NORTH ISLAND TRUNK RAILWAY.
BETWEEN THE RAIL HEADS. Like two enormous centipedes, the north and south ends of the Main Trunk line are creeping across the land; over hill and dale, over chasm roaring river, through swamp and bush—creeping slowly but resistlessly to the meeting spot, the yawning gorge of the Makatote. Mother Earth grumbles at the long, narrow', naked sear her children are making along her green sides. She meets them with rocky barriers, where the daily progress is only measured in j inches; with mile-long swamps that swallow up stuff by .'he train-load; with gaping canyons across which men look mere pigmies; with swift rivers whose waters tight every inch with the giantfooted piers in the boulder-strewn bed. Also, the Opposition will tell you she is aided and abetted by that power in the land of votes, the "co-op.", who, some say was born under the tiredest sign of the Zodiac. But vain is the resistance! Striding over the level plain, climbing laboriously up the hills, and sliding down the other side, clinging to the sides of the precipices, fording the streams, leaping the canj'ons, and boring through the mountain sides, go the line builders, and behind them trails the space-annihilat-ing parallel of steel. To appreciate the romance of it you want to see the thing in the making. Occasional reports from the Vigilance j Committee of the Railway League, com-1 plaints from the "co-op." if his cheque is five minutes late, a police raid on the sly-grog fraternity, or an account of the progress of some wandering M.P. who comes through to get the full value of his talismanic little gold pass, don't give you an inspiriting idea of the linking up of the Capital City and her Northern sister. The poetry of it appeals to you when you get right up there on the roof of the island among the snowy mountains, the treeless plains of tussock, and the silent forests, and watch that strange little mortal man clasping a circlet of steel round the unwilling brows of Mother Earth! It is good to see a great work when done, but better to see it in the making. For miles the Main Trunk line runs through virgin country, which Nature still haunts, and it is good to see her before man drives her away with his screeching sawmills, his scarring fires, and, lastly, his unlovely houses. ~ You can trace the evolution of a town. First go the surveyors, whose arduous work is never properly appreciated, because it is unseen. Then comes the bushman with his axe and his tent. The navvy follows and hews out first the service road, and next the line. Geographical position, fertility of the soil, or the exigencies of the work are responsible for a cluster of tents at some particular point. The tent gets a wooden floor, by-and-bye a sheet or two of corrugated iron and a few more boards give added permanence, till at last it sloughs its patched skin and appears in all the splendour of weatherboards and paint. Tracks become roads, roads become streets, and the straggling houses begin to shuffle round and line up like a file of recruits when they hear, "Dress by the riglr, '." Right out there in the contest with Xature you get your bearings more easily and with more evrtainty than you do in the city. It is life reduced almost to its primitive conditions and robbed of those thousand and one hypocricies and disseniblings which can only live in crowded streets. The folk.are rough but genuine, and a wc«-.k among them is a fine tonic for the city dweller. In spite of the remarks about the coop's, leisurely habit of life the stretch of country where the lines are not in i place, sleeping quietly on their wellballasted bed, and waiting for the Wellington-Auckland express, is very short. Two months ago there was a gap between the rail heads of twenty-two miles from Waimarino on the plains of that name to Ohakune, to be covered in the coach; last month it was reduced to fourteen miles: and now the hiatus is narrowed down to some ten miles — from Makatote to Ohakune, so that the opportunity of seeing this work with one's own eyes is rapidly slipping away. Railway red tape runs as far as Taumarunui, where the line crosses the Wanganui River, 175 miles south of Auckland. Here it is chopped off chort and the Public Works Department takes the traveller under its care. You get your ticket in the train from a goodnatured guard, who does not seem to worry much about schedule time, who has silver braid on his cap—the only sign of authority about him —and who carries a bag just like a tram conductor. He hauls out a block of paper tickets like a lottery book, and there is much writing with a stubby pencil and manipulation of small change. You have time to get tolerably well acquainted i with bim, and the contrast between this . section, and the rush and bustle of the j line where the Railway Department | tries to keep up a time-table is suffi-1 ciently marked to give one a sort of personal interest in the matter which is ] quite refreshing in anything where Government officials are concerned—] they have such an awsomely haughty manner towards their employers, the meek public. The train and engine is a footling little affair, and you jog along with a "let 'em all come feeling that is most soothing. The names of the stations have yet to be embalmed in the official time-table, and so have a refreshing newness about them. Here a township still half canvas, half timber; the only really finished buildings \>eing those connected with the railway. At Raurimu you crane your neck out of the window to see the train running after its own tail round the famous spiral, an ingenious device to get over a sudden and very steep rise in the counand there you run out of the bush into try. Our little bit of an engine puffed round corners and through the two tunnels with the utmost complacence—so beautiful is the grading. At