Much of today has been occupied by the pursuit of the fandom I normally don't talk about a whole lot, but one I journalled about in December last year, "the forgotten fanaticism", railways. I've been a huge fan of trains all my life and have harboured a desire to build a model railway, though this has lain dormant inside me for a couple of years. U2 and setlists have been a good distraction, as drawing plans and reading about other model railways for years while being unable to actually construct my own could have become quite frustrating had it always been focused in the front of my mind.
However, today, I've started to seriously plan for a model railway. Those of you unfamiliar with the hobby would be absolutely amazed with the depth of research and effort that goes into creating a layout. The guys who seek to replicate the real thing in perfect detail are amazing - they cover even the most minute details. These are the guys who'll model a railway station set in 1955 and track down all the photos they can to try to discover if the station had a new clock installed in 1955 or 1956, as they don't want to even entertain the prospect of including a clock that actually didn't exist until a year after their model is set - even though your average visitor would be hard-pressed to tell the two clocks apart. Myself? My vision and abilities aren't good enough to really go to that extent of detail, not that I'm so sure I want to. I also like to fictionalise my models - I may use some reality, as you'll see below - but I'll create fictitious branches to real towns or just invent a whole new area. This is not just for my own ease of research (inventing it yourself is a lot quicker than tracking down historical documents!), but it also allows me to create what I want. If I want a steel factory, I can have a steel factory rather than worrying about whether one existed in the area I wish to model.
I've often harboured the desire to model New Zealand railways in some way. I have model trains of various assortments, most from US railways, but I'd like for my layout that I'll build some day to be set in New Zealand - I can just repaint the trains I've got as I require. A good few years ago, I wished to model the Wellington And Manawatu Railway's (WMR) station in Paraparaumu as if it still existed. Back in the 1880s, some businessmen frustrated with the lack of progress on the construction of a railway by the government from Palmerston North to Wellington decided to build their own railway, the WMR, and it ran through my hometown. It was ahead of its time in New Zealand, and one of its locomotives set what was then the world speed record for a train on 3'6" gauge track. In 1908, it was purchased by the government and incorporated into the North Island Main Trunk linking Wellington and Auckland, but I drew a series of plans with the idea that the WMR had resisted a takeover and still ran a successful railway, with the government having to build their own line up the west coast along a similar route to the WMR, with the two sharing a station in Paraparaumu. These plans featured large yards and passenger platforms, as that was then very attractive to me.
My tastes have changed, and as much as mainlines have an attraction, I prefer secondary lines and especially branch lines. They have a unique charm and you'll find a diversity of equipment not found on the mainlines, where you have the latest of everything - container freights that are very similar in appearance, and streamlined passenger trains designed to look as fancy as possible, with little variation in style and appearance between wagons. However, on the branch lines, you'll find wagons of all shapes and sizes, some from long-gone eras, and all kinds of locomotives - quiant small engines, or large ones that have outlived usefulness on main lines but still have life left in them, and so on. And your secondary lines may often have modern equipment but still have some character of a branch line as operations aren't as strict.
My desire to move away from huge yards and busy main lines first became apparent when I began a series of models on the Otago Central Railway, based in Central Otago in the southern South Island (as a matter of clarification, the region is Central Otago but the railway is the Otago Central). Some of my family is from there - the recently discussed Hyde disaster occurred on this line - and the Otago Central in its heyday was a very busy and important line. It significantly declined in usefulness in the late seventies and eighties, and was closed in 1990 except for the first portion through the Taieri Gorge to Middlemarch, which remains open as a preserved line running passenger trains. I designed models of locations along the second half of the line, sometimes as if I was modelling the heyday, and sometimes using modeller's licence to imagine that it remained important and survived into the present day. These plans were pretty neat - they gave me enough running for the layout to be interesting, but it still had an interesting flavour, a glorified branch line treated as a main line, that kind of thing.
Also around this time, I would make up places in no specified country - though sometimes in the style of country Australia or New Zealand. These were great as I could wholly create an area's history and make an awesome model. I made this design when I was about 15, and had I lived at my previous house longer, I may have started to make it. I still consider it to be one of my very best model railway plans. However, the desire to model in New Zealand has a strong pull on me and I think that layout will be forever just a design and never made.
I have decided that even though I may not be able to make a railway now, or even for the next few years, I would still like to begin planning now. Then I have a clear goal in mind and I'm not just purchasing the first trains or scenic items that catch my eye, but items that will eventually have a use. Instead of ending up with a mish-mash of equipment with no uniformity, once I begin to actually build the railway I'll already have some of the trains and scenery to use on it. Basically, I'm planning ahead. I've left behind the old WMR, Otago Central, and fictional place plans, as I'd like to model somewhere I know well in New Zealand - I'd like to take a place that has some railway presence, and then include some fictitious branch lines to create the kind of operations I'd like. I first thought of the Kapiti Coast, but the coastal plain isn't large enough to support branch lines of any calibre no matter how much I stretch reality, and the inland area is quite rugged and even if you could get a branch line in there, I again can't stretch reality to actually give it a viable reason for existing.
Then it came to me - the Wairarapa. My father's from there, and I spent much of my childhood visiting the region. It has a railway line that runs through the west from the centre-west to the northwest, and it used to have a short branch in the central area, but the southern and eastern parts never had any railway presence. This would be, I imagine, due to the low population and economic activity of the area, so in my fictional version, the Wairarapa will be a more densely populated place, though not drastically so. Just enough so that the tiny villages are actually small towns that could support a railway. I'll model the real Wairarapa line between Featherston and Masterton, and while it's a main line, it's one of the secondary routes discussed above - while I can satisfy any desires to run long modern freight and passenger trains, I still have the freedom to give it more character and include aspects of a branch line. My one big change is that I'll re-route the main line via Greytown, rather than Woodside; this partly stems from the fact that I've never understood why the line didn't go through Greytown in the first place, but I suppose when the line was built in the 19th century, Greytown hadn't established enough of a claim to be considered ahead of Woodside. I will then use Greytown as the mainline junction for a branch to the southern Wairarapa, which will head to Martinborough before splitting in two, one line heading to Palliser Bay in the south and the other heading into the wilderness of the southeast. Then from Masterton, I'll run two lines east, accessing the wilderness and reaching coastal communities. I'm working in my mind with a plan to do this assuming the least possible space, and then expanding it in my mind to suit other areas should more space be available. So basically, I have a concept to pursue that I can buy stuff for now, and when the time comes to actually build a layout, I'll be able to fit it in to whatever space I have available.
Goodness, I think I'll stop now, I've rambled on so much that any sane person will have stopped reading long ago. That was more written to satisfy my urge to ramble about it than anything else. If you actually read more than half of that, you deserve some kind of medal and chocolate reward.
If this entry proves nothing else, it proves I am most certainly a generork.