I can recall, in the days before it became a freeway and Mercer became a McDonald's stop, SH1 used to pass by a mysterious house seemingly floating amidst the swamp; like something out of the bayou.
What a brilliant piece, David, thank you.
When I think of trains, I think of holidaying in a bach in Arthurs Pass, where the road and railway lines to Greymouth nestle in the skinny, shadowed valley between the high peaks. Dark beech forest rises steeply on both sides, and icy streams rush down the mountainsides.
Nights are cold, even in summer, and the darkness seems very deep. You can hear kiwi calling in the bush nearby. And, several times during the night, you're woken by the apocalyptic clatter of the heavy coal trains.
The coal, dug out of the ground on the West Coast, is carried by train through the Southern Alps, across the Canterbury Plains, past Christchurch, then by tunnel under the Port Hills to Lyttelton, where it's loaded on ships to be sent overseas. This huge journey across the island is necessary because the West Coast has rough seas and no safe ports. The coal trucks, once emptied, are hauled all the way back to Greymouth to begin the journey again.
Nice story, David. Until last year, I had not travelled on an NZ train since I was about 3. At that age, my parents put me and my 6 year old brother on a train to Whanganui. My grandmother vividly remembers refusing to allow the train to depart until we were found, asleep somewhere on board. Different times. I think we were put on a domestic flight the next time, no danger of ending up in some random town.
This huge journey across the island is necessary because the West Coast has rough seas and no safe ports. The coal trucks, once emptied, are hauled all the way back to Greymouth to begin the journey again.
I purely love trains, steam trains (travelled on a lot of those in my childhood) and railcars both.
Got to the Coast for the first time by railcar (I was 23): travelled south on the East Coast by steamtrain since before I can remember (my Mother reckons 2 weeks old. 3rd trip, the 1st 2 by car…)
Please please bring back a good train service o powers that be!
Without Spanish idiot drivers-
We stopped by that house once on a family trip and our way down the SH1 shoulder and stepped gingerly onto verge of the swamp, staring a long while past the paint peeling off sagging timbers in the seemingly boundless gloom of drowning willows and ominous crocodilian logs. In my memory there is no traffic (obviously false - 35 years ago it was still a busy highway) and only needs the plaintive clang-clang-clang of an uncontrolled level crossing bell to complete the atmosphere. I hope we celebrated by stopping in Pokeno for a triple scoop icecream by the WWI memorial.
Of course the locals probably cheered the departure of ten million mossies and the gain of some hectares of arable land and the quicker shopping trips to the big smokes (anywhere but Mercer counts for this). But that's progress - wonderful when it happens for me but lousy when it happens to things I cherish.
Just on topical prison escapes:
Pink Pather gang makes armed invasion of Swiss prison to breakout members
I reckon that could make "folklore" grade.
As a child I remember George Wilder's fame. There were kids at school who claimed their families left sandwiches out for him on the doorstep. This was an era and place where doors were never locked and the car keys were left in the car. We lived in the country, people would sometimes run out of petrol and Dad would give them a can of farm petrol. Someone once left their watch as security - a few days later the petrol can was back and the watch was gone from the hall table.
Great story David, this is full steam ahead into Morrieson territory, lock up your chickens!
Magnificent read, David. I've been through that bit of swamp on the Overlander - quite creepy.
I really enjoyed reading this piece, David. Lovely prose! Thank you.