Plains passion, and dedication

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GOAL FULFILLED: Ashburton Plains Railway museum chief mechanical engineer Bryce Chisnall. PHOTO HANNAH WILLS
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The Plains Vintage Railway and Historical Museum’s train running season finished on a high note recently for member Bryce Chisnall.

He had joined other members at the Plains to watch a live stream of the Federation of Rail Organisations of New Zealand (FRONZ) awards presentation in Palmerston North, on King’s Birthday weekend.

Chisnall said he then noticed one of the Plains’ members had a camera pointed in his direction.

He soon realised this was to capture his reaction at the announcement he was the Glenbrook Vintage Railway Young Achiever of the Year.

That reaction was one of shock for the 27-year-old heavy diesel mechanic as he received the title, alongside a prize of $1500 towards professional development.

‘‘I started at the Plains as a 10-year-old polishing the brass. I learnt from the likes of John French, David Oakley and the late Dennis Harris,’’ said Chisnall, recounting where it all began.

Sixteen years on and Chisnall is now one of the Plains’ invaluable volunteers. He is chief mechanical engineer, a position he took on alongside becoming a board member in 2019.

When he gained his fireman ticket at the age of 15, he was the youngest person in New Zealand to achieve this.

‘‘I’ve always enjoyed pulling things to pieces and putting them together. I really enjoy steam engines as while they are robust they are also simple to work with,’’ Chisnall said.

Ashburton Plains Railway president Lorayne Oakley, who nominated Chisnall, said to gain his ticket he had spent many hours assisting with the crewing of K88 and A64 trains at the Plains open days.

‘‘Visitors were in awe at his capability and dedication at such a young age,’’ Oakley said.

‘‘Bryce became a familiar face within our organisation in his last year of primary school in 2008, and joined as a member in 2011,’’ she said.

‘‘His goal was to become a steam locomotive driver. He spent hours following and watching the work of the then senior members, working on the railway.

“They admired his respectful nature, hands-on willingness to learn, and showed maturity beyond his years working alongside members of all ages.’’

His love of machinery saw him involved in the rail side of the museum and the rural history section with vintage tractors and farm machinery. Six years ago he bought a traction engine which he is rebuilding.

‘‘Bryce achieved his driver’s certificate in May, 2016. The pride he takes with any locomotive, whether it be polishing brass or performing maintenance checks or repairs, is a credit to him and has earned our organisation worldwide praise,’’ Oakley said.

Chisnall is passionate about rail preservation and has given thousands of hours of volunteer service to the Plains, including taking time off work to accommodate loco inspections, assist other rail organisations and mentor younger members of the Plains.