Sunday, February 20, 2011


Today was something of a disjointed day... I say that because in amidst of everything that I was up to, Penelope and Edward were trying to coordinate finally leaving on their much-needed and much-deserved annual vacation. They had originally hoped to leave on Friday, which turned into Saturday, then Sunday morning, and then finally Sunday night. It reminded me of my house before we leave on a big camping trip; bags and containers everywhere, people racing back and forth, and a car with all its doors open being systematically stuffed with goodies. (The main difference being here our car usually had a storage clamshell on the roof full of deck chairs and camping gear, not matching kayaks.)

This morning Penelope insisted I take it easy; she said I had earned a day off. Nevertheless, I did all the breakfast dishes and dinner dishes from the night before, and then sat in my room feeling guilty as Ilya moved mulch from the front yard to the back in the wheelbarrow. I spent the time going through my photos of the Milford Track; I'm hoping to get those up on the blog in the next day or two.

Around 12pm Ilya and I were finally out the door and walking down the street to Ferrymead Historic Park, which I can describe loosely as a BC Forest Discovery Centre on steroids, if one took out the forestry emphasis and replaced it with an Edwardian township. (Maybe the comparison of Barkerville, minus the gold mining and plus a steam train would be a more accurate comparison.) In addition to the steam train, there's a running tram system clanging along the township's main street, and a tiny two-foot gauge salt-mining train that runs in a big loop around several buildings.

Ferrymead is located on the site of the original Ferrymead Railway, which was built in 1863 to service ships docked at the Ferrymead Wharf while the rail tunnel to Lyttelton was under construction. Once the tunnel was finished in 1867, the Ferrymead Railway became the Ferrymead Branch, and was closed shortly thereafter. This gives Ferrymead Railway he dubious distinction of being both the first public railway to be built and the first railway to be closed in New Zealand. In 1964, local rail enthusiasts began restoring the site and laying track for the creation of a heritage railway park; trains began running in 1972, and Ferrymead itself opened in 1977.

On event days (such as today, a Sunday where the steam train was running) adult admission is $20; however, because Ilya volunteers at Ferrymead, the woman in admissions just waved us through when Ilya went to pay for me. We put the money to good use, buying ourselves lunch at the bakery onsite; meat pies, cookies, and I tried a bottle of Ilya's Smoky Thunder ginger beer (it was quite tasty). We took our purchases and went and sat on a luggage cart at the Moorhouse Station and watched the steam train arrive and then depart again. The train runs back and forth on approximately 1km of track between the Moorhouse Station and the Ferrymead Station, near the old wharf pilings. The train pulls the three carriages up the tracks, decouples, switches onto the passing loop beside them, and then recouples (backward) to the end of the train to pull the three cars back to the Moorhouse Station. Once there, it again decouples, switches onto the passing track, and recouples to the front of the carriages, ready for the next journey. Seeing set-ups like this (or Shantytown, where the train pushes the carriages up and then pulls them back down) made me appreciate the beauty of our figure eight at the BCFDC; the train is always pulling the carriages from the front of the train, and we don't have to bother with constant coupling and decoupling!

Nevertheless, the volunteers working on the train seemed not to mind all the constant shunting. Ilya introduced me to the three young people working on the train that day: Deen, the guard (dressed snazzily in a cap, blazer, and collared shirt and tie), Andrew, the railhand (helping couple and decouple the engine), and Alex(andra), dressed in a white blouse and long skirt who I assume was playing the role of a passenger, but really just wanted to hang out with the guys in the guard's carriage.

We hopped on the train and rode out in the open with the guard (where we weren't supposed to; sometimes it's fun to have friends who work at such places!), and then when we got back to Moorehouse Station Ilya got permission for me to ride in the cab for the next trip. The engine running today was W192, a very significant locie in that it was the first-ever locomotive built in New Zealand: it was built in Addington by the New Zealand Government Railway in 1889. It is one of only two W-class locies ever built (later modifications earned the Wa classification). For the first two decades of its life it worked between Upper Hutt and Summit on the North Island, and then for the rest of its working days was based out of Greymouth, hauling coal trains to the Greymouth harbour here on the west coast of the South Island. In 1959 it was withdrawn from service, but spared the scrap heap, and ended up featuring in a static exhibit in 1963, before being more fully restored in the 1980s for the 125th anniversary of NZR in 1988.

The driver and fireman were quite happy to chat with me about W192, and the fireman, upon learning where I work in Canada, said, "Well, now, you can't go home without saying you fired the very first locomotive built in New Zealand, now can you? Pick up that shovel!" So yes, I actually shovelled coal into the firebox as we puffed back down the line to the Moorhouse Station. "Shovel all the coal in, gotta keep 'er rollin'"...

