A blog about my interests in narrow gauge railways, especially those of 2'6" gauge, model railway operations, and the building of my own proto-freelance railway, the Corinella and Blackwood Forest Tramway.

Friday, May 18, 2012

A History of the Corinella and Blackwood Forest Tramway

This history is provided so that as time goes on readers of my blog can refer back to it to place things in some context.

A Brief History and Description of the
Corinella and Blackwood Forest Tramway Company 
and its lines.

This history is written as if by an observer in 1926. Footnotes relate to how things were historically or geographically in real life, or how I aim to represent it in my model layout.  My objective was to have a railway that firstly represented Victorian narrow gauge practice, as well as reflecting the light railway movement that existed across the British Empire at the end of the 19th Century, and secondly had sufficient traffic to be operationally interesting, operations being my primary interest in model railways. In that regard looking at prototypes it was obvious that it would have to be a railway with around 100 route miles, and also I wanted a “system”, so a railway with one or more branches. Lastly I hope to have “designed” a railway that seems that it is feasible, and as part of that was welded to a time and place, in this case West Gippsland in the mid 1920’s.

1.       A Brief History                         
2.       A Description of the Line          
3.       Services                                                    
4.       Liveries                                       
5.       Locomotives                                             

A brief history

In 1882 a horse tramway was built between Corinella on Western Port Bay and a sawmill at Blackwood Forest in the nearby Bass Hills[1]. The sawmill[2] increased its production during the boom years of the 1880’s and the owners decided to upgrade it to steel rails and obtain a small locomotive. Advice was sort from the management of the Long Tunnel Mine at Walhalla, and the gauge of their tramway, 2’6”, was adopted. Much had been made of the American type of locomotive, as being suitable for the rough conditions of pioneer railways in Australia, so an example was ordered from the well established firm of Baldwin. By Order of Council, the tramway was granted permission to carry goods and passengers at a rate 30% higher than that charged by the Victorian Railways for the same mileage[3].

The tiny 4-4-0 proved barely adequate to cope with the output of the sawmill and the small amount of traffic provided by nearby sawmillers and settlers. When in 1888 the proprietors of the tramway decided to float it on the stock exchange, and extend it towards the coalfields around Mt Misery, additional locomotives were sort. The English firm of John Fowler was contracted to provide two small 0-6-2 locomotives, using the unusual Joys valve gear. The locomotives were numbered 2 and 3, the 4-4-0 being numbered 1. At the same time the tramway adopted the township of Kongwak as its headquarters, building its works there.
The planned coal traffic never eventuated; the Victorian Railways having built a line south from Korumburra to Outtrim, the line towards Mt Misery was rarely used, most trains terminating in Kongwak, which had grown to become a regional centre. A tragic accident occurred in 1890 when the boiler of number 3 exploded, killing the fireman. An identical replacement was obtained, but numbered 4. With the downturn following the depression of 1892 the three locomotives were more than capable of handling the traffic on offer. 

The Victorian Coal Company had been trying to get its mines at Cape Patterson operational for a number of years. In 1896 the VCC Managing Director Nathanial Levi journeyed to the United Kingdom to raise capital for the company[4]. While there Levi attended the demonstration of Barsi Light Railway equipment by Everard Calthrop and the Leeds Forge Company at Newlay. Having obtained the capital required to fund the VCC mines, Levi returns to Australia. Looking for an outlet for the mines he notes the C&BFT with its tramway and jetty on Westernport Bay. He invests in the C+BFT allowing it to build a branch from Archies Creek to the mines at Cape Patterson. Recognising that the tramway will need more and larger locomotives to handle the increase in traffic, Levi contracts Calthrop, who produces a 2-6-4T design based on his Barsi designs, three examples (numbered 5 to 7) of which are built by Kitsons. With that the C&BFT enters the coal hauling business.

The C+BFT enters a period of prosperity. On the back of the coal business the company sponsors the construction of a beet sugar mill at Glen Alvie[5]. A start is made on extending a line from Kongwak towards Tarwin Lower to open this country up to beet production. The increase in traffic leads to the purchase of two new locomotives in 1909. Given the length of the tramway, a decision was made to return to tender locomotives, and two 2-6-2 types (numbered 8 and 9) were obtained from Baldwin, based on a design they had built for a 2’ gauge railway in Maine.

