26 September 2012

The Great Train Event; Part One

During my first year at University, 1956, I was part of the ‘great train event’.  Jim Wilson, Mike White and I boarded the “Perisher”, the nickname for the train that took perishable items to the West Coast every Friday night at about 1630h.  It usually had a single passenger carriage attached and on this occasion we were the only passengers.  We had decided to go climbing on Mt Philistine at Arthur's Pass for the weekend.  The day was hot and we quickly became bored with the slow journey.
We were standing on the boarding platform observing the world pass by when Mike decided that he could see a route up onto the carriage roof.  A few firm handholds and a final move timed with the rocking of the train and he was on top.  Not to be outdone we followed and soon the three of us were sitting on top of the roof watching the passing motorists.  After a while we noticed the station of Darfield looming in the distance and decided we’d better get down as the train usually stopped there.  We descended and were sitting innocently in the carriage when the train pulled up at the station.

After a somewhat lengthy stop we were surprised by the entrance of the local policeman at one end of the carriage. “Have you lads been up on the roof of the train?” he enquired. We were the only occupants of the carriage so it seemed a bit futile, denying our guilt.  He asked us what we thought we were doing and seemed strangely suspicious about our identities.  We showed him various items of our gear with our names on them and all seemed well until Mike tried to prove his identity by pulling a black leather-cased compass from his pocket.  It had been a birthday gift from his parents.
“What’s that you’ve got there?” cried the policeman, taking a couple of steps backward.  He seemed very nervous. Mike explained what it was and he eventually seemed satisfied.  After admonishing us he allowed us, and the train, to proceed to Arthur’s Pass.  All was well again and we climbed Mt Philistine.

The weekend was not without its funny side.  On the Sunday night at Arthur’s Pass there was a panic as we noticed our train getting ready to leave the railway station.  We could see all this from our hut above railway station.  We quickly grabbed our gear and raced to the station leaping onto the last van as it was leaving the station.  We soon fell asleep in our sleeping bags rocking gently amid the goods in the van.  Eventually we woke up to silence and a lack of movement.  Further investigation revealed that we were on a siding at Springfield without any engine in sight.  We had boarded the wrong train, one redistributing vans along the line.  We returned home on the next train.

(To Be Continued In The Next Post ...)

Steam Train About to Leave Arthur's Pass (Courtesy Jackie Rolleston Library)

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