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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 1, Issue 2 (June, 1926)


An old Wellington worker (once a neighbour of mine at J'ville), who some years ago took up land and blossomed out into a successful farmer, was visiting me for the week-end recently. “For Old Times’ Sake” he travelled to town with me on the Monday morning by the 7.10 Worker's train. This gave him an opportunity of renewing acquaintance with several old cronies. While travelling to town, he remarked on the slickness with which the train was now dispatched from the stations en route to Wellington, and (as the carriage gave a lurch going round a curve), also on the “speed” of the train, adding, “It was the ‘want of speed’ that used to trouble us in the old days, and insufficient accommodation both going and coming.”

“You're right, Bill,” replied one of the oldest suburban travellers. “But we were a long-suffering, good-natured crowd in those days and used to extract a lot of fun out of unfortunate delays. Were things to be run now as they were then, they'd hang the Minister of Railways, or at least turn out the Government.”

“‘S that so? Are things, then, so much better now?” queried the person we call “Didymus,” “because of his unbelief” in anything told him to the credit of New Zealand, her railways, or anything “within her gates.”

“So?” exclaimed our visitor. “I should smile!” Then he became reminiscent.

“I remember one evening the overcrowding was worse than usual and quite a number had to stand, some out on the platforms, which is not only against the regulations, but exceedingly uncomfortable passing through the tunnels. Next morning there was some growling among the crowd in our carriage. You remember, Bill?”

“I do. And didn't it nark the ‘Young Colonial’ as we called him?”

“It did. ‘You Old Country blokes,’ said the Young Colonial—he travelled in what he called ‘a filthy smoker,’ in order to avoid the annoyance of being called upon to give up his seat every other morning to a pert tailoress, or a young miss working in a printery. ‘You Old Country blokes,’ he said, ‘must have bin deuced comfortable in your carriages at Home, the way you growl about these here.’”

“‘One thing about the carriages at 'Ome,’ chipped in the man with the retrorse nose, as he shook the ashes out of you old briar of his, ‘is that you're never crowded out of your seats like you are here. The carriages are constructed crossways, and one sees at a glance if they are full, and passes on to seek another. Of course it compels the railway to put on more carriages.’

“‘Then the fellow we used to refer to as ‘the henwife’ when he wasn't present, and who invariably had a thick coating of clay on's boots, would look up and ejaculate, ‘Very good…‥’

“‘In theory,’ puts in the ‘Wee Mahn,’ ‘bit it disna aye wark oot that wey in practice. I min’ ance I wis traivellin' i' the north o' South Britain, an' I went into a carriage in whilk five leddies were sittin' on ae side, like a bevy o' beauties—on'y they werena—an' the ither sate wis emp'y. I wis jist in time, for I had har'ly sittin' doon, whan three big, burly fermer buddies cam' in an' fairly ta'en up the rest o' the sate. There wis evidently a scarcity o' carriage room, for at the next station a porter lookit in at the open windy an' countit oor heids, syne cried, “Room for one 'ere, sir,” an' immediately a tall, thin man jumpit in jist as the train gaed aff. Weel, he ettled to squeeze himsel' in atween twa o' the fermers, bit fin'in' the poseetion “maist difficult to negotiate,” as ane o' you gowfers wad “put” it, he turnt to ane o' thame an' said, “Excuse me, sir, you must sit up a bit. Each seat is constructed to accommodate five persons, and according to Act of Parliament you are entitled only to eighteen inches each.”

“Indeed, friend,” said the fermer addressed, “that's all very well for you that's built that way, but ye munna blame huz hif we haint bin constructed ‘according to Ac' o' Porlimint'.”‘

“The ‘Wee Mahn's’ story was long, but our progress cityward that morning was, if possible, more than usually slow, and just as it finished the train came to a dead stop.

“‘Wot the devil's hup nah?’ queried the perky individual, the skin of whose face seemed to have been put on over his cheek bones with a shoe-horn.

“‘Afraid it gets to town before the Guv-'mint takes the line over, I s'pose,’ replied page 37 the ‘fat fodgel wight’ who always sat smoking in the corner seat.

“We always referred to it, you mind, Bill, as the ‘scorner's seat.’

“When the laugh that had followed his sally had subsided, and the train had begun to move once more slowly onward, the ‘fat, fodgel wight’, taking an extra strong pull at his pipe, like one in the act of mentally solving or evolving a conundrum, again spoke:

“‘Say,’ said he, ‘can any of you well read individuals tell me where the Manawatu railway is referred to in Holy Writ?’

“The suction of two dozen pipe stems became intensified.

“‘Give it up,’ said ‘Wingy,’ who is ever ready to ‘give up’ anything but money or money's worth.

“‘In Genesis, first and twenty-fifth.’

“‘Garn!’ cried a dozen voices.

“‘Well,’ said the wight, ‘it refers to “everything that creepeth upon earth!” Doesn't that refer to the Manawatu?'

“‘But I say,’ queried the Young Colonial, ‘do the trains in other countries travel much faster, or, should I say, a little less slowly, than ours? Now, dinkum?’

”‘Hi shud smoile,’ replied the Cockney in the brown suit. ‘W'y, man, trav'lin' fro' Yo'k to Dawlington by train the telegraf posts appear like a stab fence. Strite!’

”‘That must be bosker,’ said the Young Colonial.

”‘That's nuthin',’ remarked the Spalpin, who always looked as if he'd been “drowning his shamrock” the night before. ‘That's nuthin'. Goin' out from Dublin if ye peep out av' the carriage window ye feel quite depressed an' sad like.’

“‘How's that?’ asked the Young Colonial.

“‘Because the milestones pop up so quick and thick ye think that yez are goin’ through a graveyard to yer mother's funeral.'

“A slight ‘nicher’ ran round the carriage, and, somehow, the Young Colonial looked hurt.

“‘Can you cap that, Scottie?’ asked ‘Yorky’ of the “Wee Mahn.”

”‘Weel, dae ye ken,’ said the ‘Wee Mahn’, taking the bait thrown out by ‘Yorky’. (Here let me say that although the ‘Wee Mahn’ always travels in a smoking carriage, he never smokes. ‘It's owre coastly hereawa',’ he says.) ‘Well, dae ye ken, I aince traivelt wi' the Glesca an' Sou'Wast to Gourock. We passed a fiel’ o' neeps, a plat o' cabbages, anither o' sybos (spring onions), anither o' persley, an' anither o' leeks, an' syne a loch, an' govydick, the train gaed at sic a rate I thought it wis a muckle pat o' kail!’

“The ‘exiles’ laughed a loud united laugh, and the Young Colonial remarked, ‘Why the dickens don't you learn to speak English?” and became absorbed in the sporting columns of the morning paper.

“You mind, Bill? That was one of our best mornings; but we had many almost as good!”