In 1911 the Victorian government, fed up with its railways being held hostage by coal unions in New South Wales, decides to build a railway to the Powlett coalfields. Recognising the new line will both compete with and cross the C&BFT, the Government builds a line from Kongwak through Tarwin Lower to Walkerville. This is to both compensate the C&BFT and placate a vocal local Member of Parliament. At Walkerville the C&BFT gains a new customer in the form of the lime kilns[6]. On the deficit side the C&BFT loses the business of the VCC, other than to on-line industries such as the beet sugar mill and the lime kilns, and of course for the tramways own use. To operate the new railway the Victorian Railways are to loan the tramway three nA class 2-6-2T locomotives, and sufficient rolling stock. The C&BFT also pick up the contractors loco, a small 0-4-2T (numbered 10) that the tramway subsequently use to shunt the Kongwak yard.

As the First World War progresses BHP moves to consolidate and modernise the Australian steel industry. As part of this process BHP constructs mills to produce various downstream products. One of these is a sheet metal mill at the Westernport fishing village of Hastings[7]. To fuel this mill BHP gains a concession in the Mt Misery coalfields, and opens a mine. The most economical means of transport proves to be via the C+BFT then barge across Westernport Bay to Hastings. BHP provided a fleet of modern hoppers to handle the traffic. Faced with a massive increase in tonnage the C&BFT cast around for additional motive power. A short term answer was found with the purchase two Hunslet 4-6-0T War Office locomotives (numbered 11 and 12) in 1919. By 1921 more substantial motive power arrived in the form of two Garratt locomotives from Beyer-Peacock, and a third was obtained in 1924 (numbered 13 to 15). In 1925 an articulated Sentinal steam railcar was obtained for passenger traffic. By the autumn of 1926 the C&BFT had reached its peak in mileage, tonnage and motive power. The system now had 93 miles (155km) of track, with the main line from Corinella to Walkerville being 74 miles (122km), the Cape Patterson branch 13 miles (21.5km) and the Mt Misery branch 6 miles (10km)[8]

A description of the line and its industries.

The C+BFT ran through rich agricultural country, firstly the lower valley of the Bass River, then the Bass Hills and lastly open country around the Tarwin River valley. Most stations provided agricultural traffic in the form of livestock, milk and cream[9], and in season[10] potatoes and most importantly for the C&BFT, sugar beets. Inbound came the many manufactured essentials of life.

The most westerly point of the tramway[11] is on shores of Westernport Bay and here the company maintains a jetty now rarely used for coastal shipping. Nearby is the BHP jetty where coal is loaded into the BHP barges. The next stop at McKenzie has a siding to the Westernport Brick Company[12], which ships bricks to yards in Kongwak and Wonthaggi, and receives coal from the Victorian Coal Company at Cape Patterson. The interchange with Victorian Railways takes place at Glen Forbes, with extensive sidings, transfer sheds, cranes, and stock yards. Heading south a little the tramway has a short spur servicing the race course at Woolamai[13].

From Woolamai the tramway climbs into the Bass Hills, with several stopping places, complete with goods sidings, before following the west branch of Archies Creek to West Branch Junction[14]. The major industry here is the Wonthaggi Butter Factory, which receives carloads of cream and loads of firewood for the boiler, and dispatches butter[15]. A small mill receives rough sawn timber from sawmills further up the line, and dispatches weatherboards for Melbourne house construction[16]. The station is an interchange for loads to and from the Cape Patterson branch, particularly bricks to Wonthaggi, and coal going the other way to the brickworks. The arrangement of the junction is designed to allow through traffic to and from Corinella, so the local goods that now originates in Kongwak has to reverse direction here. 

The branch[17] heads south through the village of Archies Creek towards Wonthaggi, where there are sidings for the brick yard, and for timber and crushed limestone for use by the State mines. The line terminates at Cape Patterson where it serves the mines of the Victorian Coal Company.
The main line heads west climbing back up into the Bass Hills, passing a spur siding serving a small quarry that provides ballast for the line. Next station is Ryanston, which is a staff station but does not have a passing siding, only a goods siding. The small station building sees significant passenger traffic from the nearby State agricultural college[18].

