by Gerard H. Verhoeven
Early in January 1954 I returned to Sydney from my trip to Chinchilla. I went to my nearest Commonwealth Employment Office at Bondi Junction where I was told that one had to be a naturalised citizen to work on the Government Railway (NSWGR).
On 13 January 1954, I went into the city, to Central Station and walked over to the Railway Office in Pitt Street, to see if there was any labour required. In those days there were boards up everywhere on the walls of factories, stores, etc., asking for labour. There was nothing of that at this railway office and as I walked away, an Italian man asked me the way to the Railway Employment officer. He had a note from an Employment Office to present himself there. I showed him the way and followed him in too.
At the fifth floor was a large waiting room and one had to fill in forms. Later on I was asked to do a simple arithmetic test, and later still I had hearing, vision and physical examinations. I was asked if I wanted to be a "porter", which I thought was a "redcap". I declined that job in favour of something mechanical, whereupon I was given a letter to report to the Electrical Engineering Branch in York Street. I went there and was shown into an Engineer's Office where I was asked to read an English text. I was then told to report for work at the Leichhardt Depot of the Overhead Wiring Branch. This depot was adjacent to Pioneer Park (a former cemetery) and included a bus depot as well. The Sydney Tramways were formerly run by the NSWGR, but were by that time separated.
The influx of nine people must have baffled them at the depot, as someone remarked that only six months before quite a few had been laid off and now they didn't know what to do with the newcomers. Many were Italians back from canecutting in Queensland and working in the city for the slack season. We were set to clean the yard which lasted for a week. Six of us were then sent with old Mac (McEvoy, who had one lung) to test some poles along the Chullora line. We were issued with a tramway pass (so we could get to the railway station, etc.) and we were initiated in the various names (up and down lines, six foot and four foot) of the railway lines. After this we had a simple examination for flagman.
I then went out with a gang repairing overhead wires, mainly with George McLennan, and sometimes with others, and we worked all over the Metropolitan area.
The electrified area stretched then only as far as Hornsby, Parramatta, Liverpool and Sutherland/Cronulla. They were working then on the electrification to Blacktown. We worked for an extended period in the Lidcombe - Auburn area where the track was being equipped for 4 electrified lines. For a time I worked around the Georges River bridge (the old one with gauntletted track), along the Illawarra line, East Hills and Bankstown lines.
Once I had to relieve a flagman from an emergency squad working from the Prince Alfred Depot. This small depot was located where a line now goes underground to the Sydney airport.
The emergency squad consisted of a lineman and offsider and two flagmen. We had a truck with radio and all necessary repair gear. The squad was directed to any trouble in the electrified area and I remember I had to flag in the peak hour just past Redfern station towards Macdonald Town, because of a broken "dropper" (a thick copper wire that holds up the catenary from the carrying cable). At this spot were some 8 electrified lines and some more goods lines. Trains were running everywhere and at one stage I had to lie in the six foot as two trains passed one another at speed.
I was mainly flagman and my job was to protect the lineman working on his ladder. The lineman's offsider carried the ladder and stood on the ground. Depending on the line (fast or slow), I went out for some 1200 yards, with detonators, a whistle and two flags, a red one and a yellow one. The other fellow protected the two men working. Two detonators were put down some ten paces apart and one kept a look out for a train coming in order to display a red flag. When I saw one on my line in the distance, I blew the whistle and watched the other flagman, who gave his yellow flag when the working men and their ladder were off the line. I showed the yellow flag then to the driver of the approaching train. The driver knew then there were two detonators lying on the rail also. These detonators went off with a very loud report. As soon as the train had gone past, I laid two fresh detonators, till such time that I was recalled.
It was a nice carefree job mostly, travelling by truck and train or tram all over the metropolitan area and I got to know all the suburban stations and lines and watched all sort of trains go by.
Sometimes I had to work at night time, when I was issued with a lamp. This was generally when the catenary was taken out and replaced at a railway junction. The last electric train was then run by a railmotor as the electricity was switched off. Goods trains were, where possible, rerouted, but I remember once I had to pull up a long and fast goods train because a sudden bank of mist developed in a hollow and I could not see the light of the flagman protecting the job. By the time this train came to a stop, it was almost on top of the job too.
I liked this night work with all the changing signal lights and shunting steam trains. The city was quiet and one could hear what is going on over a great distance.
At one stage I worked with an old and very talkative New Zealander, Steve. His job was to check and clean spark arrestors which are at every metal pole carrying the overhead wiring. Lightning could damage these and it was Steve's job to check for damage. He liked to talk about trains and ships, which suited me too. We worked from the old Georges River bridge back towards Hurstville.
A few nights I also went out on a cable train. The train consisted of a steam locomotive pulling a flatcar with a huge roll of catenary wire on it, followed by a dozen or so old carriages, which had a gangway on top of the roof. On the gangway of each carriage stood a couple of linemen and as the train went slowly forward and the catenary wire unreeled from the roll, these linemen fastened the catenary to the droppers. Each couple of fellows had to do a certain job while walking along the gangway, such as just fastening the catenary wire to the dropper, the next couple adjusting the correct height, another couple tightening the nut, other couples fixing the span wires to give the zigzag effect to the catenary. At the final carriages the ganger and engineers checked all work and I stood near the ganger and swung my green light steadily toward the driver of the loco. This was done midway between Strathfield and Central.
The power on the catenary is 1500 volt DC and one night I saw a powerful flash, when a lineman's spanner touched an overhead bridge at Auburn. The lineman burned his hands but did not fall off the ladder. The immediate area was momentarily lit up to daylight.
