Friday, October 15, 2010

Steam Train, Day Six: Westport to Greymouth (Sick: Day Two)

The illness is mostly over, hallelujah! I'm still not sure if the subway sandwich is to blame, but at this point it's the most likely candidate. Thankfully, when I woke up this morning all I had was a massive headache, which didn't abate much until 7pm this evening when I was finally able to eat again. (Going 48 hours without a real meal is no fun at all).

Today's trip was retracing our steps back from Westport to Greymouth; the train was renamed the "West Coast Wanderer" for the passengers who had bought tickets solely for today's excursion. It was nice to have such a full train, and to have a mix of ages in our midst, from grandparents all the way down to toddlers who kept exclaiming excitedly about "Thomas" (yes, even the toddlers here call all steam trains Thomas). I was once again managing the souvenir table in carriage A, but this time I was fully alert and awake and able to chat brightly with the visitors, which possibly helped increase sales, as I sold a lot more things today than I did yesterday.

The Buller Gorge

I was also a bit more cognizant of the scenery as we traversed through the beautiful New Zealand countryside; the west coast is a lot more lush than the east, and leaving Westport the left-hand side of the train had views of beautiful ferns, green underbrush and woods, and ever-so-many little waterfalls. The right side had a commanding view of the Buller Gorge, making me mentally kick myself for being so out of it yesterday and not taking more pictures when I was sitting on that side of the train. I managed to participate in all the photo stops today (the first one made more interesting by the presence of a dead goat beside the tracks where I was standing...), but due to the crowds of people and my lack of pushiness I wasn't able to get very stellar shots. I felt it was only fair, however, as I am participating in the entire tour, and have plenty of other opportunities to photograph the train, so I hung back and let the day trippers get their money's worth.

The dead goat that led to an announcement over the PA
system proclaiming "Maude now has fresh goat
pies for sale in the dining car!"

Jb 1236 backs up in preparation for a photo stop

Even with most of the tour participants graciously letting the West Coast Wanderer passengers take the prime photo spots, there were still some altercations, including several I witnessed with a very pushy and rude older woman with a video camera who bit the heads off three men for walking into her line of filming, and then yelled at Allan and several others for talking later in the day when she was trying to videotape something that didn't even have anything to do with the train! We started making jokes about how we didn't know church was in session and that we all had to be quiet for the revered ladyship and her sacred camera of the divine. (I figure it wasn't just us she yelled at, however; her husband looked pretty whipped as well).

The locie seems to be saying, "Yes, I'm ready for my close-up!"

I did make several contacts on the train, talking to people at photo shops and whilst selling souvenirs: a woman from Granity told me to contact her about WWOOFing, as she has a large garden that needs tending, and a man from Nelson gave me his contact info for when I am in the area and said he could help me if I need advice on a good place to WWOOF or work there, or get stuck and need a place to stay for a few days. Kiwis are very friendly people, for the most part, and will bend over backwards to accommodate you and make you feel welcome.

In the afternoon, after Jb 1236 pulled into Greymouth (over 45 minutes late, but really, who at his point is surprised by that), the coach took those of us on the tour who paid an extra $25 up to Shantytown, a tourist attraction that I would describe as Barkerville meets the BC Forest Discovery Centre: it's a recreation town built on the site of an old sawmill that tells the story of "bush trams" (what we in Canada would call logging trains), sawmills, and the gold rush of the west coast of New Zealand.

The bush tram at Shantytown. I met the guy
filling the water tank (Danny) that night;
he's also staying at Noah's Ark Backpackers.

Shantytown's Main Street

I love this shot of Al eating his pie, because
at this point in the day I was ravenously
hungry, yet still not trusting my stomach,
and watching him eat was torturous.

