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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 6, Issue 5 (November 2, 1931)


“Over the rails they go and back. Over the miles of gleaming track.’

Scene at old Auckland Station,

Scene at old Auckland Station,

Engines—the small boy's dream, the father's secret vice. Engines—that hold their charm against the onslaught of the years. The early aspiration to be master of one of those splendid masses of iron and steel, gleaming brass and whirring wheels, most often fades away into the limbo of the great unrealised. Yet there are those who before the years fall thickly on them, snatch the passing moment and follow their ambition through. They are the men whose hands are to-day on the controls of the railway engines that daily skim over the face of New Zealand, whose eyes peer down the trail ahead, who plunge into dark caverns and emerge again into the light of day, to the ceaseless tattoo of racing steel and belching smoke-clouds. Men who caught the dream and saw it through.

But he has his apprenticeship to serve, this eager youngster, not twenty, with the long look in his eyes. Instead of an engine he is handed a cleaning-rag, and the night and a foreman cleaner claim him. He must serve before he can control. Along with his young fellow-cleaners he is required to attend for duty at any hour of the day or night, to give at least six hours service each day. He is now servant to the ponderous things that have captured his imagination, that come panting into the sheds after a long run over the sweep of countryside, stained with the grease and grime of miles. Now the cleaner joins his comrades in swarming over their bulk, like Lilliputians on the recumbent forms of so many Gullivers, bringing back to his charge the sparkle of its brass and the silky sheen to its sides. Then on to the next with his industrious rag, until, in his zeal, he has gathered unto his person sufficient grime to make him resemble the young chimneysweep in Charles Kingsley's “Water Babies.” Indeed, he truly becomes a water baby when the night is over and his most urgent need is a hot bath. And so to home and ablution the cleaners hie, like benevolent demons.