However as time went on this job became boring and I did not feel like being a lineman so I asked to be transferred to the traffic branch. The office tried to delay this transfer as long as possible till I threatened to resign. But it was a good experience as, by now, I knew the railways of the entire metropolitan area.
In August 1954, soon after I started work at the depot in Leichhardt, I moved from the boarding house in Fletcher St., Bondi (run by Mrs McDonald) to the railway hostel in Leichhardt, next to the depot and on top of a deep railway cutting of the goods lines to Rozelle. Here I had a room and met some others, some of whom I still know, like Moussa Merhi(a Lebanese) and Tommy Carol(Irish). Most in the hostel were Ukrainians, who used to play poker right through the whole weekend in the community room, starting on Friday night and finishing by Sunday evening!!!
I had to go through all the tests again and was sent to the traffic office in Central Station, where they showed me all over the place in the morning, including the tunnels, platforms and lifts. In the afternoon I had to work in an unloading dock, unloading tons of butter. The next day according to the roster I had to start at Darling Harbour Goods Shed for an undetermined time. I didn't like that idea and asked for a station job and after a bit of dilly dallying I was sent as a third class relief Porter (3rd Cl. station assistant) to North Sydney. I was given a cap and a uniform at Rozelle, as I was already six months in the service then, and issued with the Rules and Regulations and its appendices.
At North Sydney I reported to Station Master (4th Cl.) Mr. Rich. The first day I was placed at the barrier with another relief man to learn the new job. I was issued with a rail pass also. I did this for a week in the 7am to 4pm shift - barrier, concourse cleaning, assist the platform when the trains were stabling after the peak hours. This was Kevin Murphy's (Spud) job, who was away on holidays. Then I had three days to learn the 3pm to 10pm job - barrier relief during the peak hour, cleaning the concourse and relieving the ASM at Milson's point for his meal break. On the barrier one had to collect and check the tickets, as a harbour bridge surcharge of 2 pennies was often missed by people who asked for a ticket to the City and travelled on to North Sydney.
I worked here for some six weeks, then at Hurstville for two days on the barrier and platform and at Como for a day where I sold my first tickets (£1-10-0 worth).
Mr.Rich asked me then if I would like to take a first class relief Station Assistant's job, provided I went through all the examinations for Safe Working (signalling) and all aspects of station working. This was to replace an English man, Leonard Trip, a former Guardsman, who got a job at Fairy Hill (near Casino) as a 7th class signalman (he was still there in '67).
I had three weeks to learn the job, which was to relieve all positions at North Sydney during a fortnight.
Every Monday I had to start early at 4.50am at North Sydney to sell weekly tickets, some £250 - £300 in 3 to 4 hours' time, especially between 6am and 8am, when the booking clerks came on the job. I had to balance my cash then. My knowledge of all the lines and their stations came in very handy, because that is the order the tickets are located in the big rack next to the ticket window. Prior to that I had practised with a handful of coins (from the then imperial system of pound, shillings and pence).
There were two types of weekly tickets, the workman's weekly and the weekly season ticket. One had to stamp them with the number of the coming week. There was a deposit of 1/- on such a ticket. If people tendered the previous week's ticket they got a refund of this 1/-. I watched this aspect carefully as on balancing I was found every time to be some 5/- out. On balancing I also had to take over bundles of tickets from the clerks who had sold them on the previous Saturday and Sunday. These bundles were given to me for so many shillings as they contained weekly tickets. After a few weeks of these losses I checked these bundles and found that these sometimes contained a ticket that was out of date. This discovery made a rapid end to my losses as I could sheet them home to the fellow where the bundle came from.
This was a high pressure job as between six and eight there was at times a queue stretching from the ticket window to the stairs in the concourse. Many were frightened to do such a job mainly because they couldn't find the ticket quickly enough in the rack.
At nine o'clock I closed the window and balanced the cash and sorted the tickets in their station order for auditing.
I also did all the other relief jobs in North Sydney, and sometimes I was called out if somebody reported sick. Everybody worked a 13 day fortnight. They all liked the weekend work for the penalty rates so I never had to relieve somebody on a Sunday or Saturday, but was at the disposal of the fellow of "Control" in Sydney Central, who could send you all over the Metropolitan area to relieve Station Assistants (SA's) as Porters were now called.
The SA's I relieved in Nth Sydney worked the barriers and the platforms in two shifts, one on the barrier and one each on the platforms (1/2 and 3/4). On the platform you had to change the destination boards, keep the platform tidy, whistle the train out on time, check terminating trains for lost property, etc and when necessary transpose trains.
The morning shift started at 4.50am on 1/2 platform and one worked also 3/4 platform till 5.30am when the other chap came on. We quickly swept the platform and picked up papers along the line. Around 6am the trains started to come quickly, one after another, and by 7.30am they came every two to three minutes. For this peak the Boss (Mr Rich) usually came down to oversee things and give a bit of a hand, generally standing at the bottom of the steps to prevent people jumping on a moving train. The trains were whistled off on time. One showed a white flag to the guard, who rang the bell for the driver to start. One had to watch the indicator light on the platform to see if the signal ahead was off, giving a clear track. In the control room on the platform there was a board with pushbuttons and a roll that showed the train departures and destinations. One had to push the appropriate buttons for the stations where this train stopped. The roll was made from the working timetable and sat in a glass case.
Unless the train working was upset by, say a derailment, trains ran then out of order and had to be transposed. The orders came from Sydney Central Control to our signalbox, who told the platform. One had to quickly write out a form for the driver and guard and hand it to them, so the driver could set the correct head code on the front of the train. The destination board had to be changed and one had to walk along the train and call out the change.
An extra hand was usually sent down to the platform to help. This was before the days of loudspeakers, two-way radios and central organisation of these matters.
