Fireman's Stories


The Upper Darling Range Railway , now no longer in existence, was simply known as the UDR on our roster, in correspondence, or by the spoken word. The UDR was the most uncomfortable job on the Midland loco rosters and the reason will come later in this article. There was a Dubs built “G” Class 122 which was the regular UDR engine. 122 went out on the early trip and again on the evening run up the UDR and it was never on any shunting jobs. It was quite a good engine as far as “G” Class are concerned. Sister engine G 121 was the standby G and did the UDR run when 122 was out of service for boiler washout or mechanical repairs. There was also a Beyer Peacock “G” Class 46 or 48 that also at times filled in and I did one trip on it.
Before I had the opportunity to work on the UDR I had been on book off tucker box jobs to York and Northam, and up the “old road’ the Bellevue – Mundaring – Mount Helena line, even the Mundaring Weir branch, goods jobs to Fremantle and return, the Subi shunter, and the various shunting jobs at Midland: but not on the elusive UDR. It was “just the way the cookie crumbled”.
Driver Bill Loughton’s fireman went on annual leave and I was put on the roster with Bill. (This was not Bill Loughton’s son, who retired in the 1970s or 80s). Bill was a tall gaunt looking man who had the nickname “the undertaker” but Bill was a very good enginedriver and a good mate on the footplate. The second week I was with him the elusive UDR trip came up. We were looking at the roster sheet when Bill asked if I had worked on the UDR and when I replied “no”, he said, “not to worry, I will tell you all about the UDR before we do it. So on the previous day we were on the 4.15 p.m. station shunTER and during our crib time Bill gave me a very detailed account of the run to Karragullen and return. There were two points he stressed, one was that when doing our preparation put the biggest fire I have ever put in a “G” Class firebox and the other one was to bring a good warm jacket as it gets very cold when running tender first from Pickering Brook to Karragullen: and yes, how right he was.
The big day arrived and G 122 was there on the pit when we signed on duty and soon we were both very busy and I did put on a very big fire with coal right up to the bottom row of boiler tubes. Bill got up into the cab to get something so I showed him the big fire that I had put on. He said “Oh good but put a lot more in, fill the box right up”. When I said, “But the coal is up to the bottom row of tubes”. Bill said, “When you are on the UDR, bugger the tubes, just put all your big lumpy coal over the tubes, you are going to need that big fire when we get onto the heavy grades. You will be glad that you put a good big fire on when I start thrashing this old girl up there”. So I put coal into that firebox until I could not get the shovel blade in there. We were using W.A. produced Collie coal, a low grade non bitumous coal which does not give off clouds of black smoke like imported bitumous coal.
At the Midland Station we coupled up to our train which consisted of two AD brake coaches and were at the east end of the main platform. For the benefit of our “non railway members” a brake coach is a passenger vehicle with a guard’s compartment at one end and containing all the facilities that a guard’s compartment in a brakevan contains, including a vacuum brake gauge, a vacuum brake application valve and a handbrake, plus a writing shelf, pigeon holes and of course a “monkey box” each side. That was the protruding section behind the guard’s seat on each side with a long narrow window so that the guard could see fore and aft. The leading AD had the guard’s compartment loaded with a considerable amount of goods. Bill said, “All that stuff will be for Barton’s Mill Prison, and a guard will meet the train to collect it”. Both times that I was stationed at Midland, which in those days was “Midland Junction”, whenever we did a UDR trip all the drivers and guards knew George the burly prison guard from Barton’s Mill, fortunately if was because of George being so often in our territory and not the other way round.
The connecting suburban passenger train came in from Perth and stopped at the west end of the platform and when it departed to complete its run to Bellevue, it left via the crossover and down past our train. A number of passengers had detrained and quite a lot of them boarded our “modest” little train and a lot of parcels were wheeled to the guard’s compartment of the second AD. When loaded we were finally on our way and soon made the first stop at Bushmead near the big ordnance stores, then we headed south and over the Helena River and then traveled through quite heavily timbered country. The going was quite good and I was taking every opportunity to try to maintain a very big fire because I knew just how heavy the grades would soon become as I had been up here once on a hike train as a passenger.