Thanking the driver and fireman, Ilya and I then started wandering around the township of Ferrymead; or to put things more accurately, Ilya eagerly showed me around his favourite buildings. Our first stop was the general store, which featured a player piano and organ; naturally, I had a go at playing a few tunes. Our second stop was the post office, which was decidedly more exciting than the post office at the BCFDC: this one featured an exhibit of telegraph and teletype machinery, several antique automated telephone exchanges, and a working operator exchange!

When we first entered the room housing the manual telephone exchange, I squealed, "Oh, click and bang!", as I had heard the system called on a Secret Life of Machines programme. The volunteer (an older man) working in the area whirled around to see who had spoken, and then spent the next twenty minutes showing me around the exhibit. The machine I had first seen was actually not the Strowger "click-and-bang" I remembered from the TV show, but a slightly older version that was first adopted in New Zealand. He took Ilya and I into another room, where there was setup of Strowger selectors from the 1960s that looked exactly like the ones explained to me by Tim Hunkin. Ilya and I had a blast, calling each other from the several operating rotary phones on the counter, watching the selectors whirl and grind about, and then causing the other person's phone to ring.

In the far back room was an exhibit that proved to be even more fun: a working operator telephone exchange! Complete with four panels of inputs and 1/4-inch phone jacks in holders (kept neatly in place by a series of pulleys and bungy cords), many buildings at Ferrymead are wired into the main telephone exchange, allowing calls between buildings to be placed by ringing the operator and asking to be patched through the switchboard to the correct extension. When Ilya and I arrived three adolescents (dressed in period garb; their parents work at Ferrymead and as such they, too, volunteer here on the weekends) were engrossed in operating the exchange, taking turns calling the switchboard and routing calls through to other phones. Ilya even went running over to the general store to try and place a call through the switchboard back to the main room of the post office. I played along, too, and got a nasty loud popping sound in my ear when the line connected between me in the post master's office and one of the kids in the exchange room next door.

Finally, we left the fun of the telephone exchange behind, and went up to the signal box to watch the signal man throwing the points for the steam train. None of the points are thrown manually during all that shunting I witnessed the train crew doing; instead, they communicate with the signalman via a combination of bells and buzzers, and the signal man sets the points via a set of levers from high up in the signal box, recording every single change in a log book. Fortunately, the switches were behaving themselves today; the operator told me that since the earthquake in September, the contacts haven't been meeting properly and things can get a bit dodgy.

The next hour or so was spent exploring the various rail sheds and workshops of Ferrymead; several different groups and organizations are based there, including the Tramway Historical Society, The Canterbury Railway Society, and the Ferrymead Museum of Road Transport, so there was all sorts of machinery and equipment housed in sheds and buildings, or lying disassembled in the yards, some being worked over by volunteers, others which I'm sure have been sitting in their exact locations for years. Walking into the Rail Shop reminded me of a slightly larger version of the BCFDC's own rail shop; an HO scale model as opposed to an N scale, if you will. And believe it or not, it was approaching the same level of messiness as our own shop!

By the time we left Ferrymead it was almost 5pm; the gates had closed at 4:30pm, so we made our way out the back street, walking underneath the metal latticework erected to allow passage of the electric trolley down the street (it reminded me of sections of downtown Vancouver). When we arrived back at home we discovered Penelope and Edward had not left yet, but were getting ever-closer to their goal (this relieved me somewhat; I was afraid I wasn't going to get to say goodbye).

This evening I went out to dinner with Craig, the fireman I met at Shantytown last month. He lives in Christchurch, so it seemed only fitting (and polite) that we got together for dinner. It meant that I missed actually seeing Penelope and Edward off (which I regret), but I did give her a big hug before I left; Penelope told me I should come back, and that the door is always open: "You fit quite well into our odd little family!" she said.

Craig picked me up at the corner, and then we went out for dinner to a bar and grill called Robbie's up in New Brighton... I had a light dinner, as I had already eaten when I got back to Penelope's when Ilya and I returned from Ferrymead. Craig lent me two DVDs of train salvaging operations from the Greymouth River created by friends of his; they are footage of the recovery mission to rescue the trains dumped into the Greymouth river that he took me out to see when I was last in Greymouth. I'll give them a watch, and then I'll give them to Ian Tibbles at Shantytown so he can return them to Craig the next time he goes out there to work.

I got home around 9:45pm, and then after a shower, Ilya, Malcolm, and I watched several episodes of Big Bang Theory; Malcolm in particular seems to find it hilarious (likely because he's a graduate student in engineering at the University of Canterbury)! The two of them also laugh at me because I have so much of it memorized... but I can't help that my brain seemingly effortlessly remembers humorous snippets of dialogue. Ah, yes, we were three slightly silly adolescents, and didn't get to bed until after 2am (and only after Malcolm's setting off of a small container of rocket fuel on the back lawn, all the while claiming not to be addicted or a pyro. Riiight... ;-) Night!


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