The overall plan was to catch the XPT to Melbourne Friday, Puffing Billy Saturday, Snow Train to Moe/Walhalla Sunday and hobby shop and fly home Monday afternoon. All was going well until we all received an email from Phil that started with the word "bugger" The rest was to advise us that the rail operator ARTC had decided to have a strike from the Friday to the Sunday and that the XPT was to be cancelled. Doom and gloom as being rail gunzels we were looking forward to the trip on the train. Not to be.
FRIDAY AUGUST 5
Up at 5.20am to catch the 6.20am train, all went well arriving at Central just after 7.0am and as I wandered across the concourse looking for them, they were easily found by the water on the ground around them, which I found out to be tears. Yes we were to spend the next 13 hours on a coach. We then headed off towards the coaches expecting some Greyhound coaches. I was then told the greyhounds don't run in New South Wales anymore, true in more ways than one. On the checkoff queue on Platform 1 we were entertained by a guy who insisted on singing for us and everybody else. Strange guy as he was wearing a black motorcycle helmet. He must have been expecting a rough ride on the coach? When I got to the lady checking us off, I requested to be put on another bus away from Al Jolson. Luckily for us he must have been going north.
We then joined the best Sydney has to offer in the way of back streets to the Southern Cross drive, then onto the ever slow moving M5 tollway.
So after catching up we settled down into our new home for the day and night. We pulled into a Yass roadhouse to lunch, then off towards Melbourne taking in as many country towns that the train normally stops at. At Harden we were lucky as the driver got lost trying to find the station. We eventually found it but it has some nice old houses. Plenty of modelling potential in that town. The countryside was fairly green obviously the winters rain.
We arrived Albury at 4.15pm, again an early tea with the usual choice of fast food. I reported to the driver that there was no water in the onboard toilet, only the hand wash. We knew who the culprit was, a guy who made at least a dozen trips past me to do whatever he was doing. He certainly used up each passengers quota of water. On one trip to the dunny a flask was taken in there, I assumed it was for more water but on the other hand it could have already had another liquid in it. At least he was quite.
It started getting dark soon and we abandoned the game of "I Spy". Some of the members nodded off.
We arrived at Spencer Street or Southern Cross as some of the new readers will know it as now.
The suitcases were extracted off the bus and we headed over to the booking office to get our 'Myki' cards which is the equivalent of the Opal card here in NSW.
We then found Bourke Street and followed it up to Queen Street where our digs were to be for the next three nights. The hotel was quite nice and reasonable for the heart of Melbourne but, BUT, there was a disco on the low level and our room was on level 4. There must have been previous complaints re the noise as we were given complimentary earplugs for the duration. But finally getting into bed didn't require them due to a combination of being up a sparrow fart and the tiring trip on the bus I think we all just dropped off to sleep. I didn't know any of the songs anyway so it wasn't worth staying up for.
SATURDAY AUGUST 6
Today was the day for our Puffing Billy trip so alarms were set for 6.30am to allow plenty of time to get to Belgrave for the 11.10am departure to Gembrook. But as another member Ross had previously found out there was trackwork on that weekend and we had to yet again go on a bus to Camberwell and change to a train there. I really don't like their suburban trains, especially the seating arrangement. Maybe all right if you are squashed into a seat with a nice girl opposite rubbing knees?
We got to Belgrave in plenty of time, checked in our tickets and wandered down to the end of the platform to see if we could see our train engine.
|Our Loco for the day 12A|
Looking further over to the loco shed we could see steam coming up and out and thought this may be another NA. But to our surprise it turned out to be G42 the garratt ready to go (somewhere?).
|G42 with a full head of steam|
So we headed off in an unbooked carriage sucking in the cool mountain air, beautiful.
|Our two locos heading over the Monbulk Creek trestle|
We said goodbye to G42 at Menzies Creek and continued onto Lakeside the end of our ride behind this loco. This was a good move as I had time to go around with my $2 ruler taking a few measurements I needed for modelling.
|Plenty of infrastructure here to model|
|Our train to Gembrook with 12A rolls into Lakeside|
|12A bathes in the limited sunshine at Gembrook while the crew partake of lunch.|
The loco come onto the train and we were set for departure. Three in our party decided they were getting a little chilly and headed for the comfort of the leading coach with doors. (Wooses) My mate Ross came with me in the NBH and we toughed it out on the way back.
|Returning train over Fielder trestle|
I felt a bit sorry for one young Chinese lass who needed to use the conveniences. As soon as she hopped off and was heading in that direction, the bell ringer Station Master requested she join the train to depart. She was saved when the loco was having trouble steaming and was allowed to finally get to where she needed.
