Full Steam Ahead to the Past

by Insiders Dunedin

The Otago Model Engineering Society will have me trespassed if I kept trying to hug its members. It’s not my fault: I lack paternal figures and they are so nice. OME the home of old-school spanner-handy blokes who love to tinker, there’s something Wind in the Willows meets Back to the Future going on. Ratty loved messing about in boats, Mr Toad adored his automobiles (poop! poop!) and Dr. Emmett Brown’s time-travelling DeLorean wouldn’t look at all out of place here.

Established in 1936 to enable the building of steam, diesel, and electric locomotives (with a lot of things ‘borrowed’ from Hillside workshops) the landscape around the clubrooms has drastically changed over the years: sand dunes receding, houses built up against the back fence where once tumbled acres of lonely marram grass, meaning this small building and its marvellous outdoor ride-on railway are a rare portal to Dunedin’s past and a particular kind of person. Some of the best/worst dad jokes in the world are told here, and don’t get me started on the jerseys. One of the few remaining tethered car tracks left in New Zealand and Australia, the tether cars are weather dependant – “whether he will, whether he won’t” – and, on a fine day, reach speeds of 132.40kph. Talk about boy racers.

In the museum of things mechanical, objects boast hand-written cards detailing the model makers’ rationale and problems overcome. The pint-sized railways are entire worlds complete with tiny people and the craft circumnavigating the man-made pond run the gamut from paddle steamer to windsurfer. Many OME members are retired but that doesn’t mean they have time for sitting on their cabooses: there are grand-sons and -daughters to be initiated in the ways of the tinkerer. Doors are open to the public many times throughout the year (a calendar is up on their website, below). Like me, you’ll want to give the members a squeeze, but try to keep your hands to yourself. Don’t touch the models, either.

Address: 1 John Wilson Drive


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