The Tyers Valley Tramway

This article was originally printed in the November 1964 issue of Narrow Gauge the Puffing Billy Preservation Society Magazine. I reproduce it with the kind permission of the author Norm Wadeson, and the editor Phil A'Vard. This article was written just before the Climax locomotive was placed in the Puffing Billy museum.

Where necessary I have added comments in italics, otherwise the article is as written. Phil created an incredible production with the early issues of Narrow Gauge. It was ink-duplicated with the text cut into the spot colour and fine line illustrations by John Thompson. (I have yet to see better, and I guess I never will.) Unfortunately some of the maps and photographs accompanying Norm's article have not scanned well. I also apologise for any typos that I have missed.

Updated map 2012 by John E. Thompson.

Tyers Junction Location

Map 8122-2-3 Tyers Junction
Lattitude 37° 57' 30" S
Longitude 146° 20' 0" E

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Twice daily a trail of blue wood-smoke would waft skyward through the tall forest gums growing on the southern slopes of Mt. Erica. There, threading its way around tight curves, a locomotive of strange appearance with a. powerful but steady gait once regularly ambled into Collins Siding hauling a trainload of freshly sawn hardwood.

With its days of labour behind it, this geared loco, of the Climax Class B - 25 ton type, gathered rust during several years of storage at Erica, until now it is to join the Society's museum at Menzies Creek for preservation, restoration and display. (The Climax was placed in the museum in 1965. The Puffing Billy Preservation Society has restored it and it now runs special trips on the Puffing Billy railway. WR)

For twenty years Collins Siding, on the Moe - Walhalla, narrow gauge railway, was the transfer point for -timber hauled by the Climax along the tortuous 2ft 6in, gauge Forest Commission tramway which served as an outlet for the numerous sawmills located in the Tyers River Valley.

This interesting line was constructed to replace the original outlet tramways which were destroyed during the disastrous fires of Feb, 1926, and unlike many timber lines of the day, was constructed to rigid specifications closely approximating those observed by the V.R. (Victorian Railways WR) for its narrow gauge branch Lines.

Curves on the tramway were sharp (80ft, min, radius) (VR NG minimum was 132 ft (40 m) WR.) and therefore were provided with both superelevation and a ¼ in slack in gauge.

The maximum grade against the load was 1 in 30 and care was taken to ensure that this maximum only occurred on slopes which were exposed to sunlight.

Rail of 41, 43 and 46 pounds per yard was imported from an abandoned Tasmanian line and laid on messmate sleepers, spaced 9 to a 24 ft, rail length. To save heavy and costly ballasting, the number of sleepers was increased to 10 per 22 feet at favourable locations.

Tyers Junction, at the confluence of the Eastern and Western Tyers Rivers was the tramway headquarters and was provided with a turning triangle, storage tracks and a. two track loco shed. Water was raised from the river to an overhead tank by means of a steam pump. This pump was supplied with steam obtained from the locos at the end of a day's running by coupling a. flexible steam line to specially provided steam cocks on the boilers.

After leaving Tyers Junction, the tramway ran along the eastern side of the Tyers River Valley for a distance of 6.1 miles (9.8 km WR) to Collins Siding. Two level crossings en route were protected by standard V.R. 'Railway Crossing" signs altered to read "Tramway Crossing".

Several forms of motive power to operate the line were considered and as the V.R. was planning to use "G" Class Garratts at the time, the possibility of using displaced "NA", Class locomotives was investigated, However the weight of 34½ tons and the rigid wheelbase of 8 ft made these Puffing Billy engines too heavy and long to negotiate unballasted track with 80ft, radius curves.

Eventually an order was placed with Alfred Harman of Nth. Port Melbourne for the supply of a geared locomotive which duly arrived at Moe during November 1927. It was driven along the branch line to Collins Siding where it steamed over a temporary connection with the Forest Commission's line and ran to the tramway headquarters at Tyers Junction.

Although the idea of using geared locomotives to provide high tractive effort on lightly constructed lines had been well developed, the local product was an entirely new and interesting departure from the rather standard design principles adopted for this class of engine.

