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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 4, Issue 5 (September 1, 1929)

“No Grace” — Solving a Puzzle

page 34

“No Grace”
Solving a Puzzle

Railway systems, along with others, are not quite free from the possibility of error. Ours is nearly so. But there have been amusing errors in the past. The following is vouched for as a correct statement of an incident which occurred on the Otago section of our railways many years ago.

Some readers may remember Mark Twain's story about Jim Blaine and his grandfather's wonderful ram. The following story begins about a ram, though there was, in the opinion of others than the owner, nothing wonderful about it; but from this difference of opinion sprang the current of events which caused the railway staff in Dunedin some anxious moments.

“The ram was not even mentioned in the prize list.”

“The ram was not even mentioned in the prize list.”

Farmer Watt, of Manuka, exhibited some stock at the local Agricultural Show, but the ram, which he had expected to be adjudged first and champion, was not even mentioned in the prize list. A few days later farmer MacBeth, the County Chairman, was met by farmer Watt, who complained of the state of the roads adjoining his property. Incidentally, he commented on what he considered to be an unfortunate choice of a judge for the sheep classes at the Show. Now farmer MacBeth was one of the stewards at the Show and he warmly defended the choice and the decisions. Finally farmer Watt summed up his arguments thus: “Well, he's no judge of sheep anyhow, and you're no judge of sheep either if you agree with him; and as to the road, it is about the worst in the county.”

“Maybe, maybe,” replied farmer MacBeth, “but there is one improvement that can be made right away, and that is to clear the gorse off it. That fence of yours is fifty feet wide. The clerk will send you notice at once.”

So farmer Watt, in spite of his remonstrances, had to cut the gorse, but, before he had cleared it away, a heavy rain storm washed it down the creek, causing the culvert under the railway to become blocked. A railway ganger named Watson found the water backed up and threatening to breach the lines. In clearing the culvert he received a thorough soaking, but, being a conscientious worker, remained on duty to see the last train through his length, with the result that he contracted a severe cold.

There had been a big slip near Manuka, and, for the convenience of working trains while the block lasted, a telephone had been installed at the station. Owing to the possibility of further trouble in the way of slips the telephone was not removed, but, as it was not in service, it had received little, if any, attention as regards maintenance. The customers of the railway found this telephone extremely useful for ordering trucks and making enquires on railway business, and had come to regard ganger Watson as unofficial caretaker.

A drover by the name of Clark, on a recent journey to Burnside, had the misfortune to lame his horse, and was forced to leave it at Dunedin for treatment, and to hire a substitute from Berry's stables. When the injured horse was fit to be sent home it was forwarded by rail to Manuka. Clark met the train and informed the guard that he wanted the horsebox to send a horse to Dunedin that afternoon. Guard John Collie advised Clark to get ganger Watson, who was working near, to telephone page 35 Milton to that effect, as Dunedin might be depending on this box to fill some other order. Watson rang up Milton, but, as his voice was indistinct owing to his cold, the operator at Milton had difficulty in receiving the message. Watson said: “Clark wants to send a horse this afternoon to Berry, Dunedin,” and explained that there was a horsebox on hand. After much repetition Milton got the message, “Clark wants to send a corpse this afternoon to bury at Dunedin.” So Milton advised the traffic inspector, who, in turn, advised Lawrence to instruct the guard to lift a corpse at Manuka.

“A promising young railway guard.”

“A promising young railway guard.”

Alec Smart was a promising young railway guard who had received a good training at Dunedin, and had recently been posted to relieving work. He had what the Scots call “a guid conceit of himself.” He sometimes offered unsolicited advice to his elders out of the fullness of his knowledge, and occasionally was snubbed for his pains. This time he was fully determined to attend strictly to his own business, and let others solve their own worries. He was in charge of the afternoon train from Lawrence, and, on arrival at Manuka, found there a lad with a consignment note for a horse, but no consignor for the corpse he was instructed to lift. He asked the persons still on the platform, but could obtain no information. There were only two vehicles in the siding—the horsebox and a “K” truck, so he assumed the corpse must be in the latter. He opened the door and saw a long object like a coffin, covered with a tarpaulin. The absence of a consignment note was strange, but he had his order, and the person who gave the order must take the responsibility, so he took the “K” truck and the horsebox to Milton.

