Fassifern Steam Train Action

I trust you enjoy reading this story about workings at Fassifern in the 1970s. This story was inspired by “Northern Exposures” a brand new book celebrating steam I the north of NSW in the 1960s and 1970s in brilliant colour. This book includes many never before published photos of a wide variety of steam operations from Gosford north to the Queensland border.

As of writing this post, the books are in Australia awaiting customs clearance. I have arranged a special until the end of August to encourage early orders. Order below.

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My Fassifern Story

I remember my first trip to photograph steam trains at Fassifern, a place with a 1 in 40 climbing directly out of the station. It was, I think, school holidays 1966, at the age of 14. Regrettably it didn’t go that well!

There were three of us, now Professor Robert Lee, a guy whose name escapes me who I am told now runs a large company, and myself.

We Set Up Camp On Fassifern Bank

We caught a railcar to Fassifern and the driver let us off half way up the 1 in 40 grade in less than perfect weather. That afternoon we pitched our canvas tent on the grass, ready for a few days photography. Well, it was not to be. The heavens opened up and it rained cats and dogs all night. The tent was soaked, our clothes were soaked, we were soaked. Being the May school holidays, it was cold as well. Next morning in a hopeless position, totally defeated, we packed up our soaked, very heavy tent, and headed back down to the station to catch a train home.

3827 accelerates out of Fassifern towards the 1 in 40 grade on 71 mid-day Newcastle Flyer in 1967

School Holidays In Newcastle

After my parents separated, my Dad moved to Belmont. This meant I could stay with him on holidays and catch the bus to Newcastle from which point I photographed and rode on the various trains in the area. As in Sydney, there was a 10c excursion ticket which took me as far as Singleton and Wyee, so I made good use of it.

One of my favourite shots, one published in the 35 and 34 class book by the RTM, was of class leader 3501 taking water at Matiland in late afternoon sun on its way to Singleton.

3501 singleton passenger maitland steam train

3501 taking water at Maitland on 737 Singleton Passenger January 1968

Naturally, Fassifern was one of the places I visited. At that time there were C30Tanks on the Toronto Line using the old “Cowboy Cars” left over after Sydney was electrified. The tanks worked hard to climb that 1 in 40. These trains were exactly what used to run all around Sydney back in the 1920s. In fact in latter days these tank engines performed most of the shunting duties at Sydney Terminal and worked the Richmond line during peak periods.

30 tank reaches the top of Fassifern bank. Now it is an easy run down to Teralba

The addition of the C30’s and Newstan coal trains made this a great spot for photography. When coupled with the steepest grade on the short north, it is no wonder so many of us went there. Fassifern was not exactly a main destination, but a small village with a road to Toronto and Booragul, requiring a huge detour from the railway line. Coming from the south we used to cross a causeway which at times was impassable. Looking at the Google map I can no longer see the road that followed the tracks up the hill, or the causeway.


We were treated with regular steam runs on this branch line. While it was rather flat, the sight of a 30 class coming into Fassifern on the morning commuter train was one of those typical railway scenes of yesteryear. The Toronto line meandered across the bush via Blackall’s Park to end on the shores of Lake Macquarie.

toronto fassifern 3138 c30 steam train engine

3138 arrives at Fassifern from Toronto in the morning rush hour. Life was more leisurely back in those days

The Wangi Wangi Branch

Fassifern represented a particular bottleneck for the short north. First there was Newstan colliery, which recently closed. Trains from there ran to Wangi Wangi power station, and north to Newcastle. Mostly these were hauled by Garratts, and I well remember a Garratt blasting through the bush on the Wangi branch while at Hawkmount, the other favourite train spotting location.

6009 AD60 wangi wangi steam train

6009 hauls a load of coal towards Wangi Wangi. These were often headed by a 59 plus 60

Newstan Coal Trains

Newstan posed a peculiar problem. The branch left the mainline just north of Fassifern station, heading north. This meant that north bound trains would back into the station and the 1 in 80 grade rising from the other side, and then take a run at the hill. There is nothing more spectacular than this sight, and I was fortunate enough to photograph the last, and one of the most spectacular climbs on sunset in December 1972. In later years, an additional loop was added so trains could leave Newstan and head straight for Newcastle. This was well after steam had finished.

