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: F..ing gorgeous
After stopping for some great coffee and some crap biscuits (but not that I'd admit that Drew, mine was delish...it 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?