The words thrilling and carefree come to mind when I look at this picture of Australia’s well preserved Puffing Billy Railway. The dangling feet and curious smiling faces oblivious to any danger, makes me long for worry free younger days, but that is another story.
Puffing Billy had its start in the 1900’s as Australia made attempts to develop several of its rural areas. They built four experimental lines to different areas but this is the only major survivor. In 1953 a landslide unfortunately caused the closure of the line. Two years later in 1955, a group of volunteers founded the Preservation Society to assist in the train’s operation and minimize financial impact on the managing body, Victorian Railways. Yes! Puffing Billy was on its way back. Over the next four plus decades the tireless efforts of the volunteers to rebuild the lines and bridges gained visibility and backing from the government (this came later in the 1970’s). Sure, they came to the party late, but there is no doubt that the Society was glad that the Government showed up.
This century year old steam train still runs on its original mountain track through the Dandenong Ranges between Belgrave and Gembrook. They offer entertainment that runs the gamut from Bollywood night, dining , weddings, murder mystery and Jazz to an all-time family favorite “Thomas the Tank Engine“. Simply writing about it makes me smile. So arrive early (at least half an hour) and pack light to enjoy this reclaimed gem
Ahh!! The world’s last manually operated cable car- a staple in the city of San Francisco. This dying breed had its genesis in 1873 after Andrew Smith Hallidie witnessed a terrible accident involving San Francisco’s notoriously steep hills, horse drawn carriages and too much weight.
Hallidie was a failed gold miner who cheated death on more than one occasion. He was reportedly caught in the midst of a forest fire, fell 25 feet from a suspension bridge, attacked by a band of Mexicans, lived through a blast in a shaft at the end of a 600 foot tunnel, and was the passenger in a runaway horse drawn stagecoach. Yes he needed a change of luck!! But he was brilliant- he built his first wire suspension bridge at nineteen. But back to the trains!
After the horse tragedy in 1869, he immediately started the process to design and build the cable car. The first cable car system was the Clay street line which made its debut in 1873 and cost $85,000 to build. The bodies of these exquisite works of art are hand worked over the course of 18-24 months by carpenters using oak, Alaskan spruce covered in canvas, iron, steel and highly polished brass. Its operators or Gripmen gained their unique name from the fact that at the “turnable” they literally have to grip the car and use their body weight to turn it around. In 2010 they had their 2nd woman cable car operator and change the name to to grip person.
The Venice Simplon-Orient-Express (VSOE) is the privately owned luxury rail liner that runs between London, Paris and Venice. It is famed as a descendent of the fabled Orient Express and each year it makes the long trek to Istanbul (Constantinople) following a similar path to that of its quasi parent launch in 1883. But book your tickets early because you can only ride this train from March through November. Its birth in 1982 came about as a result of a purchase of 1920’s and 30’s “Wagon- Lits” (sleep cars) by James Sherwood who reportedly spent $31M restoring the cars to their original opulence even down to the brass lamps and marquetry paneling