The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 2, Issue 9 (January 1, 1928)
Seven minutes to spare before the “Daylight Limited” starts out on her long run to Auckland. Just time to pay a hurried visit to the splendid “Ab” racer which, joined up to its line of coaches, stands quivering in the leash as it were, under the concentrated steam-power which at a touch will send the great locomotive gliding forward full of grace and life. The driver smiles in friendly fashion as he rubs his hands with a bunch of waste and takes a final approving glance over the sleek and shining sides of his charge. All the old boyhood delight in the sight of a locomotive comes back with a rush as one takes in the great gleaming driving-wheels and rods, the business-like cowcatcher and the short squat funnel from which smoke pours in hurried cadence.
A double clang of the station gong warns lingering passengers to hurry aboard. A soft whirr of steel informs them, as they settle down in their comfortable high-backed seats, that the “Limited” is pulling out on the first stage of her journey.
From the outset, a stout passenger in the seat in front appeared to be thoroughly disgruntled. “I never could stand this trip!” he ejaculated, turning to a lean man who sat beside him, “Nothing to seel and nothing to do. It's the deadliest run in the whole Dominion.”
His companion smiled and laid aside the book he had just opened. “Well now that's strange!” he answered. “I wouldn't like to say how many times I've made the Main Trunk trip, yet I can always find any amount to interest me.”
“H'm! So long as you've got an interesting yarn I suppose you're all right!” The disgruntled one glanced scornfully at the discarded book.
“No! On the contrary, that book contains a list of accommodation houses and hotels only, so it could hardly be called a ‘thriller.’”
“Well! What are you going to interest yourself in, anyway? Going to have a sleep?”
The lean man smiled again and inclined forward.
“Ever heard any of the story of this line?” he queried.
“What do you mean by story?” answered the other indignantly. “There never was any story about it!”
“The story begins now,” said the lean man as the train, hauling powerfully on the big grade, entered the first tunnel. “It begins with the keen brains that prospected and surveyed for this gateway among the hills, giving you a chance to got right through to Auckland in one day.”
“Huh!” Makes you feel thankful to be yanked through half-a-dozen smoky tunnels right after breakfast!” snorted the stout passenger. “Why the devil didn't he make 'em open cuttings?”
“Have a look at the hills when you get through and you'll be proud of what has been done. The number of sharp curves necessary without tunnelling would have added tremendously to haulage problems let alone wear and tear on rolling stock.”
“Oh damn your problems!” growled the stout man blowing his nose vigorously. “The comfort of the public should be considered first. I shall write to Coates about it as soon as I reach Auckland.”
For a while conversation languished. The stout man spluttered and blew his nose repeatedly, muttering anathemas under his breath. His companion gazed out approvingly at the golden mantle of gorse and broom which lent a welcome touch of colour to the hills.
It was not until the summit of Khandallah hill had been topped and the “Limited” gathered speed along the level, that the lean man broke the silence again. “Great thing this Westing-house page 6 brake,” he ventured, glancing reminis-cently up at the ceiling of the carriage.
“Eh! What's that?” Taken unawares, the stout man paused in the middle of taking a fresh blow of his nose.
“Westinghouse brake,” answered his companion. “Great thing nowadays. Why I remember the time when the engine used to whistle for brakes all down that hill we've just climbed and the guard had to run through from platform to platform, screwing 'em down by hand.”
“Yes! That's a big improvement, no doubt,” said the stout man, “but why didn't he invent something to eliminate tunnels?”
At this juncture the “Limited” plunged into the second tunnel outside Johnson-ville and the big man's handkerchief was flourished violently again.
“It's not so very long ago that the line took one only as far as Palmerston,” commenced the lean man, as hurrying out of Johnsonville the train started on the down grade to Porirua. “I think that even with the tunnels thrown in, we've got a lot to be thankful for.”
“Oh! I'm not growling about the line,” expostulated the stout man. “It's these infernal tunnels and the scenery I don't agree with. Nothing to look at, absolutely no interest!”
“Listen to the song of those rails now?” answered his companion, “can't you read anything in it?”
“Read anything?” The stout man fairly snorted his indignation. “I call it an infernal noise that would drive a man to drink!”
“Oh! No! There's romance in it if you will only listen. The romance of steel won from the earth by the skill of man. All its shaping and welding for its final purpose and now the song of praise for the hands that made it, a thing alive, resonant to the triumphant song of speed.”
“Well I'm jiggered!” answered the stout man. “Where did you learn that stuff?”
“Why! Learned it from the rails of course, it's part of the story of the line.”
“Go on!” The stout man leaned forward. “Got any more like that!”
“Yes! plenty!”—Look at the face of this big cutting. Think of the labour of clearing all that material for the sake of giving you a clear run through the hills. Some story in that, eh!” “Then there's your stations, your viaducts, your river bridges, all the things that you whisk over without so much as bestowing a thought upon the skill and work expended in their building. Wasn't it all well worth while?”
