The Eveleigh locomotive depot serviced a large contingent of steam locomotives in its heyday, during my period working from the depot, steam was no longer king, but still held on strongly with not only shunt engines to be looked after, but also the ubiquitous 32’s, 36’s and of course the famous 38’s.

It takes coal to fuel a steam loco, and Eveleigh had a fairly substantial coal trestle. Unlike the American coal stages, the NSWGR’s favoured trestles where open wagons of coal were shoved up an incline and dumped into hoppers ready for distribution into hungry tenders.

The honour of keeping the trestles hoppers filled went to the depot shunting crew, the guys that moved the engines around as needed for access and service, locomotives were filled with water on arrival at the depot and topped up as they left, but coal (unless desperately low) was replenished only at departure.

With your locomotive carefully spotted under the appropriate chute as directed by the fuel man, you would huddle back in the cab (or detrain) as tons of black, sooty diamonds poured into and all over the tender, and if the chute was reluctant to close, into the cab.

As traumatic an experience this could be at times, it was nothing compared to the job the depot crew faced during the process of filling the bins.

Memory is a bit vague on some aspects of this job, although I do recall having the “pleasure?” Of doing it several times. Usually a 19 class, or 30T would be the assigned engine to the task.

I don’t recall the exact procedure for getting to the mainline, but with two or three BCH’s or some such, we would have to make our way to platform 16 at Redfern and wait in a siding ready for the opportunity to make a run for it in between the constant stream of local electrics.

With an allocated opening, we would make our way out onto the curving platform track, easing in to the platform just far enough to clear the shunting signal. With the shunting signal cleared, the driver would “get up it!” As a short, twisting approach was made as fast as possible towards the steep grade up onto the coal trestle.

If this part wasn’t scary enough, the sheer thought of being on the steam loco with no visible means of support under you at an alarming height only made the situation feel worse. At the appropriate time, the driver would have to close the throttle and grab the brake so as not to spear off the end of the trestle. At the same time, momentum could not be lost, or slipping to a stand on the grade was a real possibility. The relief of a successful spotting of the wagons was always welcome.

This procedure would be repeated as often as required, subject to the amount of coal being used. The other aspect of the job was to pull the empty’s, not quite as daunting, but eerie nonetheless.

On the receiving end of the coal, once fuelled up and ready to go you would wet down the fresh load to keep the dust down as you completed the next element of your journey. If heading to Sydney or Darling Harbour, the next adventure would be a trip through the “Dive”.

The Dive was a single track tunnel that did as its name indicated, it ‘dived’ down under the suburban and mainline tracks as it took you from the loco depot to the opposite side of all the tracks to gain access to the main line to Sydney. This steep incline in, twisting narrow tunnel under and steep climb out to daylight again was another hair raising adventure.

Gaining entry to the Dive was by permission granted by a semaphore signal that guarded the entry to the tunnel, a single yellow light with a 45 degree slant on the blade allowed a light engine to enter.

At the other end was a very unfriendly ‘derail’ that prevented exit onto the mainline unless the signal was cleared, more often than not, you would be brought to a stand and have to await an opening in traffic before being able to proceed. The grade here was very steep indeed, so keeping an eye on the water level was imperative and more often than not, screwing on the handbrake wasn’t such a bad idea either, just to assist in holding the engine on the grade.

Starting the locomotive was another challenge, as you would inevitably be running tender first, there was no sand to be had and the chance of slipping the drivers and sliding back into the hole was all to prevalent, especially when conditions were less than dry. Locomotives like the 38 class could be an extreme handful under less than perfect conditions.

Diesels, on the other hand, just took it all in their stride, instead of plunging into a black hole, you had a nice bright headlight to take in the view of the beautiful soot covered tunnel walls and roof. You could trundle through at a relaxed pace, knowing full well that to stop and restart was no problem.

When the Southern Aurora and Spirit of Progress moved into the new ACDEP servicing facility within the Eveleigh complex, then yet another hand was added. In this instance, you would pull up at the signal protecting the ‘Dive’ and inform the signalman that you had either the Aurora or the Spirit in tow. Reasoning behind this was, that until you received an all clear green signal, you stayed put, once the green was shown, you had to make your move and fit into the available window, else the signalman take the road back off you.

First problem, get the train moving, second problem - NOT TOO FAST - as swinging the long passenger trains down through the tight confines of the hole was indeed a delicate balancing act. Of course, the exit was then a FULL THROTTLE affair to lift the heavy train out of the deep ravine whence you came, having the confidence that you entered the tunnel on a green, ensured you would have at least a yellow to exit. WOULDN'T IT?