Steam-driven history at Woolbrook


Slice of history: Woolbrook Railway Station in January 1977. Image: Aubrey Levingston.
Slice of history: Woolbrook Railway Station in January 1977. Image: Aubrey Levingston.

The late K.B. “Brian” Burgess often spoke about the many train trips he made returning to Walcha from his boarding school at Tamworth. He said the train travelled so slowly in places that he and a few of his mates could hop off, chase a few rabbits, and jump back on board without any likelihood of being left behind.

The old steam trains, which burnt coal to convert water into steam, struggled on the steeper portions of the line, almost exhausting the water carried in the locomotive tender in the process. Woolbrook was one of the stations where the water supply could be replenished.

The elevated tank to the left of the photo held 20,000 gallons and was put into service in 1882, while the larger tank on the right, which had a capacity of 40,000 gallons, was installed in 1912. Cast iron tanks such as these were once a common sight along the railway lines.

The tanks were filled with untreated water drawn from the Macdonald River, originally by a steam-powered pump, but by diesel-powered pumps in later years. The tanks were filled twice a day, and even more often during the years of World War II when up to 24 trains a day passed through the station.

Norman Marshall reckoned he wore out at least one good shovel digging out the ash during his 15 years as the local pump man.

Aubrey Levingston

The late Aubrey Levingston wrote: “Supplies of coal were hauled on special trains to appropriate places where it was unloaded and later used to top up the locomotive tender. Local trains generally carried 10 tons of coal in the upper portion of the tender and 4000 gallons of water in the lower part.

“There was a long, shallow ash pit between the rails at Woolbrook into which the engine’s ash pans were emptied while water was being taken on board. The man responsible for pumping water into the overhead tanks was also responsible for regularly removing the ash from the pit. Norman Marshall reckoned he wore out at least one good shovel digging out the ash during his 15 years as the local pump man.”

Woolbrook station did not survive the arrival of diesel-powered trains. It closed in August 1983 and, by 1990, the buildings, water tanks and equipment had been removed. A few pieces of concrete are all that can be seen at the station site today.