'On the Line of Duty'
by Paul Norris
This feature article was published in 'The Age' - 9.12.1999 - Page 2 <Back to Page 1

Norm Cross (Left) Preston Workshops (Centre) Graham Jones (Right)

Norm Cross remembers going on a school excursion to the Preston tram enclave and thought he might one day like to work there. But Norm also has rail transport in his blood. His father worked on the trains for thirty years and his uncle put in five decades on steam locomotives.

"When I was a boy I used to stand on the corner of St George's Road and mark off the numbers of the trams as they went past on their jourmey to the city," recalls Norm. "On their return journey I'd notice if one was missing and then wait and sometimes see it being tramsported back to the workshop on the back of a truck."

Having taken hundreds of photographs and kept journals and diaries of his experiences, Norm has also written books about trams. He was also eagerly sought out by local filmmakers Graham Parker and Nadia Tass to be tram consultant on the AFI-winning film 'Malcolm.'

"Nowadays I'm what they call a special service tram driver. I drive all the defective and recently-serviced trams to and from the workshops and the depots. My technical knowledge comes in handy as I am able to detect faults quicker than most
normal drivers."

"Trams fed my family," declares Graham Jones, another veteran of the Melbourne tramways. "I started as an apprentice coachmaker at Preston workshops doing a four-year apprenticeship - and four years became forty-four!"

Since then Graham has been foreman of the bodyshop and has overseen the construction of our trams at Preston workshops for most of his working life. He hasn't missed a
beat, also working on special projects and rejuvinating some of our beautiful vintage trams. More recently he has been involved with international tram engineering projects worth hundreds of millions of dollars in Asia.

Graham admits that when he started as an apprentice he was not interested in trams. But time on the job soon changed his outlook.
"When you work at any one job for a long period of time it becomes part of you. After a while you realise it's not blood running through your veins, it's trams!"

Graham points out that even before his reign, Preston Tramway workshops began as a massive operation opened by the government owned M&MTB in 1926. Back then the massive number of workshops assembled under one roof was created to satisfy the growing demand for Melbourne's expanding tram fleet. This included the introduction of the (then) new wooden-bodied W-class tram.

Even today fifty or so 1930s era SWs, built at Preston workshops, are still running on heratige routes around the city. Although they are intermingling with the modern Z-class, the boxier A-class and the longer, caterpillar-like bend-in-the-middle B-class trams.

Norm Cross still remembers the day in the early 1980s when he was asked out of the blue what was the best A-class running on the system. In his opinion number 521 was in the best condition he said and asked why.

Apparently music star Elton John wanted to buy a wooden-bodied W-class tram and ship it back to his home in England. So they jumped to it. Mont Albert tram number 521 was promptly pulled off the tracks and sent down to the docks.

More recently the razor-sharp blade of economic rationalism has been applied with increasing pressure. The once plentyful species known as tram conductors finally became extinct in May 1998. Oh well, at least new European-style low-floor trams were promised.

Time - a human construct measuring the steady pulse of the universe and the interval until the next number 64 tram - waits for no passenger.

This article (c) Paul Norris www.norrismediaproductions.com <Back to Page 1

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