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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 10, Issue 11 (February 1, 1936)

Path Finders

page 46

Path Finders

Join up with the relaying gang to tour the Wellington province and you will find yourself in another world, a more interesting one.

Even in the busy Wellington goods yard there is something of the atmosphere one would expect to find with a Hollywood cast going on location. Expectancy covers everything, the old hands are anticipating another long session away from everything the city means to them, the new men are wondering.

The 8.30 north-bound from Lambton is not a famous train, yet to-day it is really a home on wheels, complete with diners and sleepers. Private parties have their own compartments. Most of the passengers are sightseers, too. In four hours time we will be fifty miles away. The “gang” is off to a fresh “layout” per the Wairarapa roadside freight train. Their homes are on flat wagons ready for rapid unloading
(Rly. Publicity photo.) The new goods-shed at Wellington—equipped on the most modern lines.

(Rly. Publicity photo.)
The new goods-shed at Wellington—equipped on the most modern lines.

at the base station. Rail travel is different that way. The hut creaks and sways on the iron floor. A new man wonders if it will come off on some bend. Ted smokes. Ben is reading. Two other old hands are playing cards. Whenever they do any sightseeing it is to remark upon some garden, a river groin that they did not see last time, or old jock's farm going native again. Not exactly first-class smoker small talk, but these fellows know the route.

The train passes over a section that this gang relaid last spring. All the regulars knock off their card playing to sit up and take notice. Some risk their necks peering beneath the train or craning their heads for a backward peep at some curve. Old memories come up.

It is very apparent that these fellows take a pride in their jobs. Discomforts and difficulties seem to be merry memories as we pass this old layout.

The sun is getting low along the Tararuas by the time the Roadsider has dropped “the work rake” at its base station. That is where the work begins. Huts are put down the skids and roped down beside some seldom-used shunting siding. Men hunt frantically for tools in the baggage wagon. The grindstone is set up and a new hand is introduced to the handle. This is shifting and getting straight again as no housewife knows it.

Out to work we go next morning on the station jiggers before the frost has broken. A man needs the exercise to keep himself warm.

The first day's work is light. The gang are getting ready. Equipment is brought out. Temporary rails are laid in to the metal quarry. Some chains of sleepers are laid bare and limit boards erected at both ends of the lay, or section.

We see real work the following day. Sleepers are shaped down and bored, rails are bolted together; track is built ready to be slipped into position when the time comes. Everybody works frantically, apparently regardful of a train schedule that must be maintained through the section at all costs.

Last night's goods from Wellington rumbles by, then the down mail. The scene changes like lightning. Those twin ribbons clatter together and roll down into the trough of the permanent way, their cross ties follow them. A new hand thinks a new roadbed must be like this before the rails reach it. What a mess! As far as one can see the whole track is up. The express to Palmerston is due at 10.30, too! It comes along sharp to the minute and rumbles by as though everything was as we found it this morning. The whole scene of activity presented a problem to the new men. One spends many such days in the gang before its organization can be appreciated.

The word schedule explains all. Before the jiggers leave the station in the morning the foreman visits a little putty-coloured box, familiar to anyone who knows a country station. The box bears the legend “train orders for No. 2 section south.” It advises as to crossings, page 47 ings, arrivals, approximate loadings and whether or not any specials are likely to traverse the section during working hours.

Arriving at the “layout” the foreman confers with his gangers, and they estimate the time required for a certain task, then they think of a second task for a shorter period. The longest lull in traffic is utilised in making the big break. Every other job is subsidiary to that. Intervals of a mere ten minutes are allowed for the passing of trains between jobs.

Perhaps a mile of track has been renewed. Freshly cut sleepers and rough new rails lie exposed. Metal is not put on until all possible bumps or hollows have been searched out. That may be a week later. Meanwhile, the gang works on.

One day an old engine groans along in front of a long string of little M wagons, heavily laden, from the quarry. Their cargo is spread. More trains pass, and there is more detailed inspection. Then the grader van arrives to complete the lay.

