The Process


This is a description of the organisation required to photograph and track the rolling stock details and individual wagons. Cost was always a consideration. Methods had to be cost effective, time efficient and simple.


Initially film was purchased individually over the counter and films developed and/or printed. Negatives were kept for future reference and only those photos required were printed. Film developing at home was usually only done when there were large amounts of film and a suitable location was found. As I moved a fair bit some locations suited darkroom work and others didn't. Both bulk loading, developing and printing were dabbled with since a teenager.

As the photography increased then a need to bulk roll film increased. Film was purchased in 30 metre rolls at most camera shops. A "bulk loader" was used to transfer the film onto the film cassettes for use in the camera. Cassettes were either purchased or given away by camera shops and chemists. A box of about 100 to 200 would suffice. Cassettes could last from 2 to 20 times before being discarded. Major problems were poor end caps or the felt film window leaked light or scratched the film.

Thirty metres of film gave about 18 rolls of film plus a small roll of about 15 exposures. By reducing the exposures across all rolls a more even negative count per film was possible. Maximum exposures I could get was 42 but on average about 30 to 33 worked well. Due to light fog at the film end, the last photo taken on a film was usually re-recorded on the next new film. Many subjects are duplicated at start and ends of film.

In most cases, a thirty metre film was completely "decanted" to rolls of film in one session. This ensured a stockpile of film ready for use. On average a bulk roll was purchased about every two to three weeks. Cost in the 1970's was about $9 roll. At that time an over the counter roll of 36 exposure film was about $1.50 to $2.00. By the 1980's, a bulk roll had climbed to about $25.

Preferred film was Ilford FP4 though Kodak PlusX pan was used, both at 125 ASA ( now ISO ). Plus X pan suffered from not being able to handle the highlights. Other films were tried ( Adox KB14, Ilford FP5, Agfa too I think ) but in the main the PlusX and FP4 were standard.


I been developing films since a teenager. I had a two film developing tank which was adequate for the photography up until 1976. At Orbost I was developing in the laundry of the guest house, usually on the weekend. Otherwise for Wodonga and Melbourne I was in an unsettles state and used the chemist shop for film processing. The laborious part was itemising the negatives to print. The move to Prahran fixed all that.

I purchased a large eight film developing tank. Generally the tank was loaded up the night before processing. Processing took about one to two hours from start to finish. Chemicals were mixed, timers started and the chemical baths started. This process was pre wash, develop, rinse, fix, wash and dry.

To assist with uniform temperature, large bins were purchased for water baths and an aquarium heater set for about 68 to 70 degress F. A 5 micron water filter was adapted to the water supply removing all the micro junk. End result was a uniform method that guarantee'd results.

It was a never ending cycle. Films were dried in a cupboard for about a week. They were then cut and placed into holders. This freed up space for the next batch. There were always films in cupboards, on tables, in tanks and in cassettes ready to use and those waiting for development.

The backlog grew so much that the best way to keep up was to buy another eight film tank. Of course I could have stopped photographing! But truth is stopping the photography also removes the stimulus to finish.

Once dry, the films were quickly inspected by magnifier and the field book marked to indicate which vehicles had been photographed. At this time the films had not been numbered.

Vehicle Tracking

The recording of vehicles was ramped up over twelve months as the photo volume increased. In reality it went from a hobby to a non profit business. The initial low volumes and pace meant that memory was sufficient to record data. But the scope of the project expanded to cover thousands of photos and two methods were required to assit in the recording and prevent duplicate photographs.

Small index cards were stamped up with a special purpose rubber stamp. The stamp had columns and headings for the types of detail photos required for rolling stock. When opportunities occurred the cards were consulted and a photograph taken. For the detail photos I was looking for unusual lettering, doors, ends, sides, roof, loads and particularly, the perpendicular ends and sides of vehicles. My idea was not to provide specific details for one vehicle, rather an Identikit set of photos for a group of wagons knowing that in the main many wagons are built from the same plans.

The next part was harder and took several attempts to perfect. At 1975 there were some 24,000 pieces of rolling stock. Without reference to rolling stock plans and "inside info" I started to photograph a percentage of each class plus anything unusual. This would give me a good scientific sampling. Little did I know that awareness increases with constant observation. So the more I saw, the differences became apparent. Within 6 months the sampling had given way to focussing on specific unusual classes that were on the "endangered species" list. Such as IT, I, Tait cars, H, HD, HH, W and WW's. These were starting to be scrapped. As I was walking past all these other pieces of rolling stock I finally decided to photograph everything. To that end I needed a system.

First attempt was to write down the numbers as I took them. Ever tried to read scrambled numbers in a hurry? Forget it. Ever tried to read long lists of scrambled numbers? Give up. I devised a new set of special rubber stamps. One for the "Field Book" and one for wagon indexing. The "Field Book" was simply a small book with all the classes in alphabetical order. The rubber stamp was composed of the numbers 00 to 99 in five rows. For wagons with large number blocks, each stamped number group had the hundred's number as a prefix. So a 500 - 599 number group with have a "5" beside the stamped block "00 01 02 ... 97 98 99". For wagon indexing the rows were spread allowing the film number to written in underneath the stamped block number.

In most cases vehicle numbers could be referenced within about 5 to 10 seconds. Wagons ( or cars ) were marked with a pencil and only marked with a pen when the negative was seen. There were so many rolling stock changes that about every 2 to 3 years the book had to be renewed. That in itself took about a month. By the time it was year 1983 I was adventurous enough to buy a small battery operated programmable computer, the Sharp PC-1500. I thought programming was a breeze and that within four weeks I'd be able to write a program to record wagon numbers in 16K of memory. Hmmmm. It was all about concepts, not about programming. Finally after 18 months and 300 programs later the learning curve was over I tackled the "Field Book". End result was 12000 wagons, 250 codes all squeezed into 16K with an 8 second search time per wagon. How cool is that!. Plus space to write notes albeit brief. The data was passed to another program at home and the entire list of rolling stock could be printed out. Both program and data were saved on microcassette.

The method used was to create a codelist and a map. The wagon number was then mapped onto a table with 12000 cells each of one byte. I did toy with one byte equals 8 wagons but that was a concept too far. The program worked well and by 1985 I had stopped photographing anyway. The enjoyment was the challenge, not the rolling stock itself.


At first there was no thought of finding the rolling. By 1997 a major logistical problem was raising a concern. This was the indexing and access of all the material I had photographed and collected. .

Detail Index


In 1997 whilst I was developing the CD and layout, I decided to place a stripped version of the CD onto a website. The site contained the vehicle page, small photo and main data. However people were under the belief there was no reason to buy the CD so the website was closed




Peter J. Vincent, February 2015