Until well into the twentieth century, driver, fireman and guard — with a locomotive — set out on something resembling a safari. Tucker boxes crammed with food, a change of clothing, a roll of blankets, and armed with a sheaf of time-tables, they worked trains hither and thither not to return home for almost a week. But the passing of time, plus union pressure, brought an end to the need for "waltzing Matilda". Not only blankets but sheets, pillow slips, then later mosquito nets, along with other aids to civilized living, were provided by the Department in living quarters away from home. Few wives took kindly to the chore of selecting and preparing food and packing tucker boxes. Railwaymen seeking board and lodgings in a new depot could receive a set-back by being told "no tucker boxes packed".
Until pooling of locomotives in depots became the order, a driver and fireman had "their own engine", and great was the competition between engine crews to display the best groomed horse. Much time might be spent outside rostered working hours cleaning their engine with kerosene and polishing with tallow and bath brick. So spotless and sparkling were some that a proud engineman would say a clean white handkerchief could be rubbed even over a hidden part.
While miners talked of what made their day, farmers discussed crops and harvests, seamen their ships, and trainers and jockeys their horses, wherever steam men gathered, discussion soon turned to locomotives and the trains they hauled. Like jockeys with their mounts, iron horses with excellent traits were praised while those with annoying peculiarities were criticized and remedies suggested. Methods of firing to get best results from slow steaming locos were debated. Driver warned driver of weaknesses found in locomotives on recent "trips", spoke of developing defects calling for close attention — this one is "knocking Badly on one side", that one "priming badly (give her a good blow down before leaving the shed)", another with a "big end inclined to run hot", one with "a lot of slop in the boxes", one "getting down on the springs", or the sloth that was slow pulling on steep climbs to the chagrin of a driver striving to run on time. Things of no small concern when handling a locomotive on a train for a shift of maybe eight hours straight, or ten, even twelve, and on occasions longer.
Foreknowledge of the particular loco allotted his train on the next job could fill the preceding hours for a driver or fireman with pleasant contentment, or with nagging trepidation and disgust……