The 100th anniversary celebrations of the Valley Heights Railway Depot — now a treasured museum — got off to a good head of steam on Friday, January 31 with an official ceremony attended by NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell, NSW Governor Marie Bashir and several local residents who worked at the facility at its peak in the 1950s.
Several hundred guests travelled to the event on a special heritage ‘Centenary Train’ service from Sydney to join locals to witness Governor Bashir unveil a commemorative plaque and enjoy plenty of entertainment including tram rides, museum tours and the cutting of a centenary cake.
The depot opened in January 1914, playing the crucial role of piloting steam trains up the steep rail corridor from Valley Heights to Katoomba.
With a key signals box, a large locomotive yard, a 10-bay roundhouse, servicing pits and watering facilities, it employed about 80 staff by the mid 50s.
The depot closed in December 1988 but thanks to the efforts of the local community and dedicated volunteers, the site was conserved and transformed into a museum.
Clarre Hough told the Gazette he began working at the depot in 1950 as a call boy and continued to work there for 13 years in a variety of roles.
“I was the last fireman qualified to drive steam engines in this depot,” he said.
“Driving the trains was a holiday — it was firing them up that was a bastard.
“I remember when we reached Katoomba in winter we’d open the smoke box and sit in the front because it was the only place to get warm.
“It was a job you had to be interested in, otherwise you wouldn’t put up with the conditions.”
Mr Hough took the opportunity to catch up on the day with old work colleagues.
Harry Cross worked at the depot for more than 40 years.
“I was a fitter and I did enjoy the work but it was heavy work and we were often flat out fixing trains,” Mr Cross said.
“The steam engines we had here weren’t actually meant for the steep parts of the line so they would often get damaged.”
The celebrations continued at the museum into the weekend with tram drivers, conductors and staff in period costume entertaining crowds as part of the Blue Mountains Roaring 20s Festival.