Sky-High views

26 Jun

The new boss, James, suggests I go up the Sky Tower and photograph his Wynyard Quarter Tramway.  This I do clutching the $20 he gave me from petty cash.  I am not a great one for great heights and set off with trepidation.  It’s not hard to find, being Auckland’s single 320 metre landmark.  I get my Gold Card discount and take off in one of the high-speed lifts.  I am thinking if I was doing this in shaky Christchurch, I wouldn’t be doing this.  Comforted in the belief Auckland is free of major seismic events, and two lift rides later, I am taking my first tentative steps at the highest level.  Five minutes later and I am gaining my sky legs in the belief the floor is not going to fail under my feet, and admiring the vistas- 80 km in any direction the brochure I am clutching informs me.  I snap images while making a 360 degree self-guided tour of Sky Deck.  A cruise liner looks like one of those dinky toys I coveted in boyhood.  I love the shimmering light on Westhaven Marina and there it is- the tram.  So small and slow.  Like an animated arthritic turtle.  In another direction is the quaint heritage town hall.  I feel happy to be here and, confident I have captured the images I need, sit down to relax with the views.  I am soon in conversation with an Indian guy identified by the red dot at the centre of his forehead.  With excellent English he tells me he is living in Canada.  He has almost completed his New Zealand tour with his Indian wife still darting around with her digi camera aiming in all directions.  Should I ask his impressions?  I have no need to.  He waxes lyrical about the scenery and friendly New Zealanders.  He then tells me of all the countries he can visit, New Zealand is the only one really worth the effort of long travel.  I descent reluctantly but with the feeling the experience had provided a satisfying buzz.  I give into temptation and put James’s $2 change into a large jar and crank a handle.  It is returned in an elongated shape embossed with a clown called “Scotty.”  I will not report James’s response except to say I thought he displayed remarkable restraint.  I suspect if it hasn’t happened already, it will be souvenired from the Tramway petty cash box.

Acknowledging preservation innovation

13 Jun

Every Queens birthday weekend FRONZ (Federation of Railway Organizations of New Zealand) members meet for a catch-up. A key aspect on the event is announcing the annual awards for rail preservation and innovation.
This year Canterbury scored well with Ferrymead taking the Tramway Restoration Award for the Heritage Tramways Trust/Tramway Historical Society restoration of Roslyn No. 1 and the Building Structure Award for recently-opened Tram Barn 3 housing three city trams pending the city tramway re-opening. Congratulations to all involved. Ferrymead arguably turns out some of the world’s finest tramcar restoration projects. Roslyn No. 1, since sent to its owner Otago Settlers Museum, is a fine example. To add “art’’ to Ferrymead’s work is no exaggeration.
Interestingly, this year Weta Workshop presented an award for creativity and innovation to Rotorua-based Rail Cruisers Ltd for a cute high-tech rail vehicle based on a golf course vehicle. The mostly automated petrol-electric cart travels, I suspect, on parts of the railway system no longer in use.

Skypath Reality

1 Jun

I was delighted to hear the Auckland City Council has included the Skypath (cycling and walking facility) across the harbour bridge in the council’s long-term plan.  Skypath has enthusiastic support from Mayor Len Brown and Councilor Mike Lee.  Good on them.  The ultimate idea is to link the North Shore with the CBD.  This will have a positive impact on the waterfront and, particularly, Wynyard Quarter.  Cyclists have pushed for the Skypath for a long time despite continual knock backs from authorities.  One stage cyclists, en-mass, took the law into their own hands and cycled over the bridge.  I have cycled in several countries and across several bridges of similar or larger size having excellent cycling facilities.  Japan has one of the world’s most spectacular cycle/walking facilities crossing the Seto Sea.  The 60 km path includes several magnificent bridges.  After my recent Wynyard Quarter visit I continued on to Perth, a city of similar size and population to Auckland.  Perth has 700 km of cycleways and shared paths, receiving around A$4 million funding annually from the State Government and Local Bodies.  Authorities clearly believe it is an excellent investment.  Usage is typically 300,000  cyclists/walkers every month.  Hopefully we can look forward to a brighter future for active Aucklanders.  The pity of it is a proposed $2 fee for every walker/cyclist crossing when motor vehicles cross free.  But let’s give the thumbs up for a promising start.

Christchurch Tramway Update

26 May

Down in Christchurch this week I photographed our dinky tramcar No. 11 (the Box Car) leaving the earthquake-ravaged Red Zone en route to Ferrymead Heritage Park in preparation for the Christchurch heritage tramway restart.  Secured to the trailer deck of a huge Kenworth road truck, it definitely looked outside its comfort zone as it progressed along Lichfield Street, earthquake rubble piled on all sides. Decidedly incongruous were the still colourful artificial flower decorations placed on the tram to promote the 2011 Christchurch Flower Festival. I had previously photographed No. 11 against idyllic backdrops of New Regent Street and neo-Gothic Christchurch.

