IN SAFE HANDS: John Weber, Brett Halford, Dale Wright, Robert Shearer and Eric Thornes of the Queensland Pioneer Steam Railway in front of locomotive 761, which has been named Booringa.
IN SAFE HANDS: John Weber, Brett Halford, Dale Wright, Robert Shearer and Eric Thornes of the Queensland Pioneer Steam Railway in front of locomotive 761, which has been named Booringa. Andrew Korner

Work starts to get 91-year-old steam train back on track

A DEDICATED team of volunteers has begun work to restore a historic steam train back to its former glory in time for its 100th birthday.

Locomotive 761, built in 1928 by engineering firm Walkers Limited, is now in possession of Swanbank-based Queensland Pioneer Steam Railway and has been sitting dormant in a park out west for 50 years.

After negotiations with Maranoa Regional Council and the people of Mitchell over the course of the past three years, it was agreed it would move to Ipswich for another lease on life.

The council surveyed the community and found the majority of residents wanted to see it restored, even though it will be a sorely-missed part of the community.

In exchange, a cab, carriage and miniature train were sent west.

The cab taken from a Southport C17 train could find its home in Mitchell's Memorial Park.

It has been named Booringa after the former shire which encompassed Mitchell before amalgamation.

The word means "fire and water" in the local Gunggari languages; an appropriate moniker for a steam train.

QPSR chairman Robert Shearer said non-destructive testing will be undertaken for the next year and a half and the train was in surprisingly good condition.

"The locals are very passionate about the engine, it's been part of their history for the last 50 years," he said.

"The platework was beginning to disintegrate.

"In a locomotive restoration point of view, that's a fairly small thing but for a council to rebuild and a community to get behind it, it's a rather expensive proposition.

"The job's looking like it's not going to be as onerous as we thought it would be to get it going. The big ticket components such as the boiler and the frame are so far coming up with no major concerns so hopefully it will be a fairly straightforward restoration."

It will still take volunteers "working non-stop" for the next five or six years to get it moving once again and the group are seeking help to get it finished.

 

The steam train was built in 1928 by engineering company Walkers Limited.
The steam train was built in 1928 by engineering company Walkers Limited. Andrew Korner

"It was an Ipswich-based engine for the past 10 years of its life," he said.

"It spent most of its existence on our branch line. It ended up down here in about the 1960s. It had a full rebuild less than nine months before being decommissioned. Apparently, it ran about 100km after that rebuild which explains why it's looking as good as it is.

"Structurally and mechanically because so many of the components were changed, and the Maranoa is a fairly dry region, it's been the perfect location for it to just maintain its structural integrity.

"If we're able to get local support from engineering companies or anyone with a shed, it will make things move faster. At the moment, we do rebuilds in a grassy field out the back of our shed. With more money we're able to outsource more parts."

Mr Shearer said the group had forged strong connections with the Mitchell community over the past three years of talks.

He met a woman in her 70s while the locomotive was being lifted on to a truck to be transported to Ipswich, who had watched it arrive in Mitchell 50 years before.

"We can't thank them enough for what they've allowed us to do," he said.

"I would have never thought to have gone out to Mitchell if it wasn't for all of this. I would go out there in a heart beat for a holiday because it's such a lovely part of the world with the most lovely people I think I've ever met.

"We're hoping this is the start of a very long friendship with that community."

Mr Shearer described the train being craned from the park as "one of the maddest moments of my life".

Some of the students at the nearby Mitchell State School who watched the train "flying" from their school oval are keen to come out and help on the restoration.

Mitchell residents will be offered free rides when it is operational.

To contact QPSR to assist, call 3103 0871.



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