Thursday, November 3, 2011

Strasburg, PA- Amish country

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My cousin Glenda and her husband John came to stay for a few days. My sister Clare also flew up from Georgia to join in the fun. We decided to take them up to Amish country near Lancaster, PA so we headed out on a rainy morning into the mists of lower south east Pennsylvania.
 We drove through some magnificent farmland and arrived at the Strasburg Rail Road. And you thought I was finished with trains for a while!

The train runs from Strasburg to Paradise an back. It's not very expensive ($13) to take the trip and it covers about 9 miles there and back. It's a great experience for kids and also for adults who like steam trains. John loved the smell of of the smoke and the sight of the train.

 The line to Paradise. The trip is very scenic, especially in summer when the fields are full of corn.

They have quite a few engines. This is another one they use which you can read about here where they describe the engines in more detail.

Puffing and smoking.

Leaving the station.

 It was time for lunch so we went to a little restaurant where the waitresses appear to be Mennonites.
 This will give you an idea where it is if you look it up on a map. This is looking west.
Glenda takes a photo while Clare looks on in rapt admiration.

 It's a great old fashioned diner and quite inexpensive. Locals go there.

Glenda tried to get a photo of an Amish buggy as we drove along. Here is one used as a decoration. These days they are made of carbon fibre and there is a big warning triangle on the back. Unfortunately the Amish put it low down on the buggy instead of high up where you could see it sooner.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Townsville to Brisbane - the Sunlander

So here it is, the main reason for the trip. Last year when Geoff and I were driving up to Rockhampton we spent the night in Maryborough. The next day we went out to the Maryborough West Station and by chance, the Sunlander train arrived. Geoff, that fount of all knowledge, remarked that he had read that the train was to be discontinued in 2014 to be replaced by a Tilt Train. That remark really resonated with me and I realized that here was a piece of Australian History that was about to disappear. I also wondered whether the other name trains that headed west would disappear at the same time. These trains are totally uneconomic and lose vast amounts of money. The cost of the ticket is just a fraction of the real cost.

So I decided to try to put together this trip using the Ausrail Pass. Since many of the trains only run two or three times a week, it was difficult to put the jigsaw of the different train schedules together, but eventually I managed to create a plan that made sense.

 The train was already sitting at Townsville Station when I arrived about an hour early. Apparently the train line to Cairns was being repaired so the passengers from Cairns had been put on a bus and driven down. Hearing that, I was pleased I hadn't gone to Cairns.

There were about twenty carriages on the train and it was pulled by two diesels. This was a long train and for many shorter stations, the train had to stop few times so that passengers could get on or off.
 The train left on time at 4:35pm and I had a compartment to myself. When the bloke came around to check tickets I asked if anybody else would be in the compartment but unlike on the other QLD trains, he did not know. Since I had the top bunk out of three, I presumed I would be unlucky but enjoyed the solitude while I could.
 This time, the window was relatively clean but the afternoon sun made taking photos through the double pane glass difficult.
 There was roadwork on the main highway heading south of Townsville and it was a pleasure to rush past the lines of cars waiting patiently for their turn to proceed.
 Throughout the entire trip I have been amazed at how varied the landscape has been. I thought there would be long stretches of boring bits, but for me it hasn't been boring at all.
 In the right light, even swampy areas look magical.

 One other thing I have noticed throughout the trip is how excited I get when I see water. Rain is such an event in most of dry Australia that it's wonderful to see normally dry water courses with water in them.
 In Australia the conditions for growing sugar cane include sufficient rainfall and rich red soil. These conditions occur at certain places along the Queensland coast and northern New South Wales. A few yards can often make a difference when the red soil stops and regular soil starts. Sugar cane will be growing in the red soil and nothing just a few yards away.
 One of the many sugar mills that serve the cane fields.

 No red dirt, no sugar cane.
 The sleeping compartment, this time with the safety notices. Standards were back up to regular standards with this train. Plenty of announcements and friendly staff.
 Late afternoon sun.
 It looked like smoke in the distance.

The Burdekin River. If you would like to see it with some water in it, click here.

 Next morning I woke to realize that nobody else was in the compartment. I love it when I have a train compartment to myself and I can sit there in solitude and look out. It must be a womb thing.

We arrived at Gladstone early in the morning. The old station has gone to be replaced by a new one. I've been wondering why the railway replaced the old wooden structures and the most practical answer I can come up with is that the new structures are easier and cheaper to air-condition.

A bunch of paddy melons? It looked like them.

Approaching Bundaberg, we were back in sugar cane territory. Here is one of the sugar trains that service the fields and take the sugar to the mill. The gauge for these trains is 24 inches (610mm).

 Orchards north of Bundaberg. I'm not sure what they are, possibly oranges.

The Burnett River which flows through Bundaberg. Like all the rivers along the coast, this one floods as well. Here is some video.

