Back in 2016 we were to travel on the Snow train to Moe and also to travel to Gembrook on Puffing Billy. This is a link to the trip.
The main part of the trip was a ride by double headed R class steam from Melbourne to Castlemaine and transfer there to a J class operated by the Victorian Goldfields Railway. We were also able to do the ride on Puffing Billy on the Sunday, the Monday being devoted to visiting a local hobby shop as we are all railway modellers to various degrees and scales.
Bookings were organised with Steamrail, a hotel in Melbourne and we were going to try this year to actually travel to Melbourne via the XPT. Last year we were unfortunate in that we had to travel by bus owing to a strike by some ARTC workers.
Victoria being closer to the South Pole has a reputation for throwing up some variable weather. My preference in weather is these days is sitting on the colder side, rather than the heat I loved when younger.
All the booking were done so all we had to do was to wait for the calendar to roll around to our departure date.
Friday 8th September 2017This year we were going to be in luck. I didn't hear that the train was going to be a bus, so the alarm was set to an unheard of time of 5.15am. I was making sure that I reached Central station in plenty of time as on our last outing together, my train arrived Central just as the connection was pulling out.
My wife kindly drove me into Hornsby for a direct train to Central. Phew we arrived there on time and I walked around towards platform 1. I spotted Phil first as he is the tallest, then Mike etc.
|Ignore the time on the clock it's wrong.|
We settled into the seats in cattle class and headed out towards Melbourne on time. This train used to travel south via Strathfield once which made a buffer to catch it if delayed getting into Central.
There was nothing special happening about the trip, many of our party dropping off to sleep, probably due to the early rising on the day. We had four seats across and one in the advance row. We regularly rotated around so that no one got bored quickly and we had a chance to catch up with each other.
I grabbed a packet of sangers to have on the train and the others managed to get a pre-order on lunch. Is this what they call fast food? I saw a butter chicken meal that looked like it was 90% rice and a hint of chicken. So I can't recommend it. The pork dish looked nice.
It was interesting going past the Goulburn roundhouse where there were many stowed locos in the area.
Along the way there were people on and off. Most seemed to want to sleep the journey off. Another highlight was seeing the numerous locos around the roundhouse area. A lot of repairs are carried out there.
At Junee platform I was also able to catch up with Peter Neve and Ben O'Malley even if it was only for two minutes! Not a lot was able to be said.
Another point of interest was the large collection of locos around the turntable at Seymour. They had many steam and diesel locos on site.
The only other 'distraction' on the trip was a continuous visit along the aisle with a young five year old named Billy who had an OCD issue we thought. He kept counting out aloud and allocating numbers to us and if we interrupted him our number became 'you are zero' Luckily on one visit he brought a Thomas the Tank colouring book. We were able to gain a half hours grace by convincing him to return to his grandmother and colour in Thomas. At least he had trains in his veins!
Having seen what was on offer for lunch we chose to hold off on dinner and have dinner in Melbourne. What a surprise, the dinner menu read out was exactly the same as the lunch menu except a bit older. I'd call it leftovers.
We eventually arrived at Southern Cross station, what the older generation would know as Spencer Street. The Myki cards from last year were checked and topped up. We decided to stay a the same accommodation in Queen Street as last year. For the three nights it was quite a reasonable price and the reasoning for this was that there was a disco on the lower level. But you do get offered 'free earplugs' from the reception desk as you check in. I thought I would be reasonably stuffed by bed time and left the earplugs for someone else. The bags were taken to the room and and we decided to head for Lygon Street for a meal.
We met in the lobby at 7.0pm and headed off into the night led by our tour guide Phil who knew most of Melbourne like the back of his Gregory's.
Jumping on a tram in Swanston street we eventually got off at Lygon Street, greeted by a thing called rain, which we haven't seen in Sydney for some time. We ended up at the University Cafe and downed a great meal which the others downed with red wine. My choice of poison was just a apple cider, which I enjoyed. One thing we all noticed was how skimpily the young girls dressed on the night and we were all rugged up!
