As the Footplate Padre there have been many diverse 'speaks' I have been able to give from regional and rural churches, service clubs, special interest groups to men's breakfasts, lunches and dinner.
Not only have I written 16 books on train driver's anecdotes and worked as a NSWGR locomotive engineman but in 2005 the late publisher of a railway magazine Dave Moyle contacted me and invited me to write a monthly column as the Footplate Padre.
It had been my joy to speak and write on many occaions as the Footplate Padre, but this now have a different kind of voice, a regular monthly published voice as the Footplate Padre.
It has not mattered the venue or the audience, my railway stories from my 16 books have been the draw card along with a DVD or two I show to illustrate the steam engine running at full-pelt (as it were).
Some of these well trod stories always get a great response.
This story comes from my book "Tales of the Footplate" and it recounts a story from one of the registered contributors to my books.
A 'section' is the land mass between one station to the next (or a crossing loop) and in this story the 'section' is very important. Each section has a travelling time associated with it – a fast train has a less time than a slow freighter to complete the specified time allowed.
On this occasion the steam hauled freighter was 20 minuets late to complete the section time. A few weeks the NSWGR sends the driver 'a please explain' – these were known as 'bungs'. The driver replied that the farmer's gate was opened along the side of the rail embankment and cattle were dispersed along the perway (rail track).
NSWGR then wrote to the farmer enquiring why his gate track side was opened. It's understood here that often cattle grazed beside the rail line due to the steam from the locomotives keeping the grass growing – plenty of feed for the cows. The farmer made a point that his gate was closed and gave chapter and verse.
The department then wrote back to the driver – this went on for some time – until finally the driver was required to submit an itemised allowance of time lost. He wrote: "20 minutes lost. 10 minutes fireman chase bull. 10 minutes bull chase fireman."
This story appeared in my bok 'Railway Drama' and it detailed a 900 self propelled express passenger train with its engines over the bogies. The driver's compartment was a small cubicle at the very front carriage and the very last carriage – could be driven in either direction.
This 900 Class was waiting at Werris Creek as two smaller components had come together from further afield, such as Armidale from the north and Narrabri from the west. They combined to form the Northern Tablelands Express.
'Loco' and 'Traffic' are two divisions within the NSWGR, 'Loco' are the engines and all things associated with that, and 'Traffic' are the station masters, station staff, shunters, signalmen and the like. They did not like each other as blame for any delay was sought by both shunted to the other, all with wonderfully plausable explanation, for which the 'higher ups' had to work through. Their job, to us on the ground, was to find someone to blame and exact a financial penalty.
A Traffic Inspector got it into his head there had been seen 'Loco' crews travelling on these express passenger trains back to their home depots as non-paying passengers – this was required when there were no freight trains scheduled. In this story, to make things a little easier, the driver moved out of his driving cubicle, went back into the carriage through the dividing door and lowered down the table tray so as to fill out his paper work.
This was when this Traffic Inspector spied such a recalcitrant driver, came on board, and asked to see a valid ticket. The driver said he didn't have such a ticket, and so he politely but securely told to remove himself off the train. He did as he was told and went to the meal room and made himself a cuppa. When it was time for the express to leave, the guard pressed the buzzer, and the train didn't budge.
The Station Master ran to the driver's compartment – no driver! They rang 'Loco' – yes he had signed on duty. Eventually he was found in the meal room. Asked what he was doing, the driver explained he as ordered off the train as he didn't have a ticket and he had no intention of buying a ticket to drive the train to Sydney.
The end of the story was that he refused to get back onto the train until a full apology was given, 'Control' was notified, he needed to speak to Control, then a written apology was presented to him – and never again did a Traffic Inspector ask a driver for a ticket. The express was 45 min late, and the driver determined not to pick up even one minutes of time.
Gateway Craft and Hobby night
As part of this 2015 Tasmanian Country Town Tour I was invited to speak as the Footplate Padre to the Launceston Gateway Baptist Craft and Hobby night and sure enough there were people brining in their various forms of craft and hobbies.
Frank Richards bought in a working model steam tractor and the base of a model steam locomotive for which as an engineering feat he was constructing as a working model.
We spent 40 minutes together being shown how the construction process is analysed with all the various components which he designs and builds on his lathe and other equipment in his hobby shed at the back of his home. Every last detail of the plan is followed and what you get in the end is a functioning working steam engine model (whether tractor or locomotive).
A very enjoyable evening all round and having spoken to the Craft and Hobby group I was invited to submit my name to the I spoke Pulpit Committee as the church is at this time in between pastors. I thanked them very much for their confidence and good-will.
Any group are welcome to invite the Footplate Padre to your function – firstname.lastname@example.org 0419 917 713
Dr Mark Tronson is a Baptist minister (retired) who served as the Australian cricket team chaplain for 17 years (2000 ret) and established Life After Cricket in 2001. He was recognised by the Olympic Ministry Medal in 2009 presented by Carl Lewis Olympian of the Century. He mentors young writers and has written 24 books, and enjoys writing. He is married to Delma, with four adult children and grand-children.
Mark Tronson's archive of articles can be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/mark-tronson.html