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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 8, Issue 7 (November 1, 1933)

Doubting Thomas

page 9

Doubting Thomas

After the new C36 engines showed their prowess in taking trains to Albury and back without changing, there was endless argument in the barracks at Bathurst as to what these monsters could do on the inclines. They were reported to have made light work of the hills on the southern line. But what about the western division, with its mountain grades?

“I say that No. 3618 or any others of the new locos, couldn't pull 300 tons up to Marrangaroo bank, single-handed.”

Tommy “Mascot” was talking. He knew the western division from end to end.

Gentleman Jack took up the challenge.

“I say it could be done every time, with a dry rail and a good steaming engine and a good fireman,” he added dryly with a grin at MacDunn, who fired for Tommy.

Tommy was stubborn; one of the best drivers on the division, and was not blind to difficulties.

“On the day anyone sees me with 300 tons on that grade, the smokes will be on me,” he said.

There was a laugh, and Gentleman Jack said:

“Don't worry. To-morrow you've to take the ten-total to Mount Vic., but we'll be behind you with No. 717. The load will be over 300 tons. Bill here will guarantee steam enough to push you and your new coffee-pot up to the Mount Vic. store.”

He nodded to Bill Fyles, his fireman, and Bill said, “You bet.”

“Worry! Who is worrying?” Tommy snorted. “You fellows think you know more than we do, but you don't. All the same, when you cackle about 300 tons on the Marrangaroo grade, and one engine, you miss the guess.”

A beautiful giant on wheels, No. 3618, rolled out of the steam shed next morning and backed down to the special for Sydney, which Tommy was to take to Mount Victoria. Every car was packed with Bathurst people, bound for the city for the holidays. Away they went over the bridge, up the Raglan Bank. When they passed Brewongle, the leading engine was moving like a dream, and the old “P” class at the tail was puffing and hustling to keep up. On the Marrangaroo page 10 grade the pace had steadied, but the train was still moving well.

They had orders to stop at a station that was being made on the new line, above a tunnel. Already Tommy had blown for signals. Into the tunnel No. 3618 thundered in a halo of smoke, and in due time the rear engine plunged into the smoky darkness, too. Being a long train, when the special stopped the rear engine was still in the tunnel. This was nothing to an engine crew. All they had to do, when the sob of the exhaust had ceased to make the draught was to turn on the blower from which “live steam” would roar up through the smoke-box into the funnel, and keep the flames sucking through the boiler tubes.

Gentleman Jack turned on the blower. As he did so, a holocaust of flame licked out of the furnace door into the cab. Both men sprang back to avoid the ravening, licking tongues, which went right up to the roof.

“Blower has gone ‘phut,“’ Jack gasped, coughing in the smoke. “Crawl along and fix it. I'll watch her here.”

The nozzle of the blower had worked loose and dropped off, so that the blast of steam, instead of blowing up the funnel and drawing the flames with it, merely spread itself in the smoke-box with little effect on the draught. Thus the flames and smoke, having no inducement to draw them through the scores of boiler tubes, sought the handiest outlet, which was through the cab, where Jack was trying to breathe and cling to his job, while Bill crept along in the darkness to the smoke-box.

“Uncouple her,” Jack shouted to him as he started on his errand. “I'll get her reversed somehow.”

His intention was to run back into the open to adjust the blower. It was difficult work to release the couplings, for Jack could not ease her up. At last it was done and Bill ran back to the cab.

“Right. Let's get out of this.”

But Gentleman Jack could not get the link reverse over easily, and when he did manage to do it, at the expense of scorched hands, the throttle lever was almost red-hot. He got the air-brake off, however.

While he was still struggling with the throttle, a sudden kick backwards from the train, set them rolling slowly downhill. She reached daylight, where they could see to open the smoke-box and remedy the defect. The flames subsided with the backward motion, but not before they had consumed everything inflammable inside the cab.

The kick-back which saved the situation was given by Tommy Mascot in desperation when the train would not start.

“Confound it! What's up with them,” he said; “can't they give us a few pounds?”

“Hasn't heard the whistle maybe,” Mack suggested. “He's in the tunnel. Maybe he's on a dead centre, too.”

So Tommy kicked her back, partly as a signal and partly to get over a possible dead centre. No. 3618 was as full of energy as a can of gelignite. When Tommy gave her steam again she spun her wheels till they looked like buzz saws, and the train moved ever so slightly. Tommy sanded hard, and the wheels gripped, while the whole machine shuddered.

“He's woke up at last,” Mack volunteered; “she's coming easier now.”

Thrash, thrash; the steam, with the pressure, shot up into the skies, straight as an arrow. They were away! Round the turns and cuttings and through tunnels that never gave the enginemen a chance to see the tail of their train, the 300 tons of moving weight slogged uphill at the draw-bar of one engine. And Tommy did not know he was doing it.

With the blower righted and their engine racing like a truant schoolboy urged by remorse, Gentleman Jack and Bill fairly galloped their engine through the tunnel. When they emerged there was no train in sight. They chased it a mile before they caught up and lent their weight to the pull.

As they left Marrangaroo, Tommy looked back and saw them there. He page 11 never doubted but what they had been there all the time. And he meant to let Gentleman Jack know about that rotten start, too, when he saw him at the steam shed at Mount Victoria.

It was the steam shed boss who did the talking, however. He had got word from Marrangaroo that something had been not quite in order about the engines.

When they rolled into the shed, the boss was there full of questions.

“What's all this I hear?” he said to Gentleman Jack, while Tom leaned out of his cab and listened. “Where were you when the train left the siding?”

Gentleman Jack explained. “And we were burned out of the cab. Look at it; everything gone that would burn. Luckily Tommy kicked her back for a start, and that sent us out into the open where we repaired the blower and then chased the train and caught her.”

The boss turned to Tommy.

“So you started the train singlehanded?”

Tommy's face was a study.

“First I've heard of it,” he said.

“I expect you've torn the tires off her doing it,” the boss growled. Just then the “super,” came along, and was told about it. He laughed.

“I knew it could be done,” he said, in gratified tones; “but I never guessed Tommy would be the man to do it.”

Tommy interrupted them.

“D'ye mean to tell me that I started a 300-ton train on that grade singlehanded?”

Out of the tail of his eye he saw the two firemen, unseen by the heads, making significant gestures.

“It's true enough,” the steam shed boss told him; “though how you did it I don't know. It seems a kind of miracle to me. You might have kept her going, but to start her! ….”

He shook his head in perplexity.

When they had gone, Tommy walked all round No. 3618 twice, as though it were the first time he had seen her.

At last he spoke.

“Tommy's face was a study.”

“Tommy's face was a study.”

“Tell you what,” he said. “I believe this isn't my engine at all. They've sprung a new one on me.”

“But the number!” Gentleman Jack exclaimed. “She's the 3618 all right.”

“Easy to change that,” Tommy declared; “I've got my doubts about the whole business.”

“Including the smokes, I suppose,” Bill Fyles asked.

“I say this isn't my engine at all,” Tommy shouted; “it's a mean trick put across me. I had my doubts all the time coming up the hill that everything wasn't all right.”

The others stared at him in amazed admiration. Gentleman Jack put it into words.

“I don't know why the Lord made you an enginedriver,” he said; “you ought to have been a lawyer.”

page 12