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We assembled in Adelaide on Sunday 28 September in time for ABC News including a film of our practice run made by Andrew Gramp, and after sampling the 'Ghan cans', set off for Quorn with the Kalamazoo on a trailer with enough food for two hundred men.

Monday morning saw the party travel through the Pass (by road) to load the Kalamazoo onto a flat car at the back of the Ghan. Very strange it looked too, right at the back of the train. The balance of the party had travelled from Adelaide on the train, while Max joined from Whyalla.

Marree was reached early at 9.30 p.m. and waiting on the platform was our guide and section car driver, Senior Roadmaster Kevin Stevens from Alice Springs. Kevin was to go through phases of doubt, disbelief, encouragement and, finally, excitement during the next eight days. We could not have hoped for a better companion.

Our rations were split up and loaded onto the 'chaser' for dropping off at William Creek, Oodnadatta and Finke. Graham Bowes and his wife Audrey had planned every meal down to the last detail, including the right wine!

Breakfast at the Great Northern Hotel was followed by the official on-railing ceremony in front of Channel 10, their News team having flown from Adelaide to witness the momentous occasion. They followed the team to Callana by road, then by air a little further along the line.

A routine was soon established. First crew away each morning was on the track by about 7.00 a.m., while the others packed up and set off in pursuit about an hour later. The first shift was thus usually the longest and with the cool of the day to pump in, quickly became the most popular. Once the Kalamazoo was caught, it stopped at the next milepost and the fresh team headed off at once. The well-worn team rested, gulped Staminade from one of the ten waterbags hanging on the motor trolley, then all set off in pursuit after about 30 minutes.

After the first shift, others were thus about 45 minutes, and this proved ideal unless conditions were really difficult, in which case 30 minutes was quite enough. By keeping the shifts short, no-one became really tired and pumpers were frequently jostling for their next turn on board. With ten pumpers, we were able to take a double break every second shift, with each pumper doing three or four turns a day. The individual daily record was 66 km.

Stops were made at each siding for photographs, though, in retrospect, we should have taken time out for more photo stops. It wasn't until quite late in the trip that we became confident of having time up our sleeve and by then we were too keen to get to the Alice early to stop for photos.

Lunch was taken on the move or while waiting for the Kalamazoo to get ahead. Staminade was taken at every opportunity and proved an excellent aid, while all grog was banned until we off-tracked in the evening; but watch out then!

Our arrival at Alice Springs was a day and a half early, making the 'Hand Ghan' the only Ghan in history to arrive early, as far as we can determine! As no-one expected us early, our arrival was a little low-key, however ABC TV was on hand to film our arrival, and on Thursday we had pride of place along the rostrum to welcome the first train, driven into the yard by HRH Princess Alexandra. Unfortunately, amidst the excitement of the day, we were not to get to meet her, though many of the VIP's on the train came over for a look at the Kalamazoo. One of these visitors, the Queensland Railways Commissioner, has since been able to assist in obtaining our own Kalamazoo, as used on the recent Peterborough – Quorn and Gladstone – Wilmington trips.

All along the way, ANR staff were fantastic, assisting us in every possible way and providing no end of encouragement. Our special thanks obviously go to Kevin Stevens, Des Smith and Neil Travers, but also to train control Port Augusta, who kept us in touch with the real world, and the crews along the line.

Would we go again? Obviously, few 'firsts' are as exciting the second time around. The trip was unique, one of those rare once-in-a-lifetime experiences, however, it was not the physical nightmare we had anticipated and many others had predicted. Anyway the line is no longer. Still we have enjoyed recent short trips and there is always the line through the Pass (how about an annual trophy for the fastest time to Summit?). Then there is the opening of the Crystal Brook standard gauge and the new line to Darwin!

Finally our thanks to ANR and our sponsors, without whom the trip would have been very difficult!

Highlights of the Hand Ghan journey

Wangianna Bank – look out! Later experience proved that a crew of four was better than five
Nearing William Creek – a brief downhill run
William Creek
Crossing the southbound Ghan at the Algebuckina Bridge
Bartons Gap – the long hard climb near the abandoned North Creek Siding
Bloods Creek Siding, 41°C at 10 a.m., waiting for the change
On the three rail track through Heavitree Gap
And you'd think Princess Alexandra did it! This smug bunch has just unveiled the plaque a day early at Alice Springs.