bc Railway and Railroad fiction, by Australian Will Lawson and other train fans and workers.
by Will Lawson and others

Page updated 7th November, 2010.
Just ONE page on the Collecting Books and Magazines web site based in Australia.
Comment re 'Galloping Wheels'
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Tri-ang Trains in Australia

Whereas railroad fiction was a popular genre in America, there seems little evidence of it in Australia. During the period between the two world wars, American pulps flooded into Australia, but where are the home-grown publications?

Will Lawson's and Tom Hickey's 'GALLOPING WHEELS'
This Australian novel was published by Angus & Robertson in 1947. Set in NSW during WW2, it paints a romantic yet authentic picture of the NSWGR (NSW Government Railways) back in the days when steam was king. Young farmhand Jimmie McLernon works on a farm 'down south' and loves to stand at the track with girlfriend Nessie Burton watching the Cooma Mail chug by. He's the black sheep of the family, never settling into anything. One day he makes up his mind to escape the farm, says goodbye to Nessie and -

"They walked along the rails in silence, till they came to the small platform where the Crossing lay. On the white hand-rail at one end of it hung a lamp, which showed a green light when lit. This was the signal to stop trains - such few as would stop. The Cooma Mail would, for this was the kindest old train on the rails. She would stop anywhere to pick up or set down; she was not fussy and fast like some others ... "

Jimmie had done the right thing and left a letter for his mother, who knew of his desire to escape the farm. The Mail guard befriends Jimmie. He and his wife put Jimmie up at their home in Sydney and the lad is soon employed as a cleaner at Eveleigh workshops, learning the ropes. His adventures working from different depots around NSW have the ring of authenticity. You will be with our hero as he rides a giant 57 class goods loco up through the Blue Mountains and eventually obtains his driver's ticket. Then comes a run on the maiden voyage of streamlined 3804 (though the accompanying line drawing shows 3803) -

"At Picton the grades grew steeper, with a wide curve in the deviation to press on her wheel flanges. Her roller bearings, cushioned against shocks, made her ride like a carriage, smooth and swift. As she pulled up the grades she seemed to be getting more into her stride. On a short level stretch at Tahmoor she made better time, then she thundered through Ghost Cutting, but no sound of her going reaches ears outside this place, where sounds are strangely silenced by the high rocky walls. "

There are many fine descriptions and memorable characters within the pages of this highly entertaining novel, almost certainly based on real people and events. One has to wonder why it has never been reprinted, or made into a movie. Perhaps the background love story, which mostly plays second fiddle to the railways, works against it for some readers, but I found it worked well. You can believe in and care about the characters, from Nellie through to the wonderful Joe Bocca!

'GALLOPING WHEELS' is an important novel in the history of NSW. It paints a picture of a life now long gone and with the possible impending demise of Eveleigh Workshops in their original state, a timely reminder of how important the railways were in the growth of NSW.

To quote from the foreword by T. J. Hartigan, then Commissioner for Railways: "Quite a number of past and present Administrators and Executives were country boys, whose early acquaintance with the great transport system of the State was limited to the once-a-day train that was the man link with the Metropolis."

The dust jacket at the top of the page shows a blue (or green?) 3632.

Date: 26/06/06 11:36:58 AUS Eastern Standard Time
From: Greg Mashiah
Maclean NSW
Thought you may be interested (in case you were unaware) that Ken Groves comments on "Galloping Wheels" in his publication "The Big Engines" (NSWRTM, 1990). Ken indicates that Will Lawson was a professional journalist and believes Tom Hickey was an Eveleigh based engineman. / Ken believes the book was written with a view to attracting young men into railway service (due to the staff shortage post WW2), but states that from a professional engineman's viewpoint, a number of the technical details are completely incorrect. Ken includes an extract of all of Chapter 9, and then critiques the technical errors (which he explains as the authors probably using journalistic licence).

Any problems or questions? Email John.

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