Saturday, June 14, 2014

Sepia Saturday: Rachel operates the rail gates

Today's theme photo is of a train, and I don't have any old photos of trains in my collection.

'Coach scene with train' a watercolour by A Esam c1880-1900 [State Library of Victoria]
But I do have an ancestor who worked on a train line, or rather, a railway crossing. She operated the gates, closing them when a train was due and opening them to allow the road and foot traffic through. The Rock (formerly called Hanging Rock and Kingston) was a small rural town south of Wagga Wagga in New South Wales. The Main Southern railway line was constructed in 1880 and the railway station precinct at The Rock today has a heritage listing.

Emily Rachel Young nee Chaundy
My grandmother's grandmother, Rachel Young, after a long and interesting life including moving to Australia from the city of Oxford when she was seven, was living with her daughter at The Rock in New South Wales. Early in the 1900s, in her senior years, Rachel was employed to operate the gates on the railway line.

I'm not quite sure what this entailed, or how busy the line was. It was and is a passenger line as well as a goods line. Some gate operators had to use semaphore to signal to the train drivers, some worked a wheel in a small building next to the crossing to open the gates, some opened the gates manually. Recently I saw a set of old disused crossing gates at Macedon in central Victoria. Were those at The Rock like these? Did she stay on site all day in some sort of hut (with a fire in winter hopefully), or did she just go down to the crossing when a train was due? Were the gates usually shut to road traffic and only opened when there was traffic? (Was there a bell to ring when you needed to cross the tracks?) Or were the gates usually open to road traffic and only shut when a train was due?

Old crossing gates, Macedon, Victoria 2014
Until recently there were manually operated gates at New St, Brighton (a suburb of Melbourne). They've now been replaced by automatic gates - a train crashed through the gates and the government got a bit edgy about the crossing - but I think the locals quite liked their quirky gates.

New St, Brighton
Port Elliott, South Australia c1910 [State Library of South Australia]
I suggest you check out more railway tales over at Sepia Saturday.


  1. I'd forgotten about those manually operated gates at railway crossings. But my grandmother's cousin got married in 1883 at the Railway Gate House in Stawell., her father's home, so presumably he was a gate opener.

  2. Come to think of it, I have an ancestor who operated the gate at a railroad crossing too. I hope it was a busy crossing because otherwise it seems very boring.

  3. Those types of railroad gates in your pictures, reinforced with steel, would save more lives here instead of the simple crossing 'arms' that come down across the road. Idiot people who think they can beat the trains try to snake around between the crossing arms & get hit. With gates like those in your pictures, they'd have to actually crash into the gates & that might give some of them just enough pause to save their lives.

  4. The only kind of railroad crossing gate I have seen is the kind that has an arm that pivots up and down.

  5. The Brighton locals were not at all happy, and managed to exert their influence (or perhaps affluence?) to have the old gates and gatekeeper's hut retained,when a new automatic boom gate was installed earlier this year. Interesting that the NSW Rock was also called Hanging Rock, like the Victorian one. I've been to the NSW version, as friends used to live on a nearby property.

  6. How wonderful to have an ancestor who opertaed te crossing. I wonder why she was so elderly when she took it on.

  7. Hmm, the same place as "Picnic at Hanging Rock"?

  8. Thank you! How quickly we forget! I do remember these manually operated gates now that you have mentioned them.

  9. The train station in the village where I lived as a boy had gates that were closed when trains were due. They were operated from the signal box by the signalman turning a big wheel. These days many crossings in the UK are operated remotely. Despite flashing lights and warning bells we still get accidents through idiots driving after half barriers are down - using them like a chicane.

  10. Amazing that you know what your grandmother's grandmother's occupation was. And what an important job it was as well.


I love to read your comments. Thankyou for your interest.



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