Faded and Forgotten

I was in my Rover 75, on a bumpy farm track, but nothing would stop me now. At the second gate I decided to walk, and it was only a short distance before I could make out a distinctive and familiar shape near the crest of the rise.

There it was, with one of the trailers standing faithfully behind it, in the shadow of a large gum tree, in the company of a dozen Hereford cattle grazing on the hill.

As I walked across the paddock towards the black and green bodies my first feeling was relief that although they appeared very sad and unloved, they are still intact. The flat tyres were causing the body to list, and the rims were sinking into the ground. The bright paintwork had faded and was peeling, while the black had turned to a matt finish, making it look drab. The red and yellow paint that highlighted the features is all but gone.

But that didn’t lessen my excitement about what I had found; after nearly two years of hunting, chasing a trail of crumbs discovered through hours of painstaking research, questioning locals and following up on possible leads.

Before taking a closer look, I stood for a moment and thought about the significance, in my eyes at least, of the dilapidated little train in front of me.

Early History

Australia’s first railway, a horse-drawn tramway, was built between Goolwa, near the mouth of the Murray River, and Port Elliot in 1854. It was built to link the wool and wheat trade from the river to the port, to avoid the treacherous river mouth.

In the mid-1860s, the line was extended to Port Victor, a former whaling centre later renamed Victor Harbor, on the Fleurieu Peninsular, south of Adelaide, in the sheltered lee of Granite Island.

A few years later the tramway was extended across the causeway to the island, to service larger trading ships. However, with the expansion of the much faster overland rail services between Melbourne and Adelaide and the major river ports, the trade via Goolwa and Victor Harbour dried up by the early 1890s.

By this time, though, Victor Harbor had become a popular tourist destination for the people of Adelaide, and tourism became a major industry of the town. A horse-drawn passenger tramway across the Granite Island causeway was established on 27 December 1894, using a double-ended double-decker tramcar built in England by Brown Marshall of Birmingham.

A second car was used between 1910 and 1925, while two more from the closed Moonta Tramway on the York Peninsular arrived in 1931.

The Victor Harbor tramway continued to be operated until the mid-1950s by the Honeyman brothers, George and younger brother Frank, under a contract with South Australian Railways.

Following a dispute with the city mayor over £3,000 worth of essential repairs to the Causeway, and disillusioned at the lack of support for the service from the council, Frank decided to retire in 1954 and the council put the service up for tender. It failed to attract a bid.

The owner of the Granite Island kiosk operated the tramway during the summer of 1955-56 before the trams were laid up and the tracks removed from the causeway.

There was very little interest in the rolling stock. One tram was vandalised and eventually pushed into the sea near the Screwpile Jetty. Another was later sold to a museum in the USA, where it was restored and remains today.

A New Opportunity

In December 1956 Keith Roney took the opportunity to re-establish the tourist run, drawing up designs for an enclosed cab for a petrol-powered Massey Ferguson T21 tractor that he had purchased. He also designed and supervised the construction of two four-wheeled trailers, each capable of seating ten passengers.

Keith operated the “Tractor Train” for ten years, until 1966, ably assisted by Ernie Lovell, who worked as the ticket collector: two shillings and sixpence from each adult for the return journey.

Council refused to renew Keith’s contract in 1966 and he was disappointed that he was not able to continue the service. He was succeeded for a short time by Jack Edwards and then Arnold Stringer.

The tractor was not really an ideal vehicle for the job and during the busy season more passenger places were needed. In late 1966 Arnold replaced the tractor with a short-wheelbase diesel Land Rover, with a “cow-catcher”, buffers and fake funnel and boiler sticking out through the bonnet. The tractor was retained and used occasionally when the Land Rover required service.

An extra couple of carriages appeared at this time, the originals were refurbished and all were painted in new bright green and gold colours. Large signs showing tourist locations around the area adorned the sides of each carriage.

Some time in 1967 the original Series II Land Rover was replaced with a Series I 107” chassis with a steel-framed body, made up to look more like a steam train, painted in the new colour scheme, and able to carry ten passengers in the back. The body was constructed by Dekker Motor Bodies in Adelaide and fitted in Victor Harbor.

The train and the contract changed hands again in 1968, being sold to Richard Freiman who ran the business for another ten years.

In 1978 the service was purchased by Tividar (Tibi) and Eva Fekete, who also operated the doughnut van and trampolines near the township end of the causeway.

The Train

The Land Rover train, powered by a four-cylinder Rover diesel engine was registered RWM 206, but a search has revealed this plate is no longer in use.

With all five carriages attached, and the rear of the Rover full, the train would frequently transport 60 people: over 3.5 tonnes, relying only on the Land Rover’s drum brakes. The journey is 1.5 km each way and the train completed a return trip every 20 minutes from the Victor Harbor end of the Causeway to the kiosk on Granite Island.

In the late ’70s adult passengers paid 60c, children 40c; and the council took a flat fee of $7,000 a year. The service ran every day for the six months of the summer and holiday season, and weekends in the winter months.

Tibi would often start the Land Rover before 10am, when it was driven from its shed, and not switch the engine off until after 5.00pm. It was fitted with a hand throttle and completed the journeys at a fast walking pace, about 10km/h in high-range second gear and, even through the hottest weather, never overheated.

A conservative calculation reveals that the little Landy covered almost 450,000km in this way, over a period of 20 years!

To read the rest of this story, grab your copy of the magazine from your local newsagent (in Australia) or subscribe today for either the digital copy or the printed version.

The BMC Experience Issue 18. Jul-Sep 2016 Magazine


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