The tramway climbs a steep grade towards the settlement of Blackwood Forest[19], the original terminal of the tramway. The station has a passing and a goods siding, and another spur siding to a small exchange yard with the sawmill, adjacent to which is a spur siding for loading sugar beet. The sawmill is served by its own tramway system, which was originally worked by horses. However the clearing of land for agriculture has pushed the forest reserves further away and the line has been upgraded to handle a Climax geared locomotive to serve the logging sites. Most of the output of this sawmill is destined for local mines, with a portion being sent to the Melbourne market. The Climax also moves C&BFT flat cars between the exchange yard and the sawmill, where they are loaded.

The tramway next comes to Krowera station, an open shed with a nameboard. Sidings serve limekilns[20] exploiting a limestone outcrop here. The lime is supplied to the beet sugar mill, and crushed limestone to the mines to dampen the explosive coal dust. Coal from the VCC is used as the fuel. Another siding serves a firewood cutter, who supplies local farmers[21] and the butter factory at West Branch Junction[22].
The next major town is Glen Alvie, the location of the beet sugar mill[23], a large brick building. The mill receives beets[24], lime, coal for fuel, and dispatches sugar. There are also a passing siding, a goods siding and a siding serving a Permewan Wright warehouse[25]. A substantial station building[26] served this small town. Further along a siding serves the State Rivers and Water Supply who are building a dam[27].

The tramway then enters Kongwak[28], the tramways headquarters. A substantial station building serves as the main office of the tramway, and there is a large locomotive depot and the tramway works. Entering town from Glen Alvie passengers will pass the livestock saleyards[29], while the yards themselves include goods facilities, classification tracks, and spurs serving the brick company yard and a facility for receiving motor spirit for the Vacuum Oil Company[30]. Lastly a siding serves the West Gippsland Brewery[31], which receive hops and dispatches its products securely locked in small box vans.

The Mt Misery branch heads north out of Kongwak, first station is Moyara, with a goods siding. A little way past the station is a spur serving a timber tramway, most of the sawn timber coming off this tramway heading to the weatherboard mill at West Branch Junction. Finally arriving at Mt Misery the major industry is the of course the BHP mine, with trains of coal moving out to Westernport Bay, and inbound timber and crushed limestone, as well as other mining essentials. 

The main line[32] continues in a south-easterly direction towards Tarwin Lower and Walkerville. Tarwin Lower is a staff station and has a goods siding, passing siding, and a spur to a wharf on the river. Walkerville is the terminal and the location of the Walkerville lime kilns, which dispatched a train load of lime every second day, and received coal for fuel. Four other stops with goods sidings are located on this section, producing the typical beet and livestock traffic. The Company also maintains a tourist lodge near Walkerville at Waratah Bay to encourage tourist traffic on the tramway. It is advertised as a perfect venue for beach-combing, hiking, fishing and hunting.

The railway runs a passenger service twice a day between Kongwak and Glen Forbes, allowing connections to the Victorian Railways trains to and from Melbourne. The morning train to Glen Forbes is an articulated steam railcar from the British firm of Sentinal.[34] The railcar then makes a return trip in the afternoon. The morning trip from the junction to Kongwak is the Mail, a locomotive hauled train that returns to the junction in the afternoon. Daily mixed trains work on the Mt Misery and Walkerville lines, meeting the Mail at Kongwak, while a railmotor works a passenger service from Kongwak to Cape Patterson and return daily. A daily workers train works from Glen Alvie to Mt Misery for the convenience of coal miners.[35]
Goods service between Kongwak and Glen Forbes include a roadside, through and fast goods.[36] The roadside journeys down to Corinella before it’s trip to Kongwak. There is also a roadside goods to Cape Patterson, originating in Kongwak. All goods trains are timetabled to run “as required”, but in the autumn season there is plenty of work about with the beet and potato harvests. In addition mineral trains are run for the coal mine at Mt Misery and the lime kilns at Walkerville.


Locomotives on the Corinella and Blackwood Forest Tramway are painted in a light green similar to that used by the Victorian Railways in former times[37], but without the complicated lining. In that they are similar to current Victorian Railways locomotives. Passenger stock is in an attractive red and custard livery, while goods stock is painted light grey. Victorian Railways locomotives are either in the traditional Canadian red scheme, or the new all over black scheme. Rolling stock is of course painted in the normal Victorian Railways red. (I have changed my mind since writing this and not think I'll be painting the locos red, my personal preference)


The locomotive fleet has grown to meet the requirements of the tramway, and now the heavy mineral traffic is handled by the pride of the company, a small fleet of articulated locomotives of the “Garratt” type constructed by Beyer Peacock. However the extensive tramway works have maintained all locomotives in excellent condition, and even the very first locomotive obtained by the tramway is still in service.
Tractive Effort
4,900 lb
2, 4
5,776 lb
8,993 lb
10,682 lb
Kerr Sturt

6,162 lb
Beyer Peacock

In addition the Victorian Railways loans the tramway three nA class 2-6-2T locomotives, and at present numbers 3, 18, and 19 are on the line[46].

