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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 6, Issue 1 (May 1, 1931)

Unique Model Railway

page 25

Unique Model Railway

A Visit to Headquarters of the R.S.R.R. at Auckland.

A valuable record, in miniature working models, of railway development in New Zealand, is being built up by model engineering enthusiasts in Auckland. Nowhere in the Dominion, perhaps, is there to be seen a finer collection of models of the kind than that at the home of Mr. G. T. Roberts, Kimberley Road, Epsom, Auckland, the headquarters of the R.S.R.R. Some interesting particulars of the locomotive stock represented in the collection are given in the following article.

Utility and romance appear sometimes to be as far apart as the poles, yet the pressure of utility has been largely responsible for the changes which form the very foundation of romantic history, whether it be of kings or postage stamps, of clothes or railway locomotives. It is regard for utility which has brought men through gradual processes to the wearing of drab clothes, and it is a similar need which has made the railway locomotive the monster of efficiency it is today, with little of the outer show it once possessed. The processes of development have in each case made history, though it must be admitted that some of the experiments, both in clothes and locomotives, have produced appalling results, creations which have been an affront to the eyesight and a discredit to their inventors. Still, these have been mere lapses, and they have served by contrast to add distinction where beauty has already been apparent. In clothes, for instance, one admits the beauty of the crinoline, but deplores the hideousness of the later leg-of-mutton sleeve and bustle, despite the fact that both were steps towards utility.

And so it has been with railway engines. “Josephine,” of the locomotive crinoline days, was a pretty thing, but the double “F” experiment, intended to achieve equal or greater efficiency, was the last word in hideousness—a monstrosity with scarcely a redeeming feature.

Romance in Railways.

I shall not pursue the subject of clothes: for the time being I am a keen railway man, my enthusiasm dating from my last visit to the headquarters of the R.S.R.R., and I am satisfied now that there is sufficient romance in railway locomotive development and history to interest even the most unmechanical mind, if the material be presented in suitable form. Blue prints and departmental books of records are available to a very limited number of people, but few even of those so privileged are sufficiently interested to study the subject. Photographs are undoubtedly more arresting to the attention, but departmental records in photographs do not include what might be termed action pictures, the old engines in their most interesting settings with the train crews of those days gathered about. Nor do the records make mention of the crack drivers of forty or fifty years ago, or of the stories which their names revive. This is where there has been opportunity for an enthusiast to gather the material while it is available, and this is where the record side of the R.S.R.R. (in the care of Mr. W. W. Stewart) has done, and is still doing, work, the value of which will be better appreciated as the years roll by.

A Fascinating Hobby.

But the activities of the R.S.R.R. extend beyond the collection of information and photographs. A friendship of long page 26 standing between Mr. Stewart and an exlocomotive driver, Mr. F. Roberts, has been responsible for development in another direction. Mr. Roberts, who is of a decidedly mechanical turn of mind, constructed years ago some interesting working models, and from time to time, as a hobby, has turned out other work of that nature. His association with Mr. Stewart, and their joint interest in Railway matters, has led now to a definite plan of construction, and thus the R.S.R.R. has come into being.

The concern is now above all things a working railway, though profits, unfortunately, do not find a place in the accounts. The practical side of the business is located at the home of Mr. Roberts, whose interest in the subject and ability as a mechanic can be gauged by the results of his efforts as Chief Mechanical Engineer of the combination. A hobby must not be permitted to encroach too far upon time which otherwise might be spent upon domestic affairs, therefore the output of the construction sheds is to some extent limited. Nevertheless, the fear of a “blister” from the domestic departmental boss does not altogether prevail, and the railway is steadily progressing. At present it possesses seven locomotives, all of them modelled on classes of early period. The intention of the management is to construct, in the course of time, a range of locomotives which will represent fairly closely the development of our New Zealand Government Railways.

