Railway Portraits Book Review

Capturing The Life Of The People That Made The Railway What It Is.

While many people have pictures of trains operating all over the planet, there is much more to the operation than simply seeing a trail of steam thundering down the track.

Many of the functions performed by Railway staff and others have long disappeared from our memories. In a day where a paperless office is a reality, it is hard to imagine those times of manual signals and staffs controlling train operations. Then there were those who arose early to light the fires of the steam locos long before they started their journey for the day.

I have to admit that when I was a teenager I misspent most of my weekends either tiding steam Expresses with 38s up front, or taking photos of what remained in NSW Australia by the mid 1960s.

Of course those days are long gone now, never to be repeated as modernity has taken over the Railway operations splitting it into different management groups with huge trains hauled by multiple diesels with a single crew. Heck, you don’t even see a brake van on a good train anymore!

While all this was happening, a couple of young brothers, Rob and Bruce Wheatley, decided to do something different to most of us. From the early 1960s they ventured out together with the express purpose of photographing the life of the railway. This included crew and those who were part of keeping the trains on time.

When I looked at these books (there are 3 in the series) I was enthralled by the brilliant black and white images which stimulated memories of visiting loco depots and cleaning locos for the photographers, waiting for the staff at a crossing loop, or even the ticket inspectors and detectives we used to dodge.

What a delight to see a station master with his Fob Watch awaiting the right time to dispatch a massive 38 class to its destination. You can see from this clean 38, now disassembled into “s” trucks at Dorrigo Railway Museum, it was in its prime, clean and ready for action.

There are plenty of great pictures of trains here too, but one of my favourites is that of the Riverstone pub, a place I didn’t frequent, but passed behind steam many times on the Richmond line, one that featured electric staff train control right up until the late 1960s.

In my mind, this picture captures it all. After a hard day’s work a couple of mates chat over a beer while the afternoon workers train with a C30T steams past the level crossing. This truly is a piece of history that we have lost.

I love this image of an engineman cleaning the ash pan of 3803 and the detailed caption that are a feature of the books.

The caption reads, “Modern steam locomotives were fitted with ash pans that could be cleaned at track level, unlike many older designs which required cleaning from underneath the engine. Water hoses were installed at de-ashing pits to aid the cleaning process. The hose is manhandled by driver Bill Carey to ensure the pan is free of ash and clinker before the train proceeds to Goulburn.”

You can see from the detail that the book contains the story of the railway back in steam days.

There are three volumes in the series, and they make great coffee table discussion pieces.

Click here for more information or to order.


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