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Hello everyone from the wilds of Central Burma!
Early recollections by: L. McD Simpson
Although in its early days the rail service consisted of four weekly trips, my earliest memories are of the late twenties when two mixed trips per week were provided.
I can recall making my one and only trip accompanied by my mother, sister and younger brother, from Wangaratta to Docker (the return trip to Whitfield).
It was an afternoon in summer. The one passenger carriage was occupied by a few travellers who were seated on leather-padded bench seats along each side of the carriage. At each end of the carriage was the entrance platform with a guard rail over the coupling gear, and a small hood or verandah extending from the carriage roof. It was here a large canvas waterbag hung - the carriage’s only passenger amenity. Being a very hot afternoon and having eaten sweets before the journey began, we children regarded it as the train’s most indispensable piece of equipment.
Goods carried included livestock as well as farm produce. Cattle went to Newmarket saleyards in Melbourne, and sheep and pigs to Wangaratta markets in Ovens Street. Animals for the Wangaratta market had to be unloaded on to the roadway at Roy Street where it was crossed by the railway near the site of the present Fuel Depot. They were then ‘shepherded’ by drovers and very competent dogs to the saleyards. Cattle to Newmarket were shunted to loading pens situated near the Sisely Avenue crossing (from across the Hume Highway where the Information Bureau now stands). Most of the goods carried were Super Phosphate, drums of fuel, sawn timber, wire, etc. Goods could be ordered by phone or letter to General Produce Stores and freighted out as part of the Store’s service to clients. As cars became numerous and with the use of ‘trailers’ the use of the train declined and was mainly required for the transport of heavy bulky goods - fertilizer (Super Phosphate), timber, grain, fuel in 44 gal. drums (200 litres) etc., and of course, the mail.
The train service eventually was reduced to one day per week, but was augmented by a trolley service carrying mail, and a limited number of passengers.
My main contact with the rail service was in the late 1940’s when, like most farmers, we used Super Phosphate and had no other way of getting supply. It was quite an experience to prepare the horses for the approaching train, which often coincided with our loading. Belching black smoke, it usually whistled while approaching, and must have appeared to the horses as a ferocious monster. (Most horsemen agree that a steam engine moving is always a terrifying object to horses). The best precaution was to have them facing away from the approaching train, and with the driver holding the reins firmly and standing in the vehicle with brake applied (if there was one), and hope for the best.
On one occasion my efforts could not prevent them from ‘taking off’, but I managed to stop them when the vehicle’s left side front wheel collided with, and was held fast by, the road gate post.
Meeting the train was always a pleasant experience; there usually were other farmers there doing the same thing, and we shared a common curiosity to discover what was concealed under the tarpaulin covers on each rail track.
Unloading bagged ‘Super’ was always heavy work, especially if our lot’ had been loaded first, and had half a truck load or more of bags leaning against them.
Farmers from many miles away, such as Bobinawarrah and Carboor used this service. Horse- drawn vehicles gradually gave way to tractor-drawn lorries and motor trucks. When the rail service was closed in 1953 the motor transport services - general carriers, etc -were supplying a complete service to farmers. Although a few passengers were carried on the mail trolley a motor bus service commenced in the late 1940’s and continued for many years.
The little narrow-gauge train has provided for myself and many others in the King Valley a small pocket of interesting and pleasant memories which are made more nostalgic by the fact that while they can be recalled in memory they will never be recreated in fact.
Wangaratta to Whitfield Railway
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