Poem - Munro's Train

“Munro’s Train” is a poem paying tribute to Olaf Olsen, one of the Shay locomotive drivers working for the A. & D. Munro company. That poem, written by Emile Tardent, probably around 1905 – 1908, has appeared in a number of earlier publications dealing with the tramway, including R.K. Morgan’s 1978 book, Munro’s Hampton Tramway.


Here is the verse:


I was working up at Hampton,
Strange, but something bid me write
These few verses that the mill hands
May in coming days recite.

It’s about Olaf Olsen who
Was forever driving Munro's train,
Bringing up great loads of timber
In spite of the heavy rain.

For I could hear the engine puffing
As she came along the line,
With God knows how many tons of hardwood,
And as many tons of pine.

Olaf Olsen he was driver
and ever wide awake
Whilst his comrade Joseph Brady
Was careful on the brake.

Sure we have had many drivers,
I believe Mister Shanks was first,
And Mister Smith followed him,
Some say he was the worst.

For in driving Munro's engine
He never did have luck,
As day after day I heard them say
The engine would be stuck.

But then we got a driver
Who came from beyond the seas,
Ever civil and obliging
With occasions for to please.

And his name of Olaf Olsen
As I am proud to tell;
And wherever he may roam in life
His comrades wish him well.

Yes, we'll wish success to Olsen
and Iikewise to fireman Joe
True and faithful servants
To Messrs A. and D. Munro.


In his 1978 book, Morgan relates how Harry Strohfeldt, a Perseverance bullock driver, gave him this poem. He states that Harry Strohfeldt “gave me this poem, written by Emil Tarden, an Englishman, who worked for Munro's in the early days, as a tribute to Olaf Olsen”.


This story is corroborated to some extent by a newspaper report of 1902 relating an incident in which Harry’s father, William Strohfeldt, and Emil Tardent were engaged cutting timber for Munros. That report reads in part, “Mr. W. Strohfeldt and young Emil Tardent, a son of our townsman, Mr H. A. Tardent, were engaged cutting timber for Mr. Munro’s Perseverance saw mill off the Crows Nest line on Monday last” (10th November 1902).


Emile Tardent

The young Mr Tardent referred to is in fact Emile Augustus Tardent. Emile was born in Russia in 1880 to Swiss parents Henri Alexis Tardent and Hortense Tardent. The family immigrated to Australia in 1887, initially settling in Roma, Queensland, and then in 1897 relocating to Toowoomba, Queensland, where they resided for some years.

Article published in the Maryborough Chronicle, Wide Bay and Burnett Advertiser, but sourced from the Toowoomba Chronicle.

Credit: National Library of Australia

Emile Auguste Tardent.

Credit: State Library of Queensland

Emile had an interest in writing poetry and had a number of his poems published. Some appear in newspapers and one, entitled “Along the Dusty Road: the bullocks wend their weary way, appears in the July 1906 edition of the Steele Rudd Magazine. The poems published in newspapers generally show his location at the time of writing, and two poems, one published in October of 1905 and the other in April of 1906, show his location as Crows Nest. His electoral roll address during this period is Toowoomba and his occupation is listed as Drover.

Emile marries Margaret Doyle in 1908 and they relocate to Nanango. Subsequent electoral roll records suggest that they never returned to the Toowoomba region. Emile served with distinction in WW1, being awarded the Military Medal in 1918, and later in life commenced a career in journalism in Brisbane and served as an Alderman on the Wynnum Local Council. He passed away in 1933.


Olaf Olsen


As mentioned above, this poem was a tribute to Olaf Olsen in his role as engine driver working for A. & D. Munro company. Olaf was born in Norway, circa 1880, and married Emilie Muller, daughter of August and Wilhelmine Muller, in Toowoomba in 1907. August was an employee at Munro’s Palmtree mill.


