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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 8, Issue 4 (August 1, 1933)

The Commissioner's Special

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The Commissioner's Special

The Commissioner was due to visit the Western Division, and the enginemen were keen to have a western engine to haul his train from Sydney to Bathurst, as well as further out.

Their fancy engine was No. 717, a “P” class flier that could skate up the Brewongle bank with a heavy train behind her. But she wanted an overhaul. So she was sent down to Eveleigh Shops for special attention. When she rolled out on to the road again she looked like a flapper with her war-paint on. In her preliminary runs she might have lived up to her fast appearance had she not developed a hummer of a hot-box.

The Commissioner's train came west with a Sydney engine and crew. And Jonah took charge of it west of Bathurst with his old 703. This combination was fast enough for anything, for Jonah insisted that the scientific way to make time was to do it uphill. If his fireman disagreed, as being the most interested party with a perfect right to speak, Jonah got another fireman.

Still, the division was sore that their flash 717 had gone to the pack. And no one was sorrier than the loco. super. She was his pet of the round house, and he had men working on her all the time the Commissioner was west, in hopes of having her ready to take the special east when the big man returned. She was run and schooled and tried in every way. But always, after she had run 100 miles or so, the hot-box came back.

The time was getting short, too, and at last it became evident that the refractory engine would not be ready for the run east. It was a surprise to everyone in the steam shed, then, when the super. ordered her to be ready. When objections were raised he said:

“717 will go, with Jonah driving.”

And that settled it.

The spick and span special clocked into Bathurst ten minutes late. Jonah had nothing to do with that part of her run. He had been messing about 717 all the morning, getting her into a good humour, as only Jonah could get an engine into tune. The super's. orders to him for the Sydney run were luridly explicit.

“Run at timetable speed. Don't try to pick up the lost time!”

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Jonah nodded and took his engine out. He went through Brewongle on the grade of 1 in 75, with the car wheels humming a new song for that bit of section. The Commissioner looked out on a curve, at the clean, shining engine, and remarked jokingly on the speed:

“Looks like dirty work at the crossroads,” he said, and asked who was on the engine. When they told him Jonah, he sighed and looked at his watch.

Wambool saw Jonah almost happy. He had picked up two minutes. The other eight, dangling invisibly before his engine's pilot like an imaginary carrot, kept Jonah from being quite happy. No. 717 was legging it up the grade of the Marrangaroo Loop like a bygone “Blow-fly” buzzing her 7-foot drivers on the western plains. She popped into and out of the tunnels like a cork gone mad. All Jonah cared was that he had recovered five of the lost minutes.

“The fool,” Mac, the Super., said. “He'll break out that hot-box again, and we'll have to call on Sydney for an engine to haul her home.”

A stop for refreshments was made at Mount Victoria. Jonah didn't bother about refreshments. He was too busy hosing down a lovely hot-box. He did a number of things to 717 to fit her for the remainder of her flight against time. Even his fireman never knew all that Jonah did to his engine. It seemed that he and she were familiar in a sort of mechanical spiritualism. Engines would do for him what no other man ever dreamed they could do.

There was a little delay in starting again, and the Commissioner's secretary and the conductor went along to inquire.

“Waiting?” bellowed Jonah at the smart young man. “Who's waiting? Sonny, by the time you get back to your reserved compartment, we'll be away.”

The conductor had a stiff arm for weeks from the “yank” he got as he swung on to the rear as it ripped past; the secretary being in a nearer car just managed to fall into it as 717 got away. She was after the miles like a man-eater, with her throttle wide open. Through the mountain stations they galloped. When the grades became steadily down hill the speed grew to a dizzy 65 miles an hour, the wheels roaring, roaring, roaring, like a cataract in a mountain gorge. The 717's hot-box was getting hotter and hotter. It was like a blazing beacon at Penrith. They were talking about it over the wires long before Strathfield was reached. And the amazed signalman saw a stout, sturdy driver, leaning out from 717's running board, with a hose in his hand, squirting water on to the hot bearing as the engine romped along with the smart special behind her.

Jonah had picked up all the lost time. He had disobeyed orders to do so, but the result justified the means. For the Commissioner's special reached Central Station right on time, and it had come all the way from Bourke with western engines hauling it.

“How did you do it?” Mac, the super., asked, when Jonah was back at the Bathurst steam shed, coddling up his old 703.

“Do it? Why I just did it. She's not a bad bit of an engine is that 717, though she needs a good talking to pretty often. But, man, I knew she'd do it all the time with Billy Goode shovelling.”

“He was too busy hosing down a lovely hot-box.”

“He was too busy hosing down a lovely hot-box.”

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