In my youth, Railways and Trains were King. Yes, there were bus services, but they were not popular unless you happened to live along their route. At that time all our roads were sub standard, just plainly bad. They wound around every obstacle in their path, which didn’t make for an enjoyable ride, even for a short journey. We at this time were very familiar with and the accepting of rail Transport. It was fast, and shifted a large number of people with ease. Also, we were introduced to it at an early age. Because once we arrived at secondary school age, it was now necessary to travel to complete our education. We then all travelled into the City in ‘Special’ School Trains to attend the various Secondary Schools. At this early age all carried in our heads the rail timetables. We also knew just how long it took to walk from any part of the City to catch our conveyance. Even if you attended an evening movie, you knew exactly what time to leave the theatre to catch the ‘last train’. As a ‘school boy’ the travelling time was sufficient, if you were smart to complete any home work.


Locomotives at this time were fuelled by coal, which was plentiful and cheap. This fact alone gave the service an edge. The Railways were also a wonderful asset for Governments, in that it gave them a perfect tool and buffer to keep the country in full employment. There was always room for a few more bodies in the repair workshops, or maintaining track. The city too was well serviced by electric trams which were also cheap and efficient, so getting around was possible and not a problem


The engineering to build or maintain rolling stock was relatively simple, well within our engineering ability at that time. The Locomotives at this time were kept meticulously clean, their paint work and brass and copper fittings bright and polished. No easy task considering their constant proximity to smoke and grime. An engine ‘steamed up’ smelt of hot oil and paint, it also gave the impression of immense latent power. No wonder the American Indians called locomotives on their arrival an ‘Iron Horse’, steamed up, they gave the impression of being alive and a never ending source of wonderment for boys of all ages.


Our School trains were made by adding four or five carriages to the 8-15am morning train, same again for the return journey after school. The carriages supplied were usually very ‘Old’ possibly vintage, even nearing the end of their service life, quaint too, with copper spittoons fitted into the floor along the length of the car. Gas lights with mantles were fitted, but they were devoid of any form of any heating. Sometimes, these carriages were pressed into service when the local Church or School arranged a ‘Special Picnic Tour’ by train to take the locals to say Middlemarch, or Wingatui or perhaps Warrington beach. Hundreds would take advantage of these outings. All armed with rugs, hampers of food, and the other requisites of comfort that could be easily carried by hand. A this time only a few were fortunate enough to own a motor vehicle. A chance to enjoy a special outing by train, was something we all eagerly looked forward to. One disadvantage was that a train couldn’t drive up close to the beach, or a riverside picnic spot selected for the day’s outing as we do today in a car. So some walking was always called for. But given a fine day we would still have a wonderful day away.


Seeing the railways played such an important part in our lives, it was only natural that the Railway Stations also had their place in the smooth running of the system. They controlled the departure and arrival of trains with a ceremony that involved ringing the station bell blast of the guards whistle and a wave of a green flag signalled all was OK. Then a blast from the engines whistle. The stations were also depots that received freight, and sold passenger tickets. This operation was under the care of a Station Master, and officers right down to the lowly porters. They as well, all seemed to contain a ‘Waiting Room’ it was always full of black over stuffed uncomfortable chairs, a dreary place, and most noticeable by the fact that they were never used. As well, in a Station you could dispatch or pick up a parcel. This was in direct competition with the Post Office, but it was an exercise in frustration. We often used the system as they were cheaper, but didn’t deliver. They also employed a most archaic dispatch system, surrounded in ‘red tape’. To send a parcel no matter how small, it was necessary to fill in a dispatch form, (in quadruplicate) which was full of large words, such as Consignor, Consignee. To be fair, they had no way to differentiate the difference between a small package or 10 tons of coal, the procedure was always the same.


Steam Locomotives had drawbacks, one failing was they didn’t condense their exhaust steam as a marine steam engines did, so they had to make frequent stops to replenish their water supply. This water was mostly carried behind in an tender with their coal. Some engines had huge saddle tanks strapped onto each side of their boilers. In country areas each station had a massive circular wooden water towers. All of these were of the same design and carried more than enough capacity for any locomotive to quickly replenish its water. Some are still standing today.



Sadly the era of steam train has passed, but not the concept of rail travel itself. High speed magnetic levitation trains for medium and short hauls will shortly be a threat to air travel itself. Aerodromes are being pushed to the outskirts of towns and cities, where trains are able to start and finish their journeys from the City Centres and can travel smoothly at high speed.


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