1959: 9 years old and I want a real train set!
For a few years, I had been allowed to play with my Father's O gauge Hornby trains which consisted of a large box of battered track, a tender and 3 wagons. There always seemed to be something missing! So sell comics, do odd jobs, save pocket money etc. The Levin Bicycle and Toy shop has Hornby O Tinplate and Hornby Dublo OO scale models. It can only be Hornby Dublo, but they don't look like our trains; there's no valve gear, I've never seen a compartment coach, and as for the tinplate wagons... One day after school, Mum comes home with a 1957 Maerklin catalogue obtained from a man who sells Maerklin from his spare bedroom. The Hornby is forgotten, these models have valve gear, lights, lots of wheels. Lots of planning takes place: a class 89 at 3 pounds 10 shillings, a transformer at 1 pound 19s 6d. only 5 pounds saved so far, perhaps Mother will buy me a circle of track for Christmas, and Nanna might give me 10 shillings for my birthday. (no wonder I became such a schemer!) Then came near disaster! The man selling the Maerklin did not have a class 89, and there would be no more until the next "Import Licencing Period" which meant no orders placed with Maerklin until after March and no class 89 until late 1960, a whole year away! (now I was learning about import licensing problems.) The more expensive models were way beyond the few pounds I had gathered together, so my dreams went on hold. The following week my Mother received a telephone call from the Maerklin man, "there is a sample of a new Marklin model at the importers warehouse, it will cost 5 pounds 19s 6d. Do you want it?" My 5 pounds and a few more shillings went towards the purchase of the engine. My worry now was that although I would be able to pay for the engine by Christmas time, I would have no track or controller to go with it. More scheming went on in my 10 year old brain to plan these additional purchases through 1960 and 1961. Christmas Day 1959 arrived, and there with my new class 81 with 8 wheels, lights, valve gear and "Telex couplers" was a controller and a "Banana" van from my parents, a circle of track from my Grandparents, and another wagon each from my brother and sister. (Several lessons were learnt, "such deep scheming by 10 year olds is noticable to their mothers", and "small boys don't know everything that goes on around them".) For 1960 there was no more Maerklin to be had, but I did manage to get a "Cresent" brand English signal with a cranked post and three signal arms, which only barely looked any signal seen in New Zealand. I got a book from the Public Library which explained English signalling. There was no way to arrange a Main line and Branch line to match the signal on my circle of track, and what was the Distant signal going to mimic? 1961 saw us move to Christchurch (Hornby) and the possibility of buying from a real shop (with almost no stock due to the import restrictions) My oval of track grew longer as I purchased pieces of straight track, one or two at a time but points were "not available". 1962 was the year when I really "needed" a set of points! I found out the aproximate date that the year's shipment of Maerklin would arrive, and also that the adult enthusiasts would buy up whatever they could within about two weeks of the shipments arrival. As bus fare to and from the city center would eat into my "point money", I had to arrange for a ride home with my Mother who worked late on Wednesday afternoons in a city office. The first mission was a failure, the shipment had not arrived, and the friendly retailer informed me that there was little chance of getting the points as the total order was pre-sold. The second Wednesday came around, and I arrived at the counter with hope and money in hand. The salesman looked at me. "POINTS! (the temerity of the child) no!... But hold on, I think Mr.... hasn't been in for his, perhaps he doesn't want them, I'll give him a telephone call". The 30 minutes I had between the bus and my Mother leaving work ticked away. A 10 mile walk awaited me if I was late! "Yes, you can have them. The price has gone up a shilling since last years price though!" I had just the right money, then I had to wait while the sales docket was filled out ("do hurry, I just want the points") I gathered the precious parcel under my arm, and ran for the stairs, not even pausing to look at the "SBB Crocodile", luggage van and two coaches with knobs on the roof to open the doors in the display cabinet. I arrived at my mother's work to find her gone. A distinguished gentleman said "go down the back stairs to the car park, you might just catch her, and DON"T RUN ON THE STAIRS....". I may have gone slightly faster than the gentleman intended but I did get my ride home. Latter in that year, with similar dramas involved on each occassion, I purchased two kitset coaches, which were probably the last Marklin items left on the retailer's shelves for the year. Another house move 5 miles further out of the city made my trips rather impractical for sometime and then in 1963 I discovered that the Marklin agency had moved to another shop within 2 miles of my new school! I purchased some Hornby Dublo wheelsets (intended for their new 2 rail system) and designed a wagon. With the assistance of my Grandfather, (who owned tools) I made a tiplate chassis. I added a balsa and cardboard body and ended up with a model which was far too lightweight and had only bent wire couplers. My Grandfather took an interest in my efforts and built me an 8 foot by 4 foot table which dominated my bedroom. It was beautifully built and solid. Each leg and brace was marked with a special code of X's, O's and I's so that they could be reassembled in the correct order. I often wondered why he didn't just number them. My next homemade model used a pair of Marklin bogies and a balsa and card body copied from the Marklin diecast bogie van. It was quite successful except for the strange colour brown mixed from odd model aeroplane dopes that were all I had. Other models followed on cast-off chassis from Triang, Trix and Hornby Dublo but with little success due to the incompatible wheel and coupler standards. My first homemade Locomotive was a model of a Lyttleton Bo'Bo' Electric on a Lone Star OOO scale chassis. With a dead chassis, no track and excessive scale compromises, it had a very short life before scrapping. I purchased an E63 overhead electric with a broken motor field coil very cheaply and managed to repair it, and in doing so learning how the electrical circuits worked. I had saved enough to buy myself a new bigger locomotive but of course the shop had little stock of Marklin . The only model available that had any appeal was a V200 Diesel in kitset form. Of course it cost 1 pound more than I had saved, (10 weeks pocket money) but the more I studied it in the catalogue, the more appeal it gained. But could I successfully assemble such a kit? (For those who know me, yes I did once own a Diesel locomotive.)
