New Year Steam Trains

It’s New Year’s Day, and a time to reflect on the past and plan the future. Only yesterday I heard that there is still occasional steam on the Darjeeling Railway in India, and in remote parts of China. These are small threads compared to years gone past. It got me to thinking what I was doing near year’s end over my lifetime following the mighty Iron horse.

Early Years

Christmas was of course a holiday time in Australia, so during the school holidays I would often venture in search of steam. The counterbalance was that it is a family time too, so riding 38s on Christmas day was definitely not on in our household. However, after Christmas was a different story. While memories have faded, I do remember one particular adventure on Boxing Day, 1968. After Christmas celebrations, I made my way down to Sydney station on a 10c excursion, and hopped aboard the 1.10 to Goulburn with a 38 in charge. The object of this trip was to ride the relief Goulburn Day train which ran empty cars to Moss Vale before picking up passengers. I knew all the steam working as we had access to working timetables and STNs (Special Train Notices).

3810 14a relief goulburn day train steam train nsw

3810 Taking on Water at Moss Vale after an exhilarating run from Goulburn to Bundanoon Boxing day 1968


On this occasion 3810 coupled up to the small CUB set and leaving a little late we sped off towards Moss Vale. Around Exeter, speeds reached over 80 mph and it was my first mile a minute ride, meaning we travelled some 38 miles in less than 38 minutes. In all my years of timing trains in NSW, I only achieved this 3 times, so it was very special.

New Year Beach Trips

Traditionally, New Year’s Day saw a trip to the beach at Kiama with a variety of motive power. One year 3616 was painted a bright green and headed the special down the Illawarra line.

3616 nsw steam engine

3616 on its way to Kiama on the New Year’s Day excursion. A great day at the beach with railway friends.


Here is another New Years Day tour. Not so sunny, but one of the best photo locations anywhere in the world.

3229 on this occasion with large numbers of railfans hanging out the windows and platforms of the BOB set.

3229 steam loco kiama bombo

3229 passing Bombo Quarry near Kiama taking passengers back from their day at the beach. Unfortunately the day was rather gloomy


New Year In South Africa

Eventually all the trains stopped in NSW, or at least no longer had steam locos in charge, so I ventured to other parts of the world. Christmas 1974 was spent at the famous Kings Head Hotel in London, after which I flew to South Africa. That New Year I was introduced to spectacular Paarnport in Northern Transvaal, the closest steam action to Johannesburg at the time. We had a great day in near perfect summer weather and I managed this photo of a 14CA with typical New Year’s adornment of I think Olive branches.

14CA paarnport caledon passenger steam train

14CA on the Caldeon Passenger at Paarnport with suitable olive branches for New Year South Africa 1975


Christmas 1975 was spent on the Drakensburg, a famous express steam hauled between Bloemfontein and De Aar at high speed across the desert. We got back to Johannesburg before New Year’s Eve and headed for the main line near Kroonstad. A bunch of us camped overnight including famous railfans Alan Jorgenson, Peter Stowe and Charile Lewis. Greg Tripplett and a number of other Aussies were with us as well. I remember being very drunk and sick that night, but don’t remember too much of the next day!

This was the domain of 15F and 23 class 4-8-2s which thundered up the grade, speeding along from Kroonstad to Bloemfontein.

23 class 4-8-2 kroonstad bloemfontein steam train south africa 1976

Double 23s thunder along the main line between Kroonstad and Bloemfontein


New Year In Central America

Christmas 1976 occurred about the time I was passing through El Salvador. This railway had very little traffic and was in the last stages of decline. Nevertheless, I managed to get a photo of a working steam train in the north of the country. I well remember no trains at the capital, San Salvador and a notice at the main station indicating trains leave at the exact time of departure! Hardly likely.

101 El Salvador steam train

El Salvador no 101 Baldwin leaves Acajutla on a freight December 1976

I have a soft spot for old US Baldwins. This country is USA all the way, and you can even see a caboose on the back.

New Year In China

Me on a Motorised Rickshaw

I spent one more Christmas with steam. This was China in 1984. After spending Christmas day photographing steam at Guilin, New Year’s day 1984 saw me in Louyang. I met an English “Gricer” at the hotel desk. It was absolutely freezing. We were far away from the tourist trail, and the hotel was a “Fan Dian” or friendship hotel.

Anyway, I was at the desk and spotted an Englishman. I asked him what he was doing in that part of the world. He said. “special interest.” I probed further and he had come for the steam. At that stage individual visas for China had only been available for a month.

We decided to join forces and go lineside to a grade just out of town. Now in China, tourists were only allowed to visit certain cities and then only allowed to stay within the town precincts. We went to the station and tried to get a cab. The driver refused. Eventually we managed to get a man on a motorised Rickshaw who took us out along the line. The result was a feast of steam with 6 double headed QJs in 75 minutes.

I got this rare shot of two trains passing at speed. It is not often you are in the perfect position for this sort of photo, New Year’s Day 1985.

QJ louyang steam loco china

Near new QJs passing on opposing freights near Louyang New Year’s Day 1985


I hope you derived some pleasure from this story and my photos of steam at the end or start of the year. Regrettably unless I go to western Mongolia or Darjeeling, I may not see another regular steam engine operating on New Year’s Day. Perhaps some enterprising rail group will revisit the beach trips to Kiama. In the meantime there are the photos and memories.

I appreciate any of your memories of New Year’s day in pursuit of the iron horse.

If you are in the market for beautiful colour pictures of regular steam action around the world, take a look at our “steam train books for sale” section. There are some wonderful stories and photos there.



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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