We finally made our second crossing of the Monbulk trestle and then we knew Belgrave was just around the corner. Arriving back at the station we spotted G42 still simmering across the yard. It was great to actually see this loco in person and restored to working order. Wow let's hope Haskell make this their second narrow gauge loco.
I purchased a wall poster for my shed with Puffing Billy going over Monbulk trestle and an old car on the road. I wish they had a bigger range to purchase.
We followed the blue painted line up to the electric station and got inside the waiting train as it was now starting to become Melbourne winter weather. A trip back in the dark to Camberwell station saw us again transfer to a bus into Melbourne.
So for tea on the Saturday night it was decided that we would go up to Lygon Street. Another tram ride into the darkness and Captain Phil knew exactly where to get off. We eventually settled down for an Italian restaurant. Some of us had a desert (forget the name) that looked like it was still running down the inside of the glass heading for a pile of various berries at the bottom. We polished these off in no time, but Phil had ordered an 'unknown' dish. Our English waitress did her best to describe it to him. It turned up eventually the size of a keyboard. It looked like a Turkish bread covered in a chocolate sauce and a few sliced strawberries included. Needless to say a knife was procured and duly sliced up between us. A couple next to us ordered the same thing but there was only two of them so I am not sure if they managed. It was nearly after 10 pm when we waddled off back to the hotel.
After more disco music that greets you we headed for a quick shower and off to bed for the next days outing to Walhalla. We were to up at 6.30am so we set my watch alarm, Rosses' travel watch and got a early morning call from reception. There was no way we would miss the train. So after another on the go day we hit the sack despite the ragers and their disco music down below.
SUNDAY AUGUST 7
With three alarms going off at 6.30am we got up for our next adventure. Meeting down at reception at 7.15am we walked down Bourke Street towards Spencer Street (Southern Cross for the younger readers) station. Some "protein" as Mike would call it was readily had, washed down by about the 10th cappuccino so far. Our 'Snow Express' headed by two R class steam locos was set to depart at 8.32am. It came in on time with its 16 carriages in tow. We were booked in car 12 which was the second last carriage. It was an E type carriage with a compartment originally built for eight but luckily Steamrail only book a maximum of six.
|Our train arriving at Southern Cross station|
With the compartment door closed it was quite cosy inside, we generated our own hot air. The guys were happy to have caught up with Leigh and he was a very nice guy. It wasn't long before some of them headed towards car 5 to purchase a bottle of red that was quickly consumed.
After a while travelling mother nature calls so I headed off down the aisle looking for relief. I queued up outside a dunny that had "Ladies" on the door but as a guy with queue ticket number 7 came out, I didn't think these days it would matter who used it. I was actually gazumped by someone else as I was looking out the window at the time. So I went to the other end of the carriage, spotted another dunny with a stick on label that said "Do not use in the Suburban area". We were well and truly out in the sticks by then so I thought the coast was clear. While waiting for my turn and looking through between carriages I could see that the diaphram plates were sloping away from each other. I was a little concerned in that if my carriage was to tip over I should be in the next one. Now I had been waiting outside the door for over ten minutes and was starting to get concerned for the wellbeing of the person inside the dunny. I then crossed over to the forward carriage and found a Steamrail rep and firstly told him of my concern of the tilting carriage and were we about to tip over. I thought it could be a bung spring or something. He re-assured me that it was normal and on reflection these E type cars have a corridor completely down one side of the carriage unlike a NSW FS type carriage that has a corridor on opposite sides of each half of the carriage. I also advised him of my concerns for the passenger inside the dunny that was taking a long time. When he dug into his pocket and pulled out a T key I was more relieved. He headed for the door opened it and then showed me inside. No one in there, and no dunny either. So I was basically queueing up for nothing. My only complaint for Steamrail on the day. If it ain't a dunny cover the bloody sign up!!. I ended up going back to the ladies.
This was the second 'Snow Express' that Steamrail had run in the last two weeks and on the side of the track interest was huge. Every station, road and vantage point was taken up with people waiting to see the steamer. It has been many years since we have been able to do this in New South Wales.
Eventually we got to Moe and a transfer to road coaches took place. It all went smoothly and we got into our two coaches bound for Walhalla. Around 30 years ago when on a Victorian holiday I intended to drive up to Walhalla but it was raining at the time and didn't go. But now that I am modelling Victorian narrow gauge the trip had more meaning for me. Soon out of town we headed into the farming region. A few slight hills and I was imagining where the actual narrow gauge track went.
