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STEWART BLENCOWE
BOOKS

 

News & Jottings

As suggested on the last news page Christmas 2019 was to be spent with our eldest son and his partner in Adelaide. Tavelling so far by plane is not something to look forward too so the opportunity was taken to split the outward journey by calling in on Vietnam. We joined a Great Rail Journies tour - not my favourite operator but as they say, right time, right location. I had long wanted to travel on the Great Reunification Express before it became a tourist 'must do' but sadly we were years too late to avoid the train where most of the first class is made up of tourists. Locals do use it but they were all in cattle class. Nevertheless, an interesting experience as we travelled down from Hanoi to Saigon in stages especially when it came to dealing with hot lunches served from the trolley. As I write this in the grip of the Covid-19 outbreak then..hmmm, we do take some chances on these trips.

The tourist stuff was all very interesting, the railway less so. The system of not allowing passengers onto the platform before the train arrives is very irritating and when I suggested to the guide that I would like a look round the shed you would have thought world war three had broken out. What do you think this is, a railway trip? The most interesting landscape was the Tay Nguyen, the area delineating north and south Vietnam but its a bit rich when the only way you can get a good image of the train going round the curves is by performing contortions while occupying the tiolet. Not easy on the packed train.

The line is basically Hanoi to Saigon with a few branch lines in the north but not much else.The system is heavily used by freight with Chinese built diesels. Some 2-8-2 steam locos can be seen plinthed at various locations although there are plans to restore a couple for special use. The famous location in Hanoi where the train squeezes between the houses is a little overrated and this does happen elsewhere. Da Nang is particularly good with its balloon loop threading through the houses. If anyone is interested in Vietnam railways then I suggest a car based trip would be much more productive.

So, from Saigon, we flew to Sydney, just as the forest fires were beginning to take hold in that area. Travelling on first to Canberra and then to Melbourne, all by train, we went through plenty of smoke and smog without, fortunately, seeing any fire. During a few days based in Melbourne we visited the gold town of Bendigo on the hottest day of the summer - just over 40 degrees. Never before I have welcomed a tour underground in the gold mine so eagerly. Our trip on the Murray river at Echuca was almost cancelled due to lack of water but did proceed so we were able to enjoy the delights of a paddle steamer ride - wood fired with an engine built in Gainsborough.

By now a steam ban had been applied on the preserved railways but by virtue of oil firing we had a splendid day out on the Goldfields Railway at Castlemaine. While the singing of Christmas carols on the train was too much for Mr Grumpy, the performance of the 2-8-0 on the front was excellent. Despite the heat the rest of the day was spent linesiding at some excellent locations. Thoroughly recommended.

While some services were beginning to feel the effects of the fires fortunately our journey to Adelaide on the Overlander was not affected and so we arrived at my sons on Christmas Eve - and thankfully straight into his swimming pool to cool off.

Incidentally, when I booked all our train tickets for Australia I found them so cheap, by English standards, that I upgraded to first class - it was a no brainer - ten hours travel plus meals for 40 pounds as an example.

I wont bore readers regarding a week in Adelaide, other than the railway bits, but only to say how nice it was to spend Christmas Day in the pool with a pint of beer in one hand and a turkey sandwich in the other. Sadly the Australians go as mad over Christmas as we do - and I thought I was getting away from it all.

Sadly freight workings around Adelaide during the Christmas period somewhat subdued but we made up for it with a visit to the Cockle Railway at Victor Harbor on a couple of days that the fire ban was lifted. While the iconic 4-6-2 they have disgraced herself the 4-6-0 performed perfectly and fitted in well in between ice creams and bottles of beer (as I wasn't driving). In fact my son, now 40, really enjoyed the thrill of chasing as it bought back memories of me being egged on chasing class 50's on the Waterloo Exeters.

With New Year out of the way it was time to leave to get to Perth, but via the best possible way, on the Indian Pacific, yes, across the Nullarbor Plain, the longest stretch of straight track in the world. The best place to get through this of course is in the bar car watching 297 miles of flat desert pass by and in that time, two camels, a kangaroo and God knows how many beers. Still, it had to be done and another box is ticked off.

So following a few uneventful railway days around Perth it was time to fly home via the non-stop 17 hours flight to Heathrow which was not bad actually, although via similar to camel spotting across the Nullarbor.

While I write this update the Covid-19 pandemic has closed the unit in the Antiques Centre where trade in recent times had been very bouyant. But life continues in isolation and thankfully the post is still operating so a certain amount of trade can continue. It has also given me the opportunity to do many jobs that have been continually put off and to sort through material that will come on stream as soon as things get back to normality. All the events I normally attend are cancelled at least up to July

So in the meantime the usual plea's apply, please remember me if you are downsizing, especially working timetables, ephemera and photographs etc. Always willing to travel for large quantities and it's helpful if you have lists, but happy to help out anyway. I'm just an email away. But most importantly - STAY SAFE.

I am an avid collector of Indian railway publicity, guides, books, folders, leaflets etc. In line with English railways, such publicity started with the original Indian companies, the Bombay, Baroda and Central India, the Bengal Nagpur, the East Indian etc in late Victorian times and continued up to the 1950s. I am particularly trying to obtain all the folders, like the one illustrated below, and would love to hear from anyone who has one of the following;

Big Game Shooting in India
India and the Tourist
India for the Tourist
Tourist Cars
Indian Cameos
South India
Travancore
Kangra Valley
Delhi