Drivers steering steam locomotive refurbishment

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STEAM LOCO: Germany at the Botanic Gardens. The train will undergo extensive refurbishment as part of its 10 year major maintenance work.
A steam locomotive built 105 years ago in Germany will undergo extensive refurbishment as part of its 10-year major maintenance work.

A steam locomotive which was built in Germany in 1914 will undergo its 10-yearly refurbishment by Australian Sugar Cane Railway in Bundaberg.

The group, situated in the Botanic Gardens, brings joy to visitors through their weekly steam and diesel train rides.

Founding member Ross Driver and his wife Wendy are part of the team working on the refurbishment of their steam loco, aptly named “Germany”.

“This is the big red steam locomotive that everyone loves,” Ross said.

“It was the Millaquin Sugar Mill's first ever locomotive.

“It came out to Bundaberg by boat during the war. The plates were thrown overboard because they knew if the Australian Government saw that it was German, they would impound it.

STEAM LOCO: Germany- by Orenstein & Koppel, built in 1914
STEAM LOCO: Germany- by Orenstein & Koppel, built in 1914

“It was built by Orenstein and Koppel and the company is still operating today.”

Wendy said restoration to Germany would include sandblasting and new paint as part of its scheduled maintenance which was expected to take a few months.

“Every 10 years the locos are taken down and checked out for a major inspection and refurbishment,” she said.

“Every Monday and Thursday we do restoration and track maintenance and we have about 20 people that come to work.

“They are either retired rail workers or mill workers from the district.”

History of Australian Sugar Cane Railway

Ross Driver, a steam loco driver by trade, was a founding member the group 40 years ago after he realised the quick decline of the mode of transportation.

“There were a few of us loco drivers who had a passion,” he said.

“When the steam trains finished up near the 1980s, a group of us got together to create this group.

“We wanted to keep it going for the history and so the people of tomorrow could continue to learn about steam locomotives.”

The Australian Sugar Cane Railway organisation was born in 1978.

Tracks were laid at the Botanic Gardens in 1985 and the group started operations in 1988.

“Since then we have carried over 600,000 passengers,” Ross said.

“We started with a one kilometre track until 2015 when it was upgraded to 2.5 kilometres.

“It now goes through the shed and the passengers get to see all the restoration work while on the ride.”

Ross said the passion for steam locomotives didn’t just stop with him, with his wife Wendy just as involved in the organisation.

“I introduced Wendy to it,” he said.

“One day, when we were much younger, she came on the steam locomotive with me after her work at the bank.”

Wendy said she didn’t want to stay at home waiting up for Ross and his shifts to end, so she decided to join him.

“I was the second woman in Queensland to get my steam ticket,” she said proudly.

Steam and diesel loco holiday fun

While restoration is currently under way to Germany, Ross and Wendy said steam and diesel train rides would still be available during the school holidays.

“The Society actually have two other steam trains and one diesel in operation,” Wendy said.

“It runs the steam loco every Sunday and Wednesday and the diesel every Tuesday and Friday during the holidays.”

HOLIDAY FUN: Therese makes sure all passengers are ready to ride.
HOLIDAY FUN: Therese makes sure all passengers are ready to ride.

Ross said the group had been running train rides for many years and was a favourite activities for residents and tourists alike.

“When we take the passengers past the Botanic Gardens they are always amazed,” he said.

“The train rides showcase every aspect of the gardens.

“We also have disability ramps so everyone can have a go. I remember one person, who was in a wheelchair, once said to me they would never have been able to see the whole gardens if it wasn't for the train.

“That makes you feel really good.”

Steam locomotives a special vehicle

Ross and Wendy said even after almost forty years with the Australian Sugar Cane Railway, the job never got old and steam locomotives would always remain their passion.

“They are few and far between now,” Wendy said.

“It still amazes me the way they work- how you are making something go with heat and water, it's fascinating.”

Ross said steam locomotives almost had a life-like presence about them.

“When you open the cylinder drains and see that vapour coming out– it makes the noise that sounds like someone is breathing,” he said.

“When it is in the shed it is just a heap of metal but as soon you get it going, it truly comes alive.

“There is something magical about it.”

Find out more about the Australian Sugar Cane Railway here.

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