On track and driv­ing in a new di­rec­tion

Dubbo Photo News - - News - By JU­DITH WHIT­FIELD

HE’S worked on steam lo­co­mo­tives, run along the Great Wall of China and kept the en­gine room of Dubbo Base Hos­pi­tal run­ning for al­most 30 years, but now Gra­ham Phipps has de­cided it’s time to move out of the driver’s seat and re­tire.

Af­ter a ca­reer span­ning “51 years, three months and 12 days”, Gra­ham fin­ished his fi­nal shift at the hos­pi­tal on Wed­nes­day, March 28, do­ing a few re­pairs be­fore leav­ing it for the next gen­er­a­tion.

But it was trains that had Gra­ham’s in­ter­est from his early days. He got work with the state rail­ways as soon as he fin­ished school. With his fa­ther and un­cle as train driv­ers, it al­most seemed liked he was des­tined for the job.

“I al­ways wanted to be a train driver,” Gra­ham told Dubbo Photo

“I was pretty lucky to be able to do a ca­reer that I wanted to do.”

He started off in Dubbo when he was 16, work­ing on dif­fer­ent lo­co­mo­tives be­fore get­ting the role of fire lighter. His job was to light the fire in the lo­co­mo­tives as it would take a few hours for the boiler to warm up be­fore the train’s jour­ney.

It wasn’t long be­fore he got the pro­mo­tion he wanted.

“When I was 19 I got a fire­man’s ap­point­ment at Port Waratah in New­cas­tle,” Gra­ham said. “We’d go up to Mait­land and Branx­ton col­lieries.”

The fire­man worked along­side the train driver and was re­spon­si­ble for tend­ing the fire and keep­ing the en­gine run­ning. It was hard work with long hours and night shifts, but Gra­ham took it in his stride and be­came pro­fi­cient at his job.

“A lot of times you’d get a lo­co­mo­tive that was a real good steamer, then on the next one you had to work hard,” he said. “Boil­ers are a black art. They are all dif­fer­ent; they’ve got per­son­al­i­ties. You op­er­ate them, but no one ever knows what their lit­tle quirks are. You just get used to them.”

In 1972, all that changed when the rail­ways shifted to diesel en­gines. While the role of fire­man be­came “eas­ier, but not as ex­cit­ing”, Gra­ham was head­ing to­wards the goal he’d al­ways wanted: driver. He drove trains around Western NSW, from Trangie, to Co­bar, to Nyn­gan, Wya­long, Welling­ton and more. He was the first train on the Nyn­gan line af­ter the dread­ful floods of 1990, and he trans­ported stranded res­i­dents back and forth over the Mac­quarie River af­ter the Welling­ton Bridge col­lapse of 1989.

A high­light came in 1988 when the famed Fly­ing Scots­man came to Dubbo as part of the na­tional bi­cen­te­nary cel­e­bra­tions. Gra­ham acted as fire­man over a long week­end, tak­ing pas­sen­gers for trips on the world’s most fa­mous steam lo­co­mo­tive, clock­ing speeds of up to 80 miles per hour (al­most 130km/h). He was also driver of the 3801 the same year, head­ing out to Or­ange for a round trip, pulling a full load of Dubbo res­i­dents along for the his­toric jour­ney.

“I reckon I was priv­i­leged that I lived in that era – the tail end of steam. Even though some of them were very re­cal­ci­trant,” Gra­ham re­flects.

In 1990, he saw the writ­ing on the wall with the pri­vati­sa­tion of the rail­ways and de­cided it was time for a change. With two young daugh­ters, Re­nee and Karen, and wife Judy at home, he de­cided that it was time to give up the night shifts and con­stant travel. He got a job at Dubbo Base Hos­pi­tal look­ing af­ter their boil­ers. It was a po­si­tion he stayed with un­til his fi­nal shift last month.

Un­like the trains,


Gra­ham Phipps has re­tired from his job look­ing af­ter the boil­ers at Dubbo Base Hos­pi­tal, but plans to con­tinue work­ing on his other in­ter­ests in­clud­ing the lo­cal har­ness rac­ing scene.


they were still us­ing coal boil­ers for the linen ser­vice, the kitchen and ster­il­i­sa­tion. He wit­nessed the change to gas-fired com­put­erised boil­ers, and then an­other change to smaller en­ergy-ef­fi­cient ver­sions, which he af­fec­tion­ately named af­ter his daugh­ters.

Dur­ing his time at the hos­pi­tal he be­came in­volved with Dubbo Ath­let­ics Club, a fam­ily ac­tiv­ity where they were “all there to­gether hav­ing fun, huff­ing and puff­ing around the track”. He par­tic­i­pated in half marathons, City 2 Surf events and even ran for 10 kilo­me­tres along the Great Wall of China dur­ing an or­gan­ised trip as part of the Bei­jing Marathon.

“It was the hard­est thing I ever did and the most sat­is­fy­ing. The steps aren’t even, and are high, not like nor­mal steps,” he said.

Now that his time is his own, Gra­ham has in­ten­tions to ded­i­cate more time to the lo­cal har­ness rac­ing scene, a pas­time he took up af­ter meet­ing wife Judy, his bride of 40 years. Hav­ing es­tab­lished the suc­cess­ful Gil­gan­dra Cup last De­cem­ber, there are plans for an ad­di­tional fourth race at this year’s meet.

The grand­fa­ther of four has also got some travel on the to-do list, hope­fully a trip to Spain and up around Kakadu and the Kim­ber­ley, as well as some train tourism to Mait­land Steam­fest and the like.

“There are prob­a­bly a few things around the house to be done as well, so I’ve been told.

“I’m just go­ing to take a breath and see what hap­pens.”

Af­ter half a cen­tury gain­fully em­ployed, Gra­ham has some ad­vice for those still work­ing.

“Al­ways do things to the best of your abil­ity, it doesn’t mat­ter how good or bad you think the job is. And take ad­vice from older peo­ple, they’ve been there and done that.”


Gra­ham shov­el­ling coal on the fire of a 50 class lo­co­mo­tive, 5263, in 1968. On the Fly­ing Scots­man 4472 with driver Ce­cil Evans on the steps. Be­low: Gra­ham on his fi­nal day at Dubbo Base Hos­pi­tal with his af­fec­tion­ately named boil­ers, “Karen” and...

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