DAY 75: Volunteering with the local steam train fanciers

14 Nov

I'll get the ol' girl up and running in no time.

THE Victorian Goldfields steam train route is visible from my house, and there’s something pupil-dilating about legging it down to the tracks when the smoke comes over the trees and watching the black, huffing engine approach dead-on; like staring down a raging bull.

The 1880s-built railway is totally run by volunteers (compare its $2.5k government grant to the $10 million awarded to Belgrave’s Puffing Billy) and its line of entertainment is not yet as legendary as that of Bellarine’s Blues Train (see Day 18), but it’s a charmer all right.

I’ve decided to volunteer regularly for a bit of whatever – chain-gang work, litter duty, getting in the way in the engine cab – and I’m interviewed by Trish on the train as we trundle first class to Maldon, which is obviously the best interview ever. After rising through the ranks of guard, signalman and fireman, you can eventually work up to engine driver, which I’m pretty excited about, so Trish takes me up to the cab to meet Barry; a top chap who drives freight trains as his day job. He gets me pulling the whistle immediately (a touch too long, if the hands clamped to ears at Maldon station are anything to go by) and doesn’t scoff at my driver aspirations.

The smell of steam is heady as we wait for the engine to gulp down water from what’s essentially a giant tap. A bit of water bubbles up by Barry’s foot, down by the fuel valve, which apparently isn’t supposed to happen.

“It’ll iron his strides for him,” one engineer notes pragmatically.

“He’ll have an accident in his strides if it lets go,” hoots another.

Catherine is also in the cab. Her dad’s an enthusiast who has built to-scale models of trains and used to factor all family holidays around locomotives. She’s finally succumbed to the passion herself.

“I wish I had a passion,” says Trish wistfully. “With these guys you can tell… it’s love.”

Keeper? Yep, they’ll put me to work on the chain-gang in a coupla weeks.

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