Scenic World History
This is a photograph of the Katoomba colliery incline taken 5 November 1884. During this time the colliery employed 56 men who extracted approximately 20,000 tonnes of coal in the year of 1884.
The coal skips being loaded in the bottom right hand corner of the picture are about to be hauled up one of the two tracks to the top of the incline before transferal to the tramway. A tramway of similar design to the one in the next picture then took the coal a further 2 kilometres to the railway siding at Katoomba. It was then tipped in railway trucks for the journey to Sydney.
This section of the tramway was photographed in 1892. At this stage 154 men worked at the various mines in the area and they extracted 22,000 tonnes of shale during the course of the year. The cliff in the background of this picture is now the famous Katoomba landslide. This particular section of the tramway ran between the Mt Rennie tunnel through the Narrow Neck and the Daylight tunnel through the old Katoomba coal mine. The skips visible here carried oil shale from The Glen shale mine in the Megalong Valley to the base of the incline, which is now the Scenic Railway.
A radio broadcast was made from inside the mine during the mid-1930s. Here we can see the broadcast taking place.
The only gentleman dressed in a white coat is the radio technician supervising the broadcast. The gentleman sitting crossed legged in the centre is holding a banjo across his lap to provide the live entertainment. Note the low headroom, as the coal seam was approximately one metre high. This gives an indication of the working conditions experienced by the miners and pit ponies. Two of the pit ponies that pulled the skips along the rails visible in the foreground were named Creamy and Smokey.
Over the Top
This postcard by W. H. Green (Wally) was probably taken in the mid 1940s. The gentleman on the back right hand side is Gus Benham who was a tour bus driver who became a conductor. Note the haphazard placement of the railway sleepers indicating the rough and ready work practices inherited from the mining days. Modern engineering practice is now vastly improved! The carriage was hauled up and down the incline by a single wire cable breaking strain 28 tonnes and powered by an 80 horse power (approximately 60 kilowatt) electric winch. This carriage was capable of transporting 18 people; today we carry 84 people using 150 kilowatts.
The original Skyway was installed in 1958. This photograph taken shortly after installation shows the original 2 wheel bogies (wheel trucks), modified in 1962 to two 8 wheeled bogies. The original cabin was clad in plywood and painted bright pink!
The track rope was originally installed by dragging a small steel cable by hand down each side of the valley. They were joined together in the middle and pulled up, out of the trees. This small steel line was then used to pull the 50mm track rope across the valley. The final tensioning of the track rope was done with a 4-wheel drive tractor with rubber tyres borrowed from the local council.
Scenic World Blue Mountains – More Local History
In the 1870s there were no taxes. Money made was money earned. Capital was easy to raise for any scheme that could promise a good return. England had been a global economic leader for the past three hundred years, and was flush with profits from the Industrial revolution. Gold had been discovered in Australia only ten years earlier and rushes were still occurring. The economic climate was ripe for many marginal mining and development schemes. The Government of NSW was anxious to develop the state to keep the influence of its neighbouring states of Victoria and Queensland at bay, and to counter the international threat from Germany who had colonies in New Guinea and nearby Pacific Island nations.
The NSW Government saw mining as a relatively easy and profitable way to develop the country, so through the means of the Government geologist, who employed government surveyors, who were paid research and exploration officers, basic research was done to pinpoint prospective mining sites. Private development was also encouraged by means of granting mining conditional purchases on tracts of land thought to contain payable seams of minerals. Mr Campbell Mitchell a keen amateur geologist, and ever hopeful mining entrepreneur, took up some MCPs. T.S. Mort (who was famous for developing the refrigerated export of beef to the UK) bought a large parcel of land to the west of the Narrow Neck to develop an outcrop of Kerosene Shale that had been discovered there. Although Mr Mort confirmed the logical outcropping of the same seam on the Jamison Valley side of the Narrow neck, he only drove exploratory tunnels on the Megalong side in 1871.