The trains had numbers (F-3 = Flemington stable no.3, H = Hornsby, M = Mortdale) and the guards and drivers had run numbers.
When the peak hours quietened down from 9am onwards, the extra sets were taken out and stabled at the North Sydney car sidings, behind Luna Park and in the tunnels between North Sydney and Waverton. These trains terminated in North Sydney and had to be searched for lost property and drunks, and windows had to be closed. The SM went to visit the signalbox then and the platform SA's swept the platforms, and dragged parcels down from the parcels office for the 10am(and later for the 3pm) parcels van.
After 9am the running was normal, that is every quarter of an hour there was a train at no.1 (alternately to Liverpool and Parramatta) and no.4 platform (all stations to Hornsby). Somewhere in between was an hour's break and by 2pm, the shifts changed for the afternoon/evening peak till about 11pm.
The parcels traffic to Central especially was pretty busy as the city stations like Wynyard, Town Hall, St.James, didn't take any parcel traffic. Milson's Point was a bit off the beaten track, so much came to North Sydney or alternatively to Central. As there were no lifts to the platforms in North Sydney, all these parcels had to be carried down.
The signalbox at North Sydney was worked by track block automatic signalling and in its day, it was a show piece as it was the first of its kind in the system equipped with pistol-grip handles instead of the large levers.
The 7.30am job was a third class SA job. One started on the barrier to relieve the congestion there in the morning peak. You had to know all about tickets and change the departure time and platform indicators all the time. With the morning peak over one had to sweep the concourse and get change from the bank, relieve the platform SA's for their smoko and assist with the parcels.
The 11pm backshift was done all the time by a man who was a jockey during the day. He had two nights a fortnight off. In this job you took over a ticket window from a junior booking clerk and from midnight you also did the platforms, setting the destination board at "train terminates" or "all stations to Central/Hornsby" for the few trains that came in after twelve.
At one o'clock you started to hose down the very modern lavatories as by then there were hardly any people about, apart from an occasional drunk. Then there was a spell for about two hours in which I did my correspondence courses, which I got from the Railways Institute. At 4am the first train ran again and guards and porters started to sign on. At 6am a booking clerk came on to take over the place.
The jobs starting at 8.15am and 3.30pm were at the North Sydney car sidings, behind the Luna Park. This was the original terminal station on the North Shore, before the Harbour Bridge was built. In those days the steam suburban trains from Hornsby used to finish here and people caught ferries across to the city.
The NS (North Sydney) car sidings had 7 roads. The points were worked by a handlever and the point tongue had to be locked with a clip for incoming passenger trains. Once one had set a road, you could pull off the signal, and a train could come in. When the train was clear of the points, you could set the next road and pull off the signal again for the next train. The signal went automatically to stop as a train passed. This single line came down through a long tunnel from Waverton. Trains that terminated at North Sydney went empty to Waverton where they went into a dead-end siding next to the Down line. The driver walked then through the train to the other end and when he got the signal from the signalbox at North Sydney, he drove the train down to the NS car sidings.
In day time there was a squad of cleaners cleaning the seven sets and train examiners checking the sets and replacing the brake blocks. At night there was a young Romanian sweeping the carriages, doing it as a second job.
Our job in the morning was to admit the trains and clean and fill the lamps on the buffer stops. In the afternoon you lit those lamps on the buffer stops and when all the trains were in, you rang Control who gave you the times of departure of the sets for the next morning peak. This was done on a blackboard for that purpose, i.e. F10 no.1 road, 5.35am, etc. This was for the drivers and guards the next morning. When you were finished with the NS car sidings, you had to walk up the (steep) hill, past the signalbox into the station. There was a little laneway all the way.
Once a month a steam engine with 2 S trucks full of brakeshoes and a brake-van came down to the NS car siding. As there were no loops there, the shunting was done by gravity, as there was plenty of slope in the line there. Occasionally a steam train came into NS at night time with a ballast train or to pick up rubbish. These were usually extensions of a goods working at night to St.Leonards.
On Saturdays the points at the NS car sidings had to be greased.
Once I saw an electric locomotive with a set of old clerestory roofed carriages going through from Hornsby to Central and noticed it was an ARHS special. Steam engines were not allowed in the city tunnels.
A typical fortnight's relief work at North Sydney was: Monday 4.50am weeklies, Tuesday 4.50am platform 1/2, Wednesday 5.10am platform 3/4, Thursday 8.14am NS car siding and platform 1/2, Friday 4.50am platform 1/2, Saturday 4.50am platform 1/2, Sunday 9am Staff Office (Soff) at Central (to be available wherever wanted), Monday 4.50am weeklies, Tuesday 8.14am NS car sidings and platform 1/2, Wednesday 5.10am platofrm 3/4, Thursday 11.4pm backshift, Friday ditto, Saturday 4.30pm platform 1/2, Sunday off. We worked 13 days a fortnight on account of staff shortages.
Almost once a fortnight I was given a job by the Soff at Central and this took me all over the Metropolitan area. In the beginning I had some difficulties, especially before I had done my safeworking exams and Soff had a habit of putting you off at the last moment so one could not make any arrangements for spending the day off. But later on I was given any first class SA job that came to hand and I had some good and interesting jobs from it, ranging from sitting all day at Soff to emergency jobs in the Metropolitan area. I did booking offices at Clyde, Roseville, Como, Meadowbank, Petersham, Woolooware, Pennant Hills; platform porter at Roseville, East Hills, Lakemba, Wiley Park, Homebush, Strathfield and Hurstville; Barrier porter at Sydenham, Auburn, Lidcombe and Central; Flagman at a signal on the Main North, when it was that hot that the heat affected the automatic signalling and one had to telephone to the signalbox to ask if the line was clear ahead and flag the train forward after informing the driver (rule 57?).