It would appear that prior to being assigned the role of engine driver, Olaf was involved, together with Ernest Shum, in the assembly of Shay 906, probably in late 1904 and early 1905. One would expect that site assembly of these relatively complex pieces of machinery, as performed by Olaf and Ernest, would have been no mean feat.


Exactly how long Olaf worked for Munro’s is not clear, but by 1912 he had moved on, with the electoral roll for that year showing Olaf and Emilie residing at Pechey and Olaf's occupation as engine driver. Their stay at Pechey was short lived and electoral rolls from 1913 to the mid 1940’s show Olaf and Emilie residing at Dalby.


Newspaper records of that 1913 to mid 1940’s period chart Olaf's career, showing his rise from engine driver at a Dalby sawmill to manager of the Dalby Power Station. Olaf’s highly regarded character, as first documented in Emile Tardent’s poem, is further documented in the local newspapers, with plaudits to Olaf appearing regularly both in recognition of his service to the Council and his service as an honorary Ambulance Bearer.

Olaf Olsen

Dalby Town Council, 1938. Olaf Olsen, top right

Credit: National Library of Australia

Olaf returns to Norway, his place of birth, for a visit in 1932 and retires from his council position in 1944.


Joseph Brady


The poem refers to Joseph Brady as Olaf Olsen’s brakesman:


Olaf Olsen he was driver
and ever wide awake
Whilst his comrade Joseph Brady
Was careful on the brake.

Joseph Patrick Brady was born in 1884. His parents, Philip and Catherine Brady, appear on the 1903 Electoral Roll as residing at the Hampton Railway Station. Philip’s occupation is listed as Railway Ganger. The first Electoral Roll entry for Joseph appears in 1905 and it shows that he was residing at Hampton and employed as a Brakesman.


On the Munro line, a brakesman's main task would have been to apply the truck brakes before the laden tram commenced extended downhill runs and to release those brakes before the tram commenced uphill runs. So it was a role that involved a lot of coordination between driver and brakesman. The trip from Palmtree to Hampton was far from a steady ascent and one could imagine that the brakesman, such as Joe, were kept busy.


Below are a couple of photos providing glimpses of the truck brakes: the one on the left showing the brake lever and the one on the right showing the brake linkage.

Brake handle on near side of truck

Brake handle bar extends through to a linkage, visible on truck frame in this image

Later Electoral Roll records, from 1908 to 1916, show Joe still residing at Hampton but by then working as an Engine Driver. He gains his Engine Drivers Certificate in 1909.

Joe Brady seated on a bag at front. (Richard Kahler is seated directly behind Joe and Percy Croft is the person closest to the cabin).

It appears that Joe never married and records show that he passed away in 1956 and was buried in the Drayton and Toowoomba Cemetery.


Other references


The poem also provides us with the names of two other loco drivers: Mr Shanks and Mr Smith.


Sure we've had many drivers,

I believe Mister Shanks was first

and Mister Smith followed him

To date we've found no records relating to Mr Shanks but we have found two passing references to Mr Smith. Both references appear in newspaper articles reporting on the Queensland Premier's visit to Palmtree on the 1st of April 1905 to celebrate the commencement of steam powered haulage.

The first of those references appears in the Darling Downs Gazette on the 3rd April 1905 and reads: "His train, drawn by the wonderful hill-climbing engine, purchased by Mr Munro during his recent visit to America and driven by Mr E. Smith, was in waiting". 

The second reference appears in the Toowoomba Chronicle of 4th April 1905 and reads: "The driver of the Munro Special, Mr Ted Smith, sounded the whistle and soon there was a scamper for seats....".

Based on these references, we are reasonably confident that the driver seen in the images below, transporting the Premier's party and guests across Bridge 1, is Ted Smith.

Bridge 1, 1st April 1905.

Occasion of the official ceremony celebrating conversion to steam loco operation.

Ted Smith driving the Shay. 

That brings us to the end of our piece on the Munro's Train poem.