Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Steam School and Parents Ahoy!

I headed down to the i-Site this morning (New Zealand's equivalent of BC's Visitor Information Centres) and booked the shuttle bus to Shantytown (the "Shantytown Gold Express", it's called) for 9:30am. While there I overheard one of the i-Site employees talking to a man with a North American accent about sailing in Abel Tasman National Park. Seeing as I took a really neat catamaran cruise there, I told him all about my experience with Abel Tasman Sailing Adventures, and he was delighted, as it was exactly what he wanted to do. Turns out he is from Campbell River, and has friends that grew up on Bell-McKinnon Road! It's crazy what a small world this is sometimes (or maybe it's simply that a lot of people from BC come to New Zealand).

Trying to kill time until 9:30am, I was walking around downtown Greymouth and my cell phone rang; it was my mom, calling to tell my dad has gotten time off from work starting February 16th, and she was asking me what I had already planned for February so she could start looking at flights to New Zealand! I must say, now that it's actually going to happen I'm somewhat incredulous; my parents, who haven't travelled anywhere major since they took my brother and cousin and I to Disneyland in 1994, are going to fly down to the bottom of the world to travel in New Zealand.

My mom said she was going to call a travel agent to figure out how to book the best flights, and I walked back to the i-Site and caught the bus to Shantytown. Also on the shuttle bus was a family from a hotel out of town, and an elderly German tourist, who insisted the shuttle had to have him back at the Greymouth Train Station for 12:45 as he was catching a bus at 1:20pm... so seeing as there was no other way for me to get back, I ended up being able to stay at Shantytown for less than three hours. While the driver assured me that was "plenty of time" to see all the attractions, I knew better: it was like when I tell visitors at the Forest Museum they should allot about two hours to walk around, ride the train, and visit some of the exhibits, but knowing that if they really wanted to properly explore the site they would have to spend a whole day.

Once at Shantytown I wandered around, looking at all the old buildings; it really is like a mini-Barkerville, except that a) there are no boardwalks and b) a lot of the buildings were brought to the site, not built there originally. After wandering through Chinatown (hidden on the other side of the giant waterwheel) I made my way over to the train station, and boarded one of the two passenger carriages for the twenty-minute ride (like the Forest Museum, that includes a 10-minute stop). At the other end of the line I wandered up and through the locie's cab (like the rest of the tourists), and struck up a conversation with the engineer, Jeffrey, saying I was interested in the Steam School's textbooks and had been trying to get in contact with Warren Smith. When he found out I worked at the BC Forest Discovery Centre (I showed him my baseball cap emblazoned with the BCFDC's logo) and explained my steam experience, he invited me up for a cab ride back to the main station, and told me I was welcome to come ride in the cab again for the 11:45am train.

When the train got back to the main station Jeffrey took me over to the waterwheel and introduced me to Ian Tibbles, the head of the Steam School and the author of the textbooks I was trying to lay my hands on (he was busy trying to fix the waterwheel; the first thing he said to me after being introduced was, "Do you know anything about fixing waterwheels?" My response of "Add more water?" likely wasn't the answer he was looking for). Although he seemed reluctant at first to consider selling the books to me without my taking the course (he said he had "never considered" selling the books separately, as they are designed specifically for the course he teaches), I explained how I had read part of them when I met someone taking the course, and how helpful and well-written I found them, considering all my steam engine training has been oral/hands-on or reading old books from nearly a hundred years ago. He brought me back to his office, gave me his card, and took my name and e-mail and phone number. We continued to talk trains (I told him all about the BCFDC's collection; he seemed to already know about our Climax engines) and took me over to the rail shed to look at the Climax engine owned by Shantytown (it's just a baby, at 20 tons).

At 11:45am we walked back over to the train station, and as promised I got my second cab ride with Jeffrey and his fireman, Craig. I had a wonderful time; Jeffrey even let me drive part of the way and back! The engine was Kaitangata, nicknamed "Kaitie" (just shortening the name), a 22-ton coal-fired 0-6-0 built in 1896 for the Kaitangata Coal & Railway Co., with an operating pressure of 160psi. The last time I was here in October with Mainline Steam the train pulling us was Gertie, a 20-ton coal-fired 2-4-0 built in 1877 by the Avonside Engine Company in Bristol, England, also with an operating pressure of 160psi. I felt happy to have been able to see both trains in operation, and getting a cab ride/driving opportunity on one of them was an unexpected bonus! I told Craig that my parents were thinking about coming down to travel around New Zealand, and he replied, "Well, you'll have to bring them here then!". Shantytown for a third time? Yes, I could probably go for that, especially if I can weevil another cab ride out of them. ;-)

I caught the shuttle bus back to Greymouth, and had an oh-so-nutritious lunch of noodle soup and bread slathered in nutella (FYI: the bread is bearable if I put so much nutella on it it's like eating a candy bar). I was in my room at the hostel, getting ready to head out to the library and post office, when my cell phone rang; it was Warren Smith, calling me back to say he had just been out to Shantytown, spoken with Ian Tibbles, and if I came by his office at Tai Poutini Polytechnic tomorrow morning (it's just down the street from the hostel) he would sort me out with getting the textbooks! Who-hoo! I feel like all my efforts have paid off.

When I got back to the hostel at 5pm my phone rang again (I spent a lot of today on the phone); it was my mom and dad (and Piha the cat, meowing/yowling in the background), calling to tell me they had bitten the bullet and bought plane tickets to New Zealand; they arrive on my February 22nd in Christchurch, and fly home on March 13th from Auckland, which gives us just under three weeks to explore the country together (translation: just under three weeks for me to drag them around). Now I have to formulate a list of things I think they may want to see and do, they will send me a list of things they want to see and do, and we'll see what overlaps and then I'll start planning out an itinerary, travel, accommodation, etc.

Today has been exciting but exhausting (or maybe that owes more to going to bed after midnight and getting up at 7am). Either way, I am off for a shower and bed now... night!



  1. Yay!! I'm so excited for Mary and Bob to be going down. I was worried your dad wouldn't be able to get the time off.

  2. I know, it's something of a miracle. :-)