Just like the characters in the Chronicles of Narnia, Murray Halberg resident David Haines steps into a cupboard in the heart of his apartment and is instantly transported back to a time where steam trains ruled the world.
The microcosm he has created within contains a town, a hilly countryside with a coal mine, a viaduct, several tunnels and of course train tracks where 9mm gauge trains chug around making realistic noises with accompanying flashing lights.
For David, it takes him right back to the wondrous feelings he had as a child growing up in Hamilton near Frankton Junction, the biggest junction in the country, where the steam trains would constantly thunder past.
“I grew up with steam trains. You could hop on your bike and go and watch them.
“I have memories of standing on the overbridge and being enveloped in the steam coming up from the steam trains and the distinctive smell…. My friends and I would get pennies and put them on the railway lines and they’d end up about this round,” he says, demonstrating an apricot-sized circle.
“I think it’s because they were the biggest things around and they were a part of everyone’s life because everyone travelled by train in those days.”
David is also indulging in a side gig of building model tanks and puts both interests down to his love of history, with a particular fascination for military history.
“I like big things that make a lot of noise!” he laughs, before adding: “Actually social history wouldn’t exist in the way it does without trains. They made travel and distance easier for everyone.”
When David and his wife Doreen decided to move into Murray Halberg, which was just 850m away from the Lynfield home, the problem arose of what to do with his beloved trainset.
Luckily, he met a fellow train-loving resident, Brian, at the Christmas drinks, shortly before they moved into their apartment in December 2019.
David gratefully took up Brian’s offer to store the dismantled trainset at his rental house until he figured out what to do with it.
Luckily, their two-bedroom apartment contained a large 2.2m x 1.6m cupboard and when the first big lockdown loomed, David found himself the perfect project!
“The good thing about Covid was it gave me plenty of time to work on my trains!”
He stocked up on timber and figured out which were the essential parts he needed to keep and then set about building a frame at waist-height all the way around the cupboard.
Underneath he built shelving for storing all the model-making kit which is hidden by curtains, and then above are the multiple tracks and miniature scenes. Another shelf above serves for more storage.
In his career working as a medical laboratory scientist in virology and immunology, David’s hobby offered the perfect distraction from work-related issues, and it still does.
When COVID-19 hit, David was asked to set up a PCR testing lab for a private surgical hospital and he is still doing that part-time.
It’s probably just as well so as to fund his hobby, with the tiny engines selling for around US$250 each, and of course there is always something more to work on!
“It will never be complete,” says David. “There are so many different styles of trains and scenery and there’s a huge market for the electronics – the sound, the lights for all the buildings, some have automatically signalling systems and detection systems.
“It’s a hobby that keeps me interested even if it’s no monetary value to anyone else.”
When he’s not working on his miniature trains, David and Doreen also enjoy taking short trips around New Zealand, and yes, ‘big real trains’ often feature.
“We like to do two or three day trips around the north island and train excursions around the country, from Coromandel to Taieri Gorge.”
They follow different faiths, have had very different careers and there is 15 years in age between them.