Stoke resident Kevin Hoult rode the train into Nelson College from Belgrove between 1942 and 1945. After finishing college he worked as a paperboy for the railroad. On 25 March 2011 Kevin sat down in the Railway Cottage at Founders Heritage Park with Joanna Szczepanski to share some of his fondest memories of the Nelson Railway.
Partial Steam Ahead
The train would usually leave Belgrove promptly at 7:20 in the morning, but one day the fireman slept in. Staff at the Belgrove Hotel roused the fireman from his slumber. At the time, Kevin lived in Belgrove and was one of the first passengers on the train. When he arrived at the station the engine was still in the shed and the fire had not been lit yet. There are many accounts of School Bugs rocking the carriage, and screwing the brakes to delay the train, but in this case Kevin rushed to help the fireman make up for lost time. He cut some dry branches while the fireman lit the engine. Despite their efforts the engine still wasn’t hot enough to get going, so the fireman pulled out a crow bar and tried to force the engine into motion. They finally managed to get just enough of a fire to get one carriage and one wagon moving, but there wasn’t enough steam to blow the whistle once they got to the station to warn the cars of the trains’ approach.
As a paperboy, Kevin would throw newspapers into farmers’ paddocks between Richmond and Belgrove. Usually the farmers would send their dogs out the fetch the paper and bring it into the house. There was one dog that used to run right up to the train. For whatever reason, the guys on the train used to throw small lumps of coal at the dog. On one occasion they only had large lumps of coal so they decided it would be a better idea to throw pebbles at the dog. This infuriated the dog’s owner. The next morning he was at Brightwater Station complaining that people were throwing pebbles at his dog and this was unacceptable. They could throw all the coal they wanted but not pebbles. It turned out the farmer had been gathering the coal to use in his fireplace.
Before the first trains set out on the tracks a four-wheeled motorised jigger was sent down the tracks to clear any obstructions. Kevin recalls that on one occasion Mr. Taylor (grandfather of the proprietors of Taylor’s Shoes in Nelson) was operating the morning jigger. Mr. Taylor ran into some barbed wire that was stretched across the tracks and it knocked him off the jigger. Kevin reckons that someone let their cows out to graze on the tracks and forgot to move the wire back in. The jigger kept going without Mr. Taylor. In those days there was a telephone at every station. Fortunately someone noticed the driverless jigger motoring down the tracks and called ahead to the next station. People at the next station sprung into action, lifting the lever to switch the jigger onto another set of tracks derailing in the process. This was a lucky break, as there was no other way to stop the motorised jigger. Thankfully no one was hurt by the runaway jigger and Mr. Taylor recovered from his fall.
Stuck in Spooners Tunnel
At the time, Spooners Tunnel was the deepest tunnel in New Zealand. Usually the coal trucks would stop at the crest of the hill and screw down the handbrakes in order to slow the descent. The guard had a lantern with green, red and clear filters. When the guard was ready he would turn the lantern to green and the driver would start moving again. Kevin recalls one instance where the guard bumped the lantern, accidentally causing the lantern to turn green before the coal trucks were actually ready to move. The train took off leaving the guard, with his brakes still screwed down, in the tunnel. Eventually the driver noticed part of the train was missing, the back end rolled down the hill and everything was reattached.
Joanna Szczepanski, Founders Heritage Park, 2011 (Updated May 2012)
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Further sources - Railway Memories
For further reading and information see the sources listed under the Nelson Railway story.