This was the last time double Garratts blasted up Fassifern bank. 6037 + 6042 head up the hill near sunset with a full load of coal bound for Port Waratah

You can see from the above photo that dragging a fully laden coal train up the bank was something special. This explains why sometimes they would get a good head start.

6029 ad60 garratt fassifern nsw steam loco

6029, now the only working 60 class, leads another Garratt with a fully laden coal train.

One of the more interesting aspects of Fassifern is that Garratts could be in any combination. Double Garratts were relatively rare south of here, as double headers were more often in the early days double smalls, and in later years a small and Garratt.

59 60 fassifern steam train

Double headers were common and almost always involved a garratt. Her a 50 + garratt haul a general goods up near the top of the grade

Booragul Curve

Moving north towards Booragul, the only way was to walk beside the tracks, as the road went back to the main Toronto road and then eventually caught up with the rail line near the end of the Booragul curve. I remember the 38s on the Flyer used to maintain 50 mph up the grade going south. There was nothing like the sound of a 38 working hard at speed.

booragul fassifern 3820 newcastle flyer

3820 on 72 Newcastle Flyer climbs up Fassifern bank from Booragul in November, 1972

Variety is the spice of life and at Fasifern there was plenty. In addition to the coal trains, main line expresses and branch line traffic you would get 269 daily pick up seen here with 5906 in charge.

5906 269 pickup steam train fassifern

5906 on 269 pick up shunts “s” trucks at Fassifern Brake vans are rare these days

Note the semaphore “home” signal for the branch line in the foreground. Fassifern was a manual signal box, worked by hand. Away from the station there was an automatic colour light system. I really loved this place because it was a throw back to the old days. From my early days I dreamed of modelling this station as it had everything. I know George Bambery built a huge shed to model the Fassifern area. Regrettably George passed away before I could see it. I am, however starting my model railway collection for the second time with a small portion of George’s collection. Looks like I will get a “mini” Fassifern after all. Space is simply not enough to faithfully replicate all of the infrastructure in the area.

3067 toronto fassifern steam train loco cowboy cars

3067 at Fassifern on a Newcastle bound commuter train from Toronto1968

One of my fondest memories of Fassifern was at night. I had set up on the up just south of the station for the North West Mail in freezing conditions with tape recorder in hand. I remember then 30 accelerate out of the station with a piercing chime whistle and a few wheel slips as she gained traction on the greasy rails. It is one of those memories I shall cherish forever.

Occasionally we would get a surprise on the bank, such as a 38 on a string of 4 wheel “S” trucks. 38s normally worked the Newcastle Flyer or double headed with Garratts, so a lone 38 was quite unusual.

3822 s truck steam train locomotive fassifern

3822 heads a string of 4 wheel “S” trucks over the top of the grade. These are relegated to history now

I have one more special recollection of Fassifern. During Pope’s week in December, 1970, I was fortunate enough to catch a ride in the cab of class leader 3801. This was a real privilege, as this engine was withdrawn from regular service in 1965, making it nearly impossible to get a cab ride. The reason I managed to was that Bob Salter, who was one of the drivers I had formed a friendship with, was in charge that day and he invited me up.

We were so sophisticated that we would check out the charge sheets at Gosford loco and find out who was driving the train. From memory my favourite drivers were jack Jones, Arthur Giligan and Bob Salter, plus Sid Kemp from Everleigh. A Sydney driver would take 21 morning Flyer north from Sydney to Newcastle, coming back on 32 evening flyer. The rest were operated by a Newcastle crew from Gosford.

Anyway, on this day, I was the fireman on 3801. After setting the fire for the bank on the way from Awaba, I had time to rush across the tracks and get a picture in the station. Fortunately for me the platform cars were much lighter than the air conditioned HUB cars on the Flyer.

3801 fassifern 37x cowboy cars

During Pop’s week in December 1970 steam trains replace some railcar services. Here 3801 stops to take on passengers before the climb up the 1 in 40 with yours truly setting the fire

I managed to get another shot of 3801 hauling 71 midday Newcstle Flyer on the straight from Awaba to Fassifern. The Flyer would often speed up to 70 mph on this 3 mile section of track, before slowing down for the curve through the station making sure you always had to work on the bank.

