07 April 2010

The Valley Rattler

Grandson Sam, Granpa A and I spent Easter Sunday riding the Mary Valley Heritage Railway from Gympie to Imbil and back, on a beautiful steam train known as the Valley Rattler.

The heritage railway has operated this colourful old steam locomotive pulling half a dozen authentic carriages as a delightful tourism initiative since 1998. The train takes up to 480 passengers per trip on a return journey from the old Gympie Railway Station (Queensland) to the inland town of Imbil several times a week. The outbound trip takes two hours and then there's a two-hour layover at Imbil. Here passengers can lunch at one of several cafes or pubs. Or by arrangement, the railway will provide box lunches that are collected on arrival at Imbil. Some people on our train brought picnics and there was plenty of space for casual dining around the Imbil station grounds.

Imbil was positively bustling. A small market offering local produce and other market-type attractions is set up along the historic main street, which still contains many of the original old buildings now turned into modest cafes and shops. After lunch and some shopping, passengers re-board for the return trip and another two hours of very pleasant sightseeing.

The train travels through picturesque bush and farming country in the iconic Mary River valley, crossing the Mary and several other rivers and creeks on the way. We stopped once on the outbound trip – at Kandanga – and once on the return trip – at Dagun – where we were able to sample and buy various local wares and refreshments in mini-markets set up specially for our benefit in and around the original station buildings in each place. A wine and cheese tasting was the highlight of the Dagun stop on the way back.

From the moment of boarding at 9.45 am until our return to Gympie at 4 pm, Sam had a great time, and so did we. Our beautifully wood-panelled car (Car 'C' No. 1038) was built in 1923 at Ipswich. It was originally a 1st class car that had been converted to 2nd class in 1984. Even though we hadn't paid top dollar for a seat in a 'club car' (the cost for the three of us was just over $100 plus lunch), it seemed to me as I walked through the other cars in the course of embarking and disembarking at various stations that ours had the most sumptuous and comfortable seats on the train. Maybe that was because we booked well in advance. (The train was just about sold out, I believe, and advance booking is a must.) We shared our little cabin with another threesome who were great company. And the long, well-sprung upholstered bench-type seats on both sides of the cabin could easily have accommodated another person each, so the six of us had plenty of space to spread out.

Some of the platforms presented a challenge to A, as there were no modern facilities such as ramps or lifts. Instead, sets of metal stairs without handrails were lifted into position at each stop. But there were always offers of assistance from staff and other passengers. Even so, Allen chose to sit out the last stop with one of his puzzles, while I ferried him samples of the wine and cheese on offer. It had been a long day, after all.

What the train lacked in modern amenities (I will spare you a description of the loo facilities) was more than outweighed by the very friendly and helpful staff, all of whom were in period costume and used equipment and tickets faithful to the early days of train travel in Queensland. I'm not sure but I think some of the staff are volunteers, too. And a few were what is sometimes referred to as 'disabled', but that label certainly isn't appropriate to describe the standard of their very capable service. So it wasn't only the facilities that were 'old-fashioned'; the service was the same – old-fashioned in the best possible sense. 


Stafford Ray said...

I guess you, A and I are old enough to have used such trains as regular transport! Much nicer to be doing the trip for fun. It's in the diary and thanks for the photos. By the way, did someone dip Sam's head in a rusty bucket?

Anonymous said...

That sounds really lovely. I discovered I liked trains (...riding them as a tourist, not a "train-spotter" !)when we did our day trip on one at Tieri Gorge in N.Z. As I noted in Stafford Ray's comment, I'm sure it would be different if that was THE way to travel, though! Nan

Anonymous said...

I love trains and definitely want to do that trip, especially now I know all the details. We always stop at Gympie on our way to Brisbane to visit relatives, and have stayed in the Mary Valley, which is stunning. Sounds like you had a fun day.

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I started this blog in 2009 when I became a full-time caregiver. My husband had been diagnosed a few years earlier with primary progressive aphasia. Over the next four years until his death in 2013, we went on a journey of discovery about this rare condition. My blog is about what I learned, how we both coped and how the journey deepened our love and appreciation of each other. Allen’s journey is over, but mine goes on.