Western Districts Live Steamers was formed in October 1968 by Alex Russell, Bert Ferguson and Alan Dickson. Initial meetings were held in Lime St Cabramatta and then later at Members’ houses. Unofficial running days were held at Lime St Cabramatta using a portable track. Long time member (and now boiler inspector) Bill Kirkland joined the club at this point. The very first issue of the club’s Newsletter “Hot Oil “was printed in December 1969. After negations with the Liverpool council permission was obtained to lay a portable track in a park in Badgery’s creek. After mowing the grass the portable track (approx 50 ft in diameter) was laid down and the first ever running day of the club was held on the 11th of January 1970. The club newsletter Hot Oil for April stated:
“The day was hot and sultry but undeterred we sailed forth. Our first customer was a local with child. So we told him it was 5 cents per ride and suggested that he get on with offspring just to make sure that the child was O.K. He passed over 10 cents and held out his hand for the change. So, actually our first customers got their ride at excursion rates….. 2 ½ cents per head. Is this the way to run a railway?”
At this point in time running days were held on the 2nd Sunday of the month with general meetings held on the first Friday of the month. The then lands board subsequently did not give the fledgling club permission to lay any permanent track at Badgery’s Creek so the search continued for another location. A number of sites were then inspected with the majority being rejected for one reason or another. Perhaps the turning point for the club occurred on Sunday the 4th of July 1971 when six Fairfield Aldermen meet up with club members at Lime St Cabramatta. A display of models was arranged and rides were given to them. Several Aldermen then accompanied club members on a tour of inspection of a site behind the Fairfield Showground that they thought would be suitable. On the 28th July 1971 Fairfield Council allocated a portion of land within the Showground complex for the use of the club.
An early photo at Fairfield as then member Mike Donardio enters the old Clubhouse building while Sam Humphries chats to Bill Kirkland. Note the crowbar leaning against the tree still in the container somewhere and no ground level track.
Sam Humphries chats to Bill Kirkland. Note the crowbar leaning against the tree still in the container somewhere and no ground level track.
<p>The first meeting, though not a business meeting took place in the clubhouse on the 13th August, the first Business meeting on the 3rd of September. Those present included B Ferguson, Alex Russell, Bill Kirkland Sam Humphries and Ted Frullani. Work then commenced on erecting a permanent raised level track (360 ft in diameter). This track was donated to the club by the Sydney Live Steam Locomotive Society. Members refurbished the track and added an extra rail (to accommodate 2 ½ inch gauge locomotives) at member Bert Ferguson’s Home. This was completed in time for the first running day at Fairfield which was held on the 2nd Sunday in October 1971.
images/wdls1.jpg The very first track at Fairfield was the elevated track (360ft dia). This was first used in October 1971 this scene was taken near the now elevated steaming bays and shows Alex Russell’s Simplex having a run.<br><br>Photo by Bill Kirkland
<p>In April 1973 it was decided to hold the working days on the 2nd Sunday of the month and the running day moved to the 3rd Sunday of the month. This situation is still with us today. Work was then started on a 5 inch gauge ground level track in June 1974 which was eventually brought into operation three months later. In the beginning of 1977 work commenced on laying an extra rail on the ground level track to cater for 7 ¼ inch gauge locomotives. This was completed in May 1977 Further track extensions were commenced in late 1979 with then Member Syd Button turning the first sod. On the 19th of January 1980 a Backhoe was hired and the cutting was dug out thus saving many hours of hard labour.
Work proceeded, and on the 12 of October 1980, it was necessary to remove the original main line loop and 7¼ loop to make way for the new extensions. The first length of track was laid in the station area on the 1st of February 1981. By August 1981 the ground level steaming bays were sufficiently completed along with a Turntable/hoist (Purchased from Illawarra Live Steamers) to be used for the first time. Mid 1982 witnessed the completion of the new line and work then settled down to slowly improve the grounds.
A blockhouse was completed in mid-1985 for use in the steaming bay area and later in the year the entire site was fenced in thus reducing the vandalism element.
images/wdls10.jpg John Griffiths is seen arriving at the original Station with his “R” class the levers in the rather primitive signal box controlled the points for the station loop on the ground level track. This scene is looking directly toward Bamboo corner. Notice that there is no track or cutting at this time.
The 1990’s saw further improvements while a large number of trees had to be removed for safety reasons. As a result, the entire raised level track was pulled down and rebuilt (following the tree lopping) with part of it now following the formation of the original ground level main line. It was available for use in April 1992. The then committee decided one month later to commence Public running every Saturday while the Fairfield Markets were on in order to raise additional funds for club projects. This is still the case today. A colour light signalling system was brought into use in the cutting area in October 1992. Work on the cutting walls commenced soon after with Besser blocks used to combat the erosion problem in this area. The first club locomotive a 0-6-0 diesel based loosely on a NSWGR 70 class was also built. Work Commenced in April 1993 on the new station platform and roof and this was completed by September of that year. The late 1990’s witnessed the construction of the club’s second locomotive a 7 ¼ 2-6-2 steam locomotive which was subsequently named “SAM”.
A scene of the elevated steaming bays with Jude Little’s unfinished “Red Rocket” Nearest camera Alex Russell to the right attending to “Simplex” and former Treasurer John Griffiths preparing his 3½ gauge Victorian “R ” class for a run.
In the year 2000 work then turned to the rebuilding of the clubhouse with half of it used as a meeting area (and fitted out as such) and the other half used as a workshop/storage area. This clubhouse was later destroyed by fire in an Arson attack in January 2006. Further track extensions commenced in November 2003 with a new loop (known as Stryzek loop) laid along with additional sidings for those members wishing to operate scale freight trains. Thanks to the efforts of a few hard working members these were in operation in time for the AALS interclub run held at Fairfield in April 2005. The increasing popularity of parties being held at Fairfield has seen the construction of a Party Platform for these groups which was completed in March 2006. The future will see a period of consolidation for W.D.L.S with attention being focused on track maintenance and improvements to the signalling system.
The clubhouse was destroyed by fire in January 2006 and the engine unit of the restored “Sam” waits for its tender.