A love of trains lasts a lifetime

A love of trains is something that lasts a lifetime. It may start with a childhood train set but for those who make it a hobby it creates a bond that is far more than just playing with toys. KATRINA LOVELL reports.

Whether it’s the memory of the railway tracks that probably saved the lives of passengers from a bomb during WWII, or it was because you had a train set as a kid – a love of all things locomotive is something that always stays with you.

From model train clubs and miniature railways to volunteering at historic railways across the state, there’s a certain magic that draws in both the young and old.

For some it’s the romance of the steam era and others it’s the modern trains with all the bells and whistles.

When Cobden’s David Martin left school at 14 he went to work on the railways in England during World War II.

He remembers the day he was walking home from Salisbury station after finishing work to see three German bombers appear in the clear blue summer sky. “There was this terrific roar. One went for the railway station. There were all the people on the platform waiting for the London train to come,” Mr Martin said.

The bomb landed on the railway line and ricocheted over the signal box and engine sheds, landing in vacant allotments.

“From the place it dropped and ricocheted off, to the place it exploded would have been half-an-hour’s walk away,” Mr Martin said.

After nine years on the railways where he worked as stoker, Mr Martin moved to Australia where he became a farmer. 

But his love of railways didn’t wane, and the three steam engines he built along with the miniature railway he had in the garden of his house in the Wimmera was relocated to the Cobden Miniature Railway Park when he retired. And when he turned 90 last month, he chose to celebrate the milestone at the miniature railways.

“They’re a living creature,” he said of the steam trains. “They’re dead until you put a fire in them and then they come to life.”

They’re a living creature. They’re dead until you put a fire in them and then they come to life

David Martin describes a steam train.

Mr Martin’s not the only person that has been lured to Cobden by the trains. It’s brought at least six other families to the town, according to John Wiggins who was instrumental in creating the tourist attraction.

Mr Wiggins, 88, said it all started by accident when Rotary president Alan Hart found out in the early 1990s that he was building a steam train to run at a Melbourne railways where he was a member.

“He said ‘no, we’re going to have this here. You draw up the plans and leave the money to me’,” Mr Wiggins said.

The park opened in 1994 and is now considered one of the best tracks in Victoria. It is often used to host national conventions which attract train enthusiasts from around the globe.

Mr Wiggins has built seven trains of different sizes from scratch and he still drives the trains that bring so much joy to children on the days it runs – every Sunday in school holidays, and the third Sunday of the month. They also do private events.

It’s the excitement on kids’ faces that keeps Mr Wiggins coming back to the track.

Mr Wiggins said he had always had an involvement with trains – starting with the little models and gradually getting bigger.

He has a model train layout at his Cobden home, but it is no where near as big as the one he had when he lived on the farm – it took up the whole shearing shed floor. “I’m always tinkering with the trains,” he said.

Lindsay Bamford has a miniature train that he runs at Cobden, volunteers at the Queenscliff railway and is also the president of the Warrnambool Model Railway Club. 

The club’s annual exhibition this weekend has become so popular with exhibitors they’ve had to turn some away. 

Mr Bamford’s interest in trains started small and grew into something much bigger. “One thing leads to another. You start off with little toys like this and your toys start to get a little bigger and more expensive,” he said.

He and his wife led the group that brought the turntable to Warrnambool in 1990 for the centenary of the railway station.

“We needed a turntable if we were ever going to bring steam trains down here,” he said. It will be used this weekend during the historic Diesel Electric Rail Motor’s rare visit to Warrnambool. 

Mr Bamford’s interest in trains started when he got his first train set as a 10-year-old, something he says is true of a lot of train enthusiasts. “It’s a bit like riding a bike, you never quite forget. It’s something that stays with you,” he said.

As well as trains, Mr Bamford also collects train tickets and books. “People think you’re obsessed and they say you’ve got over 3000 books on railways, and I’ve probably got over 10,000 train tickets, but I’m not obsessed, I just happen to enjoy it,” he said.

“There’s an old joke that he who dies with the most trains wins. They’re not the meaning of life, but they’re a way to enjoy life and to meet people. I’m involved with other things as well, music and different things.

“I’ve actually struggled with depression quite badly and probably lost a few years of my life with depression, so to me to be involved with something like this and be able to go to a train...there’s been times in my life when I’ve had to be put in hospital for my own safety, just reading a train book or sharing this with friends it’s absolutely fantastic.

You can be eight years old and you can be 80 years old and be sharing the hobby

Lindsay Bamford

“I know blokes in the hobby that have had mental health problems, and we’ve got blokes in the club that have got different disabilities or health issues and it’s just a great thing to get out and share your hobby.”

Mr Bamford has passed his love of trains on to his two sons and now his two grandchildren. “It’s a real family hobby,” he said. “You can be eight years old and you can be 80 years old and be sharing the hobby.”

One of Mr Bamford’s prized possessions is a Thomas the Tank Engine book signed by the author himself. “I’ve actually been in the study where he wrote the Thomas the Tank Engine story,” he said. They don’t usually let people into the study Mr Bamford said, but he “knew somebody that knew somebody”.

Max Sharrock is a regular at the model railway club’s weekly meetings, and loves to fix engines that have broken down.

Mr Sharrock has 50 locomotives of his own and about 150 different carriages and most nights can be found in his garage tinkering with the electrics on the trains.

He said he had a train set as a kid but it wasn’t until he retired from the farm that he got interested in it again.

“I don’t smoke and don’t drink. It probably doesn’t cost as much as smoking and drinking and I’ve got something to show for it. The double garage is just about taken up with trains,” he said. Mr Sharrock spent about a year helping to create one of the two layouts at the clubrooms which feature scenery built from scratch.

Troy King has eight trains, but his collection is growing – he is waiting for newer models to be released next month. 

His specialty is using an airbrush to paint the trains to give them a weathered look. “It’s quite a skill,” Mr Bamford said.

Mr King hasn’t got around to getting his own layout at home (his dream track is all on paper for now), so in the meantime he uses the facilities at the club – which has about 20 members.

  • The exhibition runs Saturday 10am-5pm, Sunday 10am-4pm at Warrnambool’s St Joseph’s Primary School hall. $10 adults, $25 families, $5 children and $8 concession.
  • The Deisel Electric Rail Motor offers shuttle rides to the West Vic siding from Warrnambool station on Saturday at 2pm, 2.30pm, 3pm and possibly 3.30pm. Cost $15. Under 4s free.
  • Cobden Miniature Railway Park runs Sunday 11am- 4pm.