A 100-year-old guard’s van, which is one of only two still in existence in Queensland, has been lovingly restored by passionate members of the Bundaberg Railway Historical Society.
Constructed of timber and brass the ornate carriage may no longer traverse the tracks but can still take its passengers on a trip down memory lane.
From paper-wrapped parcels to vintage uniforms, stepping aboard the restored DAV 993 – or Davidson A class Van – is akin to stepping back in time.
Bundaberg Railway Historical Society president Jim Morris said the restoration had been a labour of love for about half a dozen of its members.
“It’s our pride and joy to look after it because it's only one of two in existence in the Queensland Railway,” Jim said.
“It's made a great difference to us because it's such a popular tourist attraction for us.”
The society has been working overtime to complete the project this year in time for the carriage’s 100-year anniversary on 6 December 2021.
It was commissioned in Ipswich as a first-class sleeper carriage and has gone through two transformations to become what it is today, a guard’s van with passenger seating.
Jim said at the time, which would have been around 1981, the guard was in charge of the train and this particular carriage was “palatial”.
“The guard was in charge of the train as opposed to the driver, so he guarded the train, hence the name guard.
“His responsibility was to make sure everything was recorded when they arrive somewhere, when they left.
“He had the ability to make a cup of tea, the ability to – if the carriage was on its own – to shut it down with a hand brake.
“Communicating with the drivers at the front, he could use this valve here just by going clunk, clunk at the air pressure, and the driver would know ‘whoops, time to go’ if they couldn't see each other.
“They used to pay the men on the track cash every week, so that was part of their job.
“So they played an important role in the life of Queensland railway.”
The carriage was donated to the museum in 1989 through a chance meeting in Rockhampton.
In another twist of fate, the very same carriage had been used previously by the museum in the 1980s to ferry passengers between Bundaberg and Gin Gin.
Life members proud to restore guard's van
Bundaberg Railway Historical Society life members Eddie Wolff and Gary Fletcher are two of the members that, alongside Jim, have spent countless hours restoring the carriage.
Each of them also have a special connection to the railway but circumstances had prevented both from pursuing a career in the industry.
For Eddie, whose father was in the railway for 30 years, he was unable to take up a lad porter position at Roma Street because he had no family to stay with in Brisbane.
Instead, he completed his blacksmith apprenticeship in Bundaberg and worked with Bonels for 46 years.
“So when jobs come up here that need a tradesman, I'm the only tradesman in the group, so I cop everything,” Eddie laughed.
At 84 years of age he’s also the club’s oldest member but that didn’t slow him down in the restoration process.
“I did the clamps that hold the fence each end, like on the verandas, did the timber work on the verandas and steel work where the gas bottles go.
“There was a lot of rust in them – had to cut out and put new steel in – and various jobs inside here.
“I like to see the guard's van completed to its near original condition.”
Gary was destined to become a third-generation railway worker and follow his passion to drive locomotives, before his father told him he couldn’t work in a job that would involve so much shift work.
Instead, he became a teacher but his passion for rail never diminished.
“I've always had a longing for the railway station,” Gary said.
The opportunity to restore the historic guard’s van was a dream come true.
“I was very keen to get into it because I could see, like Eddie, getting it back to what it was when it came out of the Ipswich Railway workshops in 1921, a hundred years ago, and we did our bit to try and get it back to that sort of condition.”
He said they were not only preserving railway history but an important part of Queensland’s history as well.
“We're rapidly changing and there's the era, the kids today, just didn't experience what I experienced, and they don't know about how the railways virtually opened up the state.
“If it wasn't for the railways, a lot of the places would not have been opened up and developed like they were.
“And that part of the history is sort of being forgotten by today's generation.
“And of course, they won't have the thrill of travelling around on the back of a train anymore because the guard’s vans have been taken off the trains, they no longer exist.”
Both men have seen incredible development in the railway industry in their time.
“Well, I've started off with the steam locos and put your head out the window and you got soot in your eyes,” Gary said.
“It was painful and you soon learnt not to do it!
“And then you progress to the diesel haul trains. And now we've got the electric trains, and then we've got also the tilt trains.
“We've progressed from the maximum permissible speed of 80 kilometres an hour to 160 – double – in my era.”
The Bundaberg Railway Historical Society is eagerly applying some finishing touches to the carriage restoration and are excited to share the guard’s van with resident and visitors.
The Bundaberg Railway Historical Society museum is located at 28 Station Street, North Bundaberg.
The guard’s van, and the many other interesting items on display within the complex, can be viewed Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays between 9 am and 3 pm.
For more information head to the society’s Facebook page.