Tyers Valley Tramway

Victoria, Australia

The closing of the Tyers Valley tramway finally extinguished the picturesque era of steam powered light railway that had been a feature of the Victorian forest areas for many decades.

Located in the Parishes of Moondarra and Telbit, Gippsland, the tramway terminated at Collins Siding on the Moe Walhalla 2'6"gauge branch of the Victorian Railways. Its construction by the Forests Commission of Victoria was to facilitate the extraction of timber from the Southern and Western slopes of Mount Erica and to replace the outlet tramways destroyed during the disastrous forest fires of February 1926.

The line, following the Eastern arm of the river, passed Ingrams Siding (7m.) to terminate at a forest area, known as "Ten Acre Block", 8m. 60c. from Collins Siding. The western branch of the line followed the Western Tyers Valley to Growlers Creek, 13m. 40c. from Collins Siding.


Early in 1926, it had been decided to run the tramway from Erica and an alignment was surveyed. The route had been pegged out for a distance of two miles when Mr. W. Lakeland, Forest Engineer, took charge of the construction and recommended its discontinuance in favour of a line from Collins Siding.

By the 17th May 1926, a graded contour had been run from Collins Siding, to Tyers Junction and on to Ten Acre Block, over a route originally surveyed by the Victorian Railways. This route was considered superior and, as the loss incurred on the abandoned Erica alignment would be counterbalanced by more efficient working and the need for only minor bridging, instructions for the commencement of construction were issued on the 24th May. Work started immediately at Collins Siding, which was, at that time, a simple loop siding.

During the following month, pegging was completed over the 8.75 miles (centre to centre of terminals) and sleepers transferred from the Erica alignment.

Leaving Collins Siding, situated one mile from Erica, 98 miles from Melbourne and the transfer point with the Victorian Railways the tram crossed the Moe-Erica Road on the level and ran along the Eastern side of the Tyers River Valley for a distance of 6m. 5ch. to Tyers Junction. The two level crossings on route were protected by standard Victorian Railways "Railway Crossing," signs, altered to "Tramway Crossing".

Tyers Junction, at the confluence of the Eastern and Western Tyers Rivers, was the tramway headquarters and was provided with a triangle, storage tracks and locomotive shed. Water was raised from the river to a tank, 35' overhead, by means of a pump. This pump was supplied with steam obtained from the locomotives, at the end of a day's running, by means of a flexible steam line to specially provided steam cocks on the boilers.


The gauge was 2’6", with ¼" slack on curves, which were super-elevated. The maximum grade against the load was 1 in 30, [3.3%] with curves compensated at the rate of 0.02% per degree of curvature.

Care was taken to ensure that the ruling grade was only encountered on slopes exposed to the sun. Where sheltered sections existed, the grade was eased accordingly.

The steepest grade against the load was I in 30 for a distance of 2.5 miles, followed by a mile of I in 40 [2.5%] up to Collins Siding. The maximum grade (unloaded) was 1 in 35 [3%] which, in one instance, existed on a 200’ radius curve, 70' long, giving the severest combination on the line.

The radius of the sharpest curve was 80'. This curve was 254' long and occurred on a grade of I in 83 [1.25%] with the load. The sharpest curve against the load was of 160' radius and 268' long on a 1 in 45 [2%] grade.

Rails of 41, 43 and 46 lbs. per yard there brought from an abandoned Tasmanian Government line and laid on 5' x 7" x 4" messmate sleepers, spaced nine to a 24' rail length. Where conditions allowed, this spacing was reduced to 10 sleepers per 22’, in lieu of heavy and costly ballasting.

Rail joints were suspended to give slight elasticity on the curves. The majority of turnouts were No.10's, although there were some No-5's in use. The loading gauge provided for a height of 10’6" and a width of 6’.


The question of suitable motive power was soon raised and a search of secondhand yards revealed that Messrs. Miller & Co. of South Melbourne had three locomotives of 2’3' and 3' 6" gauges. The large engines could not be reduced in gauge and the 2' engine was too small.

At the time, the Victorian Railways was planning the use of its 2' 6"-gauge G-class Beyer Garretts and the possibility of the Commission using one of the displaced NA-class tank engines was considered but the weight of 34t . 6c. (maximum axle load, 9t. 6c.) and rigid wheelbase of 8’0" made them too heavy and long to negotiate unballasted track with 80’0" radius curves.