The Harman locomotive was carried on two four wheeled bogies, each being pivoted on a hollow mast through which steam pipes and control rods passed, Each bogie was equipped with two cylinders which drove the two bogie axles by gears instead of the usual drive shafts or coupling rods. The locomotive was also fitted with a turbine furnace in lieu of the usual draught arrangements and included many other unorthodox features.

It was of heavy construction, being 26 tons instead of the specified 16-18 tons, and it is said that this was largely the cause of its undoing.

Timber was collected by rail tractors from sawmills located on the Eastern Tyers and Western Tyers branches of the tramway and marshalled into loads at Tyers Junction. The rake of timber bogies was then steam hauled over the severe grades to Collins Siding. Unfortunately the Harman proved unequal to this task, and although it intermittently journeyed to Collins Siding on several test trips, it did not pass acceptance trials. Three rail tractors operated the service during this period until our Climax locomotive steamed out from Moe to commence work during September 1928.

The Climax design followed the usual American practice for geared locomotives. The cylinders were mounted at an angle on the main frames and power was transmitted to the bogie axles by gearing and universally jointed shafting. The new locomotive, said to be the last built by the Climax Manufacturing Co,U.S.A., weighed 25 tons. It was 28 ft 6 ins. long, l1 ft. 3 ins. high and had a width of 8 ft, 3 ins. Stepbenson's link motion operated the two 9 in, x 12 in cylinders which drove 28 in, diam, wheels, thus providing a tractive effort of 11,000 lbs. Provision was made to carry 600 gallons of water and one cord of wood, During the montbs that followed its delivery, the Climax provided regular services to and from Collins Siding, whilst several test trips were also made with the Harmsn on which a series of modifications were being made.

The need for additional steam power soon became urgent as, from time to time, the Climax had to be taken out of service far maintenance, with the result that timber transportation became entirely dependent on two rather light T.A.C.L. rail tractors. During 1933 the Climax several times broke axles which, on investigation, proved to be too light for the power developed, and thus suffered "fatigue" failures. The usual procedure under these circumstances was to construct a loop line around the disabled locomotive, and thus allow the tractors to maintain traffic whilst repairs were effected by the S.E.C. at the Yallourn workshops. (The State Electricity Commission had a 900mm gauge railway to service a large open cut brown coal mine at Yallourn. WR.)

Due to the urgent need for an additional loco, a test run was made with an "NA" locomotive during September 1933. The trial was made between John's Creek and Collins Siding with a maximum load of 76 tons. (It is thought that this was 14A which still operates on PB. WR.), Owing to the gauge having widened since being laid, no difficulty was experienced in negotiating the 100 ft, radius curves although the leading bogie did lift from the rail at one point due to irregular superelevation. This trial was considered satisfactory in every respect but the work of strengthening the bridges as far as Tyers Junction was never completed.

The Climax continued to operate but during 1934 it again broke an axle and over turned. Following this mishap the load was reduced from 77 tons to 61½ tons (10 trucks) and the boiler pressure lowered to 160 lbs/sq inch to prevent further breakages and to protect the crews. Later when new axles were fitted, the load was increased to twelve trucks (73 tons) at which it remained until the line closed. It is interesting to note that the heaviest load hauled by the Climax was a rake of trucks totalling approx, 100 tons.

Timber was hauled for the last time during July 1949 and the last tram ran on the 5th August of -that year. Both locomotives remained in the shed at Tyers Junction until the Climax was run in steam to Collins Siding an November 28tb, 1950, where it remained until the conclusion of a railway strike then in progress. On the settlement of the strike, it was driven along the narrow gauge railway to a siding at the State Sawmill, Erica, arriving on the 14th of December, 1950.

The Harman locomotive was cut up for scrap early in 1951 and the tramway itself removed and sold to a dealer and the S.E.C. The S.E.C. employed much of the rail in the tunnels of the Kiewa Hydro-Electric Project.

This then was the close of picturesque era of steam-powered light railway working that had. been a feature of many Victorian timber areas for decades. Fortunately, through the co-operation of the Victorian Forest Commissioners, a remainder will always be with us.

Desolation at Tyers Junction in January 1951, showing the general arrangement of the loco depot, The main shed had previously housed the Climax loco, while the Harman loco can be seen in the shed to the right, Soon after this photo was taken, the buildings were demolished and the tracks torn up leaving nature to reclaim its own.
Photo Norm Wadeson,.

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