When he took his waybills to the office there, the clerk expressed his opinion of a guard who brought in loaded trucks without waybills or consignment notes for their contents; but Alec produced his order to lift, maintaining that that was sufficient for him—the accounting was not his business. He declined to part with the order, but suggested that the clerk make out a memo. waybill and insert, in place of the consignee's name, the words “By order of Traffic Inspector.” This was done, and Milton passed the truck on to Dunedin. When it arrived in Dunedin, no application was made for the corpse. It was Christmas Eve, and the parcels office staff were very busy, so the hour was fairly late before the clerk in charge thought of making enquiry. He telephoned various undertakers, but could get no information. The Traffic Inspector's office was closed, and he was unable to get in touch with any members of the staff. Finally, he abandoned his enquiries for the night, and sent a porter down to the loading bank to lock up the truck. The porter came back to say the truck had gone and the shunter knew nothing about it.

The yard foreman had had a busy day. The coal mines and the timber mills had rushed in extra supplies to last over the holidays; from the workshops there had been what was, by one officer, facetiously described as a “goal delivery” of the vehicles that had been imprisoned there for repair, and there was the last moment seating of wagons for holiday
“A man was dispatched on a bicycle.”

“A man was dispatched on a bicycle.”

page 36 passenger traffic. When the rush in the yards began to subside, the foreman called one of the shunters whose gang had been working long after the usual stopping time. “That will about do for you, Joe,” he said. “Slip out to Hillside and bring in those trucks they seated this afternoon, and there are two or three cripples and some maintenance stuff you can take out with you out of our way. When you have done that you can turn your engine in.”

So when Joe, coming back from the passenger yard, saw a “K” truck chalked conspicuously, “Hillside for repairs—leaky roof,” he added it to his rake, and took it to Hillside.

“A Farmer using strong language.”

“A Farmer using strong language.”

Next day (Christmas Day) as many of the staff as could be spared were off duty. The chief parcels clerk found on his desk a memo, waybill for a corpse, and attached to the waybill a note from the late-shift clerk, to the effect that the corpse was unclaimed and he was unable to find the consignee. The Traffic Inspector's clerk was called up, but all he could say was that Milton had advised there was a corpse to be lifted at Manuka and he had instructed Lawrence accordingly. Milton was interrogated, but the only information he could give was that the ganger at Manuka had sent a message that there was a corpse to be buried at Dunedin, and that it would be loaded for the afternoon train. There was no evening train on the Lawrence branch, so a man was despatched on a bicycle to Manuka, only to return with the report that ganger Watson had been granted sick leave and had gone away, it was believed, to Balclutha, for medical attention. Clark was not at home, and where he was no one knew. It was ascertained from Balclutha that Watson had been there, but no one knew his where-abouts. Enquiries seemed to have reached a dead end.

When the matter was reported to the station-master at Dunedin, he directed that the corpse be sent to an undertaker till the consignee could be found. It then transpired that the corpse was missing. There was no truck number on the memo. Waybill, but the guard's sheet showed “K” 873 lifted at Milton and put off at Dunedin. “K” 873 could not be found in the yard. The number-taker had no note of its going out, but thought it might have been used as an extra luggage van without his knowledge. Enquiries were sent off to terminal and junction stations, and guards’ sheets for outgoing trains were examined, but the truck could not be traced.

On Boxing Day the staff had plenty of other things to think about, but when the rush had subsided and the principal officers had foregathered in the evening to discuss the business of the day, and the plans for the morrow, the matter of the missing corpse was mentioned. The yard foreman recalled that he had sent some trucks to Hillside last thing on Christmas Eve, but so far as he could remember there was not a “K” truck among them. The Traffic Inspector said there was no such truck as “K” 873. It seemed as though another dead end had been reached.

Meantime, an irate farmer from Manuka was at Milton station using strong language about the Railway Department, because the manure he wanted for sowing his turnips, and which, he was advised, had been duly handed to the Railway had not yet arrived. A reference to Waitahuna showed that truck “K” 573, containing the manure, had been put off at Manuka in due course.

On the morning of 27th December, truck “K” 573 was found at Hillside containing ten sacks of superphosphate wrapped in a tarpaulin.

About the same hour, ganger Watson, then on his return journey, was advised that his presence was required. As a result of his statement, Milton reported to Dunedin—“Ganger states that there was no corpse from Manuka, should have been a horse.”

The puzzle was solved.

A new series of twenty oil-burning 2-10-4 type locomotives has been ordered from the Montreal Locomotive Works for service in passenger and goods traffic over the Rocky Mountain section of the Canadian Pacific Railway. The new engines are designed to develop a tractive effort of 78,0001bs.