The Mary Valley Rattler RM76 operates on the Mary Valley Heritage Railway between Gympie and Imbil, Queensland

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Comments (11)

Ian Stehbens on November 21, 2008


Ian Stehbens on January 3, 2009


I am not sure what the history of this particular railmotor RM76 was, but I believe that it spent most of its running life on the Mary Valley Branch Line. And the red railmotor was "The Rattler". On the occasions that The Rattler was broken down and she was replaced by a steam loco hauling its train of red wooden carriages, there was a clear differentiation: a train had replaced The Rattler!

Railmotors were used to provide passenger and mail services on lines where the passenger volumes did not warrant a steam service. Rattlers ran from Gympie on the Mary Valley Line to Brooloo, on the South Burnett Line to Proston, and on the Main North Coast Line to Yandina. The peak years on this line were the late 1950s and early 1960s, when the children born in the post war baby boom were off to high school, and before the new Queensland Government had established high schools or attached secondary departments to the primary schools in the country towns. Imbil was granted secondary school classes at Imbil State School commencing with the Year 9 intake in 1962.

Prior to 1962, children from the townships along this line went to Gympie High School both for their secondary education (mostly for 2 years, Forms III & IV) as well as for "rural school" on a fortnightly basis when in grades 7 & 8. At rural school the boys attended classes in woodwork, metalwork, leatherwork and technical drawing, whilst the girls were taught cooking, sewing and drafting for dressmaking.

In these years the railmotor metamorphosed from a small RM76 to a much larger, more powerful motor with a drop-centre engine, and it became a 3-car train, adding a fourth smaller carriage behind the guard's van on the "rural school days" allocated to the larger schools at Imbil and Kandanga. This 4th carriage was derogatively known as "the dog box", and was usually occupied by the younger boys.

Imagine for a moment the scene at 7:15am on a frosty winter's morning at Imbil Station in 1961.

There were 42 Form III children, 28 Form IV children, and around 50 children to go to rural school all assembling on the platform, keeping warm as best they could, waiting for "The big Motor" from Brooloo with a few children from Brooloo already on board.

One of the railway gangers would have a campfire going heating water to remove the ice from the motor's front window when it pulled up. The mailbags were ready. A few brave paying passengers had bought their tickets and sat in the waiting room. Over 100 children anticipating another great day out on the railmotor, assembling and reforming their little social groups for conversation and camaraderie. The older of them dressed in navy and grey uniforms, wore maroon blazers trimmed with gold, whilst the younger ones were all barefoot and without any uniform but already playing trivial games.

Then "The Rattler" would be heard coming around the curve below Durie's farm and everyone moved to their established patch of the earth platform to climb up into a particular door, in a particular carriage. There was a clearly established pattern for all passengers: paying passengers in the front car with older high school girls, all the other girls in the second car, high school boys filled the 3rd carriage overflowing into the guards section to sit on the mailbags or other freight items, and most of the rural school boys in the dog box!

In those days (the early 1960s) the C17 or BB18¼ locomotives were used to haul the bulk bins of pineapples from Kandanga, Amamoor, Imbil, Dagun, Brooloo and Melawondi. (The use of cases for pineapples had become a thing of the past and bulk loading facilities were installed in most station yards). During the summer peak, the pineapple harvest going to the Northgate cannery was too much for one locomotive to ascend the "Kandanga bank" (a steep incline north of Kandanga), and so a second loco would follow the railmotor (the Rattler) in the afternoon down run to Kandanga. There this 2nd loco would meet the up-train which sat in the loop siding to allow the rattler to pass. Then, as a double-header, the goods train would haul the sweet-smelling tonnage to Gympie, on its way to Northgate cannery in Brisbane.

There were a range of incidents on the line, involving the Rattler. But the most serious occurred in 1958, the year before I started going to rural school. This was our "great rail disaster". How no one was killed in our "disaster" I will never comprehend. But for this dramatic event to unfold, one has to understand the subtleties of the operation of the line, even better than Mr Dabelstein! (He was the long-time station master at Kandanga and he knew the line very, very well.)