We arrived at the town of Erica where the line was cut back to from Walhalla towards the finishing up of the line. As we were approaching two passengers approached the driver. I thought they may have been going to visit Aunty Melba in the town. We pulled up and couldn't hear what was being said. Only one guy got off and it soon became clear when he headed for a big tree. So as soon as he finally got back on the coach we all gave him a great cheer and clap. Or is a coach without a dunny called a bus?
The hills got bigger and more spectacular and the scenery was very similar to around the Dandenongs we experienced the day before. We eventually came down to Thomson and saw the terminus and the jewel in the crown the 'Thomson River' bridge. As we approached Walhalla you could see the railway track running alongside of Stringers Creek.
|Walhalla terminus with our special train waiting|
At our table were a couple from Queensland Howard and Janet. After we got talking we discovered Howard was just getting into model trains so we said you are in good company as we are all modellers. Welcome to a great hobby Howard.
We had around two hours to fill in before our two o'clock departure of our special train to Thomson. The town of Walhalla is situated in a narrow valley which made construction of houses very difficult.
It was founded on gold mining and at its peak had over 3,500 residents, seven churches and a school with over 500 students (pre-television). It is incredible how much has been preserved and is a fabulous place to visit. Put it on you must do list.
On one side of the valley Stringers Creek runs along side. It looks clear enough to drink from. I took plenty of shots of the creek mainly for modelling purposes. It is next to impossible to try and re-create something from memory and having a picture on hand is almost essential.
What is left of the town is spread out along the valley for a kilometre or so. I purchased a book on Walhalla from the Puffing Billy shop at Gembrook on Saturday which shows the extent of the town.
|The Old Post Office and Mechanics Institute in the background|
|Walhalla Fire Station|
|Bandstand rotunda and Walhalla Hotel in the background|
|The Corner Stores wanting to be modelled|
|John, Ross, Moi, Mike and Phil|
|Brewery Creek Cottage|
Then all of a sudden you come out of the valley onto the Thomson River bridge and slowly make your way across. It is a very impressive structure.
|Thomson River Bridge|
|Moi getting vital measurements|
|Hurry up Bob we won't wait for you|
|One of the rebuilt bridges in Stringers Gorge|
We were lucky we chose this weekend to do the trip as a SteamRail member told us on the previous trip they had a storm and hail at Traralgon on the way back. The Gods were smiling down on us this day with beautiful weather. So much for my beanie and glove purchases. Might need them next time.
|Double R's ready to head for Melbourne|
Arriving at Dandenong some of the boys wanted to catch up with Leigh's wife Sue. Luckily our compartment stopped just on the platform allowing a brief catch up at the window. We thanked her for the magic cakes, whistles blowing again and we were off for the last part of the journey into Melbourne. It was a fast trip and plenty of whistle blowing for the level crossings etc.
After dropping off at Flinders Street we travelled around on the viaduct to Spencer Street to get off and return to the hotel for a spruce up. Congratulations SteamRail for a fantastic trip. May we do it again one day.
|Double R's head towards Spencer Street|
At least that guaranteed a nice quite night.
MONDAY AUGUST 8
Yee ha, we get to sleep in a bit more today. No 5.20am or 6.30am starts. We were booked out of Melbourne on the 2.0pm Qantas flight. Our plan was to go to Train World at North Brighton mainly because we hadn't been there before and it was close to the station. We walked to Flinders Street station to get our train and on the way stopped off for some breakfast (read protein) and yet another coffee.
We went up to the main entrance of Flinders Street station so it could be admired for the brief moment we crossed the road. That done with three minutes spare we caught the next train to North Brighton. We arrived across the road from the shop ten minutes early and sheltering in a closed shop doorway to get out of the cold wind. Right on cue at 10.0am the roller shutters opened and we all strolled across. It is a big shop so we were able to fill in the best part of an hour there. I managed to get some nut and bolt castings and two narrow gauge books on Colac that I didn't have in my collection. I was going to bring some paint back for my narrow gauge wagons but they didn't recommend it on a plane flight.
Then back to the station for the next train to Flinders Street. We got there around midday but decided to catch the Skybus to the airport and have lunch there just to be safe. Then it was time to board our plane and off home. The captain advised we had a tail wind and would be landing by 3.30pm. Soon we were flying over Sydney via the northern suburbs and the harbour bridge.
It was then time to sort out the train tickets and get to Central from the airport. We all scattered in different directions to our homes ending a really fantastic weekend.
So good we might go again next year and include the Caufield Model rail exhibition.
If you have got this far reading the blog you certainly have got staying power. I am sure the rest of the blogs won't be this long.