Progress Report 69: Site works, Torpedo, and the Fowler

Pete’s Hobby Railway, and the Junee area in general, is now emerging from the winter months, with day-time temperatures low. Often heavy cloud with even minor winds provides an uncomfortable chill factor. A general lockdown (stay-at-home) imposed by the State Government owing to the COVID-19 pandemic has not helped matters, but was lifted in this area as from Saturday September 11, 2021.

The opportunity has been taken from time-to-time when weather condition permit, to take the Ruston diesel locomotive for a “burn” around the track — sedately of course, just so that it can be said that the line is operational. One such inspection train was posed against our heap of soil, the “Burke Mountain Range” as it has been called — which resulted when the large level area was required for the future Storage Shed and turntable area. The damp weather conditions have resulted in an abundance of grass, weeds and what-ever — making it all look somewhat permanent. It features in the illustration below.

Image 2021.1461: The Ruston with the guard’s van pose below the “Burke Mountain Range”.

The Pete’s Hobby Railway volunteers group is not large, being made up of Junee locals. When three of our main volunteers gained full-time employment on the big railway hauling grain, works on PHR slowed considerably. Phil and Josh have been and continue to be contracted to undertake construction works which I am no longer able to undertake.

Not all works undertaken are “railway works” … some are “site works”, but are just as important overall. When weather conditions have permitted, concrete pathing in the depot area has slowly progressed, which will also allow easier access for myself when I have to graduate to a mobility scooter. Construction of the first sections of a concrete walkway around the turntable has commenced. Completion will facilitate the use of the turntable without descending into the pit.

Image 2021.1711: Preparing for the pouring of cement for walkway around the turntable.

Image 2021.1729: Completion of the first stages of the turntable walkway.

With the continuing damp weather, the Junee “cement” of the summer months has turned to Junee “mud” which allows the easy trenching/drainage works to be undertaken while the surface soils are soft. With these conditions prevalent, the opportunity has been taken to plumb drainage from the roof gutter on the southern side of PHR’s large storage shed. This will drain into the future “Lake Mario”, of which more follows shortly in this Report.

Image 2021.1484: Preparing the drainage works for the gutter rainwater from the newly completed Storage Shed.

Part of these works required the drilling of new bolt holes in previously cut rail at the entrance to 1 Road into the Storage Shed so that the track could be permanently fish-plated and bolted to the adjacent rails prior to the laying of a concrete footpath.

Image 2021.1610: Prior to unbolting the temporary join, it was necessary to tie the rail to gauge.

In conjunction with this, Phil and Josh combined with the local T-Line Steel in the design and manufacture of an electro-magnet to firmly hold a heavy duty drill in place to bore out the required four fish-bolt holes. With the rails now fully bolted, the concrete path could be extended over the remainder of the eastern end of the Storage Shed.

Image 2021.1622: Specially mounted rail drill in place in bore a fish-bolt hole where there was none previously.

Preliminary planning is under way for the relaying of the main line along the back southern-most boundary of my property as the first stage in the completion of the back reversing loop. Fresh track levels will need to be determined in order to provide for an easier grade, resulting in a bob-cat having to be hired in to prepare the new formation.

The second stage of this project embraces the construction of a low embankment which will hold back “Lake Mario”, water run-off from natural flows across the rear of my property, before the overflow is directed into the street drainage system. This project will have the added benefit of preventing this natural stormwater flow from continuing into my neighbour’s property. A plan of these proposals was included in a recent Progress Report.

As part of this project, and in conjunction with another narrow gauge railway proposal in the Blue Mountains, PHR has purchased some 150 fish-bolts, spring washers and nuts for use on 60-lb (30kg) rail. Together with fish-plates already held, this will allow PHR to join some 18-lengths of track and thus complete our dog-bone circular main line.


Matt’s transfer away from Junee has meant little activity for the operational Hunslet steam locomotive. The current boiler certificate expired in October last year. This has not been of much concern as there has been no real desire to steam the loco. While work has been progressing on the preparation of the boiler for the Boiler Inspector, the COVID-19 epidemic has meant delays in this regard. The inspection is normally arranged to coincide with commercial inspections in the Riverina so that PHR as a non-commercial organisation is not required to meet his full transportation and accommodation costs for a single boiler inspection.