[1] The tramway existed between 1880 and 1890, as best I can tell. It does not appear on an 1880 map, but is marked on an 1890 map as a “former tramway”. It passed through our former family hobby farm at Glen Forbes South and the earthworks were still clearly visible in the 1980’s.
[2] There were a number of sawmills in the well-forested Bass Hills in this period, but agriculture soon took over, clear felling the bulk of the forests. However sawmilling continued on a reduced scale until the 1950’s, mostly supplying the mines at Wonthaggi with timber.
[3] This was the same “deal” given to the Powelltown Tramway, which allowed that line to operate profitably for most of its life.
[4] The Victorian Coal Company and Nathanial Levi had been trying to establish the coal mines at Cape Patterson since 1866. Levi did travel to the UK to raise capital at the end of the 19th century, and succeeded. However he had expected to use the Westernport Coal Co tramway from Kilcunda to San Remo, only finding out on his return in 1899 that this tramway had been lifted. Efforts to open these mines continued until 1909, two years after Levi’s death.
[5] There were several attempts to establish a beet sugar industry in Victoria, the only successful one being at Maffra, which operated till after World War 2. Beet sugar mills are more reliant on common carrier railways than cane sugar mills, and the local climate and soils are ideal for beet production.
[6] The Walkerville lime kilns were major suppliers to the Melbourne market, but relied on a dangerous and difficult boat landing to export its products and, after exhausting local firewood, import fuel. The costs of this form of transport caused the kilns to close in 1926.
[7] BHP did indeed construct this mill, but in the 1970’s, and used natural gas to fuel it rather than coal.
[8] In “designing” the C&BFT I wanted a railway that approached 100 miles in length to justify the level of traffic and variety of locomotives and rolling stock I was interested in. I also wanted a “system”, with junctions and branches, to provide a “texture” to operations.
[9] Whole milk is perishable, and farmers needed to be close to a railway so it could be rushed to the Melbourne markets. Cream could last two or three days without refrigeration, and was used to make butter, primarily for export. The skim milk was then fed by farmers to pigs, and most dairy farmers were also pig farmers.
[10] The season for both these root crops was autumn and early winter, the reason the layout is set in autumn.
[11] The western section of the tramway is represented by staging tracks.
[12] While no brickworks existed here, the area has good deposits of clay suitable for brick making. One of the first industries to be established at Wonthaggi when the mines started there were brickworks.
[13] The racecourse is a picnic course, but will on the C&BFT result in the occasional race special, complete with horse box.
[14] West Branch Junction is the first station on the modelled section of the line.
[15] The butter factory was further south at Archies Creek, but I am not modelling that section so moved it north a bit, and used horse-drawn carts to pick up the cream. The presence of the C&BFT will allow a more efficient collection method.
[16] This industry replicates operationally a similar mill that existed at Gellibrand on the Beech Forest line.
[17] The branch is represented by staging tracks.
[18] Land was reserved for an agricultural college in this area for over 60 years, farmers leasing the land for that time. Eventually it was recognised that no college would be built and the land was sold to the leaseholders.
[19] Station layout based on Erica.
[20] Lime kilns were frequently associated with narrow gauge railways, I can identify at least three associated with the VR narrow gauge. One provided lime for the CSR sugar refinery in Melbourne.
[21] On the Beech Forest line, many farmers would order a narrow-gauge truck load of firewood each autumn.
[22] There were three butter factories served by the VR narrow gauge, at least one and I suspect all received firewood for fuel.
[23] The mill sidings layout is based on that at Maffra. The mill itself will be a flat against the layout backdrop.
[24] Beets are not perishable, and a rotating crop. Therefore they are grown by farmers who mix their cultivation with dairying and other activities. They could be sent from farms a considerable distance away or quite close. For instance the closest loading point on the railway to the Maffra mill was only 3 miles away, while in other parts of the world beets are transported hundreds of miles. Thus every station on the tramway is a potential despatch point for beets.
[25] Permewan Wright warehouses were common in railway yards throughout Victoria, the company’s slogan being “We sell everything the farmer sows, we buy everything the farmer grows”.
[26] I plan to model it on the original station building at Walhalla.
