Hawkston Humour

The Little Train to Dirranbandi

Noondoo grain silo #1: very quiet on this visit during a dreadful drought, 30 August 2007
Noondoo grain silo #1: very quiet on this visit during a dreadful drought, 30 August 2007

The 1,067mm (3’6″) gauge network in the Australian state of Queensland is dominated by heavy coal and mineral traffic moving from mines to ports, and some intermodal traffic heading up the coast from the capital of Brisbane. Until a few years ago though, there were some scattered remnants of trains that belonged very much to the previous century—in spirit at least.

One such service was a weekly train that ran to the south-west outpost of Dirranbandi. Built in stages starting in 1904, the line arrived at its eventual terminus in May 1913. The line was built to serve small communities in the area, and like most such lines around the world, carried out its role of bringing in the essential supplies needed for rural living, and taking out the products of the land, in this case cattle, sheep, wool and grain.  This line served a second purpose, hinted at by its early nickname of the Border Fence: to prevent this traffic from moving south to travel over the rails of the rival state of  New South Wales.

The importance of the line was declining rapidly when I travelled out that way in 2007 and 2008. General freight was virtually non-existent, but the line beyond the major grain silo at Thallon still saw a weekly freight train working out and back. The train wasn’t much to look at—a handful of vans—but still a sight worth seeing if only for its anachronistic nature, a fact acknowledged by the train’s driver who, when we got to talk at one of the stops along the way, cheerily exclaimed that it was good to see someone photographing one of Queensland Rail’s last dinosaurs.

Noondale, with its disused woolshed, plays brief host, 6 November 2008
Noondale, with its disused woolshed, plays brief host, 6 November 2008

The country out this way is pretty lonely. Large grazing stations and very little population are the order of the day, with the little train heading over the light 42 pound rail and spindly track well away from pretty much anything, apart from the endless scrub and the occasional siding with a disused woolshed. Sometimes a kangaroo or two might nonchalantly cross the line. Not far from Dirranbandi, the grain silo at Noondoo would be passed. For the line’s recent history, it was this silo that justified keeping the line open. The light track meant that grain wagons could only be partially loaded. The obvious solution was to upgrade the line, but the railway and the grain shippers couldn’t agree on who’d pay, so rail service stopped and the grain had to be trucked over to Thallon, which still happens.

Noondoo grain silo #2: decent rain saw the first good crop in years - but none of it went by rail, 6 November 2008
Noondoo grain silo #2: decent rain saw the first good crop in years – but none of it went by rail, 6 November 2008

On my first trip, Noondoo was a silo-in-waiting, with the surrounding paddocks barren of grain but a year later, after the first decent rains in years, the land was alive with activity. The railway though, played no part.

Here at Hawkston, about halfway on the very light rail, there is some evidence of human activity, with a small but quite elaborate storage box built to receive the newspapers that used to be dropped off by the passing train until quite recently. Located on the long dirt road to the grazier’s home, a stop by the train would eventually be followed by the farmer driving out to collect the newspapers.

The train to Dirranbandi passes the "station master's" accommodation at Hawkston, 6 November 2008
The train to Dirranbandi passes the “station master’s” accommodation at Hawkston, 6 November 2008

I’m not sure if there was ever what could really be described as a station at Hawkston, and it’s a pretty safe bet to say that if there was it would never have had a station master, but I liked the ironic humour of the locals, allowing such a minor item of infrastructure to take on added importance, while the train disappears into the hazy distance.

Alan ShawPhotographs and text Copyright 2016
See more of Alan’s work on his Flickr page

Railways of Greece
 Part 2


Deserted train station
Milies, Greece

The quiet village of Milies (Greek: Μηλιές) is the end station for the narrow gauge line that runs from the seaport of Volos into the interior of the Pelion Peninsula. Pelio is a rugged, mountainous region in east central Greece.


The lush mountainsides are draped with forests of beech, chestnut and plane trees, and the cherries, apples, and apricots are said to be the finest in Greece. Pelio was so rugged, it had little communication with the rest of Greece until the late 1800s. In winter, heavy snow makes roads impassible. During the centuries of Turkish occupation, the Greek villagers here were renowned freedom fighters.