Shortly after Bill pointed up ahead and remarked that we would start the hard climb and he would be really “belting this old girl”, yes and belt it he did. That little engine was really working hard, and at the present time when HVTR’s G 123 does the Etmilyn run it would never be “flogged” the way those engines were on the UDR, the reason; apart from the grade, this was a passenger service and the two main factors were time and speed. The running time Midland to Bushmead was 4 minutes and it was only 12 minutes and 3 minutes to get to the bottom points of the zig zag. The actual running time to Karragullen was 1 hour and 35 minutes for the passenger train but it took a lot longer than that due to all the stops and unloading parcels and other items. The further we went the harder Bill drove 122. The regulator was wide open as far as it would go and the reversing wheel was being run out a bit at a time to increase the stroke of the valves until 122 was using its maximum power.
Bill was also using a light amount of sand, for wheel slip was the last thing anyone needed going up to Ridge Hill. I guarantee that with such heavy exhaust blast there must have been lumps of coal like “dogs heads” bouncing around in the firebox. We reached the bottom points of the zig zag and the guard turned the points and we propelled our train backwards up the first leg of the zig zag. At No.2 points when our engine was in clear I alighted and did “the honours” and the guard operated No.3 points. Then the going was much easier and we could relax a bit and take in a few glances at the view from our high vantage point.
The grades were much easier after the zig zag had been negotiated but for one short extremely steep section near Gooseberry Hill; and steep it certainly was. The track up to the Byford Brickworks was recognised as the steepest grade on WAGR tracks. but this one had to be seen to be believed. Thankfully it was not long for G 122 was slowing right down by the time we reached the summit. I wondered how much further that trusty little “G” Class could go on a grade like this before it “gave up the ghost”. After this it was an easy run to Kalamunda where most of the passengers alighted and the guard unloaded parcels and other items. Then we were off to South Kalamunda where we stopped to take water and Bill felt all the bearings and did some oiling. The track after Kalamunda seemed to be in very good condition not only on this trip but all the other trips. The first few miles after Kalamunda were as smooth as rolling over a billiard table. Stops were made at Walliston, Bickley, Carmel and then into Pickering Brook. There were folk waiting at all these places to meet family members or to collect goods. At Pickering Brook we branched off the main line and went in to the left, and yes, George the prison guard was there with the motor truck. After calling out “Good Day Bill”, he began to transfer goods from the AD to the prison truck, and after doing some signatures for our guard Reg and a cheery “so long”, George was on his way back to the prison. WAGR earned a lot in freight charges from the Prisons Dept., but then it’s only a transfer on paper from one Govt. Dept. to another.
The leading AD brake coach was uncoupled from the rear AD and we stowed it in the yard behind some wagons of firewood which we would pick up on our return from Karragullen. The AD had all its windows closed and doors locked, handbrake on and lights out. It would be there to be picked up by the early morning train. Not having to take it back to Midland allowed the “G” Class to haul more loading on the return trip as it was all up hill to Kalamunda.
Our next move was to push the rear AD out onto the main line and leave it clear of the points and with the handbrake on as well as vacuum. We then went past the station and over another set of points. This line we were on was the line that went to Barton’s Mill (timber mill). With the points turned we went down what was part of the triangle for turning the engine, for we were now running tender first and met with the main line again. once back on the main we ran engine first up to the AD, coupled up and headed off to Karragullen for a very uncomfortable journey tender first, on a cold very dark night with little or no protection from the small tender of the “G” Class. Our only lights were a kero headlamp on the engine and on the tender. Our gauge lamps were kero lamps also, and they had a bad habit of blowing out on this tender first run which they did on this night just before we got to Canning Mills, where we stopped to take water and wet down the coal.