“Of course it was! I'm not growling about that, I tell you, it's those infernal tunnels and the dust and smoke!”
“Mere details when you weigh up all the big things that count!” said the lean man with emphasis. “Be thankful that you can sit back in comfort as you speed over ground that was made ready for you by hard toil which carries a tale more interesting in its record of human endeavour than the best novel ever written.”
“You got that out of a book, I'll bet!” said the stout man darkly. “Still I must say I hadn't looked at it in that light before.”
“Anyway, we'll change the subject,” said the lean man. “Did you know that this harbour of Porirua saw some lively operations during the early days? The great chief Raupa-raha had a famous fighting pa here and gave the naval and military forces something to think about.”
“See those ruins in the field by the water there,” he continued, as the “Limited” took the bridge spanning an arm of the harbour, in her swinging stride; “these are the remains of the old blockhouse built during the period.” “The boats of the frigate ‘Calliope’ did some great work here, too, attacking the Maori war canoes and strongholds.”
The stout man appeared to be roused at last for he gazed intently at the crumbling stone walls and the blue waters of the harbour stretching seaward to flat-topped Mana Island.
“That island,” said his companion, “was a great resort for the old whalers and has many stories and legends woven about it.”page 7
The stout man was very thoughtful as the “Limited” breasted the long grade to the summit of Paekakariki hill, but was roused from his reverie as the wide panorama of ocean and coastline unrolled itself where the line curves for the quick run to the levels of the Manawatu.
“Kapiti Island, one of the most beautiful on our coast,” said the lean man, pointing to where the forest-clad hills lay swimming in the blue haze of morning. “Full of old whaling history and romance and now a sanctuary for many of our rare native birds.”
“Looks good to me!” remarked the stout man. “It's funny that I have never taken a good look at it before.”
With a roar the speeding train swept into the first of the resounding tunnels on the down grade and with a smothered ejaculation the stout man threw himself back into his seat and buried his face in his handkerchief.
“More infernal tunnels!” he puffed. “The darned country is honeycombed with 'em. I shall send Coates a wire from Palmerston about it, see if I don't! I suppose you've got some romance about them, too, haven't you?”
The lean man grinned maliciously. “Sure thing I have! Think of hewing these tunnels from the solid rock with pick and crowbar. No pneumatic drills in those days. Real solid toil, with teams of big husky chaps full of the pride of their undertaking!”
“Yes! And full of beer on Saturdays!” snorted the stout man. “Pah! Romance be hanged, they only made the darned tunnels to annoy travellers!”
As tunnel after tunnel of the hill series was rushed through and left behind, the lean man sat back listening to the muttered imprecations and snorts of his companion. There is no doubt that some people take the little disabilities of life very seriously, he mused. Perhaps the “Air Limiteds” of the future would supply all the comfort they desired. But, no! How about air-pockets, air-bumps, side-slips and all the little thrills incidental to voyaging aloft. No! The good old train for him, with its smooth-running permanent way, its security of travel, its willing and genial crew from guard to engine driver.
Even tunnels will come to an end, however, and long before the train reached Waikanae with its flowering cabbage trees or ti-palms, its forested ranges and smiling farm lands, the stout man was listening interestedly to the tale of pioneer endeavour and hardship which had won this country from the wilderness.
There was much else to see also. Maori children waving from fences, Pakeha children riding to school along the roads, motor cars speeding through dust clouds in an endeavour to keep up with the flying “Limited” and thereby endangering the lives of themselves and passengers by rushing round sharp corners with the chance of another car rushing from the opposite direction.page 8
Over all was the beauty of the summer morning. Blue skies flecked with the tracery of fine weather clouds, gleaming rivers flowing swiftly beneath the span of bridges, daisy-starred fields and fields of new-mown hay and drying flax fibre. On the main range the dark green forest merged to tender blues and spanning its slopes at one point appeared the snake-like line of pipes carrying water to the great Mangahao power station.
The stout man had become too interested by this time to remember his wire to Mr. Coates, so that when the train pulled up at Palmerston North he invited his lean companion to join him in a cup of tea.
How they completed the rest of the journey in perfect harmony, is another story which would take too long in the telling to record here. Suffice it is to say that on the Auckland station at a quarter-past eleven at night the stout man dropped his luggage on the platform and grasped his companion by the hand.
“Well, I never would have dreamed that this trip could have been so interesting!” he exclaimed, “and I really am beginning to feel proud of the railway service of this country. To think of the tremendous task involved in putting this line through the heart of the North Island and also what it means to the Dominion. I shall certainly write to Coates and congratulate him on what the Service has accomplished; and the tunnels? Well, as every country has them and most of them are a lot worse than ours, I shall refuse to take any notice of them in future.”
A Self-Contained Home on Rails.
(Photo. F. C. Barker. Wellinoton)
Interior view of de Luxe parlour-car, specially fitted-up with sleeping accommodation, bathroom, and combined lounge and dining-saloon, for the convenience of private travelling parties on the North Island railway system. The car has an attendant in charge.