Because access to the mountainous peninsula was so difficult, the goal of the railroad project was to improve transport and integrate the area into Greece’s economy. According to Wikipedia, “The 600 mm (1 ft 11 58 in) gauge 27 km line from Volos to Milies, a distance of 28 km, was constructed between 1903 and 1906 by the Italian engineer Evaristo De Chirico.” Service began in 1906. Construction was very difficult because of the need for six stone bridges, one iron bridge, many protective walls, tunnels, and aerial pedestrian bridges. The photograph above shows an example of the arch bridges, all built by hand by skilled rock masons.



When I took these photographs in 1994, the line was unused and the setting had a charming, sleepy, overgrown look to it. Service was discontinued in the 1970s, but may have been restored recently for steam locomotive tourist trains.


In the 1990s, there was a well-known bakery here where Athenians would buy bread before returning to the city (about a 5-hour drive to the south). The village ladies above had probably seen it all—strange tourists with tripods and cameras, and city-slickers with bags of fresh bread and cherries.

A Ride on the Piraeus, Athens, and Peloponnese Railway

The Piraeus, Athens and Peloponnese Railway was a narrow gauge (1.00-meter) line that once connected small towns in the Peleponnese area of Greece with Athens. Our trip will carry us along the rails from the west end of the Gulf of Corinth to Athens.


The circles show locations of photographs. Background maps from ESRI Maps and Data.


This is the station at Kato Achaia, a farming community west of Patras. It has a sleepy land-that-time-forgot look to it. The water tank for steam locomotives still stands. As I recall, the train was delayed and we sat at a café for an hour or two.


As of 1997, the train consisted of modern but well-used diesel-electric rail cars. The windows were open and the train trundled along through vineyards and orange groves.


In Patras, we had to change trains for the main line to Athens. This was a busy station because tourists from Italy disembarked from ferry boats and many boarded the train here.


You see some refugees or gypsies on a bench. A historical note: After the Communist Bloc collapsed in 1989, thousands of Greeks from Bulgaria, Romania, and other countries were finally free to return home. Some had been stranded in the Soviet Union since the 1917 revolution. In Czarist Russia, Greeks were an important part of the merchant class and traveled throughout the vast land, but when the Bolsheviks imposed Communism, the Greeks were unable to leave. Many of their descendants spoke no Greek and had not been able to worship in Orthodox churches. After 1989, Gypsies (the Roma) also were able to travel across borders that had formerly been sealed. Finally, Albania, once a forbidden dictatorship every bit as secretive as North Korea is now, collapsed, opening the borders to thousands of impoverished Albanians who desperately wanted to find work in Greece. The people on the bench may be gypsies. These refugees have caused major disruptions to Greek society and its fragile economy.


This “Splendid” hotel was across the street from the Patras rail station. It was probably clean enough but noisy; I will pass.


The next major junction was Diakopto, where tourists could take the famous rack train up the gorge to Kalavrita.

Further east,  the station at Narantza  has not been used in decades. I used to vacation near here, and from my sister’s house we would hear the trains periodically rumble by. One engineer was distinctive because he tooted the horn more than other train drivers. Continuing east, the train would have stopped in the city of Korinthos.

Then the train crosses the narrow Corinth Canal (Διώρυγα της Κορίνθου), which connects the Gulf of Corinth (Korinthiakos Kolpos) with the Saronic Gulf (Saronikos Kolpos). The canal, dug in the 1890s, is narrow and mostly used by cruise boats.


Finally, after chugging through the industrial suburbs of west Athens, we reached the Peloponnese Railroad Station on Sidirodromon Street (built in 1889). It was pretty sleepy in 1997 and some men were sitting around playing backgammon and drinking coffee (Greek gents do a lot of this). I think the station is now unused and am not sure what its fate will be.

(This is Part 2 of a two part article on the Railways of Greece. Click here to read Part 1)

Andrew Morang – Photographs and text Copyright 2016
See more of Andrew’s work at his blog, Urban Decay.

