Steam

Oh no! You've come here! What am I doing confessing to the world that I have, er correction, once had, a passion for steam engines!??
I must have lost the plot to this all digital, hip, wired-up interactive world. My credibility has just gone up the chimney in smoke. I implore you, please do me a favour and RETURN NOW before I am totally humiliated.

 

instant route for escaping steam

 

 

Okay, okay, so you've decided to stay. At least let me explain. I was at my parent's place the other day and they hassled me to take away some of my old stuff that had been boxed in their garage for thirty odd years. The box contained pictures of steam engines as well as... Well, you can go to that story from here if you wish...

 

I was fortunate to have seen something of the last days of steam here in the State of Victoria. As for my fascination with them, which, of course, I no longer have because I'm all grown up now and its just so uncool, is easily explained. We lived about a kilometer from the Box Hill line some eleven kilometers from the city of Melbourne. This railway line heads East and branched into two lines that meandered out along some river flats and valleys towards the foothills of the Great Dividing Range. Beyond Lilydale Junction, the railway was not electrified and was serviced by blue and yellow rail cars, and steam hauled goods trains.

At a very young age I remember lying in bed listening to the haunting sound of a chime whistle echoing in the night. Sounding like some wounded beast, I wondered what on earth it was. I didn't have the vocabulary to describe its effect on me then. In 1954 at the age of seven, I was taken to Flinders Street Station to visit a display at the Centennial celebrations of the Victorian Railways. I was encouraged to pat these warm breathing living things. The fascination for steam trains was well and truly planted.

I've always had a love for all things mechanical. To my parent's dismay, whenever they brought me anything new, I'd have it in bits in no time to see how it worked. Steam engines, of course, were the epitome of all things mechanical. Heck! they are so visually appealing. Far more than just a boiling kettle on wheels. All sorts of gorgeous mechanical things hung off them. I would try and guess what all these bits and pieces did. At the library, there were books that told me all about how they worked. One Christmas, dad brought his boys a shiny brass Donkey Engine. I was researching. As the wondrous eccentric motion and clunking sound of the connecting rods.

At around the age of ten, I began to develop an aesthetic preference for particular approaches to steam engine design. I found English steam engines all too neat, prissy and polished for my tastes. Besides, according to the old black and white British movies I saw, they had wimpish pip squeak whistles and sometimes there was not a hint of black smoke to be seen from their chimneys. I liked the honesty of American steam locomotives with all their testosterone engorged guts and latest technology hanging proudly off the outside of them. Australian steam engines are somewhere in between.

Please scroll down and contemplate the image below.

 

 

 

 

 

Thundering up a hill at dusk, this badly damaged fuzzy photograph captures something of the visual spectacle and appeal of a steam hauled train.

The laboured asthmatic breathing heralds its approach. Crickets conspire to silence. Out of the thin blue of an autumn evening, a yellow light glistens upon the cold silvery ribbons of steel that push across countryside. The beast lurches and sways towards me vomiting purple plumes. I stand my ground. A flickering red hellish glow from the inferno of its underbelly dances wildly upon the tracks beneath it. The human in charge of this animal somehow manages to see a kid on the embankment with a camera. A mournful Doppler pitched moan marks its passing. Smoke hangs in the cold air, the machine's sharp exhaust echoes about the hills in waves that come and go. I wait. Another distant sorrowful banshee wail...
and it is gone.

 

 

My grandmother gave me her 1940's folding bellows camera. It took 120 size roll film and naturally had a long focal length lens. Its highest shutter speed was 50th of a second. To take pictures of moving things like trains rushing past, I held my breath and steadied my hands as best I could. With only 12 exposures on a roll, and very little pocket money, each shot was precious. Many were blurry....

 

Warning. You are about to see pictures of real steam trains. This is your last change to avoid these uncensored images of hot, huffing, puffing locomotives. Please carefully read the following disclaimer. I agree that I am open-minded, of a suitable age and appropriate disposition to see more steam and that I take full responsibility for my actions.

Other related content. The Williamstown steam ferry.