One of the men on the lookout for such opportunities and having a mining background was John Britty North. He and Captain Robert Henry Reynolds purchased 640 acres and eventually additional land as a mining conditional purchase. In 1878 he initiated exploratory adits in the coal seam below the Orphan Rock in the Jamison Valley. He utilised a natural tunnel in the edge of the escarpment, which he enlarged to provide a route for a steam driven dual incline haulage way, to provide access to the coal seam 210 metres below the cliff top. It took some years to raise the necessary capital and install the equipment needed but by 1883 the mine was in full production. A double incline had been constructed up from the base of a small self-acting incline which brought the coal down about 40 metres from the mouth of the adit to the base of the main incline. At the top of the main incline a dual tramway was constructed covering the 3 kilometres to a railway siding on the main western line. By 1888 there were 23 men employed underground and 60 men on the surface, the total output for the six months June to December being 65,680 tons of coal.
While the development of the Katoomba Coal Mine was proceeding in 1880, North had his mine Manager named Garbutt, prove the outcrops of Kerosene Shale on the Eastern side of the Narrow Neck. The outcrops on the Western side had been discovered by Campbell Mitchell 9 years before. Garbutt cut a track directly across the valley 2 and 1/8 miles to the site of the proposed mine below a group of rock pillars known as the Ruin Castle. In 1884-85 an aerial ropeway had been built at nearby Gladstone Colliery to bring coal to the railway line at Wentworth Falls. This venture quickly failed because of poor coal quality and shonky dealings. This same equipment was used to construct the ropeway that was used to bring the shale mined at the Ruin Castle shale mine to the head of the Katoomba Incline. The shale in the buckets was then tipped into tramway skips and it continued its 5 kilometre journey to the rail siding at Katoomba. This aerial ropeway was also doomed to failure. The very steep gradient up and over the cliff top at the northern end caused many buckets to come loose from the haulage rope and roll back down to crash into the bucket coming behind.
Eventually the soft wires of the track ropes succumbed to the hammering of the cast iron wheels of the bucket carriers and became so thin that they broke. This in itself was not sufficient to make the rope fail however. A 40 metre section of the ‘inbye’ or loaded inward rope was replaced with a piece of solid wrought iron bar, where the rope was severely damaged by a carrier pulling a broken wire back along the rope, where it was subject to the greatest down force at the tower on the cliff edge. Another piece was replaced near where the now abandoned ropes cross the walking track on the way to the landslide and Ruined Castle. Eventually a similar fate overcame the outbye rope at the cliff edge tower and it broke, and fell into the valley, but not before most of the buckets were removed from the ropeway.
It was at this point that the ropeway was abandoned after only nine months of trouble plagued operation, during which however some 20,000 tonnes of shale were transported over it. Fortuitously for John North the shale mining operations at Joadja, near Mittagong in the southern highlands of NSW, were being closed down, and the company there, Australian Kerosene Oil and Mineral, was looking for new mining sites. A deal was done in which North leased his entire operation to AKO&M, which operated the Ruin Castle Shale Mine, the Katoomba Coal Mine and opened the mine originally owned by Mort and discovered by Campbell in the Megalong valley called ‘The Glen Shale Mine’ or ‘Mort’s Mine’. The Mort Mine was connected to the base of the incline by an amazing over rope tramway system, driven by the winder from the aerial ropeway, which was still quite serviceable. It incorporated a 50 metre self-acting incline, a 500 metre long incline, a tunnel through the Narrow Neck that changed gradient half way through, a trestle bridge across a creek, two more short tunnels through ridges in the Jamison valley, and finally a specially cut ‘Daylight Tunnel’ (so called because it came out near the No. 3 furnace which was at the opening of the ‘Daylight Heading’ on the southern outcrop of the coal seam) through the worked out section of the Katoomba Coal mine to emerge at the foot of the main incline. The skips were then transferred to the incline haulage and pulled to the top, being replaced by empty ones lowered to the bottom on the second of the dual tracks. Once at the top they were again transferred to a second tramway that carried them another two kilometres to the rail siding. The shale from the Ruin Castle Mine was got out by a horse-drawn system from the mine to the western portal of the Narrow Neck Tunnel (known as the Mt. Rennie Tunnel), and then transferring the skips to the cable hauled system.
The 1895 banking crisis in Victoria caused by rampant land speculation, combined with cheaply available kerosene becoming available from the oil fields in the USA, brought an end to the shale mining operations at Katoomba, and despite a few attempts to get it going again, most of the rails and equipment were removed by 1903.
The track ropes of the aerial tramway still lay where they fell, in 1890, barely changed from that moment in time. The flattening of the wires can still be plainly seen, and the remaining inbye rope can still be seen climbing up the cliff beside the Scenic Cableway, a rainforest vine determinedly growing up it, to reclaim it as part of the forest.