Railways of Greece
 Part 1

The Athens to Peloponnese Railroad Station
Corinth, Greece

The Piraeus, Athens and Peloponnese Railways or SPAP (in Greek: Σιδηρόδρομοι Πειραιώς-Αθηνών-Πελοποννήσου or Σ.Π.Α.Π.) was founded in 1882 to connect the port of Piraeus (Πειραιεύς) with Athens and the Peloponnese region of southern Greece. The late-1800s was the era of great railroad building throughout the world. Greece, at that time a poor nation with isolated market towns and limited roads, hoped to support economic development by building a rail system. The Peloponnese line reached Corinth in 1885 and Patras in 1887. SPAP was absorbed by the Hellenic State Railways in 1962, now called OSE (Greek: Οργανισμός Σιδηροδρόμων Ελλάδος or Ο.Σ.Ε.). The Peloponnese rail was 1,000 mm (3 ft 3 ⅜ in.) narrow-gauge, in contrast to the continental-standard 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 ½ in.) used in most of mainland Greece. The line from Piraeus to Corinth was 99 km long. In the 1890s, it was the fastest way to make the journey, the alternate being a steamship trip.


The map shows the location (background street map from ESRI maps and data). During the mid-20th century, tourists arriving from Italy typically took a ferry boat from one of the Italian Adriatic ports to the city of Patras, where they disembarked. Then the SPAP train took them on a leisurely day-long ride to the old central rail station in Athens. Once the modern highway was built in the 1960s, many travelers took diesel buses instead. As a result, they rushed past the charming little market towns clustered along the shore of the Gulf of Corinth and missed the train experience.


Today, the rail station in Corinth on Dimokratias Street stands semi-abandoned. As of 2005, the modern suburban rail connects the Athens Elefthérios Venizélos (Ελευθέριος Βενιζέλος) International Airport with Corinth and, now continues further west to the town of Kiato. Eventually, the modern rail will extend all the way to Patras, and the rest of the historic narrow gauge train will be discontinued.




This station looks like it is late-1940s or 1950s-vintage. Corinth was badly damaged by an earthquake in 1928, and possibly that eventually necessitated a new station. Another hypothesis: The railroad suffered extensive damage during the second World War, and maybe the original station was damaged.



In 2011, the rail yard was pretty quiet, with abandoned rolling stock sitting on sidings. The arm sticking out in front of a graffiti-covered box car is an old water tap for filling the tenders of steam locomotives.


Finally, these mechanical control units actuated track switches. Oddly, they were on the platform in front of the station waiting room. Wouldn’t tourists be tempted to fiddle with them? It’s strange they had never been electrified or adapted to control from a central control room.

The Kalávryta Narrow-Gauge Rack Railroad
Peloponnese, Greece


The Kálavrita (Καλάβρυτα) Railway was engineered by an Italian company in 1885-1895 in the fantastic gorge of the Vouraikós River. The original steam locomotives are long gone and have been replaced with modern diesel-electric cars, but nothing detracts from the magnificent scenery or from the achievement of the engineers some 120 years ago. The route starts in the coastal town of Dhiakftó and proceeds south (uphill) through the gorge to a high fertile plateau. Kalávryta is in the East Central part of the prefecture of Achaea. You can drive there through the mountainous and scenic Peloponnese, but many people opt to park their car at Dhiakftó and take the famous train for a day-long excursion.


This is the station in Kalávryta (2480 ft altitude). Although in use on weekends, it is pretty quiet and has a lost-in-time look to it. The town is historically noteworthy for two events. First, at the nearby Monastery of Ayia Lávra, Germanos, the Bishop of Patras, raised the flag of revolution against the occupying Turks on March 21, 1821. This eventually led to Greek Independence. The second event is more tragic. On December 13, 1943, German occupying troops massacred 1436 males over the age of 15 and burnt the town (from Blue Guide Greece, 1973 edition).


Here are the young beauties in the old rail car.