During the electrification of the tracks at Rooty Hill and Blacktown, there was a single line working and each train had to be shunted over a crossover to the wrong line and then sent on its way again. Being mainly passenger trains one had to "clip" (lock) the facing points in the process.
One day I was sent to Gosford as there was a big function on there with many passengers arriving. I spent most of the time sorting the tickets in station order.
Once a Guard failed at North Sydney because he was traumatised in an accident in which two little kids got killed by his train and I had to take his train over and bring it to Hornsby and return to Central, where they had a Guard waiting to take over from me. I also did a job loading bond goods (tobacco) at the old Mortuary station.
When I got the North Sydney SA 1st Cl. relief job, I sat for an exam every week at the Railway Institute. In the beginning, the examiner was pretty tough, asking questions all the time. But after a few weeks he became easier when he found that I knew the matter in hand (the various safeworking i.e.signalling systems, shunter and guard duties, station management, coaching- and goods- accounts, English and St.John's Rly Ambulance 2nd year) and in the long run we generally had a nice chat on the subject before he passed me.
The English test was a dictation test, taken from a railway manual, and in which my only mistake was the word "haul" which I wrote down as "hold". At the end of the exam, the examiner held me back, as he was curious about how I performed so well. After the check he told me that I had done very well, especially compared with four other young fellows. We thought many read only American comics.
One had to pass all the safeworking exams before you got offered signalman's jobs and all the other subjects before you could get Guard or Assistant Stationmaster (ASM) positions.
Because of a shortage of qualified people, these qualifications were eased and premiums paid when you did the exams (altogether some £65). This was of course after I qualified for the lot, my luck! One only had to qualify for the safeworking system which was in force on the job you applied for.
As soon as I had passed all the safeworking systems I was offered 7th class signalman's jobs and I was appointed to Camira Creek (between Grafton and Casino) because a house went with the job. But I never got to Camira Creek as I qualified in the meantime in all the exams and I was offered 5th ASM jobs.
When I started in the traffic branch I was living in the railway hostel at Leichhardt. It was difficult to start the early shifts at North Sydney, in particular the 4.50am one. For that job I had to get up around 2am to catch a special tram that ran from the depot at Leichhardt to the city at that time especially for night workers. As there was a railway hostel at St.Leonards, I managed to get a room there. This hostel was not as well run as the one at Leichhardt, but was far more convenient as it was only a couple of stations to North Sydney.
In May 1955 I got married and we went to live in a room at Neutral Bay and I could ride to the job then (although there was a very steep hill on my route).
10 Nov.1955, before I got to Camira Creek, I was appointed 5th ASM at Bomen. On Monday 31 October 1955 Joyce and I went by Riverina Express (8.15am ex Central) and arrived at Wagga Wagga at 5.30pm. The next morning we went by goods train to Bomen. Our furniture had arrived the day before. We had to pay £20 towards our removal. Our furniture was loaded in a MLV, a huge bogie louvred van in which all our stuff simply disappeared in one end. We unloaded it all and put it into the waiting room where we stayed till the cabin at Bomen became vacant for us to move in. I had a week to learn the job from Vic Dooley, who had been appointed as 4th ASM at Glencoe (New England), on the line to Tenterfield & Wallangarra. His boy used to play "changing staff" on the platform!! I was going to take over the cabin and two tents he had hired from the department and the wire netting fence he had erected around the cabin and tents.
Bomen station was around 1870 the terminus of the Southern railway, till the bridge was built across the Murrumbidgee river and Wagga became the temporary terminus then.
Opposite the stockyard and goods siding across the tracks could still be seen the foundations and pits of the locoshed. And in front of our cabin, there was still a large round hollow where a turntable had been.
The station building was built of brick in a contemporary design, as was the SM's house near the station.
On the Up side of the station (the side nearest Sydney) there used to be a bay from which the track was removed. The bay on the Down side was still there. A timber-built signalbox was added at a later date when the place got interlocked.
The abattoir at Bomen had a siding that came off the Bomen goods siding and furnished one or sometimes more insulated and iced bogey vans of meat a day and at times a truck of hides and/or tallow outward and a truck of coal inward as the main business. There was still a little coaching traffic, an occasional crated pig or poultry or fruit, and a few people and pupils from the nearby agricultural college travelling.
A sheep farmer lived nearby, who used the occupational level crossing at the up end of the railway yard. A railway ganger lived in a house near the level crossing. The manager of the abattoir and a few engineers had houses near the abattoir and there was the orchard of Arthur Bacalis, of Turkish descent who came from Lemnos, and kept us in cheap fruit. The cabin and tents were across the tracks from the station and further up towards Wagga lived Buda, a bridge painter of Hungarian descent with a Sudeten-German wife and a little boy. Like many Hungarians, Buda was fairly clever and creative and really made something from the tents he lived in. His wife could hardly speak any English and was glad of our knowledge of German, as she felt very lonely.
Next to them lived a porter from Wagga Station with his wife and family in a huge old tent, and than a fettler of part-aboriginal descent with a large tribe of kids, the youngest of which, Charlie, played next to the tracks, whilst trains thundered past and gave us many a fright. This fettler kept a flock of goats which were a nuisance around the place.
Across the railway fence near the fettler's tent lived an old eccentric Englishman in a tent, who travelled once a week into Wagga. Across the tracks from us and next to our water tanks lived an old bridge carpenter, also in a tent. We all had our own "dunny" and one had to bury the stuff occasionally.
