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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 2, Issue 4 (August 1, 1927)


The photographs used to illustrate this article were taken by Mr. W. W. Stewart of Auckland, and show the very complete model railway built by Mr. F. Roberts in his garden at Epsom, a suburb of that city. Mr. Roberts, who was at one time an engine-driver on the New Zealand Railways, commenced work on a scale model of the 2-6-2 Wa class locomotive when stationed at Mercer. In those days this type of engine was considered by all New Zealand railwaymen as the last word in size and power as far as tank engine designs went. Mr. Roberts himself drove a Wa class locomotive on the Mercer-Auckland run for several years. Under the circumstances it is not surprising that he fell in love with his iron steed, and conceived the idea of making a minutely accurate model of what was, at that time, one of the most powerful tank engines in the Dominion.

Perhaps Mr. Roberts became animated by the same urge that makes a sailor secure a lump of wood and set to work to laboriously cut out and equip a model of the ship he sailed on. At any rate Mr. Roberts set to work in his leisure hours with as much zeal and enthusiasm as the eleverest genius for model ship building that ever lived. For over three years he worked with lathe, drill, cold chisel and file, until he succeeded in completing what is probably without question one of the finest small scale model locomotives in New Zealand.

Tunnel No. 2 which goes under the rockery in the garden.

Tunnel No. 2 which goes under the rockery in the garden.

The gauge of the diminutive railway is only 2 1/2 inches, and yet the locomotive is equipped with full Walschaert valve gear and an air brake. The latter is worked by means of a pump operated from the motion on the right hand side of the engine. As the pump is of course, very much out of scale, it was necessary to conceal it in one of the side tanks, which do not hold water as in the real engine. Hundreds of tiny rivets were used in the building of the frame and in other parts of the locomotive.

Mr. Roberts says it occupied over three years of his spare time to build the model; working sometimes until 1 and 2 o'sclock in the morning after an arduous day's duty in driving the real locomotive between Mercer and Auckland-truly a reminder of the frequently quoted proverb that the finest work ever accomplished whether in literature, art, or any other field of human endeavour, is done not for the sake of money, but as a labour of love.

Mr. Roberts' railway possesses two stations. One is located under the house, whence (after crossing a tiny stream and waterfall) the line runs by tunnel through the wall. The other station is at the bottom end of the garden.

The rolling stock comprises one class A (old Addington type) bogie coach, one long bogie brake van, one Vb refrigerator van, and several L wagons. Possibly more will be built at a later date. The coach and brake van are both equipped with electric lighting, and full working

Train leaving tunnel and running out into the garden.

Train leaving tunnel and running out into the garden.

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brakes to all wheels. When shunting, one can turn the tiny wheel on the carriage platform and bring the vehicle to rest exactly as in the real railway carriage. The interiors are microscopically correct and true to detail. Longitudinal seats are fitted in the coach, and even a strip of linoleum is laid down the centre of the floor, although the latter is not fitted in the original, but only in more modern main trunk coaches.

It might be expected that many vistors come to see this unique model garden railway. On the Saturday afternoon when the writer was present there were over half-a-dozen interested spectators.

A very humorous story is told of a catastrophe which was narrowly avoided on a recent Saturday. The train had been despatched from the station under the house and those present were waiting near the tunnel mouth to see the locomotive and train as it came out. Imagine their surprise, when instead of a train, a very much scared cat rushed out through the exit and disappeared as fast as it could up the nearby wireless mast. Presumably the cat had found the tunnel a nice dark hole in which to have a quiet sleep during the day time. It is significant that a similar occurrence has not happened a second time. The cat is evidently a sadder and wiser animal since the accident!