the Coonamble branch being somewhat atypical of NSW branch lines.  That is, diesel rail cars provided the bulk of regular passenger services on the Coonamble line from 1934, until the cessation of such services during 1975.  Unlike most NSW branch lines until well into the 1950s, locomotive-hauled services were generally used only when rail cars were either not available or were anticipated to be insufficient to meet expected passenger loadings.  The Coonamble line achieved this status two decades earlier.

The reasons for the early introduction of rail cars on the Coonamble branch were multiple.  The Commissioners’ various annual reports noted the relief provided to passengers of faster services, along with the relief from the heat of western summers. Though not stated, the superior heating systems contained on the rail cars would have provided comfort during the quite bitter winters which could be experienced in those parts of the State.

Three other good reasons existed for the use of rail cars on the Coonamble line.  The first was the speed of the services.  This enabled freight traffic operations to be better planned during the busy wheat seasons when passenger services were, quite frankly, a distraction from the main purpose of the branch line.

The second unstated reason was the growing significance of Dubbo as a regional centre.  Being a hub of five branch lines positioned Dubbo as an ideal place to base a significant rail car servicing operation, and the Commissioners did just that.  Over time Dubbo’s rail car services provided modern, reliable and eventually even air-conditioned services with buffet facilities to Coonamble, Bourke, Parkes and Cobar.

Finally, the Commissioners were prompted by cost. It was simply less expensive to operate lightweight internal combustion engines, driven by a single crew member.  It was thus no surprise that rail cars first made their appearance on the Coonamble line at the time that NSW struggled to climb out of the 1930s economic depression.

From 1934 to 1943, a relatively experimental rail car (CPH 38, known widely as Creamy Kate) was based at Dubbo for, amongst other things, Coonamble line services.  A typical pre-war consist from Dubbo to Coonamble would include Creamy Kate, hauling CT 81 (a trailer built on the underframe of the former passenger carriage, BX 1048) and HT 76 (formerly CPH 9).  All were painted silver, with blue trim, during this period.  The commencement of this composition required the lengthening of Dubbo’s platform by 300 feet, as this service likely commenced from the eastern dock siding.

Amongst my family’s photographs is one fairly tattered, well-worn, much-revered and apparently colourised photograph of this service arriving at Eumungerie in the late afternoon.  I am fairly certain that this photograph dates from the late 1930s, though it could be as late as 1940.  The yellow-green tinge in the trees suggests that what appears to be green trim on the rail cars was actually blue trim. Any contributions from readers on this point would be much appreciated.

On 11 August 1938, a more modern version of rail car – the 400 class – was introduced to passengers along the Coonamble branch line.  The class leader, HPC 401, commenced those workings and was joined in this undertaking by HPC 404 on 21 October 1938.  Again, both were painted silver, with blue trim.  HPC 401 was transferred to Narrandera during 1940, and HPC 404 left Dubbo on 18 August 1943 for the same location.  Sadly, the family’s photographic repository holds no photograph of either of these rail cars working the line – perhaps wartime exigencies played a role in this absence.

The short period of operation of the more modern 400 class rail cars may not have been the success envisaged.  With wartime passenger loadings higher than the 1930s, it is quite likely that even if the 400 class rail cars were hauling their 500 class trailer cars, the service capacity was still probably insufficient to accommodate demand for seats.  The transfer of both rail cars to Narrandera mid-war to work the sparser branch lines in the south west of NSW suggests this may have been the motive for the transfer. 

I also presume that 12 class locos resumed a loco-hauled service after the departure of the 400 class rail cars in 1943.  While no photographs exist within the family collection to support this presumption several were retained at Dubbo depot for such workings.

Rail cars of a new type returned to the branch line shortly after the cessation of the Second World War.  On 25 January 1949, a new 600 class rail car – the two car pairing of 601 power car and 701 trailer car to be precise - was transferred to Dubbo for Coonamble line workings.  It was painted in the new tuscan livery.  This rail car provided the No. 45a Rail Car connection off the Coonamble Mail on Tuesdays and Thursdays.  A loco-hauled Mail ran on all other days, except Sundays. 