There was electricity on the station side of the line but we could not get the electricity to come across the tracks, because of a difficulty with the easement. Thus we had electric light on the station and platforms, but across the track the staff changing platform was lit by a kerosene lamp, as were the signals. It was part of my job to fill these signal lamps once a week on Sunday when there was no traffic, using a rail trike we had for that purpose. It was a long way out to the distant signal. Two weeks before I left all signal lights were electrified!!!
There was a down-grade from Harefield, the yard in Bomen was level and then a falling down-grade again to the Murrumbidgee flats and railway bridge. The down Melbourne expresses fairly thundered through the place coming from Sydney - Joyce and I jumped a meter into the air the first night sleeping in the waiting room. On the other hand it was beautiful to see the up expresses getting up speed in the yard to tackle the grade towards Harefield, the next crossing station. Because of the grade and curves on the Wagga side, trains were not stopped at the home signal there, because it was difficult to start.
Trainworking was the biggest job at Bomen. The day shift was done by a 4th ASM, Eric Haslam, who lived in the SM's residence. Eric came from central-west NSW. He started at 7.30am and did the bookwork and station returns. Among his train working was no.7 Albury Mail, 36 Riverina Express, 406 fast goods usually headed by the new 40 class diesels and a 50 class steam loco double-heading and three times a week a midday passenger train/railmotor Junee to Wagga.
Even numbered or Up trains went to Sydney and odd numbered or Down trains moved away from Sydney. Trains numbered in the 400's were diesel hauled.
Norm Walkerden, who became a great friend of ours, and I worked a fortnight in rotation on the afternoon shift and the night shift. Norm was from Coolamon, where he had started as a lad-porter and he knew everybody on the job in this district. He could also write a good letter.
The afternoon shift started at 3.30pm and 54 mixed was usually in the platform road or approaching and was the return working of 9 mixed Junee to Albury of the previous day. This train did all the local pick-up and set-down of wagons. No.54 picked up the loading of the day, generally a refrigerated wagon (MRC) from the abattoir for transit to Junee where the MRC was attached to a fast good for the freezing warehouses at Pyrmont. A shunt to the abattoir took 20'. During the Sydney show we might also have a KKG (bogey horsebox) with horses from the Agricultural College. Such a KKG was shunted at Junee onto no.8 Albury mail as horses had passenger speed transit.
No.8 Albury Mail followed no.54 to Junee a few hours later. 54 crossed 15 Riverina express at Harefield, which came some twenty minutes later then thundering through Bomen.
All the express passenger trains were on automatic exchange, that is one had to set up a "catcher" next to the track in front of the office. The top of the catcher had a clip that held a stout leather pouch hanging on a metal ring. In the pouch went the staff for next section. On the tender of the engine was a similar device upside down and when these two catchers met with a bang, the tender catcher caught the next staff and the station catcher caught the previous staff. The staff gives the driver authority to go into that section as no-one else can get into that section then. The staff instruments between two stations were worked electrically by the ASM's with a bell code and could only release one staff at a time, thus securing the section between the two stations for one train only. Goods trains and stopping trains exchanged staffs with a hand-held hoop, for which through trains had to reduce speed to 40 kmph. There was an exact procedure for this staff change, both on the platform by the ASM and on the engine by the fireman, whereby one could change staffs virtually in the dark and in one "woosh" your staff was gone and you had a hoop hanging around your left shoulder with the staff of the previous section.
After 54 went to Harefield and 15 came through, there was some 50 minutes in which one could duck out to the abattoir's office to pick up the consignment note for the MRC that had just left. Later you worked out the charges, booked it and make out the waybill.
After no.15 had gone through, it was usually quiet till 6.20pm when no.8 Albury Mail came into the platform. There were at times a few passengers and a parcel or two for this train. Sometimes a conditional goods crossed no.8 at Bomen. 8 crossed 9 mixed at Harefield. No.9 mixed picked up any parcels or goods for the South at Bomen, which was never very much.
9 mixed was followed by 99 goods and 430 fruit express, which was then double-headed by a 40class diesel and a fifty class steam engine.
Then followed no.55, which was the local goods to Wagga, and which generally had a truck of coal or empties for the abattoir and sometimes consignments for the agricultural college. The guard was an old fellow, Les, who was always very helpful and knowledgeable about local workings. There was also a no.50 goods on around this time, but it was often combined with no.430.
No's 50, 55 and 430 had to be dealt with efficiently as any delay with them caused them to be held at Bomen till after the Melbourne expresses got through just after midnight.
One can imagine that around midnight it was at times pretty hectic at Bomen, especially if all three trains had to be kept at Bomen. One had to stow them in the goods- and stockyard line and utilise also the long siding into the abattoir.
Norm Walkerden and I changed shifts at midnight. Norm came by car from Wagga where he lived. Our relief was a Frank Sheeley, a 4th ASM who came by one of the trains from Wagga around midnight. Once, when there was no suitable goods at around midnight, he came on the first division of the Melbourne express, which slowed down for him to jump off.
The night shift dealt at 12.20am with no.2 Melbourne express to Sydney. This was the first division, followed by the 2nd Div. at 1am (no.4). A sleeping car attendant, whom I got to know at North Sydney, hung out of his carriage and threw me the Melbourne papers, when he was on.
Within an hour after 2 and 4, no's 405 and (sometimes) 405A came down from Harefield. These diesel-hauled fast goods trains were hard to exchange staffs with. On a steam loco, the fireman left the firebox door open and one could see the fireman and his hoop lit up by the glow of the firebox. But a diesel was pitch-dark. The driver switched off his headlight so as not to blind the officer on the exchange platform (that was a rule), but the diesel's cabin was pitch-dark and only two little white headlights showed the train approaching, and fast did they come too, down the hill. I was hit once over my knuckles with such a cane hoop and after that I used a pair of gloves to change staffs with those diesel-hauled goods.
