In the days I was on the NSWGR’s and we were working on a steam locomotive, it was common practice, when passing a freight train going in the opposite direction, to stand in the middle of the cab with your back to the firebox and observe over the tender, the loads of the wagons as they went by, keeping an eye out for flailing tarpaulins, loose timber etc.

Working to Moss Vale on the main southern line wasn’t easy, the climb from Picton to Bowral keeping you busy just about all of the time, you wouldn’t even realise a train had passed the other way until it was all but gone, such was the angle of your body whilst firing profusely to maintain steam pressure (bum up-head down).

If the job entailed turning around at Moss Vale, the exciting adventure of turning the loco on the armstrong turntable cast off to one side of Moss Vale yard was to be looked forward to.

With an afternoon stopping train to Moss Vale headed up by one of the 4-6-0 C36 PIGS and a promised return on a local goods to Enfield, you knew that the armstrong was in waiting.

Stabling the passenger consist in the storage sidings in readiness for a morning return trip, we would cut off the 36 and proceed to the table. If memory serves me right, the turntable had a lead track and nothing else, the opposite side being exposed to a shallow hillside, this turntable was meant to turn a locomotive and send it on its way. Balance was a critical factor on these armstrong tables, and the drivers skill in manoeuvring the locomotive to the exact balance point rewarded you with a relatively easy turning job, or a darned hard one.

After turning the Pig and coupling up to our goods train in readiness for the UP journey to Sydney, we would usually get a 20 minute ‘crib’ break, timetable departure depending on the volume of traffic prevalent at the time, after all, we were a lowly steam hauled goods train with little priority.

The UP trip to Sydney from Moss Vale is contrary to what it sounds, it is basically all downhill, a far cry from the sweat inducing labour needed to travel ‘down’.

After exiting a tunnel near Mittagong, I had checked the fire and put the injector on to maintain the water level in the boiler, then, noticing an opposing train, I did my duty and took a stance in the centre of the cab to observe the loads on the passing train.

After the last vehicle passed (a brake van in those days), I swung around to resume a seated position (the 36 had a padded seat to sit on, as well as a padded arm rest, talk about luxury). As my derriere came into contact with the welcoming cushion, I noticed a ganger waving to me, ever polite, I graciously waved back, acknowledging what I thought was his joviality.

The downhill run was uneventful, keep an eye on the water level, make sure and keep the fire hot without lifting the safety valves and observe the signals, the driver skilfully maintaining train speed within limits through judicious and skilful use of the train brake (no dynamic brake luxury here as on a diesel).

It was as we arrived at Picton that things didn’t quite seem right, the distant signal was showing caution and the home signal was at stop, staff were mingling around our envisaged stopping point.

Coming to a stand just short of the platform, the Station Master approached us - you just killed a ganger on this side of ?? Tunnel, the foreman waved to you to get your attention, but obviously you didn’t see him! - I waved to a worker at that site, I thought he was just being friendly - was my answer - the driver oblivious to there even being a track gang as he was on the left hand side of the engine and the gang was working on the “Down” main.

After being placed in the refuge siding to await interviewing, we found out some of the facts about the incident. The worker fatally injured, was apparently using a jack hammer and had stood clear of the down train as it approached. Upon its passing, he swung around to resume work on the track and was apparently struck by the buffer beam of our 36 class, catapulting him across the field and killing him instantly. As I was just swinging back into my seat after the opposing train cleared, I was not aware of the tragedy, the foreman's wave meaning nothing other than a goodwill gesture at the time.

At the time of the accident, it was not practice to protect the opposing line to that which the workmen were actually working on, hence our arrival on the scene from behind the down train was a complete surprise to the gang, this unwary soul taking the ultimate sacrifice for the lack of safe working practice.

I was fortunate, ‘if you can call it that’, in not having seen the event.

Coroners court was held at Picton, and for the first time, my driver and I had to confront the man’s family, he was a Yugoslav and his wife showed up in court grieving in traditional black having very little grasp of the English language.

The driver and I underwent extensive questioning, because the accident happened on ‘my’ side of the locomotive, the driver was relinquished of any blame, myself on the other hand, was literally crucified by the defending lawyer. In a strange quirk of fate, the judge eventually stood up for me, and stated the obvious, what could I have possibly done? Swerved! Not likely! Because I didn’t acknowledge the foreman as he intended would have made no difference to the outcome, the ganger was already deceased.

Safe working practices were reviewed after this accident and from then on, both directions were ‘flagged’ on double track even if work was only being performed on one track. Me, I became a criminal of sorts- being charged “as a formality”, with involuntary manslaughter - somebody ‘had’ to be blamed, and it was my side of the engine after all!

After more than twelve months of Teditor’s Tales covering my nine years of service on the New South Wales Government Railways, this final, traumatic event brings to a close the memorable occurrences during that short career.

True, there are other stories to tell, some better left in the closet, and some that may surface from time to time, but not everyday was as exciting and memorable as the events that I have dictated over the last twelve months or so.

I hope you have enjoyed reading Teditor’s Tales as much as I have enjoyed bringing them to you.