Monday, May 9, 2016

BRM 5.8 Mc Pherson Park, Denham Street Bracken Ridge The McKenzie Line

Bracken Ridge residents have numerous parks but there may be one that is more widely known, in additional to its sporting facilities, for one particular reason.  

In 1995, people came from everywhere, to join in and be part of the Opening Day of the Bracken Ridge Lions Club Steam Trains.    

Hundreds of people arrived and gave their tick of approval, to the wonder of learning about, and riding in, one of the miniature steam trains that were huffing and puffing their way around a track, beginning in a loop, from the "station" near Denham Street, all the way to almost the shopping centre and back again.

The absolute joy and delight on the faces of the children made the whole exercise very worthwhile, and it became another fantastic community event.   Well supported then, as it is today. 

Thomas the Tank Engine was a firm favourite!

The park was improved by the planting of many trees, all with the community support. 


Keith Murray and John Herron at the opening.

 But the railway did not just evolve overnight.  In fact it took a long time, a lot of hard work and dedication, a great deal of community support, and red tape to overcome, well before the opening day.

The story of the Bracken Ridge Central Lions Railway as told by John Herron, one of the steering group.

Brackenridge Central Steam Railway. The McKENZIE LINE.(1991- ....)

An educational and recreational facility was how the proposal to the Brisbane City Council (BCC) was framed in 1993 when the Lions Club of Brackenridge Central put forward the idea to construct a 5-inch gauge steam railway at McPherson Park.

Why did the Lions club put it forward?  Australia was in recession and interest rates were going north of 13%.  The net effect was that many organisations were experiencing increasing difficulty in raising funds and were approaching the Lions for funding – notwithstanding that the Lions club itself was having problems with its own fund-raising.

In 1989 Lion Phil Blank had gone to the Bribie Island Steam Railway to watch the trains.  He mentioned that he lived at Bracken Ridge and was told that one of the train drivers came from there.  It turned out that Neil McKenzie lived at Hoyland St. One thing led to another and over talks Phil was told that this is a good way to raise funds for the Lions. Neil being an inveterate model steam engineer for his whole life has lived at Hoyland Street for 40 years and built a 5-inch gauge railway line around his house. Neil is now 90 years of age (2016) and still working on maintaining and improving the railway.

The idea stalled and nothing much happened.  In 1991, John Herron joined the club and started hearing stories about this model railway idea.  It was looked at and it was decided that the logical place was MacPherson Park as it was wide, open and relatively flat and big with easy access and facilities.  The reserve was under lease by the Brackenridge Sporting and Recreation Association from the Brisbane City Council. Long time president Bill Brewster was very keen to see it happen as the 14 acre reserve essentially functioned as a cricket club only. We needed some commitment from the different parties and invited Councillor Keith Murray, Bill Brewster and Neil McKenzie to a meeting in May 1992 - showed a video and explained it all round.

It received general approval from the meeting.  Meanwhile we did some preliminary estimates of costs and revenues and calculated that it was a goer.  In November 1992 about seven members started some serious planning about what was required to be done, what had to be included and how to go about it.  By January 1993, Phil and John had shot a 10 minute informational video on the trains at Bribie and also on MacPherson Park. It was included with a submission for the railway and presented it to the Brisbane City Council on January 23rd 1993.

We needed a surveyor and a story in the Bayside Star prompted Jackie Emmerton to coerce her husband John into offering his services.  John drew up the plans in conjunction with Neil McKenzie and we ended up with approximately a 700 metre track in the shape of a broken dogbone.  Gradients were set at a maximum of 1-in-80.

The BCC gave it conditional approval by April 1993 - basically rejecting it unless the Lions could meet 10 conditions. Eight were already addressed – one was irrelevant and the 10th could not be addressed until the project was up and running. The primary reason for trying to push it away was that the Brisbane City Council had never seen such an operation and didn’t want it. Their final condition was “what was the Brisbane City Council going to do with the facility if it failed and the Lions walked away”. Our answer was that Lions do not walk away.

