Bessie Webb with the restored steam engine ?Betty?, at the Glenreagh Mountain Railway.
Bessie Webb with the restored steam engine ?Betty?, at the Glenreagh Mountain Railway.

Link to rail?s glory days

By EMMA CORNFORD

AS the massive black number 1919 engine 'Betty' waits at the Glenreagh Mountain Railway (GMR) platform, steam billows out of the engine.

Men in blue overalls wipe grease from their hands.

"Righto, all aboard," bellows Bronco, the station master. After three shrill whistles, Betty is on her way past paddocks, rails rumbling under the carriage. There's a slight wobble as she builds up speed; wind and small white embers whip by.

It's a sunny Saturday in 2006, but it could easily be the year 1924 when steam engines were introduced to the area, following the completion of the Dorrigo to Glenreagh line. Back then, the cargo was mainly timber ? and people.

Long-time Glenreagh resident Bessie Webb remembers those days well. During the 1930s her father, a timber cutter, owned a property that ran down to the railway line.

"I remember we got to ride the train to the Dorrigo show once ? that was a real red letter day for us. We went down to the line and my father put his hand up, and the train stopped. He said he could stop the train just by putting his hand up ? we thought it was just marvelous. I know now he'd talked to the driver and arranged it all earlier," says Mrs Webb, now a volunteer at GMR, who also vividly remembers getting ciders in her eyes.

"The gradient was so steep in these parts. I heard a story from an old chap from Nana Glen, who said that because of the gradient the trains would go so slow that a fellow used to get off, shoot a rabbit then run back and catch up with the train and jump back on."

The grand days of railway lasted until roads and trucks became the transporters of choice. In 1972 the GlenreaghDorrigo line was closed because of flood damage and fell into a state of disrepair.

From 1953 until 1958, Betty, a 19-class steam locomotive, was stationed at South Grafton, but spent most of her time at Glenreagh. Back then she was a familiar site on the Glenreagh-Dorrigo line as she pulled carriages packed with timber, sleepers and girders. Now she pulls families and tourists in a restored carriage.

In 1989, a group purchased Betty and established the GMR.

Today the carriage has been lovingly restored by volunteers. With its small booths, leather seats and quaint open windows, you can understand how Bessie and her siblings couldn't help but stick their heads out.

Historic photographs, small metal baggage racks and rich wooden details complete the feeling of being transported back to a day when rail travel was king.



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