For his entire life, Nick Anchen has been around the railway. His family worked on the railways and their house was right next to a track in suburban Melbourne.
But Anchen's connection to the rail industry didn't stop there. His neighbour was also a train driver and would often visit the family home to tell tales of steam engines and life on the rails. Anchen says he was always destined to end up in the world of rail. He works as a driver in regional Victoria, but had previously spent almost two decades driving trains in the suburbs of Melbourne.
"I was always fascinated with the whole world of railways so it was only natural when I came to try and get a proper career in my 20s that I gravitated towards it," Anchen said.
Through his work Anchen would swap stories with people who were around when the railway was in its boom. Soon he realised that if nobody recorded those stories they would be lost to history. That is how his first book was born.
"Hearing these old blokes tell stories is how it really started, I just kept hearing these amazing stories and I thought someone should record these because these people retire and disappear, or they die, and the history is just lost," Anchen said. "That is probably how I came to the idea of actually recording railway people's stories in Victoria and then gravitated eventually to Tasmania."
Anchen said he had always loved Tasmania, and in particular, the mining history of the West Coast. A trip there as a young man in the 80s inspired his love and a return visit 20 years later inspired his first book about the Apple Isle. After trekking around the West Coast searching for abandoned mines and old railway tracks he was told to visit a man in Burnie who used to drive along the Emu Bay railway.
"I had people in Victoria say 'you need to talk to old so and so from Burnie he used to be an engine driver on the Emu Bay railway'," Anchen said. "I talked to him and then he said you want to talk to two other blokes who used to do this and that. Before I knew it I had all these wonderful interviews with retired railway people from the West Coast."
Those interviews formed the basis for his first book about Tasmania, Railways of Tasmania's Wild West, which was published about six years ago. The success of that book "opened up a can of worms" for Anchen as people from across Tasmania implored him to explore the history of the whole state.
So being the rail enthusiast he is Anchen delivered what readers wanted. His second book Locomotive Engines of Tasmania was released about four years ago and explored the history of trains throughout the state. But Anchen's love affair with Tasmania's rail history didn't stop at two books.
"I never had any intention whatsoever of writing any more than one book on Tasmania and then all of a sudden I've got three. It is just the way it works," he said.
His latest book Tasmanian Railways 1950-2000, published in October this year, "celebrates the railways of Tasmania through the fascinating memories of the men and women who worked on them". It also features photographs from some of Australia's best railway photographers.
"I am very lucky - a lot of these people I have interviewed and got photographs from are quite elderly and are really falling off the perch rapidly. I am very lucky to have got this history recorded while I can," Anchen said.
For Anchen talking to the stalwarts of Tasmania's rail industry was one of the many highlights along his book-writing journey. He said the process also brought on a sombre mood as he realised he would never experience the railways at their peak.
"My first trip to Tasmania was 1980 and I was only young so it was not all over, but greatly reduced by then," he said.
"That is the downside. I am fairly acutely aware of what we used to have ... and it is quite sad to see how much the railways have been let to deteriorate. The railway system is just a shadow of its former self. The good side of it is that I feel very privileged to have been able to record this history while these people were still alive. A number of people in this book have actually died already - that is how close run it is."
Through all of his research and real world experience one Tasmanian railway stands out for Anchen as his favourite.
"The Emu Bay railway was a private line which was built to serve the mining towns of Waratah and Westbury and then Zeehan on the West Coast," he said.
"The only stuff it really carts now is zinc concentrates out of Roseberry, but it still operates and it is a magnificent line in terms of scenery and engineering."
Anchen marvelled at the brilliance of engineering which went into constructing the Emu Bay line in some of Tasmania's toughest weather conditions.
"You know what the West Coast is like, it is pretty wild and rugged and the weather out there can be diabolical," he said.
"The people that lived in canvas tents to build the track and before them the surveyors in this impenetrable wilderness. How they surveyed it and built it and maintained it is quite something. Even just the people that operate it - the engine driver and so on. They used to do 12 hour days, 14 hour days - firemen would shovel up to 10 and 12 tonnes of coal per day. Incredible work they did. It wouldn't even be allowed now."
Anchen hopes the book will inspire people to explore the beauty of Tasmania's railways.
- Tasmanian Railways 1950-2000 is available from Petrachs Bookstore in Launceston, the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Galley and the Little Train shop.