Century-old Leschenault Lady steam locomotive restored to its former glory

A dedicated group of young and old volunteers spent seven years painstakingly restoring a 123-year-old steam locomotive in southwest WA.

Their hard work paid off last weekend when the Dame de Leschenault steamed back in front of a crowd of around 1,700 spectators.

The Model G class was a primary means of railroad propulsion at the turn of the 20th century, but this Lady is one of only three steam locomotives still in operation in the state.

If the Dame Leschenault herself is rare, so are people who know how to repair and restore steam locomotives.

Ian Studham, secretary of Rail Heritage WA, said those who worked on the project represented a mix of different generations.

“The old have the know-how and the young have the enthusiasm and get up and go,” he said.

“These are skills that are learned and passed on by guys who love steam and are willing to work hard.

“And it’s a credit to them that they pulled it off, because we set a deadline and we had to make it work.”

Ian Studham, secretary of Rail Heritage WA, says working steam locomotives are very rare these days. (ABC Southwest WA: Ellie Honeybone)

Brayden Hesford is an electrician by trade, but has been involved in WA’s heritage railroad since he was 14 years old.

“The last two years have been full of efforts to bring the Dame Leschenault forward,” said the 25-year-old.

“I can transfer some skills [as a electrician] but there are not many electrical things on this old type of machines.

“The saying goes…with a steam locomotive, it may take you a whole day just to find the problem, but it will only take you an hour to fix it.

A group of four men stand in front of an old steam locomotive.
Noah Greenfield, Brayden Hesford, Ian Studham and Alex Kruger with Dame Leschenault at her home in Boyanup, WA.(ABC Southwest WA: Ellie Honeybone)

Mr Hesford said the morning of the Lady’s unveiling was a little stressful, but later in the day he was able to stop and enjoy the experience.

“We had a few small technical issues, but then, with a bit of persuasion, they were fine.

“And in the afternoon I had a little moment, a little smile and a little moment sitting by myself when we finally hooked one of the old vintage cars behind it and started going back and forth. come.”

Hear the hiss, smell the smoke

Philippa Rogers, President of Rail Heritage WA, has fond memories of Dame Leschenault from her childhood.

“It’s absolutely lovely to see him like this,” she said.

“It really is that feeling of the century because you can see it move, it makes its own sound as it hisses the steam and you can smell the smoke, whether it’s coal or wood burning.

The dashboard of a very old train
Many residents of South West Western Australia have fond memories of traveling on the Leschenault Lady during her years of operation.(ABC Southwest WA: Ellie Honeybone)

Now that the restoration process is complete, the Leschenault Lady will run up and down the short length of track at the South West Rail and Heritage Center in Boyanup, but Ms Rogers hopes longer journeys will soon be possible.

“We actually want to do two other things and one is to be able to carry passengers,” she said.

“It’s a lot of paperwork and safety management that we have to do, and get rail regulator approval for this to happen.

“And then we actually want to have a longer piece of line to make it work.

“The railway that went through Capel and Busselton and that area is not in use, so we would like to secure a short section of line on which we could take people for a longer journey and relive some of those memories.”

An old steam locomotive photographed outside a round house filled with train carriages.
Dame Leschenault was photographed at the Bunbury Roundhouse in 1968.(Supplied: Rail Heritage WA)

A movie star on the way

The Lady has always been painted black, except for a brief stint as a movie prop.

“She starred in the A Fortunate Life miniseries and she was painted green to match another locomotive,” Ms Rogers said.

A black and white photo of a steam locomotive in an old train station with a guardrail standing beside it.
A photo of Dame Leschenault at the Benger station, around the beginning of the 1970s. (Supplied: Rail Heritage WA)

“She’s also traveled for really special events, when the very first train came from Sydney to Perth in the Indian Pacific, she was there to greet it.

“One of the great things about it, at just over 40 tonnes in weight with coal, it’s possible to move it by truck for special events and special occasions.”

The Leschenault Lady returned to steam as part of the 150th anniversary celebrations of railways in Western Australia.

Jose P. Rogers