The grader van is a New Zealand invention that has been adopted by many of the world's greatest railroad systems. In appearance it resembles both a brake van and a guards’ van. Under the floor there are controls, leading to plough or swoop-shaped grading knives that trail the ballast out evenly along the sides, level the top off between the tracks and clear the metals, all in the one operation, as the engine draws the grader over the section.

The social life of a relaying gang can be interesting, too. Partners in a “rolling stone,” as these portable huts are sometimes called, soon settle down to be firm friends. First acquaintance with the life brings little difficulties and discomforts, but they vanish quickly.

The life is a valuable experience to any healthy young fellow, and it makes men. Work can be more than a job, even if one has to eat a cold lunch in a dripping trackside shelter.

(Courtesy, Great Western Railway). The first Excursion Train.

(Courtesy, Great Western Railway).
The first Excursion Train.

The average passenger does not notice the rays of a flickering candle or a smoky oil lamp, or hear the tinny strains of a portable gramaphone as the night express rolls gently by the new “lay.” The men in the “rolling stones” are pathfinders, in a sense, and they are happy in a world apart.

Even if a “rolling stone” does not gather much moss, its occupants are happy.

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(Nelson, the Athens of the Antipodes—Continued from page 16.) This giant gum tree grows near the Memorial Gates of the Girls’ College, Nelson.

(Nelson, the Athens of the Antipodes—Continued from page 16.)
This giant gum tree grows near the Memorial Gates of the Girls’ College, Nelson.

founded a Benefit Society and a Literary and Scientific Institute in those distant days, Dr. Hochstetter laying the foundation stone of the latter.

This is Nelson's individual distinctive quality. There is a gracious atmosphere of brooding wisdom, an authentic feeling of garnered knowledge and treasured tradition.

This should be another Athens when the time comes, as it well may do, that New Zealand becomes another Greece. There should be a residential University College here, where the conditions are so ideal for the acquisition of learning.

We show pictures of the Colleges. They are both beautiful in every sense. The perfect climate lends its aid to the open air wholesomeness of the dormitories of the two great modern Houses of the Boys’ College. The playing fields are splendid, and the Scriptorium is an architectural jewel. Every modern amenity, every advance in public school equipment, is here, and there is more. There is a heritage of tradition. The College is older than Clifton or Haileybury, its story is a proud one, and, as is so usual in New Zealand, its “growing things of green” cover wall and tower so rapidly that centuries might have passed over them.

The brawny physique of the boys, their clear eyed enjoyment of life, reflect the strange and startling fact that in these conditions and in this genial clime, they are actually enjoying their school days. Moreover, the scholastic record of Nelson College is brilliant, even if its many illustrious names are rather over-shadowed by its greatest pupil, Lord Rutherford.

We took a picture or two of the girls at recess under the great trees at the Girls’ College. It is unimaginable that more perfect facilities could be found for the training of girls than exist in this splendid institution. Spacious dormitories, fine teaching rooms, comfortable studies, and a general air of well-being and kindly care adorn this teaching elysium. The proper pride of Nelsonians in these two noble acadamies is justified.

I remember being present in Nelson on Arbour Day. Ceremonies of this kind are held at the truly magnificent Cathedral steps presented by Mr. Cawthron, very easily the handsomest thing of the kind in Southern lands, and reminiscent of Italy or Spain in their stately architecture, lit by Nelson sunshine. It was an effort of ritual as precise, imposing, and digni
Recess time at the Girls' College, Nelson.

Recess time at the Girls' College, Nelson.

fied as “The Changing of the Guard.” It was due very largely to the faultless discipline of the serried ranks of scholars from school and college. Here, I thought, was the key to Nelson's place in our Dominion comity. From inheritance, and by right of its climatic serenity, it is a place for acquiring wisdom and that still more precious thing, character.

