Over 50 years after the legendary Cootamundra Tour in 1970, I thought it a good time to reflect on my experiences with 3827, considered by many to be the best performing and riding 38 of all. I was very fortunate to ride in the cab of the loco on the Newcastle Flyer, and experience a few very fast runs behind this loco. Her life ended prematurely, as she was confined to the scrappers torch in April 1970, while a sister loco, 3820, which did not perform as well, survives to this day as a static exhibit.
Information for this article is compiled from various sources, specifically the collection of the late John Lacey, who left me his timing books, my own records, information from Robert Wilson, and others. Back in the 1960’s we were a close network of friends, all devoted to recording the last days of steam in NSW.
I had heard from several sources that 3827 was smooth riding on the tracks, particularly at speed. The nature of a steam loco with the 6 driving wheels, meant that balancing the wheels was vital to the comfort of the crew, as was the laying of track. The 36 class or “Pigs” were notorious for rough riding at speed, although 3616 with its Geisel injector, was an exception. Of the 38s that I rode in, 3810 stands out in that department It was very rough at speed, and more than a little scary!
During the 1960s, I had travelled behind 3827 on the Newcastle Flyer on several occasions. One time I caught the mid-day Flyer from Gosford to Wyong and Mr Con Cardew hopped in the cab. I think he really liked this engine for its steaming power. We powered along from Ourimbah to Tuggerah at a steady 75 mph, one of my better runs over this section. At Wyong I introduced myself. His comment, “if you had told me you were timing the run, I would have gone faster.”Mr Cardew was assistant chief mechanical engineer, and would often appear when 3827 was rostered to haul the Flyer.
My mates and I had a particular interest in recording the timings of trains, inspired by the late O.S. Nock of the UK. With me it became somewhat of an obsession. I would ride in these express trains as often as I could, limited by my pocket money. To ride the Newcastle Flyer you had to spend 30c to book a seat.
The Werris Creek Day Tour
The first of my fast runs with 3827 was in 1969 on the Werris Creek day tour. This was on February 22, 1969 a day after my birthday. This was the first of a number of trips to see just how far you could travel in a day from Sydney. On this occasion 3828 hauled the train from Sydney to Broadmeadow, maintaining Newcastle Flyer times with a 2 hour 21 minute run including stops at Strathfield and Hornsby to pick up passengers. 3813 took over for the run to Werris Creek, the load being a MCS plus NCR set, all 6 wheel bogie cars. After leaving Sydney at 6.30 am, the train reached Werris Creek at 2.56.
3813 was serviced and turned while we headed out to Gap Crossover, then at 4:16, we headed south. It was a steady run to Broadmeadow, reached at 9.20 pm. 3827 replaced 3813 for the run home to Sydney with driver, Bob Salter at the throttle. I knew Bob from some of the Flyer rides I had timed. He also drove 3801 on the Flyer Centenary in May 1969 from Newcastle to Sydney. Both trains were assisted from Gosford to Cowan by a 46 class electric. He was one of Broadmeadow’s elite drivers.
After a slow run to Morisset reached at 10:04, he opened the 38 up for the run to Gosford. We stopped at Gosford 25 minutes and 12 seconds after passing Morisset, an average speed of over 62 mph, just 6 seconds slower than the famous 1964 speed run which went sailing straight through Gosford.
She reached 80 mph between Warnervale and Wyong making it one of the fastest runs I ever experienced behind steam
My next encounter with 3827 was on the 13th of November, 1969. On the occasion it was the evening flyer running late out of Gosford. Mr Richardson was the driver, John Lacey was timing and I was in the cab! What a thrill. Sailing through the night air in a 38 at speed, we managed the start to stop journey to Morisset in 27 minutes 31 seconds, at one stage exceed a 60 mile an average from a standing start, something which I only witnessed a hand full of times. We topped Warnervale bank, a 1 in 66 at 60 mph, to show the power of the 38, and top speed was 75 mph, just before Warnervale.
What I can tell you is that a 38 at speed gobbles up a lot of coal and water and the poor fireman worked really hard to maintain the power to climb those hills at speed. I recall the engine running smooth as silk, as I sat in the inspectors seat most of the way. As it turned out this was my only cab ride on the flyer, but a very good one! I alighted a Morisset, I think for a connection back home. This was in the middle of my final High School Exams, andonly a month after the last steam train ran from Sydney heading south. I am amazed I passed anything, given between exams I was riding trains up and down the short north!
Cootamundra In A Day.
My final encounter with 3827 was after it was returned to Sydney at the end of 1969. The Cootamundra Day Trip on January 17th 1970 is perhaps the most talked about run of all time. With a 6.26 am departure and the same consist as the Werris Creek tour, we reached Goulburn 3 hours 15 minutes later, a leisurely stroll at Intercapital Daylight times.
The loco was sent to the depot for servicing, resulting in an 18 minute late departure from Goulburn with inspector Stuart Bates on board, prepared to give everyone a thrill. Apparently the lubricator had a fractured link, and after 80 mph across the Bredalbine Plains all was going well. After a photo stop past Jerriwa, 3827 opened up for the downhill run into Yass Junction. By milepost 193 ½ we hit 80 mph, and from milepost 194 ¼ to 196, we averaged 86.3 mph with a top speed of 90 mph.
This was the fastest run I ever had behind steam in NSW, and once again 3827, on its last legs, was in charge.
The ARHS Bulletin at the time records that out of Picton 3827 on that tour produced 2560 hp, according to them the best ever by a 38 on tour.
As you can see, there is real justification for 3827 being considered legendary. There are several personal encounters listed here to back it up!
As for the stories of 100 mph running, I am very sceptical. The 38 only has small driving wheels compared to the 100 mph plus locos of Europe and the US, however 90 MPH is not bad for those little wheels powered by only 2 cylinders. Between my friends, we recorded well over 200 journeys, most never exceeded 75 mph.
In 1971 it was decided to repeat the Cootamundra day trip, this time with recently retired 3820, earmarked for preservation. It did not match the performance of 3820, although the crew tried to fly down the hill into Cootamundra. After we heard a roar from the throttle opening, again with Mr Bates in charge, it quickly approached 80 mph. As we rounded a curve I observed flames coming from the connecting rods, not a good sign! The throttle was quickly cut off and we drifted into Cootamundra, where the crews tried to manufacture a new white metal bearing.
This got us back up the hill, including a spectacular photo stop, but soon after she was retired and a 44 class hauled us back to Sydney. We will never see these trips again, but isn’t that what legends are all about?