It is notable that while both services left Dubbo at 8:00am, the rail car service arrived at Coonamble 35 minutes earlier than the loco-hauled service.  While three additional minutes were timetabled for the steam locomotive at Gilgandra for the taking of water, the loco-hauled service was 10 per cent slower than the rail car.  This improved speed is in evidence by the scheduled arrival of the rail car at Eumungerie at 8:47am, while the steam loco service was to arrive eight minutes later.

Two very indistinct photographs are in my possession of these workings.  Both are suspected to be from around the time of introduction of this service in 1949.  The first shows a blurred rail car standing at the station alongside a fairly impressive goods train waiting to head to Dubbo.

The second photograph shows a back-lit rail car set leaving Eumungerie to head north.  While both photographs were probably taken with equipment almost guaranteed to produce a poor long range shot and both have not stood the test of time well, I am truly grateful to have both photographs and they are reproduced here to complete the record.

While I created an artificial division earlier in this blog entry to suggest that a new era of rail cars commenced in 1957 with the introduction of the DEB rail cars, in reality the 600 class type rail cars continued working throughout until the demise of passenger services in 1975.  Indeed, such was the apparent success of this type of rail car, by the 1970s it was only deemed necessary to replace the aging 600 class rail cars with its slightly less elderly cousin, the 620 class rail car.

As late as the April 1971 Western Working Timetable, there was little perceptible change from the 1957 timetable.  With the allocation of 636/736 to Dubbo in July 1972, 620/720 diesel car sets operated along the branch – though workings of this type of rail car set may have commenced prior to this point in time (as suggested in the April 1971 Working Timetable).

And here ends the conclusion of part 1 of the rail car blog.  As will be explained in an upcoming post, from 1957 onwards a vastly different type of rail car (the 900 class DEB set) provided the premier passenger service on the branch line.  However, regardless of whether it was a 900 class or 600 class type rail car, the odds were that a specially constructed parcels van would be at the rear of the service.  In this concluding photograph dating from the late 1960s, a 600 class diesel set heads north towing one of these ETP parcels vans to Coonamble.

08 September 2012

In a ditch

Yes it has been a pretty long time between posts, but it hasn't all been idle time.  As other things in life have taken precedence (at least for a while), my opportunities to discover the precise dates of the erection of Eumungerie's silos have been limited.  

In the few opportunities that have presented, I have searched vainly to discover the smoking gun.  There seems to be none.  The Commissioners' annual reports for the relevant period in the 1930s disclose no evidence for either a 1932 construction, or a slightly later date.  

So, as I find myself in a right hole in relation to grain transport at the moment, I think its time to take a quick peak at a culvert.

Culverts are pretty essential on the Coonamble line, which sees its fair proportion of floods.  Most of these occur north of Gilgandra, where the Castlereagh parallels the railway. Eumungerie too is relatively flood-prone, for a central-western NSW location, as the Drilliwarrina Creek has shallow banks which are less than a kilometre to the west of the railway yard.

At the north end of the yard there is a culvert which stands to this day.  In 1977 the railway bridged the gap in a pretty standard way - large timber beams building up from a concrete and stone base.

Even well constructed culverts need renewal at times, and so it was in the late 1980s.  The newly reinstalled culvert took a different approach - 'sledding' a timber sleeper longitudinally to bridge the gap as a support to the railway sleepers.

Must get out there soon to see how the gap is bridged in the 21st century!


17 June 2012

Explaining the silence

This short posting is made to soothe the nerves of anxious readers who fear that this blog has stalled for some unknown reason.  

This evening I can announce that it is stalled for a known reason.

The reason is simple.  There is now considerable doubt in my mind that both the official NSWGR records and family folklore are wrong about the 1932 expansion of the silos at Eumungerie, when a work-house was supposedly added,  In fact, construction of the work house may not have occurred until 1936-37.

Against the evidence of the 1932 construction is a series of newspaper reports in the mid-1930s about a planned expansion of Eumungerie's silos.  Of course, this in of itself does not mean that the work-house was not built in 1932.  That is, it may have well been a further expansion of the silo complex.

And does it matter when it was built?  Well, yes... for a few reasons.  First of all, it matters because it matters.  Writing an incorrect date on a modest little blog could be like a butterfly flapping its wings in the Amazon.. meaning I have already posted photographs which have been dated to 1932 as they show the construction of the silo underway.  There is considerable doubt that these were correct.

