By the late nineteenth century the magnificent stands of prime timber in the Rubicon Forest was well known, but little could be done to exploit this without an efficient form of transport. A branch line from the Tallarook to Mansfield railway arrived at Alexandra Road (Koriella) station in 1890. There it stayed for almost twenty years, just out of the reach of the saw millers. The line was finally extended to Alexandra township in 1909.
In 1907, Clark and Kidd built the first sawmill in the Rubicon Forest and constructed a 3 foot 4½ inch (1029mm) gauge wooden-railed tramway out of the forest and down to the river flats below. The dependence on road transport proved unreliable in winter and caused great damage to the roads, so in 1912 the Rubicon Lumber and Tramway Company completed a 2 foot (610mm) gauge steel-railed line from Rubicon to the Alexandra railway station. The line was operated with three small (6-tonne) Krauss 0-4-0WT locomotives which, through poor maintenance, quickly acquired a reputation for starting fires along the line.
In 1935, the Shire of Alexandra put the operation of the line up for tender and the successful bidder was the Lumber Company’s great rival, Clark and Pearce. A stipulation of the tender was that internal-combustion locomotives be used during the summer months, Clark and Pearce purchased a 10 tonne diesel locomotive designed and built by Kelly and Lewis Pty Ltd of Springvale. This proved to be so successful that a second identical unit was added in 1936.
The fires of January 1939 destroyed seven of the eight sawmills in the Rubicon Forest, killing twelve men involved in the timber industry. The mills were quickly rebuilt, and the race was on to salvage the burnt timber before it rotted. But road transport had become more practical and economical than by tramway, and the line closed in 1947 and by the end of 1950 it had been pulled up.
The last of Clark and Pearce’s Rubicon mills closed in 1954, bringing to an end the era of the bush sawmill in the Rubicon Forest.
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