FULL STEAM AHEAD: Ray Gamble at work inside the steam locomotive's firebox.
FULL STEAM AHEAD: Ray Gamble at work inside the steam locomotive's firebox. Belinda Scott

Heritage train group refuse to blow their own whistle

THEY may not be making a big noise about it, but Glenreagh Mountain Railway Inc is steaming along quietly behind the scenes.

Out at their Glenreagh West workshop, halfway between Grafton and Coffs Harbour, hard working members of the heritage railway group are hammering, sawing, screwing, cleaning, replacing and repairing as they work towards the day they can run railway vehicles on the lower section of the Glenreagh to Dorrigo rail line.

You never know who you will find up to his elbows in engines and carriages if you knock on the door of the big shed when work is in progress.

Today retired magistrate Peter Rheinberger and retired train driver Ray Gamble are among those hard at work.

Colin is restoring a 1925 self-propelled rail motor and Ray is working on the firebox of 1919, the group's famous steam engine.

The work is painstaking and meticulous and the scale involved daunting when Peter says he has been working on CPH 11 two days a week for two and a half years and estimates his 14 metre long rail motor will be finished and mobile some time in 2018.

"It's always been a hobby," Peter said of the metalwork and woodwork involved in stripping and completely rebuilding the 92-year-old railway workhorse.

"I helped extend my own house and my daughter's," Peter said.

" I've been on a couple of study tours with Rotary and helped a builder with club renovations after the flood and to build a house."

"I like it because you see something for it."

Ray Gamble has to climb inside the giant firebox of the vintage 1878 steam locomotive for his current task, putting back the grate bars which keep air moving through the coals in the firebox, exactly like a huge slow combustion stove.

The bars were removed so a specialist boiler welder could work on the steam engine's rivets.

"People never really think about the actual workings of a steam train," Ray Gamble said.

"Just think, this engine was built in 1878, only 30 years after the very first type of steam engine was constructed- and they had already progressed to this stage.

"I give a heap of credit to the blokes who designed and built this stuff.

"Their understanding of steam, steel and traction was just lovely.

"It's the same sort of technical leap in the same space of time that has seen us progress from Commodore 64 computers to smart phones."

Ray began his working life as a fireman on a steam engine at the every end of the steam train era.

If he had turned up on another day at the railway recruiting carriage in Parkes, he would have found himself working as a station attendant or fettler, but Tuesday was the day for train drivers, so he found himself in the cab and ended up spending 43 years driving trains around country NSW. On five different occasions he was driving a train that hit a car or truck on the railway line.

"You don't want to know about the injuries," Ray said

"You talk about it at work. It's sad, but there is nothing you can do."

After he stepped down from his last cab to retire, Ray vowed he was never having anything to do with trains ever again.

But niggling curiosity drew him to the GMR depot at Glenreagh West and now he is back looking after trains. GMR committee member Col Sambrook said Ray's role as operations manager was vital for GMR.

"I understand what I am looking at," Ray said.

"Someone needs to know what needs doing."

Retirees are the lifeblood of the GMR and Colin Sambrook and other members of the GMR executive are on the hunt for more of them.

"We need active volunteers," Col said.

"This is the best team I have worked with in 20 years.

"Once we start running trains, people will come out of the woodwork, but we need them now."

GMR's depot will be open for people to visit during the Glenreagh Timber Festival on July 30 and the members will also have a stall at the event.

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