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Published: October 16th 2014
Peterborough and Terowie
Just as the Murray River had a huge impact on central and North Victoria and South Australia with the paddle steamers making a life line, rail was the life of Peterborough and Terowie. These giants of rail transport firstly worked together, then Peterborough killed off Terowie as the Rail Hub of Central South Australia, but later, even Peterborough secumbed to progress and is a shadow of the former importance as a rail centre.
In a well planned country, one would imagine that there would be one rail gauge used everywhere. Not here. South Australia had trains arriving/passing through with three different track gauges.
Before getting to Terowie, we diverted a couple of Ks through the little rural town of Burra. This is a beautiful rural town with just a small population. If you journey through this area, take time to visit this little town. If you love Antiques, then this is a MUST VISIT town.
Terowie was where two gauges met. Every train that came through the region either had the freight trans-shipped to a train with the alternate gauge, or passengers got off at one platform and boarded a train on the adjacent
platform to continue their journey.
There was a major work force of labourers, lifting and shifting, shovelling and heaving. Freight trains were held at Terowie for up to 20 hours while the freight was moved. Passenger services were much quicker, but a frustration was tickets used on the first leg were often lost before boarding.
Progress at Terowie came when a clever engineer made a three car Tipping Rail. Iron ore, fertiliser, coal was simply tipped from one train into the next, and they were on their way, as was the huge amount of dust that spread across the township.
Over time the centers of Terowie and Peterborough had trains travelling east west and from Silverton down to the coast to smelters for processing the ore. This was a very busy railway junction between 1910 and 1920 with over 100 trains per day. They say it still holds the world record for the number of trains passing through a region on a single track system.
A few more Years on and Peterborough Rail was set up as the Western Division and a round house was built to service locmotives and rolling stock on each of the
three gauges of track. The Steamtown Museum uses this roundhouse and it's turntable for an evening sound and light show covering the history of rail in the region.
The next big change came when Standard Gauge was to be used. Suddenly Terowie lost its significance. The new track was designed and didn't even come through town. So from the 1960's, the lights went out here. But Peterborough had a good ten years of glory left.
With steam locomotives travelling 1600 miles between shutdowns, the boilers got very dirty, and with poor water in places, the tubes were encrusted with lime. So each journey kept maintenance workers very busy.
Then deisel locomotives replaced steam, could travel thousands of miles between services, and Peterborough Rail became history. Trains travelling east west still pass through here, and freight passes through, but the complete engineering facility including foundary and machine shops had the lights turned out. Everything was just left as it stopped on the final day. This workshop is now the museum and well worth taking the guided tour. (2 hours)
There is an interesting and unusual rail vehicle in the museum. You expect locomotives, passenger cars, wagons and
track plant and equipment. But what is a Morris car doing in a railway workshop display? The railway had 4 of these cars which were used by supervisors and pay clerks visiting different stations along the route. The first thing you can see is that it has rail wheels, no steering wheel, and under the bonnet is fitted a Holden 6 cylinder grey series motor. Apparently the Morris motor was troublesome and lacked power, hence the swap over. What you cannot see is that it has been fitted with something like a Lazy Susan on the underside. This could be jacked down onto the track, the car spun around, and then settled on the tracks for the return journey.
Would you believe right next door to the Railway Workshop, there is a mothballed Gold Stamping Mill – still complete and could be started tomorrow. In 2015 the museum hopes to open the mill as a static museum and tell the gold story of South Australia and Broken Hill regions.
Terowie is a ghost town, Peterborough is still a banking and rural service centre, and trying to capitalise on its history.
The story of Petersborough has some interesting
twists. A lot of the early settlers were of German descent, and the town name was originally Peterburg. However, at the time of war when their was a lot of anti-German sentiment, the name was changed to Peterborough. All germanic street names were either anglicised or replaced with totally new names.
A great act of bravery is told here too. A freight train was heading north from Peterborough when the last 15 wagons plus the guards van broke loose, and started to roll backwards towards Peterborough. No Westinghouse brakes on these trains, just a crank on brake on the guards van and each individual wagon. As was common, there were a few passengers in the guards van including children. The guard wound on the guards van brakes as hard as he could, but that wouldn't slow the runnaway train. So he climbed out of the van and one by one climbed along the rolling train and wound on the hand brake of each of the wagons until it finally came to a stop. He was awarded a bravery medal for this tricky and risk act.
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