Bathurst In The Last Days Of Steam
Being relatively young, I found it difficult to get to the Western part of NSW, and apart from a ride in the cab of 3811 from Bathurst to Orange on the Central West Express in 1967, I had no memories or photos before the end of school in 1969.
I vaguely remember that after the Higher School Certificate exams a friend Robert Wilson and I caught the train to Bathurst to photograph the bankers at Raglan. I remember it was a very hot summer and buying a whole watermelon to share to keep the food under our meagre budget. Funnily, although I have many photos of the bankers, I am not sure which ones were taken on that trip.
While at the time every spare moment was spent on the Short North, once my friends and I had wheels, we made the occasional trek over the mountains. In those days the road from Lithgow to Bathurst was single lane, with a speed stretch towards the destination. Police would hide in the bushes with radar traps waiting for unsuspecting teenagers travelling at speed.
One of my friends had a Fiat 600, with front opening doors and an engine that could barely get the car moving. It had a hand throttle, doors opening from the front and in the thick fog on the Bells Line Of Roads, you were lucky to get where you were going.
Our accommodation was Georges Plains Railway station, unattended at night, where the 59s would attach themselves to freight trains to help them get up Tumulla bank. Sleeping in a waiting room shed was always a great experience. Freight trains would thunder past in the dead of night, building up speed to conquer the grade ahead. Some would stop and a 59 class would attach either behind the diesel or push at the rear on heavy trains. We loved it!
In the morning there would be frost on the ground, and it was very cold. As we headed up the road towards Tumulla, we would rise out of the mist into the soft sunlight, and wait for the first banker.
You could hear it chuff out of Georges Plains and slowly push its load up the bank. The distinct Baldwin steam boat whistle of the 59 would echo across the whole area. It was magical. The steam trail in the still morning air would follow the train and snake above it as it climbed the escarpment.
We could only imagine what it had been like in the early 1960s, when 36 and 50 class banked the trains, and a 38 accelerated on the mail trains or Central West Express, double heading with a 36 when patronage was high.
Bathurst, being in the Macquarie River valley, was often shrouded in mist in the morning, so across the river as the grade rose towards Kelso and Raglan, the trains would again appear on their way up the hill. Once again a 59 was often used to push the freight trains or coupled behind the diesels to avoid destroying their delicate engines with soot.
Trains heading east were often fully laden, making the 59 work really hard to push its load to the top of the bank.
After the sun set we would head back across the mountains often at very unsafe speeds. Winding along the Bells Line Of Roads, you couldn't see the road for the pea soup fog that completely surrounded us. There was one section between Bathurst and Lithgow where a dirt road made a short cut to get around traffic I would dart down. When I reflect on those times I look back in horror and wonder how I lived through them!
The few weekends we spent there didn’t result in a huge amount of movements, but the memories and photos will stay with us for the rest of our lives. Fortunately, some of these are included in the sections on these famous hills, in “Shooting The West”.