The mine site lay abandoned for the next thirty years; stripped of all mobile equipment. The large square brick chimney and the manager’s residence were the only structures remaining.
In 1925 a group of Katoomba businessmen formed a syndicate to lease the mine from John North’s estate and extract the ‘slack’ or small coal that was considered not big enough to take from the mine and had been left my North’s miners stacked up as roof supports. A small steam winder was purchased, having come from the deck of the warship, HMAS Sydney. A second hand boiler was installed and the long abandoned and washed away incline was rebuilt to one track of 47 inch gauge. Why 47 inches we will never know. The old incline and tramways were built to two foot gauge so it wasn’t quite twice that. The slack supported the infant company, Katoomba Colliery Limited, for long enough to get their market established. Eventually real mining had to commence, and the original drives had their cross tunnels blocked off to provide a conduit for ventilating air, and fresh tunnels were started at their western extremities.
Before the advent of electricity, mine ventilation was an ancient science practised by the Romans in Spain in the first century AD. Shallow vertical shafts had sails mounted over them to direct the wind down them, but deeper shafts and horizontal adits had to resort to the furnace method.
A large furnace was constructed in the mouth of a tunnel or on top of a ventilation shaft, and the air for the coal fire was drawn out of the mine. The fresh air being drawn in at the entrance was directed to where the miners were working along the access drives by hessian curtains that were kept wet or with wooden doors. The air was then directed back to the furnace by more curtains and where necessary crossovers, where the roof was dug away to allow a duct to be constructed across the top of a cross tunnel that was being used. Katoomba mine had three furnaces, two in the early days and one in more recent times. The alterations made necessary by the daylight tunnel, had the No. 1 furnace moved from its original position in the first tunnel past the main entrance to a newly cut tunnel 50 metres before the main entrance.
It was here that the change to electricity was first made. A powerhouse had been installed in 1911 in the Carrington Hotel by Sir James Joynton Smith, to provide power to the hotel and for sale to nearby businesses. A good start was provided to the Katoomba Mine by selling the slack coal to the Carrington for their boiler. The power was eventually extended back to the mine to provide electricity to replace the furnace with an electric fan for ventilation. On 3rd April 1935 electric haulage was introduced on the incline and eventually outside the mine to bring the skips out the surface and thence to the foot of the incline. Aluminium aerial conductors were used to bring the power down the cliff to the mine, quite an innovation for those days. These conductors can also be still seen from the Scenic Cableway laying in the treetops after they were cut down in 1965.
The mine continued to operate up until 1945 when the loss of a contract to provide coal to the Katoomba Municipal Powerhouse forced its closure. The incline had however been carrying paying passengers for many years, the construction of the Giant Stairway, the Furber’s Stairs and the Federal Pass walking track bringing many weary hikers to the foot of the incline, begging for a ride to the top. They were initially carried inside the coal skip; a little plank was then installed at the back to sit on. A 12 seater car was built called “Jessie” and used on weekends and Public Holidays carrying passengers at sixpence a time. Shortly after, Jessie was rebuilt with the same wheels and axles but a longer chassis, now seating 15 and renamed ‘The Mountain Devil’. Often the 15 passengers were jammed in with the conductor hanging onto the side of the car for the journey! With the advent of electric haulage, this was expanded to a 24 seater with a little more room, and still called the Mountain Devil.
When the mine closed in 1945 the lease was taken over by Harry Hammon and his sister Isobel Fahey. They had been operating a transport business in Katoomba for many years, and as part of that business had carried coal from the mine to Katoomba businesses and to the powerhouse. It was while Harry was loading coal at the mine one day that a jeep load of American soldiers pulled up and asked where that steep railway was. They were told that it only operated at weekends. “Goldarn it, we drove all the way up from Sydney for a ride on that thing and it’s closed.” This planted the seed in Harry’s mind, so he was keen to take it over when the opportunity presented itself a little later.