And it probably mattered for the men who lumped nearly one million wheat bags over this five year period.  While I plan an emergency research trip to the ARHS reading room to collect corroborating evidence of either date, I will post the following photograph, taken from the top of Eumungerie's silos at some date in the 1930s, to recognise the efforts of those who faced the line of lorries in the railway yard during those years.

I shall return, hopefully very soon, with dates confirmed and more stories about the storage and transport of the golden grain from Eumungerie.

20 May 2012

Hard years on the farm: 1926 to 1930

The NSWGR’s Weekly Notices is not a publication given to overstatement.  On the occasion of the coming of modernity to Eumungerie – a bulk grain handling facility – on 26 February 1926 it merely stated that the Wheat Silo Siding at Eumungerie was extended 126 feet at the Coonamble end and then connected to the Main Line. 

In the first season of the silo’s operation – the 1926/27 harvest – this new facility would be given a good work-out.  The harvest doubled the previous year’s result, with nearly 200,000 wheat bags being deposited at Eumungerie. This was again approximately half of the total brought to the railway from farms along the entire branch line.

In mid-November 1926 the Daily Liberal noted that Eumungerie’s farmers were fully occupied at the harvest:

The harvest in this district is now in full swing. Wheat is coming in freely, Motor lorries, waggons (sic) and drays are in great numbers. On Monday the silos were opened and over 2500 bags of wheat were placed in them. Some good yields are being harvested, 8 to 10 bags to the acre.

Lest it be erroneously thought that the opening of the silo had an immediate improvement of productivity and efficiency at the point of loading, it needs to be remembered that all wheat continued to arrive in bags at the railway yard.  If the silo was to be used, then the bags would be unstitched by hand and then poured into the silo, one by one.  However, with 200,000 bags to deal with, the majority just went straight into the wheat stack adjacent to the silo.

Eventually this silo would prove inadequate to the district’s needs, but for the next three years it was more than ample.  The harvests of 1927/28, 1928/29 and 1929/30 were extremely poor.

As with most seasons, the 1927/28 year had commenced with optimism, with a tempering of concern.  In June 1927 the venerable Mr Arthur once more stepped in to provide a forecast to the Dubbo Liberal and Macquarie Advocate that the ‘1927 wheat season has commenced in earnest now, and the greater percentage of area to be put under crop this year had been sown.’

Mr Arthur noted that:

The month of May, except for a few isolated showers early in the month, has been exceptionally dry. Consequently the preparation of the soil, which was mostly in good order after the April rains and seeding operations, have proceeded uninterrruptedly throughout the whole of the month…

Much seed has been sown dry mostly, on stubble ground, and now lies in the soil awaiting rain to germinate it.  Crops sown during April and early this month are well up… A general fall of rain in the near future would be welcome to all farmers, and would relieve a slight feeling of tension as to future prospects, but there is no cause for alarm or pessimism at present, as experience of past years is that serviceable rains can be looked for during June.

He concluded his comment by noting that ‘other centres such as Eumungerie, Gilgandra, Armatree, Baradine and Coonabarabran received less rain, and conditions are not so favorable. However, all would be well served by 'immediate steady rains’.

Perhaps in the knowledge of these difficulties, every effort was then put into making a success of the 1927/28 harvest.  The NSW Government’s Better Farming Train made its first visit to the west of the State in August 1927. 

In launching the train the Minister for Agriculture stated that no effort had been spared to make the various sections of the train interesting and helpful in the most practical way to primary producers in the western areas.  After being available in Dubbo on 17 and 18 August 1927, the train moved to Eumungerie on 19 August, Gilgandra on the next day and then to Coonamble on 22 and 23 August 1927.  While a hand bill was released by the administration to advise farmers of the coming of the train to Dubbo, no similar document was issued to educate the farmers along the Coonamble branch line. Perhaps the bush telegraph was considered sufficient to bring those needing instruction to the train?

Indeed, for a time al this effort seemed to work.  By 3 November 1927 the Liberal could announce under the byline of Crop Prospects: A General Improvement:

A more optimistic tone, engendered by the recent bounteous rains throughout the State, pervades several of the reports for October submitted by Instructors attached to the Department of Agriculture.

