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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 8, Issue 2 (June 1, 1933)

The Wayside Wallaroo

page 41

The Wayside Wallaroo

The “old man” wallaroo that hopped over the wire fence on to the moonlit railway that night didn't realise what was coming to him. But it was coming without doubt, as fast as an Australian locomotive could bring it.

Jacky Boyd, on the swinging footplate of the “night mixed” for Orange was laying the miles out stiff. The headlight of his engine, No. 099, lit up the track far ahead; her chime whistle's deep notes made the echoes site up and take notice. In the guard's van of the train was Texas Jack, one of the hardest nuts on the road, and one whom the most staggering catastrophe could not terrify.

When the glare of the head-light flickered along the hillside, the wallaroo stood erect from feeding on the juicy railway grass, and wrinkled his nose in mild inquiry. Then he heard the roll of wheels and the bull's bellow of No. 099. Perhaps the noises flurried him. The brilliant headlight and overpowering noises suddenly swung around the curve, before he could make up his mind. Straight along the twin rails the light shone, pointing out an obvious track. The wallaroo adopted the suggestion. He sailed away ahead of the train, like a bush mayor doing the honours.

Jacky Boyd opened her out; 099's big driver hit the rail-joints with louder uproar. She rolled and pitched, her pilot “hunting” from side to side with the thrust of her pistons. For once she was not hunting blindly. The wallaroo was the quarry. He seemed to know it. His legs hit the ballast a bit harder. It was easy for him, and the headlight lit up his path.

Jacky Boyd pushed his throttle wider. He was galloping after the “old man” that didn't seem to notice anything special about the speed. Yet it roused Texas, and made him peer out of the little side-windows of his van. Not being able to see the wallaroo, he came to the conclusion that Jacky Boyd had gone page 42 mad. He was mediating whether he shouldn't use his emergency air-control, when an ear-splitting yell came from 099's whistle, and almost immediately the train pulled up, sighing and shuddering, and with a final dull jolt.

It was a long train; it meant a long walk to the engine. Texas was undecided about setting out till he saw whether they were going on again immediately, when there came a series of bleats and moans and bellowings from the engine's whistle, like a whole seraglio of sea-lions in full blast.

That decided it. Texas set off at a run. It seemed like a real, thrilling smash.

When Jacky Boyd found that the wallaroo was merely pacing them, he got annoyed.

“I'll shift him!” he said.

With the words, he opened the cylinder-cocks and blew the big whistle. They were passing through a cutting and Jacky meant to scare the wallaroo right out of sight, along the road, so that he wouldn't worry him any more. But the combined noises of hissing steam and the chime-whistle were concentrated. They sounded like the heralds of judgment-day arriving on a high-pressure cyclone. The wallaroo's courage was shattered, and instead of racing ahead, as Jacky had expected, he turned and made a desperate bid to mount the 30-foot slope of the cutting, on the fireman's side.

The first leap took him out of the radius of light and cloudy steam. For a moment they thought he had gone, having probably got a ledge to hold him. Then there came a tremendous clattering and sliding and scrambling and an avalanche of stones thundered down.

“Strike me purple!” the fireman exclaimed, thinking a land-slide was coming. But it was the wallaroo. Without warning it bounced clean into the roomy cab, knocking the fireman off his feet and sending his shovel flying. The way the fireman got up and retired to the rear of the tender was marked by wonderful agility and discretion.

Jacky Boyd hadn't the same chance. The wallaroo took to him like a brother; and, for some seconds, the dim oil-lamp lit up a tangled, heaving mass, while 099 tore gaily along on her way. The wallaroo was terrified and desperate. At last Jacky managed to tear himself clear, and he stopped Number Sixteen so quickly, he skidded half her wheels. Then he turned his attention again to the wallaroo.

It had retired to the fireman's corner. Fear of Jacky, upon whom its attention was fixed, prevented it from seeing that its way of escape lay through the open gangway by which it had entered.

Enormous and heavy—for the wallaroo is the biggest kind of kangaroo—it scrambled and hopped about, with Jacky facing it, and dodging when it kicked out with its terrible hind legs. Jacky thought he was getting the better of the scrap, and was reaching for a spanner to end it, when the animal's fore-paw became entangled in the whistle-cord. That was what caused the S.O.S. call that galvanised Texas Jack into action—the roaring, bleating notes could only mean murder and disaster.

Texas is long and lean, and his face carries lines of experience. He pushed his weather-beaten head and shoulders into the cab, just as the wallaroo began to undress Jacky with its leg action. The fireman was trying to hit it with a fire slice, a long, iron affair that wobbled in his hands.

Coming in fresh, though a bit winded, Texas had the best chance. He grabbed the fire shovel, and hit the wallaroo on the head, half stunning it. Then he took off his belt, and borrowed Jacky's, and lashed the beast's legs together.

“Heave the thing overboard,” gasped Jacky, as he struggled to adjust his clothes. “What next may a man expect on this dash road?”

The fireman was for putting the animal overboard, too. But Texas was thrifty. Without having any definite ideas of what a wallaroo was worth, he decided page 43 to keep it. He never threw anything away.

“Lend's a hand, and we'll put him in the ‘loover,’” he said.

Behind the tender was a “louvre” van, with mixed goods in it, consigned to tradesmen of Tenterfield. Together they hauled and hoisted the wallaroo into the van, and slammed the door.

“Right away,” Texas said, and Jacky hit her up so fast Texas nearly missed the van as it came past. And they made the pace to Orange.

No one but a railway hand is supposed to open the door of the railway van. But regular clients get careless about this rule. There were several carts backed up to the ramp waiting for the stuff in the “louvre” van. The horses, lounging in the britchings, were still half asleep. One of the drivers opened the door of the “louvre” van.

This man still maintains that he was bombed. The wall of the van seemed to bound at him and stun him. But it was only the wallaroo. He had come to his senses, and had struggled clear of the straps. Then he had climbed over all the stuff in the van without finding a way of escape, till the sleepy carter slid open the door.

Freedom lay out there. Some trifles of human kind stood in the way. He bowled them over in one leap. His next leap landed him in a cart, and woke up the horse with a jolt. The horse squealed and bolted, spilling the wallaroo, which made another jump, sideways, and collided with three horses. They made a welter of it, too, with empty carts reeling and clattering behind them, and citizens awaking and looking out, saw an enormous leaping marsupial making for the bush.

For what other machine ever seen on earth is as stupendous as a locomotive thundering down a long stretch of track, with black smoke bursting from its stack and its mighty drivers pounding the rails? Where is there another such sight, at morning, noon or night? What other contrivance of human hands is so stately, so regal, so overpowering?—H. L. Mencken, in “The American Mercury.”

“He pushed his weather-beaten head and shoulders into the cab.”

“He pushed his weather-beaten head and shoulders into the cab.”

An Appreciation

Mr. Donald McKenzie, who retired recently from the firm of Messrs. Wright, Stephenson and Co. Ltd., Addington, writes to the District Traffic Manager, Christchurch, as follows:—

After 32 years’ service in charge of stores for Messrs. Wright, Stephenson and Co. Ltd., 19 years of which have been spent at Addington, it gives me very great pleasure to express my deep appreciation of the assistance rendered, not only by the higher officers, but also of all other members of the railway service with whom I came in contact in the course of my work at Addington.

My association with the railway staff has always been most pleasant, no reasonable request for assistance ever having been refused. Upon severing connection with my firm I feel it is only just to place on record the appreciation I have for the members of the railway service.

page 44