To school on the train

Going to school. Things were different then. When I started going to school we lived in Kelmscott and I went to school in Armadale at the John Calvin School. That was a bit far to walk so I had to go on the the train. That meant that I as a six year old had to walk nearly a mile to the railway station, buy a ticket, which cost sixpence, get on the train, go to Armadale, get off the train, and walk to school. How many parents today would let their six year olds do that? At least getting off at the right station was easy, because Armadale was the last stop in the 1950s.

But my parents really had no choice. We had no car, and in any case Mum never learned to drive. We did not get a car until the family moved to Harvey years later … but that’s another story. My parents quite rightly wanted us to have a Christian education and that was the Christian school that was available and the train was the only way of getting there. It worked and until I learned to ride a pushbike to school a couple of years later that was the way I got to school. Mind you, my seven year old sister also went so we travelled together.

The trains were usually old steam trains with old timber carriages. The carriages were divided up into small compartments with two rows of seats facing each other and luggage racks overhead. Occasionally we would have a carriage which must have been the luxury version in its day, which had a silver wash basin. The doors of the carriages were hinged and they opened outwards. You could open them by holding the handle lever and turning it downwards.

There was usually quite a crowd of schoolchildren waiting for the train at the Kelmscott station. When the train was pulling in there was always a rush for the doors to see who could get in first and get the best seat. One day a girl got to the train while it was still moving, grabbed the door handle which turned downwards and her hand slipped off and she fell between the moving train and the platform. I still remember the man carrying her from the railway track back up the platform after the train had moved forward enough for people to get to her. Looking back I don’t think the accident was as serious as it seemed at the time. But it shocked all of the kids at the station. It was a pretty quiet crowd that day!

I used to love those steam trains. When I tell the stories of these train trips to the kids its always accompanied by realistic sounds of the train whistles and the steam working through the pistons and the level crossing bells and the clicketty clack of the wheels on the track. Maybe when I learn the technology I can put an audio track with this story so you can hear it too!

Later came the diesel trains with their distinctive ‘pong’ sound instead of the steam train whistle. I am sure they were more efficient and quicker, but they didn’t have the same romance for me as the steam trains. It was a disappointment to me when the government sold all the steam trains to Brazil in the sixties and replaced them with boring diesels. I still remember the X class diesels with oil leaks running down the sides and thinking ‘These are supposed to be better than the steam locomotives?’ Time moves on and so does technology and eventually the steam trains would have reached their use-by date and would have been replaced. But I reckon the government jumped way too early and missed out on twenty years of useful life from those steam trains.

Copyright © Willem Schultink