The impact of the railways on the daily life of the Molesworth community must have been substantial. The daily delivery of bread from Yea was an important service and Harold Anderson spoke of the excitement in the early part of this century as they waited at the station for the newspapers to arrive with the results of the Caulfield and Melbourne Cups run the day before.
The first locomotives were Amaerican style W or S class steam engines built in the early 1880’s with a track speed of 60 mph although the first train to Merton averaged a mere 27 mph. It took two and a half hours to go from Tallarook to Cathkin. In the early 1900’s passenger trains only were hauled by the D class engines. All goods trains were powered by the D class engines until replaced by the K class (K150 and K152 were based at Yea) which in turn were replaced by the new J class locomotives in 1953. From the 25.10.65 the line relied on diesel powered T and Y class locos. In Octover 1945 the double ended 80 hp Leyland railmotors took over the passenger service at about the same time as passenger trains to Alexandra were terminated. The 153hp Walker railmotors were in use from June 1949 until 1951 when they were replaced by the faster 280hp Walker diesel railcar (accommodating 94) until the cessation of passenger services on the 28.5.1977. Goods trains continued until November 1978.
The service to Molesworth began with two return trips daily to Tallarook. After the line was extended to Alexandra in June 19890 there were two mixed trains (passenger and goods) each weekday. The engine was based at Cathkin and sent to yea to be serviced every Sunday. By 1934 five mixed trains a week passed through Molesworth.
During the first 50 years special trains were a feature of the line. Farmer excursion trains were popular, often carrying over 200 passengers. during World War 1 the Lighthorsemen were farewelled on their way to war and in the late 1920’s the ‘Better Farming Trains’ came to the district with up to 18 cars and trucks and with a wide range of exhibits. Trains were also used extensively for school picnics and outings.
Whilst derailments were not uncommon there were very few major accidents. The most serious occurred on the 15.9.1911 at Harvey’s bridge when the third truck left the line and was followed by several others. An old Hobson’s Bay carriage crashed into the creek with 17 passengers of whom 16 were injured. It was fortunate that the heavy undercarriage became detached from the carriage and this saved the passengers from being crushed to death. The line from Harvey’s bridge to Sheepwash Lagon was known as ‘Suicide Bend’ and is referred to in several of James Dunn’s poems. It was necessary to to considerably strengthen this section because of the sharpness of the curve and the speed at which the trains approached it.
The railway personnel were often drawn from the local communities and others who settled in the district were quickly absorbed into the community. The remarkable James (Jim) Dunn, whose family were early settlers in the Cathkin area, joined the railways as a porter and was Assistant Station Master at Cathkin from 1939 until 1972 when his day would begin at 4.30 am. Although he was invited to apply for positions at larger stations he refused to leave Cathkin. He had a fund of stories with which he could keep friends entertained for hours on end. Like the coachmen before them, many of the drivers, firemen, gangers and station staff became legends. The post office was located at the railway station for many years and various railway employees acted as postmaster or their wives as postmistress.
Many Gangers were based at Molesworth in the 1940’s and included Jack Renkin, Pat Mahoney and later John Williamson. Engine drivers who operated through Molesworth at the turn of the century were William Fisk, John Moore, and John Redmond. Later drivers included Bill Morrish, Norm Hetherton, Laurie Cosgrove, Jim McDonald, Tom O’Brien, Jack Bennett and Bill Skey who drove the last steam train through Molesworth from Mansfield. Amongst the firemen were Bert Moore, Alex (Sandy) McLeish, Ted Allen, and Charlie Robertson. The mateship of the crews was illustrated by the willingness of many drivers to share the hard work of stoking the furnace as their firemen became older and slower. The closeness of the service to the Molesworth community was illustrated by the willingness of the drivers to let passengers off at unscheduled but convenient locations. Jean McAlpin referred to the times that she returned home from school and the train would stop to allow her to walk across the paddock to her home near Pig and Whistle Lane. Others spoke of waving the train down at the crossing.
The life of a gener was not an easy one and fraught with danger as they depended on adequate warnings of approaching trains. In November 1900 James Luff was overtaken by a train and despite jumping clear of the trolley, he was seriously injured when a part of it crashed into him. both Harry Docking and John Williamson referred to the essential ability and agility to leap off a railway trolley whilst it was travelling and land on the side of the track already running. It is amazing that there were no fatalities.
In the mid 1940’s many of the old wooden railway bridges were replaced with concrete constructions. the workmen were housed in temporary accommodation at the Molesworth Railway Station and for some time it was a hive of activity. Unfortunately one of the workmen was killed when he was trapped during shunting operations. In the mid 1950’s a gang of Italian workers was also based at the railway station and joined in the community activities.
The closure of the railway line in 1979 brought to an end one of the most significant facets of life in Molesworth. It had provided a wonderful service for the community and its passing was regretted by many. However the poetry of Jim Dunn will always enable us to capture the romance and significance of this era.
This extract was from ‘Molesworth 1824 – 1994′ by G.P & M.E Jones (pages 53 – 55)