A good photo of my workplace (T Class, 206 I think). Note the open firebox, the seat (in use only when not shovelling coal, mostly downhill!). The brass manifold has a wheel with a small tag handle – this was how we put water into the boiler. The long lever is the throttle. The train brake lever can be just seen under the driver’s window, the big wheel in front of my seat is the hand brake.
Beyer Garrat 409, a huge loco, which just exuded power. I suspect this photo was taken at Gladstone.
I really enjoyed firing steam locos; there is some satisfaction to be gained from making the steam that powers the loco that pulls the train. There is some trepidation, though, from being “behind the curve”, watching the pressure gauge drop, because you’ve stuffed up the process, and feeling the not so friendly gaze and comments from the driver.
Once you are established into the role of a fireman, you would be fed into a permanent team with a driver, and put on a roster. This was the indication that you had made it as a Fireman (in fact, I was and would remain a Trainee Engineman till I left the SAR, as I never sat my formal fireman’s exams, something I now regret). In those days, there were a lot of drivers that had come from Europe post war, and lots of idiosyncrasies amongst them. Some were rough as guts others smooth as silk. Because of the slack in the couplings between carriages, it was possible to make the brake van at the end of, say, 100 carriages, take off at a million miles an hour, trying to catch the rest of the train, when the engine was accelerated too quickly. The guards got to know the rough drivers, and would brace themselves for a flying start as they heard the rumble of extended couplings coming down the train! Conversely, they also had to brace themselves if the brakes were applied incorrectly, a little bit harder to discern, and some guards used to get, understandably, quite angry.
830 class diesel locomotives, in tandem. When coupled together, only one crew was required. This shot in Tassie, after the SAR sent them down there.
In the cab up front, as low man on the totem pole, the fireman would wear all the shit jobs. I recall one rainy night approaching Cockburn on the SA – NSW border, rain was pissing down, creeks were starting to run (a rarity in these parts) – and the night was black as a dog’s guts. We were creeping along at a reduced speed, and came to a creek where, in the headlight, we could see the water was only inches below the track, and roaring. Now, try to imagine this happening in today’s climate of OHS&W and duty of care:
Driver (as he pulls train up before the bridge) “OK, mate, out you go”
BC “what do you want me to do?”
Driver “You need to walk across the bridge, and make sure it is safe for us to cross”
BC “what if I fall in?”
Driver “You can swim, can’t you? Get on with it”
I scurried across and back, and on that meagre assessment we crossed the bridge, which not long after, became impassable.
Another time, when coming into Nackara station, I was leaning out of the diesel electric cab to try and get the red signal from the guard, telling us when to stop, so he could do what he had to at the signal box. My job was to relay the presence of the signal to the driver. What I had forgotten was the ladder on a water tower, located in close proximity the track. Of course, I struck my head, was flung onto the floor, stunned and bleeding profusely. As I groaned in agony, the driver yelled out “what’s wrong, did you get the signal?” That night they came out from Peterborough with a replacement fireman, and I spent some time in hospital. What particularly pissed me off, was that I was selected for my 1st A grade game with Peterborough Saints – I never got to play A grade, as it was near the end of the season, and I ran away to the RAAF before the next season.
Early 1968 I had feeling that my career was a little limiting in nature, and I was keen to see more of the world. I decided I would either go to Mt Tom Price in WA, as a fireman/observer, or join the forces. After some consultation with the local experts, I decided to join the RAAF. There were regular ads in the Advertiser, and one appeared for a Firemen and Dog Handlers. I thought it a little ironic about the fireman, however, I responded to the advert. I hadn’t thought or was aware of any of the other musterings, only that I knew I didn’t have the education for a pilot or anything else exciting. Because I hadn’t completed my Intermediate (in fact I’d only attended for 3 months of that year), and even for a Fireman the minimum requirement stated Intermediate Certificate required, I quite cleverly (I thought), put in the Education status block on the application form “Intermediate Standard”. Of interest, in 20+ years of service, I was never questioned over this – obviously it wasn’t as important as a physc test or a need to get some warm bodies recruited in those Vietnam era days. Speaking of Vietnam, I had a few mates who were called up, and went to Vietnam. The only thing us young blokes wanted to hear when they came home was about the money, birds and booze – none of us ever asked about the fighting side of things. I never thought about the draft, and was well in the RAAF by the time my ballot came around. Just a few years ago, I googled the draw birth dates, and I would’ve missed out on a call up, anyway.
Anyway, I was summoned to Defence Recruiting in Pirie Street – they even paid for a room at the YMCA, I was impressed! Into the physc test, and the resident Physc convinced me that I was too smart to be a Fireman, and should become an aircraft maintenance person (he suggested Instrument Fitter, which didn’t mean a lot to me, though I got enthused once he showed me the difference in pay rates!). He also pointed out the possibility of standing around on a tarmac at night, with only a dog as your best mate. So, I went away convinced that I was to become a technological genius, if I was invited to join. On reflection, I suspect there was a greater need for Techos at the time, and had they really wanted Firies or Doggies, I would have ended up there.
So ended the 1st chapter of my life, new horizons beckoned!