Imagine, if you will, going for a ride on a roller coaster at Dreamworld or one of the other theme parks, place yourself in the very rear of the last car, stand-up! And stay that way throughout the ride! Sound like fun? Or sound suicidal? Basically, this is what a trip to the top level of the double deck shed at Darling Harbour on a 19 class was like, and the rear pushing duties out of the yard assisting goods trains was little better. 

We’ve just dragged a string of assorted bogie and 4-wheel wagons up the yard, our 19 class 0-6-0 is blowing off with a full head of steam, the gauge glass shows around half and we are waiting for the shunters signal to shove the string of wagons through several turnouts and up a steep climb to the upper level of Darling Harbours unique double deck goods shed.

The full head of steam and the half glass of water are necessities for this arduous duty, the ride will be too rough to put any fire on and too much water will have the loco priming profusely. Although this is a several times a day occurrence, a few ‘hail Mary’s’ don’t seem to go astray as the shunters give the go ahead signal and the driver flings open the 19 classes throttle to the full open stop peg, with sand pouring under the front driving wheels, the ubiquitous engine digs in for all its worth and lurches into a frantic bucking motion as it gains speed on the down grade of the yard.

Hanging on for grim death as the engine thrashes and lurches through several turnouts, gaining momentum with a rapidly accelerating exhaust, then the train of wagons start the climb to the shed, the 19 class immediately protests with an even harsher bark of the exhaust as the full weight of the wagons starts to bear down on the front buffers. 

The turnout (points) that took us to either 1 or 2 road on the top deck.Up ahead, the shunter is still waving his hand frantically, urging the driver on, not to lose momentum as another shunter bears his full weight onto the point lever directing us into the second track of the shed. Now, with everything including the loco and tender on the grade, we are struggling to maintain movement, the engine bucks as the drive wheels fight for traction, the string of wagons curves across the trestle leading into the shed and then the weight eases off as the train of wagons levels out. The driver has to anticipate the change of load so as not to run away and shove the wagons out the far end of the shed, a catastrophic happening to say the least (don’t know if it ever actually happened). 

In what was one hell of a ride, and the first of probably several we will do through the shift, we have successfully placed the string of wagons in the shed where motor Lorries will load/unload the cargo in readiness for a repeat performance. 

The double deck goods shed, a unique icon of Darling Harbour.We uncouple, retaining the shunters truck, and ease down the grade just far enough to clear the turnout and then proceed back up against the brick wall into track one where we will pull the string of wagons out in readiness for the next lot we shove up the hill. 

The trip back down into the yard is usually uneventful and far less demanding - unless of course, the brakes are misused and you run out of air! 

Goods trains out of Darling Harbour were more often than not powered by one or two 46 class electric locomotives, most of these heavy trains heading west or north. The exit from Darling Harbour via Sydney Yard included a short run on gauntlet track under a building and then a tight right steep climbing grade out of the hole to the crest as it entered the mainline between the area known as the  Mortuary and the main entrance junction of the country platforms. 

This short climb was enough to tax a maximum tonnage train and a shove was needed to get them over the short climb and clear of the crest. Again, our insignificant 19 class shunting engines came to the fore. 

Ultimo Street Signal Box, the backbone of the frantic pusher activity out of Darling Harbour.Exit from the yard was controlled by a colour light starting signal (SY 80), this in turn was controlled by the Ultimo Street Signal Box (destroyed in a fire on the 11th March 1996). With the road engines attached to the front of the train and brake and air tests complete, it was the job of the assisting bank engine to ease up against the brake vans buffers and maintain pressure ready for a launch. 

The procedure was that we had to be ready to go when the road engine blew his whistle, this would have a general time appointed, but could vary considerably according to Sydney Yard passenger traffic. Pressure was maintained against the buffers by cracking the throttle with enough steam in the cylinders to hold the engine tight against the van, an eye had to be kept on the steam and water, but you didn’t want the engine blowing off constantly, so a roaring fire was out of the question. 

Of course, under these circumstances, with very little draft on the fire, and a desire to keep the steam below blowing off, the inevitable would happen, the fire would die. An occasional shovel full of coal would go on, but if you sat waiting for an hour or so, attention would lapse. 

With no warning, there would be a toot from the front end and almost immediately the train would lurch into motion, now! Remember how we had the throttle cracked, well! With luck, we would move off with the train. The driver would fling the throttle across full and open the cylinder cocks to expel the inevitable build up of water in the cylinders. The blower would be another job for the driver to turn on as quick as possible, and the fireman, by now in a state of panic, would start firing wildly in the hope the fire would ignite to an inferno immediately and maintain steam pressure. 

At this stage, the electrics (with horsepower in the thousands) would be sailing easy, so all we had to do was struggle to keep up, fall back at all, and the dangerous rush to get up against the brake vans buffers was on, with the Ultimo Box signalman waving frantically for you to get back on the train. 

When the front of the train entered the gauntlet track, you were on a slight downgrade, momentum building up, then - all of a sudden, the full weight of the train would fall back on your struggling 0-6-0 as the electrics well and truly got into the grade. With smoke and cinders belching from the stack, the 19 class would sound like it was going to lift the building off the top of the gauntlet tunnel, speed getting down to a crawl, smoke would shoot to the sky as you exited the tunnel and back into daylight, now it was on for earnest (my middle name by the way). The road engine/s would crest the grade and gradually take charge of the tonnage as you approached the home signal where the driver would shut the throttle and throw the brake handle straight across so as not to roll back.