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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 1, Issue 5 (September 24, 1926)

When Greek Meets Greek

page 30

When Greek Meets Greek

It was in the engine shed waiting room one Saturday that two engine drivers, who were strangers to me, got on to swopping lies. I heard after that one carried the handle of “Waimarino Jack,” while his brother in the craft answered to the call of “Central Otago Ned.” Jack was relating his many and varied experiences. “Yes,” said Jack, “It was the first time I steered the old 204 over the North Island Main Trunk, trailing a draft of cattle. It was the year of the ‘flu and the staff were a bit depleted, hence the fireman, the guard and myself were strangers. I got ‘right away’ from old gold braid at Ohakune, opened the throttle and started to bore a hole in the night to Taumarunui. Somewhere on the route I saw the tail lights of a van ahead, which puzzled me somewhat. I knew I had the right of the road according to regulations,—even the tablet said so. However, I blew on me brakes, reversed me engine and pulled up with a jerk, and just as I brought the rattler to a standstill, the van ahead stopped. ‘Just in time’ said I to the fireman. ‘If I hadn't been on the look out, what a smash we would have had!”’ Old Ned was listening so attentively to Jack that he lit a match and forgot about it until it burnt his fingers. “Cripes!” said Jack, “I expected to get promotion for avoiding a huge catastrophe, but Nemesis was on me track. I swung off the foot plate and went ahead to the van. As I looked through the window I saw the Guard sitting on an empty milk can munching at a crust of bread that balanced a cold chop, and on the floor beside him stood a half empty bottle of tea. As I looked at his dial a thought came to me that I saw him somewhere before on that same day. I climbed up the steps and said ‘What the h—l are you blokes doing here blocking the traffic?’ ‘I'm hanged if know,’ said he, after he had swallowed what he ‘was chewing. ‘I suppose something must have happened the blooming engine.’ ‘In the name of progress,’ said I, ‘why don't you go along and see what is wrong?’”

“He cleared his throat with another swig of the bottle and said as he left the van to go along the train, ‘Half a mo' till I have a look!’ After he had gone some distance I left the van and went back to me own engine, opened up me lunch bag to have a bite while the going was easy. I was just biting a half circle out of a stale pie when I saw a lamp swinging up along my train and heard grinding footsteps on the gravel, and from behind the light came the guard I had just spoken to a few minutes before. ‘Hello, Weary Willie’ said I, ‘Lost yourself?’ ‘Spare me days,’ said he as he looked into my face, ‘what's the number of that train you're hauling?’ ‘204’ said I, ‘and if it wasn't for you and your blocking the road and endangering the lives of beasts and men I'd be in Taumarunui by now.’ A look of disgust came over his face as he said ‘For God's sake open her out and get a move on, that's our van ahead; we're on the blooming spiral.”’

Old Ned looked rather glum when old Jack finished his story. He lit a pipe of uncertain age but of distinctive odour. Presently the fire of battle came into his eyes and a smile ran up one side of his weather beaten cheek till it kissed his ear. I saw that his brain had been searching back through the dark ages for something and found it. “Some spiral that” said Ned, “we have none like that on the Central although the guard sometimes warms his hands at the engine fire as we swing the curves. On the Central the frost and snow are our greatest drawbacks. I mind the winter of 1908,” said Ned warming up to his subject. “I had just sat down to sole a pair of boots when an unwashed cleaner just out of the smoke box jazzed into me homestead and gave me the office that the guy in the cushion chair requested my presence on the footplate of 610 to trail a burden of turnips and rabbit traps up the Central as man and beast were starving in the tussock country. I ambled to the bulljoint, oiled her axles, filled her sand dome, warmed her steam chests, opened her throttle, and then coiled in the sleepers ahead and threw them behind me till they appeared like the tail of a comet. I'll never forget that night. Talk about snow and frost! The beads of perspiration on the fireman's brow were frozen solid before he could wipe them off. The brains of the job put a couple of brushes on the cowcatcher to sweep the snow from the rails. Bless me soul, they should have put them on the chimney stack to sweep the sky line. As it was, we passed several of the stations without seeing um, although we were supposed to throw off the ‘Daily Times.’ All went fairly well until we sighted the first bridge. There we found one of the piles knocked out of her by a big rock that rolled down the mountain side. Then I remembered something I had read about the breaking strain of ice, so I ordered the fireman and guard to get a couple of buckets and page 31 carry up water from the river. Then I starts to build a pile of ice. Every bucket of water I threw on froze before I could wink, and in half an hour the bridge was that strong that a bridge inspector would've marked it O.K. on the page he registered his night allowance.

“I started my seventy tonner across the bridge at a five mile gait, but before the van negotiated the bridge I ran into a slip and before we got the line clear a thaw set in so we had to pinch the van back again and go on without it although it was full of turnips. Cripes, how the stones did roll down the hill when the frost was thawing! One knocked the pipe out of my mouth and went bang through the van door. A bit further along the line we ran out of water, so we fills up the boiler with ice, and when the ice began to expand the old boiler took on a three corner shape. And didn't we get a cheer when we bored up through the snow at Clyde! I knew it was against the regulations to leave a van standing on the road so I wired down. Next day they sent a light engine up for it and when
Raurimu Spiral Showing entrance to tunnel and the return track

Raurimu Spiral
Showing entrance to tunnel and the return track

they got it down, there wasn't a turnip in it. I suppose nobody will believe me when I say it was full of live rabbits. All the starving bunnies on the plains got in through the hole in the door and mopped up all the turnips. I was ‘blistered’ over losing the turnips; in fact, there was going to be an inquiry into it, but the heads backed down in case the public got wind that they were rabbit farming. Besides, at that time the fur coats were worth a tenner apiece. Yes,” said Ned, “them were the good old days.”

Dock Shunting.

In the August issue, the capacity of one of the Immingham coal hoists was shown in Mr. S. E. Fay's article on Dock Shunting as 70 tons per hour. This should read 700 tons. The total capacity of the eight coal hoists at Immingham Dock per ten hour day is thus 56,000 tons.

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The small courtesies sweeten life; the greater ennoble it.