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IT WAS the 1890s when steam trains injected new life into the area we now know as the Sunshine Coast.
The North Coast Line provided much-needed faster transport links to and from Brisbane at a time when roads were of poor condition.
Transportation to the region was either by sea or along the main track, the Gympie Road, to the goldfields. That journey could take days by coach, cart or on horseback.
In preparation for the arrival of the steam train service, the North Coast Line was surveyed in sections during the 1880s.
Railway workers employed to build the last section of line over the range between Eumundi and Cooroy, ca 1890.Picture Sunshine Coast
The men who built the railway line used picks, shovels, cross-cut saws and horse-drawn ploughs, while explosives were used to blast through rock and to make tunnels.
The Queensland Railway paid the timber-getters by the foot for timbers and inspectors checked bridge girders for wood grain and straightness.
The timber-cutters had to choose the right trees for sleepers and bridges or they would not pass and would receive no payment.
A variety of men built the railway, including settlers, timber-getters and teamsters who earned money to develop their own properties.
Tough British Navies, who had gained experience in their mother country, also worked making railway tracks.
A bullock team with a load of produce at Woombye Railway Station in 1920.Picture Sunshine Coast
Mellum Creek, later called Landsborough, got its first police station when about 500 railway workers arrived to build the line in about 1888.
The men worked hard in extreme conditions, camping alongside the rail as it progressed further north. The line was built in sections - section one from Brisbane to Caboolture and section two from Caboolture to Landsborough.
The line continued on in stages to eventually link up northern areas.
Major rail bridges were built over the Mooloolah River, Eudlo and Petrie creeks and also the South Maroochy River near Yandina.
The Dularcha railway tunnel is one of only two tunnels built along the old North Coast Line between Brisbane and Gympie. It was constructed just south of the Mooloolah township and opened in 1891.
Dennis family members pictured in front of the Landsborough to Mooloolah Dularcha railway tunnel, ca 1940.Picture Sunshine Coast
Building the tunnel was very labour-intensive work undertaken by TJ Jessor and Co. whose workers built the concrete-lined tunnel using basic machinery and horses to help with carrying heavy loads.
Known as North Coast Line No.1, the original tunnel was bored for opening of the section on January 1, 1891.
North Coast Line No.1 was replaced in 1931 when a deviation was built, which included a replacement tunnel, using labourers from the Great Depression Relief Scheme.
The original tunnel was never demolished and is now heritage listed and is part of a walking track enjoyed by many in the Dularcha National Park.
In local towns and sidings on the North Coast Line, the railway station was an important structure where people gathered to hear the latest news, pick up their mail, drop off their produce and wait for transportation.
Train travellers were able to reach Brisbane by locomotive in a matter of hours.
A northboundd steam loco crosses the rail bridge over Petrie Creek in Nambour, ca 1915.Picture Sunshine Coast
Along with Queensland Railways station staff, they gathered on the platforms close to the hulking great steam engines as they built up steam for their journey.
The lonely whistle of the train alerted those in earshot that the train was on its way. Gatekeeper employed by Queensland Railways closed the railway gates so the train could proceed with preference.
The horse and buggy and the bullocky with his bullock team had to wait at the gates as the mighty steam engine locomotives came chuffing through.
Water for steam was pumped directly from many clean waterways in the district, including the Maroochy and Mooloolah rivers.
Palmwoods lagoon was described on early survey maps as a permanent waterhole within a reserve for camping and railway purposes.
It was regarded as a pure water source for steam trains on their scheduled water stops at the Palmwoods Station and during World War Two that water supply point was used for up to 50,000 troops stationed in that region.
Yandina Railway Station, ca 1927. The railway line from Landsborough to Yandina was declared open on January 1, 1891.Picture Sunshine Coast
The main steam trains used were Class 16 and Class 17, introduced in the 1920s.
Steam trains were efficient in their era however one disadvantage was that they needed to stop about every 100km to take on water and have their ash box cleaned.
The old steam trains were efficient in their era and they could pull up to about 400 tons, at times using two engines.
When diesel was introduced in the late 1950s and early 1960s, the days of the steam train slowly declined.
In terms of efficiency, diesel was more cost efficient but many still miss the rumble and roar of steam engines as they steamed into the station.
Who could forget the soot and smoke if you put your head out the window to take a look as the train rumbled along around the curves on those old rail lines of the Near North Coast?
The steam train engines were withdrawn from service with Queensland Rail after diesel engines were introduced in 1969.
Happy Valley Class 17 steam locomotive used as play structure, Caloundra ca 1971.Picture Sunshine Coast
An early memory for many long-term locals was the decommissioned Class 17 steam train locomotive, Number 967.
It was moved to Happy Valley, near Bulcock Beach, as a piece of playground equipment sometime after 1969, assisted by Caloundra Rotary Club members who gave it a coat of paint.
The engine was built in 1950 by Walkers & Sons Ltd of Maryborough and began operation with Queensland Railways that same year.
The train engine was a popular play structure in the Happy Valley camping area unti it was removed in 1985 after it was bought by the Ghan Preservation Society in Alice Springs.
The locomotive was purchased by Beaudesert Rail in 2000, restored and returned to service in early 2003, for use on Beaudesert-Logan Village tourist trains.
On August 22, 2007, the Mary Valley Heritage Railway bought the locomotive and returned it to service on the scenic Mary Valley Heritage Railway as one of the "Rattlers”.
Hopefully Number 967 will soon be on the move again in the Mary Valley.
This article first appeared on www.sunshinecoastdaily.com.au
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