The rolling stock comprised originally a working steam model 2 ½in. gauge loco, with a short train to steady its pace a little, which, by the way, it failed to do. However, it was very soon realised that a collection of steam models would involve a lifetime of work in construction, and that they could not be employed satisfactorily as part of a timetable demonstration. There is too much “get there” about a steam model once it is started off, and control from a distance is impossible. Steam, therefore, was voted out of place, and the scheme at present is the construction of electrically driven models of what are steam engines as far as outward appearance goes.

Power is picked up from the track, and trains can therefore be controlled from either terminus. An article in our issue of September, 1929, has sufficiently described the system, but since that date five locos, have been added to the “fleet.” The pioneer of the team in the 1 3/4 in. gauge was a representative of the “D” class, and surely a more appropriate beginning could not have been made. The “D” was the first orthodox main line engine built in New Zealand, the makers being Messrs. Scott Bros., of Christchurch. There are still many people (railwaymen included) who remember the first appearance of these Scott-built engines. One can picture the scene at Christchurch station on the morning of 24th February, 1888, when Sir John Hall, the Hon. E. Mitchelson, Minister of Public Works, the Hon. J. T. Peacock, Minister of Railways, the Chairman of the Chamber of Commerce, and other public men took their departure by special train for Little River as guests of Messrs. Scott Bros., the contractors. D139 drew that train.

Famous Engines in Miniature.

To return to the models. Two “F” engines in miniature were next constructed, and assuredly it was right that this class should have a prominent place. As the late Rous Martin said, “I doubt whether smarter or more capable servants of all work (within the limits of their power) were ever seen on any railway.” F243 was a sister of the locomotive which had the distinction of taking the first train out of Auckland in October, 1873. In accordance with the fashion at that time, she bore the name “Flora McIvor.” The other “F” class model, No. 164, is of the high pressure type, and carries the elaborate finish of the early days. Construction of two “M's” an “L” and an “R” followed in due course. At Auckland, in March. 1929, the “R” (Fairlie's Patent) won the Sim Cup at an exhibition of working models, held by the N.Z. Society of Model and Experimental Engineers.

While it can safely be left to the photographs to indicate the care which has been taken to reproduce in the models the page 29 “Josephine,” a double-ender Fairlie of the old days, will sooner or later be in the picture, and, indeed, New Zealand Railway history would be very incomplete without her. The rolling stock in general and carriages in particular, the work of Mr. G. T. Roberts, District Engineer and Superintendent of Rolling Stock, help the story along. They, too, are gradually forming a chapter of their own. As for the track, it must not be judged by its length, as the distance between the terminal stations has been shortened to suit the amount of backyard available. However, a good effort has been made by the District Engineer to achieve scenic effects on the track, and the relevant illustrations suggest that the work has been well done.

All this is by way of showing what an interesting record of railway development is being built up by the R.S.R.R. members. Primarily they work for their own amusement, of course, and rumour has it that there is not too much gravity at their meetings, but they are in a fair way towards establishing a memorial to the Government Railways, past and present,
In the Department's New Workshops. A section of the Boiler Shop at the Hutt Valley Workshops, Wellington.

In the Department's New Workshops.
A section of the Boiler Shop at the Hutt Valley Workshops, Wellington.

and it is to be hoped that their ambition will suffer no check.

Cheap Transport for School Parties

By an arrangement made with the Auckland Transport Board, Mr. A. E. Lovell (Railway Passenger Agent in the Auckland district) has secured cheap transport by tram as well as by rail for country school parties visiting the Zoological Park of the Queen City. School parties of children and parents travelling at the very low railway rates for excursions of this type may hire tram transport by the tramload for conveyance between Auckland station and the Zoo, the rate for the return journey working out at about 5d. for children under 15 years of age, and 8d. for adults.

As a further incentive to travel, the Secretary of the Zoological Committee has written to all schoolmasters in the Auckland district offering prizes for the two best essays upon the subject “A Trip to the Zoo.”

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