On the 17th August 1926, advertisements for a second hand 2' 6" gauge locomotive were placed in the Press of all States, without response. Information was then sought from Messrs. Beyer Peacock & Co. of Manchester, England, regarding the supply of a Garrett of stock design (2-6-0 + 0-6-2) but these units were considered to heavy and a specially built 0-4-0+0-4-0 would have been too costly.

A cable was then despatched to America (home of the geared logging locomotive) and quotes for a Climax, Shay and Heisler were received. An order could not be placed, however, as the machines were not of Australian, or British manufacture, as required by the Government Policy of the day.

By this time, the formation and bridgework had been completed to Ten Acre Block and all was ready for rail laying. Further, it had now been decided to extend up the Western Tyers as far as Pitman Creek.

To put the work in hand, the Forests Commission arranged to hire a small bush made tractor from Mr F Rayner of the Munro Timber Company. On the 22nd November 1926, platelaying was put in hand with a small truck, borrowed from Mr. W.H. Gould. The tractor commenced working on the 26th but was capable of little more than working in the level and had to be supplemented with a draught horse on the adverse grades.

While rail laying during December, the tractor broke down several times and forced the Commission to purchase a Nattrass tractor. This unit had a Fordson Engine, driving four axles, and was capable of hauling a load of approximately 50 tons. It was supplied by L. Bannister & Sons Pty. Ltd.

Also during December, the first half of a dozen steel 2' gauge tip trucks were delivered by the Steel Company of Australia. These trucks were permanently coupled in pairs by reach-bar and were used during the construction of bridge approaches and other heavy formation work. Early in January 1927, the North British Locomotive Company of Glasgow, Scotland advised that they were unable to supply a 22-ton articulated tank locomotive and a proposal to adopt a Thorneycroft motor to handle a load of 60 tons was ruled out as too expensive.

The Nattrass tractor took over the work from the Raynor-Munro unit on the 22nd January 1927 and the small tractor was returned to its owners during the following April, via Ten Acre Block.

The Eastern branch of the tramway had reached completion by the 16th March 1927 and work commenced immediately on the extension of the Western branch to Growlers Creek It was later proposed to extend this branch for a distance of 24 miles to North Toorongo but, after a preliminary survey, the scheme was abandoned.

The line served the following sawmills:  Northern Timber (2), Morgan's, Ingram s, Horner & Monett, Christensen & Luxton and the Munro Timber Company.

To facilitate the handling of traffic, 11 miles of telephone wiring and five instruments were installed along the line.


Tenders were invited up to the 27th May 1927 for the supply of a geared locomotive, weighing approximately 16 to 18 tons.

Replies were received from the Climax and Lima Companies in America and one from Alfred Harman of North Port Melbourne. The latter firm was the only local body interested and accordingly, an order was placed with Mr.Harman.

The locomotive was delivered at Moe by the Victorian Railways on the 29th November 1927 and it was off loaded onto the Walhalla branch line. The following day it travelled under steam to Collins siding, in charge of a Victorian Railways crew. On arrival, it steamed over a temporary connection with the tramway and commenced the run to Tyers Junction.

 This engine was of an interesting and unusual design. The boiler, built by Messrs. Johnson & Son, was 6' 6" long, with a diameter of 2' 10" and total heating surface of 257.7 sq. ft. made up as follows: firebox (4'3" x 2'  5" x 3') 45.2 sq. ft., tubes, 212.5 sq. ft. The boiler pressure was 200 lbs. per square inch.

The main frame was constructed of rolled steel joists (12" x 6" x 54 lbs.), with the boiler rigidly attached at the firebox and supported on a cradle at the smokebox end.

The locomotive was carried on two four-wheel bogies, which were constructed with heavy side-plates, carrying the horn cheeks, steel axleboxes, end plates and a central steel casting, which supported the ball bearings of the transverse shafts of the reduction gear. Each bogie was equipped with two 6" x 6" cylinders, which operated crankshafts, running in ball bearings. The big ends were also fitted with ball bearings.

A steel spur gear on the transverse shaft provided the first reduction, the second being through the following chain and sprocket drive to the axles, the total providing a 4to1 ratio. All moving parts, except the Stephenson's link motion, were enclosed and ran in oil. Springing was obtained by slinging the bogies to an underslung equalising bar by helical springs. The central pivot mast was hollow to allow entrance of the steam pipes, motion and drain cock control rods. Either bogie could be put in or out of steam as dictated by the size of the load and breaking provided by both steam and hand application.

