Friday, October 22, 2010

Steam Train, Day Eleven: Gisborne to Napier (Or, No Room at the Inn, Thank God for Relatives)

Today was a day of many varied emotions... I am exhausted from too little sleep last night and too much commotion later in the afternoon, so I shall once again try to keep this brief so I can go to sleep.

The pot of the gold at the end of this rainbow was
J 1211 waiting at Gisborne Station!

A carving of a stylized Maori waka (canoe) prow

We left Gisborne Station this morning at 8:31am, and as we were pulling away I noticed (since my seat faces backward) two figures in the distance starting to run for the train. I recognized them, realised we had left two people behind, and started yelling, and was quickly joined by Allan, who caught Mike’s attention, who then radioed the cab and had the train stop. Mike was none too impressed, warning the other passengers over the PA that “if this happens again the train will not be stopping”, leading Ian Welch to say, “Well, that’s not very customer-friendly, now is it?!” with Mike then countering by saying, “Oh, ladies and gentlemen, Ian has just informed me I am not providing good customer service, and he will be paying for taxi rides for those who miss the train.” Ray and a few other people in the car remarked how lucky they were that I had seen the two men running and raised the alarm... I didn’t want to tell them that the reason I knew they were two of our own running for the train is one of them has the world’s worst comb-over, and when he runs the entire thing falls apart and kind of whips along behind him like streamers on bicycle handlebars.

Gisborne Station

J 1211 at Gisborne Station

One of the more interesting aspects of the Napier-Gisborne railway line is when the line passes directly on top of the Gisborne Airport runway; trains have to stop and seek clearance from the air traffic control tower to cross the runway and continue down the line. We were able to get permission to stop on the on the tarmac, so I have several photos of J 1211 sitting proudly in the middle of the blacktop... not exactly a common sight, a 1939 steam train in the middle of an airport runway!

J 1211 on the Gisborne Airport Runway

The second photo stop of the day was up at Beach Loop, 33km south of Gisborne, hugging the side of the mountain with a spectacular view of the Pacific Ocean extending out on the horizon as far as one can see. Beach Loop was originally a tunnel (completed in 1938) that either collapsed and was then removed or was removed for other reasons (I’m not sure which), and remnants of the tunnel in the form of concrete and shaped rock can still be seen along the tracks, most noticeably the stone engraving from the front of the tunnel proclaiming it to have been finished in 1938.

Beach Loop

The path of the rail tracks; grass now grows
where the tunnel walls once were

Remaining discarded shards of the tunnel walls and roof

Stone engraving from the front of the tunnel

Allan and I didn’t let the wind and pelting rain dampen our photographer spirits; once the train had backed up in front of us we ran across the tracks and scaled the side of the mountain to a new vantage point, and I took a breathtaking (if I do say so myself) shot of J 1211 coming around the corner, flanked by the Pacific Ocean on one side, and trees and mountain on the other.

J 1211 at Beach Loop

It was raining fiercely when I took this picture.
I was concerned for my (non-waterproof) camera!

J 1211's steam is especially visible (and beautiful) in this
shot due to the cool, damp weather. It was worth climbing
the hill and getting soaked to get this picture!

The next photo stop was an Ian Welch special at a bridge just before the Tikiwhata Tunnel, which was better appreciated for its beautiful natural scenery (a creek and lush greenery) than the angle at which one could photograph the train. I discovered footings for what looked like an old service road (or track) bridge across the river, and Allan found a wheel gear that he and I determined may have belonged to a geared locomotive  (a Climax or Heisler, as New Zealand never had any Shays).

J 1211 on the bridge just before the Tikiwhata tunnel

An old locomotive wheel gear (possibly Climax or Heisler) 

Beautiful temperate/tropical rainforest. If you squint, you
can make out the foundations of an old bridge
(possibly road/trail, possibly railroad)

Passing through the Tikiwhata Tunnel was a slightly painful affair; at 2989m long, it’s about the maximum length one would want to make a tunnel and still have steam trains running through it... the smoke building up inside the carriages can quickly reach uncomfortable levels. This was compounded by it being a wet and rainy day, and the tunnels being filled with mildew and moist, damp, dank air that was readily sucked inside the carriages by the ventilation system; it was a smell I quickly christened “eau de tunnel”.

We had a brief stop at the town of Opoutama to get a shot of the train at sea level passing over a bridge by the beach, then pressed on to Wairoa, stopping there once again to refill the water tanks. Unfortunately our track warrants in the afternoon didn’t permit us to “work” along any section of track (i.e., the train wasn’t allowed to stop and back up), so we didn’t have any photo stops until we were almost in Napier.

Opoutama Beach

J 1211 outside Napier (possibly near Waipunga)

Allan and I were offered a cab ride by Mike, so we rode the last 45 minutes or so of the day in the cab of J 1211. The engineer, Kevin, was quite welcoming, asking me all about trains in Canada (Vic, the Mainline Steam Rep in the cab, must have told him where I was from) including the Royal Hudson, and he let me blow the whistle to start the train off. It was educational to watch him and Tom, the fireman, communicate with gestures (and a few muffled shouts) to co-operate in operating the locie, and great fun to zip along the rails; J 1211 has a speed limit of 80km/hr, not 70, and there were a few times when we were cruising along at 75km/hr, faster than the cars on the road beside us! Great fun.

The fireman's side of J 1211's cab...

... and the engineer's.

J 1211's independent and automatic
Westinghouse brakes

J 1211's pressure and water glass gauges

Crossing the estuary heading into Napier

A mass exodus over the railway tracks for the last photo stop

J 1211 steaming into Napier

When we got in to Napier Allan and I headed up to Marine Parade where many of the backpacker hostels are located, and here begins my saga; while Allan had prebooked at the YHA a month or so ago, I had only made a booking enquiry last night at a lodge up the street. So far my booking a few days in advance (or the night before) hadn’t proved to be a problem, what with it being the off-season. No such luck today: not only was my attempted booking from last night unsuccessful, but the woman at the front desk informed me due to the long weekend (Monday is a holiday here), several conferences, and the show (carnival) being in town, they were all booked up, and so were all the hostels she could think of sending me to. After calling around to a few places with no luck, I swallowed my pride and called up Fay and Frank, who were exceptionally accommodating and took me in again for another night. It is so nice to have caring relatives!

The stress of this afternoon took its toll on me; I am exhausted, but well-fed, thanks to a nice dinner of fish and chips Frank and I picked up, and feeling relaxed, thanks to Fay’s hospitality and caring nature. Now I am once again off to bed, sleeping in my uncle’s old bedroom. Goodnight!


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