Queensland Pioneer Steam Railway chairman Robert Shearer with Bubba.
Queensland Pioneer Steam Railway chairman Robert Shearer with Bubba.

WATCH: Bubba the locomotive finds new life after overhaul

AFTER a life spent hauling coal in the mines up north and a close call with the New South Wales bushfires, the little locomotive that could has found its new home in Ipswich.

Built in Brisbane in the 1960s for use in the Mount Isa mines, ‘Bubba’ was almost scorched in the fires which destroyed parts of the historic Zig Zag Railway at the end of 2019.

It has been overhauled by the dedicated volunteers which power the Swanbank-based Queensland Pioneer Steam Railway.

More than 100 people rode on Bubba on Sunday as it departed from the upgraded Swanbank Station with passengers for the first time.

Major repair work was undertaken to restore the 118-year-old station over five months to install modern toilets, counteract termite damage and extend the platform.

QPSR chairman Robert Shearer said members of the group had been working “around the clock” on the overhaul since December to get Bubba ready for the weekend.

“Basically we had to redo a lot of the bodywork, go through and replace most of the piping because it was all burnt out, redo the wiring because it was all burnt out, we had to get the torque converters and the diesel engine serviced and then repaint the thing and get rid of all the rust,” he said.

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“We also had to redo all the gauges because they’d been smashed up by vandals while it has been down in New South Wales.”

Bubba finished in the mines in 2001 and was moved to Zig Zag Railway in the mid-2000s.

It was deemed too slow for the operation and sat unused after being “shunted into a siding”.

QPSR entered negotiations to take it on back in 2018 but shifting it more than 1500 km up across the border proved more difficult than first thought.

“When the bushfires hit she was in the middle of it,” Mr Shearer said.

Bubba departs from the upgraded Swanbank Station.
Bubba departs from the upgraded Swanbank Station.

“So Zig Zag very graciously worked to get the train line reopened after the bushfire went through and so we eventually got it.

“We had to work out the timetable to pick it up with the truck and getting through the (COVID-19) lockdown of the border.

“We literally had a day-and-a-half to get through before lockdown reoccurred.”

The two-year-old son of a QPSR member helped what was going to be temporary name stick for good.

“We were going to call it 5802 which was its number,” Mr Shearer said.

“One of our members said it’s a baby diesel so we’ll call it Bubba.

“One of the member’s kids sort of latched onto the name because he could say it.

“By the time we got to actually painting it up every member in the palace knew it was Bubba. It stuck.”

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The group feared they would have to shut things down for good last year as COVID-19 kept passengers away and removed their only source of income aside from the occasional donation.

Mr Shearer said they had never received any state government funding and the last federal grant came in 2000.

“Council came to the rescue in many ways,” he said.

“We fell between the cracks during the pandemic.

“We’re still having to run at half capacity due to the restrictions. But the costs still remain the same.”

Despite the challenges, volunteers are still as passionate as ever with about 170 on the books who do everything from paperwork to locomotive rebuilds.

Queensland Pioneer Steam Railway chairman Robert Shearer with Ipswich Mayor Teresa Harding.
Queensland Pioneer Steam Railway chairman Robert Shearer with Ipswich Mayor Teresa Harding.

Another steam engine, Kilrie, should be online in the next couple of months and the long term overhaul of a locomotive from Mitchell is still progressing.

“We really do appreciate the people of Ipswich still supporting us through everything,” Mr Shearer said.

Ipswich Mayor Teresa Harding said Ipswich City Council contributed $36,420 to the overhaul.

“The railway acknowledges our city’s status as Queensland’s centre of industry in the 19th century,” she said.

“And it points to our bright future as a hub for advanced manufacturing and a tourist destination for families.

“The Bubba project has brought a much-loved locomotive back to Ipswich; another tale in our city’s rich history.”

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Read more stories by Lachlan McIvor here.



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