The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 13, Issue 9 (December 1, 1938)
The Growth of the N.Z. Railways Magazine — From Shop Organ to Great National Journal
The New Zealand version of “Great Oaks From Little Acorns Grow,” is that trees mature here in ten years; they grow up in a third of the time taken in any other country. By way of coincidence, “The Railways Magazine” is a month or two older than twelve years, and it has indubitably grown up completely. It was a slender but healthy sapling when it was first planted in the thick foliage of New Zealand's magazine shrubbery, and since 1st May, 1926, it has followed our country's best characteristics in the matter of speed of growth and development.
I have spent mornings of close research lately which topped off years of browsing through back numbers. This article will endeavour to give a little of the history of “the Railways Magazine,” which I find, by the simple process of inspection and comparison with others of a similar type published in other parts of the world, can be said, in all modesty, to be the best Railway magazine published anywhere.
The green - covered bound volume of the first year of “The New Zealand Railways Magazine,” 1926–1927, reposes in a glass windowed set of book-shelves on the fourth floor of the splendid new Wellington Railway Station Building. All the staff of the Railways Publicity Department must be poets—they cannot help it. From their windows there is a daily scene of matchless rhythm, colour, movement, mystery and magic. Here every day is the spectacle of the friendly and docile powers of the mighty mechanisms of transport bringing joy, comfort and usefulness to the lives of humans.
The deep blue of the electric multiple-unit, the warm red of the rail-car, the innumerable red-brown shades of the carriages and wagons, the shining black and red of the locomotives, white smoke plumes, shimmering hazes of vapour—all these are colourful manifestations of the majesty of harnessed forces; but, by way of a prodigal helping of pigments, there are the clothes of the moving crowd, an intricate and changing kaleidoscope; the blue pianore of the skipping two-year-old off for a holiday; the black bowler and grey suit of “Dad” coming back from his business trip; white summer sports suits; frocks of every hue; and travelling bags of even more colour variety. It is a ceaseless, bank-to-bank torrent of folks streaming along the platforms, forming swirling pools in the concourse, assembling, thinning and breaking into winding rivulets taking their way out and in, and always and ever with a surface gleam common to all. This comes from the cheeriness born of travel, a sort of joyous Oversoul. If you do not believe that a K loco, can smile, watch him on a sunny day as he comes to rest at Platform Number 9 and sees the gay crowds hurrying by.
The first editorial is worth quoting. I wish I could use it all, as a small masterpiece of condensation: “The other day we had the pleasure of a trial run on one of the Department's new power units. There was a strong team of experts aboard to watch proceedings, besides a Driver to make it go, and a Fireman to keep it going. Notes were taken of its appearance, comfort and equipment and stop-watches were out to time the speed up-hill, down dale, and on the level. By the end of the run, there was nothing about that outfit which had not been discovered, discussed, dissected, praised, passed or condemned.”
The editor anticipates the same sort of scrutiny and says: “We therefore hasten, while eyes are turned our way, to paint, in prime colours on the billboard, a list of purposes for which the paper has been created and of principles upon which it will be run.”
It is worth while mentioning here that every issue of the magazine, without exception, has carried an editorial from the same clear pen, and in the workshop of letters, the pen is the working tool of a mind. These editorials, adapted and collected, would make a first-class treatise, not only on the utilitarian philosophy of a transport system, but also on the operative principles of fellowship in industrial organisation.
Next I was struck with an article on “Poster Originality,” by the late Stanley Davis, who wrote nearly as well as he drew. It started: “Develop originality and you will be locked up.” This beloved artist had more than local fame. One New York visitor took his poster “Life” all the way back to the States to enshrine it in the well-known Brooklyn collection of great posters. His famous cover design showing the contour of New Zealand taking shape in the midst of a Rugby crowd, was rated by Charles H. Dickson, Art Editor of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, as “the best poster in a decade.” The tradition of Stanley Davis is still preserved in the striking cover designs which make the magazine shine out like a jewel on the news-stands.
In the October issue, 1926, there is a picture giving a curious flash-back on the eternal patience in experiment of the railways engineering designers. It shows the “Clayton” steam rail-car on the Kurow branch, and the caption says: “The car, which seats 56 passengers, is proving very popular with the travelling public.”
In the December number of the same year, there is a striking picture of the Railways and Publicity Departments’ exhibit at the Palmerston North Show. The tenth issue of the magazine, however, showed the pace that was on in the evolution of the new periodical. The issue of 27th February, 1927, celebrated the visit of our present King and Queen, then the Duke and Duchess of York. The four-colour cover design is a masterpiece of original symbolism, and the letterpress was of such strength and value that it was used in schools all over the Dominion. There was a logical outline of British history; an illustrated tabloid series of biographies of outstanding British sovereigns from Alfred the Great to King George V; a series of little biographies, of the Empire's great statesmen; a remarkable literary survey, “Britain's Pageant of Prose and Poetry.” Another article was an eclectic summary of reformers, soldiers, scientists and thinkers who had moulded the Anglo-Saxon Commonwealth. It was a great effort. It was a fitting prelude to a happy visit in which our Royal kinsmen had nothing but praise for the perfection of railway transport arrangements. The magazine, too, did not leave its readers in doubt on this point.