I let those trains come through the loop too, so I could stand under the platform light, but this meant that these fast goods had to slow down for the loop and they charged 5 minutes for that and it soon ceased after complaints from higher up.
After 405 it was quiet for a little while and then one got the down Melbourne expresses, no's 1 and 3, no.3 generally crossing an Up pick-up goods, no.28. This goods train often had insulated vans (MRC's) for the abattoir to shunt.
After that one started to clean the station, pick up papers, sweep the platform, the office and the signalbox and at 7.30am a Railmotor Wagga - Junee came through, when the day shift started.
Bomen was an ideal place to do trainworking, and I had pilot working and proceed orders as well as fog signalmen out at one time or another. I learned a great deal there at Bomen.
At other times a lockbar would stick, usually when you had a tight crossing to make (a lockbar prevents points being changed when a train stood on it).
No. 15's tender catcher was once out of alignment and it knocked the staff to be picked up, everywhere into the countryside. I always watched the trains going through on the exchanger side and luckily I did, as the staff and its pouch flew in a big arch through the sky and landed far away among the weeds, so I could pick it up straightaway. The train meanwhile made an emergency stop and came to a halt outside the Up Home signal, which I had to pull off for the train to set back and hand the staff to the driver. Later I heard this had happened at Harefield and Kapooka too, so that from then on the train was put on hand exchange of staffs.
Then we had the Murrumbidgee flood and all of North Wagga was flooded, which stopped the highway traffic. All this traffic came to Bomen to be loaded on rail for the few kilometers to Wagga. Every morning Eric Haslam had 60 cans of milk to load on no.7, which delayed that train each day of the flood for some ten minutes or so. Eric got a charge out of that!!
Then there were all those motorcars to be loaded onto flat cars, and waybills had to be made out. It was on the last day of the flood that a porter was sent out from Wagga to help us!!
Norm and I did the train working, 12 hours a day, for a fortnight, while Eric did all the bookwork. After that we had a huge pay and we three got gloriously drunk in North Wagga.
We had a small cabin and two tents joined by a fly. I put in a screendoor under the fly part and Joyce lined the sleeping tent with calico and made it a cosy room. We had the calico later for years as sheets. In the other tent we had all our stuff stored. We used the cabin for a sitting room and kitchen. In the kitchen was a coal-fired stove and a Dutch cupboard and in the tiny living room we had a couch, an easy chair, a kerosene fridge and a drink cabinet. It took a lot of scrubbing to get all the coal grime out of the cabin when we moved in.
We used kerosene for lighting and heating. Joyce had a big flower garden and I dug up the chook yard, buried the night soil and grew a terrific crop of pumpkins.
Joyce always came with me to the afternoon shift. In the office in winter there was a huge open fire, and electric light to read by. I did some O gauge railway building in between trains as I could solder in the office. There was often someone to chat with, guards, firemen or drivers of crossing trains.
When I was on the night shift I brought the tea home in the morning from the electric kettle in the office. In winter Joyce stayed in bed reading while I slept a few hours. In summer I slept outside in the yard as it got dark, till about 11pm. In the dark I knew by the engine and signalbox noises and the changing signal lights, what was going on at the station.
In the fly part of the tents I had put up a pulley on the ridge pole and we could hoist a five gallon drum up. I had soldered a shower rose in the bottom of the five gallon drum, and we had a large tub to stand in and a shower curtain around us. This was our shower. The water was heated on the stove.
In the mean time the 5th Class ASM grade was abolished and all became 4th ASM's on 7 March 1956, all the 4th Cl.ASMs being made 3rd Cl.
Two weeks after I arrived at Bomen I accepted a job as ASM Gurley, near Moree in NW NSW, then a 4th ASM job and became a 3rd ASM. But it took me over a year to get there.
On our days off, I managed to get to Melbourne (to pick up my brother Henk when he arrived from the Netherlands), to Albury and Wagga frequently to shop, to The Rock to see another Dutchman, who was SA there, to Junee and Tocumwal. Joyce and I travelled by train for a weekend in Canberra having a TAM sleeper virtually for ourselves between Goulburn and Canberra (the politicians had all started to fly by then).
The transfer to Gurley in October 1956 was similar to the transfer to Bomen. We left by no.7 to Wagga and by no.36 for Sydney and had four weeks leave in Qld. One had to finish any leave before leaving a district then.
I had free passes for us to go to Cairns but Joyce wanted to go to Chinchilla to her family, so I changed these at the office in Brisbane.
We came back via New England and Werris Creek, where I met all the staff at the District Superintendents office (the DS) who I had to work with, while we had to change trains.(3 Nov. 1956)
We had a Railmotor (RM) to Moree and arrived at Gurley at 8pm and soon found our furniture, etc. at the residence.
I had two days to take over from a relief officer. He wanted to leave early on holidays and wanted to catch the mail which didn't run the next day, so he left that afternoon.
I started to make some order out of the usual chaos left behind by relief men. The place proved to be busier than it looked.
As I could not get the bookwork in proper going order, I called in the help of the Traffic Inspector at Moree, a 2nd Cl ASM, Lou le Britton, whose home station was Armidale and who shortly afterwards was appointed Assistant Traffic Inspector out west.
Once we got the office going, I attended to the yard, where traffic was light. I had to collect quite a few outstanding accounts on the ledger, and it took me some time to know who was who, as the area was settled by a few families. I never saw much of my customers, as most dealings were don by telephone or correspondence.
Before the Second World War a travelling porter used to come out during the wheat and wool season, but this job was abolished during the war due to the labour shortage and never restored for lack of money. So I was on my own.