Now the Rattler stopped not only at the designated stations but also at declared Rail Motor Stops. It was after all our rattler: the people's train. At a RM stop, a local person may alight or board from the first carriage, then the rattler would move forward so that the guard or an assisting school student could pass down from the guard's van the parcels, the baby's pram, bicycle or whatever accompanied the passenger. Then the rattler would move on to run until its requested or required next stop. And all this took time.

So one afternoon, the "Motor" left Kandanga with the 'section staff', and the Kandanga Station Master allowed a C17 loco to follow it, 10 minutes later for it was going to Imbil this afternoon to become the 2nd engine on the goods train. It was bumper winter-crop time! Remember the Imbil to Melawondi section also has a climb to the tunnel, and the pineapple season was in full swing.

On its merry way, the rattler stopped at a RM stop just south of Kandanga, then at Melawondi, then just up the line for the Grace children to go skipping across the paddock to their farmhouse. Next it stopped at Worth's RM at the tunnel, then at the Cherry Gully RM that gave access for farm families that lived at the western end of Ballard Road.

Here at this RM, this particular afternoon, two ladies and a child alighted, then the motor moved forward two carriage lengths to allow Neil Johnson, a high school student from Imbil, to take her pram down out of the guard's van. Look out! Here comes the C17 with no carriages down the track at quite a few knots when its driver and fireman caught a glimpse of the stationary rattler ahead. All brakes screamed and the whistle blasted, then the impact and two rattler carriages were capsized and strewn down the low embankment to the eastern side of the line. The girls' carriage split down the centre, opening up like a gutted mullet!

And Neil Johnson suffered only a broken arm! The passengers were taken into Imbil by car and four students were admitted to Gympie hospital with minor injuries. The front unit of The Rattler was able to drive to Brooloo, after the local policeman had been to the scene.

Just a little drama for the afternoon, it was.

I presume the pineapples were over-ripe by the time the line was cleared and they arrived at Northgate cannery!

And a steam loco replaced "the Motor" (aka "The Rattler") for a time.

©Ian Stehbens

Sue Allen on January 3, 2009

Kandanga Bank as mentioned in the wonderful story above.

You really ought to write that book, Ian!

Ian Stehbens on January 5, 2009

Thank you for the links, Sue and for your understanding and above all your love for the Valley.

Perhaps you might subtly extract the book from me, story by story on Panoramio, if you keep posting images of the Valley!

As a result of all this nostalgia that you have brought on, Sue, I have posted a picture of Imbil State School, the principal terminus of the Mary Valley Rattler passengers!

tukki on March 18, 2010

In the post war 50´s & 60´s we had red railbuses similar to this. I often wondered why such good and small concepts like this were abandoned. It was certainly better then the large, almost empty trains running today. No wonder they always want tp close the "unprofitable" lines. They have simple forgotten how to fit the right equipment to a streach. FRED

Ian Stehbens on March 18, 2010

I understand your critique, Fred. In this case the closure of the line was really decided by the local people.

Let me elaborate. "We" wanted a secondary school in the town, and we were granted that so children stopped going on the railmotor the 90 minute journey each way, each day, as I had done. The local shops began using a trucking service to have their goods brought from Brisbane. The pineapple industry in the area declined, and so less fruit was sent to the cannery, so alternative arrangements were made to transport the fruit to the main line for the rail journey tho the cannery. Families bought cars during the 1950s and 1960s so passengers were not using the line. The manganese mine closed. And the big commodity, sawn timber, was now being trucked, along with the new timber products and by-products to diverse markets. And mail services were now being done by truck, and later by email, such that the slower rail services were no longer required.

Instead the scale of mining changed in the same era, and new open-cut large scale export mines meant new lines, new patterns of viability, electrification, and bigger faster trunk lines. Small branch lines were no longer wanted.