3801 fassifern awaba newcastle flyer steam train locomotive

3801 speeds out of Awaba along the straight to Fassifern. The Flyer often reached speeds of 70 mph on this stretch of track before slowing for the curve into the station

No article on Fassifern would be complete without a picture of Newstan. As it turned out on the day I was there 6029 was around. This of course is the Garratt that was just returned to working order by the ARHS in Canberra. That day she was side by side with 6042, the last of the Garratts, and the last steam loco built for operation in NSW.

6029 6042 newstan colliery coal train steam loco garratt fassifern

6029 and 6042 at Newstan preparing trains for the trip to Port Waratah

I trust you enjoyed my reminisces of Fassifern back in the 60s and 70s. Perhaps you can see why I fell in love with this small railway station and surrounds. I conclude with a slide show of some of my shots.

View more shots of Fassifern and other areas north of Gosford in our new book, “Northern Exposures”. Order by clicking on the button below.

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Fassifern steam tains


NSW 60 Class Garratts Back From The Dead

Today I heard some exciting news about 6029, one of the very last Garratts to run in Australia. This loco has been preserved by the ARHS ACT division and lovingly restored to working condition over the last few years. Now it is in steam again and will soon be hauling tours on the main Southern line.

6029 arhs act special train nsw 60 garratt main south railway line

6029 Hauls A Special South Of Goulburn In The Early 1970s. I Was Fortunate Enough To Catch This Shot In Exceptional Light Just Before Sunset

Once again we will able to get shots like the one above of 6029 taken on the line south of Goulburn in better days when there were many steam engines running on specials. Due to what I would say are many bungles by various organisations and governments, there are very few steam locomotives running in NSW at the present moment.

The NSW 60 Class Garratts


60 class garratt builders plateThe 60 class Garratts were the last steam engines purchased by the NSWGR. They came from the UK in the mid 1950s, the first one delivered the year I was born. Their appearance resulted in the demise of the 57 and 58 class, which I first saw lined up for the scrapheap at Enfield. This was late 1964 when I went on my first school railway excursion to Botany. I turned up in school uniform which was embarrassing! After purveying the dead locos at Enfield we all hopped on board a Garratt for the trip past Sydney Airport to Botany. I distinctly remember waving at all the people along the way. This probably fuelled my interest in steam to a greater level.

I am not sure if I had a camera back then, but I was unable to find any photos of the event. Anyway I next saw Garratts on the Glenlee line south of Campbelltown, before it was electrified in 1968. A day out in 1965 netted a heap of photos, with a 38 leading 36, 20 class shunting the yard, and numerous coal and other trains.

campbelltown glenleigh coal train 6016 garratt nsw steam loco

6016 Hauls A Load Of Empty Coal Wagons Towards Glenlee. Approaching Campbelltown In 1965

Glenlee Coal Trains

As you can see from the above picture, this was before electrification. I remember that day well. I rode 14A relief Goulburn Day Train back to Sydney with 3617 and it clocked over 80 mph through Ingleburn. Admittedly it was a light consist, but we made the trip from Campbelltown in just under 12 minutes at a mile a minute average speed. It was to be one of the fastest regular steam runs I travelled on.

For many years there were regular coal trains from Glenlee to Balmain, the export port. This has now changed dramatically and most of the infrastructure disappeared. Part of the old line is now a light rail line.

glenliegh campbelltown steam train coal balmain 6035 garratt nsw steam

6035 With A Full Load Approaches Campbelltown From Glenlee En Route To Balmain Coal Loader

Garratts did make it to Goulburn occasionally, although it was fairly rare. After electrification of the Glenlee line, a few travelled south. My lack of transportation meant I was restricted to a few depot shots.

garratt goulburn southern line nse steam locomotive 60 class 6009 6018 6042

Three Garratts Sit At Goulburn Loco. These Engines Rarely Worked This Far South

I was lucky enough to have this rare shot included I the 60 class book written by Harry Wright.

Garratts West

While stories of W44 travelling from Broken Hill with double Garratts in charge from Dubbo to Lithgow were legendary, I didn’t make it to that part of the world in time. In fact, my only trip out west was on the Central West Express where I rode in the cab of 3811 from Bathurst to Orange in the 1967 My school holidays. I remember the climb up Tumulla bank on that day. I consider myself very lucky to have this experience. The 38s were withdrawn from the West soon after.