Half an hour later when negotiating a tight bend in Truscotts Station Road No. 11, catching the sunlight, looked as charming as ever. Along with Restaurant Tram No. 411, it had been trapped in the city tram barn after the damaging earthquake hit on February 22, 2011. It suffered broken windows and scrapes from randomly dislodged items.
Its arrival at Ferrymead heritage village attracted an impromptu crowd of curious spectators as it was carefully unloaded on temporary light rails to sit comfortably on the Ferrymead tramway.

The transport guys, along with Christchurch tramway mechanics, Steve Lee and Andy Rowe, made the unloading look relatively easy. They had done this on several occasions.

Joe Pickering drove No. 11 to the Tramway Historical Society’s tram barn where repairs and a repaint are on the cards. No. 11 is the oldest electric tramcar in the Christchurch city fleet, built in 1903 by J. G. Brill of Philadelphia for the opening of the Dunedin Corporation tramway. In Christchurch it was a favourite with the tourists. Three other Christchurch trams are stored under cover at Ferrymead.

We are progressing, albeit still in notch one, towards a grand re-opening of the Christchurch city tramway.


World class heritage restoration despite shakes

17 May

Canterbury may have rocked and rolled for the best part of two years but seismic events have not deterred the hardy guys working in Ferrymead’s rambling tram barn down in Christchurch.  Recently I caught up with their latest immaculate restoration, the body of Roslyn electric tramcar No. 1.  It was in the final throes of restoration prior to being on its way to the client, Dunedin’s Otago Settlers Museum.

Past Heritage Tramways Trust president Dave Carr says the project enabled the trust to get sufficient revenue to keep a small team of skilled workers (assisted by volunteers) occupied for 10 months. Previously the trust has relied on revenue from the Christchurch Tramway, closed since the February 2011 earthquake.

It’s a cute tramcar built by J. G. Brill of Philadelphia for New Zealand’s first electric tramway on Dunedin’s Maori Hill line.  It opened on October 23, 1900.  As with all Ferrymead tramcar restorations, Roslyn No. 1 represents world-class heritage craftsmanship.  The project was led by Graeme Richardson.

Restoration materials have included American cherry for panelling and ash for framing, the idea being to emulate original materials as much as possible.

Dave Carr looks forward to seeing the Christchurch city trams going again in the foreseeable future. Apart from providing the struggling Heritage Tramways Trust with much needed income, the tramway will be one of a small number of heritage items returning from the earthquake rubble.

In the meantime, I find it difficult to believe the Ferrymead guys could so calmly watch their painstakingly handiwork disappear from the tram barn on board a truck. Compensation might be in the knowledge Ferrymead has the remains of Roslyn No. 3.  This one will be restored to working order.  Heritage Tramways Trust is completing a former Invercargill Birney Safety car.  It is a joint venture with Christchurch Tramways Ltd, operator of the City Loop tourist tramway.

Scribe becomes Trammie

17 May

Meet Peter Jessup.

A former Auckland newspaper journalist, Peter Jessup joined Dockline trammies to get involved in meeting overseas people arriving for the 2011 Rugby World Cup.

He brings a keen interest in all things maritime and he is a fishing guru.  He is also the author of a couple of books on, would you believe, fishing and boating.  Another is a short history of New Zealand.  He still writes for fishing magazines.  “I never come home (from fishing) empty handed,” he boasts to those who believe him.

Of tramcars, the fascination is propelling something the best part of 100 years of age.  “Everyone is full of questions about the tramcar and what is going on in the Wynyard Quarter.  The entire Quarter gives the feeling Auckland is growing up.  The more access we have to the waterfront the better.  The waterfront is the jewel in the crown of Auckland.”  I met Peter at a tram stop.  He impresses me with a wealth of interests and enthusiasm ready to pass on to tram passengers.

From tramcar 257 I see exciting playgrounds frequented by mums and their children.  Peter chats about interesting craft he has spotted visiting Viaduct Harbour.  One was Ile de Re, laying optical fibre cable.  It had also retrieved black boxes from aircraft that crashed into the ocean.  Another could submerge its decks to enable large yachts to sail on for transportation to far-off home ports.  “Events are held in Wynyard Quarter most weekends.  But I am amazed so many Aucklanders venture down here to discover the trams for the first time,” he says.

I warm to Peter’s enthusiasm for Auckland being a great place.  His description has an admirable honesty. I guess he is not overdoing it knowing I am a diehard South Islander – and also a former newspaper guy, become trammie.

Back on track?

