First of all, a disclaimer. This is going to be a long post, as it was a long day. And some of the pictures are crap, but they are included here as they tell a story.
I'm currently on holiday at my folks place in Timaru, South Canterbury and taking the chance to fit in a bit of gentle gooning. However, I saw that there was a chance in the timetable to get to Dunedin and back in a day if I could finangle a cab pass. I sent Paul Henry (no relation), our loco team leader in Dunedin, a suitable greasy email pleading for a chance to ride on trains 937 and 922. This would have me leaving Timaru at around 0700 and home at 1800, just in time for tea. Astonishingly, a reply (with paperwork) arrived back very quickly! I was soon to find out why.....
Thursday morning at 0630, and I'm introducing myself to Bill Murdoch and Alaister Craig who will be taking 937 south as far as Oamaru. Bill has just transferred from Otira and so is learning the road with Alaister as his minder. Unfortunately I missed 934D coming into the yard with 7226 on point, but we soon walked out to 937 and got settled in the cab of DXB 5448 (which for yours truly meant an hour sitting on the first aid box)
First shunt on the way south was the freezing works at Pekeuri, where we dropped off a couple of CB's of coal and some empty containers....and thats where things went pear shaped....
Coming south, we heard radio traffic about emergency services and other fragmented conversations. We arrived at Oamaru at 0820 to find 920D (which we were supposed to be crossing) had hit car at a level crossing north of Herbert, and a relief driver was being driven up from Dunedin. Total wait: 2 hours! So we hunkered down, or in Bills case, went and visited the local model shop and bought some kits....
A slightly battered 5293 finally arrived around 1045 with relief driver Les Box in the chair. After a quick natter, an inspection of the damage (minimal, luckily)and a quick driver change, we were off into the wilds south of Oamaru. Now, I've known Les since 1986 when I was 16 and he gave me a lift on the Southerner out of Dunedin in a DF (he used to work with my late uncle), so it was an exceptionally pleasant trip. Les is now the last "Steam Man" left in Dunedin and fired the last overnight express in 1971.
On arrival at Palmerston, we met up with Paul Henry who had come north to perform the shunt as Les wasnt certified to do it (despite driving for 47 years!!). So while Paul moved the levers, Les walked the ground with UHF in hand, directing proceedings.
The rest of the trip down was just stunning...it really was a gorgeous day, and the climbs out around the coast at Seacliff and around Doctors Point were really stunning (these two pictures were taken on the way home but show the view from up on the cliffs and along the Harbour).
We finally arrived at Dunedin about 90 minutes late, and Les handed over to Chris to turn the loco and take it back north as 922. The train wasnt exactly inspiring (one ZM) but we were due to pickup the 3 IA's at Palmerston that we'd dropped off earlier, plus a huge number of container flats would be added to the train at Timaru (31 to be precise).
This was when the trap was sprung...Paul ushered me into Trevor Buckley-Beman's office (Trevor is the man in Dunedin). We had a good old chinwag about radio stuff, inadequacies in the system, things that make their life a misery....just a real rant session. And I loved it. Its really good to meet these guys on their turf and hear their concerns, and although I may not be able to fix all of their worries, I can at least make sure the right people hear about it.
Trevors most telling comment is that he is having to turn work away due to lack of drivers, locos and wagons.....thats annoying for us now, but it really shows we've got a bright future once the south is flooded with locos displaced from the north and he gets some LE's back from school.
So, just an hour late now, Chris and I finally headed north on DXB5448, this time on service 922. We had a nice relaxing run down the harbour until we came across a real surprise at Sawyers Bay; one of the OETT Dj's was out for a run, and in its 1970's "Southerner" scheme it sure looked real purdy!! Interestingly enough, both Les and Chris said their favourite locos were the Dj's, purely for their ride quality...interesting.
After the leisurely ride around the coast gain, we got to Merton where we changed crews with Brian off 923 (5241/4640 at the front). Whereas Chris was down to the do the Dndn-Merton-Dndn shuttle once more for his shift once he got home on 923, Brian had already driven from Dunedin to Timaru to take 923 south, then take 922 back....and then drive home again from Timaru...a long day!!
Brian was very pleasant company as we headed north, stopping only to pickup the IA's at Palmerston. At Studholme we had a rolling crossing with 925 that had 7226 and 4784 on for the long grind to Dunedin with a full load.
And so with darkness falling, Brian was finally relieved as Lindsay from Christchurch drove down to meet us at St Andrews......and after a quick and extremely bouncy run north (I dont think Lindsay believed on slowing down over rough spots!!!) we finally pulled into Timaru just 30 minutes late.....not bad at all after the trials of earlier in the day!
And so the long day ended......would I do it again? With the superb weather, scenery, company and crossing 4 opposing trains, I wouldnt hesitate.