Could you imagine a journey of over 7 hours from Sydney to Goulburn? With the need for speed these days, the old NSWGR passenger network simply wouldn’t do for modern people.

3809 on the last leg of the journey of 31 mixed between Towrang and Goulburn – My Photo

Back in steam days with a vast network of branch lines fed by the main west, south and north, things were very different. The mail and newspapers were often delivered by train, and mail trains fanned out across the state each night connecting country towns to the big smoke.

Meeting those mail trains in major towns, were the mixed trains, conveying goods and passengers to the far corners of the state. These trains would travel as far as Bourke, and stop along the way to shunt the various sidings, picking up and dropping off wagons, mail and newspapers to service the smaller towns.

When perusing the material in “Superheat”, I noticed a number of pictures of mixed trains, hauled by a variety of locomotives including 30T, standard goods, and even the mighty 38 class. It reminded me of my first trip on one of these archaic trains.

Carcoar Mi

Number 11 mixed makes its way from Blayney to Cowra. From “Superheat”

Back in 1966, I was just 14 years old. For the first 3 months I was in bed with Rheumatic fever, unable to get out to photographed the trains. In June that year, I got out of my sick bed and ventured north to Gosford for the first time. The trip was shortened as a 32 class was heading for Sydney, and I hitched a ride on the 46 class banking engine to Cowan. After we farewelled the “P”, we headed back down to Hawksbury River where we assisted a Garratt up Cowan bank, before returning to Gosford.

It was not a good year for me. Soon after that trip, I broke my arm high jumping with my brother in the back yard. That meant plaster for 7 weeks.

Now I am not the type to take things lying down. so a week after the plaster was removed, with green tinged skin, I went to turn pages for my mmum, and organist who was playing the Sydney Town Hall. I negotiated with her to be dropped off at Sydney Terminal afterwards to catch the mixed to Goulburn. I walked up past all the four wheel wagons and introduced myself to the crew and asked for a cab ride. They suggested I come up at Moss Vale and go from there.

It was a long, slow trip up into the highlands, with a couple of shunting operations along the way. The passenger car was just in front of the goods brake van near the end of the train. Heating was from foot warmers, large steel cylinderd full of water heated over hot coals. With all the 4 wheel wagons were were limited to around 60kph or about half the capability of 3811 up front.

3825 pauses at Moss Vale on 31 mixed early in the morning. We had just ridden it from Sydney My Photo

The moment arrived when we stopped at Moss Vale for water and I strode up to the cab. The crew invited me on board, and it was great being warmed by the fire of the 38. The fireman handed me the shovel and said he would teach me how to fire her. So I did, shoveling coal all the way to Goulburn. We would throw coal to the front corners, and drop some just inside the firebox doors, using the butterfly door pedal to minimise heat loss. Partly because my arm hadn’t been used for months. and partly becuase it was just hard work, by the end of the trip I thought my left arm was going to separated from my shoulder. Of course, it didn’t. A most memorable ride on the short south to Goulburn where we arrived arount 8 am.

Despite the sound and fury emerging from 3827 on 31 mixed, the bovine inhabitants of this trackside farm between Werai and Exeter chew on. We guess a lifetime’s exposure to steam has made them rather accustomed to the hullabaloo.

Col Gilbertson, 24 August 1968 – From “Superheat”

Funnily, I have no recollection of how I returned home, but it was a long time ago. 3811 became my favourite of the class. Later I had a short drive of 3811, and another occasion I rode in the cab on the Central West Express from Bathurst to Orange. It was the last 38 withdrawn on the south, taken out of service a day too early so show pony 3801 could haul the last steam hauled Southern Highlands Express.

I truly miss those days, but am grateful for being part of them.

John  Gaydon