As the Footplate Padre I wrote in the On-Track railway e-magazine that one of the worst of situations for a locomotive engineman was the job where your train shunted at every little stop and moreover, at those country town shunting yards, where a shunter was a 'desperate shunter' (he loved it).
Now locomotive drivers and shunters have a love-hate relationship, as obviously trains need to be shunted. The shunting yard is to railways what the docks are to ships. You cannot have one without the other.
In the days of steam however, it was made worse on those long trips where every place one shunted. One place was loathed more than the rest on the northern NSW line, as that shunter regardless, of time of day or night, would engage in what seemed like endless shunting operations.
Moreover, this shunter would never tell the driver what was happening, he'd just simply waves his hands (daytime) or lantern (at night). Up and back up and back.
In the days of steam Qurindi on the New England main north line was one such place where there was such a shunter. Admittedly Quirindi was a major shunting yard â€“ there were lines to wheat silos, stock yards, petrol sidings, good's sheds and more besides.
This particular story can be read in my book "Footplate Yarns of Old" on pages 16-17. Bert was the driver and Wal the fireman on this steam hauled goods train and sure enough they were directed into the shunting yard and who should be the shunter, none other than Jim, this troublesome shunter. Now Bert was in no mood for funny business.
They first of all 'took water' into the tender of the steam locomotive, they drew up to the yard and Jim appeared and called for the engine to ease up on the first wagon so as to detach the engine from the train, and shunt the yard. Jim said nothing, just waved his arms, to shunt here and there and finally, after two and a half hours of this endless shunting the engine was put back onto the train.
Jim finally spoke "You're right to go, Driver I've put 420 tons onto the train". In other words, additional wagons were added to the goods train. Bert replied: "But which 420 tons are you now going to take off the train, as we're now 420 tons over the load" - (each locomotive has a certain weight it can haul over specific sections of track). The driver is aware of such statistical niceties, and so should have Jim the shunter.
At this point Bert the driver climbed down from the steam engine and gave Jim the dressing down of his life with arm waving a Symphony Orchestra conductor would have been proud. From that time on, Jim would come to the driver, detail the shunting tasks ahead, how long it would take, what yard lines they'd be running back and forth from, what other trains needed to me added to or wagons removed from, and placed elsewhere, and the like.
As Footplate Padre I have seen that communication is also an issue in Churches and Missions. All it takes is a little courtesy from the Minister or the leadership to explain what is happening and a lot of disharmony and disruptions could easily have been avoided.
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