At the time of preparation of this Report, most wash-out plugs have been removed, as has the safety dome which gives access to the internals of the boiler itself. Unfortunately, the gasket seal was broken as the dome was removed, so a replacement will need to be cut. Plenty of gasket material is held in store. Plumbing from the steam turret, including to the pressure gauge, await disconnection, along with the unbolting and removal of the steam turret — which will facilitate the internal inspection of the firebox by the Boiler Inspector. One hopes that on this occasion, the pressure gauge will not be carefully placed to one side and subsequently misplaced, never to be seen again! Following removal of the fire-bars from the firebox, the boiler and firebox internals will be given a total wash-out so as to provide a clean interior for the Boiler Inspector.

Unlike the last inspection conducted in the open under adverse weather conditions, this next inspection will be one to be conducted almost in luxury, being totally under the cover of the new Storage Shed, complete with an under-floor inspection pit with full lighting and power facilities.

We are really looking forward the boiler being reaccredited, so that Torpedeo can again be brought back to life — at the grand old age of 106! To most of the PHR volunteers, there is nothing like the smell of burning coal and warm steam oil!

The Fowler Project

With Project Manager Matt relocated away from Junee as part of full-time employment operating grain trains, real progress on the restoration of the 1900-vintage Fowler locomotive has slowed dramatically. The departure of Matt, then Rhys to full-time railway employment in Sydney, followed more recently by Dave – all with private operators, has made a really major dent on the Fowler restoration project. The original plan was for the project to be a volunteer undertaking led by Matt, with myself financing the components side.

At the present time, the frame is stowed under cover within the Storage Shed on blocks as all the wheels, motion, cylinder and rodding etc., have been removed. The dismantled partially reconditioned parts and new boiler tube and all located out of the weather inside the Shed, while the boiler and cab remain outside in the elements.

When the winter weather conditions have permitted, I have undertaken cosmetic works on the smokebox door, removing the old paint and giving it a couple of coats of new black gloss. Next in line will be the diamond-shaped funnel.

It had been anticipated that the income from the sale of the Perry locomotive would more than cover the restoration of the Fowler using volunteer labour only. While the majority of the funds from the sale of the Perry steam locomotive are held in reserve for the Fowler restoration project, these would be nowhere near sufficient to meeting a commercial cost of restoration. Accordingly, the Fowler restoration is on hold for the present time, with some funds being diverted to other projects.

At this stage, I have divided the Fowler project into two stages – the initial and most desirable being the retubing and recommissioning of the boiler which could then be stored under cover. A commercial quotation for these works, including transfer of the boiler from and back to Junee, is in the vicinity of $33,000 — about a third being labour costs. PHR could fund a little over half of this quotation.
The second stage would be the repair of the frame and wheels, reassembly and commissioning — the commercial quotation for these works being a little over $55,000 — most of which is a labour component.

If the commercial labour costs were not included and based on the quotation with the use of volunteer labour at PHR, the estimated cost of getting the Fowler back into basic operational condition would be reduced dramatically — for instance, there would be an immediate saving of $4,000 in the transport of the locomotive parts from Junee to the Workshop and back again.

Major components that will need to be purchased are steam/water level gauges, a steam pressure gauge and safety valves. To be manufactured is a new stuffing box where the throttle rodding passes through the firebox, together with a replacement ashpan. A cherished dream would be to replace the existing diamond stack canefields type funnel with one more appropriate to the Fowler design. Replacement side tanks were made many, many years ago while I was still residing in Sydney. In canefields service at the CSR Victoria Sugar Mill, the locomotive had operated as a tender/tank locomotive, however on PHR it is proposed that the locomotive would operate as a tank type only. This will require modifications to the cab floor area so as to provide a safe working area for the crew, replicating the general Fowler arrangements for tank-type narrow gauge locomotives.

Image: A pencil sketch by Matt of how the restored Fowler locomotive would look with a “straight” funnel instead of its current diamond-shaped one.

I had anticipated that the income from the sale of the Perry locomotive would just about cover the restoration of the Fowler if the use of volunteer labour only had continued. Otherwise, the available funds would cover a little more than half the commercial cost of the commercial boiler overhaul.

Pete’s Hobby Railway has no intention of disposing of the Fowler bits and pieces. I will continue to look at any available and/or suggested options for the project to continue. Unfortunately, funding is not available through the annual Transport Heritage NSW allocations, as PHR does not meet the essential requirements.

The restoration of the Fowler back to operational condition is now regarded as a longer term project, with efforts being concentrated on completion of the turntable and track extensions.

Any constructive feedback and suggestions, particularly as to sources for possible funding, would be greatly appreciated and can be forwarded to me using our contact form.

That’s all for this Progress Report. Hopefully, once weather conditions warm up, we can all enjoy further progress with Pete’s Hobby Railway, especially the Hunslet steaming again — once the Boiler Inspector can make his visit!

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