Seeing as I've been invited to say a few words, it would be rude to say no.....

Despite being on the receiving end of several invites to the Naki, I had never progressed past Whareroa while in the left hand seat of a locomotive and it was an oversight I was very keen to correct....but how I was going to achieve this minor miracle remained elusive.

The dim 25watt bulb that is my brain lit up late last year while I was perusing the crew rosters in Train Control to see what Drew was up to.  To my surprise, he was down to take train 521 (New Plymouth/Palmy freight) from Stratford to meet 546 coming back.  I rang Drew about this at lunchtime (he must have been on the 547/544 turnaround) and asked how often he got that job....Not often, came the reply (after he had checked with Maggie, who seems to be some Uber Roster Goddess) and said the next trip was the 16th of Jan.  He finally caved in to demands to take me for a ride after I started sobbing uncontrollably and yelling that The Pope was a personal friend (the Ratzenburgers used to live in our street) and he'd be excommunicated as punishment.....luckily for me (but probably not for you, dear reader, who will now have to live through more interminable waffle), he relented.

SO....Monday morning, 0300 ("What does the O stand for? O my God, its early") and my alarm goes off after a giddy 2½ hours sleep.  Out the door and into the company Ford Focus at 0345 to be at Palmy for the 0545 book-on of my driver, Graham Archer.  Now, it soon became apparent that the Ford came from the land of marsupials and duck-billed what-nots.....Try driving over a windy road while working out how to put the lights on High Beam!  Whats this do....NO LIGHTS!!!!!  ON A CURVE!!!  ARRGHHHH!!!!!!!!!! <lights back on>....Finally found you switch to high beam by pulling back on the light stick twice...almost like driving an aldis lamp.  And lets not go through the fun I had when I hit rain at Otaki and had to repeat the process with the wipers...

0540 found me in and settled at the Milson Depot at Palmy.  Unluckily it was wet, otherwise I would have inhabited the worlds best sited picnic table
I soon met Graham as he signed on for the 10 hour 542/545 turnaround and without further ado, we headed out and made ourselves comfy in the warm cab of 5051 with 5120 idling nicely in behind.  After hooking up to our 14 full OM's (thats around 720,000l of the moo juice) we got the greens out from TCO Julie Dwyer and set sail.  It was an uneventful run to Marton where we stopped for the first warrant of the morning through to W(h)anganui to cross 543.  Weather: Showery

After pulling in clear at Easttown we had around a 10 minute wait while 543 wound its way downhill from Westmere.  In the meantime, shunt 560 pushed a rake of log bolsters out of Easttown across the river bridge to the fertiliser siding at Aramoho for loading.

Eventually, 543 made an appearance with 4634/7322/7158 providing the power.  The opposing driver was apparently the Palmy team leader and showed great interest in this person on the front of the DXB taking a photo.  I'd already confirmed with Graham that I had a bona fide cab pass, so all was well.

With 543 gone, we grabbed another warrant to Patea and hit the hill out of town.  Weather: Confused

Once into Aramoho, we passed 560 in the log loading siding.  Its a great example of new traffic that KiwiRail is fighting hard for and winning....who would have thought 5 years ago that Wanganui would suddenly have so much freight, what with these logs and the re-opening of the Castlecliff branch?  Exciting times!

The wagons themselves are ordinary container flats with clip on bolsters built locally in Napier. 

In and clear at Whareroa around 1000.  I had the chance to get this photo as our way to "Club Whareroa" (the crew building) was blocked by DSJ4045 shunting a long rake of container flats backwards and forwards across our path.  We finally got across just as Drew pulled up in the mighty commodore.

"Shall we go and fossick in Patea?" he offered.  After much humming and harring (I was dying for caffeine), I said alright and we screamed south.  Weather: gorgeous

After stopping for some great coffee and some crap biscuits (but not that I'd admit that Drew, mine was must have just been your one that was bad), we spent a good hour ferreting around, in and through the old cheese store and cool store on the banks of the Patea river.  As a modeller, its a complex I've always found fascinating and I vow one day I'll do a layout of Patea that will include it.  Lots of photos were taken, and for lovers of industrial archaeology I've uploaded them to flicker here.  Weather:  Getting uncomfortable.

This is the view looking north from the upper floors of the cheese store.  If we could somehow get the sun to come from a Sou Westerly direction, it would be an awesome spot to get a photo.  Would be an even better spot to have a deck chair and a cold one watching milkies wander past.

Its also a good spot to watch the local scroatlings make off with your car tires...

After a yummy lunch at Drews place (Corn Fritters, thanks Maggie!) and an introduction to the new addition to the Hamblyn family (with the worlds biggest grin) we hit the road to New Plymouth and a date with 521.  On arrival at Smart Road, I was introduced to LE Robbie Stone and we started making preparations for departure.  First job was to turn 7267 on the triangle in preparation for running 523 that evening, then we hopped on 4398 towing 7186 dead, coupled up and headed out to Lepperton.

Weather: "Midhurst heats are on" Translation: its 40k's all the way home, pal!

