The West – Our Next Project

When we produced our first book on NSW steam, “Northern Exposures”a few years ago, we had no idea how it would be received. As it turns out, we had rave reviews, and sold out in just 6 months. This inspired us to move forward and put together a book on the South.

“Lenses South” appeared at the end of June 2016, and by the end of August, we had distributed the entire print run. Once again we were amazed and pleased with the result and acceptance.

That left the Western Division, a place where most steam was finished by 1967, due to 45, 48 and 49 class diesels being dispatched there in bulk. Many of us, including myself, were simply too young to venture beyond the mountains, electrification to Lithgow isolating us from that steam area as well. However, through our connections we have discovered some great colour photos from the days, and they are presented in “Shooting the West”, due out in July 2017.

The West was different. Slow paced, steep hills, and bad roads. It took effort to get the coverage. There was the spectacle of double Garratts hauling W44 from Parkes on its journey from Broken Hill to Sulphide Junction near Newcastle. They made a spectacular sight climbing Molong bank. There were double headers on the Central West Express in peak times, and way out where daylight greeted the mail trains, double headed passengers.

3665 and 3827 on no. 46 Coonamble Mail approaching Wongarbon. Photo Brian Coker

The Mudgee line (now out of use) climbed a picturesque part of the Great Divide at Kapertree, and went on to Coonabarabran. I did have an opportunity to travel the 26 hour trip on the Mudgee mail, but regrettably, I didn’t take it up. This line included the cement works at Kandos and Portland and skirted the Warrumbungles.

4538 leads 5917 nearing the summit of Raglan Bank

After dieselisation, bankers lingered on out of Bathurst until almost the end of steam.  Witnessing the 59’s pushing the diesels up the hill, was a reminder of what it used to be like when smoke billowed out across the plains and rolling hills.

I recall after my Higher School Certificate exams at the end of 1969, venturing out to Bathurst by train and walking along the tracks to get a few shot of the bankers in searing heat.

By then, there was no more steam South of Sydney, and after 2 weeks riding back and forth to Newcastle on the Flyers, it was a welcome change from the short north.

Oh to have been there when standard goods banked 36’s!



There are the many branchlines, snaking there way to far distant places like Bourke and Coolah, the Cowra area, and much more. This is all captured in the new book, along with stories of brushes with the law, cab riding the Central West Express, and other antics by our heroic team of photographers, who would do anything to get the coverage!

3813 on the last steam hauled Central West Express. Photo Graham Coterrill

Those were great times, and you can relive them as you peruse your copy of “Shooting The West”. Until July 31 the price is $80 shipped to your door. Shipping is free for early orders. The price delivered will be $90 after this date.

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After two years of photo collation, text writing and design work, we have recently released the 192 page, full colour railway photographic book ‘Lenses South’. What many people will not realise is what sits behind this classy document’s creation.

The Beginning:

In 1972 Malcolm Holdsworth brought out his first tentative publication, in collaboration with a number of well-known New South Wales railway enthusiasts. Small, soft cover, black and white volume ‘Focus on Steam’ was produced to help raise funds for the Zig Zag Railway and was an instant hit, selling out in very short time.

Steam locomotives disappeared on the NSWGR in early 1973. Many members of the domestic railfan circle then travelled the world in search of that fast-vanishing species. Malcolm and his closer mates again dabbled in the calendar and book production game in the 1990s, resulting in several high quality hard cover publications, including the three part ‘Famous Last Lines‘ series, ‘Heavy Metal‘, and his personal memoire ‘Fading Steam‘. Following his move to South Australia, he also produced successful tomes with steam and diesel subject matter in alliance with the National Railway Museum.

By 2013 rumours were circulating that Newcastle station was destined for closure, so carriages were hired on a ‘Flyer’ tour with 3642. An opportunity to reminisce about the days of smoke and thunder while most of the participants were still hale and hearty, it became a reunion of railway photographers from the 1960s. An idea was born on the trip. What if we pooled our best photos to celebrate the last days of steam in the region? With the willing involvement of a huge group of local and interstate contributors this became reality, and ‘Northern Exposures’ was released in 2014, selling out in just a few months.

