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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 12, Issue 9 (December 1, 1937.)

Wandering on the Work Train

page 64

Wandering on the Work Train

(Photo., H. Bennett). An Auckland-Whangarei excursion train near Morningside.

(Photo., H. Bennett).
An Auckland-Whangarei excursion train near Morningside.

The most delightfully informal proceedings in all railway operation befall the wanderers on the work trains. Scores of maintenance men begin their railway careers that way; it is a way of trying out young applicants.

When the train headed northward out of Masterton yard at 6.30 a.m. we were strangers. The guard did not know exactly where we were to load, but his instructions gave us the right to wander back and forth over the twenty-two miles of curling, climbing steel between Masterton and Eketahuna. Regular trains would find us in the sidings and by 5 p.m. our train had to be back at Masterton. We were to eliminate threatening slips and widen cuttings, always taking the spoil along to Bridge 98, at Milepost 77, which was to be shortened to the extent of three girder spans; the precious steel was to go into some more deserving bridge—the world-wide demand for steel for armaments was giving us this job!

Another stranger caught the van as we rolled into Mauriceville, and the guard asked who the devil was to be the boss of the job.

“I am,” grinned the new arrival. He looked around and admitted that he did not know a single one. Nevertheless, trusting chap that he was, he took us to the station and trusted each man with a brand new pick and shovel. Then we left for the nearest and largest clay bank.

We loaded up and went to the bridge.

After unloading, the train went into Mauriceville siding to cross a railcar and a regular mixed train. We remained to do little jobs: putting a boulder bank where the toe of the fill would come, roughing the existing buttress approach, helping the bridge gang to remove their heavy gear, etc. The train returned and we re-visited the clay bank. Two men handle an M wagon with a capacity of seven yards three times a day.

Ganger Rice appeared to know his business unusually well. Sometimes the work-train spent almost an hour in a siding when traffic was running over the section, but we were always doing something that helped the job along. He put the job through just as soon, if not sooner, than the engineers expected it to be done; and he got the most out of us whilst remaining on good terms with the boys. Bosses with the ability to do that deserve special mention.

As the days passed the boys got friendly, the gang welded together. Through fair going and foul they got to know their mates—and themselves. A party of lads in their twenties soon shakes down.

The closing day drew near and our fate was still undecided. A clerk from the Inspector's office had us renew our applications. Then the Inspector came to us as we ate our lunches in a dripping trackside shelter and had us renew them in triplicate by lead pencil scrawl against an oil drum. Now we are to be shifted to another job—some are going on the length with regular gangs. Thus does the glorious uncertainty of railroading sweep into one's life. I suppose most of us joined because we had a soft spot for the trains.

Considerably more than 1,200 yards went under bridge No. 98 in our first ten working days.

Old WG 976, despite her 35 years of toil, just about became brand new on that job. High above the willow tops she stood, while the gang unloaded.

We experienced the fellowship of service that dominates the great steel way. The Inspector of Permanent Way raises a hand in swift salute as the work train rushes homeward. So long as a man does his bit, he finds on the railway a fellowship of which a college could be proud.

The slips that threatened the line between Eketahuna and the Plains are gone. A gang that came together from far places did the job, growled a little, fooled a lot and were transferred elsewhere. No. 752 is in and the work train wanders on. So long, Mauriceville!

(Rly. Publicity photo.) A scene in the new railway yard at Wellington, showing change-over operations in progress.

(Rly. Publicity photo.)
A scene in the new railway yard at Wellington, showing change-over operations in progress.