It can only crack at 15 km/h, but Alex Hunter’s award-winning five-gauge Dukedog locomotive is one of the trains carrying on the age of steam in Christchurch.
On Sundays, Wilson can often be found taking people for rides on the model train tracks of the Canterbury Society of Model and Experimental Engineers at Halswell Estate.
The Spreydon resident spent nine years sporadically building the train from scratch, one of 40 that use the tracks.
The effort paid off when he won three awards at the club’s awards show last year, for best first model, best workmanship in any model and best overall model.
Hunter was happy with his first foray into model train making.
“They have pride of place in our living room,” he said.
The Dukedog was a replica of the locomotives that ran along the Great Western Railway in England in the 1930s.
The trains were built using Duke Class boilers on Bulldog Class chassis, which gave them their distinctive name.
Building the model had been a challenge for the self-proclaimed amateur engineer.
He based his work on drawings of the original Dukedogs.
“You do it from a drawing, but the drawing doesn’t quite tell you how it’s built, so you have to use your imagination a bit.”
One particularly difficult component to manufacture was the copper boiler, which had to be carefully shaped.
Started with “great enthusiasm” last year, the boiler suffered several setbacks as Hunter struggled to make it watertight.
“It took several weeks, but we finally got there.”
Steam trains have always been a fascination for Hunter.
As a child, Thomas the Tank Engine first captured his imagination as he streaked across the television screen.
He had also enjoyed trips to the Auckland Transport and Technology Museum as a child.
His own children enjoyed riding trains themselves, but time would show if they had inherited his passion for making them, he said.
Driving the train was his favorite part of the process, as he could see the smiles it put on people’s faces.
The Dukedog could pull a car with about five people on it, he said.
People who came to the domain on race days took a lot of interest and asked questions, especially the children.
“It’s quite a buzz. . . when people ask interesting questions about it.
“Intrigued kids come out and look at things, I think I was the same at that age. It’s always good to keep that kind of tradition going.
The question he was asked most often was whether his model used real coal.
It used a mixture of West Coast coal and South Wales smokeless coal.
“It’s really a clean chimney, there’s no smoke coming out of it or anything, just a little steam.”
In the Covid-19 red light, the slopes were temporarily closed, but on a typical Sunday they averaged around 500 people, he said.
From 10 to 30 club members would also be present.
Although model trains were still a niche market in New Zealand, they were becoming increasingly popular, he said.
“At first it was [people] building things in their kitchens after dinner.
“Now a lot of them have grown into really big organisations… Halswell is certainly one of the biggest in New Zealand.
“It’s great to see and they are well supported by the public.”
The club had approximately 1.5 km of track on the estate and was also seeking permission from the city council for a planned extension of 720 m.
He would like to take longer trips around the track on the Dukedog which, at full speed, was going between 10 and 15 km/h.
“Model stuff, you don’t want to take it too fast.
“Amazingly, model steam locomotives can actually be quite intense to run because the parameters are so fine among them. You can get out of breath quite quickly.
Soon Hunter would have a second train to run on the tracks.
He had almost finished building a diesel model, a much easier task than making a steam model.
“It’s a matter of months to put one together.
“I only started in August, so it fell into place pretty quickly.”
His interest in steam transport is not limited to scale models.
As part of Ferrymead’s Tramway Historical Society, he also looked after the Kitson Steam Tram.
Over the past five years, the Kitson had undergone an upgrade, including bodywork and a refurbished boiler that had been out of service since 1952.
“We’ve almost completed a redesign and will be relaunching it in a few months.”