In the western district (Dubbo centre), Mr. B. M. Arthur reports the alleviation of a serious position, and states that at least sufficient wheat for seed purposes has boon assured. In the Dubbo, Eumungerie, and Wellington districts there are prospects of a medium harvest, although in those areas it is only the early-sown crops on well worked land, and particularly those crops assisted by superphosphate, which will give any reasonable return.

This fertiliser, Mr. Arthur states, has made a wonderful difference this season to crop development, due to the early stimulation of root growth, enabling the roots to get in touch with moisture reserves in the lower regions of the soil. These crops will probably yield from two to ten bags to the acre. The failure of later areas, however, is expected to reduce the average district yield by 50 per cent. The total area sown to wheat, Mr. Arthur states, will not exceed three to four bushels to the acre.

Despite the informed predictions, the advice available from the Better Farming Train and the use of superphosphate, the 1927/28 harvest was next to a complete failure. Eumungerie shipped a mere 24,400 bags that year – about 12 per cent of the previous harvest.  Worse still, this location accounted for two-thirds of the entire wheat production along the line.

A virtual autopsy of the 1928/29 harvest was printed in the Sydney Morning Herald at the very time men should have been in the fields, harvesting the grain.

In that portion of the western district of which Parkes is the centre, weather conditions during October were unfavourable to securing the high wheat yields anticipated earlier in the season. 

The conditions of September continued throughout the greater part of October -dry windy days with occasional gales. Some tipping occurred, but the greatest limiting factor was the tendency for the stem and ears to "hay off" before the grain had hardened. The dense, heavy patches of crop suffered most, as also did many of the more forward crops, particularly during the cyclonic gale of October 7. Such conditions, associated with premature ripening, have resulted in an early harvest…

Grasshoppers are numerous throughout the district, and in many places are causing a loss of crops. Oat yields have stripped satisfactorily, probably up to I0 bags per acre.

In that portion of the western district of which Dubbo is the centre, although the position could have been a good deal better, reports Mr. B. M. Arthur, there will be a considerable quantity of grain of fair to good quality harvested, provided it does not rain for the next few weeks. Harvesting is in full swing in many centres, particularly districts north and west of Dubbo.

Rain averaging about 60 points in two falls was recorded in most centres during October, but this was too late to be of any benefit to the greater majority of the crops on the western plains, though it would largely assist those on the western slopes.

Crops on the western plains have ripened and filled their grain without rain of any consequence since July 23. Much of the grain is slightly to badly pinched, but has great colour, and probably it will nil be f.a.q. (fair average quality – ed.), provided rain does not fall to bleach it before it is in the bags or the silos.

In the Gilgandra district the harvest… will average better than two bags, and it would undoubtedly have been considerably higher if it had not been for the damage done by grasshoppers to the germinating crops last autumn…

North and west of Dubbo, including Eumungerie, Terramungamine, Coboco, and Talbragar, will also go over three bags for the area stripped. But in all these localities a fair area, mostly late sown, was fed off.

Haymaking is mostly completed in the early districts, though many farmers have had to leave that work uncompleted owing to the abnormal early ripening of crops, which must he stripped as expeditiously as possible, as much of the straw is weak, and the grain is shelling.

In spite of fairly good efforts in many centres by individuals and concerted action to poison grasshopper -with good results in most cases-and also the enormous destruction by predacious birds, ibis, wood swallows, and starlings, the pest is fairly numerous in many parts. Quite a fair percentage is now fully adult, and on the wing. 

There is not much for them to eat that is green, and they must go elsewhere if it keeps dry.  Rain would not benefit many crops now, and it is to be hoped that it will hold off so as to ensure a f.a.q. sample of grain, and the departure of the hoppers.

Pastures are not good, and in many places food is becoming scarce. Tank water is also very low, and several landowners who have not artesian supplies are carting water for stock and domestic purposes.

The following year was only slightly less grim.  While Eumungerie managed to quadruple its production from 1927/28, this was only to 81,700 bags.  And again, it was the only significant collection point along the entire branch line.  Apart from Gilgandra, no other site recorded a contribution of any note.  The entire branch line produced a mere 108,000 bags of wheat.  By this time, those sitting at their desks in the State’s Treasury may have come close to doubting the wisdom behind the Department of Agriculture’s advice to situate the silo at Eumungerie.