We made our way back on the tram to our hotel and decided to meet early in the lobby and head for Southern Cross for our trip to Maldon. Although being 'upgraded' at the hotel we still managed to hear the thump thump of the disco during the night. Their definition of an upgrade is to be moved a floor higher away from the music. Although I can recognise many songs when they are played I didn't manage to recognise any during the night.
Saturday 9th September 2017Another early start saw us gather in the lobby suitably rugged up. We could have been going to Antartica based on a combination of hats, beanies, gloves etc. Some of the crew even admitted to be wearing long johns. I must admit the Castlemaine temperature of 13c max was a little on the chilly side, I didn't think we would expect any snow.
|Look - maximum of 13c|
Last year on the Snow train trip we were joined by a friend of the other guys that had a long friend ship. I must admit that Leigh last year came loaded with a present from his wife in the shape of a bag chocker block full of cakes and biscuits. This year it was repeated, so thanks to Leigh and his wife for looking after us.
We met Leigh on the platform as he had travelled in from the Dandenong line to join us. We booked through Steamrail and luckily we got a compartment normally an eight seater but they only booked the six of us in there. I promise no money changed hands but we were booked in Car 1 right next to the engine in the down direction.
|What a sight! Double R class steam and the Overland to Adelaide on the right|
|All fired up and ready to go|
One thing I noticed in comparison to last year's Snow Train trip was the lack of trackside sightseers. I am also not familiar with the grades on the Bendigo line but there was enough 'stack talk' to be enjoyable.
After a while our team leader Phil, decided it was time for a coffee looking at Leigh (who had a bag full of goodies) The coffee was certainly appreciated to warm the inner soul. The wonderful cakes just added to the pleasure.
The Bendigo line was original double line from Melbourne to Bendigo but for some reason when they decided to make this line high speed, they made it single track with crossing loops. This may work well when they have the normal rostered trains operating but when they have to thread the needle with our extra train then delays can be expected. We were passed by trains in the same and opposite directions.
|Double R's at the South Pole|
|Our R's head off to Bendigo|
The train was hauled by J549 which was in beautiful condition a credit to the organisation.
This is the loco our 'head of staff' Phil had actually driven a while ago on a hands on experience. You even get to shunt and make up your train. His brave family even rode in the carriage at the rear.
One thing that was noticeable was the large amount of wattle trees all out in magnificent yellow. There were also some that looked like miniature gums full of yellow flowers. Magic.
|The wattles in Castlemaine|
|2017 Old Farts re-union in Maldon|
The town still maintains its heritage which is particularly evident when you see the shops along the main street. It was enjoyable to be able to see these old shops. Many of them seemed to support old wares aimed at the tourists.
|Built a year after gold was discovered in the town and still standing!|
|Main street of Maldon|
|Home made giant sized drains in Maldon|
We all eventually met up at the station and could actually walk around the station yard without a vest, safety boots, helmet, safety goggles and a mountain of paperwork filled out in triplicate. Just like I remembered it many years ago here in NSW. (Not any more)
|The J gets ready to return us to Castlemaine|
Our train pulled into the branch platform waiting for our R class connection from Bendigo. While waiting I went up and had a look in the signal box which is still retained for working the branchline points and signals. Although all the levers are still in place only a few are now used to set up the routes. The signal man had his labrador there to keep him company. He said that the dog starts wagging its tail when a train comes near. Who needs a train tracker?
After a few Velocity trains to and from Bendigo our train appeared in the distance. Loading was very slow as the train was full of passengers from Bendigo who had to walk through three rear cars that were off the platform. Once they were off then we had to walk through the cars to get to our carriage. We did a parallel run out of Castlemaine with the J branching off and headed to bed up at Maldon.
Again on the return we did a few crosses on the single line threading our way back to Melbourne. Four of us had actually gone to the same school many moons ago and so naturally the conversation had brought up many topics over that period. It was a great time talking amongst those that managed to stay awake.