Zachloroú is the first stop north of Kalávryta, where many people get off the train and hike downhill through the gorge. In my case, I took a taxi from the coast to this station to begin the hike. The route is part of the E4 European long distance hiking path (if you are really energetic, you can walk the E4 from Tarifa, the southernmost point of mainland Spain, to Crete!). There are two tavernas right at the edge of the rail line. One of them specializes in delicious roasted rooster and local retsina, where you can fortify yourself with calories in preparation for the 4-hr trek. One of the nice things about travel in Greece is that even small rural places prepare amazingly good food. There is also a nice little hotel if you want to stay the night (perhaps you had too much retsina…).




As you proceed downhill, you pass stone work sheds and water tanks, which have been restored and painted. The Ο.Σ.Ε. must have put a lot of money into the project.

All the track was replaced in 2008-2010. From Wikipedia: “The railway is single line with 750 mm (2 ft 5½ in) gauge. It climbs from sea level to 720 m in 22.3 km with a maximum gradient of 17.5%. There are three sections with Abt system rack for a total of 3.8 km. Maximum speed is 40 km/h for adhesion sections and 12 km/h for rack sections.” The total route is 33 km.

The gorge gets more and more rugged, and you wonder how the engineers managed to tunnel and bridge their way up this valley. What ambition. The tunnels are interesting because you need to be sure you are not in one when the train comes. The first time I walked the route in 2008, the system was closed while the tracks were being replaced, but the next time, I had to remember to look for the train. It’s really not a problem except for the bridges and tunnels.

Finally, as you approach the coastal plain, the gradient levels out and you have an easy walk to the depot in Dhiakftó. The geology is also fascinating, and you pass through regions of conglomerate, sandstone, limestone, and alluvial outwash.



At Dhiakftó, the excursion train meets the main Athens-Peloponnese line (also narrow-gauge). A new full-gauge rail is being built to connect to Patras, but I do not know if the new line will come to this rail yard or be routed further inland.

(This is Part 1 of a two part article on the Railways of Greece. Be sure to check back next Thursday for Part 2)

Andrew Morang – Photographs and text Copyright 2016
See more of Andrew’s work at his blog, Urban Decay.

Editor’s Notebook

Orange County, Virginia
Orange County, Virginia
I love the smell of coal smoke. When I was a boy in the 1950s, my grandparents heated their house with coal, and that smell brings back many memories.

If there is no coal-fired locomotive handy, the next best thing is the working steam powered tractors at the annual Somerset Steam and Gas Pasture Party which I attended last weekend.

Steam power for agricultural use was introduced in 1849. A few years later, self propelled steam engines were available, but it was not until after the Civil War that steam power began to be widely used for farming.

Steam power increased the amount of land that could be farmed and began a revolution in farm labor that had been dependent on human and animal power for centuries. The massive tractors were able to plow and run threshing machines and corn cutters.

Because of their size and weight, often upwards of 30,000 pounds, the steam tractor was not suited for planting and cultivating. Horses were still needed for those tasks. In addition, the tractor was expensive to buy and maintain, and needed a knowledgeable operator. Farmers often pooled resources to buy a tractor which would service several farms.

After 1900, the use of steam power in agriculture declined, and by 1920, steam tractors were obsolete, replaced by the internal combustion engine.

The day in Somerset brought alive the technology of a bygone era, briefly visible through the mists of coal smoke and steam.

Edd Fuller

The Adventure of
  Rail Yard Findings


It was very windy and cool for June at the Strasburg Rail Road yard. With my DSLR, tripod and cable release in tow I walked around in search of a good place to capture the evening setting sun. And yes, at the rail yard!

This brings me to the subject matter for the article I am honored to write for The Trackside Photographer. When you visit your local rail road station(s) are you only interested in photographing trains? I suppose most of us are, but there are opportunities waiting for our creative eyes.

For example, the photo above illustrates an empty rail yard at sunset. Take a good look at the image. What do you see? For starters, the train tracks. What about the building on the left? The red rail car on the right? If you were at the rail yard, what other photographs would you compose? If you were composing the image above, what would you do different? Move in closer? Capture the image at a lower angle?


This image was also captured at the Strasburg Rail Road yard. It was a overcast day and late afternoon. On this day I was searching for something different. Did I photograph locomotive run-bys? Yes, but my self assignment was to capture the different things that you can find at the rail yard.