We struck a large obstacle in the shape of City Hall.  Councillor Keith Murray was fully supportive of the project but even he was stymied by City Hall bureaucrats.  The people in the Northside Parks Operations were tremendous. They saw the potential and the great benefit it would bring to the community and generally couldn’t help us enough.  We had to gain approval to use the area behind the scout and guide huts across to Denham St as this was not included in the BRSRA lease.  The BCC saw the rail line itself as an obstacle to other park users -  we couldn’t do this - we couldn’t do that - we could give up if it got much worse. It was the usual “delay and deny” attitude adopted in legal realms in the hope that “they” will go away and it is then no longer an issue

Meanwhile sponsorships were sought and $4,000 was received from the council ward Parks Trust - $500 from the Bracken Ridge Tavern Sports and Social Club.  The Lionesses kicked in $1500 and it seemed that the Lions would have to fork out for the rest.  Union Steel (BHP) had donated 5 tonnes of 20mm x 10mm and 10mm x 10mm strip steel - Neilsen’s Concrete sponsored concrete for a nominal cost per metre and NorthPoint TAFE had agreed to fabricate the track sections. Neil McK drew plans for templates to fabricate the track sections especially for the curves (14m diameter) with lead-in and run-out sections designed so that the rails did not transition directly from a curve section to a straight section. The TAFE fabricated the templates and got on with welding the line sections.  The rails were made from the 20mm x 10 mm bar with the 10mm x 10mm bar used as sleepers at 200mm intervals.  Neil fabricated the points and the complex pieces to fit it all together.

Steel – fabrication – trenching – track-laying - re-inforcing – boxing - concrete -   endless issues!

Things went backward and forward between the Lions and the BCC for a couple of years sorting out various hurdles.  Now the BCC wanted Lions to take a sub-lease from the BRSRA - then this - then that.  It was a case of when one obstacle was cleared then shift the goal posts.  Now it was the City Solicitor’s Office. After some months of no action I asked local solicitor Neil Richardson to see if he could sort out the legal stuff.  Then it turned out that the person he had to deal with in the Brisbane City Council’s legal office was someone that he had sacked 10 years previously.  What a dilemma!

Things had bogged down and it was now August 1994.  Rail track sections were piling up on my front patio - unfortunately I lived opposite the TAFE college.  By November 1994 we managed to get things sorted out and looking to get started on the construction.  It was too hot and decided to wait until March.  Then Neil McKenzie went away up north on a train trip - then he came back with a hernia.  And we still hadn’t figured out how to dig the trench to lay the line.  Then we looked like being short of steel and had to buy another 2 tonnes.

First, a surveyor to lay out the track.  John Emmerton who had drawn up the layout also acted as surveyor to peg out the track – some Lions learning how to be a chainman in the process. The track was specified as being encased in a 300mm wide by 150mm deep trench to prevent vandalisation. Appropriate profiling of the concrete was included in the original submission which eliminated the BCC concerns of the track being detrimental to other park users. It allowed wheeled appliances such as mowers and strollers to easily negotiate crossing of the track. If the track could be picked up it would be one single piece.

Darryl Firnan at Northside Compressor Hire Service came good with a 6 inch trencher after he and I deliberated about how to dig a 15inch wide trench 6 inches deep. He would deliver a 6 inch trenching machine at 7am on Saturday and pick it up at 11.30 – totally gratis.   It was delivered onsite at 6:45am on June 10th 1995 - cold and windy.   Surveyor John had pegged out the first 250 metres of the track way back in April 1994 and we were flat out finding the pegs by this stage.  At 7:00am on June 10th 1995 Bruce Rampton fired up the trencher and spudded the line - we managed to dig 40 metres of trench in the area in front of the station – in soft sandy soil. 

Re-inforcing was anything we could get our hands on – plenty of star pickets. Boxing – we had to pay for about 20 lengths of VJ cypress pine 4m boards from a demolition place at Redcliffe.  Orange safety barrier came courtesy of the BCC - Henk Horchner managed to beg borrow and steal safety barrier mesh and steel stakes to keep up some semblance of our concern for public safety.

