Recording Your Steam Train Stories

steam train 60 class garratMy steam train experience dates back to 1964, when I attended my first “excursion” to Enfield loco depot in Sydney, and rode in the cab of an AD 60 class Garrat on the Botany line.

I turned up in my school uniform, which was not that wise considering the grubby nature of the steam train, not to mention the smoke and cinders! I felt rather stupid at the time. I thought it was an official school event, not just a trip organised by the local railway club!

My fascination with the steam train mainly stemmed from my model railway experience. I started with a clockwork Hornby train set when I was 4. I upgraded this and by the age of 8, had progressed to electric trains, using my own savings. I guess it was natural when I started High School, I would be attracted to the School Railway Club.

It Was All Going To End – No More Steam Train Trips

Then came the realisation that the mighty steam train was under threat! While there were quite a few in 1964, they were disappearing fast. The trip to Enfield highlighted this as I witnessed rows and rows of examples of the steam train awaiting the blow torch. This included the remaining 57 class 3 cylinder freight engines, of which only one survives in the Rail Transport Museum at Thirlmere, a little over an hour from Sydney.

I purchased a Kodak Box Brownie, and set about getting some steam train photos. They weren’t too flash, but at least I had my own camera. I think I may have borrowed my grandfather’s camera as well in the early days.

Tragedy Turns To Opportunity

Then tragedy struck as my grandfather passed away in early 1965. He worked for the Railways buying coal for the steam trains! Another connection for me to the Steam Train. Due to my keen interest in photography, I inherited is Kodak Retina 1a, at the time a state of the art camera. I used this for many years to record the remaining NSW steam trains around Sydney, on the line to Goulburn, and between Gosford and Newcastle.

During that time I switched back and forth between colour slides and black and white negatives. We used to buy film in bulk and cut it into rolls of 36 using a special canister. Being on a tight budget of pocket money, I had to save very penny I could. After all, having film wasn’t enough. I needed money for transport too!

In those days, I made full use of the 10c school excursion tickets, travelling around Sydney in the holidays, recording steam train movements, as did many others. Along the way, I had many adventures, and going over my photos now has triggered memories of these.

Recording History

To me, the photograph may well be a piece of history, faithfully recorded by you. Pictures are great, but to really have an effect require context. I have seen books full of photos of steam trains. It gets to overwhelm at times. Even some of the films of the old days, while great, often have an hour or more of short clip after short clip, with little explanation, let alone the story of how these came to be taken.

For me the story behind the steam train photo is what counts. When you give your photos context, you bring them to life. When were they recorded, what was happening at the time, did it mean anything in your life? Some of these questions answered start to bring the scene to life. You might rave about the fashion of the time when presenting a photo with a person dressed in that period’s clothing. It may trigger an anecdote, or funny story. You may have witnessed history. What if you happened to see the very last steam train to a particular destination? I have seen quite a few.

How To Write That Steam Train Story

Stories can be personal, interesting, mysteries, dramatic, funny, romantic, there are many kinds. Feel free to expand on the information and add your writing flair. It is amazing how revealing detail brings a scene alive.

In fact, the more detailed the explanation, the better. Research what was happening at the time and weave it into your story.

Above all, make it interesting to the reader. The photos will shine out when they have that wonderful context. In the future, that image will invoke a whole tale, not just a nice picture.

You will find the internet is very forgiving. Even not too sharp photos can come up trumps on line. The resolution is not that great. If your photo is high quality, we are offering the chance to sell them through the site as well.

So, dust off your old negatives and slides, if you have a large collection, get yourself a scanner like the Epson V700, or you can use a service like “Put It On DVD” in Australia. They do a pretty good job.

You will be amazed how good new technology can make your photos these days. Then contribute your stories to “Steam Train Stories” and we will publish them. It is really exciting and my steam train stories are not just from Australia, but around the world!

My Steam Train Photo Collection

Steam Trains waiting to depart on Sydney Suburban Services

Three Steam Trains Ready For The Sydney Afternoon Peak

When I started this steam train story project, it was a way to motivate me to share some of my experiences gained while following steam trains around the world. After all, it may take a little while for some of you to get started reviving those memories, making them interesting, getting them down in print, or these days on the computer, and sharing them with the world through this portal.

If you are under 30, you may find it incredible to know that operations of steam train engines as recently as the 1980s were basically manual. The fires were set by shoveling coal in the right place. The fireman had to determine how much water to inject in the boiler and what temperature to get the steam to before climbing a grade. The setting of the reversing mechanism by the driver largely determined the speed and efficiency of the train. Managing a steam engine was truly an art rather than a Science.


A Treasure Trove Of Steam Train Memories

Just trolling through some of the steam train negatives taken way back in the 1960’s in Australia I found old family pictures, discovered old photos of Darling Harbour with 19 class built as far back as 1877. They nearly lasted 100 years in regular service. I photographed most of the 30, 38 class locomotives that hauled many express trains in their heyday. I Trudged up and down the tracks in searing heat and biting cold weekend after weekend. Just going through the archives brought back many fond memories, and raised my enthusiasm to share some of this with the world.

This site is designed to have wide appeal, and there will be contributions from all parts of the globe. Personally, I have witnessed regular steam train movements in around 40 countries, so an international flavour is guaranteed. Nostalgia has me starting with some of my oldest tales, episodes when I did such things as ride an all night mixed train at the tender age of 14! Imagine doing that now.

I Say This To Inspire You To Get Your Photos Out

It is amazing how every picture really does tell a story. For instance, I found some photos of the Merriwa Mixed steam train. I vaguely remember I left home on Friday afternoon catching the Newcastle Flyer at Central and continuing on to Muswellbrook by freight train. I arrived back sometime Sunday afternoon totally exhausted, having not slept the entire weekend!

I have recorded the speeds of many steam trains by logging mileposts, some of them at 90-100 mph. Then there are the sneaky methods I used to travel around the country for just 10c a day! On Friday night’s we would visit Train Control and Central Station and discover what was on offer the following day before planning our weekends.

There is history here, nostalgia, adventure, romance – I met my first wife on a train! As we all share our stories, I believe it will enrich each of us, and perhaps as we age, we can sit in the couch remembering adventures that without this, we just might forget!

The Future

The first stage of this project is to get my claim to fame written up. My amazing adventures in Mozambique. It would have to rate as one of the big steam train adventures. Then create the platform to share stories.

Later we will add some high quality steam train photos you can download, print out, get posters made, or hang on your wall.

If I can retrieve my old steam train timing notes, you will see records of mile a minute runs in Australia. Nothing was scheduled that fast in this country. I was lucky enough to be riding in the cab of 3827 during one of these between Gosford and Morisset!


There will be a calendar with the best stories of the year. I have tape recordings of steam in various parts of the world. A compound rack railway in Austria, 0-12 3 cylinder Pacifics at speed in Northern Germany, Double Garrats in South Africa and Australia, even probably the only recording of the final regular Newcastle Flyer with 3820 climbing Cowan Bank unassisted. Very few steam trains were allowed this privilege after 1960, and for good reason. On one later enthusiast tour, the engine powered up the hill leaving its train behind due to the power of the engine, and on another the train stalled and was hit from behind by a following Electric Interurban! I would love someone to send the detailed stories of these episodes!

As you can see from these brief snippets, there are many tales to tell. I am excited to hear yours, no matter how mundane it may seem to you, it will inspire someone and trigger their fading memory of some event in their dim dark past!

Well there is a lot of work to do, so I hope you like this little taste of what is to come as we present steam train stories from around the world.

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