Greg's personal model railway history. 1950 - 1965.

      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

      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

      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

      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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