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Foxton Museum

Following the death of its founder Ian Little and subsequently his son Wayne and wife Christina the museum has been closed since mid-2012. It is therefore unlikely to re-open.

A Visit to Foxton

John Zebedee visited Foxton Museum in 2007.

I had known of Ian Little and his trolleybus museum at Foxton following Mike and Beryl Dare’s visit in August 1994. Mike wrote an account of his visit, which appeared in Trolleybus No. 404 of March 1995 and also showed some slides of his visit at a Reading meeting.

By good fortune I met Ian Little and his wife Christina at Sandtoft, at the May Day Bank Holiday last year; when they were touring the UK, Isle of Man and Ireland. They arrived at Sandtoft in their hired camper van and stayed on site for two or three days.

I had already booked a trip for the Autumn of 2007, visiting Hong Kong, Australia and New Zealand and told Ian that I was hoping to be able to visit Foxton and see his collection of trolleybuses. I was instantly invited to “come and have a drive and a feed” whilst in New Zealand.

Having spent much of the trip in Australia, staying with family and friends, there was only a few days at the end for the visit to New Zealand. This just involved staying in Wellington from where we made the day trip to Foxton.

FoxtonThere are various coach services, departing from Wellington railway station, which pass through Foxton. These provide virtually an hourly service on weekdays. I had booked the seats in advance, using the internet, before leaving England. This reduced the cost substantially. As the tickets are non-cancellable and non-transferable, it was essential to make sure we didn’t miss the departures.

We left on a 9am coach bound for Auckland; a journey which takes up most of the day. The run along the west coast of North Island to Foxton took an hour and 36 minutes. We were able to secure the seats behind the driver and had a long chat with him when he wasn’t on the radio phone having banter with HQ or other drivers on the route. Having pre-booked the coach the Littles knew exactly when to expect us and sure enough Ian Little was stood at the coach stop waiting to meet us. Having told the driver why we were going to Foxton he flew right past the stop to drop us virtually opposite the Littles’ home and museum. Door to door service on a long distance coach is pretty impressive.

Tim Stubbs had advised me that Wednesday was a good day to visit Foxton as it was the day of the weekly bus service between Foxton Beach and Foxton township. Therefore the Littles would be around provided we did not arrive while they were out on the service. Our timing was good, as we arrived after they had been out to Foxton Beach, a village of bungalows along the coast and had brought the shoppers into town. There was time for tea and biscuits and a quick look round the yard and depot building before joining them on the return run to Foxton Beach at noon.

Ian used a full size Mercedes bus despite there being only 8 fare paying passengers, (the usually tally was 9 but someone was away). We set off on a tour around Foxton Beach, dropping people off at their front door or at the end of their cul-de-sac. Having dropped of about four people Ian headed off to the beach car park, so that we could have a good view of the sea and the beach; apologising to the remaining passengers for the delay, as we went. We only stopped for a couple of minutes to admire the view before setting of again to drop the rest of the passengers off, on the return route to Foxton.

After some lunch with the Littles, it was time to get out a couple of trolleybuses to operate around the wiring which Ian had been able to erect on several roads around the town. Wiring commences in the depot and runs across the yard, which was packed with rows of buses and trolleybuses, bumper to bumper. It then goes down a short drive, past the shop which the Littles had recently sold to fund their trip to the UK and then out across Main Street, into Wharf Street. At this point there is a trailing frog with wiring running along Main Street joining from the left. The route proceeds along Wharf Street to the T junction with Harbour Street, where it turns left. It continues along Harbour Street until Union Street is reached where the wiring again goes left.

FoxtonAt Union Street there is, what I can only describe as a peculiar junction, as single track wiring continues down Harbour Street. This was an extension which I believe was under construction at the time of Mike and Beryl’s visit in 1994. There is a frog which is set for continuing down Harbour Street or you can take power to travel along Union Street. So after the gentle left turn from Harbour St. to Union St. there is then a very sharp right hand turn and up a short sharp rise to continue along Harbour Street. The route continues until a small crossroads is reached. Purcell Street is on the left and an unnamed road on the right is more or less a private road leading to an entrance and private drive. Turning is carried out by turning right into the private road and then reversing, not around a corner but straight back across Harbour St. into Purcell St. This seemed an unusual arrangement but there is plenty of visibility as there are no buildings on any of the corners, just open grass.

From Purcell St. you turn out to the right, back onto the single track wiring in Harbour St. to Union St., where you swing right through a facing frog and a trailing frog. Union Street takes you to the end of Main Street, where a left turn takes you along Main St. and back to Wharf St.

Ian fetched out two Dunedin trolleybuses, numbers 43 and 76 dating from 1955 and 1962 respectively. Both are Leyland BUT RETB1 models with B40D bodies except that 43’s was built by NZMB, whereas 76 has a DCT built body. Number 76 was actually taken out first from inside the depot, which also bears the legend Broadcasting House, in reference to Foxton Radio which Ian also owns and operates.

After a trip around the route described above, we arrived back in Wharf Street. True to his word Ian vacated the driver’s seat and invited me to take over. I was not going to pass up this opportunity. Not being a passed driver at either Sandtoft or EATM, it was with a degree of hesitation that I set off. I negotiated the first left hand turn into Harbour St., which is quite a narrow road. Didn’t go over the kerb, didn’t hit anything and the poles stayed on the wires.

At Union St. I made the sharp right turn on to the second part of Harbour Street Despite the frog and the turn one needs a bit of speed to make it up the slope. I think the grass verge may have suffered a bit at this point but no other harm was done. Harbour St. is no wider than a lane along this section and the overhead is slung over the centre of the road, which is ideal as it is used in both directions. At the reverser, Ian asked me to stop so that he could take over to turn No. 76 around. This was fine by me as I didn’t fancy reversing across Harbour St into Purcell Street behind. It also gave me the opportunity to take a couple of photos and some video. I resumed driving once the trolleybus was back on Harbour Street. I made it back to Wharf Street and then a second circuit was begun.

The second run went much as the first, except that in the narrow Harbour Street we met an oncoming truck. The grass may have suffered again but we safely passed each other.

Ian again carried out the reversing manoeuvre. Back in Main Street we stopped opposite the Windmill Hotel, which is adjacent to the Little’s property. We left 76 parked by the roadside and went across the street into the yard to get number 43. Ian drove it across Main Street, which is very wide for a place of Foxton’s size, into Wharf Street, where I again took over. After a circuit we had to stop as we had left 76 still on the wires. A quick de-pole we were away again with 43. I think Ian was reasonable impressed with how quick I removed and stowed the booms. I can’t say I like trolley ropes much but handling tram poles on ropes at EATM stood me in good stead.

It was all over far too soon but I felt very honoured to have been given the opportunity to drive these vehicles. Before we left Foxton we were ushered into one of the radio station studios where Ian recorded an interview on a rather ancient piece of cassette equipment for broadcasting the following Sunday morning. We missed that, as we were back in Melbourne.

Ian was a generous gentleman, full of ideas for the future. It is a great sadness that he passed on before they could come to fruition. I am sure he will be very much missed by Christina, his family and the people of Foxton. The number of people who turned out on a wet winter’s day for his funeral, really says it all.

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