We eventually got back to Southern Cross after a fantastic day. Unfortunately Leigh had missed a train by half an hour but eventually got home. Leigh didn't want to take the leftover cake and biscuits so our head chef Phil promised to look after them carefully wrapped up in a Steamrail provided plastic bag, that was intended for rubbish. The intent was to drag them out of the bag on another day for so called 'afternoon tea' (Didn't happen)
|Our train arrives back at Southern Cross|
|R761 has cut off and runaround to the rear of the train to tow back to Newport|
We got back to Southern Cross and were able to relive walking up to a steam loco and enjoying the moment. After a short while the lead loco cut off the train and ran around to the rear. It would then tow the train back to the Newport workshops where the train is stabled. You can see in the photo how little coal was left in the tender, I wonder how much oil was left in 761? Hopefully enough to get back to Newport.
We went to a local cafe on the station and had a drink and a snack. A walk up Bourke Street again and down Queen Street to our hotel for an early night for us all. And yes the disco was running again that night. Two of us were Manly football fans and received the sad news that night that our season was over. Not sure who I will go for now.
Sunday 10th September, 2017
Today's entertainment was a ride on Puffing Billy out to Gembrook from Belgrave. We also did this trip last year but at least this year we didn't have to get a bus part way due to trackwork.
Back down Bourke Street again to Southern Cross station and another breakfast before boarding the 8.39am train to Lilyvale. We had to change trains at Ringwood and eventually arrived at Belgrave at around 10.0am. We obtained our tickets for the 11.10am train to Gembrook. There is only one train a day to there. A walk down to the end of the train and we noticed that G42 was again in steam. Last year this loco double headed with an NA to Menzies Creek where the G is taken off and returns to Belgrave with some of the carriages. Well after seeing the G doing the same shunt as last year was enough for us to jump on the double header to Menzies Creek. The G was duly taken off and the remaining NA took the train onto Lakeside.
|NA8 resting outside Belgrave Loco shed|
|G42 shunts down towards the 10.30am train to Lakeside|
Puffing Billy still has a lot to be thankfull from the large quantity of Asian tourists travelling on the train. They must do the short hop from Belgrave and then back onto the bus at Menzies Creek. Any money in the till is good money. We eventually arrived at Lakeside where it was time for a pit stop and into the cafe there for a warming hot chocolate. There is a bunch of very tame crimson rosellas there that seem to amuse the visitors. A few were hanging out on the gutter above the cafe waiting for a hot chip lunch. A sort of a Maccas for birds. It won't do their figures any good. We had about forty minutes to fill in there until our Gembrook train arrived. It was still cool and we managed to get into a combination brake van for the journey, having survived the journey to there in an open NBH. We eventually arrived at Gembrook, had a quick look around the station area and then led by or head maitre d' Phil crossed over the road opposite the station to the restored Gembrook Hotel for lunch. Phil had the usual red, I had a schooner glass of cider which the bartender told me was brewed in Healsville, which to me didn't matter. But it was a nice drop. For lunch it was a rump steak. Some of the guys settled for bangers and mash, which I reckon you can get at home anytime.
Most of the team stayed on for desert and I must say that the bread and butter pudding sounded tempting, but at $13 I gave it a miss, preferring to head to the ash pit at the station to collect something I didn't get last year. I reckon there is nothing like the real thing so I decided to collect some original ash from the ash pit to add authenticity to my layout. There had been some rain there recently so the sample I got was dark. I hope it will go okay on the layout in future.
|12A at the water tank Gembrook|
|Ahh the real thing NA ash|
Last year I forgot to get a container to put the ash into, so I knocked off a plastic bag from the Maldon trip the previous day from the compartment. Only to loose it before I got there to collect. So I went to the shop and asked if they had a spare plastic bag. It would have been too complicated to explain what I wanted it for.