Meanwhile, Bill lit the gauge lamps which fortunately stayed for the rest of our shift. At Karragullen we ran around to the end of the yard and picked up a couple of wagons of firewood which was always the loading that we returned with; firewood for the city. As soon as we had those wagons coupled to the AD and the billy boiled, the three of us adjourned to a first class compartment in the AD out of the cold night air and had a well earned crib; for after all, this was our evening meal. After leaving Karragullen it was uphill all the way and at Canning Mills we topped up our water supply again, then stopped at Pickering Brook to lift the wagons of firewood from there which made G 122 work much harder. A stop was made at South Kalamunda again for water and about a 15 minute stop at Kalamunda where Bill did his final oil up. Then it was an easy downhill run all the way back to that heavy timbered country out from Helena River. The UDR always pulled in to the platform at Midland as we often had passengers, couple the AD up to some empty wagons and haul this lot back to the station leaving it on the east end of the platform ready for the early a.m. train. Finally, it was off to loco, get coal, go into the turntable, turn the “G” Class, remove our kit, place 122 on the rake out pit and sign off duty.
All being well, I hope to give a further insight into the working of this now almost forgotten part of our State rail system, and: how for a while the UDR changed for the worse, how the Garretts greatly improved UDR working, but how one such trip ended in disaster, unfortunately.


During World War 2 years, life certainly was not easy for the orchardists and farmers; in particular, those who lived and worked along the UDR. For some of those hard working folk, life must have been a struggle. The Swedish ships that used to take the apple and pear harvest overseas could no longer come to Fremantle due to the German U Boats which torpedoed and Allied ships they found. The Apple and Pear Board sent their inspectors around to value the fruit on the trees and the orchardists were paid by the government; but as we were often told, it was less than had they sold their fruit in the normal way. Orchardists were told to pick the fruit and destroy it. They could use some, give it to “rellies” but could not sell it or they would be prosecuted. This proved to be a bonus and a very welcome one for the crews on the UDR service.
One afternoon at Midland before we departed, a gent came to our engine and asked if we could stop at a certain location as he had a lot of goods he had purchased; and could we stop opposite his property as it was 2 or 3 miles from the nearest station. He said the crew on the morning train had stopped and picked him up there. He then said that as petrol was now “rationed” he had to use his vehicle only to take veggies and eggs to the metro area to sell, so he had to use the train wherever he could.
His property was “in the middle of the station of course”, and yes my mate agreed, and this gent said, “when you are coming back tonight, give a couple of whistles down the track and I will be there with a hurricane lamp and a sugar bag packed to the top with beautiful apples for a 3-way split”. For the benefit of younger members who might not know what a sugar bag was, it was a jute bag that sugar was always transported in to the shops. I think its capacity was 36lbs, or just over 18kg. Lots of unscheduled stops were made at time on the UDR and crews were frequently rewarded with gifts of fruit.
Being a trainee engineman the first time I was stationed at Midland I did a lot of belief work. When driver Bill Croft’s fireman went on annual leave, I was put on the roster with Bill who was one of the railwaymen who frequently complained of being a “social outcasr”. “We were always going to work when everyone else was going out to entertainment, and we were going home to bed when other people were going out for the day, or going to work”. Yes, he was quite right but we had chosen our careers as railwaymen so it was no good complaining. One day when we were looking at the next week’s roster, Bill suddenly became a happy man, for, on the following Saturday, we were to work the middle UDR trip. There were three services on Saturdays, the early morning, midday and evening jobs. Bill said that he and his wife were invited to a wedding reception and we would be back on the return trip in nice time for him to hurry home, “bath and dress” and be off to that reception.
On the Friday Bill said he would leave me with the engine at the points where we went off traffic and into loco. He would arrange with the Shed Fireman to help me “turn” the engine and by the time I had got coal, turned the “G” Class and put our kit away he could be home and “in and out of the bath and be getting dressed and off to the reception”. On the Saturday Bill was in a very jovial mood, and I had never seen him so cheerful. Well that was until just before Pickering Brook, when I discovered that the flexible water hose coupling between the engine and tender had somehow become uncoupled and our valuable water supply was running out onto the ballast. We stopped, recoupled the hose, and Bill checked the tender, and unfortunately we had lost so much water that we would have to run to Canning Mills to replenish our supply.
