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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 8, Issue 3 (July 1, 1933)

“Oliver is on Board”

page 9

“Oliver is on Board”

“Talk about Speed,” Long Charlie said, leaning back comfortably before the fire in the big room of the barracks at Dubbo; “those old ‘Blowflies’ they used to run on the plains just about hold the record. Between Nyngan and Bourke, on the 150-mile stretch of level going they used to tear along. Seven-foot single drivers, they had, and inside cylinders, and not much else beside. But with the light trains of those days, once they were started they could travel.

“Ned Oliver was driving one of them for a long time. That was in the days when the ‘Blowflies’ worked nearer home, even on the mountains at times, though how they did any climbing with their big wheels, beats me. Still they worked about Bathurst and Orange and Dubbo, before they were pushed out west to rip and snort on the plains. Now they're gone. There were only three of them—Nos. 14, 15 and 16. I wish I had a picture of one of them to show you. They'd make you laugh, alongside the C36's and NN's and K's we run now. But Ned Oliver got a lot of fun out of life when he was driving on the ‘Blowflies.’

“Towards the end of Ned's railway career, there was a new Commissioner appointed named Oliver—same name as Ned and a very thorough man. We used to call Ned ‘The Commissioner’ after that, and one day he ‘worked the oracle’ on the same lay.

“One of the ‘Blowflies’ had been sent down to Sydney for overhaul and when she was ready, Ned was sent to bring her home to Bathrust. Ned had come in from Nyngan, and in Sydney he met some pals, drivers and other boys, that he used to know. And they had a night out. Next day, Ned was to bring the ‘Blowfly’ home. And he discovered that a mate of his, Mat Stope, would be working the day ‘passenger’ to Bathrust. They arranged to meet there.

” ‘Don't let them side-track you,’ Mat said to Ned. ‘Keep moving and I'll look out for you at Bathrust.’

“Ned bet him he would be more than a couple of hours behind Mat in pulling into Bathrust. Although he was to have a strange fireman, he was game to bet, he said.

“Next morning he found that he was to run train No. 85, a block behind page 10
“He smartened everybody up about the station …”

“He smartened everybody up about the station …”

the ‘passenger.’ With reasonable luck he ought to keep that position. But in the railways you never know. After passing Penrith, Ned began to think out a scheme to make sure that he wouldn't be side-tracked. And when he reached Valley Heights, where an old mate of his was station-master, he got his idea. He persuaded the S.M. to send a service wire along to all stations as far as Mount Victoria.

” ‘Push No. 85 through. Oliver on board.’

“That did the trick, though the station-masters when they turned out to pay their respects to the Commissioner, got a shock to see only a little ‘Blowfly’ engine snorting through. Perhaps they thought she was a pilot for the Commissioner's train. Anyhow, Ned Oliver got through in fine style. He kept the seven-foot drivers turning, and being all newly painted and polished up, the ‘Blowfly’ looked her best. If she had only been big in proportion to her wheels, she would have looked all right. But Ned knew there would be trouble at Mount Victoria, where he would have to stop to pass an up train.

“Mount Victoria had always been a swagger station with pot-plants and stag-horns on the posts. The stationmaster there was a bit surprised to get the wire about No. 85, because he thought the Commissioner was at Newcastle. The fly-by-night habits of Commissioners, however, were well known to him. He smartened everybody up about the station, watered the ferns and had a nice grill put on in the refreshment-room, in case Mr. Oliver might step off his saloon car for a few minutes.

“The ‘Blowfly’ blew her best blast outside the distance signal, just for swank. All the signals had been pulled off in good time. Ned swooped down on the station, and pulled up with a flourish outside the refreshment-rooms where the smell of the grill made his mouth water.

“The stationmaster was on the platform. His eyes were sticking out with surprise at seeing only an engine—and a ‘Blowfly’ at that.

” ‘Where's the Commissioner; where's Mr. Oliver?’ he demanded.

” ‘I'm Mr. Oliver,’ answered Ned.

” ‘You're what? Yes; I remember now, your name is Oliver. Do you mean to tell me you've had the cheek to wire through to keep a clear track for you and that?’ He pointed contemptuously at the ‘Blowfly.’

” ‘Well, I only asked for a good run,’ Ned said humbly. It's not my fault if you mistook me for the Commissioner.'

” ‘Your fault,’ stormed the S.M. ‘Look here, I'll report you to the Commissioner for using his name, I will.’

“Well, Ned let him talk. And when he had run down a bit, Ned said—

” ‘I admit I've had you. But why not pass it on? Let some of the others fall in, too.’ Ned had a persuasive tongue.

page 11

In the end he had the S.M. laughing at the whole scheme.

” ‘All right,’ he said, ‘I'll see you through.’ And he went into the office. After a while he came out again with the staff which he gave to Ned, saying—

” ‘I've sent the word on to Eskbank. It's your funeral now.’

“So Ned and the old ‘Blowfly’ worked and wangled and laughed their way past surprised and disappointed railway officers, down the Zig Zag and away to Eskbank.

“As they ran into Eskbank Ned's fireman said—

” ‘There's a train in Eskbank. What'll she be?”

“Ned didn't know. There was no train scheduled to be there. But they had the road; so he sailed on. A passenger train, bound west stood in the siding. The main track was clear. Ned whistled, and opened his throttle. And the ‘Blowfly’ whooped past that train like the Flying Scotsman. And as they passed it Ned nearly fell off the engine when he saw Mat Stope on the footplate of the other train. It was the ‘passenger’ that had left Sydney before them.

“So, after all, ‘Mr. Oliver’ was in Bathurst before the passenger. When Mat, cursing and red-faced, met Ned he let off steam about being held up at Eskbank, for a ‘Jam-tin with penny wheels.’

” ‘Well, who held you up?’ Ned asked. ‘I swear I never did. All I asked for was a fair go.’

” ‘Why! Mount Victoria sent through a special wire,’ Mat retorted. ‘That said: ‘Give 85 precedence over passenger. Mr. Oliver on board.’ I tried to tell them it was you; but they said I had gone mad. ‘Mr. Oliver on board.’ That got them. you should have watched them sprucing up the place and themselves, and seen their faces, Ned, when they saw what came through.'

“Mat was getting over his temper.

“‘Well, I was on board all right,’ Ned said, ‘and here we are.’”

Freckles, a hot-headed mail driver, looked up from his newspaper when Long Charlie had finished talking.

“You don't expect us to believe,” he said. “that Ned Oliver got precedence of the ‘passenger’ on the say-so of the S.M. at Mount Vic.”

“I only know what Ned told me,” retorted Charlie.

“Well, I'll tell you something, then,” Freckles said. Mr. Oliver was on No. 85 all the time.”

They all laughed at that.

“Where was he then?” Long Charlie jeered. “In the tender I suppose, or squatting on the pilot.”

“No,” said Freckles, in scathing tones, “he was firing. I was cleaning in the Eveleigh steam shed the morning he took the job. Oliver was on 85 all the time, and that's why your smart Alec of a Ned got away with his bluff. But it was Mr. Oliver who was having the joke all the time.”

(W. W. Stewart Collection.) Cleaners at work in the Locomotive Sheds at Auckland.

(W. W. Stewart Collection.)
Cleaners at work in the Locomotive Sheds at Auckland.

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