THE LAST operating engine of its kind in the world, the iconic ‘Coffee Pot’ is set to carry passengers on the rails this month.
Late in the afternoon of Easter Sunday, a shrill whistle resounded over Quorn as Steam Motor Coach No. 1, affectionately known as The Coffee Pot, successfully made its way through the Pichi Richi Pass on its final test run ahead of its official re-launch at the Heritage Weekend.
Built in England in 1905, this luxuriously appointed Steam Motor Coach combined engine and carriage in one compact unit.
It served the Great Northern Line between Port Augusta, Quorn, and Hawker from 1906 until 1928, before finally retiring from service in 1932.
Back then the little engine meant a lot to the isolated communities north of Quorn, cutting a two-day journey in half.
The new motor made train hire possible for sporting and social groups, who piled into the little motor coach for social trips – often well exceeding its official capacity.
Steam Motor Coach No. 1 offered the latest innovations of its day, including the first electric light aboard any South Australian rail vehicle.
Despite its cutting-edge design, the machine’s small water carrying capacity made it less than ideal for operation across the vast Australian outback.
To ensure an adequate water supply over longer distances, railway men would fill used kegs with water, and strap them to the front of the engine.
It contributed to the legend that’s become The Coffee Pot, when one day a passenger chalked ‘coffee’ and ‘cocoa’ on the spare water kegs.
The joke, and the name, stuck - The Coffee Pot: great for making a cuppa, less suited to a long outback journey.
In the mid 1950s Quorn’s railway depot closed.
After years standing unused in the depot’s carpentry shed, The Coffee Pot was moved to the Commonwealth Railways base at Port Augusta where it was refurbished for The National Trust.
The Coffee Pot was placed on static display in 1960 outside the brand new railway station at Alice Springs.
Fast forward to 1975, and returning The Coffee Pot to its original home quickly became a priority for the newly-founded Pichi Richi Railway Preservation Society.
A founding member of the society, and the project leader of The Coffee Pot’s first restoration, Hayden Hart, said returning the engine home came on the back of a ‘pretty good deal’.
“We arranged to swap a horse-drawn wagon, once used for the overland mail, in return for The Coffee Pot,” Mr Hart said.
“This was in the early days – we were still building sheds and working out how to manage restorations with limited equipment and experience.
“It took eight or nine years, but we did get the engine ready to run again.
“On the day we launched in ’84, everyone got into the spirit in heritage costume, dressed just as people did back in 1906 when The Coffee Pot made its maiden trip.”
The Coffee Pot has been the Pichi Richi Railway’s flagship engine ever since, and will be fondly remembered by many South Australians who travelled on the Pichi Richi Railway during the 80s, 90s and early 2000s.
Locomotive Superintendent, David Heah said after passing its 100th birthday, The Coffee Pot was taken out of service for overhaul in 2006.
“Since then, our team of volunteers have worked tirelessly to reassemble the diminutive engine, after detailed boiler examination and other minor works to the engine unit”, Mr Heah said.
“We’re delighted to finally see The Coffee Pot back on the rails, but there’s still more to do.
“It’s a big undertaking, but at the end of the day it’s really fulfilling to see these living, breathing machines still turning a wheel under their own steam.
“It’s what keeps us all coming back to Quorn”.
Visit www.pichirichirailway.org.au for more details.