North Of Sydney – The Last Domain Of The 60 Class

In later years, I frequently sighted Garratts north of Sydney. My first trip I encountered 6013 at Hawkesbury river, heading towards Sydney. I had hitched a ride on a 46 class electric that was doing banking duties on Cowan that day. Some of the Garatts had two sets of driver controls and were labelled “DC”. There were only a handful of places you could turn a Garratt, with turntables at Broadmeadow and Enfield, plus a few triangles in other towns. In these days a few of the single control Garratts travelled between Sydney and Broadmeadow with assistance up Cowan bank, and 6013, which did not have dual controls, was one of these.

cowan bank 60 class 6013 steam loco soingle control

6013 Single Control On Through Goods From Broadmeadow To Enfield In 1966 About To Climb Cowan Bank

Garratts double headed with all sorts of other locos on the short north and possibly the most spectacular site of steam in NSW were the Newstan Coal Trains which made a standing start on the 1 in 40 grade out of Fassifern with double Garratts, heading to Port Waratah, now the largest coal loading facility in Australia. Newstan Colliery was recently closed due to a fall in the price of coal.

fassifern bank newstan coal train double garras 6037 6042 double headed steam locos

6037 and 6042 Head The Last Double Headed Steam Coal Train Out Of Newstan Colliery. Seen Here Climbing Fassifern Bank Working To Capacity

I still count this shot of the very last double Garratst run in NSW in December 1972 as one of my finest. These two really put on a display that is etched in the memories of those few rail fans who were there to witness it. Regrettably this will never be seen again, although there is consolation that 6029 is back in service and will soon be hauling trains again.

More great photos of 60 class are in “Northern Exposures”, a full colour recollection of steam in the North Of NSW. It is your opportunity to get a permanent record of those days and an insight into what it was like to live through those times. Something to have in your collection or share with grand kids who will never have the chance to see these amazing engines.

You can order a copy at http://northernexposures.com.au Delivery expected August 2014. I have some special offers to those who order before the end of August.

 I have put together a Slide Show with some of my better pictures of the AD60 class Garratts for you.

6029 Garratts NSW steam locomotive

A Trip To Hawkmount – December 1970

It’s 4 pm and time to knock off work for the final time in the week. I head home thinking about the weekend and what steam action it will bring.

A quick call to Control at Central Railway reveals there is a double header leaving Gosford in the early hours, timed to reach Hawkmount just after daybreak. Brian Pycock, one of our group of diehard rail fans works there, so we have the inside information on steam movements. A couple of phone calls and Rags, Arnie and I agree we are right to go. Only one problem, there is a petrol strike and fuel is scarce.

That’s nothing to worry about, Arnie’s dad owns a service station, so we sneak in and fill up from the near empty tanks at 46c a gallon. We are on our way to a weekend of fun and steam.

We head up the F3, which in those days was a toll road. After paying the toll at Berowra. I put the pedal to the metal reaching speeds of over 90 mph as we cross the Hawkesbury river bridge way above the speed limit. My hotted up EH tops the grade at 87 mph and then after a stop at the toll gates at Mount White, now long gone, we head on to Peats Ridge before taking the back road through Hue Hue to Wyee. On the straight between Wyee and Morisset, I again open the throttle and am surprised as a semi-trailer flys past doing well over 90 mph. It was a really scary experience as the wind gush nearly throws us off the narrow road. Hawkmount is reached in the middle of the night via a goat track that very few know about. We pass a Goanna on the way.

Next morning, as the sun rises, we hear the unmistakeable sound of a 38 and Garratt heading up the hill with a heavy load of coal. Smoke is billowing from the direction of Dora Creek and we wait in anticipation hoping that the sun will rise above the cutting before she arrives. As it turns out, this morning we get brilliant lighting on the two engines that puff and pant their way past us.

3820 60 class ad60 garratt hwkmount short north steam loco

3820 Leads A Garratt On A Coal Train Climbing Hawkmount In December 1970. It Was One Of The Last Opportunities To See This Combination In Regular Service

It is early December and the Calliopsis Flowers are blooming, giving a nice yellow foreground. Sights such as these made the journey worthwhile. It was less than a month before 3820 was withdrawn from active service, and since that time the sight of a 38 leading a Garratt has been missing.