The Mountain Devil ran up and down for many years being pulled by its single 7/8″ diameter wire rope. Being electrically hauled the drive was subject to numerous power blackouts that plagued NSW during and after the war. Being fully aware of the need for a reliable service after the American soldier’s comment, Harry invested in a Ford side valve V8 petrol engine for an emergency drive. It was coupled to the winch through a second hand truck gearbox sourced from the transport business. The need for more capacity quickly became apparent and Harry developed an aerial counterweight system to enable a larger car carrying 28 passengers to be hauled by the same 80 horse power electric motor. This was accomplished by coupling up a second hand winch from the deck of a mine sweeper purchased from one Harry Stride (of which more later).
There were three major innovations with this new system, the first being that passenger car was now hauled by two haulage ropes, giving a factor of safety of 12:1 as demanded by the newly emerged Department of Lifts and Scaffolding. This department now had the unenviable job of assuming responsibility for this ‘ride’ as the department of Mines wanted nothing to do with it after the mine was closed.
The second was that the car was built of aluminium with a bolted frame and welded handrails, an enormous innovation for 1952. This car quickly demonstrated the unsuitability of aluminium welding for such an application, as cracks in the handrails quickly appeared and the old wooden Mountain Devil was pressed back into service while they were modified. Semi elliptic springs were also fitted to the axles. The old wooden framed car flexed quite a lot, and the axles were held in open axle boxes by loose fitting clips allowing vertical movement of the axles to follow the undulations in the track. This system had necessitated the conductor walking around the car every three trips with a greasy stick and wiping grease onto the axle boxes to stop them squealing.
The new aluminium car was much more rigid, and now fitted with ball bearings, with no vertical movement, the effect was to lift the wheels off the rails, and create a dangerous situation. The installation of semi elliptic springs overcame that problem, and they are still used today.
The third was that the winch now had an aerial counterweight, which underwent a number of modifications, but which was basically a water tank with wheels on top that ran up and down a 25mm diameter track rope as the passenger carriage ran down and up. The first wheels had steel hubs with cast iron liners. It was thought that the liners would wear better and be kinder to the track rope, but the contact pressures were too high and they rapidly wore out. They were replaced with steel wheels, which had an acceptable wear rate.
Turning an old coal mine into a tourist icon was no easy feat, but Harry and Isobel battled on, building an extension on the front of the mine’s green corrugated iron shed, in which to cook and sell lunches, scones, and afternoon teas. Mr Bagley, had helped Percy Hammon build the family home Shepton (named after Shepton Mallett in the UK, which was where Emily Green, Percy’s wife, had come from) with the stone that was cut from the cellar of the Carrington Bar in Katoomba Street. He built the stone chimney and fireplace on the front of the extension.
The souvenir business began here also, Wally Green and Albert Manning (local photographers) being early providers of postcards. Joe Peckman built an elevated platform out over the top platform so that he could photograph the carloads of eager passengers. Many thousands of these photos are hidden in shoeboxes and old albums throughout the world. Joe would take photo, then while the car was going down and back, he would run over to his little room beside the kiosk, and develop the plate, and print a proof. He would then run back with the still dripping proof and take orders for the prints as the passengers returned from their trip to the valley. Joe was the son of Harry Peckman a Katoomba identity, known as the ‘Mountain Poet’, who transported passengers to Jenolan Caves by horse and motor transport.
Other men, who figured as conductors in the early days of the Scenic Railway, were Fred Gull and Gus Benham. Fred was the mine blacksmith who had become conductor in the early days of steam haulage, and stayed on, and Gus was a tour bus driver who changed from horizontal transport to vertical. Gus always wore a waistcoat, the many pockets of which were used to sell tickets and dispense change. Harry said the three were two pockets for him and one for Gus!
Harry also employed Joe Gaut for many years, as winch driver and conductor. Joe was a Welshman with a thick accent, who built model live steam engines for a hobby, and loved his machinery.
With his Scenic Railway running reliably, Harry’s next project was the building of the Katoomba Scenic Skyway. In the Sydney yard of machinery merchants, Dickson Primer, laid the remains of an ash dumping aerial tramway that had been removed from the Glen Davis oil shale operation in 1952.
An English syndicate had been trying to raise interest in building a hotel and aerial ropeway at firstly, Govett’s Leap at Blackheath, then when interest was lacking, a ropeway across Katoomba Falls from Reid’s Plateau to Lady Darley’s Lookout. Their problem was that they didn’t own any of the land involved. The Mayor of Katoomba, Aub Murphy, anxious that such a plan would not escape the Blue Mountains and especially Katoomba, asked Harry if he was interested because he was leasing the land at the western end of what could be the new ropeway. The land problem of course still existed, but a visit to the Minister for Lands Gus Kelly with Aub, resulted in the oft-quoted statement “Harry, you go back to Katoomba and build your thingamajig and I’ll look after the land issue“.