… and so …

While the original intention was to publish a single book, taking us back to the roots of our hobby, we were unable to control ourselves. Very soon discussion started on a ‘South’ book. Now we had access to an even wider range of material, partly due to the high quality of ‘Northern Exposures’. We had a sense that a series was starting to emerge, but we felt that ‘Southern Exposures‘ might not be the right title. We wanted to continue the camera theme, and eventually ‘Lenses South’ was settled on. Our latest baby has arrived from the printers to critical acclaim from reviewers and purchasers, including in the UK where no natural market exists. The geographic coverage is wider, the historical timeline is longer, and there is much more content.

Within a week of publication, nearly 2/3 of our sale copies are already accounted for, with unprecedented demand. The book will be available at its recommended retail price until sold out, and zero stock is expected to be left in just a few months. This is because we were conservative with the size of our print run, preferring to sell out and move on than have garages full of idle cartons.

There will be a third book in the series, covering the West, production of which is well under way with the support of the usual suspects. In the meantime, you might consider getting a copy of Lenses South. You can see a few of the pictures and obtain more information at


A Day At Campbelltown Station

These days, Campbelltown is a City, with an electrified railway system. It has become another outlying suburban area.

Back in 1929 the railway was electrified as far as Liverpool, as Campbelltown although a mere 13 miles to the south, did not have the population to support a regular electric service.

By the time I made my first visit there in 1965, there were rumours, although at that stage no signs of the ghastly poles and wires that were to come shortly and forever change the look of this important station.

By then the Camden line was closed, although 2029 was still around to shunt cars. The 20 class were often used on Camden trains.

2029 Shunting Campbelltown Yard

As school students, we were entitled to a 10c excursion ticket covering the metropolitan area. This applied on weekends and school holidays. Finally, at the age of 13, I was able to break free from home and head to Campbelltown to see the day’s steam trains. It was very exciting as I headed off with the Kodak Retinette 1A I had just inherited due to my grandfather’s demise earlier that year.

I kept that camera all through school and I was grateful for the opportunity to record steam, albeit mostly in B & W.

First up was a Glenlee coal train. There were several movements a day of these with 60 Class Garratts in charge. The empty BCH’s would head a few miles past Campbelltown to the mine and then return loaded to the coal terminal in Balmain. None of this exists any more!

6023 Heads South On A Glenlee Coal Train

At that time, Garratts were operating further south as well. The next train to appear was another Garratt, this time on a mixed goods. There are quite a few pictures of these down south in Lenses South. I was only 13, so I didn’t manage to venture any further at this time.

6028 passes through Campbelltown on a mixed goods. Probably Goulburn bound.

Cement Trains And More

While Garratts are nice, and certainly big engines, back then there was a lot of variety. The town of Berrima was connected to Moss Vale by a branch line. The cement works processed lime from Marulan and then it was transported by rail to Sydney.

3824 heads the cement train from Moss Vale

The 36 class were a common locomotive used in this part of the world, working the majority of goods trains. These small engines would often stop at Campbelltown for a drink before the long haul to Moss Vale. It was hard work firing a steam train on this stretch of track. Once you passed Menangle you hit the first grade, and from then on much of the terrain was a gradual climb into the Southern Highlands. By this time, 36 class no longer worked Express Passenger trains due to 38s and diesels taking over. In their day, they were very fast, with the tightest schedules ever for the Newcastle Flyer.

3654 Stops For A Drink

With no electrification, local passengers were mainly 620 railcar units. On some occasions, especially morning or evening peak services, the rail cars couldn’t handle the number of passengers, so 30 Tanks and 32 class were used. The C32s headed the evening and morning passengers to and from Sydney. I rode one of these one night, only to be assaulted by a group of thugs just before Campbelltown. I was lucky. I put my hands over my head and the first punch resulted in the assailant ripping his arm open on the watch winder. After that, they left me alone. Campbelltown wasn’t the greatest place to hang out in back then.

3024 shunts a rake of “Cowboy” cars, ready for afternoon passenger services

Great Variety

While the 30 tank was getting ready in platform 3, 5407 appeared on 42a pick up which travelled from Moss Vale via the Picton Mittagong loop line, now home to the Rail Transport Musem.