9 May

Monday’s Press gave most of the front page to “Trams back on track by Christmas?’’ along with two photographs. Great news indeed. The time frame is dependent on the deconstruction of buildings close to the City Loop tram track. The story also refers to a video made by the newspaper shortly before the February 22, 2011 earthquake. Check story and video out on
The story describes the tram as, “the tourist favourite’’ for the city. It will be a boost to the city to have the trams running again and Welcome Aboard has already established an ambitious tram re-start programme. Comments on the Press website have been mostly supportive but one or two were critical of the tram having a priority over other pressing earthquake repairs such as the still critical eastern suburbs. Some people also, incorrectly, believe the tramway is owned by the Christchurch City Council. The Council does own the infrastructure (track, overhead power supply etc.) but the tramway is a private company, Christchurch Tramway Ltd, a sort of franchise, and will once again employ several people and pay the Council for the use of its infrastructure. Furthermore, the company pays Ferrymead-based Tramways Heritage Trust for the use of trust-owned heritage tramcars. The income enables Ferrymead’s Tramway Historical Society to continue with its heritage restoration work. So the tramway is an asset to the city rather than a Council liability. Before Canterbury’s seismic woes, Christchurch was New Zealand’s principal tourist city. It will be a struggle returning to that status but Lonely Planet guides have already described Christchurch as one of New Zealand’s most exciting cities. And the Welcome Aboard team has bravely kept its head above water in the interim, re-introducing punting on the Avon, re-starting an, albeit abbreviated, half-day Grand Tour and taking over the Caterpillar Garden tour of the Christchurch Botanic Gardens. The return of the trams cannot be too soon for our struggling city. Welcome Aboard managing director Michael Esposito says,“it’s been a long haul but it’s so close we can almost touch it.’’ Very exciting indeed.

Nostalgia to the fore

21 Apr

For a great couple of hours, at just $5 a head, rest home residents from around Auckland are having a ball visiting Dockline Tram.  I join a lively bunch of about 16 such people as they take a tour.  It begins with Operations Manager, James Duncan, firing up a video presentation with punters seated in the Tram Barn.  The video is a good one.  It is largely made from old film shot by an Auckland Tramway employee who worked on the overhead power supply.  Thus some interesting angles are presented, as the once familiar tramcars ply Queen Street.  The women amongst us marvel at the 1940s ladies’ fashions, the hats in particular.  The guys are agog at the American cars.  The musical accompaniment is also veteran, it being a composition by well-known English tram devotee and veteran organ performer, Len Rawle.  Rawle, a recent visitor to Dockline Tram, plays his composition on Auckland’s 86-year-old Wurlitzer organ.  Motorman, Peter Jessup, then takes the group for a couple of circuits while delivering an informative commentary. Peter, a one-time journalist, is well versed in maritime history and events.  His elderly passengers are smiling like a bunch of school kids.  They laugh when Peter points out the reproduced tram ticket images on the Daldy Street Tram Barn.  Those days one could ride a great distance, apparently, for just two pence.  The tour pauses at Rushworth Cafe in Jellico Street where cafe staff provide a decorative afternoon tea.  40 minutes later the tram is outside to return the group to the Tram Barn, and their mini bus.  Wide smiles confirm it is indeed an excellent outing.

Meet James, The Boss

20 Apr

James Duncan, a dinkum trammie, has taken over from John Smith as Operations Manager of Wynyard Quarter’s bustling Dockline Tram.  John Smith, Operations Manager of Christchurch Tramway Ltd, relocated to Auckland to oversee the successful introduction of the Dockline project.  He is back in Christchurch to be involved in new company projects including the re-introduction of Christchurch trams sidetracked by seismic events.  James Duncan has been involved with heritage trams at MOTAT (Museum of Transport and Technology) since age 15.  He is a qualified motorman and tram driver trainer.  He has a broad heritage interest being chairman and concert manager of Auckland’s Wurlitzer Organ Trust.  The 86-year-old Organ was installed in the Regent Theatre in 1926 to replace live musicians accompanying silent films.  The organ, a creation of American Rudolph Wurlitzer Company, differs from a traditional church organ, it being more of a show-performance instrument.  Look out for James in the Tram Barn (at the cnr. of Daldy and Pakenham Streets.)  He’s the tall pleasant guy in his motorman’s uniform.

WANTED School Age Explorers

21 Mar

These school holidays head down to the Wynyard Quarter, on Auckland’s Waterfront.  Dockline Tram has an exciting programme that will appeal to all primary aged pupils.  When boarding the heritage tram receive a “Wynyard Explorer” Pack.  This includes a map where “Explorers” can follow clues and complete tasks, learn about the history, art and design of the Wynyard Quarter, as well as the heritage trams.  What better way to explore Auckland’s newest waterfront development than with a fun and educational school holiday activity.  Dockline Tram is $1 for children aged 5-15, $5 for adults and $10 for a family pass of two adults and up to three accompanying children.  An exciting and great value activity.  What’s more, every “Wynyard Explorer” will get their very own tram model to make at home. Further information or telephone 09 377 7701. Happy Exploring!
James Duncan and the team at the Dockline Tram