Celebrating his 90th birthday at Bruce McLaren Retirement Village, resident Hugh Martin decided to put on a display of some of the incredible creations he has made since retiring 18 years ago.
The impressive exhibits include a traction engine, a 30:1 scale model of a ship’s engine, and the piece de resistance, a miniature working replica of a Great Western steam engine which weighs a hefty 60kg and can pull six people!
Hugh believes that the process of making these beautifully crafted objects is more than just a hobby, but something that provides meaning and purpose and could even be described as life-saving.
“Having an interest, a project, something I could play with, has kept me going. I would fall asleep at night thinking about what I would do next, and it becomes a bit of a bug.”
“I remember an accountant friend of mine saying to me he’d been pushed out of the firm because he was too old and he was worried about what he would do in retirement because all he’d ever done was work. Two months later he was dead,” says Hugh.
These projects are not for the faint-hearted or fly-by-night types. The Great Western model took 11 years to complete, the traction engine took five years and the ship’s engine, crafted on site at Bruce McLaren, took four years.
“I did have to fit in a few cruises and visits to cathedrals, palaces and castles too,” he laughs.
The traction engine, which Hugh usually displays in his apartment, took five years to make.
Hugh’s interest for all things engine-related began in the Merchant Navy in England. As a young man he worked as third engineer on the Trinity House yacht Patricia that would escort the Queen on the royal yacht Britannia out of British territorial waters.
Later, he worked as a senior engineer on passenger ships such as the Dominion Monarch and then as managing director of Babcock Engineering, a multinational company which builds large energy plants and power stations.
In his spare time he would referee football matches, throughout New Zealand.
So it was when he finally reached retirement that Hugh had the time to tinker in the workshop, transferring the key tools he needed from his home to the village workshop when he and his wife Celia moved into Bruce McLaren.
When Hugh was a member of the Auckland Society of Model Engineers, he would take the Great Western steam train for runs around the Waipuna miniature railway track at Panmure Basin.
Because it has a certified boiler, powered by coal and water, the engine has to be tested every two years to comply with safety regulations.
The 60kg exact replica of a Great Western steam engine which has to be moved on its own purpose-built trolley (above) and (below) Hugh turns the pistons on the 1:30 miniature Doxford marine diesel engine that he made in the village workshop, inspired by the ones he used to operate.
Below: Hugh with his workshop mates Chris and John admiring the Doxford engine when it was a work in progress.
Hugh has also built a mini steam engine for each of his grandsons and one for a great grandson, one of which was also on display along with a model gas fired steam power station he made for one of his daughters.
Hugh was joined by 60 guests in the village lounge to celebrate his birthday, with one resident making a beautiful cake decorated on top with an edible likeness of Hugh age 22 in his Merchant Navy uniform, plus a miniature version of Hugh’s Great Western train on a track around the cake.
While there were plenty of admiring comments about the impressive exhibition, and much appreciation for the time and effort spent in creating the models, Hugh says the inevitable question always gets asked.
“As soon as you finish something people will say ‘that’s fantastic, what are you making next?!’
The birthday cake, complete with an edible image of Hugh and miniature steam engine!