After protracted negotiations with Mr Christie, the shop owner, I collected together all sorts of model items which I thought might be saleable and were to my eyes worth much more than the 1 pound. I found that Mr Christie had different views of value but eventually a deal was struck, probably to get the persistant young lad out of the shop! The kitset went together without a hitch, I think altering the box so that the completed model would fit back in, was more difficult! I experimented with DC control about this time. Two metal cased silicon diodes to fit in the locomotive cost me 30 shillings! I was able to use a surplus plate Selenium bridge rectifier for the controller and learned that ex-radio volume control potentiometers burn at 15 volts! (Oh yes, and variable gang condensers give no noticable effect) My collection of trackwork had grown, piece by piece to about as much as would fit on the baseboard. New layout designs followed each other in rapid succession, but I now decided I wanted a more scale appearance than the tinplate track. From "Railway Modeller" I learned of flexible track and large radius points (2 foot radius) Buying such exotic products was not so easy however. I calculated that I could sell all my Marklin track and buy enough flexible track and points for a basic layout. A letter was sent to a "Great Aunt" in Bradford, England and months later a reply came back that she would organise the purchase and posting of the track. Money now became the problem. The only way to obtain "Overseas Currency" was to purchase 1 shilling postal orders, one per person per day at 1s 3d each. To obtain the 5 pounds 10 shillings in the correct manner meant 110 visits to the post office over 22 weeks! A campaign of rounding up class mates to visit the post office after school worked for several weeks, but could not be sustained as the Post Mistress became suspicious and friends began avoiding me after school. I found that I could manage to visit three or four post offices between leaving school at 3pm and 5pm when they closed. Luckily my parents paid for the bicycle maintainance, I must have cycled about 30 miles each day. After about 6 weeks of this routine, I had collected the required number of Postal Orders so the packet of money was posted off to England. After 4 months travelling by surface post the parcel arrived in New Zealand at the Customs Department. My Mother volunteered to collect the parcel for me as she worked in the city. If I had had to get it myself, it might still be there as the Customs Department hours then were all within school classroom hours. The new track was laid and slowly and labouriously, a center stud was made from pins and with soldered copper wire beneath the baseboard for current. The first train ran, and promptly derailed at the first point! The Romford points did not have sufficient clearance for Marklin wheels. After only a few hours of careful filing, the trains would run through with a little bumping. At this time, I was heading for School Certificate Examinations and we moved to a house with no room for my baseboard, so the trains were packed away. Next came motorcycles, girls, cars, girls, hot-rods, girls, etc so only a few wagons were added to the collection over the next 5 years. Some time later in a student flat, the Drug Squad launched an Early morning raid. Everything was searched thoroughly including the cartons of train equipment. "What is this green stuff in the tin?" demanded the policeman. "Oh, that's grass". The tin was gleefully taken away for analysis and quietly returned the following day. ------------------------------------------------------------------------- From 1950 to 1957 (0-7 years) I lived in a little seaside village named Puketeraki. the village consisted of the railway station and an old Mental Hospital retreat villa along with 4 attendant houses and a church. Counting every farmhouse and holiday bach vaguely within the area, the total population numbered about 50. The railway line was quite interesting in this area, it ran across the Waikouiti river flats for several miles before meeting the steep serpentine gradient of about 2 miles to Puketeraki. From Puketeraki the track followed an extreme curve around the nearly vertical cliff face several hundred feet above the sea. This curve was a temporary measure until a tunnel could be dug through the hill, but it was never done and only in more recent years has the curve been eased using heavy earth-moving machinery to remove vast amounts of cliff face. In the early 1950s, trains would run full throttle across the river flats until they hit the hill, when the speed would gradually fall off until it reached a balancing speed and fought, gasp by gasp into the station. The cliff face curve had to be taken at walking speed with flanges squealing like stuck pigs. This activity is probably the basis of my interest in railways. My older brother studied the sea creatures amongst the rock pools and is now an entymologist, with no interest at all in railways. Each evening after tea we children would climb the hill to the railway station to collect the mail dropped off by the "Express". This gave me time to study the workings of the station such as the "tablet" machine and the box with its little red and green needle that flickered and then pointed at 45 degrees (I was only little and I was not allowed past the parcels counter, so don't ask me the maker or manufacturing date!) The exchange of tablets fascinated me, the metal tablet was placed in a leather wallet which had a large (bamboo) loop handle. For non stopping exchanges the station-master stood on a raised platform just off the end of the platform. The wallet was clipped into a mechanisim that held it with the loop open at right angles to the track and the station master stood in front with his arm at a strange angle. As the locomotive came past at perhaps 10 Mph, the station master caught to offered loop from the driver while the new tablet was collected by a mechanisim on the cab side. Occasionally the exchange would go wrong and the train would squeal to a halt across the road crossing while the Station-master sprinted along the platform.
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