To me this is what “Northern Exposures” is all about, those of us who were there at the time sharing anecdotes, memories and factual information from those days. Heck Bryan Pycock, Rags and Arnie all have chapters in the book – and photos. There are many others who I used to meet on the “mount” back when we were young a foolhardy. Anyone who was there, or wishes to know what it was like back in steam days, will want to get a copy of the book. In the future it will be an historical record of the days of steam trains north of Sydney. http://northernexposures.com.au Nowadays, the silence of Hawkmount is only occasionally broken by the beat of a steam special.

After a weekend photographing steam we notice the tank is nearly empty and do an economy run back to Sydney, somehow making it back to the servo on an empty tank.

From here it is back to work to prepare for next weekend on the Short North.

Those were the days!

Tour Of Duty – 3820s Last Regular Service

In NSW, the 38 class was the king of locomotives, being the only Pacific, and the fastest of steam passenger locomotives. Regrettably the reign of the 38 was short, stretching less than 30 years from 1943 to December 1970. Even now, as the first and last of the 38s are preserved, none is actually operating. This sad state of affairs will hopefully not continue for too long.

The Final Trip North

In November 1970, at Chullora in Sydney, 3820 received its final makeover for regular service. The numbers on the front were changed and nice red lines used to lift her profile. For the occasion, she was scheduled to work a goods from Sydney north, and a few photographers, including myself, were there to witness the event. On a wet afternoon, with a few diehard railfans including yours truly present, the throttle was opened and the signal given for the very last trip from Enfield for the mighty 38 class. Less than 2 months later the only time you would see or hear these express passenger engines was in a museum or on a special.

3820 last nsw steam train pacific locomotive enfield

3820 Leaves Enfield For The Last Time In Regular Service

I was also present on the last run back on 32 Newcastle Flyer on December 29, 1970 including a spectacular climb of Cowan Bank unassisted. It was a wet, rainy afternoon, befitting as this sad day finally happened, and regular Newcastle Flyers with steam haulage had finished forever. Today, this train doesn’t even exist, replaced by suburban electrics. Famous Hawk Mount has a gigantic power station in the background, and electric overhead wires have ruined our photographic paradise that was the Short North. Despite all this, the final trip was a grand one, reminiscent of days gone by when prior to 1960, there were no wires, and all the flyers were steam hauled from Sydney. By steaming through Gosford, saving the 8 minutes allowed for an engine change, 3820 was able to maintain the schedule of the more powerful electrics. Oh to have been around in the 1950s when steam regularly hauled the flyer all the way to Sydney.

Last Newcastle Flyer Steam Hauled 3820

3820 Prepares To Leave Newcastle On 32 Flyer For The Last Time In Pouring Rain Dec 29th 1970

The journey chasing 3820 north from Sydney was my first real train chase by car, as I only received my driving license in late October, 1970. Before that I used to either walk the tracks, or hitch rides with mates to get photos. Looking back, I am pleasantly surprised with the coverage I managed to get with these challenges. Just think, I only had a few weeks with wheels to get around to different vantage points. In contrast, some of the contributors to the new book, “Northern Exposures”, got their licenses much earlier.

3820 berowra steam train short north pacific

Heading North Near Berowra

Days Long Gone

One thing that really stands out and dates these photos is the old cars on the road. The other is the 4 wheel “S” and “K” trucks, which have disappeared now. My car was an FC Holden, just 11 years old. The funny thing looking back is that my two cars now are older than that, and much more reliable and easy to maintain. Technology has made life easier for us, unless, of course, you want to photograph steam in regular service. That is almost impossible.

Regrettably, although I suppose appropriately, 3820’s journey north and return under its own steam with no diesel assistance was in the gloom. It was absolutely pouring on Dec 29th. In between, we were treated to a variety of movements, both on freight and passenger trains.

Hawk Mount 3820 AD60 Garratt shorth north steam train 1970

3820 + 60 Class ascend Hawk Mount Early One Morning In December 1970

I am not sure why, but nearly all of my pictures of a 38 and Garratt double heading have 3820 at the helm. The one above was taken during that final tour of duty. During the first week of December, we all assembled at the Hawkmount Hotel, pitching a tent on the top of the hill, with drinking and barbeques into the night.