Bill’s mood certainly changed and I heard him use some adjectives in front of the word “fitters” that would have made a bullock driver blush. “G” Class 122 had been stopped for a couple of days and a lot of work done on it. The previous day the engine and tender had been separated, so whoever did the recoupling of the water and vacuum brake connections did not do a very good job. On Saturdays UDR trains only ran as far as Pickering Brook, so it was going to cost us time to run to Canning Mills and back.
Bill had tossed his keys to me to unlock two sets of points and as soon as we stopping at Pickering Brook I uncoupled 122 from the train. After tearing down the triangle leg we were on our way to Canning Mills tender first at a ridiculous speed. The permissible speed for a “G” Class engine running “engine first” and traveling “light engine” was 25 m.p.h. and tender first, 20 m.p.h. Here we were going tender first like a “bat out of hell”, all because of that wedding reception. I did not scare easily on locomotives or trains as I had lived on railway premises from birth and had numerous “footplate trips” with crews from back in early teens, but I do not mind admitting that I had my fingers crossed and I think my toes were crossed in my elastic side boots; hoping and praying the six wheels on the tender would stay on the rails. We replenished our water supply and left Canning Mills for a crazy ride back to Pickering Brook, and not at the regulation speed of 25 m.p.h. but at least 35 m.p.h. faster.
Our run down the zig zag and down the Darling Scarp and to Midland were faster than I had ever traveled over the UDR. Incidently, Bill and his wife made it to the reception just in time to seated with the rest of the guests.
The only other trip on the UDR during my first term at Midland that was out of the ordinary, was when I was with acting driver Phil Bastow. It was about the hottest day of the summer and no breeze. We had the Beyer Peacock “G” Class 46 or 48 and to add insult to injury we had a tender full of Newcastle coal, as use of Collie coal was not permitted on the UDR in summer time due to fire risk. Using this type of coal meant that I could not put on that huge initial fire but had to fire Newcastle coal little and often; yes, very damned often. Phil was annoyed because Beyer Peacock “G” Class did not have a reversing wheel, but a big reversing lever which needed almost superhuman strength to operate when the regulator was wide open. So drivers always used a dog spike to put in the ratchet teeth because as soon as the clip on the lever was fitted that big lever wanted to shoot forward, so Phil had a dog spike and all went okay until we were up near Ridge Hill on a steep grade. Phil had to lengthen the stroke of the valves to get more power out of the “G” Class so he hastily popped the dog spike into the ratchet teeth, a bit too hastily and unfortunately just as he lifted the clip, the dog spike fell out. Phil must have been hanging onto that lever with the tenacity of a bull-ant, for, as it shot forward he retained his grip, and I am sure his feet must have been lifted off the cab floor for a split second. I had just put another fire on and while Phil wrestled the reversing lever I opened the firebox door in hope that the air rushing into the firebox would reduce the amount coming up through the firebars, and so reduce damage to the fire and stop it from being dragged forward. The fire did get some damage; lit, small and half burned coal was dragged up towards the tube plate. When we arrived at Ridge Hill and looked back towards Midland our course was marked out by the trail of black smoke which was still hanging up there due to no breeze. Bask a bit from Ridge Hill the big black blob where Phil had his episode with the reversing lever and for a few seconds the “G” Class had absolutely maximum power.
A manpower shortage occurred at Bunswick Junction and I was transferred south to the dairy and spud growing area; oh not forgetting the very busy cheese factory at Brunswick. It certainly rained a lot, but thankfully it was not cold like York was during my time there.
When I transferred back to Midland, I was on the goods roster with Gordon Munro, a great engineman and a real nice person. Gordon was MC at our wedding. Even though it was called the goods roster we still did some suburban passenger services, also on the eastern main line between Midland and Chidlow and on the Mundaring branch known to all railwaymen as the “old road” as it was the original line over the ranges. The UDR had not changed still very cold on winter nights traveling tender first to Karragullen. A few months later, Gordon, who a few years later became the instructor for the locomotive courses at the Railway Institute, went on holidays. Tom Priestman who had transferred from Armadale to Midland took Gordon’s place and for sure Tom and myself shared a number of experiences through the years.
