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Rails toward the Sky (Part 1 – The Man)

Club Chairman Stefan Andrecjzuk (left) and Ray Smith ( right)

New Zealand is justifiably celebrated for its spectacular scenery and abundance of natural wonders. However, it was a man-made wonder, the Driving Creek Railway, that was the subject of a recent talk given to the Bakewell and District Probus Club by member, Ray Smith. Situated in the stunningly beautiful Coromandel Peninsula of The North Island this remarkable railway was the invention of one man, a potter whose original purpose for building it was to transport the clay needed for his pottery business. Saving his description of the railway itself for a subsequent occasion, Ray used this initial talk to give the background story of the man, the late Barry Brickell, its creator.

Brickell was born in New Plymouth (New Zealand) in 1935 but the family later moved to Auckland where, at the age of 13, he was introduced to a well-known local potter. The effect of this encounter was to instil in him an obsession for making pottery including the construction of the associated kilns. He continued his academic education as far as gaining a science degree, and then became involved in the New Zealand Railway and Locomotive Society. This was a band of railway enthusiasts who undertook excursions to unusual branch lines and other minor railways, one of which, the Ongarue tramway gave Barry the inspiration for building something similar himself. Following this particular trip he set his heart on a career combining pottery-making and trains, together with his other main interests, conservation, art and engineering.

On the strength of his degree, he took up a teaching appointment at Coromandel District High School but soon became disillusioned with the job and resigned, reverting to his old hobby of making pottery. He bought an old house with a small plot of land at Driving Creek and became a full-time handicraft potter. Needing to provide a means of transporting fuel for his kilns and the raw materials for his pottery from a nearby road to his workshop, he decided to build a miniature railway for the purpose. With his pottery business still in its infancy, Barry could not afford to spend much on the equipment for his railway but, at the time (1975), there happened to be a source of second-hand materials readily available, and these formed the basis of his enterprise. Subsequently, by acquiring more land, he was able to extend the railway by means of a series of zig-zags and spirals ‘toward the sky’ up the steep hillside adjacent to his pottery. Opening it to the public, he made it into the amazing tourist attraction that it now is.

The speaker, Ray, visited the railway in 2019 and will devote his next talk to a description of the line itself.

Details of the Bakewell and District Probus Club, including reports of earlier meetings, can be found on its website at www.bakewell


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