Morris Rail Car

We arrived at Quorn for the start of our adventure on the Pichi Richi Railway, but unlike the other gathered passengers, we were not catching the regular 10.30am steam train to Woolshed Flat.

Looking toward the Quorn loco shed we could see the green steam locomotive W 22 (in its former life, Western Australian Government Railways W 916) being prepared. People were milling around eagerly awaiting the arrival of the locomotive to couple up to their train.

Looking down the track a cream-coloured car was spied in the distance, reversing towards us. The passengers weren’t expecting such a vehicle, bemusedly inspecting the amazing car on rails, but their attention, and cameras, were soon turned toward W22 as it came to a halt beside its carriages.

Wife Mary and I were introduced to David Fisher, our driver for the day, as we boarded Motor Inspection Car 126 (MIC126) for our trip to Port Augusta and return. The six-cylinder Morris 25 MICs were introduced in 1937.

The rail conversion was done at the South Australian Government Railways workshops at Islington.

Only two MICs remain – MIC126 and MIC127 – the latter in the railway museum at Peterborough, preserved in its original black.

When the MICs first appeared they were painted black, but after a few accidents and near misses at level crossings, they reappeared during the 1960s in a cream finish with red stripes along the bonnet.

There is a rotating device mounted beneath the car’s chassis, which enables it to be turned at any location along the track. Holden grey motors were fitted to the MICs between 1954 and ’61, and the motor in MIC126 has been reconditioned by Adelaide-based TAFE students. A member of the Morris Register of SA donated the radiator grille.

The transmission is a three-speed affair with the gearstick on the steering column. Only first and second gears are used, as third gear is locked out – although it can be selected if the MIC is stopped.

Conspicuously absent is a steering wheel.

Getting into the front seat is a challenge with the “suicide” doors. Getting in is achieved by opening the door and stepping onto the running board facing forward while sliding in sideways: it’s a manoeuvre that becomes second nature after a few attempts.

Looking at the profile of MIC126, one can see that the roof line is raised from the middle of the vehicle towards the back. Some stories suggest that this was to accommodate that top-hatted dignitaries in the rear seat.

The correct explanation is that the rear wheelbase had to be narrowed to fit the narrow-gauge track, with the back seat raised to fit the narrow wheelbase; hence needing the roof line raised.

This has been confirmed by Colin Workman at Steamtown, Peterborough, who said that the Morris MICs used on broad gauge lines did not have the raised roofline (see below).

At the front and rear, stiff rubber strips are fitted to full-width bars to clear the tracks of grasshoppers or millipedes.

Our departure for Woolshed Flat was on Train Order No. 2 and we were classified as Train No. 139, scheduled for a 10.00am Quorn departure. Right on time, MIC126’s horn was sounded and we were underway.

The longest straight on the Pichi Richi line leads out of Quorn on a 1 in 93 grade. The ride was comfortable enough, given that the steel wheel on steel rail arrangement was paired with minimal suspension. The clickety-clack as we traversed the rails was all part of the experience as we cruised along on the 50lb (22.7Kg) rails.

Along the side of the track are short black poles that were tangent points used for surveying purposes.

There are more than 70 curves on the Pichi Richi Railway, each with a numbered sign on approach to it. More than 50 of those are between Summit and Saltia (pronounced Sol-tyre). Curve No. 30 is the sharpest, with a 5 mph (8 km/h) limit.

During the early 1890s the narrow-gauge track was realigned because the steam engines had grown larger and several curves were deemed too sharp. The changing alignment is easily visible in some places, such as at curves 21 and 22 which were eased.

Bridges were strengthened to accommodate heavier steam locomotives but this apparently wasn’t required for the bridge approaching Woolshed Flat.

Prior to the railway, it took four days to go from Port Augusta to Quorn by road. On the railway it took only four hours.

If you would like to read the rest of this story, grab a copy of the magazine from your local newsagent (in Australia) or subscribe today – or download the digital version.


The BMC Experience Issue 11. Oct-Dec 2014 Magazine

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