The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 2, Issue 1 (April 21, 1927)
Early Train Journeys and the Royal Tour. — A Contrast
My first acquaintance with the new Zealand railways was made in the days when the main line ran from Wanganui to New Plymouth and from Wellington to Palmerston north. Those were the days when brakes had to be screwed on by hand on each carriage platform, while the engine whistled feverishly for still more brakes. I have often watched the guard in those bad old times—bad, that is, from the railwayman's present outlook—hurrying through the carriages from platform to platform, or climbing over the freight cars to screw down the brakes. It was spectacular certainly, but productive of both profanity and perspiration on the part of the train crews.
To our boyish minds the engines of those days had definite personalities, and each locomotive had its own way of expressing itself. For instance the Rimutaka engines panted up the big grades to the words of “did your ever see—the devil—with a pick axe—and a shovel?” (Say this repeatedly, and you have the steady beat of the exhaust—as we deciphered it.) One certainly would hardly be surprised at meeting the devil himself round some of those wind-tortured corners on the “big hill.”
How different all this is to flying along on our present day “limited,” drawn by a splendid AB. Locomotive, whose steady beat flings back resounding echoes from hill and mountain side. There is no need for the guard to worry about brakes on the grades. A soft hissing of air beneath the carriages informs the traveller, if he thinks about such trivial matters at all, that the watchful driver of the big steel monster ahead is easing his charge down a long slope or around a sharp curve. So we can doze, or recline in comfort, while hill and valley and mountain-side are taken in the tireless strike of the “Limited” express on her long run through the country.
Those who were privileged to travel through the Dominion on the Royal train during the recent visit of Their Royal Highnesses the Duke and Duchess of York, have been treated to the very latest thing in luxury and comfort on our railways. Day cars, sleepers, and dining cars were all sampled, and won high praise from our own people and from our distinguished visitors.
Out of the whole trip through the dominion the really excellent railway arrangements stand pre-eminent. Overseas press representatives expressed themselves astonished at the steady travelling and general comfort of the cars in view of the narrow gauge of our lines and the extremely difficult country the permanent way traverses.
Discussing matters with the writer several of our visitors stated freely that they considered the Royal observation car to be distinctly superior to anything of its kind provided in other countries, while the dining car and its splendid catering arrangements were considered one of the pleasantest memories of the tour. “As good as the very latest hotel table!” is the way in which one much-travelled member of the party described the dining-car meals, and there was certainly no reason to doubt his assertion.
Tastefully decorated with curtains in green and gold and with clustered flowers to match the general scheme, gleaming silver and glass ware on the tables and with attendants who anticipated one's every want, the meals were something to look forward to, and were thoroughly enjoyed. Morning and afternoon teas were regularly served in the dining-car page 13 and made a welcome break during the long runs between stations.
It is safe to say that in the handling of luggage during the tour nothing could have been better than the expeditious way in which this was carried out by Mr. J. H. Colthurst and his able assisants Messrs. A. H. Reeves and H. H. Hazlett. It has completely spoilt the writer for all future travelling in New Zealand. Imagine packing your bags, and then calmly forgetting all about them until you walked into your room at the hotel at your journey's end and found them awaiting you. This is service of the first order which reflects the greatest possible credit on those responsible.
All this entailed hard work, and long hours were the rule for those whose duty it was to attend to travellers by the Royal train, yet everyone worked cheerfully; and the general success was as much a result of this willing service by those who had the smallest duties to perform as it was of that by the most responsible officers.
Travelling thousands of miles by train and motor has convinced the writer that in the matter of comfort alone the railway has nothing to fear from its road competitors. Under the best circumstances motor travelling entails crowded seats, cramped positions and general bodily discomfort, to which must be added rough road surfaces with their attendant bumps and jolts and the ever present dangers of the road. The train provides comfortable reclining seats with ample room to move about freely, and also good observation windows where passengers may admire the passing scenery without the distraction of watching the driver of a motor car making hair-breadth escapes from collision with approaching vehicles.
For comfort and safety in travelling, the railway will always stand supreme and the journey of the Royal train has proved that the Department is fully alive to the need of keeping abreast of the times in the matter of providing the very latest comforts and devices for those who make use of its services.
[Mr. Messenger's article will be appreciated by the whole Service, for it gives members of the Department credit for the fine work in the preparation, handling and control of the Royal train.
It is only right, however, that the Department of Internal Affairs (with Mr. J. Hislop in charge, and Mr. D. Ardell assisting), should receive a share of whatever praise is given for the perfection of the arrangements made in connection with the Ducal visit.
That Department had control of the whole business, and the fact that the liaison work between Railways, motors, Post and Telegraph Departments, shipping companies, and hotels was so perfectly integrated goes to show how effective was the organisation established.
Every member of the Royal Party was supplied daily with a card giving precise directions regarding accommodation (such as, name of hotel, room number, motor car number, etc.), and the accommodation so arranged was always available. This information supplemented the very complete particulars of general arrangements for the tour contained in the booklet on the Royal itinerary. The total distance traversed by the Royal trains was 1,701 miles, made up of 895 miles in the North Island and 806 miles in the South. The Railway lake steamer “Earnslaw” also carried the party 25 miles on Lake Wakatipu from Queenstown to Kingston.
Not only was time kept, but it was gained when this was called for through the interposition of certain courtesy stops not included in the official itinerary. Withal, no mishaps of any sort occurred to mar the effciency of the Railway transport arrangements, and every member, in the performance of his work, lived up to the highest traditions of the Service. —Ed., N.Z.R.M.]