Trains spread cheer before mining boom
For most of the world reindeer and a sleigh ferry presents to homes on Christmas Eve, but for a brief period in time in the Pilbara it was heavy diesel and good old fashion mateship which helped deliver the Christmas cheer.
Back in the day, before the boom times, the Pilbara Railways Historical Society used to run trains along the Hamersley Iron rail lines as a social endeavour.
Trips on old trains, including the famed Pendennis Castle, saw groups head out to rail camps to make use of swimming pools, tennis courts and picnic areas.
One of the favourite runs of the year however, was the annual Christmas run, a true show of community spirit for those workers isolated in Tom Price and Paraburdoo for the festive season.
Every year about late November to early December, workers from the inland towns would be ferried on the trains to Karratha to do their Christmas shopping.
Former PRHS member Bob Vanselow remembers the tradition well.
“It was something we thought of ourselves because there was very little action from anyone on building a sealed road to Tom Price,” he said.
“They would spend all day shopping and we had an arrangement with the Karratha City shops so all the presents people bought were stored in plastic bags with their name on them in the back office.
“As quickly as this backroom would fill up we would have a convoy of trailers and trucks and utes carrying all this stuff out and putting it into the luggage van on the train. Everything from trampolines to potting mixture.
“After the shops shut everyone would buy their takeaway food and get on the train to head back.”
Mr Vanselow said he recalled a bit of confusion with all the common last names, but everyone got their presents in the end.
Many Karratha residents today still remember the event, and it seems almost everyone in town helped out at some stage when the trains ran.
The tradition eventually faded to black in the early 90s as mining activity began to pick up and improved roads meant it was no longer such a burden to drive to Karratha and back.
Mr Vanselow said the Christmas runs were some of his fondest memories from his stint in the Pilbara, and he believed this would be the case for many others.
After the shops shut everyone would buy their takeaway food and get on the train to head back. Bob Vanselow
The diesel electric responsible for hauling Christmas presents to Tom Price still sits out the back of seven mile.