All aboard the Myrtle May miniature steam train for a round trip from the rustic Whistle Stop Station at Highfields Pioneer Village. The new monthly attraction for children's wondrous eyes has the same chuga-chuga sounds, whistles and smells of a full-size steam locomotive. Small children must be carried on a parent's lap. What a good excuse to go for a ride. The powerful engine can haul twenty two adults and if it were allowed, could travel much faster than 'safe speed', ie 8 to 10kph.
The miniature steam train puffs across the bridge at Highfields Pioneer Village.
Most of the other live steamer clubs have 5" or 7¼ " gauges. The tracks at Highfields Pioneer Village are 10¼" in width (English standard), the same as the one at the Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary at the Gold Coast. This gauge size makes the train safer and more powerful.
The steam engine is checked and refilled with water after every trip.
The train was built by now retired engineer and Pioneer Village Manager Ray Ashford. Ray found that burning coal was too sooty and made passenger's faces dirty. Coke was found to be too small and blocked the grate. Now the train burns firewood which is much cleaner, suits the locomotive boiler and has negligible ash residue.
The train was built with the help of New Hope Community Services and Centrelink. The project included building the railway and bridge in 2016, as part of a certificate in construction to help unemployed get a job. All involved obtained employment shortly after the project's completion. Another course will be run in May.
An engine driver's dream, there are extra rides on school holidays, during the Easter Vintage Festival and Australia Day, when the train runs hot all day long. The Easter Vintage Festival happens this year (2017) from 15 to 17 April. Milk a cow, crack a whip or learn blacksmithing. There will be a grand parade, colonial costumes, vintage cars and tractors, an animal nursery and lots more. It's guaranteed to be loads of fun. Bookings online or on the day.
Other miniature steam trains exist at Tamworth, Maryborough, Rockhampton, Chinchilla and Millmerran. The steam train at Toowoomba's Kearneys Spring is in the process of moving, so the Highfields Pioneer Village has the only one operating in the Darling Downs at present.
Attention engineering fans: the next project in conjunction with New Hope Community Services is to rebuild the crane that built the Story Bridge and helped build the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Successful local businessman, Clive Berghofer, loves to help the Pioneer Village financially and has paid to have the crane moved to the Village, saving it from the scrapheap. The crane will be located somewhere on the grounds at Highfields Pioneer Village.
Ray Ashford stands proudly by the scale model C16 steam engine.