Mike’s been on track for 50 years

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Mike Ross on one of his tractors.
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Mike Ross has had four seconds of fame during his 50 years of volunteering at The Plains Vintage Railway and Historical Museum in Tinwald.

In 1984, the film Hanlon – In Defence of Minnie Dean was shot at the vintage railway.

Mike is normally the guard on the train, but for the filming he laughed when he said how he was played by Laurie Dee.

Mike was an extra in the film, dressed in a top hat with a fake moustache.

‘‘I didn’t recognised myself in the film, it was afellow work colleague who saw my four seconds of fame.’’

Mike has had a life time interest in trains. He was on the last train trip on the Mt Somers line in 1967. Part of this line is now the track used by The Plains.

His involvement with the Plains began right from the start, just over 50 years ago, when he was 20. A public meeting had been called to look at the idea of forming a group to establish a vintage railway.

‘‘When the Plains moved on to the site, all that was there was a bare paddock. Where the car park is now was a hockey field.’’

When the vintage railway acquired the site they also acquired the Dubs ‘A’ Class 0-4-0. Following it’s working life at the Canterbury Frozen Meat Company, the engine had become a static display in the Tinwald Domain.

Plains moved the engine to the late Allan Bowis premises to begin restoring it to a working engine.

The first president of The Plains was John French, while the secretary was the late-Bob Anderson, who was the driving force behind the restoration of K88. Mike joined the committee in the second year.

Mike was working at Ashburton Woollen Mills, and had been there about seven years when he learnt of a job opening with New Zealand Rail (NZR). He went to Christchurch for an interview. ‘‘I got a job in the parcel section and worked for 10 years as a platform porter. Then NZR underwent a lot of restructuring and I moved in the mid 1980s in to working with containers. By the early 2000s I was working in the container transfer section. Iworked from two to 10pm with trains coming in and loading the containers on to them.’’

Mike is a founding member of Plains and the only original member now involved. He undertakes many different activities when he is at the vintage railway, including being a guard, railcar driver, shunter, displaying his four vintage tractors and assisting with the annual pre-Christmas potato fundraiser.

Plains founding member Mike Ross and president Lorayne Oakley alongside the Plains’ first engine.

There have been many changes over the 50 years including how guards are trained. ‘‘When I learnt to be a guard I went to Ferrymead and observed what the guards do. Over the last 20 years Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency have regulated the training. There are many regulations nowadays and everything has to be documented.’’

Among the many skills a guard needs is the ability to be able to shunt. Mike has enjoyed over the last 10 years passing on his knowledge and skills to fellow members so they can get qualified. He said the training of his younger compatriats ensures Plains has a future.

As well as passion for trains, he has an interest in vintage tractors. With the help of others, he has restored four. One of them he has owned for 52 years and is only the second owner.

The most rewarding part of the 50 years of volunteering for Mike has been the people contact. ‘‘I have made life long friendships with people who have a similar interest to mine,’’ he said.

Plains as it is today is quite an achievement and is a wonderful place to visit, thanks to all those who have volunteered there over the years, including many groups and service clubs.

It is entirely run by volunteers, but none have served as long as veteran volunteer Mike who has given thousands of hours of his time.

In his early days he was at the vintage railway every Saturday and every running day. He intends to volunteer operationally for as long as he can because of his interest in trains.