Friday, 19 May 2017

Bringing back the Bulldog


It seems that unmistakable EMD Bulldog nose has reared it's head once more in Philden Yard. More than a year since a 421 class locomotive was last seen at Philden, the classy curves of a Clyde Engineering built AJ16C General Motors Electro-Motive diesel have emerged from the shadows of the overpass to work the cement plant once more.

After spotting loaded cement hoppers the night before, 42109 returns the next day to collect the empties.

Unlike its predecessor 42101 who was last seen working Philden still wearing it's NSW State Rail Authority candy livery, 42109 has been deployed by private operator Interail on hook-and-pull duties to work the cement plant, and arrived recently overhauled, looking clean and sporting the rainbow colours of predecessor Northern Rivers Railroad.

The 421's are a classy looking loco. Retaining the American Bulldog nose at the no. 1 end, they had a second cab compartment added to the flat no. 2 end that made them one of the most unique examples of their type in the world. There were only 10 built in 1965-66 and by 1986-87 all had been withdrawn from government service. Four were later purchased by the Northern Rivers Railroad group who restored them and returned the locos to service in 1997, working cement and flyash trains between Grafton and Murwillumbah. By 1999, NRR were using the locomotives on the Ritz Rail tourist train between Casino and Murwillumbah. The party only lasted to March 2002, when the Ritz Rail train was discontinued and the Northern Rivers Railroad was purchased by Queensland Rail and renamed Interail. All four 421 class locos were included in the sale and were later used on infrastructure work on the NSW north coast, coal haulage in the northern Hunter Valley and container trains between Casino and Acacia Ridge Yard in Brisbane.

And viewed from the other side of the layout, the Bulldog returns through the mouse-hole with another loaded cement train.

Despite not even being born at the time the 421 Class locos were introduced into service on the N.S.W.G.R. there are a lot of stories I can tell of the surviving class members' second life wearing rainbow colours. Such as the 7 years I worked for Woolworths Distribution, driving a forklift in their distribution centre alongside Acacia Ridge rail yard in Brisbane. Often a Friday night I'd be assigned to work the pallet yard which just so happened to be hard up against the fence of the railway siding. In between loading trucks and sorting pallets, I'd always leave a gap so that I had a clear view of the 2 sidings that ended hard against the fence. At some point after 6 pm on a Friday night when they were done shunting for the week, a pair of 421's would always end up parked at the end of the siding, their round noses glistening in the light of the distribution centre truck bays. It became my Friday night train fix before the weekend.

42109 poses on my desk alongside a photo of her in my book working a ballast train in the summer of 2003/2004.

Another story was from over the summer of 2003/2004, when I set off with my young family on a day's adventure through the Brisbane Border Ranges, driving the Lions Road while following the NSW North Coast Line from the back of Beaudesert to Kyogle. After waiting at the top of the Cougal Spiral to photograph a train, the batteries on the camera died and I couldn't buy anymore until we reached Kyogle. Deciding to drive south to Casino and cut across to Byron Bay to stay the night before heading back to Brisbane the next day, my wife Denise became excited for me when we passed a slow train on the highway near Nammoona. Pulling off to the side of the road in a hurry at a level crossing that was only a short distance in front of us, I jumped out with my camera ready and the sound of crossing bells chiming in my ears only to discover the train had stopped and was now travelling backwards away from us. The bells stopped chiming, the traffic continued across the railway line once more and I remember returning to the car shaking my head and saying, "of all the luck." Just as I started the car to continue on our way, the crossing lights sprang to life and the distant rumble of two diesels filled the air once more. I jumped from the car again and this time snapped 42109 with a 422 class diesel tucked in behind as they struggled up the crest of a grade with a loaded ballast train. My guess is the train stalled on the hill leading up to the road crossing and needed a bigger run-up. For a weekend of chasing trains, it was the only photo I returned home with!

It was stories such as these that prompted me to put together my photographic memoir titled 30 Years Chasing Trains, but funnily enough the memories of that train chasing mis-adventure with my young family, (back before my kids grew up and moved out of home), made adding 42109 to my small layout all that more special.

I had to go out and buy my new Auscision model before the 2017 Brisbane Model Train Show weekend to operate as a partner-in-crime with my Pacific National 82 Class loco. The model performed faultlessly over the entire weekend and is easily the nicest locomotive I've owned to date. Bringing the Bulldog back to Philden has been a special moment for me. Just like the first CountryLink Xplorer I owned was sold, and later came back in the original phase I CountryLink livery, the original candy liveried 421 that I also sold over a year ago has now come back in another form, this time in the much more era-appropriate Interail livery that perfectly positions it in the 2002-2005 era I find myself modelling on Philden.

Through a lot of trial and error, I am now happy enough with the roster I have built for my small layout, and will hopefully look at adding just one more locomotive to Philden in the coming year. I think a sound equipped loco capable of operating on DC mode will be the order of the day, and nothing that doesn't belong between 2002-2005. I had a close look at Southern Rail Models' West Australian L class while at the Brisbane Model Train Show, and one of those would look terrific working back and forth in the Interail livery which it wore from 2003, whereas the L's didn't dress-up in Pacific National colours until 2006, after they were purchased from ATN. They had a great offer on the ATN Access sound-equipped locos over the weekend, but as they only pulled grain trains and there's no room for wheat silos on Philden, it was a well-educated pass. Besides, my wife really likes the Interail livery.

So for now I'm going to let it all be a bit of wishful thinking for later this year, and simply enjoy having the Bulldog back. I'll also be following with interest SDS Model's 81 class refresh of the former Austrains model, only this time with sound, after ruling out the Auscision Models 442 class as the only paint schemes on offer for the mid 2000's was the R&H Transport (again, only seen on container trains) and the unique CFCLA livery (which didn't really see much service on anything before being donated to the GL rebuild program). With wet weather the forecast for the weekend, I'm going to weather up my NCTY steel wagons and the NLJX louvered van.

See also; The ALMOST Mail Train and Review; Auscision Models' 421 Class

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Thanks for taking the time to visit Philden. I hope you'll book a return ticket soon. Cheers, Phil