Wheel diameter was 28.5". The bogies had a rigid wheelbase of 3' 6", the total wheelbase being 20'. Rail clearance was 4" and the buffer beams were designed to protect the cylinders. The overall length of the locomotive was 26', width 5' 4" and height 10'. The actual weight rose to 26 tons.

The tractive effort was 9374 lbs., less 10% due to gear losses, giving 8887 lbs. Water was originally carried in two tanks, one of 270 gallons centred under the main frame and one of 200 gallons in the tender.

A Cheney spark nullifier, by Cheney of Bayswater, Western Australia, was fitted to the stack to minimise the fire risk. The usual smokebox conditions did not exist, as exhaust steam, instead of entering a blast-pipe, was taken to the top of the smokestack and expelled through a slotted ring, to form a cone of saturated steam. This was an added fire prevention measure, as all products of combustion passed through this steam.

The draught required was provided by the turbine furnace, with which the locomotive was fitted, an arrangement that brought the rate of combustion directly under the driver's control.

The delivery run to Tyers Junction proved difficult and two derailments occurred at 1m64c on an S curve. The locomotive was rerailed and returned to Collins Siding, where weaker springs were installed to overcome the rigidity of the bogies. On the 13th December, the trip to Tyers Junction was expedited by the use of grease on the outer rail at curves.

Timber haulage commenced on the 12th January 1928, after modifications to the bogie masts had been carried out. Six trucks of timber were transported from Ten Acre Block to Tyers Junction, four being delivered to Collins Siding on that day.

The timber was transported on bogies of 2’ wheelbase, fitted with 18" wheels. They were braked by "bell"  –type blocks, located between the wheels and operated by ropes. Coupling was by a pin passing through the eye of a "reach bar", set 18" above the track.


On the 19th January, T.A.C.L. locomotive, purchased from Tractor Appliance Co. Ltd. (Malcolm Moore), was delivered. This unit had a 20 h.p. Fordson engine coupled by a chain drive to the two axles, providing a tractive effort of approx. 2000lbs. Wheelbase was 5’ and weight was four tons.

It was intended that the two tractor locomotives, working with the grade, would deliver timber from the branch lines to Tyers Junction, from which place it would be steam hauled out to the Collins Siding transfer point. Following a breakdown of the steam locomotive, haulage during the early months of 1928 was carried out by the T.A.C.L. unit, supplemented by the Nattrass, which was, by this time, becoming unreliable.

During April 1928, after ensuring that no suitable locomotive was available in Australia, an order was placed with the Climax Manufacturing Co., U.S.A. for the supply of a geared locomotive.

A second T.A.C.L. engine was purchased during May and, on the 27th, the local mill owners, having obtained running rights on the tramway, commenced haulage with the Harman. The three tractor units worked the branch lines and transported ballast, whilst the Harman hauled the timber to Collins Siding in rakes of eight trucks (56 tons). The weekly loading of the line for the first, second and third weeks were 54, 62 and 71 trucks respectively.


The Climax locomotive arrived in Melbourne, on the "City of Dalhart", early in August and, after erection at the Newport Workshops of the Victorian Railways, was delivered at Moe by the Victorian Railways' narrow-gauge transporter. A Victorian Railways' crew and Forests Commission driver J. Edwards drove from Moe to Collin’s Siding under steam on Wednesday, 5th September 1928 and the delivery to Tyers Junction was completed the following day.

The new locomotive was of the Climax Class B 25 ton type and carried builder’s No.1694 6-18-12. The boiler, built by the Union Iron Works, Erie, was 15’ long and diameter of 41" tapering to 35-3/16", and operated at 200-lbs. pressure. A stamping above the fire door reads "Union I.W. No. 1680-3, test 300 lbs., 5-28-28, G.D."

The overall length was 28'6", height 11’3", width 8’3" and weight 25 tons. The two 9" x 12" cylinders were operated 'by Stephenson link motion and drove through tailshafts to two 4-wheel (28" diameter) bogies, providing a tractive effort of 11,000 lbs. The bogies had a rigid wheelbase of 3'9", whilst the total wheelbase was 21'1". Provision was made to carry 600 gallons of water and one cord of wood or 2000 lbs.of coal. The engine was equipped with a Radley and Hunter smokestack, as a fire prevention safeguard.Up to this time, intermittent running was being carried out with the Harman but the three tractor locomotives maintained most of the haulage until the Climax entered traffic on the 7th September, when it took six trucks to Collins Siding.

