Although defunct for 40 years, it seemed like this locomotive had never been off track. It thrust a plume of thick, grey smoke into the sky and gave three deafening toots, before smoothly moving away with 200 passengers on board.
This journey was part of the official launch of the restoration of Locomotive 3265, a 32 class steam engine commissioned in 1901. Last Sunday morning at Central Station, a large crowd gathered on Platform One to celebrate the completion of an eleven-year project undertaken by the Powerhouse Museum and a team of volunteers.
Jennifer Edmonds worked on the locomotive since the beginning of the project. She said the restoration came about because it was one of four 32 class locomotives left, which were popular trains in their 67 years on the network.
“They went everywhere, they hauled everything. Most people who rode behind a steam locomotive at some point rode behind one of these,” she said.
A significant factor in saving the locomotive was the machine’s aesthetic. It was painted maroon in the 1930s, carried Hunter name plates and ran a service up north.
“During their lives, they were prone to cracking in the frames, and out of the ones that still exist now, ours is the only one that still had its original low frame, so that makes it pretty unique,” Ms Edmonds said.
Ms Edmonds said reconstructing the locomotive involved taking apart “every nut, every bolt” and replacing worn-out parts.
“We’ve got a new boiler on it. We’ve got a new tender tank. The boiler’s been made with welding which is modern technique, but the tender tank we riveted by hand, which is a traditional technique,” she said.
“But we tried to marry the two together for a bit. The technology for this is one hundred years old. It’s very complicated.”
When the team didn’t have the parts, they had to manufacture it themselves. As the techniques for this technology are either unavailable or scarce, they had to combine history with imagination. This involved studying railway drawings, photos and second-hand knowledge, and then making decisions about the mechanics.
Ross Goodman, the Powerhouse Museum’s engineer and transport conservator, has been working with steam engines since 1984. He said that his knowledge was learnt through other tradesmen – a system he feels is stalling these days due to a lack of apprentices.
“Not a lot of kids want to learn this sort of work,” he said. “It’s very dirty, it’s very hot. It’s very long hours – and a big commitment.”
Minister for Tourism and for the Hunter, Jodi McKay, who launched Locomotive 3265 on Sunday, said it was a wonderful example of NSW rail heritage.
“It hauled the Newcastle Express there for a time…that’s why it’s called Hunter,” Ms McKay said. “These steam trains, they were part of the growth and the diversity of the economy back then. They were a very important part of our history; the growth and prosperity of NSW. So it’s certainly fantastic we have one of these preserved in this incredibly pristine manner.”
Loco 3265 will be based at the Rail Heritage Centre at Thirlmere, which will house Australia’s largest display of historical locomotives, carriages and rail memorabilia.
by Michelle Porter