TIGER Paxton will never forget the pandemonium of a horror train crash at Geurie 50 years ago.
It was a dark Saturday night on August 23, 1963.
Tiger, then aged 25, was at his home about one kilometre from the Geurie railway station.
“There was a massive bang around 9pm,” he said.
“The whole ground shook. It was like a bomb had gone off.”
Tiger and his mate Harry Braithwaite jumped into a vehicle to see what had happened.
Never in their wildest imaginations did they expect to see the twisted and torn wreckage of a passenger train and goods train.
Fifty years on, Tiger’s memories of that night are crystal clear.
“Harry and I were among the first on the scene,” he said.
“There were dazed and injured people everywhere. Some were still inside derailed passenger carriages.
“The damaged steam engines were making a lot of noise. People were crying and calling out. It was a miracle that no one was killed.”
A first aid and clearing station was set up as emergency services personnel sorted through the chaos.
The seriously injured were rushed to hospital by ambulance. The rest of the passengers were taken across the road to the Presbyterian church hall.
Photographs of the train wreck covered the front pages of the Dubbo Liberal and Sydney Mirror and Telegraph newspapers.
Headlines told of Night Terror, Train Wreck Ordeal and Train Crash Chaos.
According to railway records, the Sydney-bound Bourke Mail had pulled out of the Dubbo railway station about 8.10pm.
The 110 passengers on board included school children on holidays, football fans travelling to Sydney for the rugby league grand final and a group of Dubbo Girl Guides heading to camp in Queensland.
The Bourke Mail, pulled by C38 Pacific steam engine 3817, approached Geurie on schedule.
A goods train being hauled by 265-ton Garratt AD60 class locomotive 6003 was standing on the loop line near the Geurie grain silos.
Rail historian and writer Trevor Edmunds said the Garratt’s driver misjudged the distance required to make way for the passenger train.
“He pulled up with the front of the engine past the clearance post and foul of the main line,” Mr Edmunds said.
Neither the driver or the fireman realised the error as the Bourke Mail slowed for its stop at Geurie.
The impact of the two locomotives forced the Garratt into the side of a concrete grain silo and pushed its engine under its boiler unit.
“Most of the damage to the 3817 was on the left-hand side,” Mr Edmunds wrote in the April 2013 edition of Australian Railway History magazine.
“The 38 rolled onto its right side with the tender upright at right angles. The cab was crushed and smashed into the cattle ramp (adjacent to the railway line).
“Three of the Mail’s carriages derailed, throwing their passengers from their bunks and seats.”
Nineteen people - including the 3817’s crew and sleeping car conductor - were admitted to the Wellington and Dubbo hospitals.
Mr Edmunds reported a relief train arrived from Dubbo about 11pm to evacuate uninjured passengers. Of those, 81 wanted to complete their planned journeys.
“The relief train left Dubbo at 12.45am and travelled via Molong,” Mr Edmunds said.
“It arrived at Sydney just after noon the following day. Those travelling to the football arrived in time to get to the game.”
Reay Hollman, a 35-year-old postal official, was interviewed by newspaper reporters when he disembarked in Sydney.
“There was a crash, windows shattered, the lights went out and I thought the world had ended,” Mr Hollman said.
“It was the most horrifying experience of my life. I had never seen such horror and confusion.
“I was sitting on my bunk where there was a sudden jolt. I was thrown against the floor then hurled violently against the window... I began to think of all sorts of things like an earthquake... the carriage seemed to be twisting and turning.
“The lights had gone out and I was in darkness... everything was smashed and broken. The fans on the wall were jolted out of their sockets. The aisle was covered with soot, debris and broken glass.
“The carriage I was in must have been at an angle of 45 degrees. I could hardly crawl along the aisle.”
Reay, now deceased, was quick to calm his family after the crash.
“The news that two trains had collided was a terrible shock,” his widow June recalled.
“A fan in the rail carriage came down and hit Reay on the head but he wasn’t badly injured.
“The passengers were given a cup of tea at Geurie. Reay came back to Dubbo before going on to Sydney.”
The 26 Girl Guides remained in Dubbo until Monday.
Colleen Moffitt (nee Snare) was aged 13 and excited about going to camp in Queensland.
She remembers arriving at Dubbo railway station and boarding the passenger train.
The Guides occupied five compartments in the first carriage, which took the full force of the collision.
“I went for a walk through some of the carriages with a friend not long after we left Dubbo,” Colleen recalled.
“We had just come back and sat down when there was a horrific bang. I hit my face and cracked a bone.
“I remember feeling stunned. We climbed out of the train and it was very dark.
“Things always seem worse at night and the steam engine was making a lot of noise.
“(Emergency services) sat us on the ground and checked everyone to ensure we were alright.
“My friend was very upset and crying.
“Dad and Mr Raward (the husband of Guide leader Gwen Raward) arrived and we went home.
“I was very lucky to escape with bruises and a sore face.”
Mrs Raward was not so fortunate.
“She was hit on the leg by a flying suitcase and later developed cancer as a result of the injury,” retired Guide leader May McArdle said.
“My husband, Eric, an honorary ambulance officer, was at the ambulance station in Brisbane Street when news came through about the train crash.
“Our daughters Lesley and Sue were on the train. We rushed to see Guide Commissioner Ruth Willis but couldn’t convince her that there had been an accident.
“We took off to Geurie. I don’t think either of us spoke during the journey. We were terribly worried.
“It was a dreadful shock to see the twisted wreck of the trains. There was stuff strewn everywhere, including cakes and biscuits the Guides had packed for their holiday.
“We were told nearly all the Guides had been taken to hospital. It was a relief to discover they were in the Presbyterian church hall having a cup of tea.
“Lesley slept late the next day and the little boy who lived across the road from our house refused to eat his breakfast until he knew she was alright.
“It was amazing that no one was killed.”
The collision damaged about 60 metres of the track on the main line and loop.
The line was not reopened for three days.
Tiger Paxton became a “sidewalk engineer” watching as the wreckage was cleared.
“There was a big crowd of people standing around having a good old sticky beak.
“There was no crowd control or complicated occupational health and safety procedures in those days.
“Everyone just wandered around.”
Peter Sheridan was about 24 at the time of the crash. He lived on the family farm near Geurie and saw a large crane lift wreckage from the rail line.
“The crash was a big event for Geurie,” he said.
“It put the town on the map. Fortunately no one was killed.
“The driver of the 3817 was scalded by steam and the station master was blamed because it happened on his patch.”
Memorabilia associated with the Geurie rail disaster is on display at a museum established at the old Wellington police station.
The museum is open by appointment.
Bookings can be made by phoning Peter on 0429 452 552.