Robbie, Drew and Serge (the shunter) stop for a natter at Stratford where Drew was set to take over the driving duties.  It was a real mission to get here....we were stopped at Lepperton for around 40 minutes waiting for a gang in front to clear, and I fell asleep somewhere between Inglewood and Stratford; a combination of the early start and the slow gentle rocking motion of a DC on branch line track at slow speed.  Musical accompaniment for this idyllic scene was provided by 4605 in the yard "blowing off" continually through its moisture relief valve.  At times it sounded like some demented duck....

Here we are dropping off 4 PK's at Eltham with the help of Serge.  This entails blocking the road crossing between moves and keeping the crossing bells going when we aren't.  By the way the locals screamed through the crossing ignoring the bells, its a common occurrence.  Good news was that the 40k speed restriction from the heat restrictions ended at Eltham, so we were free to carry on at track speed to Whareroa.

Some home boy opening up the north end points at Whareroa.  Honestly, where do they get these people from.....

I might suggest to management that they need to give him a serious talking to in regards to dress code....

Shunting at Whareroa was exciting to say the least.  With only 4398 going (and 7186 acting as dead weight, we picked up a sizable rake of loaded wagons that the shunters put on the front end.  This meant our "pushing back" moves started well past the southern road crossing at the start of the falling grade towards Mokoia.  The last move of 4398 pushing 7186 and the entire train back up the hill from a standing start was just about too much for the poor dear.....I was sure she was about to pop a cog.

Once we were safely in and clear, 547 (which had been waiting patiently at the "All Trains Stop" board) came up the grade and into the yard with 5108 and "snot bonnet" 7307 providing the onions.  Meanwhile, Drew fired up 7186 in preparation for the hilly bits to Whanganui....handy really, as 4398 had no dynamics working, and they would definitely be needed.  After a quick meal break (KFC, yum) we were off into the dusk.

At the limits of our warrant at Waitotara.  Not a really good shot, but I was out taking a "Personal Needs Break" in the surrounding undergrowth and it seemed churlish to turn down the opportunity.  After gaining another warrant on to Easttown, we headed off to shake ourselves to bits in notch 8 up the Waitotara bank.

Drew and Tim talking cr@p at Easttown  As Drew admitted in an earlier post, I think he was quite keen to get out of the "rattle-trap of death" and into something a bit more civilised, to whit 5068/5114 on 546.  After some quick visits to the amenities block for PNB's and to refill water bottles, we headed off on our merry ways, vowing we'd meet again.

The run home was quick.  Young Tim was very much a "no prisoners" kind of driver and hit everything pretty much on the limit.  I was quite thrilled to find most of the rough track spots around Fielding had be removed, as that used to be rough almost to the level of being uncomfortable; lots of sudden lurches and rattles.

We crossed 548 at Marton with 7158/7322 on point with Grant "Sparky" Allen in control and then hurtled south on the Trunk.

We crossed a northbound freight at Rangitawa with double 30's on the front without stopping and made Palmy by 2240.  After the attendant shunting, we tied up the locos and I said goodbye to Tim around 2300 with him offering the chance for more rides up the trunk if I was keen.  Might have to take him up on it one day...

After that it was a brotherly visit to drop off some stuff and a harrowing drive back to Lower Hutt, finally arriving back at 0230.  Still, despite the 23½ hour day, it was a lot of fun and I can say I've finally travelled the entire length of the MNPL.....except maybe to Breakwater....and Te Roti.  Hmmm, wheres that roster?

As you can tell I am on a bit of a night shot bender just now, so here are a couple shots from the yard tonight...
Poles apart.
541 ready to go.
Ev happier than a tornado in a trailer park!
I had the good fortune of being able to spend the day with my good friend Ev yesterday as he joined me for another wild adventure on the high iron! Ev's report will no doubt appear shortly in due course. :-)
Change over at East Town.
521 with a couple of dinosaurs on the front.
Ev carried on south on 521, so after changing over and fond farewells I headed for home on 546. 
I dont know what they are teaching those new boys down south, but there seems to be an abundance of Palmy LE's coming up with their heads full of rubbish that our GM powered locos are the master race and the 4 strokes are not worth a tin of Sh*t, but I make no bones about letting you all know my joy at getting off that jurassic piece of crap that was on the pointy end of my train on the way down last night. It had no dynamic brake, couldnt pull the skin off a rice pudding and vibrated 10 times worse than an adult toy store boxing day sale!!!

By contrast, I had 5068 and 5114 powering my 546, and with only 14 tanks to hold back the 6000hp I think I only skipped across the high spots on the way home, relishing in the gobs of control the dynamics provided on the downward slopes...