The heavy grade to Collins Siding necessitated very slow travelling with the tractors. One was only capable of hauling only two trucks but double heading with the T.A.C.L.' s permitted the working of five trucks. When the Nattrass tractor also in service, loads of eight trucks were possible by triple-heading the load.

During the months that followed its delivery, the Climax provided regular services to and from Collins Siding, whilst several test trips were also made with the Harman, on which a series of modifications were being made.

The need for additional steam power became urgent toward the close of 1929 as the Climax had, from time to time, to be taken out of running for maintenance purposes. On these occasions, the line became dependent on the two T.A.C.L's, as the Nattrass had by then been scrapped.

Moves to import a Sentinal locomotive from Britain or alternatively a second Climax, came to nought and attention was again directed to the possible use of a Victorian Railways NA-class tank locomotive.

On the 2nd April 1930, the last test run of the Harman was conducted and, as performance throughout the several tests had proved disappointing, the engine was returned to its shed, where it remained until the close of the tramway.

The tram provided ease of access for the rather large sawmilling community living in this inhospitable area and thus it was not surprising to find that several trolleys operated along its length. Sawmillers were each given permission to operate two push-trolleys over the Western Tyers branch to provide transport during the periods when regular trams were not running. Later, "Casey Jones" power trolleys were operated by the sawmillers, as well as the Commission.


During 1933, the Climax on several occasions broke axles, which, on investigation, proved too light for the power developed and thus suffered fatigue failures. The usual procedures, in those circumstances, was to construct a loop round the disabled locomotive to allow the T.A.C.L's to maintain traffic, whilst repairs to the bogies were effected by the State Electricity Commission at YaIlourn.

The need for additional power was again urgent and, on the 20th September 1933, a test run was made with an NA-class locomotive, which is believed to have been No.14A. The trial was made between John's Creek and Collins Siding, with a minimum load of 76 tons. Owing to the gauge having widened since the track was first laid, no difficulty was experienced in negotiating the 100' radius curves, although the leading bogie did lift from the rail at one point, due to irregular super-elevation.

The trial was considered satisfactory in every respect but the work of strengthening the bridges as far as Tyers Junction was never completed.

During 1934, the Climax again broke an axle and overturned. Following this mishap, it was decided to reduce the load from 77 tons to 61 tons (10 trucks) and lower the boiler pressure to 160 lbs., to prevent further breakages and protect the crew. This action necessitated the running of two trips daily.

Later that year, the bogies were sent to the State Electricity Commission at Yallourn where they were fitted with axles of much higher tensile strength. During this period, the two tractors again kept the line open but suffered many derailments on the section operated by the locomotive.

Following its return to traffic, the load of the Climax was increased to 12 trucks (73 tons), at which it remained. It is interesting to note that the heaviest load hauled by this locomotive was a rake of trucks totalling approximately 100 tons.

The timber output, and thus the revenue of the tramway, fluctuated considerably during its operation.Haulage of sawn timber palings, logs and piles fell from 8.6 million super feet to 3.7 million super feet during the financial Year 1930/31, due to the impact of the depression.

Heavy flooding undermined bridges and washed away three sections of the line during 1935, at a time when recovery seemed assured. It was not until 1935/36 financial year that the maximum output of 10,537,349 super feet (returning a revenue of $18,282) was achieved. Transport of pulpwood for the Australian Paper Manufacturers pilot plant at Maryvale was commenced during February 1938, when 415 tons were dispatched to Collin’s Siding.

The forest fires of January 1939 provided a further setback, with the destruction of two sawmills and a great deal of timber.

Loading during the following years was mainly pulpwood and sawn timber. However, during 1949, the output had fallen to 2.3 million super feet per annum. The final timber haulage was made during July 1949 and the last tram ran on the 5th August of that year.

Both locos remained in the shed at Tyers Junction until the Climax was run in steam to Collin’s Siding on the 28th November 1950, where it remained until the conclusion of a railway strike then in progress. On the settlement of the strike, it was driven, over Victorian Railways track to a siding at the State Sawmill at Erica, where it remained until it was restored by the Puffing Billy Preservation Society. The PBR Society now uses the Climax on special occasions.

The Harman locomotive was cut up for scrap early in 1951. The tramway itself was removed and sold to a dealer and the State Electricity Commission, which the latter body employed much of the rail in the tunnels of the Keiwa Hydro electric project.

The Photos

  • Harmon 1

  • Harmon 2

  • Harmon 3

  • Harmon 4

  • Harmon 5

  • Harmon 6

  • Climax 1

  • Climax 2

  • Climax 3