[27] This dam was under construction at this time.
[28] I envisage Kongwak has taken some of the regional functions in real life held by Wonthaggi and Korumburra.
[29] These, like the station layout in general, are based on Korumburra.
[30] This will give me the option of running a tank wagon, which were beginning to appear on the Victorian Railways at this time.
[31] Small breweries were common throughout Victoria in the 19th Century, but were gradually swallowed up by the octopus that was the Carlton & United Company. The last independent brewery was at Sale, and it closed in the late 1930’s.
[32] Represented by staging
[33] Services are based on the 1926 service on the Beech Forest, which was two mixed trains daily between Beech Forest and Colac and one goods, and a mixed on the Crowes branch. I’ve split the mixed into passenger and goods trains, creating five trains where there were three, for the same overall level of service. The Cape Patterson trains have also been “split”, and run ex Kongwak, creating two additional services each way on the modelled section. Add the coal and lime trains and the workers train and there is plenty of action on the modelled section of railway, but I believe still “feasible”.
[34] Sentinal manufactured a successful range of steam railcars, examples of which were sold to the Tasmanian, North Australian and West Australian railways. The prototype I intend modelling was built in 1925 for a 2’6” gauge line in India.
[35] VR ran workmens trains around regional centres.
[36] By giving each goods train a separate role, they each have a different set of operating rules, introducing variety for operators.
[37] Sadly enquires to the locomotive foreman indicate that the exact shade of green used depends on whatever the suppliers have in stock, so we are no closer to determining the original shade of green used by the VR.
[38] The challenge in designing a locomotive fleet is choosing locomotives that look “feasible” from models that are either commercially available or promised. The fleet may change again if other options become available. Locomotive numbers are to be their call up numbers for the DCC control system.
[39] I’ll be using the Bachmann inside framed 4-4-0, which is based on a 2’ gauge loco, but is very similar to “Montezuma”, the first locomotive on the EFOM, a Brazilian 2’6” gauge railway, which was started about this time. Similar locos also went to the Queensland Railways where they were classed as A10.
[40] These locos will use the RJ Models B9.5 kits, but will need a new cab, sand domes replaced by boxes and several other modifications to look like a 1880’s loco. We will also have to pretend the valve gear is Joys gear.
[41] A definite nod to Calthrop with these locomotives, using the Slaters kit for the L&MVR locomotives. They will be a tad larger in 1:48 scale, but similar in size to the VR nA locos, so not out of scale. May need the cab reduced in height.
[42] This will be the Victors kit for the Sandy River & Rangeley Lakes #19. A typical Baldwin product similar to the nA but a tender locomotive.
[43] Another nod to Calthrop in that a Skylark was used to construct the L&MVR, but Skylarks were also used in Australia. Wrightlines have a kit.
[44] The British War Office had Hunslet build these locomotives for service in France during WWI. After the war Hunslet re-purchased many of them, rebuilding them into 6 different gauges, and sold them around the world. Australian examples were all 2’ gauge, but 2’6” gauge examples were exported to India and South America. A logical choice for a railway looking for a quick and cheap boost to motive power.
[45] The Garratt quandary. The only suitable model that looks like being produced is the VR G class. It certainly could be written into the story, but at 23,000lb TE is a very large and powerful locomotive. The SAR NGG16 is available as a kit and is certainly the right size, but is very distinctive, and would look out of place to me, as would four-coupled Garratts. The Sierra Leone 2-6-2+2-6-2 and the SAR NGG11 2-6-0+0-6-2 would be perfect in terms of size at about 16,000lb TE each, but while they have been talked about by manufacturers at various times, I doubt they will ever be produced as kits. I did consider converting an OO scale LMS 2-6-0+0-6-2 kit and while some dimensions are right it would result in a very long and narrow locomotive, difficult to make it look right. Still it is some years before I have to make a decision.
[46] The location of all nA class locomotives throughout their career is generally well documented. The exception is number 3 during the middle years of the 1920’s, when it disappears, obviously for its service on the C&BFT. Victorian Railways started to build numbers 18 and 19 in 1919 but stopped construction, using parts as spares for other locomotives.

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