The evening UDR suddenly became a lousy job, for an army camp was constructed out in the thick bush on the left hand side of the line going out towards Ridge Hill but before the real steep grades. The evening UDR job was extended to take troops back to the camp late at night. Unfortunately, Tom and I and guard Con Franks were the first crew to cop this extended job. When we returned from the normal UDR trip and took the usual loading, firewood to the marshalling yard, we had to attach our AD brakecoach to a second one in the marshalling yard. It was one that was no longer used on suburban passenger trains but used as a brake van on siding shunter jobs. The compartments had been swept out and the seats dusted, and before the night was over we were wishing that we had never seen it.
So it was off back into loco after we parked the two coaches at the platform to take coal, turn the engine, then onto a pit, clean the fire, have a rake out, take water, oil up and back out on traffic to do a second run up the Darling Scarp, when normally we would have been home in bed by this time. When the last suburban train came in from Perth, the troops from the new camp boarded our train along with male and female army personnel from the Ordnance Stores, the latter detrained at Bushmead, then it was of to try to find the stopping place for the new camp, and we were nearly past it when I saw a light coming through the bush. It was a soldier with a lantern. Later a white marker post was put there, but on future trips even that could not be seen until we were up to it as the kero headlamp was only on the locomotive as a warning feature.
With the troops all off the train we had to now do a second trip up to the zig zag in order to be able to drop the two ADs past the engine and to have them behind the engine to be hauled back to Midland, and of course, again tender first on this cold miserable night. We had discussed what we had to do while back at Midland and Con had asked me to assist him when we reached No.1 points. My job was to get into the guard’s compartment of one of the ADs and screw the handbrake on after the two AD brakecoaches had been pushed clear up the first leg of the zig zag. The engine was then taken back over No.1 points then back onto the main line. Con came back and released the vacuum brake on both vehicles then he went into the guard’s compartment of the other AD that would be the leading one when they ran down onto the dead end. It was also the one we had got from the marshalling yard. Con had asked me to release the handbrake when I heard him blow the whistle. This I did and was surprised how quickly the two brakecoaches took off and built up momentum. I felt that Con was taking a big risk as he was supposed to be controlling things with the handbrake in the other AD so I began to screw the handbrake back on being careful not to put it on too hard as there was a heavy dew and the rails were wet and the wheels could “pick up”, a term used when the brakes locked the wheels and they stopped revolving and just skidded along the rails.
Suddenly a breathless Con got into the guard’s compartment and said “the so and so ” brakes have run out on the other “so and So” AD, they are useless; so quickly let Con handle the brake which was on the rear vehicle, so we could not gauge just how much of the dead end we had left to negotiate. Con had walked along the running boards of both vehicles, so that has taken a couple of minutes. I positioned myself on the running board outside the door and a couple of times the wheels actually did “pick up”, so I could tell Con and he had to release the brake enough to get the wheels revolving again. Finally we were able to give a big sigh of relief when the two vehicles stopped. Con had to go back to the guard’s compartment of the second AD to get his handlamp. I went with him and we were rather shocked to see that we had almost finished up hitting the dead end which was only 3 or 4 metres from the leading AD.
Tom got off our engine and turned the points, then brought the “G” Class to the passengers vehicles. There was a very heated conversation about what very strong “reports” that both Tom and Con would put on their running sheets regarding the condition of the AD we picked up from the marshalling yard and the difficulty in finding the stopping place for the army camp on a dark night; plus the extension to our shift and the second lot of tender first running after dark when our regulations printed in the official load table states in clause 4 of the article on tender first running stated “Engines are not to run tender first after dark unless absolutely unavoidable” and of course there were no “turning facilities” up on the zig zag, but one dose of tender first running on a lousy winter night was more than enough. We certainly did not need to endure the second lot in the early hours of the morning because it was well after midnight by the time we had reached No.1 points on the outward bound trip.
Thanks to Tom Priestman’s efforts (Tom was a member of the General Committee” of the Loco Union) he had this working changed thankfully, and two saturated Garretts were brought to Midland; “M” Class 388 and 393 and with the introduction of the Garretts to all UDR services a former miserable job became a trip that we could actually enjoy doing. The Garretts climbed the Darling Scarp with ease. We were in a far more comfortable cab and working on those Garretts made such a change that it was now a pleasant trip into the hills and we could admire the scenery, especially from up there on the scarp.


