Freelance writer Yvonne Cunningham shares this story about one of the 1950s era engines still hauling cane on Bundaberg Region tracks.
When you heap a teaspoon full of sugar into your coffee, tea or cereal, chances are the cane may have been hauled by train to one of the local mills.
With just a 13-week season to haul cane, engine drivers Greg Scott and Michael Hand had to be ready for a five-day shift from 10am to 6.30pm.
During their working hours these men power up the little yellow cane train ‘Burnett” for the daily toil.
“She used to be called 47, but at some point she was renamed Burnett,” said Greg.
“They’ve all got names now, usually after a district,” added Michael.
One of them said that when it’s “going great guns, it’s a male, but when it breaks down, it’s a female”.
But whatever gender is applied to Burnett, it gets locked up at night in its own little fenced-off compound.
Burnett is a 606 diesel engined train, meaning it has six wheels. Commissioned in about 1958 at the Bundaberg foundry, the little yellow engine is still working hard after 62 years.
“Before deregulation, we would take 600-650 bins a day, 24/7,” the men agreed.
Now it is significantly less. An average load now can be around 45 bins or six tonnes of sugar cane.
Greg has been hauling cane for 40 years and Michael for 20 years. They both love the job and enjoy being on the country tracks with the birds and bees, over the bridges and past paddocks growing everything from sweet potatoes to watermelons.
“It’s a special job. There’s no radio, no phone, and you wouldn’t hear them anyway,” said Greg.
Michael added: “There’s just three speeds, stop, slow and hang on.”
Health and safety is paramount and the men have an excellent record on their lines.
With the season over for now, these hardy engineers have time to put their feet up and be ready and rested for the next year of hauling cane.
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