For images like this one, I did post process it via HDR. I like the effect for old time buildings and such. It does bring out the details too. I was also attracted to the primary colors – red, blue, and yellow. When these colors are prominent in a composition, it tends to draw the viewer in to take a closer look.

Do you see a photo within a photo?


This old rail car was photographed at the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad yard in Chama, New Mexico. It was my first photo tour in the southwest and this location was one of the last photographic locations of the ten day tour.

It was captured back in 2011 and I was very new to photographing the railroad. You see, vintage railroad became my niche after riding and photographing the Durango/Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad’s Photographer’s Special. If you haven’t been on this special train, be sure to add it to your bucket list. It was absolutely amazing!

Getting back to the photo, this rusty crusty old rail car sitting on the tracks with the golden fall foliage, was an amazing find. I revisited this rail yard again in 2014 hoping to capture more images of this transport, but it was no longer there. Not that I thought it would be.

It sure has been through hard times though. Can you “picture” what it was like when in use?


I have been blessed with being able to reside in the Susquehanna Valley as there are two vintage rail yards within 45 minutes of my residence. The Strasburg Rail Road, and the New Freedom Railroad.

This image, of the Engineer’s Gloves, was photographed inside the locomotive in New Freedom, PA. It was my first visit to the New Freedom Railroad AKA Steam Into History.

The engineers noticed me capturing the train at certain run-by locations. When the locomotive and I arrived back to the station, they asked me if I would like to come aboard. The gloves were laying near an opened window. If those gloves could talk, imagine the stories they would tell.

In closing, I hope that the next time you are out and about photographing the old railroads of yesteryear, that you will look for something more to capture. Maybe you will place yourself on a self assignment as well!

Cynthia SperkoPhotographs and text Copyright 2016
To see more of Cynthia’s work, visit her website Cynthia L Sperko Photography
Email Cynthia

Coal Country

Coal miner’s child taking home kerosene for lamps. Company houses, coal tipple in background. Pursglove, Scotts Run, West Virginia – Marion Post Wolcott

In 1938, a little know photographer landed a job with the Farm Security Administration (FSA). Marion Post Wolcott (who was just Marion Post at the time) was  28 years old when she quit her job as a photographer with the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin and moved to Washington to work for Roy Stryker, who headed up the photographic division of the FSA. During the  Depression, photographers employed and directed by Stryker fanned out across the United States to record the effects of the economic crisis on the lives of Americans, particularly in the rural south. The resulting photographs documented the depression, and helped galvanize support for Federal programs to assist those in need.

Woman (probably Hungarian) coming home along railroad tracks in coal mining town, company houses at right, Pursglove, Scotts Run, West Virginia – Marion Post Wolcott

Marion Post’s first assignment with the FSA was in the coal fields of West Virginia, and in September, 1938, she set out alone to work in coal country. Her travels took her through some of the hardest hit areas of the country, a region that had come to symbolize the poverty and despair of those years. She was not the first to photograph here. Other notable photographers including Lewis Hine, Walker Evans and Ben Shahn had also worked in the area.

She was not there to photograph trains, but the coal miner’s life revolved around the railroad. Not only did the railroad provide transportation of the coal to market, but railroad technology was employed in the actual mining operations. The railroad ran right through the middle of life in coal country, and her photographs, perhaps unintentionaly, reflect that.

Coming home from school. Mining town, Osage, West Virginia - Marion Post Wolcott
Coming home from school. Mining town, Osage, West Virginia – Marion Post Wolcott

After a little over three weeks in West Virginia, Marion Post returned to Washington  with an extraordinary collection of photographs that were warmly human without sentimentality, compassionate without condescension. Those qualities came to define her work for the FSA over the next three years. She left the FSA, and her career as a photographer in 1941.

Train pulling coal through center of town morning and evening, Osage, West Virginia – Marion Post Wolcott

The Trackside Photographer is proud to present a collection of Marion Post Wolcott’s images in a new Gallery where you will find over 60 photographs of life in Coal Country.

Click here to view the Coal Country gallery
The gallery is also available under “Galleries” in the top menu