Roster 163D began with Sunday OR followed by 0635 on for the 0700 Conversion Pilot. We had Y120 to work the job but, unfortunately, I can’t recall what this Pilot actually did or where in Melbourne it shunted. It didn’t shunt the Bogie Exchange, as that Pilot was labelled appropriately, so why it was called Conversion will have to remain a puzzle for now. One thing Brian did for the first time in our working together was let me drive, from around 0850 until 1100. We finished around 1500 and signed off at 1525.
On Tuesday we started at 0715 to make our way to Spencer St to relieve the crew of the up ‘Vinelander’ at 0755. The roster would have had us run one of the transfers of briquettes from Caulfield, or another station like Oakleigh, through to the Maribyrnong terminal but this had been cancelled or allocated to another crew. We waited for the pass to arrive, which when it did was hauled by X39. We returned the old X class to Dynon, once it was released from the train. We walked back into the depot at 0855 where we went onto standby. Manpower called us out again at 0950 and tasked us with a job that was not on the roster and never would be. Taking T411 we headed light to Werribee to assist in rerailing a Guards van that was in the dirt. There was a lot more to getting this van back on the rails than appeared at first glance as it took nearly two hours. The decimation of the VR’s breakdown cranes meant the breakdown crews had a lot harder job to get things back onto the rails, relying on a loco or two plus lots of packing and hard work. Eventually we were able to make our way back to Dynon where we left 411 at the Fuel Point at 1315 and signed off at 1330.
Wednesday was an 0640 start for the 0700 Diesel Maintenance Shops. This was not our rostered job but we were taken off whatever this job was before the roster was written up. I’ve commented that this was run by ‘grounded’ drivers but that would only seem to apply to the weekend shifts, as it may have been picked up in previous posts that I had done this with drivers who I had worked with for most of a week. There wasn’t much activity in or out of the shops this day as the only loco we shifted was Y152. So, on signing off at 1445 we left the depot having done almost as little as a full shift on standby, effectively the only difference being we spent it somewhere other than the meal room.
On Thursday, we started at 0625 to run the replacement locos for the ‘Apex’ from the depot out to Westall. Departing the depot at 0715 we had B74 with T385 trailing. At Westall we coupled to the empty rake of wagons and drew it out of the siding, ran around and prepared to begin the journey back to Kilmore East. Working from the T we were cleared out of the loop road at 0900. The likelihood that we had the T switched off-line is quite high as 74 would have had power in hand to move both train and push the T as well. We weren’t a high priority in the eyes of Train Control as we didn’t draw to a halt at one of North Melbourne’s platforms until around 1200. Relieved by the crew who were going to load the train we made it back to Dynon at 1215, to finish the shift on standby, signing off at 1425.
Friday was an 0700 shift in Spencer St Pass Yard, signing on at 0635. Y146 was used for the shift until close to 1500, which is when we were signed off.
Saturday was rostered for 0635 to run the 0700 Centre Yard but we were booked off instead.
164N was supposed to begin with a Seymour goods, which had been cancelled before we signed on, to be replaced by 1800 standby. Manpower called us out at 1920 to send us to Newport to relieve a Bendigo bound goods. Travelling by spark to Newport we gate crashed the signal box to wait for our train. It pulled up behind the signalbox and we relieved the crew. Taking over control of B68 we had T’s 367, 376 and 380 tied up behind providing a boost in power. We got the train moving again at 2015, heading for Brooklyn and Sunshine.
Something that I haven’t described is a hand exchange of the Electric Staff. To achieve a successful exchange, by hand of the Miniature Electric Staff, the VR provided a hand exchange cane which was a length of bamboo, or something similar, that was doubled over and the gap closed with a strip of leather with two short leather buckles for holding the staff. The loop so formed was roughly 80cm long and about 40cm wide.
To do an exchange you went out onto the footplate, after
pressing the VC to ensure it didn’t go off while you were otherwise busy, behind the driver on a hood loco long end leading, with the staff in the cane and found your balance; generally, reasonably spread feet was sufficient. After working on locos for some time you developed an ability to stand comfortably in most situations and I can generally still balance on a moving train reasonably easily, even now. Almost all hood locos had chains that could be clipped across the gap between the loco’s body and handrail, to reduce the chance of falling or being knocked off, but I can’t say I ever saw anyone use them. Bulldog nosed locos meant you opened the window of the driver’s door and leant out as far as was reasonable. This was a little more awkward as those windows weren’t large and did limit movement to a large degree; which is probably why most drivers took care of the staff exchange themselves on one of these locos. Being seated with a slightly larger window made it that much easier to achieve.
To actually do an exchange the left arm was extended out from the loco with the forearm extended forwards and a clenched fist, to protect the fingers. It could be described as a forward facing L but not perfectly horizontal; this arm lowered 10 to 20 cm below horizontal. The right arm, with the cane held firmly by the leather section, but not with a death grip, was then held out across the body so it was above the left arm. The signalman took up the same stance, just with arms reversed, facing the train, with both people only focused on getting their fist though the opening in the cane to be picked up. As the old cane hit the upper arm of the signalman above the elbow you’d feel the pressure and let it get pulled out of your hand, and he’d do the same. Describing it is almost harder than actually doing it; I certainly never had a missed exchange by hand and as long as the driver was controlling the trains speed the incoming cane would whack you on the shoulder blades but not hard enough to complain about. Once you had the new staff you re-entered the cab and read out aloud the names of the two stations engraved on one end, to ensure you had the authority to continue into the next section.