During the week Neil and Graham Thorpe welded the rail sections into place while Gordon painted the rails. Jimmy Palmer and Graham Prisk also provided a lot of the hot hard work. On the following Saturday we boxed and concreted that 40 metres.  It was all hit and miss - and we mostly hit and were learning fast.  The following Saturday we trenched 60 metres.  And so we leapfrogged Saturdays with trenching and concreting - starting at 6-7 am and continuing on until noon, 1pm and occasionally up till 3pm.  Every fortnight Neil O’Sullivan always ended up looking like a concrete statue after using the vibrator/compactor as the concrete was poured. No one else wanted the job.

Every Saturday until mid November - when we laid the last link on the downhill section at Guide’s Corner. Three phase power courtesy of the BCC from a supply 100m away at the rear of the shopping centre. Fortunately, it was continuous dry weather – which made some of the trenching very difficult in parts where the land had been filled with clay. It was partially a swamp prior to its being the recreation ground.  A steam-up bay and sidings were necessary and were added as the main line was completed. Some sidings were added in the following years as development progressed.

Television station Briz31 read about it in the local paper and did a short segment on the track construction and the trains which screened about September.

And in the process we asked for and got gratis assistance from:
                                Mal Gray with a bobcat
                                Greg Lawrence with a backhoe
                                John Sweeney with an excavator
                                Bobby White from Dalby provided lots of technical material
                                and half a dozen others in various shapes and forms.

There were trials and tribulations. The concrete truck nearly toppled one day up on the lower part of the top loop when the weight shifted as we began pouring.  We had to dig out a huge old stump at Guide’s Corner – Greg Lawrence spent one and a half hours on this alone.  We didn’t know him before we started but he selflessly provided 60 hours of work with his machine at no cost. We knew we had problems to confront but pushed on until we could figure a way around them. And we did that with help and assistance from all quarters. Community minded Neilsen’s Concrete from Brendale did the honours for an extremely reasonable nominal price per cu m. He did tell us a long time later that he thought we wanted 2 or 3 loads only – not 25 loads. It is a measure of his character that he never blinked when we continually requested the next load.

December 1995 – it was basically finished.  

Now – did it work?????

It was originally conceived as a “steam only railway”.  It managed to survive as such for a number of years until its popularity and the aging steamies could no longer cope with the crowds.  It now functions as a full spectrum railway with diesels and electrics as well as the steam trains and steam-related equipment is also present. Full safety precautions have always been a part of the facility.

The steam trains are one eighth scale replicas of the actual engines that ran at different places in the world and more particularly in Queensland. And why a 5inch gauge track?  Eight times 5.25inch is 3ft 6in which is the Queensland railway narrow gauge.  They are precision fabricated to scale from the original plans. For the standard gauge engines they are one-tenth scale.  Every piece is cut and turned on a lathe – 3000 hrs work to put one together including around 3000 individual minature rivets. Even at $10 per hour without the cost of materials that is $30,000. You will see A10 – A12 (All Stations Sandgate from 1886) - AC16 – PB15 – BB18¼ - Bayer Garratt – amongst New South Wales 38 class and English and American engines.  The 10/12/16/etc refers to the diameter of the steam piston driving the wheels.

A few trial runs were undertaken on different sections of the track as it was being built.  Jimmy Palmer and Neil McKenzie and Warren Starr from Ipswich let their trains loose. A few mishaps – derails where there was some less than precise fabrication on the rails requiring some grinding wherever it occurred. It was a common sight to see members grinding little sections of the track as a problem was revealed during the first few months.

The bottom part of the track through the trees was relatively ok - but it was a moonscape from in front of the guide’s hut to the top of the track.  But press on.  On the morning of Thursday 2nd December we held a private run on the fully completed track. We had previously had a private Sunday afternoon run on a half-track in September.  Neil managed to get three or four trains there to test the facility.  The pre-school kids went wild. Their teacher had to come over and ask would it be possible to give them a ride.  Neil restricted it to the lower part of track where the landscape wasn’t so wild.

But the rains had come – heavily - and the track turned into a moonscape with some washaways on the embankments but not on the track itself. Not much grass – but lots of mud. The early December run had given us confidence to pursue a real people’s run on Sunday 24th December.  With a little bit of advertising we ended up with 432 people riding the trains. 

