Cooma Monaro Railway

Edgar (Ed) Ironside




Photo courtesy of John Gibson


Eulogy given by CMR President Ian Robertson

My first inkling that our newly formed group dedicated to preserving the rail heritage of the Monaro would have amongst its members a tireless and skilled worker was at the inaugural meeting of CMR held in the Cooma town library one evening in 1991. Up the back of the meeting were a couple of women, Betty and Iris. Most of the rest of the group were your typical railway enthusiast – male, middle-aged and perhaps a little odd-looking. Betty and Iris, on the other hand, looked like the capable volunteers that they were to become, and I thought that each would be just the right sort of person to help keep a group of railway buffs under control, and also, I must say, well fed. I was right about Betty and Iris. What I didn’t expect, however, was that Betty came with an additional asset. I’m not sure if Ed actually knew that he was being volunteered, but Betty was very sure. She made no bones about it – she had a husband at home, and he needed to get out from under her feet. He was handy with a hammer, she said, and indeed this proved to be the case. 

CMR is a community group run by volunteers, but there are volunteers, and then there are VOLUNTEERS. I believe it is fair to say that without the work that Ed put into CMR, we would not be running trains, and we would not have our enviable reputation as one of the best railway preservation societies in NSW.

Ed proved initially to be as handy with a paintbrush as he was with a hammer, saw and screwdriver. I’m sure everybody here today knows how big the main railway station building is at Cooma – well Ed decided that his first task would be to paint it. There he was, then in his early seventies, day in and day out, painting the station from top to bottom – literally. Ed seemed to treat it like I guess he would a paid job: he’d turn up on a set number of days, paint for (almost) a set number of hours, and then retire for the afternoon to the “Office”, usually at around 3pm. The office of course didn’t have a lot of paperwork attached to it – in fact it wasn’t far from the station, in the bar at Coffey’s Hotel. After a well-earned pick-me-up, Betty would be summoned to pick him up to go home, or more likely to the next port of call at this Club. This was to be the pattern for the rest of his so-called retirement.

Ed had no interest in trains, at least not initially. What Ed liked, I think, was a job well done. Everything he turned his hand to he did beautifully, and it was really a work of art. Over the years he came to know the railway station and its surrounds intimately, and he became an expert at keeping everything ship-shape. He knew where the buried pipes were in the rail yard, because they’d burst with regular monotony during Cooma’s frosty nights, and Ed would do his best to plug the breaks the next morning. He knew the way the windows of the station were built, because he replaced many a broken glass in them, and then built wire screens to protect them from further vandalism. He refashioned the old parcels office into a new shop, and was great at recycling spare bits and pieces lying around into more useful objects (although from time to time we had to curb some of the enthusiasm for turning unused heritage items into something more useful, particularly if they were made from timber).

Fortunately, pretty soon after Ed had finished refurbishing the station, CMR was successful in obtaining the first two carriages for our future tourist train operation. In 1994 a small group snuck CPH 6 and Trailer No. 55 out of the Batlow yard and across to Cooma, where Ed eagerly awaited the challenge of restoration. CPH 6 was the first task, and what a mess it was in, having had the dual attention of the weather and vandals to cope with in Batlow yard. it had broken windows, a leaking roof and rotten frame, smashed instruments, old wiring and damaged sides. What a challenge! Ed stripped the timber sides off No. 6 to see what was underneath, and then it was on. He repaired the frame with some pretty fancy splice joints, he reversed the external ply sheeting to hide the damaged bits, he stripped out the interior and refurbished the seats, flooring and interior fittings, he repainted everything that needed repainting, he got up onto the roof and resealed that, and generally came to know the CPH very intimately, internally and externally. In short, he became a CPH doctor! 

Two years later, CPH 6 came out of the loco shed under its own power, and what a grand occasion it was. The shed, by the way, had also been partly renovated by Ed, as had the adjoining per way store. In the meantime, buoyed by the progress on No. 6, and confident of the energy of Ed and his new off-sider Trevor, the committee negotiated for two more Rail motors to be brought to Cooma. This was possible because the group that owned all four carriages was so impressed by the restoration work already undertaken that they decided to pay part of the cost of transporting the last two from Lithgow, and they indicated that we would eventually own all four if we continued to do such a wonderful job. 

“The Two of Us”, as Ed and Trevor called themselves in their regular newsletter reports, moved on to CPH 22, which needed a similar makeover, but with the experience of No 6 under Ed’s belt, it was a much quicker job. That done, Ed then moved onto to what is now the pride of the fleet, Trailer No, 55, which was basically a shell. Ed worked on turning it into a Restaurant car, which showed of his joinery skills to their best advantage. I’d guess that by this stage, although he’d never admit it, the railway bug had bitten Ed, or at least he’d fallen in love with Rail Motors.  

Trevor and his wife Margaret moved back to Sydney, so Ed got his neighbour, Lief Laarson, involved. After No.55 came out of the workshop they both started on the last Rail Motor, No. 8, which the committee had originally thought would be at best a source of spare parts or a non-motorised trailer. In fact, Ed at one stage planned for it to become a Disco car, or a Birthday carriage, but once a motor was found for it, I for one heaved a sigh of relief because it could now be fully restored as a proper CPH. Today, No.8 is still in the shed, with a bit more work required on it, but it could be said that Ed had pretty much completed his part of the restoration before he became really ill.  

We’ve also lost one of our foremost barby chefs. I will always remember Ed, fortified only by a VB, cooking snag after snag, raising more funds or feeding members so that work could continue on his beloved railmotors. Ed’s dry sense of humour was with him until the end even when he could no longer talk. He could still write though, as Peter Mcfarlane told me on the day of his passing. a couple of weeks ago, when Peter and his partner Dianne visited, Di SAID, “It must be great having Jeffrey living in the same place for company”. Ed smiled, picked up his notebook and wrote: “Yes, really great company – Jeffrey can’t read and I can’t talk “, then he had a good chuckle.

Ed will be sadly missed by the whole of the membership of CMR. Ed was a true stalwart – never seeking praise or big-noting his achievements for the group, but I’m sure he took quiet pleasure in the compliments that many of our passengers made and continue to make about CMR’s preservation work with the carriages and buildings. Ed received a “Pride of Workmanship” award from the Rotary Club of Cooma after a very grateful committee nominated him, and I know that that award sat proudly in his home, even though they had put Edward rather than Edgar Ironside on the plaque.

 I believe that the last period of his life, the last 15 years he spent in Cooma, were fulfilling, both for Ed and the friends he and Betty have made here. As I said earlier, it is doubtful we would be running today without Ed, but certainly without Ed we would not have three beautifully restored carriages, with a fourth restoration almost complete. One could not want for a better husband, neighbour, friend, workmate and supporter. Ed has certainly left a lasting mark on Cooma. For many years to come, as we ride the trains in Cooma, we can tell the story of the “old bloke, in his 80’s, who was able to get up on ladders, climb under carriages, and who almost single-handedly rebuilt these Rail Motors into the beautiful cars they are today”

 To Ed’s family, Betty, Linda, Colin, Steven and Jeffrey, we thank you for giving us Ed for the last years of his life. He will remain in our memories forever.

Photo courtesy of John Gibson


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