This of course came to a grinding halt at Patea, when train control held me for 40+ minutes while we waited for a rather late running 549 to leave Whareroa.
It was an absolutly stunningly clear and still night outside, with no wind (unheard of!) and no clouds, so while I was waiting I spent some time mucking around playing with light.....
Neon DX.
I was quite amazed at the glow induced on the Dx by the purple trailing points indicator, so before I pressed the stop button on the points control I grabbed the camera and grabbed a couple of shots...
After pressing stop, the loco looked very different in the bright red light...
After  an absolute age, 549 finally broke the silence in the distance, so I set the camera on the nose of the Dx and got a shot of 549 coming into the loop while I did a "roll by" inspection. The result looks different, but I think the shutter speed was just a bit too slow.... something to try again another time when the time permits.
So I finally got to Whareroa about 90 minutes late, berthed 546 in the milk siding, tied down the locos in the yard and shuffled off home....

Looking forward to hearing Ev's recount of his big day out :-)

Drifting through some old files I found these pictures I took one typically sunny west coast August day in 2005 whilst on the Reefton shunt.....
Jammed up between coal containers on the loading bank at Reefton.
The digger scoops up some coal from the pile on the right...
...and dumps it in the coal container. Not so bad loading containers, but dead flat tedious loading 30 CC wagons!! (Thats my soggy shunter on the right)
Trucks get the conveyor treatment. Loaded wagons on the "high bank" in the background have been loaded by dump trucks under the conveyor.
And stopped for another warrant at Tawhai south of Reefton..
From memory there was a cockup, hence the lone DBR on the shunt instead of the usual pair of DC's. My shunter and I took a car up to Reefton to get the shunt, which had been abandond by the previous crew earlier in the day, and I drove the shunt back to Greymouth.
I miss the little V8, as I grew very fond of plodding up and down the west coast with it on the shunts, running out to Rapahoe or down to Hokitika with it. 
Alas it has since been sent to join the rest of the v8's in the Auckland / Waikato region and the shunts are run by members of the borg-like DC fleet....

Good times, even if they were more often wet than not haha :-)

After working 14 days straight right through Christmas and New years, I managed to grease a couple of days off after my 3 day rostered break. So without being asked twice I shot the gap and went down to the South Island for a little R&R.

Whilst passing through Wanganui on the way down, I took a quick tiki-tour out along the Castlecliff branch, in case there was something moving, but the rails were dull, and there were an empty rake of wagons parked right at the end of the branch so I bumbled back out to the main road, headed onto the river bridge and headed south.
But, I just happened to look left when passing over the railway line to look down the yard and spotted a pair of locos about to head down the branch.
A longer look a bit further along and I saw one of the locos was DBR 1267!! Holy Moly!. 
Following a rather spirited dash across the river bridge, round the south end round about and back over said bridge I managed to (legally) get down the branch before the locos did. Imagine my surprise when I saw that BOTH of the Wellington DBR's were on the shunt!! WOW!
"The Twins" heading down to the CastleCliff Branch with Open Country's powder plant in the background.
I followed the locos down to the sidings at Molten Metals, where the shunt coupled up to the empty wagons, and pulled them up to the loading point where a bloody huge reach stacker proceeded to pick up loaded containers off the ground and place them on the wagons.
Sadly time did not permit me to wait for them to head back to Wanganui, as I had a ferry to catch in Wellington.
The journey south to the Capital was uneventfull, and due to track work, no trains were running on the NIMT anywhere in the greater Wellington area.
Book in, boarding pass in hand, I had about 45 minutes up my sleeve, so I took a short stroll from the ferry terminal to a near by road bridge for a spot of foaming.
There is always lots to see here, and I spent some time watching the yard shunt making up a train. In the background was a DSG waiting to go to Hutt, the only operational rail crane, the bulldozer which pulls the Concrete Sleeper Layer (under motorway) and also some brand new Matangi units still encased in bubble wrap.
The shunt paused beneath me for a few moments, and the first wagon was carrying one of the railways new 48 foot curtain side containers.
Not long later a blue set of 1930's vintage English Electric EMU's headed up the Johnsonville line, followed promptly by a Ganz set on the Hutt line, and then another pair of EE units coming down the J'ville line....
Also among all this tram car nirvana, a Masterton train blew past... I really must go for a ride on them one day.
Pretty good value for money if you ask me a whole bunch of trains within 30 minutes - not a bad spot to watch trains at all. Not a good spot for taking photos now though as all the new overhead structures really have cluttered the scene something fierce. There looks to be a few good vantage points at other nearby locations but I will have to spend a day or two in the Capital on a nutting mission to sus them out.
Time was apon me, my ferry rolled in, I got on and that was that! Sad to say I had neither the time or the need to go nutting on the mainland while I was there, I was far too busy fishing / kayaking / hunting / farming.... maybe next time :-)

No, not one of those naff, will never keep New Years type, but more of a querry about pixel count on your screen...

As we have recently upgraded the computator here at Hamblyn House, we are now running a screen resolution of 1600  x 900 and suddenly Steel Ribbons has shrunk rather dramatically, so far engineered to a 1024 screen width...

I was planning a bit of a new years refresh and wonder what size the fellowship prefer? 1024? 1600?? Something else??

Your wish is my command....

Cruising the Marlborough Sounds..
Happy New Year everyone!!

Sorry things have been a bit quiet round here. I worked 14 days straight and then had a few days R+R with family in the South Island, fishing, hunting, kayaking, bbq's etc etc etc.....