Despite the heavy going in either direction on the UDR, it was all uphill working to Kalamunda from Midland also from Karragullen but I only knew of three occasions when there was a big delay on that interesting Branch line in the Ranges. Number one was on a horrible winter night with gales and heavy rain when an Acting Driver with an inexperienced trainee engineman for the Fireman “got lost” up there in the hills, needless to say, the other crews “rubbished” that unfortunate Acting Driver for a long time after the event.
Number two. I was on Day Shift Shed Fires and we were waiting for G122 to come after being on the early morning UDR but it did not show up. Someone called out “Hey take a look at that!” and there was “G” Class 122 puffing along the mainline with two coaches and heading for Perth. It must have looked strange when it arrived on the main Platform, a 19th Century scene in the 20th Century in Perth Station, the cause of the delay was a broken rail that had to be replaced.
Number three. Happened the second time that I was based at Midland and we were blessed with the two “M” Class Garratts, thankfully. One morning there was no water or very little in the South Kalamunda Tank, and all that meager amount that was there did not even look like filling the Garretts tank, but as it was a Pickering Brook terminating day the Driver gambled on being careful and getting back to Midland on what water they had, but unfortunately when they stopped at Kalamunda on the return trip, the Driver checked the Garretts water tank and its contents were close to zero. Mr. Bill McSweeney who was the Loco Shed Foreman at Midland, and close to retiring had moved to Kalamunda and he traveled to and from Midland on the “Flying UDR”. As soon as the critical water situation on the “M” Class was told to him, Bill took charge and said, “Right. We will make a bucket brigade and put sufficient water into the Garrett to get back to Midland”, so off came his coat and tie and with the Driver, Fireman, Guard, Bill and some volunteers from amongst the passengers, the station fire buckets were pressed into use and possibly for the first and only time they were actually used, they mainly hung on their brackets like ornaments. Yes they made it to Midland very late and only just; of course there was a rush to the nearest water column.
So now that we had the two “M” Class Garratts the UDR had become quite an easy job, everything about these engines was 100% better than the poor humble “G” Class, no more problems with Kero Gauge Lamps and Headlamps blowing out, on the Garratts it was just a matter of turning on a steam valve and “presto” electric light, like on today’s HVR’s more modern “PM” and “W” Class engines. We had the protection of good cabs and also generally good engines to work on, and they took that load of two AD brake-coaches up the Darling Scarp with ease.
As for the Drivers, well they actually had two lots of oiling to do but that was compensated by being allowed an extra 15 minutes preparation time, oh yes, the “M” Class were a lot better to ride on too.
With the new Engine Rosters, one “M” Class would go out on the early morning UDR and the other on No.94 Goods to Fremantle, and this one was also a bonus for crews as No.94 had always been hauled by a “K” Class and the “K” Class was not exactly a “Fireman Friendly Engine”, very strong for their size and although they were built and brought to W.A. over 100 years ago. They were almost the same power as our larger “W” Class, the “K” Class a tank engine with a 2-8-4 wheel arrangement and rather austere searing for the crew. they had rather a heavy exhaust beat from their 17 inch cylinders, an inch larger than the “W” Class, and with heavy loads on steep grades they had a tendency to drag any small or slack coal forward and up under the bucharch then the “blighters” would become poor steamers so a fireman had to pay attention, careful attention at that, to his firing so a lot of slack coal used to be shoveled “straight out of the Cab”, instead of into the firebox where it would have done more harm than good, the “K” Class was certainly “allergic” to slack coal.
In the evenings while one Garratt went out on the UDR the other would haul a set of empty coaches to Perth later at night, and arrive on No.7 Platform, then run around its train, take water, then it was couple up and have a “cuppa” while waiting for all the Military Personnel and then a non-stop run to Midland where the Air Force members detrained and the Garratt that had come on from the UDR earlier would be coupled to the rear end of the train then off to Bushmead for the Army folk based at the Ordnance Stores to disembark and finally out to the new Army Camp and as soon as the Troops from there had left the train it was off back to Midland with the engine off the evening UDR now leading the way, no more struggling up to the bottom points of the zig zag and no more tender first running. Oh how good it was to have these two “M” Class Garratts!
