The night the earth moved for me
In part two of her “Sleeping Around in Tararua” series, HILARY PEDERSEN goes in search of an earth-moving experience – and finds it.
Snuggled up in an extremely comfortable double bed, encased by a thick, maroon and cream checked duvet and matching pillows, sleep came quickly.
A couple of hours later, the rumbling. Distant at first, coming steadily closer – and closer. Outside lit up like a Christmas tree. Floor vibrating. Engulfed by noise. Crescendo. Moment passes. The rhythmic thunkety-thunk, thunkety-thunk dies away. Vibrating stops. Nothing left but a lingering whiff of dust, and then the total silence of a rural village 2am night.
I however, had achieved my objective. Yes the earth had indeed moved and I had finally undergone a bedtime experience on the Ormondville Railway Station.
I say finally because it’s been a long-time intention. Something about reconnecting with Ormondville and pushing a personal boundary at the same time. Writing this series provided the perfect opportunity.
In fact the earth moved several times that night, probably about four. Mostly the trains were heading north, but it was the southbound one coming slowly up the cutting after the viaduct and then gathering speed as it headed south into the station that made the impact.
As sleepovers go this is as novel as you get and congratulations to the Ormondville Rail Preservation Group for their enterprising use of a heritage award-winning site.
The station buildings which date back to 1880 have been restored, renovated and refurbished to become a live-in museum virtual reality at its most genuine. And if the 50s décor seems on the dingy side that’s only because of its authenticity.
I retired for the evening to the old Post Office. Lowering the Holland blinds as night fell, switching on the standard lamp, and sitting amongst the old photographs, tablet machines, authentic floor coverings and technology of the day, I settled down to read the visitors’ book.
This dates from February ’95 and appreciative comments from around the world and New Zealand wide too are contained in its pages.
Among them, “Where else does the ground shake three times on a Friday night; where can you open the doors to railway wagons and cows grazing where fishing rivers are numerous (and where) hot bacon and onion scones are served?” Signed Paul Gittins, Epitaph 15.7.98. Gittins hosted the televised makeover of the infamous Edwards Murder of the 1880s, a story I’ve written about several times in the past.
Adding to Paul Gittins’ comments, I would ask: where else would you wipe your hands on an old New Zealand railways towel after a trip to the loo or eat your breakfast off railway china?
And if you were the occupant of the top bunk in the old waiting room – which also contains old luggage scales and a suitcase-laden trolley – where else would you have access to such riveting bedtime reading as the NZR Standard Drawings for Privies and Urinals for 5th Class Stations Class B?.
The loo, by the way, is through the ladies waiting room and despite still being designated the ladies toilet, it’s – horror of horrors for crinolined, Victorian forebears – now unisex.
We are informed that at a time when people generally used pit toilets in their backyards, this one offered women a significant comfort advantage, whilst in the bad old days the men had to trudge out in the rain further down the platform and be speedy about the whole affair because it had no roof.
Two bedrooms, one a double bed and the other two singles, a well-equipped kitchen, and a shower make up the rest of the complex and it’s certainly a railway enthusiast’s, or small boy’s, dream.
On arrival I enjoyed a wander through the railway yard with publicity officer and historian Val Burr. Like her fellow members whose homes span from Napier to Wellington, Palmerston North-based Val has dedicated many hours toward achieving the current results, and maintenance is ongoing.
Railway huts rescued from branches up and down the line – Takapau, Awatoto, and Mangatera for example – are scattered around in varying stages of upkeep and are also used for accommodation. And there are future plans for some of the other features. The handsome red goods shed houses a carriage undergoing restoration, the old shingled water vat from Puterino [Putorino] is likely to become a resource for the local fire brigade, and there are hints that a quaint little engine may yet be used for rail rides. There is an old, moveable long drop, and gardens even.
Sitting in the old post office that night before bedtime I felt surrounded by shadowy figures of the past for whom the rail opened up access to places beyond. In its heyday in the 1920s, Ormondville itself was a prosperous country town, the railway running through its heart. It had a bakery, the original two storeyed hotel and Settlers Arms, a BNZ, drapery, and general store.
Among the shadowy figures of the past loomed my husband Barry, born and brought up in Ormondville and a daily traveller on the train to Dannevirke High School. Much earlier, in episodes unknown at the time to his mother, he attempted flight, along with the post-master’s daughter, by umbrella off the end of the nearby viaduct.
My customary morning walk led me through the village past the inevitable tethered goat, Shetland pony, and jersey cow, udder bursting at the seams, to the cemetery. There, in the early light I looked for other shadowy family figures, and the headstone of the murdered Edwards family. Interestingly I couldn’t find them, but I did locate Neils Christian Pedersen, Barry’s Danish-born grandfather, who was the first baker in Otane.
In previous travels we traced Neil’s footsteps back to his village of Nr Bork in Jutland that trip being the first of many subsequent journeys and the catalyst for some lasting friendships.
Also to be recommended, along with the bedtime experience, was a bar meal at the current Settlers Arms, now owned by former Makotuku publicans Don and Sonia Stewart. There my friend and I enjoyed a $14 steak serviced with buttery mash and a side salad, washed down with a glass of red, but there is also a restaurant menu if you book in advance.
To hire out the station complex costs $65 per night for the double room and $15 per person thereafter. Either contact the Ormondville railway station number (06 374 1514) and be switched through to whoever is on duty, or e-mail [email protected].