Ian Welch, Mainline Steam, Wellington, on his Beyer Garrett Steamer in 2014. Photo/NZME
Ian Welch was fascinated by steam locomotives from an early age.
It has led to the largest private collection of steam trains in the world and its story is the subject of a documentary which will be screened at the Regent Cinema on Saturday.
Welch was born in 1939, just before World War II.
At that time, the biggest machines were steam locomotives.
“For a little boy, it was quite fascinating,” he said.
His grandfather was an engineer in Gisborne and his mother took him on trains quite regularly to see his grandfather.
One of his earliest memories is when he was 3 years old and traveling by train.
Welch remembers traveling from Wellington to Paekakariki, where the engines would be coupled before going to Napier and from there with a smaller engine to Gisborne.
“I remember being enthralled, terrified, etc., and absolutely fascinated by these big machines.”
This is where the fascination started, he says.
His parents bought him a train, and as an adult he took up modeling, building his own model.
Then, in the late 1960s, he built a pool and his wife told a friend about it, who then asked if his father could talk to Welch about building pools.
“So this guy came along. I knew he worked for the railroads but I didn’t know what he was doing there.”
The conversation turned to the man’s work on the railroads and Welch asked him what he was doing.
“He said, ‘Oh, I’m busy cutting steam engines at the moment’.”
Welch was offered the opportunity to purchase one.
“I went to bed that night, very excited. A bit like winning the Lotto. You’re very excited, but then you realize, what am I going to do with all this money? In my case, I can have a steam engine, what am I going to do with it?”
He was able to team up with a couple of friends, one of whom suggested storing the steam engine at Linton Army Camp.
The cost at the time was $1500.
The men decided to form a group called Steam Incorporated, based in Paekakakariki.
However, despite having paid for the engine, a B locomotive, the railways decided they needed it for the Queen’s royal visit, as she had expressed interest.
They asked about another engine and the railroads suggested a J locomotive, but Welch said he was told it wasn’t worth having.
The group took on J-1234, which is still owned by Steam Incorporated.
Welch then started Mainline Steam and now has around 13 locomotives in New Zealand and more in South Africa.
“It was an interesting trip,” he said.
When asked why people were so fascinated with steam locomotives, he said he thought people just got hooked on them.
“It’s a very exciting machine. They have moving parts, they make noise.
“They have something other machines don’t have.”
At 83, Welch felt lucky to still be very active, with lots of friends and an interest that is still a passion after so many years.
Welch will speak at the first night of the Cans Film Festival at the Regent Dannevirke on Saturday.
The first movie, Mister Mainline Steamdirected by Graeme Moffatt will begin at 7:15 p.m.
Admission is one box of food per spectator, with boxes donated to local food banks.
The Cans Film Festival is on Saturday and Sunday, then Thursday until August 14 with films including Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Ocean’s Eleven (1960), Jailhouse Rock and more.
Details can be found at https://moviefest.nz/cans-film-festival/.