Gus Kelly was as good as his word and by the time the Skyway was ready to operate a lease had been organised for the land at the eastern end of the Skyway and the air space. A deal was done with Dickson Primer to part with their machinery, and an engineer, who had worked with the Department of Lifts and Scaffolding, Bill Wingrove, was engaged to work on the project. Bill had just finished designing the cranes that were to lift the precast concrete sections of the Tarban Creek Bridge into place. Something else that had never been done before in Australia was right up his street. Catenary curves have always been difficult to work with, and Bill had his trusty slide rule, and just to check, a piece of bathplug chain strung across between the walls inside his backyard shed, as it was about the right mass/length ratio as the rope he proposed to use. That rope was of course the second hand track rope from Glen Davis. They had done very little work there, as the ash-dumping ropeway was not a huge success, and had been in storage for years. When Harry opened the Scenic Skyway only eight months after starting work, in February 1958, the 1 15/16″ fully locked rope was used. The rope started to break wires after a short time, apparently the combined effects of inadequate storage and extra loading of the three tonne passenger cabin running on just four cast wheels as the Skyway cabin had been made from two of the original bucket carriers married together, with the passenger cabin hanging below. To make matters worse the same rope had been used to pass over two 36″ diameter wheels connected to two 16 ½ ton concrete weights to tension the main track rope. These two ropes also started to break wires. The main track rope was replaced with the only rope available in Australia with a suitable breaking strain, a 2″diameter 6/36 flattened strand rope made for mine haulage by BHP in Newcastle.
The ‘tail ropes’ connecting the tension weights were also replaced with this rope as it was thought that they were more flexible, and could stand the bending over the small wheels. Troubles continued to plague Harry’s little ropeway, but he soldiered on. His mate, Bert Seaton, who owned Seaton’s Hotel in Albury, and who like Harry was an inveterate auction goer, rang Harry to ask if he wanted to go halves in buying a tank (not a water tank but an army tank). “Sure“, said Harry because he was looking for a big engine to drive an emergency power plant to run both the Railway and the Skyway. Bert rang a little later to say that he had bought the tanks, all 30 of them. After a few words were exchanged, Harry was calmed down by the fact that the tanks were all filled with petrol and that they came with many spares, some of which were wheels with solid rubber tyres. Just the thing to run on the flattened strand rope that was vibrating the teeth out of passengers on the Skyway since it had replaced the smooth locked coil original rope. The first flattened strand rope had only lasted two years, it was replaced at the same time that the rubber wheels were introduced, in 1962. That rope was still in service in 2001.
The steel two-wheel trucks on the Scenic Skyway were firstly replaced with four-wheel bogies each, running the rubber wheels from the tanks. The pressures were still too high as the rubber was breaking up, so the wheel trucks were extended to 8 wheels each. This system worked well for many years, and when the stock of rubber wheels was used up they were replaced with urethane, which was used successfully until the Scenic Skyway was decommissioned in 2004.
The tail ropes passing over the 36″ wheels to the 16 ½ ton tensioning weights continued to give trouble, breaking wires, and was replaced twice. This involved lifting the weights with jacks, and holding them up using 40 pound railway lines (which weighed 40 pounds to the foot) with cut-outs to hold lengths of shaft that were placed across the bottom of the square concrete weights. During one of these operations one of the weights swung against one of the rails and snapped it like a carrot. All this trouble prompted a change in design. Wire ropes are supposed to never be passed over a sheave with less than 40 times the rope diameter. These wheels had only 16 times!! The idea was to replace them with bell cranks, quite a radical idea and they worked successfully for the 40 years so it must have been a good one.
The cladding of the original Scenic Skyway cabin was made of marine ply. Both the roof and walls were painted bright pink. This ply lasted many years but eventually succumbed to rot and about 1970 was replaced with aluminium. Bright pink anodising was not available then, so the brightest colour available was chosen. Yellow. For a while the plywood roof remained, being changed to Lexan, an impact resistant plastic, a few years later. This suffered from exposure to ultra violet light, which made it brittle and opaque, so it was replaced with polycarbonate in 1990.