After the war the large Gurley pastoral station, was cut up for soldier settlement, hence quite a lot of goods (fence posts, wire, machinery) arrived to help establish these people on the land. Their first wool in bales was exported by rail.
Huge tarpaulins had to be regulation folded on a windy plain. Like at sea, one could see the sky meet the earth there. Then these heavy tarpaulins had to be carted to the platform.
The yard was full of burr and "goatsheads" as the railway grounds could not be sprayed with poison because it was not fenced.
A lot of truck ordering went on by big pastoral companies via the DS Werris Creek, and one saw a huge mob of cattle or sheep come over the horizon and anything up to thirty cattle wagons arrived to be loaded. I had to get these trucks one by one at the cattle race, and after they had been loaded, dropped down a dead-end siding to be coupled up and ticketed, ready to go. The track was laid so that a slight push would get a truck moving alright, but long weeds and grass slowed down this moving. This pushing was done with a pinch-bar, which you put under one of the wheels, after the brake was taken off, and moved a truck quite easily.
Gurley was also a receiving depot for the NSW Wheat Board and there was a large wheat stack there, harbouring huge flocks of galahs, mice (we had a mice plague there) followed by snakes. Bulk transport of wheat was just being introduced.
I was entitled to engage casual labour but there was no one about to do the job. In any case it was just such a big rigmarole filling out forms to pay someone a few bob that it was frequently not worth the effort.
Gurley was (and still is) a small place. (Tom) Tramby and (Bill) Hanks were the local stock and station agents, Tom doing the office work and Bill doing the carrying, Joyce and I got on well with them and they were a big help and a mine of information. Tom was particularly pleased with Joyce's bookkeeping. We kept in touch for many years afterwards but both Bill and Tom are gone now. They were in-laws of one another. Then there was country store cum postoffice keeper Smith with whom we got on well too. When I left they presented me with a cigarette lighter, which I still have.
I got on well with the local publican, Arthur Robinson, and his two boarders, the Primary School teacher, Jimmy Considine, and a contractor of the local mail run. Both Arthur and the contractor were heavy drinkers. Arthur tried to cover his losses in the pub via the Railway Department I felt as he submitted claim after claim for broken bottles. He tried it also with a tobacco consignment over Christmas, claiming that he didn't receive it. As nobody in and around the pub had been sober for the whole Christmas period, it was my opinion that as everybody had been serving themselves, which was common at the pub, Arthur could afterwards not tally his takings with his tobacco stock somehow. I managed to salvage several wrappings and cigarette cartons from the rubbish tip behind the pub.
Storekeeper Smith had seen the tobacco consignment arrive, but couldn't be involved for business reasons. The contractor had carted the tobacco to the pub and vaguely remembered it although it was later in the day and he was usually then quite drunk. A fellow from the Investigation branch came out about this matter and I gave him the cartons and wrappings. These have markings showing what consignment it was. I never heard anymore about it.
It was extraordinary what could happen in that little and isolated place. I had a break-in in the out-off shed, and two cartons of wine disappeared. The policeman at Belatta came out to investigate, with no result.
At one time there was a small camp of bridge carpenters. We had a lot of trouble with packs of cattle dogs, most of which had been left behind by drovers, loading cattle, as pups. It got that bad that one day a bridge carpenter who spotted dogs raiding his food supplies in the tent, pulled a cut-down 22 rifle and stared shooting them. From then on the male population of Gurley cleaned up the lot in one day.
I even had a break-down of the ordinary staff system!!! Railwaymen growing old in the service cannot recall that ever happened.
On one of my last mornings at Gurley I came on duty to find two failed goods trains in the yard, the engines had their fire drawn and there was a note saying that an engine would come out of Moree to pull the lot in.
After this engine arrived there was a lot of shunting to get the locos together and the two goods coupled up. I took photos of the proceedings and gave the film roll to the guard for developing but never got it back. In the process of handing over and leaving I forgot all about it.
My brother-in-law (Roley Smith) came over from Queensland with his truck to cart our belongings to Brigalow in Qld. There were no bitumen roads in those days and we had a terrible trip lasting all day.
I managed to see a bit of the Branch line Moree - Boggabilla and the junction of the Mungindi branch at Camurra
We stored all our belongings in a vacant house on Roley Smith' property in Brigalow. We went to live in South Brisbane. I tried to join the QGR but had no success, I think they were trying to shed staff at that time.
So I started working in a factory at Rocklea, catching the Salisbury tram in Stanley Street at South Brisbane. It has all changed now, but the ride was most interesting then. Along Stanley Street there were warehouses, a fish depot and flour mills, all served by rail. At the five-ways the tram turned into Logan Road. The rail activity of both the trams and QGR at Woolloongabba have been well recorded.
On weekends Joyce and I took trams to a terminus and walked across the suburbs to another terminus to go back.
Some Saturdays we caught the train to the end of a branch line. Most branches closed in the early sixties. Thus we had runs to Beaudesert, Lota, Ferny Grove, Shorncliffe and Dugandan.
We visited Ron Barnsley, who was the Stationmaster at Narangba on the North Coast line to Caboolture. His station was also the postoffice and telephone exchange. The trains ran in an automatic area and Narangba had a little signalbox in case a crossover here had to be used. There was little platform work only for stopping trains to Caboolture.
At Newstead there was a funicular to the Cloudland Ballroom, both long demolished. The trams had huge depots at Ipswich Road, Annerley, Paddington and Light Street (with three-way point). Little signal boxes worked the points in the Valley, the five-ways at W'gabba and at Countess Street, Normanby.
The Saturday race traffic to Doomben or Eagle Farm and the showground traffic showed how trams could shift people.
