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The brain behind the train

Barry Stroud, left, and Kathy Lee with civic award winner Gary Esler. PHOTO/SUE TEODORO


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The inspiration and driving force behind Masterton’s iconic tiny train has received recognition for his efforts after more than 40 years behind the wheel.

Everyone knows about the immaculately maintained miniature railway in Queen Elizabeth Park, but few know about the man and team who keep it going.

Gary Esler has been involved in the operation and running of Masterton Miniature Railway for 42 years.

The huge effort over many years of the person behind the family-friendly ride has now been recognised with a Masterton District Council Civic Award.

Originally run by the Masterton Jaycee until 1980, the group closed down and the train was at risk.

Esler and a few others stepped in.

They set up the Masterton Miniature Train Society to save the ride and gifted the train to the community.

Since then, he has continued to be involved in almost every capacity – as a regular driver, ticket seller, mechanic, and general Mr Fixit and all-rounder.

He has even mended damage caused by vandals.

This year, he volunteered as treasurer of the Train Society after 33 years as its president.

“It’s quite nice to have a lot of community service recognised formally.

There’s a lot of pleasure in driving the train and having all the kids come along,” Esler said.

“I’m really passionate about the train. What I find really good is seeing families come down and have the ride at an economic price.

“They’ll come back two or three times. The kids will sit in the front of the train and have a photo taken; they all scream in the tunnel.

“It’s very rewarding to see the smiles on people’s faces.

“It’s a good community thing.”

The one-dollar ticket price has stayed the same since 1984, meaning a small family could still have an outing for less than $5.

Esler said it was not uncommon for people to come up to him and say they had been on the train 25 years ago.

“I’ll go, ‘I probably drove you’.”

Esler was nominated for the award by fellow volunteers and miniature train enthusiasts, Barry Stroud and Kathy Lee.

“A little bird whispered in my ear that the civic awards were coming up and we agreed we really needed to recognise how much Gary has done,” Stroud said.

“He has recently retired from his regular job and is busier than ever. He still puts in so much time.

“Gary is the first person I call if there’s a problem or if we need a second opinion on something – anything involving the railway system.”

Stroud said this was an opportunity to give Esler the public recognition he deserved and was not before time.

“It’s the 50th anniversary of the railway next year and this is a good opportunity to highlight what we do for the community and especially the work Gary has contributed to that community.

“He effectively saved the railway in 1980. It wouldn’t be here now without him,” Stroud said.

“It is well-deserved, absolutely,” Lee said.

Esler was also an automotive and engineering programme co-ordinator and lecturer at Ucol for 25 years.

Since 1980, he has helped run, repair, and maintain the railway and spent many of his weekends driving the train.

He built the tunnel doors, steel ticket window and much of the infrastructure that has allowed the train to have its 49th birthday this year.

Esler said regular running of the train is dependent on volunteers, which at present number only seven.

If anyone is interested in helping, they can email him at [email protected] or drop into the park when the train is running for a chat.

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