The Railway line strikes due West and in places as straight as a gun barrel along the Tropic of Capricorn. It is 420 miles 670 Klm from Rockhamton on the Central Coast of Queensland Australia to Longreach in the Central West. A little over half way along this railway line there is a small town called Alpha (The Beginning of the Outback) . The building of the line was a mammoth task in the early 1900s reaching Longreach in 1905.
Many small sawmills sprang up along the line to supply building materials for bridges etc & sleepers (rail ties) for the track. There were many settlers already in the area so sawn timber was also unique & valuable to them. The sawmills were often moved ahead as the line progressed but many remained in place as small towns began to build up nearby, some even remain to this day although not necessarily in their original position. Most early rail ties were split from the log with wedges then trued up with a "broad-axe" by expert axemen, many were sawn with a "Pit-saw", a pit being dug in the ground, the log being secured over the pit, 2 men with a large saw, one in the pit the other on top of the log (he was called "The Top Dog"). I can think of easier ways to earn a living. The pit can still be found on the creek flat near Alpha. Horse whips (that is where the horse draws a pole around a pivot, gears and shafts transmitting the motion to the machine to be driven) were sometimes used to power saw-benches. Then of course there was steam.
Alpha was one such town, which grew up around a railway and a sawmill. Today it is becoming famous for its "Murals" See Murals photos of the railway toilets and bakery wall. Then in the park there is an old steam engine. See Alpha’ Steam Engine photos It is a "Clayton & Shuttleworth" Portable, single cylinder, makers number 36749, Imported by W&A McArthur Ltd, Agents Sydney, New South Wales.
It was used to power a sawmill 43 Klm East of Alpha at a place called "Pine Hill Creek". When the mill closed down it was shifted (presumably by horse or bullock team) in to Alpha. While crossing Alpha Creek a wheel was put off the causeway, the engine tipped up breaking the fly-wheel (no date can be established as to when this occurred, I travelled to the town in 1958 and there was a bridge across the creek then and not a new one). The flywheel was replaced and it would have to have been used for milling or for pumping water. The broken flywheel still exists as a garden surround. See photo None of the old timers still living in Alpha can ever remember it being used, and for many years it stood on the town common, losing all of its brass items to scrap metal. It could be that this engine and its sawmill had spent many years following Queenslands railway building before finishing up at "Pine Hill Creek". A shortage of millable timber toward Longreach would have prevented it from being moved on further.
Ted Lee The above article and pictures are © Copyright 2001 Ted Lee All Rights Reserved and is reproduced here with Ted's permission.