The railway crossing at Bundaberg where the train line crosses the main street. My father was Maintenance Engineer at Maryborough and his territory of responsibility went as far north as Bundaberg and included this crossing. He said the file of correspondence dealing with the crossing was many inches thick.

 For some reason or other, Bundaberg has its old station.

Occasionally I would look out the window and I would see special containers with side opening doors.

 The train passed by the Bundaberg Showgrounds. Queen Elizabeth II visited here in 1954 shortly after her coronation in 1953. Since Bundaberg had wider streets than Maryborough, it was decided that she would go to Bundaberg even though at the time Maryborough was the larger city. I can remember going to the station at night and along with what seemed to be the entire population of Maryborough, travelling by train to Bundy and walking to the Showgrounds. The huge crowd waited and waited in the March heat until finally the Queen's plane circled over head. Eventually she arrived at the Showgrounds and was driven through the adoring crowds. You can see a photo here that they think was taken in Bundaberg.

Finally this is my territory. Ti trees abound.

The Burrum River. I went to the Burrum Heads last year and blogged it here.

Elegant old Queenslanders in the small town of Howard which has quite a collection of them.

Pine tree plantations. Maryborough used to have two large saw mills that cut up the timber brought in from Fraser Island. Now it's only pine used for paper and lightweight planks.

Maryborough West station where the idea for the trip germinated.

So much of the old railway line has gone. The track was extensively altered and sharp curves removed so that higher speeds could be maintained. many of the old stations such as this one at Mungar have disappeared. It was once a junction for a branch line. The journey for the 168 miles from Maryborough to Brisbane used to take seven and half hours if all went well. The Sunlander now takes five and a half hours and the Tilt Train takes four hours.

 The Mary River north of the little town of Tiaro.

Mt Bauple, home of the Macadamia nut. Yes, this is where they originated and the locals call them Bauple nuts. I climbed the mountain once when I was a teenager.

A wind break of sugar cane.

The scene of my triumph. During a Xmas school holiday, my father took me along with him to come out and inspect this bridge just south of Tiaro. As we were walking along the track I looked ahead and noticed that one of the lines was badly buckled in the heat. I quietly asked my father if that was normal. My father and the men with him immediately burst into action since they knew a train was coming. Somebody was ordered to run back to the station to set the signal and somebody else ran up ahead to stop the oncoming train. A bunch of gangers came out with big crowbars and straightened out the line. My moment of glory and possibly the only time in my life when I noticed something that others didn't.

I liked the pattern of the rails against the cutting.

 Lunch. I noticed at the dining car that they had some containers of fruit salad so I ordered one of them for $5. The woman serving me mentioned that I would get an icecream with it so she turned around and asked somebody else to throw her an icecream. It was duly thrown and duly dropped. The poor woman copped it from the other workers for a while. To be honest, the dropped icecream was not as good as the old Peters or Pauls icecreams that we got as kids. The fruit salad more than made up for the icecream. It was delicious.

With twenty carriages there were a lot of people on board so the dining and buffet cars were a bit overwhelmed. There was no organized sittings as were organized on the Spirit of the Inland. It's a pity they did not have the organized sittings on this train since it would have made the dining much more civilized.

Mount Cooroora just outside Pomona. There are quite a few of these volcanic plugs between Gympie and Brisbane.

Some of the Glasshouse Mountains, given their name by Captain Cook in 1770. They are volcanic plugs as well.

 Tibrogargan that resembles a giant gorilla.

I am part of the Carseldine family that moved to the area in 1858. The area they lived in has now become a suburb of Brisbane bearing their name.

So finally the Sunlander arrived a few minutes late at Brisbane Roma Street Station. The station itself is all modern now except for this remaining old part. No doubt it too will disappear soon.

I'm sitting at the Hacienda Hotel at LAX listening to the sounds of planes taking off. It's a pleasant enough inexpensive hotel with a shuttle to the airport, an inexpensive restaurant and a supermarket across the road. Wireless internet is free. Between 11pm and midnight the roar of the planes would be louder as the 747's took off, possibly for Australia and I realized it was over five weeks since I took off for Brisbane.

It's been a great adventure and I have really enjoyed most of it, especially the train travel. The scenery was much more spectacular and varied than I envisaged and I have been really impressed by the friendliness of most of the train crews.

The biggest negative has been the high costs in Australia. It only took walking into the supermarket across the road to realize just how food prices in Australia have risen over the past few years. The exchange rate hasn't helped either. And it's not just food. This hotel costs me $76 for the night and it is the lap of luxury compared to most of the accommodation I have paid for in Oz. You would be lucky to get back packer accommodation in Australia for this price.

However, the Ausrail pass is a bargain as are the sleeper upgrades on the Queensland trains. 

And would I do it again? Of course I would, the whole journey was terrific.