But there was such a "identity attachment" to this particular Mary Valley Line, that when a group of entrepreneurs decided to try to operate the line as an historical railway, there was strong local support. Queensland Railways have since supported the idea, so Mary Valley Historical Railway now operates on the line.

Now the line brings tourists for a hour or so to have lunch, wander around, be tempted by the stalls in the market, then get back in the train and return up the line.

Kind regards Fred,


Sue Allen on April 20, 2010

Hope you're writing that book, Ian! I just came across your very interesting comment again on my pic of the silver bullet and did another link to this picture. I am very out of practise on here and have probably done it in a clumsy manner, but it's always good to read your wealth of knowledge regarding the Mary Valley line, so if more people come here to your gallery, I am all the more happier. More happier -- ? That's not quite correct English, is it, but you get the picture. :)

Very best wishes to you, Ian, and hope this message finds you well,

Sue (Delete this, by all means, to keep the interesting comment above in easy view...cheers)

Ian Stehbens on April 20, 2010

Dear Sue,

How could I know that a gracious person like you was signing off on a bootcamp alias!! Thank you for all your encouragement and for your appreciation of the stories of the Rattler and for your obvious enjoyment of The Valley!

Here's a different story:

There was a particular teacher at Gympie High School in our day, who was one of those legendary unpleasant characters, that once upon a time managed to somehow survive in the education system. His obnoxious mouth spewed abuse at students, selectively, and sprayed over the whole student body on some occasions, usually on Wednesday afternoon, when he felt he had command over the allotted time for sport. He was particularly derisive of students who came from the "The Valley" on the "Rattler". And yet he selectively pampered and praised a few students including the occasional one from the "Valley". That unpredictability and duplicity was the way of such damaged characters. To some he gave respect which, to us youth at the time, was clearly related to the prestige a family may have had in the town of Gympie. To others it was their sporting ability which he held up. Maybe my athletic ability and my academic ability protected me from most of his sprays, but my daily travelling on the "Rattler" implied to him that I didn't have enough interest, zeal or school spirit, for his liking. Then one amazing night near the end of my 6 year association with the high school I loved, he felt compelled to apologise to my parents for his subtle discrimination. Personally I guess I should have been grateful, perhaps I should have had my faith in human nature strengthened by his repentance, but I was left with the disappointment that so many others had been debased by his vitriol and selectivity, and to them there was no apology possible.

Thankfully today, with that behaviour, he wouldn't last a week in education.

His discrimination was countered by me, in that I developed a pride in the fact that I had travelled for 3000 hours and 73000 km on the Mary Valley Rattler to obtain my formal education.

And I didn't "sit on kerosene cases at home" as he may have imagined and not once did he "root me so high that I came down with snow on me"! And proudly, I rode the "Rattler" to school. And my education for me was gold.

By contrast, every driver of the Rattler, and every guard in the guard's van, and every station master on the line was a person who was respectful of each child that travelled on the Rattler. In fact, they were gracious, friendly ordinary women and men who cared for every child, and made us all proud that we could ride the "Railmotor" every day.


Sue Allen on April 20, 2010

Love this piece of writing! Delete this so more people see it, but just had to let you know I've very much enjoyed reading this before hitting the sack.

Very best wishes to you, Ian. I wonder if I have passed you on the street on many occasions. You may not recognize me now as I have much longer locks, generally windswept, even if it is not windy, which is always a mystery to me!


Ian Stehbens on April 22, 2010

HI Sue, I like the imajinthat signature very very much! And no I won't remove your comments for they are special. Interested folk can readily find the Tales.

Keep looking after The Valley for me.


Ian Stehbens on April 30, 2011

Certainly Mini,

Can feel the shakes, hear the diesel engine revving, the clack of the wheels on the track, the blare of the airhorn, and the smell of the brakes grabbing us to a halt at the station.

As they start their day once the motor has departed, the gangers are waiting around a tea billy on a fire. They obliging offer some of their water to the driver so that he can defrost his windscreen, this cold frosty July morning.

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    by Ian Stehbens