My Footplate Padre book, the fourth of sixteen railway books, 'From the Driver's Seat', contains 14 railway journeys written from the viewpoint of actually driving the train.
Train drivers detailed their experience of driving particular trains, both steam and diesel. Their stories, published 20 years ago, record the exact movements of the train driver and therefore this is as much a historical account as it is a sociological recording of an era past.
Three of the steam engine hauled trains recorded in the book were from Albury to Goulburn during the war years in NSW; Julia Creek to Mt Isa in Queensland in the 1950s; and Sydney to Lithgow in NSW in the early 60s.
The stories of diesel hauled express trains include the Sunlander from Brisbane to Maryborough in Queensland, The Overland from Melbourne which ran overnight to Adelaide, the Brisbane Limited between Taree and Grafton in NSW during the wee small hours, and others.
From the many who wrote to me with their individual 'writer's passion', I have chosen to detail in this particular article, the Nowra to Wollongong 6.30am express hauled by a 48 Class diesel. This trip is possibly the most scenic railway section in Australia; for much of the trip, the railway line from Nowra runs along the Pacific Ocean, and the section from Kiama to Bombo is actually only a stone's throw from the sea shore.
On this Nowra to Wollongong express, the crew were woken from the barracks at 4.30am to prepare their 48 Class diesel and attach to the train for brake testing ready for the 6.30am departure time.
On this occasion the 48 Class was long end leading, this meant that the engine compartment was facing the front with the cabin nearest to the first carriage. The footplate ran around the engine at the front. This is mentioned as 48 Classes were usually short end leading.
The brakes were critical for this fast-timetabled train, so the correct testing of the brakes was essential. The Westinghouse brake system had three settings, a 7lb reduction, a 14 lb reduction and then an emergency application where the entire air supply was drained, thus slamming the brake shoes onto the wheels instantaneously, rather than applying steady pressure.
The driver of this early morning passenger express would have set the train rushing towards each platform, then applied a 14lb application of the brake, thus pulling the train up abruptly at the first, and then released to 7lb for a smooth easing stop by the end of the platform. This demanded both technique, line and platform knowledge and years of experience.
This express train story from Nowra to Wollongong details this constant hard running from one town railway platform to the next town platform. It describes how the diesel roars with full power as it departs at each platform. One can almost feel the power and then the brakes.
As I re-read this story, it reminded me of the Bible writers, recounting their stories with effect that one can actually sense being ‘right there’.
This is no more so, than at this story afresh, I asks my readers, as the Old Testament prophecies got fulfilled: a virgin birth, no room in the inn, born in a manager, angels rejoice, exquisite gifts are given, an attempt on the baby's life .....
I conclude the story with a quote from old Simeon with those splendid words in Luke 2: 30: "My eyes have seen Your salvation".
Dr Mark Tronson is a Baptist minister (retired) who served as the Australian cricket team chaplain for 17 years (2000 ret) and established Life After Cricket in 2001. He was recognised by the Olympic Ministry Medal in 2009 presented by Carl Lewis Olympian of the Century. He mentors young writers and has written 24 books, and enjoys writing. He is married to Delma, with four adult children and grand-children. Dr Tronson writes a daily article for Christian Today Australia (since 2008) and in November 2016 established Christian Today New Zealand. Dr Mark Tronson’s Press Service International in 2019 was awarded the Australasian Religious Press Association’s premier award, The Gutenberg.
Mark Tronson's archive of articles can be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/mark-tronson.html