If you want to see the contentment of any good Nelson citizen slightly ruffled, you should mention that the place is ideal for retired people. He feels that this has been responsible for “Sleepy Hollow” and other sillier names which have been awarded to the place by those who live in less favoured localities. It is the sober truth, nevertheless. Men who come here go back to youth, and those who were born here seem never to lose it. The general manager of the Anchor Steamship Company has just celebrated his jubilee of office and wears the look of a yachtsman in the late thirties. Be reminded, too, that in addition to sixty years of running one of the most worrying types of large industries, he has crossed the allegedly wicked Straits in Anchor steamers on a rough average of once a week for all that time. His friends are now warning him of the celebrations in prospect for his centenary. Mr. Newman, one of the founders of the world-famous “Newman Brothers” firm, was riding horses at the A. & P. Show a week or two before I arrived, and was with difficulty dissuaded from essaying the jumps. His lot has not always been in pleasant places, either.

He pioneered the transport business of the province, and he and his brother took the first mail contract from Fox Hill to Murchison (then page 50 page 51
Formal trees in the Queen's Gardens, Nelson.

Formal trees in the Queen's Gardens, Nelson.

known as Moonlight). They tendered for a service by horse and dray, but the Owen was flooded on their first trip, so they swam the swollen stream, walked the balance of fourteen miles, after sleeping the night on the bags for safety, and delivered the mail on time. It is a far cry from those days to the handsome motor road-palace we show beside Nelson trees. Newman's cars are known on every road in the province and they provide a service to Christchurch and the West Coast which is the last word in modernity and comfort. They finally and effectively dispose of the myth of the isolation of Nelson.

For the benefit of overseas readers, I should here point out that the interesting trips radiating from Nelson are legion. There is every variety of sight and scene, a veritable universe in miniature. There are so many that only instances can be given. The Buller Gorge is known the world over, and the whole journey from Nelson is full of everlasting wonder, right to Westport. In this “Coast” capital there is a magnificent new tourist hotel, whose appointments, even to its “room with bath” provision, will satisfy the most exacting visitor. The marvels of Lake Rotoiti, and the Northern Peninsula are so complex and so miraculous that I must leave them for a later article. However, there is so much to see in and around Nelson city itself that a visitor can spend a week or more of beneficent enjoyment and fascinating days without going far. It must be said shortly that both visitors and those who come to live in Nelson have that unique spread of amenities in which New Zealand provincial capitals lead the world. Deep drainage, electric light, telephone service through both Islands, splendid paved roads, good libraries, well equipped theatres, up-to-date shopping facilities are here as in so many other Dominion centres. A medium shot can reach his limit in quail in an hour or two of walking, and other shooting is just as plentiful and convenient. The fishing is superb, and every other open air sport is easily accessible. Golf, tennis, bowling, social, and racing clubs charge fees which newcomers find microscopic and all are on a luxurious scale. The truth is that anyone with three or four hundred a year in Nelson has a life as spacious and pleasant as that which can be attained in Europe, England or America only by those whom Fortune has blessed with enormous riches. The Tahuna beach is rightly famous, and its comforts are being increased all the time. Sea bathing in Nelson is a de luxe form of recreation and this is one of the best in a world of golden beaches. I think that the public gardens reflect the qualities of the place. Their luxuriance is orderly and planned, as will be seen from our pictures of the ornamental waters of the Queen's Gardens. The palms in Anzac Park are a world sight.

And now I find that I have forgotten to mention Nelson's 2,545 hours of sunshine. Yet the rainfall is slightly above the average of the British Islands. But in deference to the temperament of the laughing-eyed god Maui, who fished this Arcadia from the Pacific blue along with the rest of New Zealand, it mostly rains at night.

And so I finish with its list of nearby names which are a pleasant summer-day chant in themselves with a music of their own belonging to Nelson and its people.

Fox Hill and Appleby,
Belgrove and Hope
Richmond and Stanley Brook,
Spring Grove and Stoke,
Brightwater, Collingwood,
Red Hills and Thorpe.

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