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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 8, Issue 8 (December 1, 1933)

When No 4 went picking Daisies

page 13

When No 4 went picking Daisies

The yard foreman at Shotters walked across the metals to where old No. “4” stood with Tommy Barr on the footplate dreaming of the open road. No. “4” was an old-time one-man switch engine, with a dome like St. Paul's and a funnel as long as a liner's. Tommy Barr was a promising youngster who had just got his first engine. It was said of him that he would always do exactly what he was told to do-no more and no less. The foreman said:

“I want you to go down to the old gravel pit by the river. Here are the keys of the points. Bring back the rake of wagons you'll find there. You know where I mean?”

Tommy brought his eyes back from staring at the shining metals stretching away to the mountains, where he longed to go with a big lugger under his feet and a real train behind.

“Eh! Yeah, I know, what about a boy to hook up for me?”

It was in the old company days, when the traffic was light and the staff too. The foreman sighed. He had been busy in the yard, and it was hot.

“Wish I had your luck,” he said, “with wheels under me instead of boots. Get out and shut up.”

Tommy got out. The old six-coupled engine rocked along with steam from her exhaust making her funnel look taller and her brass dome shining like a drunk's nose.

For a distance Tommy travelled along the long loop beside the main track, which was near enough to make him dream again about being out on the open road. He was a dreamy lad. And without noticing, he passed the points leading down to the gravel pit.

On and on he went. It was a long siding laid down in the days when there had been a sawmill there as well as a gravel pit, and long rakes of wagons had to await haulage. Now it was all changed, but the long siding was never taken away.

No. “4” rumbled on, and Tommy still did not notice that he had passed the points to the pit by the river. He would have done so, perhaps, before going far, had he not come presently to another set of points, much overgrown, which led down some rusty metals towards a plantation in the direction of the river. Although he had told the foreman that he knew his way to the gravel pit, the pit had not been used for a long time and Tommy had not been near it for over a year. So this track seemed to him to be the one he had to travel. He got down, and after scraping away earth and weeds unlocked the points, swung over the levers, and mounted old “4” again. Rocking on the grass grown road, she snorted again and rolled through a shallow cutting where the dandelions were thick.

Soon the cutting deepened, and its banks were fallen away. Into the tall trees it led till Tommy was confronted with a gate. He got down and opened it, remounted the footplate, and went on. Daisies grew here in profusion, the shade of the grove made a cool quietness in which the gentle puffing of No. “4” sounded soft and low. Occasionally her progress shook earth down from the cutting. And all the time the undergrowth became more dense.

“Dash long time since an engine came in here,” Tommy said to himself. But he kept on, page 14 hoping to see daylight every moment. Then, quite suddenly, the engine's pilot crackled into a thicket which had grown right across the rusty metals. There was a thrashing of brush as the wheels and frame drove through, and with a start of surprise Tommy slammed on the brakes and stared.

In front of him stretched grassy sward, and beyond that was a stream, with swans floating majestically upon its waters. And, tossing food to the swans, was a girl.

“Struth!” exclaimed Tommy, but not loud enough for the girl to hear. Perhaps she had thought the noise of No. “4's” approach was made by a cow or other beast. At any rate, she did not look up. So Tommy stared in silent bewilderment while the girl, laughing to herself, fed the swans.

It was No. “4” that broke the silence, with a tiny hiss of steam. The girl turned, stared, as Tommy had done, and with a cry jumped to her feet. And no wonder, for the appearance in that peaceful place of an engine, with a dome like St. Paul's and a funnel like a liner's, was enough to startle anyone. Perhaps she would have run away, and perhaps it was the fear that she would do so that caused Tommy to swing himself to the ground and approach her, his cap in his hand.

“Sorry if we intrude,” he stammered, “but, fact is, they sent me down for some gravel trucks and I must have taken the wrong track.”

“Gravel trucks!” the girl's voice expressed incredulity. “But the gravel pit is away back-over there.” She pointed towards the station yards, though the dense trees hid everything. “I don't think,” she continued, “that there has been a train down this track for years.”

“Do you live here?” Tommy asked.

“Where is there to live?” she retorted.

True enough, there was no sign of a house.

Tommy was puzzled. At last he spoke.

“S'pose I'd better get back,” he said. “I can't give you a lift, can I? If you don't live here you must want to get somewhere.”

It sounded reasonable, and the girl smiled at his serious face.

“I really came for a little picnic,” she said.

“Perhaps you can spare me some hot water to make the tea?”

And suddenly she laughted outright, to Tommy's confusion, for he was not a lady's man.