5407 on the local pick up. IN the background a Garratt takes water on the way ton Glenlee

The star of the show for south rail fans was 335 goods. Regularly double headed, it ran late afternoon. In Lenses South there are quite a few photos of this train, with various combinations. It started at North Strathfield or Enfield.

3808 and 3623 head 335 goods to Goulburn

Fast Trip Home

This was the last train for the day. We had seen 6 different classes of steam loco, and were ready to make the trip back to Roseville. As it turns out, there was a relief Goulburn Day train running, with a 36 in charge, so soon after dark I hopped in the carriages armed with my stopwatch. The “Pig” took off, reaching speeds in excess of 80 mph along the speed track between Ingleburn and Glenfield. By the time we ground to a halt at Liverpool we had exceeded a start to stop 60 mph average. It was to be one of the fastest runs behind steam I ever took part in. What a journey.

I arrived home tired, but extremely satisfied with my day at Campbelltown.

Lenses South relives those days of steam and smoke south of Sydney. With full colour pictures galore, it explores not only the suburban network, but workings like those above and even further south. You can learn more at

The Last Days Of Australian Express Trains

By the time I became interested in steam trains, most of them were gone. The Riverina Express which used to take coal at Demondrille in order to cover Sydney to Albury without a loco change, the Brisbane Express north, and the Silver City Comet heading west were all diesel hauled.

At this time the mighty 38 class Pacifics were restricted to Sydney to Goulburn, Gosford to Newcastle, and Lithgow to Orange. As luck would have it, a few prestige trains still maintained steam haulage, those being the Central West Express, Newcastle Flyer, and the Canberra to Sydney Express on a Sunday night, albeit with diesel or electric haulage for part of the journey.

My interest in steam grew in 1964, culminating with an express ride between Moss Vale and Sydney with 3830 at the end of the first triple header over the mountains from Unanderra. I recall this train went FAST, although I have not been able to locate any record of the times. It whetted my appetite for more speed.

One of the joys of being around in those days was the ability to occasionally catch a cab ride. This could result in being thrown the shovel to earn your keep. Or if you were very lucky you could take charge of the powerful locomotive and see just how it works first hand. This didn’t happen much on express trains, but more on local passengers due to the tight timetables.

Central West Express

My first experience on one of these trains was at the age of 15. My mother had just purchased a car and I convinced the family to do a tour of the west during the school holidays. With some fast talking, I found myself on Bathurst station asking for a ride on the Central West Express to Orange. Amazingly, the crew agreed, giving me an unforgettable ride up Tumulla bank in the 1967 school holidays. As it turns out, 3811 was removed from the west a few months later, and from then on diesels hauled this train.

3806 head the Central West Express. Probably 1966. A 5 car RUB could be hauled by a single 38.

Tumulla is a steep 1 in 40 and posed a challenge to climb. It was long enough that momentum couldn’t take you over. Sometimes, when extra cars were added, the Express required a helper engine in the form of a 36, and goods trains were often pushed in the rear. With lots of coal and steam and considerable skill on the part of the crew, we hauled the air conditioned RUB set over the hill and on into Orange, where I alighted. I didn’t photograph this train, something I now regret, as it is a distant memory.

Canberra Express

In 1969, rumours were spreading that steam was about to stop on the southern line to Goulburn. I would often catch 17 South with a 44 class diesel to Bowral, returning on 18 Canberra Express with a 38. Both of these were very fast trains, maintaining about the same schedule. I would sit in the carriage and time the train, to see how fast it would go. Train timing was a tradition championed by OK Knock and others in the UK, but only a few of us have these records in Australia.

3825 has just arrived at Sydney on 18 Express from Canberra in July 1969. This train rain in the dark, so there aren’t too many photos available. A few weeks later steam was removed forever.

On the final occasion I rode 18 to Sydney, my friend John Lacey was on board, timing the trip. Because of this, I decided to ask for a cab ride, which I received. 18 south ahd a heavy consist of up to 350 tons, featuring heavy 6 wheel bogies. This train went non-stop from Mittagong to Campbelltown, hitting up to 80 mph in spots. It was a windy downhill run through the Southern Highlands. On this occasion we were losing time, and the fireman was driving. I was 17 at the time and chatting to the fireman and asked if he would be prepared to oped the throttle on the grade down Spaniard’s Hill, heading into Menangle. After Menangle station, there was a check as the line crossed Australia’s oldest railway bridge still standing, so you had to slow down before the station.