The drive system of the Skyway has also had a few changes. It was originally a slip ring 50 HP electric motor, manually controlled, and the conductor sounded a buzzer in the winder room to tell the driver to start. Driving the winder was the most boring job imaginable, so eventually efforts started to automate the drive. Not having a large amount of cash, use was made of any readily available equipment, and true to form auction sales were Harry’s main source of supply. Roy Phillips an ex PMG technician, was given the task, and his inventive powers were well up to the task. Many circuit diagrams were worked on, drafted on Stromberg Carlson notepaper, and a control system was developed. Quite a few versions were tried. Some of Roy’s original circuitry ran until decommissioning in 2004, but the slip ring motor drive system was replaced with a frequency converter, enabling much smoother deceleration curves and more consistent creep speeds.
As the 1970s approached, the long queues made it quite obvious that the Scenic Railway did not have enough capacity on weekends and Public holidays. Another trip to the auction houses, this time to the selling up of the State Mine at Lithgow. A large cast iron wooden barrelled winder drum was purchased, along with a 160 HP 8 pole slip ring electric motor and its control equipment, which had been driving a ventilation fan. An old mate of Harry’s, a certain Harry Stride who operated a ship recycling business in Balmain (known as Stride’s Boatyard) and who had for sale every conceivable piece of second hand marine machinery, sold Harry a complete crane winch from the boat deck of a ship. This became the main drive for the new winch, as the whole lot was married together to make the winder that was to operate the Scenic Railway for the next 30 years.
This winder was commissioned in Nov 1962 and was manually driven for many years. For a long time it had manual brakes, which proved to be quite a muscle builder after a typical Sunday of 60 to 70 trips. This winch was originally installed with single roller bearings at each end of the main shaft in custom-built housings. One of these bearings started to break up so another trip to Harry Stride’s yard bought back the propeller shaft bearing from the South Steyne, one of the early steam driven Manly Ferries. This bearing was installed on the western end of the winch shaft and the roller bearings doubled up on the gearbox end. This combination operated successfully for many years. The winder was gradually improved upon.
The first was the replacement of the original hydraulic rams that lifted off the brakes. They had leather cup seals, which were forever leaking, and they were replaced with custom built Roc Hydraulic rams. The solenoid valve was also replaced with a Vickers Hydraulics valve, as the original tended to stick closed. The brakes were changed to air operation, a great boon to the leg muscles of the winch drivers. The brake on the counterweight drum was originally operated in the same way that had been developed for the mine sweeper winch, and was held off by the simple device of an ordinary hydraulic car jack, that had a lever attached to the release valve, which held the valve closed as long as the solenoid to which it was attached was energised. This solenoid was the bane of the driver’s lives as it constantly hummed very loudly. This amazing invention was finally replaced with twin hydraulic rams and the correctly sized hydraulic solenoid valve, giving much better controlled emergency braking.
The gearbox was manufactured in the UK and had ‘Clarke Chapman and Son, Gateshead on Tyne’ proudly cast into its cover. It is a worm gearbox, with the bronze worm gear bolted to a steel hub with twelve 1″ fitted bolts. Over the years of heavy work these bolts were replaced with high tensile bolts, as they tended to snap! The thrust bearing, an essential part of a worm gearbox, was also replaced, as was the spacer between the bearing and the retaining nut, which wore out more than once.
The gearbox was originally driven by the 8 pole slip ring electric motor, from the State Mine at Lithgow. It did many years of service but eventually succumbed to a lightning strike, and had to be sent away for repairs. A Brush 8 pole motor was obtained from Jones and Rickard, and mounted on the other end of the gearbox, so that when the original motor was returned there were two drives, a main and a backup. A new control board was purchased from Crompton Parkinson in 1971 and the two boards were wired so they could be changed over, and be driven by the one set of controls.
We are now up to the late 1980s and Programmable Logic Controllers were coming onto the market. They made the development of an automated system to drive the Scenic Railway winch a possibility. Many hours were spent writing and rewriting programs for that controller (an Idec Izumi LC1) Malcolm O’Brien developed a very special electronic timer to act as a speed sensor, and then built an electronic speed and position control. (Known as the ‘Lit up Lilly’) The automation was never a great success, but we were waiting for the development of a DC drive that could cope with changes from drive to regeneration automatically. As PLC’s became more powerful this became a possibility and finally in 1994, a new winch was built by Australian Winch and Haulage, utilising Reliance control equipment, which could do the job. To date (2008) it has done over 300,000 return trips, with only a few minor problems.
