On 13 January 1897 Walkers Limited completed their first steam locomotive, with the very successful trial run to Howard and return. This engine became known as a B15 class 4-6-0 tender design, and allocated QR No. 299, Walkers Limited works No. 1. The 'B' signifies three driving axles and the '15' is the cylinder diameter in inches.
The Walkers Limited design was similar to that of locomotives imported from England, but they were fitted with much improved cabs, and were the first engines built for the Queensland Railways to come ready fitted with the Westinghouse automatic brake system. Builders plates were fitted to each side of the tender as well as each cab side, and in addition, a large circular maker's plate (complete with 5 point star and the words 'Walkers Limited Engineers') was carried on the smokebox door similar to early American engines.
Entering service on 31 January 1897, B15 No. 299 'was sent out to run the 1,000 miles' (at least) in the Southern Division 'at the maker's risk which was necessary under the contract' to ensure if any problems did arise, it would be close to where repairs could be effected.
It is not known from which port it was shipped in August of 1897, but it arrived in Townsville and started work on the Northern Railway on 21st September 1897.In later years old 299 along with other locomotives was used extensibely on hauling coal from Mt. Mulligan to Mareeba and to Mt. Garnet to run the tin smelters there. It was used very extensively on the log traffic from Ravenshoe, Milla Milla and Mt. Molloy lines. It was used on the cattle traffic from Mungan, Mt. Surprise and Mt. Garnet lines. 299 was also employed on general freight traffic and shunting duties in Mareeba and its outlying areas. No. 299 was reassigned in late 1965 to Townsville where it finished its railway service on shunting duties.
The final entry in B15C No. 299's boiler mileage card is for 392 miles travelled in February March of 1966, then being withdrawn from service on 30th June, 1966, 'condemned'. After 69 years of working at Townsville, Cairns and Mareeba, the old locomotive was returned to Maryborough, and presented to Walkers Limited 'for ultimate preservation and display' on 6th November 1967. This action was at the suggestion of the Queensland Division of the Australian Railway Historical Society.
The campaign to save #299
In a November 1984 newsletter to the M.E.L.S.A. club members, President Bob Kimber, started the campaign to retain '#299'. A good deal of correspondence ensued between M.E.L.S.A. and Mr. F. Ross (District Superintendent of Queensland Railways) and the Maryborough City Council. On Thursday, 14th March 1985 a presentation took place as the official handing over of the locomotive from the Queensland Railways to the care of the Model Engineers and Live Steamers Association Maryborough, Inc (M.E.L.S.A.). Project 299 became a reality, the ball was in their court to responsibly ensure this valuable engine was properly restored and protected. A subcommittee was formed to co-ordinate fund raising and the practical work necessary to achieve these aims.
Thanks to the Railway's co-operation, the engine was moved to an infrequently used line in the yard away from daily shunting traffic. This area had easy access from Lennox Street, and was situated between the crew's sleeping quarters and the main locomotive shed. Just beside the line was a small paint shop (made from a wooden goods carriage less the underframe) that was offered to store parts removed from the locomotive and tools and supplies. This became a temporary 'home' as the restoration commenced.
The Chairman of the Project 299 subcommittee was Mr. Peter Olds who stressed that the intention of the project was to provide more than a 'static' display of the locomotive requiring the essential need for a sound boiler. To achieve this inspection and testing, the external pipe work, boiler fittings, hand rails, cladding and lagging were all removed and stored, and the boiler shell cleaned and painted. This initial work occupied most Saturdays from March 1985 to February of 1986.
Work was proceeding on cleaning the chassis and bringing the motion work up to scratch. Luckily all of the bulkhead fittings were still on the engine when handed over (pressure guages, gauge glass, steam valves, injectors) and one original number plate was still attached when the engine had been returned to Maryborough. With the original number plate missing, a new plate was cast from an early pattern still in Walkers Limited's store and when drilled and offered up to the cabside, it fitted the existing holes exactly. The whistle was also missing and, thanks to a few leads by Vince Preston at Ipswich Workshops, a donation of the whistle and bell were procurred.
The steam test was carried out on 23rd March 1986, to a pressue of 100 lbs/sq.in. (6.8 atmospheres), and all proved satisfactory. Work progressed on the tender tank and front frames under the footplate, the remetalling of the axelbox and the bogie turntable faces with the whole lot being scraped and painted. The work was completed in time for 'Spring Festival' 1988.
The next priority was to provide cover from the weather and a submission was made to build a shelter that would double as a showcase and workshop for the engine.. Work on the building continued each Sunday from 8.30 a.m. until only one set of trusses remained to be erected by Christmas. Early the next year the purlins were being set in place, and by mid February, 1989, the roof sheeting was delivered and installed. The 'old lady' finally had a home in the dry after being exposed to the weather for twenty years..
Two months later a request was received for the use of No. 299 in the Bowen Street area as a feature in the forthcoming filming of the proposed Kylie Minogue film, 'The Delinquents'. Early Saturday morning, 6th May, steam was raised for 299 to make her debut in the film. After several small problems, filming occured and 299 was returned to her home at No.2 platform. Following the filming, a request was received asking that 299 be available to run out to Maryborough West Station on 2 July 1989, and carry the official party for the launch of the new Brisbane to Rockhampton electric 'Spirit of Capricorn' service.
As 1997 approached consideration was given to finding a suitable way in which to celebrate No. 299's centenary. Approval had to be obtained from Queensland Rail and a railway crew comprising inspector, driver, fireman and shunter hired for the day. Despite the day dawning cloudy and rainy, there was eventually beautiful weather and 299 steamed her way to Queens Park for the planned celebrations.
Since the transfer of custodianship in September of 2016, from MELSA to Whistlestop, much discussion has taken place. Firstly, as to how to allow the public the opportunity to view 299, without putting at risk her security, as was the case for many years, with a possible budget and time frame to restore her. Two things are very certain, and they are that it will be expensive and it will be very time consuming, but we can assure everyone that MCWS will do all in their power to ensure that Maryborough remains her home.
Preservation and resoration continues with all proceeds from various items publicising No.299 being the source of funds in this endeavour. We are always looking at new ways to fund raise for the future care and preservation of this wonderful locomotive. Volunteers are welcome and encouraged to join our group in whatever capacity they are able and all suggestions of fund raising ideas will be seriously considered. We hope you will look forward to attending the next event in which No. 299 plays a significant part.