If the Treasury officials were doubting the decision at the close of the 1928/29 harvest, within six months all doubt had been removed.  Sadly, there was not an affirmation of the soundness of the decision to locate a silo at Eumungerie – in fact, the opposite would have been the case.

Any Treasury official visiting the west of the State on 29 August 1929 would have woken to the following sobering article from the Daily Liberal under the eye-catching byline of Western Wheat: Prospects in Dubbo District: Gloomy official report.

“Prospects for a satisfactory harvest are extremely poor, and it appears probable that the yield for this portion of the western district will be the lowest for some years, and possibly as low as the returns for 1919."

With these words Mr. B. M. Arthur, senior agricultural instructor for the northern half of the western district, with Dubbo as its centre, prefaces his report on the crop conditions and prospects at the end of July.

Continuing, he said that the position had been temporarily relieved by the advent of light falls of rain throughout his district, varying from 65 points at Trangie, 79 points in the vicinity of Dubbo, to less than 30 points in the Wellington district, where it was perhaps most needed, as the germination of seed on the heavier soils in the eastern part of the district had been most unsatisfactory.

The light, soaking rain, Mr. Arthur said, would undoubtedly revive crops considerably, especially those growing on the lighter types of soil, but, owing to the comparative dryness of the upper soil and the prevalence of frosts, which were severe on soil moisture, its benefits would not last long, and it would have to be followed by early further rains to ensure lasting results.

Practically all seed which has been lying in the ground for six weeks or more had been destroyed either by mould or by various types of wire worms, but the majority of the seed sown later (during June and July) would still be sound, and would probably give satisfactory germination results where the moisture obtained had been sufficient.

Many early-sown crops, which germinated well, the report proceeded, wore tending to spindle rapidly. Steps had been taken to try and check this spindling by feeding with stock. Frequently, however, this had not been very successful, owing to the poor root hold of the wheat plants, and much had been pulled up and destroyed.

Early maturing varieties sown out of season were tending to come out in ear, and much damage had been done by the succession of severe frosts.

Germination results were best and most uniform in the Gilgandra, Curban, and Balladoran centres, and poorest on the heavier soils to the east and south of Dubbo, particularly around Wellington, Cumnock, Yeoval, and Geurie. Unsatisfactory germination results were, however, common in all localities to a greater or less extent, and the environs of Dubbo, Narromine, Trangie, and Eumungerie were all somewhat similar, especially on the heavier types of soils.

"Summed up," Mr. Arthur adds: "The position is that it will need an extraordinary change of seasonal conditions from now on to ensure anything approaching an average crop. But there should not be any reasonable doubt about obtaining sufficient wheat to guarantee at least adequate seed supplies for future requirements."

Those Treasury officials lucky enough to evade the disappointment in the Daily Liberal’s article received an abridged but just as depressing report from the Sydney Morning Herald that day.

Referring to that portion of the western district of which Dubbo is the centre, Mr B M Arthur states that the rains though patchy and inadequate for future requirements… much seed which has lain in the ground for months has now germinated, and there has also been a good germination of all the late-sown areas or those put in during June and July any areas however, especially those of the heavier types of soils, in the Narromine, Dubbo, Eumungerie, Geurie, and Wellington districts, are still too patchy in appearance and growth to be of any commercial value because the seed has either rotted or been destroyed by insect pests.

By 2 October 1929 the situation had deteriorated considerably.  The Sydney Morning Herald noted that:

Judging from the reports of the agricultural Instructors located in various parts of the western wheat belt, the position in regard to the crop is somewhat more serious than many city people imagine. It is considered that in the district of which Dubbo is the centre, with half a million acres under crop, only about 500,000 bags will be available for sale…

Referring to the Dubbo district, Mr. B. M. Arthur said that the spell of rainless weather, accompanied by drying winds, which was experienced over most of the district since the last useful fall of rain, played havoc with the greater part of the area under crop. It not only burned off large areas beyond recovery, but also caused crops to spindle badly and produce very small ears, which are too low to be economically handled by binders or headers.

