Bendigo’s railway history was celebrated at the launch of a new book that chronicles the stories of the region’s railway workers over the past 150 years.
Melbourne to Bendigo Railway 1862-2012 was edited by the Bendigo Historical Society’s Jim Evans.
He said the book was by no means a definitive account of the 150 years of rail, but offered an insight into the lives of railway men and women.
“It’s also a celebration of the wonderful architectural and engineering feats,” he said.
The railways were a family affair for Arthur Eaton. His grandfather was a “ganger” on the north-east line at Broadford and his father was a “shunter”, a guard and a yard foreman.
“In those days family followed family,” he said. “While I was at the workshops I had a son of a driver I knew as an apprentice and also his grandfather worked at the workshops.”
Mr Eaton signed up to follow in his elders’ footsteps in 1939 at age 15.
“I started at the very bottom as a lad trainee (call her up),” he said. “What the ‘call her up’ did was he had to go out to the homes of the engine drivers and tell them their schedule.”
Mr Eaton quickly progressed up the ranks and worked across the state as a fitter and turner, then as a shop foreman.
“The things we did then were amazing, your day was really full, you didn’t stop,” he said.
“The satisfying thing about it was it was challenging, it was the variety and it was the people you worked with.
“They were like family. In the rolling stock branch we were 8000 strong and we were very close.
“You had a job and friends for life. Railway fellas were true blue, there was nothing they couldn’t achieve.”
Colin Holl started on the railway in 1937 at the age of 17 and worked his way up to train driver.
He drove Bendigo’s passenger trains for 13 years and said he loved the challenge.
“You’re in charge of the train and you’re in charge of people’s lives,” he said.
Mr Holl said he rued the change from steam to diesel engines, even though it made things a bit cleaner.
“With the steam engines you had to wear overalls and they got pretty grubby,” he said.
“When the diesels came along in 1953 you could go to work in your best suit if you wanted to, they were completely different.”
Mr Holl said steam trains were more of a challenge.
“With diesel you just put your foot down.”