Driver, Snowy Reyolds, who was one of the Senior Drivers on the “Top Roster” retired and my regular mate,Tom Priestman who was the Senior Driver on the “Goods Roster” moved up to fill the vacant position on the “Top Roster” and Driver “Ollie” Baddeley who had just transferred to Midland after a three year term at Wongan Hills took Tom’s place on the “Goods Roster”.
Ollie lived at Mount Lawley and had to use the suburban passenger trains to go to or from work.
One Saturday in August 1943 we were rostered to do the evening UDR and when I went to Midland Loco Depot, I met three members of the local PerWay Gang, three repairers, one of them I knew quite well, he said they had been called out to replace a broken rail and being Saturday afternoon they were the only three that could be found and even the Ganger was not at home, he was not too happy with the replacement rail that they put in, but it was the only one the right length, and as there were only three of them it would have taken a lot of time and hard work to cut and bore another rail. When I looked at the replacement rail I saw that it was slightly wider than the existing rails and remarked that sharp flanges could cause a very serious problem, meaning a derailment. When I went into the store to sign on, there were three employees in there talking to the storeman and a Call Boy, when I mentioned the wide replacement rail a Fitter’s Assistant laughed and asked if I was “afraid of coming off the road” meaning derailment. I said, “Yes it could happen”.
When I arrived at the depot I was very surprised to see “MS 389” there for us to use on the UDR. 389 had come down from Geraldton to go into the workshops for a general overhaul. This particular engine had been based at Geraldton for many years. When Dad was transferred to Northampton in June 1927 “MS389” was one of the three Garratts based at Geraldton that far back, the other two were “M426” and “M427”, but these two left Geraldton in 1930 when two new MSA Garratts 470 and 471 were sent to Geraldton. As Dad was the Stationmaster, I was always able to find out when the Wheat Specials would come to Northampton and the Garratts always hauled the wheat trains, in the Autumn and early Winter “C” Class engines hauled the superphosphate trains and the daily mixed was always hauled by an “O” Class, there were four of these based at Geraldton plus one “OA159”. During the school holidays I had numerous cab rides during shunting operations and once Dad let me go up to Ogilvie on a Garratt with Driver, Chris Mellor, and Fireman, Tom Cato, of course it was on my favourite engine 389. We left Northampton in March 1932 when Dad transferred to Wongan Hills so I only saw a Garratt if we went to Northam or if one of the Geraldton Garratts went through Wongan Hills enroute to the workshops or going back to Geraldton. When on holidays between Christmas 1939 and New Years Day 1940, I saw MS389, once hauling a train into Geraldton and once when I went to Geraldton loco depot to see a friend and 389 was there in steam. For a long time I had wanted to do a trip or trips firing on MS389 and hoped that one-day it would come to Midland for an overhaul. We often used engines just out of the workshops for a few trips before they were sent back to wherever they were based and now here was the opportunity I had wished for. This evening we would have 389 on the UDR and the first time I would have a superheated Garratt up the Darling Scarp. Had I known what was ahead of us later that night I certainly would not have been so pleased. Ollie arrived a bit later and we went over and put out kit onto 389, and oh boy it was certainly due for the workshops, it had a broken spring under one of the driving boxes, but it had a good secure clamp on it, these was a crack in one of the frames but this was no problem as we would only have a very light load, but all the wheels had no doubt been reprofiled two or three times and were down to the limit and the tyres were badly grooved due to running on 45lb rails, but one thing for sure this old girl would be strong as its skinny tyres made the driving wheels that much smaller. I told Ollie about the rail that the PerWay chaps had put in and we would have to be very careful when we put 389 onto the rake out pit when we returned later that night.
One of the “M” Class GARRATTS was in the shed, it had been washed out and would work the Military Special Train that night, the other “M” Class had taken a goods train to Fremantle and it would bank the Military Special out to the camp so we would finish earlier.