At the top of the hill, the throttle opened and we started hurtling down the hill approaching 80 mph with rough riding 3810 bouncing severely down the track. The driver leapt over the cab, shut off the throttle and applied the brakes. He was scared we would derail on the facing points at Menangle. The rest of the trip was rather sedentary and we arrived late in Sydney, but I was so lucky to be on the last ever steam run of that famous train. It was July 20, 1969.

Newcastle Flyer

By the end of 1969, 39 class operations were restricted to the 54 miles between Gosford and Newcastle. For some reason the railways preferred to use electric power to Gosford and then a 38 to Newcastle on the “Flyer”, possibly the most famous express of all. In November 1969 I was in the process of completing my final High School exams. In between tests rather than study, I would ride the Flyer to Newcastle and back. Again, I would time the trains, and one Thursday night as I was about to hop on the Flyer at Gosford, I again spotted John Lacey with his stopwatch. Once again, that meant asking for a cab ride, which I was lucky enough to get. It was the only time I managed to ride in the engine on the Flyer and I only rode from Gosford to Morisset, a non-stop run of just over 26 miles.

3827 arrives at Fassifern with the mid-day flyer in 1968. The evening run left Gosford at dusk in summer at 6:12 pm, too late for lineside photography.

Well, the train was running late that night, and my driver was determined to make up lost time. The flyer schedule is so tight, that even a 5 minute reduction on schedule required a huge effort. On this occasion we had 3827 up front, said to be one of the smoothest of the class. Leaving the 46 class electric behind we stormed out of the station, accelerating up the hill through the yard in the dark of night. By Ourimbah we were well over 60 mph, maintaining above 70 mph for most of the run until we slowed for the stop at Morisset. At one stage we had crossed the mile a minute barrier, something rarely achieved in Australia. With all that effort, we shaved 4 minutes off the schedule, but it was another ride to remember.

Well, 1970 saw the 38s out. Only 2 remain serviceable, including none of those above. Even though I managed to cab ride a might 25NC on the Bethlehem line in South Africa, and a RM Pacific out of Xi An in China, I am afraid they don’t compare to our own magnificent 38 class. Biased? Of Course.

If you pine for some great shots of these magnificent locomotives in regular service, you will want to get a copy of “Lenses South”, due out in May this year. With some magnificent colour photos of 38s working hard on passenger trains to Goulburn, plus a whole heap of colour coverage all the way to the Victorian border, this will be something to treasure. to view a few sample pictures and order the book.

An example of the photos in “Lenses South”. That curve and those pines again. 3807 cruises around a curve near Penrose with No. 31 mixed. The KKG horse van immediately ahead of the heavy passenger car looks like it could be right off an 1880s wagon designer’s drawing board. – Laurier Williams, September 1968

We will never again witness those great days of steam, but at least we have the memories, and some amazing photos to remind us of what it was like.

The Night Train South

Tales Of A Bygone Era

In today’s world, where passenger trains are rarely loco hauled, and electronics delivers the news instantly, it may be difficult for people to comprehend the way it was back in the 1960s, when steam ruled the rails, and rail passenger transport was still vitally important to getting people around.

Quite apart from the fact that air fares were far higher than train costs back then, there simply wasn’t as much car ownership, and roads were such that it was often more convenient to take a leisurely train journey than drive to country locations.

How Mail And Newspapers Were Delivered

Mail trains headed out across the state from Sydney leaving late at night, complete with the mail, and passengers in the comfort of sleeping cars. Their departures were left as late as possible so that mail could be sorted in time and the early editions of the daily newspaper included for delivery to newsagents in the wee small hours.

Being rather young at the time, only 14 in 1966 when this all started to disappear, I had limited exposure to the late night trains. I did, however manage a few trips, especially to Goulburn, where my first long distance ride was on number 31 mixed to Goulburn, a trip which always included the morning papers.

This train would leave at 1.10 am from Sydney, usually with a 38 in charge, and my first trip was late in 1966. I remember it for two reasons. I had negotiated with my mum to turn the pages at her pipe organ concert that night, in return for being dropped off at Central. My mum, being the nice person she is, went up to the loco and asked the driver if I could ride in the cab for part of the way! She was worried about me travelling alone in the early hours. Of course, I was just excited to be making the journey.

