Leslie John (Tubby) Whiteside

Tubby (wearing a Pilbara Railway Historical Society shirt) obviously enjoying himself during an operating session on John Harken’s model railway. Photo courtesy of Don Finlayson.

Tubby (wearing a Pilbara Railway Historical Society shirt) obviously enjoying himself during an operating session on John Harken’s model railway. Photo courtesy of Don Finlayson.

Les Whiteside was born in Perth on 8th August, 1946, and his younger days were spent in the Perth suburb of Carlisle, just several streets away from the local railway station and its small goods depot and sidings.

After completing his school years, Les joined the railways as a Junior Worker (Call boy), first at the East Perth loco depot, and then at Northam. In mid-1964 he attended Firemans’ school conducted at the old Railway Institute in Midland, where he became friends with both John Harken and Allan Hamilton, both of whom were members of the same Firemans’ course. The friendships with both John and Allan were to remain strong for the rest of his life.

In late 1964, Les was transferred to Mullewa loco depot, and he and John Harken shared a room at the railway barracks where the two of them were well known for their mischievous activities. WAMRC member Arthur (Gomer) Pyle was on the receiving end of one of the pranks of the these Firemen. Arthur was a Car and Wagon Examiner also living at the barracks. One day to Arthur’s dismay, his socks and jocks had disappeared from the clothes line in the barracks’ yard, and Arthur was convinced the local kids had stolen them. Later in the day when he went to the freezer section of the fridge, there stiff as a board was the missing laundry.

Prior to joining the railways, Les had acquired the nickname of “Tubby” and his consumption habits of numerous pies and Coca-Cola whilst based at Mullewa, ensured that the nickname matched the body for many years to come.

Back in Perth in the late 1960’s, Les joined the West Australian Model Railway Club when it was based at the Karrakatta railway station. His father was a “chippy” (carpenter) and Les arranged for his dad to come to the Club and help with some of the baseboard construction on the layout being built at the time.

Around 1970, he threw in the job on the locomotives and got a “day shift” job at the Kewdale freight yard driving a forklift.

In 1973, the urge to get back on the rails won out, as did the lure of the big money of the North-West iron ore projects, and Tubby went north driving locomotives for MKMO (Morrison-Knudsen-Mannix-Oman) on the trains constructing the Cliffs Robe River railroad. Upon completion of the construction of the line from Cape Lambert to Pannawonica, he transferred to Cliffs as a driver and worked with them through good times and change times until around 1988.

All the time Tubby was earning “good” money in the North-West, his interest in model railways (as well as hot-rod cars, and shooting with the local pistol club) was strong, and his collection of mainly British outline model trains became very extensive.

Whilst in the North-West, Les became quite friendly with Ian Rourke, who also worked for Cliffs, and his interest in British trains (still very strong) took second place to the desire to scratch build and make up kits of Australian models. Regular evenings were spent with Ian, and the pair of them were also active members of the Pilbara Railway Historical Society.

In 1986, with Allan Hamilton, Les had his only overseas trip — a rail fan extravaganza to the United Kingdom. He came home from this trip with many dollars worth of English model trains.

Tubby relocated to Perth in 1988 only to find that his financial situation didn’t allow him to purchase a house of the standard he wanted in the city. He decided to move all his railway gear, which by this time was housed in a caravan, and buy a small house in Collie. By living in Collie he was near Allan Hamilton, who shared the railway hobby experience with similar enthusiasm. Allan had a large, purpose-built shed, where Tubby and he shared their enjoyment of the model railway hobby.

Ill health in the early 1990’s saw Tubby fade away to a shadow of his former self. After a couple of operations he never fully recovered from, he never put weight back on to any noticeable degree.

Les had rejoined the WAMRC in the 1980’s, and when he moved to Collie he remained in the club as a country member. He passed away in Collie on 17th February, 1995 (aged 48), and his remains are in the wall at the Collie cemetery. He has a view across the Coalfields Highway to the railway line, where there is a regular parade of coal trains to keep him happy.

This obituary was prepared by Don Finlayson, with assistance from John Harken.

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