In Pursuit of the P Class – Part Two

First Sighting – 0800 at Harden

The early morning fog was shattered by the ear splitting whistles of 5917 and 3237. The two locomotives emerged from Harden Station in full steam, clouds of white enveloping the mighty beasts. It was to be the first sighting of the weekend, and it was to leave a very lasting impression.

After a quick pause, the consist, (consisting from front-to-back of 5917, 3237, 4701, 4716, EAM, FHG, ABS, SWT, FS, FS, RBS, FS, FS) set back into the station before roaring out again, past a small, cold group of enthusiasts. The smoke and steam was still lingering heavily in the air, as everyone piled back into their cars (or onto their motorbike) and were off to their next photospot. The weekend had begun.

Destination: Cootamundra

Upon arrival at Cootamundra, the train was shunted, with the 47 class locomotives shunting the crew car (the EAM sleeping car), the power van (FHG, pictured left, used to power the dining car) and the dining car (the ABS) onto the siding/dock platform to the south of the station.

Volunteers of the LVR were mingling with the huge crowd that had turned out to see the spectacle, visible only by their bright orange vests (lest they be swallowed by the enthusiastic crowd on the platform). Tickets were being sold in the tourist information centre, and people were eagerly crowding onto the train to get a good seat from which to view the action. Young and old alike, along with a number of furry friends shared in the experience.

It was here that our group ran into close friend and fellow enthusiast, Maikha Ly, who is the name behind such productions as Valve Gear Media and The Intercity Platform. A talented photographer, Maikha was foregoing the traditional “train chase” this weekend to pitch in and volunteer on the train.

In actual fact, Maikha was one of the reasons I was there to begin with, not only because he made me aware of the weekends events well in advance, but also because he is the one responsible for encouraging the social aspect of the hobby in many new enthusiasts.

At any rate, it was soon time to hit the road again, to catch the 59 and 32 steaming their way north towards Harden on the first shuttle of the day. We bit Maikha farewell, promising to wave when the train went past us each time.

Give Way at Cullinga

One advantage to getting out of the city is unprotected crossings – these allow you to position yourself between the railway line and the road without being dangerously located right next to a major highway! In this case, our group had our tripods set up on a small dirt road which crossed the line between Cootamundra and Jindalee. With word from Maikha that the train would shortly be leaving Cootamundra, it was a matter of minutes, not hours, for the shot.

Which is why we were very surprised to see, not a steam loco, but an NR Class approaching from the south. We’d already seen a southbound PN superfreighter, and it seemed we couldn’t go without seeing another one, as NR’s 78 and 86 crawled north past our location with a PS (Perth-Sydney) superfreighter. Having come off the triangle at Cootamundra West, this train carried the typical SP loading of containers of all kinds, in addition to a handful of louvre vans for Saddliers. Obviously, the heritage train had been kept in Cootamundra just long enough for this freighter to sneak through ahead (which made sense, as the P and the 59 would be running tender first, and thus limited to a top speed of 40km/h)

Soon enough, the P Class lead the charge north, working hard on the grade up to Jindalee and Morrisons Hill. At this stage, the 59 was struggling to put in the hard yards, and as such, 4701 was assisting. With the steam locos running tender first, there was no rush whatsoever to get to our next photospot, just north of Wallendbeen.

Next Stop, Wallendbeen

With plenty of time to get to Wallendbeen, it was at a leisurely pace that we wandered up the highway to our next photospot – a hill overlooking Wallendbeen Station. Immediately on arrival, we watched another two NR Class drifting through with a short steel train from Port Kembla. Shortly after this, NR’s 78 and 86 reappeared with their Sydney bound freighter. This came as a huge surprise to us, as we assumed they would be long gone at this stage! An opportunity not to be taken lightly, the duo were shot working north past Wallendbeen Station.

As expected, the steam special could be heard for many minutes before it could be sighted, initially by the rising cloud of smoke, and then the locos themselves. Again, the 32 could be seen working hard, with the 59 steaming patiently behind it’s older cousin.

Not Just Hackspots…

After the special had gone through, our next photospot would be a viaduct just outside Murrumburrah Station – it looked good on Google Earth, and we were not to be disappointed!

Often, the best shots of a train, and indeed a heritage train especially, incorporate the world that surrounds and encompasses the train – a shot of just a train does little in the way of storytelling, and does nothing to communicate to the viewer exactly how picturesque this great brown land really is.

This would be one of my favorite locations visited over the weekend, and holds a lot of potential for further visits – a combination of a great stone viaduct built in an age and style long forgotten, and a train of wood and steel, smoke and fume – itself from a period of history that largely only exists in our memories.

To be continued…

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