Of course the main points of interests for a bus of steam enthusiasts were the operating coal-fired steam train, named Gertie, and the other steam engines in various states of repair in the rail shed (including a Climax and a Heisler). Gertie was built in 1877 by the Avonside Engine Company in Bristol, England, operates at 160psi, and weighs 20 tons (she reminded me of a little Samson). Numbered L508, she pushes two passenger cars up about 400m of track to a small stop where visitors can get out and have a closer look at the engine and read signs detailing all about working on the railways and in the bush logging for timber, all accompanied by cleverly hidden speakers with sound effects to make it feel like felling and yarding is occurring in the distance. This experience both intrigued and unnerved me; I felt like I had slipped into some sort of twilight portal and was seeing a parallel universe of what the BCFDC would look like in New Zealand!

Al takes a peek inside Gertie's cab

The old bush tram tracks continuing off into the woods

Ah, Gertie...

Inside Gertie's cab

I won't rave on and on about Shantytown, because it would take too long to type... suffice it to say it's a fascinating place, and you can learn all about it on the town's website: .

One thing I really liked about Gertie and the Shantytown tram line: the engineer was a woman! Her name is Iona and she certainly looked like she could hold her own with any of the guys... nevertheless, it was nice to see another female not afraid to get into the nitty-gritty of trains. I felt like less of a spectacle to the rest of the men in our group, who are always turning to me, fixing me under their unwavering stares, and asking, "Now, young lady, why are you so interested in steam trains?"

Iona drives Gertie past the sawmill exhibit

After about ten minutes, Gertie and Iona took us back down 200m on the line, and stopped at Shantytown's sawmill exhibit, where electronic motors and a large video screen have created the illusion that the mill is actually running, and that workers and logs are busily moving through it. It's quite an effective spectacle to see; I was beginning to regret how little time we had to spend there (we arrived at twenty to four, with the last train leaving at four and the grounds closing at five). I could have easily spent a day wandering around.

The stripped-down Heisler in Shantytown's rail shed

Shantytown's Climax locie

I chose to walk back from the sawmill, down a path leading to the gold panning area (here I had flashbacks to my childhood trip to Barkerville), and past signs detailing the history of forestry, mining, and the gold rush here on the west coast. (Aimee, I took pictures of the signs if you are interested in either learning about Shantytown or being "inspired" by their signage, ha ha.) By the time I got back to the main street it was already 5pm and time to leave; I didn't have a chance to wander down any of the Barkerville-equse streets or into any of the buildings. Mental note to self: come back to Shantytown at some point in future, and spend the day!

There's lots to do at Shantytown's gold mine exhibits!

We headed back into Greymouth and I checked in once again to Noah's Ark Backpackers (tonight I'm in the Penguin Room, and once again, I am by myself. Odd.), then went in search of food at the grocery store (I wanted to avoid a repeat food poisoning by preparing my own food tonight instead). By this point in the day I was starving, having not eaten anything other than a handful of cereal at 8am, and only an apple and juice box the day before that. I made spaghetti, and ended up spending the evening in the common room at the hostel, once again playing the piano and talking to the sculptor (his name is Dan) and two other men who happen to be involved in steam trains: One is Danny, a 21-year-old who works at Shantytown assisting with the locomotives (he was filling Gertie's tank with water from the water tower when we arrived there this afternoon), and the other is John Scott, who is from Glenbrook Vintage Railway near Auckland but is down attending Shantytown's "Steam School". He showed me his spiral-bound textbooks: it's a series of courses for engingeers-in-training that teach the theory of steam engines and how to drive a steam train! Oh, how I wanted to enrol; I would have read all of his books had I had all night... that is, of course, when the three of us weren't ragging on Dan for coming from Ohio and his bragging (good-naturedly) about all the wonderful people who came the state, leading every other statement tonight to end with "...but not like they do in Ohio", or "I bet they're bigger in Ohio", etc.

Penguins at work...

... and at play.

This is in the stairwell at Noah's Ark Backpackers.
Trains are everywhere I go!

Sadly, though, it is now after 1:30am, and I need to get to bed because we are leaving the station at 9:10 tomorrow morning and heading back to Christchurch. Let us hope no future aftershocks await us!


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