Saving a Ballarat Train Carriage

       … by Jim Foley

A just in time rescue of a railway carriage has been achieved, a short step ahead of the wrecking bar.

The 1874 semi-saloon carriage had been used as a playroom and workshop beside a Ballarat house for decades after being retired by the Victorian railways from the Ballarat Yard. It faced a bleak future.

Fortunately, the local rail fan network swung into action to save the vehicle from almost certain demolition. Steam rail member an Vice President of the Lake Goldsmith Steam Preservation Society, Ron Harris, had been told about the deteriorating vehicle by a friend. Following a investigation, Ron learned that the owner wanted to dispose of it to make way for a house extension. He then talked to another rail fan, skilled vehicle restorer, Bob Skewes at the Bunningyong Historical Society.

As Bob told the tale to Newrail “The carriage was, and still is, in a very sorry sight. It had shrubbery growing all over it and was in a very tight space”. With considerable apprehension, we agreed to try and salvage it

A fence and brick front gate post had to be demolished to try to get it out and we are grateful to the owner and that of the adjoining property did this without cost to us.

“We only have circumstantial evidence that the carriage standing at the Buninyong Platform in the archival photograph is ours. It was certainly one of the few remaining at the time and the fact that it was scrapped as soon as the passenger service closed and finished up in Ballarat is compelling”.

The vehicle entered services as First Class carriage A53, was downgraded to B240 (Second Class smoking) in 1897 and finished its days as YH211 (reclassified in 1910).

Bob and other people interested in the carriage’s role in the history of Buninyong arranged for the vehicle to be transported to his property where it was placed on top of a special platform, purpose- built. The precious rail relic was shifted very carefully. Bob and friends clad it with sheets of plywood for its journey along the Midland Highway.

The Bunningyong Men’s Shed came on board to help in the restoration and the carriage has come under the wing of the Bunningyong Historical Society which plans to put it on public display.

Bob has extensive experience in restoring motor vehicles including bringing back to its former glory the remains of the bus that once ran the Torquay to Anglesea service in the 1929s.

According to Fraser Brown of Quadratum Architecture, the carriage was built by the short-lived Footscray firm, Sims and Deakin in 1874 as a First Class, four-wheeled, semi-saloon car. It had two saloon compartments with a half-height partition between the compartments and construction used both Cedar and Blackwood timbers. The seats faced inwards around the saloons. The carriage seated 36 passengers.

Sims and Deakin built ten of this kind of as well as 17 similar Second Class carriages and a number of wagons during the firms 18 month business. Over the years, the carriages were largely downgraded

An 1874 article about carriages in the Williamstown Chronicle described the carriages as “half saloon. the division across The carriage carriage being sufficiently high to form the back to the seats so that the upper portion of the carriage is open from one end to the other. The means of ventilation and light are excellent. Throughout the whole length of the carriage there are windows fitted with balance weights, each window fitted with a strong, moveable venetian blind, and there are sliding ventilators all around, so that light and ventilation can be regulated at convenience. For the comfort of passengers, the seats are cushioned and a padded rim runs around the carriage about the height of one’s shoulder blades. “They will be lighted with improved kerosene lamps”. The Chronicle reported “They are elegant carriages and are so comfortable as to be infinitely preferable to the First Class carriages now in use, particularly in summer weather”.

Bob said the newspapers account was slightly in error where it talked of windows being fitted with balance weights as there is no evidence that was ever the case. The windows could only be fully up, resting on brass catches, or fully down. In the floor of each section of the carriage are metal spittoons.

The carriage, in its current state, shows the ravages of the years, with seating and many other fittings long gone. Bob and the Men’d Shed tea, are confident they can restore it to its original grandeur so that future generations can enjoy this part of Bunningyong’s history. The Men’s Shed is located on the remains of the former Buninyong Station passenger platform.