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!


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