(* names have been changed)

Although alcohol and railways don’t mix, there seemed to be some regular workers that led a charmed life, and it was not always the locomotive crews.

*Frank was a shunter in Sydney Terminal, night times, he was often inebriated, but as this was his usual state, no-one took much notice. *Frank was a good shunter and had been on the job a long time, he must have been getting close to retirement.

One night, my regular driver and I came on duty to work a Sydney Yard shunter on an ‘S’ class tank loco, the same job we had performed the night before with *Frank as one of our shunters. Where’s *Frank tonight? We enquired. Oh! Haven’t you heard, after you guys left last night, *Frank was putting a train together, he was coupling up two passenger cars with diaphragms and his luck ran out - “he forgot to crouch down as they came together”.

Most NSW passenger stock at the time had screw-link couplers, it was necessary to bring the cars buffers together, climb under and lift the coupler onto its opposing hook, if required, a call to “ease-up” would be made to compress the buffers so the coupling could be made. Then the screw would be tightened up to ease slack run-out in the train. A common shortcut, was of course, to climb in under the stationary cars buffer plate and lift the screw coupler above your shoulder and drop it on the moving cars hook as it squeezed-up, dangerous at best, but in *Franks case this night - ‘Fatal!’.

The Guards Foremans office where we signed on in Sydney was usually a beehive of activity, with guards, drivers and firemen all vying for attention as they booked on ‘or’ off.

A regular clerk was *Alf, now *Alf was a true blue Aussie, he had been to war and protected his country, and he was rightfully proud of his achievements in the service. *Alf was getting on a bit, but he was an amicable man, and if you treated him right, you were extended the same courtesy.

An Englishman, “Pom” if you will, was a driver known by the non-descript initials granted him of F.A. (I don’t need to elaborate, do I?). Now F.A. Could be extremely aggravating, he was rather boisterous, but worst of all, he liked to taunt ‘ol *Alf.

Knowing that *Alf was a war veteran, gave F.A. Some extra ammunition. One night when I was in the Guards Foremans office signing off, F.A. Was also present, I arrived in the midst of a heated verbal argument between F.A. and *Alf. If it wasn’t for us Poms, you useless Aussies would have lost the war *Alf, yelled F.A., Puffed up like a bantam rooster. All of a sudden, *Alf came over the counter in one single bound and had F.A. By the throat.

A few souls that were present had to intervene, as F.A’s feet were leaving the ground, and he was turning an even brighter red than usual. F.A. Quietened down somewhat after this experience.

While we are taking a look at the Guards Foremans Office in Sydney, I would like to relate a rather unusual story that originated from said place.

Signing on at the regular time of 8:13pmwas of no real significance for the evening Flyer to Newcastle, even though the train number was also 13. But arriving on the platform at the head end of the train to find electric locomotive # 4613 as our motive power was starting to get a bit eerie, especially as the day was FRIDAY THE 13TH! 

OK, so the next day was Saturday the 14th (to be expected) and we were to work train 14, the morning UP Flyer back to Sydney after an eight hour lay-off in the Broadmeadows barracks. Although the Flyers running time was a little over two hours for the trip each way, prior to taking over in Sydney we would work a local shunting job, likewise on the return on Saturday - arrive in Sydney Terminus, get relieved and finish the shift on a Sydney shunter.

The journey to Newcastle was uneventful, and the usual change at Gosford to one of the 38 class 4-6-2 Pacific locomotives took place as usual (and - NO! We did not get lumbered with 3813, as it was an Eveleigh engine and worked South mostly). The overnight stay in Broadmeadows barracks was also uneventful after running the 38 light to loco, stabling and bedding down for the night.

With ‘just’ eight hours off, we were back up and on our way bright and early, taking charge of a 38 prepared by the shed crew. Whistle out of loco and head to Newcastle station to latch onto our morning Flyer #14 and head off back to Sydney. No problems (after all Friday the 13th had left us), pick up one of the 46 class electric locos at Gosford in a reverse move to the previous evening and set-off on the final leg to Sydney.

Just after leaving the Hawkesbury River bridge and beginning the climb out of the valley up Cowan Bank, the rot set in, caution signals, then stop! On the phone to control and we were advised that there had been a derailment somewhere further ahead and the delays were unpredictable. Not much excitement for us just waiting - and waiting, our eventual arrival in Sydney saw us on duty for 13 and a half hours (there were no ten or twelve hour rules). This had to have some significance to the events and the concurrent days they occurred - Friday the 13th, 8:13pm departure, 4613 on train #13, return Saturday the 14th on train 14 and finish up with a shift half way between 13 and 14 hours  - “was it just co-incidence, or significance?”.