Last Sunday was one of those Katoomba days when layers of mist pass by, adding a sense of character and mystique to what was already going to be a day bursting with nostalgia.
At the sounding of a bell, Scenic World’s former managing director Philip Hammon, dressed in a vintage conductor’s outfit, joined his wife, his children (current directors David and Anthea) and his grandchildren on the Mountain Devil Scenic Railway train for its final journey to the entrance of the old Katoomba Colliery below.
The world’s steepest incline railway closed at 4pm to allow a $30 million upgrade to be completed, featuring a Swiss-built train — confirmed to have arrived in Australia around New Year and stored in a secret location — with new train tracks and double-sided platforms.
Hundreds of customers joined the Hammon family get-together to ride the fifth version of the Mountain Devil on the 310-metre track for the last time — a ride enjoyed by an estimated 25 million people since founder Harry Hammon purchased the old mine lease and transformed it into a thrilling tourism experience in 1945.
Katoomba residents Philip and Janice Maiden told the Gazette they arrived early at Scenic World on Sunday morning to make sure they didn’t miss out on the final rides.
“I’ve been riding it since the late 1940s when my elder brother and I lived in Sydney and often used to come up on the steam train on weekends, camp in the Kanimbla Valley, go on a bushwalk and ride the Scenic Railway before making a mad dash to catch the last steam train back,” Mr Maiden said.
“We used to go into the old coal mine with torches because there were no fences around its entrance back then.
“I can still remember my first ride on the Mountain Devil when I was 13 — you never lose that memory.
“When we retired we moved just up the road from Scenic World and whenever we have visitors it’s the first place we take them.
“I still tell people you have to sit in the first row in the first carriage — that’s the only place to be!”
David Hammon said people have great memories of the train.
“I was probably only a few weeks old when I had my first ride on it and I still remember taking half a day off school — which was a pretty big deal for me at the time — to see a new winch put in.
“We used to have dad reserve the back seats for us and we’d go on it with our friends.
“We’ve been on it that many times the train really feels like it has its own personality, the way it sounds and moves.
“The night before we had all the staff enjoy a few celebratory drinks at the bottom station, which was a lot of fun because it is not often we all get together to ride the Mountain Devil at the same time.
“Afterwards a big chant went up: one more ride, one more ride!”
“All of our 125-odd staff are Blue Mountains residents and its a real privilege working with staff who really enjoy interacting with customers and giving them an experience.”
Anthea Hammon said “we’ve really got to know this train’s little intricacies so in a way it is sad to see it go today, but on the other hand it is now the time for a new chapter at Scenic World and this transformation will provide our visitors with a fresh perspective on the rainforest, with some new surprises entwined with our history”.
The final word went to Philip Hammon, conductor’s hat in hand, who told the Gazette the Scenic Railway had played a central part in his family’s life.
“I can still remember riding on the third edition of the Mountain Devil that was made of wood until it was replaced by aluminium carriages when I was seven. When I was little I used to ride down to play on the rainforest vines.”
Scenic World rides remain open every day, with the exception of the Scenic Railway. It is scheduled to reopen with its new Swiss-built Mountain Devil in time for Easter.