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Edition #193  March 1, 2013

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Gladstone

Photographer: Peter Bruce

                                                                      Photo by Peter Bruce

Gladstone

Dunno what I like best about this shot. . . maybe the distant brakevan with its Webb era marker lights and the smudge of engine smoke drifting away, maybe the dual gauge yard littered with wagons. . . or the felt hatted enginemen strolling back to 242.

I certainly do like 242. . . before I actually set eyes on the SAR narrow gauge I had only seen photos of these T class locos and I thought them downright ugly, unredeemable. That changed one night in winter 1962 at Cockburn, the eastern extremity of the SAR Peterborough Division, when a little T backed down onto the westbound express from Broken Hill. I spent most of the freezing night sitting out on the steps of our end platform sitting car, I tried for a cab ride but there had been a recent mishap of some kind and the driver wasn't keen. Second best was pretty good though. The train crew were unconcerned, risk management hadn't been thought of then. The night was perfectly still and I vividly remember taking water at some desert halt, the clang as the tank lid hit the deck of the tender, the rush of water into the tank, the panting of the compressor and all the other sounds of a steam locomotive at rest. Then the tank lid clanged shut and the guard gave the right away. The whistle shrieked and we were off, accelerating hard up to the line speed of 35mph. It doesn't sound like much but it felt fast.

242 is another of those Australian locos, like the Victorian A2, whose useful life was extended through the lean times of the Great Depression and the Second War and then the massive postwar period of growth when everything was scarce. It is a much modified machine, essentially a 19th century engine with Stephenson's valve gear but then superheated, converted to oil fuel with a heavily rebuilt front end and dwarfed by its tender. Ts lasted right to the end of steam on the South Australian narrow gauge divisions.

For those who don't know South Australia, Gladstone was an important junction between Peterborough and Port Pirie. The broad gauge came in from the south and Adelaide and there was a narrow gauge branch running north to Wilmington. I wouldn't be surprised if the only thing still recognizable from back then is the hill in the distance. I'm not one to regret the passing of the Good Old Days but our railways were much more interesting than before they were rationalized and de-populated.

Peter Bruce

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