With the bag of ash safely stowed in my backpack I went into the shop to see what I could get at the book shop.
I spotted a big pile of the 'Narrow Gauge' magazine which is the house magazine of the Puffing Billy Railway. Only trouble was I was flying back the next day and they would have exceeded my luggage allowance. Ah well next time I am in Melbourne?
The other guys had finally finished their lunches and waddled over to the train. Luckily our selected carriage was at the end of the train. By this time after three o'clock it had fined up and the sun was out in contrast to when we left Belgrave in the morning. That's Melbourne weather for you. I was hoping the long john guys weren't overheating.
|Fielder trestle - looks like the one on my layout.|
If you have never been on the Puffing Billy you must put it on your bucket list, it is a great trip with fantastic scenery along the way. Hopefully it will be preserved in this format forever.
|Along the way home|
|Lakeside and another trip arrives from Belgrave.|
Retracing our previous path we arrived back at Lakeside where we crossed another trip that had come out from Belgrave. Didn't see any rosellas this time, maybe they were already full from the mornings foodfest.
|A sample of some of the scenery|
We kept on plugging away on the trip back to Belgrave. The cool climate up in the Dandenongs seem to suit the rhododendrons, there were some beautiful examples to be seen but all the one colour. There were also hundreds of the tree ferns along the way. This is one plant I would like to see made well for layouts. There are plastic ones but the leaves are too thick.
|Along the way back|
|This guy was here last year and will be till he drops I reckon at Menzies Creek|
A short stop was made at Menzies Creek. I overheard the guard saying about the station guy that he won't raise his flag to go until the exact minute. I think the guard just wanted to get back to Belgrave.
|Arriving back at Belgrave. I don't think we lost any of the little kiddies hanging out of the train!|
Most of us went straight up to the waiting connection, but Michael stayed on to search out a magnum. We spotted him heading towards the train on the high path, but he eventually joined us for a direct train back to Flinders Street.
After an uneventful trip back to Flinders St upon arrival we once again turned to our head man Phil for guidance re the evening meal. He suggested we head for South Gate where there are some eateries. It was on the other side of the Yarra River. I suggested we walk straight across but we eventually took a foot bridge. Along the pathway to the bridge there were a whole pile of vegans/animal rights dudes who were drawing their messages in chalk all over the walls and path way. Just for a stir as I walked past a girl writing away I said "Can't wait to sink my teeth into a nice steak tonight" Yes she heard me and gave out a "Ha Ha" I relented and only got some honey chicken and blackbean. After a good meal we headed back to the hotel for our last night in Melbourne. And the good news was that the disco doesn't operate on a Sunday night.
Monday 11th September 2017
Monday morning finally turned up and it was a no urgent deadline morning. I decided that I needed a few things from a hobby shop and went out to Trainworld at North Brighton again.
The other guys decided to go out to St. Kilda for the morning by tram.
I walked down to Flinders Street and caught the 9.12am train out on the Sandringham line getting off at North Brighton, remembering where we went the year before. As I was there early before their 10.0am opening I went to a cafe and had a coffee and some fruit toast to fill in some time.
At the shop I got most of the items I needed and a few more. I was after a track gauge but Murphy was with me and they didn't have the one I wanted. I obtained another narrow gauge point for the layout and I noticed a video they had running in the shop which was "Remembering the Beechy" all about the Beech Forest narrow gauge line. You can't have too much research material.
So with the few purchases I headed back to the station and had to meet up with the guys at the bus station at Southern Cross at 12 midday.
All united once again we got our Skybus ticket an headed off for our 2.0pm flight back to Sydney. A quick lunch, a drink and onto the 2.0pm flight with Virgin. No sooner had they dished out the drinks then we were set for landing. Into Central on the Airport line and a transfer to a suburban service saw us split up and head for home.
So that is a quick summary of our fantastic weekend away with some good mates and plenty of fun was had by all. If you have made the reading of the blog to here, you have done well. I promise the next entry will have some models in it.