The souvenir kiosk business eventually outgrew the extension to the corrugated iron shed and a new building was erected on the flat below the ‘engine bank’. A few words of explanation here may be necessary. When North’s original twin incline was operating a large ‘cut and bench’ was made at the top of the incline to store unused coal skips, and provide a level surface for a maintenance shop. The cut at the back of the bench made a bank, about 2.5 metres high, and was utilised to have the winding engines on, so that the ropes were above the working area and could be easily disconnected from the skips as they reached the top of the incline, and then connected to the tramway winch to continue their journey to the railhead.
There is an etching from 1890, which shows three chimneys. So we can imply that were three boilers and three steam winding engines there in 1890. This is why it was called the engine bank. However the archaeological evidence does not support this. It seems that the artist was trying a bit too hard to impress his readers as the importance of Katoomba Coal Mine.
The flat bench area had been empty since 1903, and was used for storage of mining junk, during the 30s and 40s. Because of its proximity to the passengers coming off the Scenic Railway, this site was chosen to build a new souvenir shop. It was built from timber and fibro, with a timber tongue and groove flat roof, clad in sheet galvanised iron.
Hot water was a big seller in those days; no self-respecting family went on a day out without their teapot, and an empty vegemite jar with a few spoonfuls of tea therein, to have a cuppa with their picnic. A second smaller jar with greaseproof paper screwed under the lid, held a few tablespoons of milk. Another big seller was ice cream in small paper buckets, that you ate using a small flat wooden spoon. Milk shakes were popular, the main flavours being, vanilla, caramel and chocolate. Malted milk powder was a popular additive, its dispenser being really hard to clean as the malted milk powder went very sticky around the mouth of the dispenser during the day.
Ice cream cones were almost compulsory after a trip on the Railway, and all this required refrigeration. Bob Reid was the refrigeration mechanic; his ‘office’ was by the third column in the Carrington Bar, in Main Street Katoomba. He kept his spares, and the few tools he needed in a small room out the back of the bar. The frig units were located in a small enclosure on a rock shelf half way up the Engine Bank. This was surrounded by a chain wire fence about a metre high, with a corrugated iron roof. Servicing these units would not have been easy, crouching under that roof. The early units used ammonia as a refrigerant, replaced by Freon, now banned as a destroyer of Ozone.
The shop was at the bottom of a flight of sandstone steps that led down the engine bank. Entry to the shop was through two glass doors with yellow painted frames, which had chrome diagonal push bars across them. The roof of the shop was a little higher than the top of the bank and the eave had ‘Hot Water Souvenirs’ painted on it in red letters on yellow background.
Joe Peckman sold tickets for the Railway from a ticket box that was placed astride the rails facing down the track, and made from a half cylinder of fibro, standing on its end, with a wooden roof. It had a small wooden seat inside. The cash was handled within a bus conductor’s leather bag, not surprising as Harry had a family background of operating buses from Katoomba to Echo Point and Wentworth Falls.
In the Souvenir Shop there were some pretty marvellous inventions. The amusement machine industry didn’t exist in Australia in the 1950s so everything had to be made to order. A Leura identity, Ernie Sheay (a printer and photographer), printed souvenir booklets for the shop. He also was a photographer, and hand built many coin operated machines called ‘Wonderscopes’. These were based on an English amusement pier design that showed ‘naughty ladies’, but instead showed 24 (and later 36) stereo transparencies of mountain scenes. Ernie hand built the entire machine, took and mounted the photos and sold them to Harry. He also built a working model of the Scenic Railway that was displayed in the Tourist office within the Council Chambers at Katoomba. It was moved to the Blue Mountains Tourist Office on the corner of Katoomba and Waratah St, when the Council moved out of Direct Tourism promotion. We still have the little Scenic Railway car that Ernie built.
