The mystique of a steam locomotive can be haunting, for they are not forever snorting and barking like a huge dinosaur, often, they just simmer 'almost' silently, whiling away their time until called once more for duty.

This time of peace and tranquility, can also spell disaster in many different ways.

Signing on at the guards foreman's office in Sydney Terminal offered many variations as to what kind of work you could be rostered on to perform. Probably the least exciting, being the Sydney Yard shunters, of which there were several. These plod along jobs usually were generally held to specific areas within the terminal complex.

Two 'cushy' jobs were the car shed shunters, unless broken down, or in for regular maintenance, these two jobs would have one or other of the two remaining 79 class diesel locomotives left on the system. These historic 44 tonners had two 340 HP Caterpillar diesel engines that spewed out acrid blue smoke profusely, 7920 (as I recall, was black, and 7923 was red 'maroon'). One job entailed working numbers 1 & 2 platforms as well as the mail dock and car sheds. Dragging strings of carriages with these locomotives was a laborious job, and wet rails really tested the drivers ability.

More oft than not, though, one would be assigned one of the ubiquitous 'S' class 4-6-4 Tank locomotives, these engines had seen Stirling service for many years, but were by this time nothing more than shunt engines. Their small coal capacity relegated them to these 'close to home jobs'.

Work on these jobs was consistent, unless you were on an overnighter, starting around 9-10pm and working through to around 6 in the morning. Usually, all the interstaters had come and gone and the carriages had been placed in the appropriate sheds for cleaning, work would finish sometime after midnight. This was an opportunity to get a bit of shut-eye, either sitting up on the incredibly uncomfortable wooden seats, or make up a bed on the narrow shelf in the rear of the cab. This usually consisted of your leather bag, with waste covering it as a pillow. Bank the fire, fill the boiler and settle down for a few hours.

4 O'clock in the morning, nicely out to it, over the PA comes a call, 3065, you have the road, 3065, c'mon, move please! The yardmaster would be desperately trying to get your attention, but, given the circumstances, you were obliviously asleep. HEY!, C'mon, we've gotta pull this train would yell a frustrated shunter at the steps of the 30 class. Stirring from slumber, one would realize then that not only had you nicely dozed off, as had the driver, but so had the fire, steam had gradually simmered back and water had slowly evaporated into what steam there was.

Oh! No!, On would go the blower, in would go the fire iron, rake, shake, grovel, curse - “C'mon you lot, I need that platform cleared!” Would bellow across the yards PA, the shunter adding to the melee with his abuse. Of course, this was not an every night occurrence, but the scene was a reasonably oft repeated one, especially if extra curricular activities the previous day added to ones tiredness.

A regular driver of mine for some time, lets call him 'C', was of foreign descent, Now 'C' was a good engineer and a nice bloke, but he liked dining on Vodka and Hot Chillies and sometimes he would cut it a bit fine towards when he stopped 'dinning' and when he started working.

One such night on a Sydney shunter saw 'C' show up rather inebriated, his ruddy round face glowing and his foreign speech not fully comprehensible. In those days, things were a bit different, so the shunter and I put 'C' up on the ledge in the back of the 30 class cab and set about our duties.

'C' snorted a few times, but otherwise didn't really stir. Between the shunter and myself, we were able to handle the duties required, and as it was dark, 'C' was not really noticed in his horizontal position.

Next thing, a job came up that required us to go to MacDonaldtown carriage sheds and pick up a set of cars to be brought back to Sydney terminus. This was not a big problem, as MacDonaldtown was only a couple of miles away, and entailed very little physical work for the engine (hence the crew!).

Arriving at MacDonaldtown, we entered the yard and were advised of the track we had to go to pick up our allocated car set. Now, the grade into the MacDonaldtown sheds was extremely steep, and the S class only had a train brake to work with. In easing down the slope, I performed what we called a 'jiffy' move on the brake handle, a partial release, and then I made another, this resultant exuberance left me without air as the tank loco gained momentum and headed for the car-set.

Frantically winding the reversing screw into full reverse and opening the throttle, enabled me to check the speed somewhat, but we hit the car-set with a resounding thud, no damage done - but! - remember 'C' on the ledge in the cab - no longer. 'C' sat up on the coal covered cab floor whence he now resided and muttered something about where were we? What happened?

We picked 'C' up and directed him back up on his perch, none the worse for wear from his little crash landing and oblivious to any of it happening. Other than a couple of bruises he couldn't explain, 'C' was none the wiser to the nights event.