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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 8, Issue 1 (May 1, 1933)

The “Loco”

The “Loco”

“What does it mean to you
When you wake in the night, and hear
The shriek of the flying train,
Wild and piercing and clear?”

Recently a “par” covering an anecdote of an old locomotive, “Bc 463,” appeared in a local newspaper, and reading a subsequent paragraph on the same subject I could not help thinking of the interest stories of locomotives arouse.

Personally, I consider the locomotive the finest machine made. Somehow a “loco.” is a personality, alive and expressive. I was born in a locality overlooking the Wellington yards of the Manawatu Railway Company, and I have not yet outgrown my boyhood habit of waiting to see an engine pass. In later years I lived on the Main Trunk line, and my front garden ran down to the boundary of the railway. The line climbed a fairly stiff bank passing the house, but the shaking of an “Ab” or the fussing of a “Ww” was never a worry; indeed, I shall always consider houses which overlook the “line” as ideal.

I wonder if the advent of the Diesel and the electric “locos” will leave the same appeal with the railway. I think not. A tram car is undeniably useful, but it certainly is not romantic. I cannot imagine that I shall find any pleasure in waiting for poor dumb contraptions to pass me.

At the risk of being dubbed a crank, I'm going to try and express what the “loco” says to me.

Have you stood at the top of a hill watching the “Limited” climb towards you? Does not her exhaust, rising high above her, convey an impression of a high-flung head? Does she not seem to rejoice in power and her fitness for her task? Watch her as she runs down the opposite slope. Firmly yet calmly she steadies her charges, the cars, to the bottom.

Perhaps you have never listened to a double-headed train. Leading is a “Ww,” and an “Ab” tolerantly follows. The little “tank,” puffed up with her appointment as leader, tackles her task fussily, and simply “tears in.” Behind her the “Ab” follows, fairly quietly, seeming to urge her mate to keep cool. Of a sudden the “Ww” erupts white steam from the drain cocks of her cylinders, and appears to be in a vicious mood, something like a terrier with bared fangs. But the “Ab” buckles in, and if she doesn't do all the work she appears to.

There is a place where the line comes across country to meet the road, and turning sharply runs parallel with it. The “locos” do not like this turn, and when they strike it they are like high spirited horses fighting against the bit. Momentarily they appear to be going to ignore the behest of the rails, but they always obey and swing away in a new direction.

How superior a “loco” can be! A train of empty wagons clatters by. Irresponsible and noisy, the wagons bounce along, but the “loco.” is on duty, and—looking only ahead—ignores her foolish charges. How patient she can be! A wet night, and the evening “goods” makes her way up the grade. Slowly she climbs until, as though exasperated by the drag of her train, her drivers spin and her exhaust simply shatters with its noise. Then she pulls herself together, and the rattle through the train as she takes the weight conveys the impression that she has given herself a good shake. And when she reaches the top she gives a sigh of satisfaction? I think so.

Perhaps some day a poet will follow the track blazed by Lawson and give us verse of the engine, as Masefield has dealt with ships. Surely the subject is a worthy one.

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