The Editor opened the second year (issue of April, 1927) with this: “In stoking up for the second year's run of our magazine, the question of fuel, its choice, quality, weight, power and source, calls for more than passing attention.” Evidence of scientific and purposeful management on these lines is soon plain. The first London Letter appeared in May, 1927, and since that time, Mr. A. L. Stead has delivered, every month, an interesting, brightly written, succinct and newsy article on the latest developments in railway matters in the older lands of the Northern Hemisphere. By way of implementing my claim that these volumes contain a broad panorama of people and events in New Zealand I will mention odds and ends of gatherings I made as I prowled through the early issues.
There is a delighted letter from the great Paderewski, who travelled New Zealand in a Railways Department private car. In the letter is a phrase that should be adopted by local patriots, “You have not one place that is not beautiful.” On the 1st March, 1928, Mr. G. G. Stewart, the Editor, gave a radio lecture at 2Ya on railway matters, and I for one would not have thought that radio had been with us for more than a decade.
In the October issue of 1927, the first double-page spread appeared of the proposed new Auckland Railway Station. Foreshadowings of the imposing project had been seen before, but this was the first convincing illustration.
Perhaps one of the most exciting debuts of 1928 was that of Mr. Ken Alexander, whose illustration of the “Railsitter” in the December number was a choice sample of this profuse and facile humourist's torrent of quips and whimsies. It is the description of the purchase and trial of a motor car for a holiday trip, and concludes with the solemnly stated moral, “Travel by rail and put your surplus in the bank.”
Early in 1927, James Cowan's “Romance of the Rail,” previously written for The Railways Department, was commenced in serial form. Only this doyen of New Zealand writers could have handled this engrossing history of the making of the North Island Main Trunk Railway. The new iron road passed through the regions where “Jimmy Cowan” knew every skyline contour, every stream, every bush track, level plain or deep gully, and, moreover, every legend about them.
Although remarkable for its craftsmanship and its close knowledge, the series is more remarkable for the range of personalities it comprises. At random I take, for instance, Bishop Pompallier, John Ballance, Dr. Peter Buck, Jessie Mackay, Alfred Domett, S. Percy Smith, R. J. Seddon and W. F. Massey. He recalled many shining figures from our past who have never joined the ranks of those gaining honour in print in our conventional histories. He told of Ahumai (of Orakau), of Julia Matanga (the Maori Grace Darling of the “Delaware” wreck); Major Jackson of the Forest Rangers; Te Heu Heu, the great chieftain of the Tongariro lands; Samuel Leigh, the first Wesleyan missionary; Te Puea Herangi, the Waikato Princess and present leader of her people; John Webster of Hokianga; and Captain Clayton, the master mariner who left such paintings as the “Kent” passing the “Owen Glendower” in 1861; and so on.
I shall come to other writers who have found “The Railways Magazine” a worthy medium, but in the meantime shall go on with the pilgrimage down the years of this “shop organ” which so gloriously grew into a national forum.
Away back in 1927, I noticed an article on “The Gun That Made Petone Famous.” It was a good type of Maxim machine gun, made at the Petone Railway workshops in war-time. They had no blue prints, only a condemned gun to copy, and miracles were wrought of delicate hand machining and precision of workmanship. It worked—firing hundreds of rounds in practical service. I could not help wondering what those artificers of 1917 would say of the modern superb plant of the present workshops.
The issue of 1st April, 1929, gave me another shock as to the little time that has elapsed since the arrival of one of the permanent features of our daily lives. Here a writer reports from London his impressions of his first “see-hear” at a talkie. The writer explains that the first items on the programme were a sort of acclimatisation process “like going in to swim from the feet upwards.” As the night wore on it dawned on him that “A pretty face hasn't always a pretty voice” (I'm thinking of peacocks in the monsoon), and this leads him to make the sound prophecy that “the Britisher would score,” because of voice qualities. His comment on the drama that followed the topical talking films was: “The story is tripe but some of the noises excellent.” It often remains a good verdict to-day.
As I wore on through the volumes, it became obvious that I could pillage enough matter of interest to fill a dozen articles. In 1933, the first full verse page appeared. “The Railways Magazine” has been a valuable medium for practically all of our practising poets of standing, and has opened the door for many a new poet. I can say, as an eye-witness, that there is genuine, ardent excitement when some new verse of quality or freshness “blows in.” Payment is at a living wage scale, and I know of no better matriculation test for the budding (Continued on page 72.) page 14