Imagine over 120,000 lbs of tractive effort hauling a heavy coal train from a standing start up a 1 in 40. This was Fassifern up until the end of 1972, just months before steam locos were permanently retired from active duty in NSW.
Fassifern is a small mining town, near Toronto, some 88 miles north of Sydney. It was a very unique place, so much so that I chose it as a blueprint for my model railway layout.
Motive power ranged from 30 class tank engines to the might garratts, so there were some of the smallest and largest remaining steam engines in the latter days.
I have some idea of what toll the bank took on steam. A 1 in 40 straight out of the station meant considerable effort to get a train moving. The shot below is crowd favourite 3801 sitting in Fassifern station.
On this occasion the crew invited me up on the footplate and I earned my keep by firing the engine on this all stops train from Gosford to Broadmeadow. It was one of those days I will never forget.
3801 had just returned from a trip to Perth on the new standard gage line, hence the knuckle coupler on the front. I had laid the fire for the bank and had a few seconds to jump out and take this shot.
The Toronto line heads East from Fassifern to the lake, with an engine and carriages left over from electrification of the Sydney suburban system many years ago. If you look at this photo, you can see that it is something from long, long ago.
Garratts Reign Supreme
The largest engines ever to operate in NSW were the 60 class Garratts. They often double headed on coal trains from Newstan Colliery, just north of Fassifern. They would back the loaded train into the station, and then with full throttle tackle the grade with lots of wheel slips and smoke. I reckon this is one of the best displays of steam power seen anywhere in the world. If you look at the right of the photo below, you can see the Newstan branch.
These engines were a regular occurrence, and I would imagine that houses shook as these monsters started their journey north.
Being part of the main line, through freights operated throughout the day as well. Even in the early 1970s there were only a few diesels, mostly on through trains to the North Coast and some railcars.
Below a Montreal Locomotive Works built Mikado and Garratt double head on a through goods from Gosford.
59 and Garratt Top Fassifern Bank on a freight.
To the left you can see the road we used to use to get close to the tracks. Access is now closed off with fencing. The place is unrecognisable with extensive overhead wiring.
Finally all this came to a spectacular end. In December, 1972, I was privileged to watch the very last pair of double garratts, 3037 & 6042 top the bank. They put on the best display I have seen of smoke and power.
There were quite a few of us there that day. My photos feature in the 60 class book and “Northern Exposures”.
A friend of mine, Graeme Belpin, who with his father produced a number of fabulous steam train videos, captured double Garratts climbing Fassifern on film. It is worth a look.