What’s A 412?

5412 port waratah 1972Those of us who witnessed the end of steam in NSW and were part of the rail fan fraternity at the time would be aware the 412 was considered a significant number by most of us. I believe this number gained prominence in the last days of steam on the Peterborough to Silverton line in South Australia, home of the 400 class Garratts, back in 1969, while I was still at school. Perhaps one of these was numbered 412, although I believe there were only 9 of the class. Rumour has it that on a photo location someone was listening to a Stan Freberg radio piece which included the line, “What’s a 412?….Overacting”. Someone may be able to enlighten me on this!!

Anyway, from that day on, the number 412 stuck on my mind. In 1970, a significant event happened on the week including the fourth of December, or 4/12. I am not religious, but I nearly turned Catholic when the appearance of the Pope in Australia resulted in adding hundreds of extra trains to bring all the Catholics to Sydney for the celebrations. For our group it meant that there were many extra trains on the “Short North” between Gosford and Newcastle, and a number of 36 class plus 3801 were dispatched to cope with the extra traffic. Diesels were commandeered for other parts of the state resulting in the highest level of steam running for some time.

Many friendships were solidified during that week, along with the consumption of significant quantities of beer at the Hawkmount hotel, a tent city on the best vantage point of the line, now the site of a very ugly power station.

3801 hawkemount 1970 popes week
3801 Hawkmount near Mandalay Bridge Dec 1970

My fondest memories of the time were photographing 3801 on a local from the famous Mandalay Road tree, now cut down, and taking on the job of firing the same engine from Gosford to Broadmeadow on an all stops passenger. It near killed me preparing the fire for the standing start up the 1 in 40 out of Fassifern.

3801 fassifern 37x local 1970 pope's week
3801 ready to depart Fassifern on 37x Dec 1970

I consider myself fortunate to have been able to ride in the cab of this loco, which we all hope one day will run again. At least it is in one piece unlike the very popular 3813 which ended up in a couple of 4 wheel “S” trucks at Dorrigo, or 3827 which went to scrap.

Now the closest I remember to a 412 numbered loco was 5412. I managed to capture a few shots working the Newcastle coal lines and with a little bit of magic made up the following photo. I hope you like it.

5412 + 5912 gosford
5412 + 5912 awaiting departure early one Saturday morning 1972

If you have any anecdotes about 412 or Pope’s Week, or can point me to a loco actually numbered 412, I would appreciate a comment.

John Gaydon



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