Allan Hamilton had been a country member (now called “outreach”) of the WAMRC for many years when he died suddenly in November 2001. The following obituary appeared in The West Australian newspaper on Monday 3rd December that same year.
The West | OBITUARIES WITH PATRICK CORNISH
Allan Rodney Hamilton
Born: Fremantle, August 1944
Died: Kwinana, November 2001
THE hiss of steam, smell of smoke and crash of coal shovelled into the furnace … train travel has enchanted millions of children wanting to be engine drivers when they grow up.
Allan Hamilton would stay awake listening to trains as they passed his home at Shotts, east of Collie. He knew the engines by name. One day, he promised himself, he would be up in the cabin.
He achieved his goal but the age of steam ended just too soon. He would have to be content with driving diesel locomotives to earn a living, but he still had his wish, learning to drive steam engines for historical and tourist railways.
Allan, the eldest of three sons of Adrian and Edna Hamilton, went to live near Collie after World War II, when his father got a job in the coalmines. Soon after Allan started his education at Shotts the settlement lost its school, forcing children to travel to town each day.
Coal and railways were part of everyday life in other ways — lumps of coal that had fallen on the track were collected for the kitchen fire used for cooking. And among the weekend activities was exploring the bush for mine shafts.
Annual visits to the Perth Royal Show had a special attraction for Allan. Waiting at North Fremantle station, after visiting cousins, he would be disappointed if the first train to Claremont turned out to be a diesel. He would want the whole group to wait “because the next might be steam”.
His cousin Barry Glazier remembers the model train sets that were part of family fun times, as well as fishing and prawning at Mandurah.
In 1964, after working for a Fremantle refrigeration company and then at a timber mill at Muja, near Shotts, 20-year-old Allan became a trainee engineman at Collie. He had to accept that diesel had replaced steam and became not only a driver but a proficient teacher of trainees, as well as branch secretary of the drivers’ union.
Don Finlayson, a friend from schooldays who is another railway devotee, says Allan had a memorable comment for learners who stopped the engine too quickly. “He’d tell them, ‘If this was a passenger train, everybody in the dining car would have their soup in their laps.’”
His building skills, first shown while adding a laundry and bathroom to the family home in Shotts, would come in handy when he built a “railway room” for his models and books.
And where else but on a train would Allan Hamilton meet the girl who would become his wife? In 1972 he and Mr Finlayson, and his fiancee Jane, were in a group travelling to Busselton by vintage train. Jane’s friend Phyllis Hill, then in her last year of school, was also among the passengers.
Her father Bill had model trains at home in Eaton, near Bunbury, and so there was more than one reason for Mr Hamilton to visit.
While she was training to be a nurse, he had a long trip to England, Europe and South Africa, where the highlight was a “Steam Safari”, reliving the hiss-and-puff era of railways.
The relationship with Phyllis was very strong, people realised — a man who hardly ever put pen to paper was writing regular letters. They married in March 1976, in a double wedding with her sister Barbara and fiancé Kevin, and continued to live in Collie.
As well as being a devoted husband and father to their two children — Keith was named after Allan’s brother who died in a road accident — he never lost his fascination for the railway track.
The Australian Railway Historical Society, Australian Model Railway Association and WA Model Railway Club were among the regular “stops” on his route through life.
He drove for the Hotham Valley Railway, and supported the Whistlestop Miniature Railway near Busselton and Collie Heritage Goods Shed project.
At his 50th birthday party in 1994, he preferred to chat next to his model trains, rather than be the centre of attention.
Allan Hamilton died of a heart attack. He is survived by Phyllis, daughter Kym and son Keith. At the funeral service in Bunbury, the taped sound of a steam train filled the room — fitting for a man who lived his life by the tracks.