Another invention that was perfected via the Souvenir Shop was the ‘Merchandiser’. This was a large glass topped box, with a rotating mirror table inside, and four arms that were activated by the drop of a sixpence, and swiped slowly across the table to knock a prize off the mirror into a chute. These arms were driven by the ingenious use of a motor from an oscillating fan, as they provided the back and forth motion needed for the arm to swipe across the mirror and return. These underwent many improvements over the years, culminating in a hexagonal, six armed version. The prizes were mostly bought from ‘Carnival and Novelty’, a wholesaler in Pyrmont Bridge Road, which sold prizes for sideshows for the Easter Show, etc. Cupie Dolls were big, as well as chromed cigarette lighters, various little figures stuck onto little round mirrors with Bostik (Phil’s job). The figures were made from celluloid, very light so that they were pushed out of the way by the arms and did not fall into the chute easily.
Most of these machines were made in house by Eric Cheney, and Merv Duff, with the assistance of one Bill Fitch, who had a first floor workshop in Sussex St. Sydney. Bill hand made every conceivable type of machinery, from weighing machines to small gearboxes to drive the mirrors of the merchandisers. The Merchandisers became very popular, and were eventually banned by the Police because they were being used at the Easter and other shows with Five Pound notes tied to the figures, which constituted gambling in the eyes of the law.
Most of the commercially available coin operated machines were made in Japan, notwithstanding American Juke Boxes and pinball machines, which were much too expensive for Harry. ‘Flippers’ were vertical glass fronted boxes with chrome tracks and steel pins attached to a backboard. Upon depositing a penny, you got five small steel balls, which had to be flipped with a small lever, and made to run around the track and drop into various slots guarded by the pins. The correct number of balls in a slot rewarded the player with his penny back. There was quite a bit of skill needed to do so. This game remains popular in Japan known as Pachinko. These machines were completely mechanical, the weight of the balls activating the prize mechanism.
Another machine that was used was a Ping-Pong version of the Flipper. It consisted of a blower that held a Ping-Pong ball up in the stream of air from a pipe that the player could direct. The object of the game being to manoeuvre the ball into a chute to win. Crane machines were always around, the one we still have operating was built in France in 1936. A Shooting Gallery was installed at one stage, the rifles being hand built by Bill Fitch. They fired small ball bearings, using compressed air, at targets on a moving belt, made from flat belting that was used to drive many workshop machines at that time. The targets, kangaroos, rabbits and ducks were cut out from the same belting material and attached to the belt with door hinges, so that they fell over when hit, but reset themselves as they travelled upside down back to the other end. They were painted with paint that fluoresced in ultra violet light, those tubes becoming available in the 1950s. The ball bearings were dispensed by another of Bill’s creations, a cylindrical container with an electric stirrer in it that guided the balls down a tube to a ‘gun’ that released five balls per squeeze of its trigger, into the attendant’s hand.
The Shooting Gallery was moved from its original site in the ‘Snack Bar’ (“Try our famous Hammonburgers!”), a fast food outlet that was operated by Mary Hammon, and was built in the old service garage used by the transport company ‘Western District Transport’, which was operated by Harry and Isobel. The business operated out of the ‘Goods Yard’ adjacent to Katoomba Railway Station, and delivered goods to businesses around the upper mountains that arrived at Katoomba by rail. The Snack Bar became a Greek restaurant. The shooting gallery was replace with a bazooka gallery which fired rubber balls about 50mmm in diameter, at tank cut-outs, using Bill’s last creation before he died, the compressed air bazooka gun.
The next major development was a restaurant. Not just any restaurant, but a restaurant with a revolving floor. Bill Wingrove was pressed into service again to do the structural engineering for the floor and building. Of course a revolving floor of 50 feet diameter had never been built in Australia before, but that didn’t faze Bill. His biggest concern was starting it from a standstill. He initially designed a 2000:1 Borg Warner gearbox, (which is still in service) driven by a 1 HP variable speed Schrage commutator motor, coupled through, something new for the time, a torque converter. Bill was concerned that a floor of that diameter and such large inertia would need an enormous amount of torque to get it started, and that any direct drive would just stall the motor. As it turned out, the amount of play in the drive train, allows the current setup, a squirrel cage 1 HP motor driving a double roller chain via twin vee belts, as an input to the gearbox, to start without any problem. The Schrage motor and its manual starting handle relegated to driving an old flat belt lathe in the workshop. Worked a treat, before the advent of variable frequency drives.