Puffing Billy – Slow and steady wins the race after 23 years

Photo: Michael Greenhill

Puffing Billy celebrates the launch of the restored Garratt locomotive, which arrived on Australian shores from South Africa in 1996.

With a dedicated team of volunteers on board, the Garratt celebrated with an inaugural trip to Menzies Creek. Serendipity, as it was also the 119th birthday of the creation of the Puffing Billy steam experience.

Friends and colleagues were invited to share the culmination of a 23 year old dream which became a reality when the restored South African class NG/G16 129 Garratt locomotive rolled out of Belgrave Station on December 18 on its inaugural trip to Menzies
Creek Station and Puffing Billy Museum.

Built by Beyer Peacock and Co in England in 1951, the Garratt was used to deliver agricultural and mineral products across the hilly terrain and tight curves of South Africa’s rural railways. The Dandenong Ranges would be an ideal new home.

Rail enthusiasts Peter Ralph and Alan Gardner spearheaded the purchase of the engine in 1996. It will support the restored sole surviving Victorian Railways Garratt G42 which was saved from the scrapper’s torch in 1964.

NG/G16 129 arrived in Belgrave in 1996 and fundraising continued to cover the cost of the $2.4 million restoration. The challenge was to regauge the two foot gauge Garratt to two foot six inches — a feat which had never before been attempted.

In 2011 a dedicated team led by John Brady, Harry Hibgame and Russell Hicks, who had undertaken a feasibility study, commenced the project. With its original wheels and cylinders, silver boiler bands, gleaming polished copper piping and a brand new enlarged cab with windows, doors and seats, the NG/G16 129 can readily haul 16 full length carriages full of excited passengers.

Enthusiastic supporters and volunteers rode behind NG/G16 129, double-headed with G42, on its first passenger run to Menzies Creek for a celebratory lunch set up within the museum and surrounded by painstakingly restored railway artefacts. The spark of an idea has led to the restoration of a piece of rolling stock which is a credit to its restorers and is a valuable addition to the Puffing Billy Railway.

Beverley Mills

 

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