3820 At Speed

The highlights of the day were the Newcastle Flyers, which almost always ran on time in those days. The site of an air conditioned HUB set with a 38 up front tackling the grades is a memory I will cherish forever.

hawk mount 3820 steam train short north

3820 Working Hard As She Climbs Hawk Mount Late 1970 Hauling 71 Newcastle Flyer Up The 1 In 44

One of my big regrets, as most of you will know, is lending my timing books from those days. I do remember a very fast run behind 3820 one Friday night on 31 evening flyer between Gosford and Broadmeadow. It was running late and 3820 did the trip in quick time, despite a maximum speed of just over 70 mph. From memory it was early December 1970.

Another 38 Bites The Dust

While this was the last tour of 3820, she had been working the short north before visiting Sydney for a makeover. Below is a sad scene in September 1970, the day 3822 met her demise when the driver proceeded through a red signal with the catch points left open in Tuggerah loop. Note the different lettering on the front bumper. They repainted it for the last run.

3822 tuggerah derailment steam engine short north 3820

Early One Morning On 19 Paper Train, 3822 Was Sidelined For An Express Diesel Freight. On Release From Tuggerah Loop, The Catch Points Were Opened And She Was Derailed. The Driver Didn’t Realize The Signal Was Still Red. This Ended Her Life And Condemned Her To The Scrap Yard

Due to the fact 3822 was due for removal from service in December that year, it was decided to scrap her after the incident.


Steam For Pope’s Week

The highlight of this short period in history was “Pope’s Week”. By the grace of the Catholic Church, the Pope decided to visit Australia and it was estimated millions of Catholics would travel to Sydney to see the Pontiff.

The NSW Railways were asked to schedule extra trains to handle the massive crowds, and all resources were marshalled for the task. By this time, only the Short North still had passenger trains, and the diesels were required elsewhere. 3801 was sent north as was 3642. The full complement for this one week of 38s was 3801, 3813, 3820 and 3827.

gosford loco 3813 3820 3827 turntable

3827, 3820 and 3813 Wait At Gosford For Their Loads To Appear From The South. All Have Been Turned On The 75′ Turntable In The Background. Gosford Still Possesses A Working Turntable And Watering Facilities

As there was an imbalance of train movements, there were a few extra light engine movements south. We spotted 3801, and these two double heading during the week. In the old days, spare engines were often hooked up to the flyer or freight trains.

3813 3820 light engine double header hawk mount 1970 popes week

The Grades Heading South Were Much Less So Light Engine Transfers Were Necessary. On This Occasion In December 1970 3820 Heads 3813 On The Way To Gosford For The Evening Passenger Trains

This was an absolute feast, adding the Jolly Green Giant (3801) and the pig into the mix. 3642 had been fitted with a mechanical reversing gear the year before and now was much easier to manage.

37x 3642 popes week 1970 local passenger steam train

3642 Near Morriset During Pope’s Week 1970 On A Local Passenger 37x

After 3 days climbing the famous 65 foot tree near the Mandalay Bridge, drinking and eating at the “Tent Embassy” known as the Hawk Mount Hotel, and generally carrying on with everyone, then racing off in cars to get some shots, we all went back to work.

3801 short north hawk mount

Class Leader 3801 Had A Rare Tour Of Regular Duty, Since The Decline Of The Southern Line. Seen Here From A 65 Foot Tree I climbed, She Heads South On A Special Passenger, rostered to cope with the crowds wanting to see the Pope. Most Of These Trains Were Empty!

Dorrigo Rail Museum

I remember in particular Keith Jones, who now operates the Dorrigo Railway Museum, used to have a fetish for paddle pops. He would buy 5 or 6 and eat them one after the other. Hi car was often littered with the wrappers. There was a road around the back of Hawk Mount which we learned to skilfully navigate at speed. Pretty scary at times as we fishtailed down the track, causing huge fountains of water crossing fords, etc. It was a lot of fun, although dangerous. 3813 now sits in pieces at Dorrigo, and may never be reassembled.

All too soon, this all came to an end. The pig and the 38s retreated south to Sydney. 3820 was the very last of them, going out in style on 32 flyer. One hopes that sometime in the future, either 3801 or 3830 will be able to emulate this great run, although the air conditioned HUB cars are long gone.

booragul fassifern nsw steam train 3820 newcastle flyer

38020 On 72 Flyer With An Extra Mail Van Attached. This Run Often Had An Extra Car. Here She sS Climbing The Grade From Booragul To Fassifern

Northern Exposures

If you would like to see some more fantastic photos taken on the Short North and other parts of the north of NSW back in steam days, get a copy of “Northern Exposures” Available at http://northernexposures.com.au this book features many anecdotes from those days, plus 299 superb colour photos taken by the best photographers around at the time. It even extends to double 59s on the North Coast, the long north all the way to Wallangarra, and Newcastle Suburban runs. I highly recommend this as a permanent momento of those times. It also records railway history as steam finally ended after nearly 120 years operating in NSW.