There were lots of de-rails – lots of laughter and everyone took it in good humour including the party who turned up late in the afternoon from a wedding. An elegantly dressed woman in expensive heels insisted on a ride even after warnings about derailing in the mud. She hitched up her skirt and climbed aboard in her high heels. Well it happened at Guides Corner. She though it fun enough to laugh it off.  That was the feeling of the whole day. We planned an official opening for March.

In the meantime the city council had come good with grass and trees and the moonscape became a landscape.

An opening run was set down for 24th March 1996 – with quite a bit of testing in between.  The ABC breakfast show with Peter Dick was contacted and Patty was sent out to do a live promo on the Thursday prior. A usual two minute segment turned into 5 minutes - because it was so different Patty got carried away.

Train drivers brought their engines from as far as Rockhampton.  Twenty six engines in all.  The last Queensland Railways Commissioner Vince O’Rourke (by now CEO) was keen to open the track but a derailment at Emerald that weekend took precedence and deputy manager Bob Schrieber took his place. It was officially opened as The McKenzie Line for the enormous amount of work and effort put in by Neil in getting the facility up and running. Four years in the making!

In spite of a few derailments it was a gigantic success. The next day The McKenzie Line was the major page three photo and story in the Courier Mail.  A team of students from QUT produced a video of the whole weekend. Good promotion and great weather saw a very large crowd of 2,000 who made the most of Brisbane’s latest attraction. Children were fascinated that “Thomas” trains actually existed. Grandparents took special delight in telling grandchildren how they worked and how when they were kids and growing up that steam trains were the only trains that existed. The special treat for the kids was to see that all of the workings were on the outside of the engine. Where the coal was fed into the firebox to heat the water to produce the steam – to the pipes which carried the superheated steam to the wheel cylinders to drive the pistons which linked to the connecting rods and crossheads. Not only the boys but the girls were also equally fascinated.

The fourth Sunday each month was to be Train Day for Bracken Ridge Central Lions. Since March weather is generally too hot it was deemed that our annual run day (unofficial birthday) would be in June which corresponded to the actual start of construction in 1995. 

Two circuits of the track for $1 – the little engines normally carrying up to six adults at times steaming up 200 metres of 1 in 80 gradient – through the cutting at the top loop - before running down and through several hundred metres of trees before attempting the uphill run again. Below is a more recent shot of the double-headed A10 and A12 models hauling a tonne of passengers on the run down from the top loop. Consider that each of these trains have cylinder bores of about 1½ inches (35mm) then you can appreciate the incredible power of steam.

Meanwhile, the Lions members harvested rainwater from their roofs – bought special coal called char from Victoria at $700 per tonne delivered – started at 7:00am on train days to transport everything (including a dozen riding cars) to the railway to start at 10:00 am. Then finish at 3:00pm and pull everything down and take it back home – finishing around 6:00pm. The first bag or two of coal was delivered to Phil Blank’s home and taken in buckets down to the train. Lion Phil was mostly responsible for harvesting the rain water and decanting it into 20 litre plastic containers for transport. About 250 litres of water were used at each run and about 10 buckets of char. It was hit-and-miss many times but fortunately Lion Phil managed to get it organised.  Note:  Char is coal that has been processed to drive out impurities and then compressed into briquettes about the size of a party-pie.

The tavern offered to store the coal as they had a forklift to get it off the truck.  One tonne lasted about 12 months. The Railway Lions would then devise some way to get the char across to the track – Terry Philip offered his trailer and Mercedes on one occasion.  

Meanwhile Warren Starr brought his trains from Ipswich – Ray Chapman travelled from Toowoomba and occasionally Eddie Cooper came from Bundaberg to provide running stock.

And yes it did work – right from the very start.

