I have been quite looking forward to this weekend and the next couple as we were to have a rather rare and temperamental visitor grace the rail lines around the Sydney metropolitan area. Actually its been akin to the excitement one gets as a child waiting for a rather stern-looking maiden aunt to arrive; knowing that the future holds the promise of a disruption to routine and possible pandemonium.
Yes, I talk of the rather ambitious plans to bring a South Maitland Railways 10 class industrial tank engine over 100 miles to star in Eveleigh Railway Workshop's 2012 Open Day tomorrow and to lead two steam tours in March.
As I sit here tonight rumours abound on the wires that the two locomotives of this class trusted to run over 'government metals' presently have both failed and so won't be making the trip south from Maitland. SMR No. 10 was diagnosed with a mechanical ailment earlier this week which resulted in its younger sibling, No. 18, be nominated to the occasion. Sadly, it seems that a warm-up gallop this afternoon has brought No. 18 undone. Its intended consort, 4918, is allegedly returning to Sydney tonight without its companion.
So, I am left to review a fairly modest personal photographic collection of SMR tanks, taken over the last 40 years. We really didn't get to see these locos much in revenue service, as holidays in the Hunter were pretty much seen (understandably) like busman's holidays for people from the Illawarra.
The first time I recall seeing a SMR tank loco was in 1970, when a family holiday detoured to Maitland on a Sunday. Quite surprisingly, for a time when coal was priced equivalent to the ordinary rocks that it really is, several of the locos were on the move. The following line-up of Nos. 24, 23 and three brethren had the first two in steam.
It was probably another decade before the Senior Train Hunter and I ventured north again. This time we were off to exotic locations like Pangela and Ardglen to see equally exotic specimens like 44, 45 and 80 class locomotives (hey, it was the 70s!).
We stopped at Maitland for lunch, in the hope that the fast-curing devon sandwiches would attract steam locomotives. They certainly did their job, because No. 24 trundled into view shortly after we arrived that day.
I can remember being particularly taken by the brightness of the red lining and lettering. I guess I felt this way because hadn't yet lived through the fluoro 80s.
And, because it was the 1970s, if you couldn't find anything running all you did was wander (trespass) into the nearest loco depot, which we did once lunch was over. No. 24 had dropped its train in the yard and backed itself in next to its slightly older classmate, No. 23.
Well inside the shed there was a line-up of three classmates, which went to our when No. 24 squeezed into yet another picture. The three shown in the following photograph - 27, 24 and (I think) 20 - were standing next to No. 18. This last-named loco gained great fame and a certain notoriety in the late 1990s by shifting south to Port Kembla to operate the Cockatoo Run tourist train.
Here is No. 18 in its heyday, with an extended coal bunker, enhanced cab facilities and a polished countenance. It is standing at Unanderra in 1995, preparing to ascend the Illawarra escarpment on the outward journey.
So I might leave it there. Its now about time to wander off to bed to dream about stout tank engines going about their work.