I have recorded a slide show of some of my photos from those last days of the 38s on the Short North below.

Double Headed Steam On The Short North

As publication of the definitive memoir of the short north approaches, I thought I would reminisce about some of the many double headed steam trains I managed to photograph on this famous section of line from Gosford to Broadmeadow and on to Newcastle. The new book is “Northern Exposures” and you can find out more about it at http://northernexposures.com.au

“Northern Exposures” commences with plenty of fabulous photos on the Short North of NSW. This section includes the spectacular Hawkmount, which unfortunately now has a gigantic power station as a backdrop! Even then transmission lines crossed the tracks in the area, but it did provide the most challenging climb.

6009 nsw steam garratt 59 class hawk mount

A rare sight as 6009 hauls a 59 class over Hawk Mount

Nowadays it is further inhibited by electrification all the way to Newcastle and the haunt of Interurban electrics which have relegated the famous “Newcastle Flyer” to the scrap heap. Mind you, the schedule for the passengers is now slower than in steam days.

One of the great things about the Short North was the amazing variety of motive power, and the other the number of double headed steam trains. In the late 1960s, I used to go to Sydney Terminal after school to the building that still holds the railway clock tower. Upstairs there was a section called “Control”. This was nothing to do with Maxwell Smart, but the place where rosters were made up and schedules created for the weekend train operations.

59 53 steam train engine gosford short north double header steam

59 class leads a 53 into Gosford on an UP freight in 1967

After a short visit, I would know whether there was any steam action worth chasing north from Gosford. These days it is all done by computer, including the signalling and Gosford is now just a siding to store a few “EMU”s for the peak hour services to Sydney.

The train left from Roseville around 4.30 am with a connection at Hornsby for Gosford. On some occasions if it was to be a really good night, we would catch the 1 am paper train from Sydney, which changed to steam at Gosford, before continuing on to Newcastle. Of course, these days, papers are all transported by road. Back then the mail trains spread to all parts of the state taking mail and papers with them.

Many Saturday mornings while the other kids were playing sport, I would get my exercise walking along the railway line from Gosford to the bank past Narara, getting the shots along the way. As you can see, sometimes it was rather cold, and on other occasions wet. Well, you have to do what you can to get the shots!

gosford narara steam train 37x 3813 short north

3813 Heads North from Gosford On 37x around 1969

On one occasion, there were 5 double headers scheduled to leave Gosford in the early hours of the morning. So early in fact that I could only get a few time exposures prior to departure.

5412 59 steam loco nsw short north australia

5412 and 59 class await departure from Gosford in the middle of the night with the turntable (still operating) in the foreground

There was the time during school holidays that two of my mates and I caught the mid-day flyer to Fassifern. After hauling our canvas tent up the hill and making camp, it started raining. By the next morning everything including the tent was thoroughly drenched. We licked up our soaking wet cargo and slowly made our way back down the hill to catch the train home.

59 60 nsw garratt fassifern short north double header steam train

59 + 60 climb Fasifern Bank 1 in 40 grade in December 1972

In the latter years, the Hawkmount Hotel became a home away from home for many of us. This was especially so during the Pope’s visit ni December 1970, a time well remembered by all present. I remember one particular night the weather was closing in. Humidity was rising rapidly and it was real hot and steamy. Next thing we knew Mosquitos came from everywhere. It was scary. They were those Hexham Grays, huge! Eventually, the rain came and they left.

hawk mount john gaydon fc holden steam trains

NSW Railfans gather at Hawk Mount for Pope’s week December 1970.

Regrettably, those days are gone forever, as are some of the characters who were there. “Northern Exposures” captures those moments with anecdotes and magnificent colour photos from the last years of steam in northern NSW. The photos in this article and accompanying slide show didn’t make the cut for the book. You can pre-order copies and find out more at http://northernexposures.com.au

Meanwhile, please enjoy this slide show of double headers on the short north.


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