The Footplate Padre has written sixteen books on railways, more specifically, train driver's anecdotes, and these books served a niche market in the 1980's and 1990's, ranging from titles such as "Driving Trains the Australian Way", "Old Stories Steamy," "Railway Chronicles" and "Train Driver's Stories" to list four.
These train driver's anecdotes range from steam engine brake downs, bridge collapses in floods, WWII troop trains, train running descriptions, characters on the footplate, the carry-on around locomotive depot environs and all else besides.
This is a story from the Footplate Padre's book titled "Steam Stories". This article was titled "Debaters" from page 55.
There were two specific enginemen, a driver and a fireman, both stationed at Lake Grace Locomotive Depot in Western Australia during the days of steam. The stories about enginemen on the railway are never ending and they form part of the spice of life living and working within railway lore.
There was never ever any need to make anything up, as the characters on the railways were so diverse and unimaginable that the more raucous the story the more likely it was to be true. The things people and personalities they got up to, simply couldn't be made up
In this story with these two locomotive enginemen, who one might realise spent hours and hours together on the Footplate, and therefore got to know each other very well, and were famous around the railway environs for their debating.
It didn't matter where they were, or what subject, or even the circumstances – they would debate the subject with much fervour and opinionated knowledge.
And could they talk!
Never in the history of the Western Australian Government Railways were there two such talkers – their lips were never still. Their tongues were doing a 2,000 revolutions a minute, indeed on a slow day.
The crew (these two locomotive enginemen) were doing relieving work at Lake Grace on one occasion – this meant better money than working at their home depot.
One driver asked who was to relieve him at the end of the day on his shift and was told it would be "Biro" and "Refill" - the nicknames given to these particular enginemen. They were given these nicknames as the driver, Biro, spoke 1000 words a minute; while his fireman, Refill, spoke 950.
These men were known throughout the district as Biro and Refill and whether they knew these names were given to them or not was never ascertained. It didn't matter where you went in that area of Western Australia, mention Biro and Refill and Railway personnel knew exactly of whom you were speaking.
Nicknames stick - and so too in the New Testament where in the Book of Acts as those who followed Jesus in the city of Antioch were nicknamed "Christians" - those who followed Jesus Christ. The nicknamed stuck, indeed all the way down to us today!
Tales of the Footplate
Dr Mark Tronson is a Baptist minister (retired) who served as the Australian cricket team chaplain for 17 years (2000 ret) and established Life After Cricket in 2001. He was recognised by the Olympic Ministry Medal in 2009 presented by Carl Lewis Olympian of the Century. He mentors young writers and has written 24 books, and enjoys writing. He is married to Delma, with four adult children and grand-children.
Mark Tronson's archive of articles can be viewed at