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This article first appeared in the August 2015 issue of the EPRPS Members Newsletter. It is a story from the collection of the late Norm Hann, a former SAR steam driver. Twenty of his wonderful narratives have been donated to the Museum by David Richardson, who fired for Norm in the Murraylands.
Nine hours working on the engine, nine off resting, monotonous scenery, low sandhills running parallel east and west. These hills of red sand are covered with sparse spinifex grass and whipstick mallee. Hot dusty days, followed by cold chilly nights.
With very few embankments or cuttings, the railway tracks follow the contours of these sand-hills. At most times the train is traversing two or more of these sand-hills at the same time, causing a run in and out of slack between the couplings which was hard to control, causing the brake and relay van to be moving either slow or very fast in just a few yards of travel.
As much as possible the crews avoided cooking or eating whilst travelling between Kimba and Darke Peak because it was almost impossible to stand upright over these sections, known as the switchbacks by the railway blokes.
One day it came about that Len and Mudrock had to cook while travelling over this section and Len passed a remark to Mudrock to the effect that the railways didn’t go to much expense when they laid this piece of track.
Mudrock replied, “Well Len at least we have the satisfaction of knowing that the fellow who surveyed this railroad knows exactly what we think of it”. So, he related in detail about the time back in the early days, when the Resident Engineer was travelling over these switchbacks in the relay van with the crew.
The fireman had just completed a masterpiece of juggling and ballet dancing, managing to cook a meal without spilling his food, placed it on the table, turned towards the stove to add hot water to his coffee when the van jerked almost to a stop and picked up to approximately twenty miles per hour in just over a few yards, upsetting his hot meal all over the floor. The fireman threw his coffee on the floor to join the rest of his meal, raised his voice in anger and said “The fellow that designed this bloody railroad ought to have it jammed up his bloody so-and-so”.
The Resident Engineer looked up and in his very English voice, replied “You must think I have a very accommodating backside”.