There were two types of trams, the latest Phoenix type, silent and fast and the Californian type. During peak hours one could see occasionally a "Dreadnought", a very old bogey type tram.
The trammies wore the famous "Foreign Legion Cap" (now a collector's item).
In 1963 there was a huge fire in the Paddington tram depot that destroyed all the trams stabled there. It was one of the reasons to close down the system and replace it with busses. The trams can still be seen at the tram museum at Ferny Grove.
All long distance travel to visit Joyce's family in Chinchilla was by train. This train left at 8.15am from Roma Street Station, platform 1. At Helidon one could take a bus to Toowoomba and wait for the train to come up the range, very spectacular but also very slow.
Toowoomba was a busy railway station then. At lunchtime the overnight Sydney train came in via Wallagarra. The huge and ornate lunchroom was very busy. Later that afternoon there were railmotors going to all the different branches on the Darling Downs, viz Crows Nest, Meringandan, Cooyar, Haden, etc.
We had also travels to Hervey Bay, via Maryborough: an eight hour trip, now done in three hours by car.
At Baddow the Bundaberg Mail set back into Maryborough. This was then a busy place too. We caught there the afternoon train to "the Bay", which had very old carriages, in fact one still had gaslighting!!!
The carriages were all wooden cars, open windows and balconies. Other features were the fan, water bottle and a glass in each compartment.
Away from the capital cities, fettlers along the line used to cry "paper, paper" as trains went past.
Once in Toowoomba we saw the first airconditioned train on display.
Delays were often a matter of course.
Before I came to Australia I had bought a kit for a mogul (2-6-0) live steam loco from Bassett-Lowke. This was "O" gauge (7mm to the foot scale). Of course I needed track then so I bought a Hornby set, but its curves were too sharp for the mogul.
Arriving in Sydney I came in contact with "O" gauge house in Ashfield (the Stewart's). In Bomen I started building a portable track, extending it in Gurley. I followed NSW prototype.
Shifting to Queensland I temporarily stored the "O" gauge with a brother-in-law and in Brisbane living in a boarding place I started an HO layout (Triang) as it did not take so much space.(Qld. Prototype).
In Scarness I had a nice layout then featuring also a tramway.
When I bought my own place in Apple Tree Creek I set up my "O" gauge track again and gave the HO equipment to my brother in the early sixties. He is still in the hobby (2006) with a huge continental layout in his house.
In 1958 we moved to Scarness (Hervey Bay) to live with my mother-in-law as Joyce was pregnant. I worked here as a builder's labourer till Isis Central Mill started crushing (1959) when I got a job on the loco's at that Sugar mill. I bought our first place at Apple Tree Creek then because of the shift work on the loco's. I managed to get enough time in to sit for an exam for "locomotive and Traction engine driver (no.2839 of the Qld. Machinery Dept. on 1/12/1961). I received a certificate to drive diesel locos in 1960 (no.16629).
I refer for my railway writings about Isis Central Mill to the magazine "Light Railways" of the Light Railway Research Society of Australia, nos.37 of Spring 1971 and 40 of winter 1972.
In 1962 I joined the Post Master General's department as I needed a more permanent job when the family came along. I went to the training school for Postal Clerks in Brisbane and worked in post offices around the suburbs.
I had by then joined the Australian Railway Historical Society (ARHS) Queensland Division also (1960).
I was for a year ('63 - '64) the secretary of the Qld.Division of the ARHS, relinquishing the job upon my appointment as postal clerk in Mourilyan and later (1965) in Ingham.
From 1962 to 1965 I participated in all the ARHS tours of the Qld. Division, of which I kept the route descriptions, my rail tickets and photos. This was at a time when many branch lines were closing in Qld.
30 March 1963, RM Roma Street to Whinstanes, with elec. haulage at the abattoirs.
I arrived in Innisfail early one morning on the "Sunlander" in August 1964. All sugar mills in Queensland, some 27 then, were working and transporting record tonnages in cane and export sugar. The industry was changing over from cane cutting by hand of whole stalks to machine harvesting. Bagged sugar was being replaced by bulk transport, and steam locos gave way to internal combustion engines. The timber-made canetruck with the hook and link coupling was being replaced by binns on roller bearings and the Willison automatic couplings.
My time in North Queensland was most interesting as I came at the tail end of the old era and the beginning of the new. I met old men who were at the start of opening up of that part of the country and I feel fortunate that I recorded their history in writing. I explored by bike and on foot the tramlines of sugar mills and mining enterprises and wrote a book ("The Innisfail Tramway") with another old-time ARHS member, John Armstrong. I wrote several articles on these tramways for the bulletin of the ARHS and the Light Railways Research Society of Australia for their quarterly magazine "Light railways" (no.32 of winter 1970 "to Rocky Bluff" and no.30 of summer 1969 "Stannary Hills and Irvinebank Mining Tramways" and "Rocky bluff to Denmark") detailing its histories.
I cooperated with other ARHS members (Mike Loveday a.o.) in rescuing and preserving tramway relics in the hinterland, going every Easter weekend to Mike's property in Mareeba to oil all old metalwork prior to dispatch to musea in the South.
In January 1968 we had a big flood in Ingham whereby a road bridge was washed away. The CSR Company ran a passenger service and car transporters over their rail bridge across the Herbert river for some weeks, wearing out a few of their Simplexes hauling passengers and motor vehicles on their timetabled trams between Vella's and Sheahan's sidings on the Ingham - Abergowrie Tramway.
Until the 1930's there was a council tramway between the Port of Lucinda to Ingham and beyond.
Having spent such interesting times in north Queensland, by 1970 I felt really at home there and will recount that in the next period.