The absence of any harvest at all except in a few isolated cases appeared to be a distinct possibility before the general rain, aggregating from 55 points to over an inch, and this altered the position considerably. 

Whilst the greater majority of the wheat areas had gone beyond recovery, and in most instances had been or were being fed off to save stock, there would still be, Mr. Arthur considered, a fair area which would benefit materially. A considerable number of farmers should now be able to obtain their seed requirements, while a few would have crops of varying areas which would return payable yields and allow a fair surplus for sale as seed and also to supply the local mills.

"It is very doubtful," he says, "whether there will be any wheat in this district to go into the silos or to be handled by the railways, except in centres remote from country flour mills.

Crops round Dubbo, including Eumungerie, are very patchy, but may return a one to two bag average, and the same applies to Gilgandra.

In amongst all this gloom, there was evidence of wheat boosterism – almost as if to reassure politicians, policy makers and farming communities that their faith in the golden grain would be restored at some time.  The Herald ran an article at the end of October 1929 – in the midst of the Wall Street Stock Market Collapse to almost spruik what the wheat industry could be in a normal season, under the title A Million Tons by Rail.

If all the wheat carried by the State's railways in a good season could be suddenly changed into loaves, many, many goods yards would overflow before the 1,148 millions of them could be accommodated.

Every year, when the crops are up to expectations, more than 1,000,000 tons of grain travel by rail. This represents nearly 800,000 of Hour, and from every pound and a half flour one 2lb loaf can be made.

But that never happens, of course. Probably the first truckload of the new season's wheat, which has already arrived in Sydney to be milled and baked here; but there will many more truckloads, and export must be considered.

No one knows yet just what the harvest will be, but already the railway department is in its annual task of conveying the wheat to the seaboard or the milling centres, and there are hopes that there will need for the additional engines and trucks which were not used last year, though £70,000 spent in their preparation.

With the harvest, too, comes the Government's responsibility to provide silo accommodation for bulk grain, and evidence of the official view of things may be found in the additional plants to be opened for the first time.

This year, eighty-four silo plants are available in the wheat belt, and these will
hold 15,030,000 bushels at one filling, in Sydney the terminal silos may take 6,750,000 bushels at a filling, and no one knows how many times they may need to be filled.

Officially, then, the handling season will begin to-day, when the first and most northerlsilo, at Gilgandra, will open. This will be followed on November 5 by plants at Peak Hill, Trundle, Bogan Gate, Narromine, Eumungerie, Geurie, and Wellington.

Other centres there will be a tremendous bustle to clear out what little grain remains from last season. Chutes and elevators will looked to and everything put in readiness that greater  bustle expected early in December, when the full rush will occur.

By end of next week, all country silos will been emptied, though a small stock will still remain in the terminal plants.

About 30 per cent of each season's harvest through the silos, and about half the
Wheat exported from New South Wales shipped from the terminal plants. Five
thousand tons a day may be poured into these before their intake capacity is reached, and tons can be discharged into ships in eight hours.

This description of the theoretical logistics underpinning the NSW wheat industry was an exercise in publishing cruelty at this particular point in time.  By mid-November 1929 the same newspaper was publishing the last rites for that year’s harvest along the Coonamble branch line.

Arrangements have almost been completed for the opening of the country silos for the coming harvest. Old season's wheat still remains in seven of them, having been held there at the request of the owners. Most of it, however, will be disposed of before the new season's wheat arrives. 

The Minister for Agriculture (Mr. Thorby) stated yesterday that owing to local crop failures it had been found unnecessary to operate the plants at Dubbo, Eumungerie, Forbes, Garema, Geurie, Narromine, Peak Hill, Quandialla, Wellington, and Tomingley.

In short, the modest predicted harvest which eventually produced just over 54,000 bags of wheat at Eumungerie – even obviated the necessity of opening the near-new silo at that location.  And thus it was so – three of the first four harvests under the shadow of the silo at Eumungerie were so miserable that the railway was not taxed by the transshipment of wheat bags. 

As the world headed full-long into the 1930s depression era, with collapsing prices for wheat domestically and internationally, one wonders if the citizens of Eumungerie gazed at the large concrete silo dominating their horizon and only saw a large white elephant.