As “MS389” had traveled to Midland engine first it meant that we would go up the UDR bunker first, that was quite a change, I was on the side with the view. We had an excellent trip to Pickering Brook, despite all the rattles of the side rods and the big ends beating time with the rods, 389 performed to perfection, it was definitely the best trip I ever had over the UDR. At Pickering Brook we adjourned to a first class compartment and enjoyed our crib. The return to Midland was also quite good. Ollie kept looking at his watch, as he wanted to catch the last suburban from Midland. He said that he would give me his running sheet to put in and he would go to Midland Station as soon as we got into loco, and for me to put the engine around and onto the Rake Out Pit.
Unfortunately he changed his mind at the last minute, we went into loco and I alighted to change a set of points, meamwhile Ollie had alighted and took his toolbox off, then was back up in the cab, he handed down the kit, opened the regulator, he called out, “Thanks, Goodnight, see you Monday” and old 389 was off like a rocket. I yelled out about the wide rail, which he did hear, but I had mentioned it two or three times during our night. I left the kit there on the ground and went over to check the last set of points for the rake out pit track, Ollie had stopped and alighted to turn another set of points, he then again made a rapid take off, old 389 making its last impressive charge up the track. Ollie switched the headlight on and I gave him a hand signal to indicate that this set of points were okay, he popped the whistle in acknowledgement, and incidentally the very last time that 389 made a whistle sound. Oh boy, I stood there for those few seconds wondering if old 389 would make it past that wide piece of rail, well I did not have long to wait for that answer, sparks flew, there was noise and the rear engine of 389 parted company with the rails and by the time Ollie had the vacuum brake applied the regulator shut (both these actions also for the last time ever) 389 had actually traveled up to the points where I had been standing, that was before I took off when I saw that badly derailed rear end coming towards me. This derailment happened on a slight curve, the wheels on the outside of the curve were the ones that rode up over the rail then dropped into the dirt outside the rail and kept going straight so that the wheels that were on the inside rail of the curve finished up over against the outside rail which of course they pushed over, ripping the dog spikes out of the sleepers (it would have been a dramatic happening to have viewed in daylight). Poor Ollie, he was shocked and after a couple of minutes with him I went to inform Driver Charlie Kelly (who was the acting sub foreman) about the derailment. Charlie was sitting there reading the “Daily News”, a newspaper long since gone. I had known Charlie for a number of years and he was always a very well spoken pleasant chap and always cool, calm and collected, “oops” did I say cool, calm and collected, sorry my mistake for I had just witnessed a human version of a “nuclear” explosion.
Down went Charlie’s teacup, the Daily News finished up on the floor, Charlie almost shouted, “You ___________ ran through the ___________ points!” “No Charlie, 389 derailed 25 yards before it got to the points!” So Charlie went with me to view the damage and on the way I explained about seeing the PerWay men when they had just finished replacing the broken rail. Charlie calmed down when we viewed the actual point of derailment, but he did say several times, “Why did this have to happen on my shift, with all the writing I have to do”.
On the Sunday I went over and viewed the scene in day. Oh what a mess, the rear engine had slewed so far to the driver’s side that the front right hand corner of the bunker had pushed the rear wall of the cab in nearly a metre.
On the Monday morning the breakdown train was brought from East Perth with the big steam crane, the flat wagon the jib rested on, the couple of equipment vans, the crew van which was actually a sleeping van, and finally the brake van. “MS389” had to be held up while the rack was restored under it. “MS389” sadly never worked again, it was scrapped. After waiting for years to do a trip in it, I finally did, and IT was not only the best trip ever but it was also the very last trip I ever did over the UDR.
Fireman Jack Wakeham who was stationed at Armadale wanted to get back to Midland where he grew up, I was fortunate in securing the cross transfer with Jack and I resumed at Armadale in the October after my holidays and what a pleasant change to get away from about 75% night shift at Midland.
The next and last times I saw Canning Mills and Karragullen was when I drove there by car and there were only traces of where the DR railway had once been.

References:     Article:     H. J. Tower