Waimarino, which -was reached somewhere about 11 o'clock (but nobody takes much stock in time in these quiet parts) we came bang out of the forest on to the edge of the tussock plains where the giant trees come to an abrupt end, witli a line as well defined as that of any shrubbery in a well kept park. There were four coaches, four-in-hand, and every seat was taken, in fact, one man had to perch upon the roof, and a rough ride he must have had. Luggage was piled up on top, and the coachei bulged with it till we looked like a travelling i tinkers' caravan. We rolled the end of the plain in style, and were soon in the shade of the glorious forest which clothes the range separating tas from the snowy mountains towering above the sombre green of the ranges'. Makatote was reached soon after one' . o'clock, and here we had lunch in a very 1 swagger bush cook-house. This is the i site of the longest and highest viaduct j I of the route —860 feet long and 260 feet from the creek to the rail level. ,
Imagine the dizzy height! Almost twice as high as the lofty tower of St. Matthew's Church in Auckland! Messrs. Anderson, of Christchurch, have the contract, the price being £53,369, and the material (all British made) was manufactured on the spot in a huge workshop fitted up with all the necessary appliances driven by electrical 'power. Mild steel, which is used throughout the job, rusts so rapidly that it has to be painted right away to protect it from the elements. It stands a much heavier strain than other steel, but is somewhat disconcerting, as has been remarked, to think there is only a coat of paint between you and destruction. This viaduct is the key to the situation, and on its completion depends the linking up of the line by the end of the year. Workmen swarm all over the girders jpid piers with the utmost unconcern, and as we passed, a party of riveters could be seen perched up on a slim scaffolding right at the top of the main pier calmly eating their dinner with their legs dangling over the side. Most of the men on the work are sailors, and well they may be! Some distance further on is the Taonui viaduct, which has a great sweeping curve in it, and the tourists get out and walk over this while the coach winds down the gully and crawls up the other side to the top. For miles you drive through magnificent forests of giant trees, principally rimu and totara, and this sight alone is worth the journey. All along' the route you come across camps of workers, who live in all sorts of queer tents, huts and whares. A touch of luxury is lent here and there by a well-stocked vegetable garden attached to the domicile of some epicurean pioneer. You get wonderful vistas of country as the coach swings along, and you begin to realize the potentialities of this wonderful North Island, waiting for the millions of population it will one day carry. The road is a monument to the Public Works Department, but the dust! Part of the road runs through pumice land, pumice as fine as flour, ln winoer it consolidates into a magnificent highway, like the Waikato roads, but in summer! Before the coach has gone many miles everything, from the leaders to the boot, and particularly the boot, is covered with a thick layer of whiteybrown dust. You smile at the appearance of your vis-a-vis, who would, as he sits, make a capital snowball minstrel, or a dusty miller. Everybody laughs at everybody else, and all but the grumpy ones make jokes on the subject, and give up the idea of being dignified. There is nothing like a good coating of Main Trunk dust to take the starch out of the monocled tourist. People will ask you, "Isn't it a horribly uncomfortable journey?" In the days ot your youth you have probably been to the circus, and have probably sat in the shilling seats — unyielding, unplaned board. You wouldn't recommend them for comfort, but you will admit you got a tremendous lot of fun out of the show. So it is with the Main Trunk trip. They don't supply you with air cushions, and irascible old ladies of both sexes say nasty things about the too familiar dusJt. But it does not prevent you from seeing the wonderful scenery and the great works, and like the circus you get a tremendous lot of fun out of it. The novelty of the trip compensates for everything. You are right in the front row with the performers in the fascinating dframa of pioneering, and you have witnessed the birth of a huge undertakii-3. One old lady thought "it was 'orrid," and went into hysterics beause there were no table napkins—"servyittes" she called tli em—at the bush shanty where we had the midday meal with the horny-handed. Ohakune—with its funny little slab lean-to for a station, and its aristocratic stationmaster, who, judging from his accent and manner, was about a week and a-half out from the Old Country— situated right in the heart of the forest primeval, was reached about three in,the afternoon, and the people bound further south transferred to another queer little Public Works' train, which came puffing out of a glorious avenue of rimu and totara monsters that you could almost touch from the carriage windows, and so reached Taihape, where they stopped for the night before catching the train for Wellington, respectablitiy, and the humdrum conventialities of everyday toilTaihape, which in the unregenerate days was a sort of "Roaring Camp," where on pay-day the brawny navvy spent his hard-earned coin in beer," then more beer, and fought Homeric battles with his pals in the mud outside the hotel, this being the boundary of license and prohibition.
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NORTH ISLAND TRUNK RAILWAY., Auckland Star, Volume XXXIX, Issue 117, 16 May 1908
NORTH ISLAND TRUNK RAILWAY. Auckland Star, Volume XXXIX, Issue 117, 16 May 1908
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