3811 was the loco that day, and I returned to the passenger car at the rear of the train, beyond the freight wagons and just in front of the mail van. We set off on time with plenty of smoke wallowing down the train and covering me with snoot. As we moved through the suburbs, I was determined to stay awake all night as I didn’t want to miss my cab ride later in the morning. At this stage I had never ridden in a mighty 38 Pacific.

The arrangement was to ride in the cab after Moss Vale as that was the last place we were likely to see any loco inspectors. It was illegal to ride in the engine then and now, although I managed quite a few rides over the years, including a mighty 25 class in South Africa. Added to that, I had broken my arm earlier that year, and had a very white coloured arm, the plaster having been removed only 2 weeks earlier.

Firing A 38

So after I climbed onto the footplate, I was handed a present. A shovel! You can earn your keep, he said, and I proceeded to learn how to lay a fire. Now a 38 is quite a large hand fired coal guzzling machine, and there was a fair grade out of Moss Vale heading south including a steep 1 in 66. My left arm was weak as it hadn’t been used for months, and I have to say, the effort near killed me! Not that I was going to let on, as it was the experience of a lifetime for a 14 year old. For those of you not familiar with NSW steam, the coal used here was from Newcastle. There were quite large chunks and it is relatively light, utilising a rather wide shovel.

As you can see in the picture, this fireman is using the butterfly doors as a means to retain heat in the firebox. You step on a plate on the floor and the firebox door opens as you swing the shovel full of coal towards it. It requires a bit of coordination as if the door is closed you can damage the shovel and it makes a bit of a mess.

I learned that coal needs to be distributed throughout the firebox grate, covering the near and far ends. I would simply drop coal into the back of the firebox, and propel it to the front corners, until there was nice, even heat. There is some assistance with jets to help smooth out the fire, but mostly it is the fireman’s skill that determines how well the engine steams.

Of course, there is more to firing than just the shovel, so they gave me some instruction on maintaining the steam level as well. As you all know the tender contains a considerable quantity of water, which is used to create steam. A 38 operates at 245 psi, the highest pressure of any loco in Australia. That means you needed a decent fire to get up steam, and it consumed plenty of water. Water is forced into the boiler by means of an injector. This device uses steam from the boiler to force fresh water into it. Too much cold water will reduce pressure, and too little results in wastage of steam or damage to the boiler. The trick is to keep pressure up just under blow off, when the maximum is exceeded, while making sure there is ample water in the boiler. A glass gauge is used to measure water levels in the boiler and there is a pressure gauge in the cab as well.

The 38s and other NSW steam locomotives, were not equipped with speedos. Nowadays it is a requirement, and preserved locos have a range of extra equipment, that wasn’t there in regular service. That means that they could go rather fast at times, undetected by the authorities. In all the time I recorded steam trains I never clocked one much above 80 mph, only slightly above the permitted 70 mph, which demonstrated how well crews could judge the speed.

The timing of use of injectors made a huge difference to performance of the loco. When approaching a grade, we filled the boiler about 5 minutes before, then built a fire to get steam near full pressure as we started the climb. If all went well, there was enough water in the boiler to produce steam to propel the train over the grade. If not, the injectors had to be turned on so the boiler wouldn’t be damaged, lowering pressure and in some cases allowing water to emit, or in extreme cases, the engine stalls. In the modern era, with many crews not full experienced, we see more and more stalling on grades. Perhaps that is why there is often a helper diesel included in the consist.

The other main time for adding water is approaching a stop. Steam pressure builds up while the train is stationery, so lowering the temperature with more water prevents “blowing off”, protecting the boiler and releasing steam when the pressure gets too high. This is simply a waste of energy. You will often hear the scrape of the shovel and hiss of injectors while in a station as steam is built up for departure.

Anyway, my first lesson as a trainee fireman was a marvellous experience. I could hardly use my left arm afterwards, and while I remember this trip vividly, I have no idea which train I caught home!

We have included cab riding experiences on the Melbourne Limited, and other great tales in “Lenses South“, a new book being released in May. Take a look at the information, it will be a must for every lover of NSW steam action, and revive many memories.

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