80 years ago on Saturday August 17th 1940, it was reported in the Stawell News and Pleasant Creek Chronicle that on Thursday August 8th 1940, an unmanned, runaway steam engine almost met with disaster when it bolted from the Navarre rail yards, heading towards Tulkara, after just being turned around on the turntable.
A witness to the incident was Mr Harold Blake, 95, an Eventide Homes resident.
He remembers the incident very vividly and shared his recollection of the events to the Secretary of the Stawell Historical Society, Greg Robson who is the Grandson of Charlie Clinnick.
"I was sitting down having a cup of billy tea with Charlie Clinnick who was then aged 36," he said. "I was only 16 at the time. We boiled the billy over an open fire in the yards at the station.
"Charlie was the benchman and l was the block stacker at my family's saw mill in the station yards. I was living with my parents and 10 brothers and sisters at the Navarre Coffee Palace on the Comer of High and Alrey Streets."
The Coffee Palace, in later years, was cut in two, transported to Stawell and made into two separate residences in Holt Street. Mr Blake said Navarre, being the end of the line, had a turntable and this is where the trains were manually turned around to head back to where they came from.
"The fireman, 'Woofie' Fitzgerald noticed Charlie and I sitting down having a cuppa, and he came over to have a talk to us," he said.
"The engine driver got down from the engine, then proceeded to tum the train around. When he had done so and before he could clamber back on board, it took off by itself, towards Tulkara with no one on board.
"Charlie jumped in an old lndianna truck that was at Blake's sawmill after just being unloaded of wood for sawing into foot blocks to be sent by rail to Melbourne. He took off after the train to chase it down. In the meantime, phone calls were made to the Ararat station and to Melbourne advising them what was happening.
"They were instructed to change the points at the Ben Nevis Station and to run the train into the buffers at that Ben Nevis Station. Charlie was still chasing the train in the old lndianna and he came to a halt at a private rail crossing several miles down the track towards Tulkara. When the engine got to the crossing, Charlie jumped from the truck onto the engine and brought it to a stop. He put the train into reverse and drove it back to the Navarre Station."
A departmental enquiry was lodged and as a result a letter of commendation was sent from Victorian Railways to Mr Clinnick thanking him for his heroic efforts. A copy of this letter is on display at the Society.
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