Something Better!  The safety barriers and guard rails were pretty crude in the early days – consisting of iron pipes and star pickets and barricading wired together. Firstly though, we needed a railway shed. Plans were drawn (John Emmerton again??) and a builder was sought through a story in the newspaper in 1997.  Joe from Chermside offered his services although the Lions were restricted in their ability to pay – having to meet many other commitments. An agreement was made on a handshake and a 12m x 6m extension was made to the rear of the current cricket clubhouse. It made provision for the cricket ground equipment so that their current external compound could be removed – a 2200 litre water tank – a char store – and the rest of paraphernalia associated with the train operation. Lion Bruce Rampton managed the construction and fitting out – and things really stepped up a gear.

Funding was sought from the Gaming Machine Community Benefit Fund. The application for $4000 was caught up for nearly twelve months until Michael White from the BR Tavern made representations on our behalf. More community input from the suburb’s movers and shakers.

A coal sorting and sizing machine was devised and built (by whom??) – a water pump was installed and water piped to the train station. However, the handshake agreement did not hold and a negotiated settlement found the Lions having to pay half the difference between what was agreed ($3200) and what was requested ($6500).  This related to the basic structure only as Lions provided all of the other materials such as roofing/ gates/ rollerdoors/ tank/ piping/ etc.   A small matter in the larger scheme as things were now progressing extremely well with the BCC agreeing to install shade structures and proper fencing and barriers.  A big change in attitude from their initial response.

Not Only  - But Also - more sidings and crossings to handle the expanded operations. Other Lions clubs participated with their own fund-raising projects. Now all community organisations had a venue to raise their own funds for no cost. Any commercial operation which the Lions deemed as adding to the event were charged a percentage of their takings.  Brass bands, Pipe bands, an occasional middle of the road band, marching girls, choirs , et, etc were lining up for their chance to perform to add the each day’s spectacle.  And birthday parties were added to encourage kids to have their party at the track. 

The BCC got involved with Backyard Bonanza garden shows. Citizenship ceremonies added from about 2001 with all new Australian citizens provided a free train ride to celebrate after the ceremony. Rod Chiapello was always involved with support from his Macca’s store right from the beginning – and later becoming more deeply involved by joining the Lions club.

And in 2016 – the railway celebrates 20 years of operations. Raising over $200,000 directly for the Lions Club and at least an equivalent amount raised by the other organisations as well as providing a venue to promote their causes.

From fraught beginnings in 1992 it has paid for Lions not to walk away.

Postscript: The original submission was written in 1993 – before I used to backup stuff – no CD or DVD in those days – so I don’t have copies of it. It may be on a 3.5 inch disc somewhere. However, I picked up this bit from a few short notes in some old documents:

Initially in 1996/97/98/..  we used stalls that we borrowed from St Joseph’s School – Phillips St – bring them to site every sat and take them back Sunday I guess.  We also used to pick up the marquee shelter from Zupps in a trailer – I think Clive Mitchell and Phil Blank did this mostly.  It was a horror to put up – high – huge – heavy. Get it Friday – take it back Monday.

                There will undoubted be other pieces of information come to light from other people which should be added for the sake of a complete history of this unique facility.

                                                                                                                                                John Herron March 2016



 But McPherson Park was NOT the first railway track laid in Brisbane.   The first one was in Hoyland Street.  Can you recognise or remember the driver?

At the time, the landscape was a little different as to how it is now.  The lagoon used to flood and make the road impassable.    

Thanks to Neil for supplying the photos and stories, and for being the reason that Bracken Ridge residents,  and even Bears, can enjoy their outing at     Mc Pherson Park.      The "bear" none other than another local Craig Berridge

Neil has supplied the following information from his personal mementos.  No matter where ever these enthusiasts go with their trains, their wives are there making lunches, and cups of tea.  Well done Norma and all the other pit crews.     

The Bracken Ridge Central Lions Club "Team", still working for the community today.  Together with the members of the Bracken Ridge Lioness Club,  they symbolise what Community is all about.

Over the years they have banded together to assist in many community events, two that come to mind, a family in Elsergundo Street lost their home to fire, another family around the Jude Street area did also. 

Then in 1993 there was a mini-tornado that struck on Boxing Day.  Norris Road was particularly hit, including a tree that severely damaged one of the member's homes.  

  Lions Motto is "We Serve" and they do.   Thank you all

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