It was a relic from the past, put back together by a dedicated group of volunteers who had not wanted the last vestiges of the past to disappear.
Train enthusiasts, the called themselves.
They’d put together a steam locomotive, five carriages, a restaurant car, and the conductor’s car. The original train might have been twice to three times as long, but these days, the tourist market rarely filled the train.
I was one of a group who made it their mission to visit and rate every vintage train, not only in this country, but all over the world. It was a sad state of affairs when I first began, with locomotives and carriages dropping out of the system due to lack of funds, but more disheartening, the lack of government assistance in keeping it’s heritage alive.
It seemed money was short, and there were better things to spend it on, like two brand new 737-800 jets just to ferry the prime minister and government officials around. Just think of what that quarter of a billion dollars could have bought in heritage.
But it is what it is.
What I had before me was one of the most recent restorations to check out, and on first glance, it was remarkable just how lifelike and true to age it was.
Of course, I was of an age that could remember the old railway carriages, what were called red rattlers because of the ill fitting windows that went up and down, allow fresh air, or in days gone by, smoke from the locomotive hauling the train. I had not travelled during the last glorious years of steam, but the carriages had lived on briefly before the advent of the sterile aluminum tin cans with uncomfortably hard seats.
These carriages were built for comfort, and my first experience had been a five hour trip from Melbourne to Wangaratta, in Victoria, on my way to Mt Buffalo Chalet, a guesthouse owned by the Railways.
That too had been a remarkable old chalet style guest house with a room and all the dining included. I always left after the week having put on weight. Breakfast, morning tea, lunch, afternoon tea, and dinner, every day, and high tea on Sunday.
But this carriage, the polished wood that had shellac rather than varnish, highlighting the timber’s grain, the leather seats with generous padding, the curved ceilings with hanging lights, windows the could be opened and closed, allowing fresh air to circulate.
There was also a carriage with the passageway, and five or six separate compartments, each sitting six passengers. I remembered these well, having quite often ridden in one to work for some years when the country trains still ran.
It was always remarkable how a sight or a scent could trigger such memories.
For this carriage on this train, it used to ply the Gympie to Brooloo branch line from about 1915 onwards.
That was the history. It only went as far as Amamoor these days, it was still long enough to capture the sensation of riding the rails back in what is always referred to as the good old days, even if they were not.
Now for the ride….
© Charles Heath 2021