“What's up?” he asked suspiciously.

“Nothing. It's just too funny. Your bringing a whole boilerful of hot water just when I was wishing I could get some without bothering to light a fire.”

“Oh! that's easy. Give me your billy,” Tommy said. In a few minutes he brought back the billy full of tea and handed it to her.

“You'd better have some,” she said. Tommy thanked her. He noticed, too, that she was pretty, with bright golden hair, almost auburn in places, and she had grey eyes and red lips.

“Tommy had forgotten all about the railway part of the business.”

“Tommy had forgotten all about the railway part of the business.”

As she unpacked her lunch, she talked.

“I work over on the farm, there, and I come here sometimes when I have some time off. There used to be a mill here, they say, and a house, but they're gone long ago. Only the old railway is left.” She laughed again.

“I can't help it, to think of your coming in here like this.”

They sat together and had tea, and bread and butter, and they talked. Tommy had forgotten all about the railway part of the business, till she said:

“There are some old trucks-but they're very, very old-down by the creek; I'll show you afterwards. They're full of gravel, about six of them, with things growing all over them.”

“Don't suppose they'll be much good,” Tommy said; “anyway, how can I get them out?”

“There is an old track covered with grass. See, there it is—–”

The girl indicated two faint parallel lines in the grass.

“Plenty of time,” said Tommy. He was happy and never worried much. Anyway, he knew his way back, having found his way in. So they chatted and told one another their names. Her's was Nellie Brown, she said. After a shy interval Tommy put an arm round her attractive waist and tried to kiss her. She slapped his face lightly and let him kiss her cheek, then page 15 got to her feet and said it was time he went back, as she had to go, and if he wanted the trucks he had better come with her. Tommy was ready to go anywhere with her, and followed as she stepped lightly through the shadows till they came to the six trucks.

When he saw them, Tommy scratched his head. They seemed all right, very rusty, of course, and the gravel in them was covered with daisies and dandelions grown from seeds that had lodged there. Tommy glanced along the grass-covered shapes of the metals. Dash it! He would see if he could not pull them out.

“Wait there,” he said, and went back and mounted old No. “4” again. He threw two shovelsful of coal into her furnace and started her slowly down the track. Moving gingerly, the old engine reached the trucks. The couplings were still there, and Tommy hooked her on. Would she shift them? Would they travel on their old wheels?

“Come on up with me,” he said to Nellie. He helped her into the cab, and told her to sit on his ditty box. Then he opened the throttle.

A puff of steam gushed from the tall funnel. The six drivers pulled, then spun round till the exhaust shouted from the funnel. But the trucks moved. Slowly but surely they came, moving over the track which the wheels of No. “4” had cleared of the grass that had covered them. Tommy had to sand a good deal, but there was never any hesitation about it. The trucks were on the move, daisies and dandelions and all. The girl clapped her hands, and the swans swam away down stream. This was a new thing to them. They did not like it.

Over the lawn, through the trees and cuttings and out into the open, old No. “4” staggered and thrashed, and the trucks creaked and squeaked after her. Back on the long loop, they stopped, and Tommy got down and locked the switch. The girl got down, too, and said: “I'll be going now. I live down there.”

(Rly. Publicity photo.) A scene at Thorndon Station, Wellington, before the departure of a week-end excursion train for Napier.

(Rly. Publicity photo.)
A scene at Thorndon Station, Wellington, before the departure of a week-end excursion train for Napier.

Tommy's eyes followed the direction of her pointing finger to a white farmhouse.

“Right, I won't forget,’ he said. “See you Saturday.”

Then he got up and started off, punching along with his old engine till the station was in sight, and he saw a puzzled foreman staring at the engine and what she was hauling. Right into the yards Tommy pulled, right up to the foreman, whose eyes were nearly popping out of his head.

“Where have you been?” the foreman asked, “and what in the name of creation have you there?”

“Trucks,” said Tommy. “Didn't you tell me to get ‘em out of the gravel pit?”

“Yes; but I didn't tell you to bring the whole winter garden with you. Look at the dandelions and the daisies!”

The foreman threatened to become hysterical. Two shunters had come up.

“Look!” he giggled to them. “Look at the daisies on her side-rods. Tommy's been to a garden party and brought home the decorations.”

Tommy got angry.

“Have I?” he flared back. “Well, anyway, I've brought you trucks, and that's what you wanted. And if they aren't the ones you expected, whose fault is that?”

Then he thought of the girl who had said she would see him on Saturday, and joined in the laugh against himself.

page 16