Teditor’s Tales continues as the Boy from the Bush (actually from Kingsford in Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs, but that doesn’t sound very poetic), moves up a rung on the ladder to being a train driver!

Being removed from the relative security of a large imposing brick erecting shop and being thrust out into the reality of a fully active steam locomotive depot was an unnerving experience for this still naive 16 year old.

It was the 1st of April (that dates got to have some significance) 1963 and I was about to embark on the part of my career that was my sole purpose for joining the NSWGR's, to become an engine driver. Of course, l didn't consider at the time that the trip was not going to be an all romantic one. I didn't know that to have thehonour of firing, then driving my beloved steam engines was going to entail a much closer relationship with the mighty machines than I could have ever envisioned.

A TRAINEE ENGINEMAN, musical sounding words for what turned out to be a gopher, a labourer, cleaner of all things dirty and the `promise of , well! Nothing - really, it would all depend on one thing - me!

Harry Schaefer was Head Cleaner, Harry had been with the railways for some time, and it showed in his well matured features, years of grit and grime had become a permanent part of Harry's appearance, and he was a man that I would learn to respect, a man that would expect you to earn his respect. Harry's off-sider, Bruce Fletcher, was a fairly young fellow, probably late twenties/early thirties. and he had a menial nature. far removed from Harry's sternness, yet really expecting no less than 'the boss' himself. From these two masters, I was to learn the trade of locomotive care and appreciation before I was ever to swing a shovel in earnest.

Eveleigh steam locomotive depot was an expansive place, even in this late stage of steam, diesel's had really begun to make their presence felt, even to the disdain of having them shedded right next to (within-in fact) the steam domain. Supplying motive power for all the Sydney departing passenger trains, as well as shunt engines for Alexandria Yard (right next door), Darling Harbour and Darling island and the ubiquitous 'S' class tank engines for Sydney terminus shunting, Eveleigh was still a beehive of steam activity.

From the smallest, 10 class crane locos to the gargantuan high stepping 38's, Eveleigh played host to just about every type of steam locomotive that existed on the system at the time. For not only was Eveleigh the home to so many of these living beasts, but it played host to visitors from Enfield as well as further outlying depots when locomotives required heavy overhauls, or in fact rebuilding.

My first encounter with this sprawling steam metropolis was one of total awe, the 10 class crane Jinties would putter around the depot, removing ashes, lifting seemingly impossible loads with their panting and puffing and moving their bigger brethren around the yard.

The Head Cleaners office was right smack bang in the middle of all this controlled mayhem, and one soon realised that this was no place to relax your attentiveness, steam locomotives may be big and noisy, but they can sneak up on the unwary and/or foolhardy and whisk away your life without even knowing you were there.

So what was to be my glamorous fate to begin my journey? Was I going to be taken on a glistening green 38 class and race through the night on the Southern Highlands express?, Maybe work a long goods train with one of those monstrous Garratt's? "Reality!", Cotton waste, black-oil and kerosene, go clean 1919- WHAT!

Normal practice was to place two cleaners (big step-down from the status of Trainee ­engineman, but that's what we were in reality - cleaners!), One would assume this to be a safety factor, as you could watch out for one another. Black locomotives were cleaned with this obnoxious oil/kero mix, the kero being the basic cleaning agent and the black oil leaving a glistening sheen on the paint and bare metal (that obviously just attracted more grease and grime!). This was definitely not the romance of the rails I imagined, roaring along. envied by all, waving to the girls, no! This was reality, and the strange thing is - I loved every minute of it.

Cleaning the likes of a 19 class shunting engine was dirty, but they were a relatively small locomotive and there was a time allocation to complete the job. Get the honour of cleaning a big black 38, and you got more time, but cleaning one of these behemoths seemed to never end, now chuck in some green paint, such as 3801, 3813 or 3830 (all active Eveleigh engines at the time) and you had the privilege of not only cleaning the running gear, but you were also allowed to WAX THE BOILER and all the other green bits.

Now this `wax' was a thick white sludge, that when applied to a hot boiler would give off a rather obnoxious, pungent pong, not unlike that of an extremely bilious drunk, and as quick as you put the stuff on the hot boiler lagging, it would want to dry out, but you still had to buff it. Basically it was a two handed job, apply with one hand, and buff with the other in a continuous motion, otherwise, the sludge would be nigh on impossible to remove. Pride was still strong amongst enginemen though, and fail to clean a locomotive properly and Bruce would request you rectify the situation OR Harry would `demand- it!

Safety was always of prime importance around the depot, and I well remember being chastised on one occasion for walking around with my hands in my pockets, this was soon pointed out to me as a total no-no as if you should happen to slip (highly likely given all the oil/water/grease mixtures you would encounter) you would not be in a position to save yourself from a face down collision with mother earth (or a rail head or other such immovable object). By the same logic was the requirement to always step over rails, and not `on' them, these two things have always stuck with me, and I still regard them as good practice whenever I am around a railway situation.

The black-oil/kerosene mixture was good as a cleaning/enhancing solution for the running gear of locomotives, but I wasn't quite so sure of its value in cleaning my own running gear when I was subjected to the normal initiation of having one's own `running gear' "lubed" with this disgusting mixture, my mother wasn't overly impressed either when presented with rather black and slimey undergear to be washed. I knew from this moment on, I was in the thick of it - literally!.

NEXT MONTH
LEARNING ABOUT THE HOT PARTS ON A STEAM ENGINE THE HARD WAY!

(SPECIAL NOTE: PHOTO'S SIGNIFICANT TO THIS SERIES WILL BE POSTED IN THE PHOTO GALLERY UNDER GENERAL PHOTOS, THIS WILL ALLOW INCLUSION AT RANDOM TIMES AND AS PHOTOS COME TO LIGHT)