If the exchange was on your side you just opened the window(s) as much as necessary and leant out. In this case the arms were reversed; i.e. left holding the staff and right for the pickup.
Most stations using the Electric staff had a raised platform to enable the signalman to be high enough to do these moving exchanges. A station platform was suitable but places like Brooklyn that did not have any needed purpose built ones for both East and West lines. If, for some reason, the signalman was standing at ground level then the train had to be stopped for the exchange and you would have to climb down to meet him to do the exchange; it was a little too far to just lean down.
A Large Electric Staff exchange was similar except that there was no holder for these. They were nearly a metre long so a pouch would be have been huge if provided. To exchange one of these was basically the same as a Miniature Electric Staff, except that the fist was now an open hand with your thumb extended away from the fingers so you could close the hand into a grasping fist as you felt the new staff hit your palm. Again, you focused on the staff you were collecting and left the signalman to do the same for the one you were holding. The Large staff was only used from Newport to Brooklyn then Sunshine and/or Tottenham and along the Korumburra line from Dandenong. There may have been one or two other locations around Melbourne that also used it but I can’t think of any, if there were. The electrified suburban area used Miniature Staff to make it easier on the spark drivers. I wouldn’t want to be driving a spark and having to handle and store a Large Electric Staff.
Clear of the Electric Staff sections to Sunshine we headed on up the double line towards Bendigo. We eventually passed through Elphinstone tunnel and had the distant against us at Castlemaine where we stopped in the down platform at 2240. Our changeover was on its way towards us so we waited for it to pull up alongside the B. We descended from the B to climb the steps onto X53, which had T321 in support. We drew forward to allow the guards to change and then began the climb back up to the tunnel at 2300. This was bound for the Arrivals Yard where we tied it up around 0300 and returned the locos to Dynon to sign off at 0330 for a nine and a half hour shift.
On Tuesday I started at 1900 with Driver S Kerwin. Together we made our way to Newport where, once again for me, we waited for the same Bendigo goods as Monday. The load was considerably smaller tonight as when it pulled up behind the ‘box it had a lone T class in no. 329 up front. We got the train underway at 2015 again but with far less horsepower we struggled up the grades, especially compared to the previous night. We were stopped at Kyneton to meet our changeover at 2345. S302 rolled into Kyneton around 0000 and we changed trains with the Bendigo crew to get the up goods moving again at 0005. Tonight we were headed for Geelong, instead of the Melbourne Arrivals Yard, so retraced our path back to Newport where we drew to a halt to 0210 to hand the train over to another crew and then climbed into the waiting taxi which returned us to the depot where we signed off at 0240.
In what was becoming a bit repetitive, at least for me, I signed on at 1900 on Wednesday to run the 2015 train from Newport towards Bendigo! I probably would have preferred the Korrumburra that was written on the roster as the train I ought to have been working. So, for the third night in a row we travelled to Newport by spark to wait for and relieve the crew that had brought the goods from Geelong. Once again, it was hauled by a solo T class, but at least tonight’s loco was a roomier, chop nose, T403. The load must have been more than Tuesdays, though, as we took a lot longer to climb the grades as we only made it to Woodend before we were stopped to meet the up goods that was our changeover, the 2016 (time, not year) from Bendigo. It rolled to a halt next to us and we changed locos before getting X39 moving south again at 0130. We were headed back to Newport where we were relieved at 0335 to taxi back to the depot again for an 0410 sign off. The difference between heading to Newport and into Melbourne via the independent goods lines and Bunbury Street tunnel to the Arrivals Yard is evident in the comparison between the three nights: roughly four hours from Castlemaine to the Arrivals Yard verses two hours ten from Kyneton to Newport and two hours five from Woodend to Newport.
Thursday, I signed on at 1845. I haven’t made any note about standby but there must have been some time in the meal room as the train I finally ran was the 2125 Geelong pass, a change of scenery to the Bendigo line. No pass required nearly three hours to prepare for, not even the important ones like the ‘Aurora’ or ‘Overland’. B82 provided the power and succeeded in drawing to a halt at Geelong platform at 2240. We took the loco to Geelong depot and, after a meal break, exchanged it for B80 to run the 2325 goods back to Melbourne. The train was left in the Arrivals Yard and the B was left at the Fuel Point at 0200 with sign off at 0215.
In a near repeat of Thursday, although I signed on at 1725, I didn’t get to run a train until nearly three hours later. The rostered job was to take out the locos for a Serviceton ‘Jet’ and then relieve the PB Pilot. Both jobs would have been necessary but for some reason other crews did them, possibly because they had a number of hours under their belt already and a fresh crew was more use to Manpower on standby. In the end we relieved the 1620 up pass from Geelong which was hauled by T365 and with this loco we formed the 2005 down Geelong pass. Comparing the times B82 achieved the previous shift with tonight the B had fewer station stops since the T finally pulled into Geelong at 2146. With the T back at Geelong loco we were given another one, no. 322 this time, to run the 2300 up goods back to Melbourne. We had a slightly slower run than Thursday, although whether that was the lower power available in the form of the T or traffic ahead of us I can’t recall. We didn’t get 322 over the pit until close to 0220 with sign off at 0235.
Saturday was rostered off.